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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Granville Sharp, Early Champion of Abolitionism

Magna Charta cum statutis (London: Richard
Tottell, 1556)
One of the Law Library's most prized copies of Magna Carta was once owned by Granville Sharp (1735-1813), a founder of the abolitionist movement. At the top of the title page of one of our 16th-century Magna Cartas can be seen "Ex libris, Granville Sharp, 1760." Apparently acquired by Sharp when he was twenty-five, the volume may have had an important influence on him. Largely an autodidact, Sharp taught himself Hebrew and Greek and joined in learned theological disputes with Oxford dons. He is still known today for "Sharp's Rule," a principle of Biblical translation. He also developed a considerable knowledge of English law despite never training as an attorney.

Sharp's involvement with abolitionism developed through his brother, a physician, who treated the slave Jonathan Strong in London after he had been badly abused. Sharp sought the man's release in court, and later published the first significant anti-slavery tract in England, A Representation of the Injustice and Dangerous Tendency of Tolerating Slavery (1769). He was also a motive force behind the famous Somersett case (1772), in which Chief Justice Mansfield ruled that James Somersett could not be sent back into colonial slavery from English soil. In the same period, Sharp corresponded with American abolitionists, including Anthony Benezet, and stirred a young movement. Sharp's keen and well-researched interest in the legal dimensions of English liberty—which may trace to his reading of our copy of Magna Carta—established part of his commitment to freedom and human rights.  
Sharp's underlining at clause 29 of
Magna Carta.

Sharp underlined and annotated his copy of Magna Carta at important passages. Notably he underlined Magna Carta's famous clause 29 (from the 1225 Magna Carta), which we take as a basis of due process: "No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseized of his free tenement or of his liberties or free customs, or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor will we go against such a man or send against him save by lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell or deny or delay right or justice." Sharp considered these key provisions of Magna Carta as natural and inalienable rights.

Sharp eventually authored more than sixty works on topics ranging from anti-slavery, the divinity of Christ, and even the right of the American colonists to take part in the English legislature, the latter another issue linked to rights set out in Magna Carta.

   - Ryan Greenwood, Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections

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