William Blackstone, fully Sir William Blackstone

William
Blackstone, fully Sir William Blackstone
1723
1780

English Judge, Jurist and Tory Politician most noted for writing The Commentaries on the Laws of England

Author Quotes

Herein indeed consists the excellence of the English government, that all parts of it form a mutual check upon each other.

The founders of the English laws have with excellent forecast contrived, that no man should be called to answer to the king for any capital crime, unless upon the preparatory accusation of twelve or more of his fellow subjects, the grand jury: and that the truth of every accusation, whether preferred in the shape of indictment, information, or appeal, should afterwards be confirmed by the unanimous suffrage of twelve of his equals and neighbors, indifferently chosen, and superior to all suspicion. So that the liberties of England cannot but subsist, so long as this palladium remains sacred and inviolate, not only from all open attacks, (which none will be so hardy as to make) but also from all secret machinations, which may sap and undermine it; by introducing new and arbitrary methods of trial, by justices of the peace, commissioners of the revenue, and courts of conscience. And however convenient these may appear at first, (as doubtless all arbitrary powers, well executed, are the most convenient) yet let it be again remembered, that delays, and little inconveniences in the forms of justice, are the price that all free nations must pay for their liberty in more substantial matters; that these inroads upon this sacred bulwark of the nation are fundamentally opposite to the spirit of our constitution; and that, though begun in trifles, the precedent may gradually increase and spread, to the utter disuse of juries in questions of the most momentous concern.

Human legislators have, for the most part, chosen to make the sanction of their laws rather vindicatory than remuneratory, or to consist rather in punishments than in actual particular rewards.

The king never dies.

I think it an undeniable position, that a competent knowledge of the laws of that society in which we live, is the proper accomplishment of every gentleman and scholar; an highly useful, I had almost said essential, part of liberal and polite education. And in this I am warranted by the example of ancient Rome; where, as Cicero informs us, the very boys were obliged to learn the twelve tables by heart, as a carmen necessarium, or indispensable lesson, to imprint on their tender minds an early knowledge of the laws and constitution of their country.

The king, moreover, is not only incapable of doing wrong, but even of thinking wrong: he can never mean to do an improper thing: in him is no folly or weakness.

In general, all mankind will agree that government should be reposed in such persons in whom these qualities are most likely to be found the perfection of which is among the attributes of Him who is emphatically styled the Supreme Being; the three great requisites, I mean, of wisdom, of goodness, and of power: wisdom, to discern the real interest of the community; goodness, to endeavour always to pursue that real interest; and strength, or power, to carry this knowledge and intention into action. These are the natural foundations of sovereignty, and these are the requisites that ought to be found in every well-constituted frame of government.

The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state: but this consists in laying no previous restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public: to forbid this, is to destroy the freedom of the press: but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequence of his own temerity.

In this distinct and separate existence of the judicial power, in a peculiar body of men, nominated indeed, but not removable at pleasure, by the crown, consists one main preservative of the public liberty; which cannot subsist long in any state, unless the administration of common justice be in some degree separated both from the legislative and the also from the executive power. Were it joined with the legislative, the life, liberty, and property of the subject would be in the hands of arbitrary judges, whose decisions would be then regulated only by their own opinions, and not by any fundamental principles of law; which, though legislators may depart from, yet judges are bound to observe. Were it joined with the executive, this union might soon be an overbalance for the legislative. For which reason... effectual care is taken to remove all judicial power out of the hands of the king's privy council; who, as then was evident from recent instances might soon be inclined to pronounce that for law, which was most agreeable to the prince or his officers. Nothing therefore is to be more avoided, in a free constitution, than uniting the provinces of a judge and a minister of state.

The royal navy of England has ever been its greatest defense and ornament; it is its ancient and natural strength; the floating bulwark of the island.

A second offence is that of heresy, which consists not in a total denial of Christianity, but of some of its essential doctrines, publicly and obstinately avowed.

Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action; and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate, or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action, which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.

The sciences are of a sociable disposition, and flourish best in the neighborhood of each other; nor is there any branch of learning but may be helped and improved by assistance drawn from other arts.

All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.

Man was formed for society; and, as is demonstrated by the writers on the subject, is neither capable of living alone, nor indeed has the courage to do it. However, as it is impossible for the whole race of mankind to be united in one great society, they must necessarily divide into many, and form separate states, commonwealths, and nations, entirely independent of each other, and yet liable to a mutual intercourse.

The two idioms [English and Norman] have mutually borrowed from each other.

All the several pleas and excuses, which protect the committer of a forbidden act from the punishment which is otherwise annexed thereto, may be reduced to this single consideration, the want or defect of will. An involuntary act, as it has no claim to merit, so neither can it induce any guilt: the concurrence of the will, when it has its choice either to do or to avoid the fact in question, being the only thing that renders human actions either praiseworthy or culpable. Indeed, to make a complete crime, cognizable by human laws, there must be both a will and an act.

Man... must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being...And, consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his Maker's will.

There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe. And yet there are very few, that will give themselves the trouble to consider the original and foundation of this right.

An involuntary act, as it has no claim to merit, so neither can it induce any guilt; the concurrence of the will, when it has its choice to do or to avoid the fact in question, being the only thing that renders human actions either praiseworthy or culpable.

Men was formed for society, and is neither capable of living alone, nor has the courage to do it.

This appellation of parson [persona ecclesi‘], however depreciated by clownish and familiar use, is the most legal, most beneficial, and most honourable title which a parish priest can enjoy.

And, lastly, to vindicate these rights, when actually violated and attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and, lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defense.

No outward doors of a man's house can in general be broken open to execute any civil process; though in criminal cases the public safety supersedes the private.

Time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.

Author Picture
First Name
William
Last Name
Blackstone, fully Sir William Blackstone
Birth Date
1723
Death Date
1780
Bio

English Judge, Jurist and Tory Politician most noted for writing The Commentaries on the Laws of England