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Monday, June 8, 2015

Henry Care in England and America

Henry Care, English Liberties (Providence, 1774)
Our current exhibit, “Magna Carta, 800 Years: Rights and the Rule of Law,” features eight editions of Magna Carta printed before 1600. Only one other exhibit title is represented by multiple copies: Henry Care’s English Liberties, or The Free-Born Subject’s Inheritance. Originally published in England in 1680, English Liberties was first printed in Boston in 1721 by James Franklin (Ben’s older brother). The Library owns five copies of Care’s title, three printed in London in 1680, 1682, and 1719, and two printed in Boston and Providence, in 1721 and 1774, respectively.

Although Henry Care (1646-88) intended his work for the English public, English Liberties was very popular in North America. Care compiled Magna Carta, the Charter of the Forest, the Habeas Corpus Act, and other statutes that addressed royal abuses of power, and the pamphlet was widely distributed in the colonies. It is credited with playing an important role in advancing the cause for the American Revolution through its accessible message about English law, government, liberties, and juries.

Among the library’s copies of Care’s English Liberties, one copy is notable for its printing date and an interesting scrap of a newspaper that can be found inside.  Our 1774 copy of the book, printed by John Carter shortly after the Boston Tea Party, is significant for its appearance and influence at a key moment in American history.  The clipping, on the other hand, is part of a 19th-century editorial that opposes General Winfield Scott Hancock’s 1880 presidential candidacy, due to his actions during Reconstruction. Appointed by President Andrew Johnson, Hancock replaced General Sheridan, a sympathizer with the North, and was charged to oversee the Fifth Military District in 1867.  Hancock (1824-1886) was responsible for writing General Order No. 40, which restored the right to trial by jury, habeas corpus, liberty of the press, freedom of speech, civil liberties, and rights of property.  Critics pointed out, however, that Hancock also empowered the vanquished southern Democrats to take up old positions of power.   

   - Barbara Berdahl, Assistant Special Collections Librarian 

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