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A Timeless History

By Johnston, William D. | Judicature, January/February 2008 | Go to article overview

A Timeless History


Johnston, William D., Judicature


A timeless history Middle Temple Lawyers and The American Revolution, by His Honour Eric Stockdale and Justice Randy J. Holland. Thomson West. 2007. 272 pages. $30.00 (£17.50).

by William D. Johnston

Readers of Middle Temple Lawyers and The American Revolution are in for a treat. Co-authored by Delaware Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland and retired English Judge Eric Stockdale, the book is a detailed recounting of the influence of American-born lawyers who studied at the Middle Temple Inn of Court in London prior to the Revolutionary War. The book describes how lawyers from the Middle Temple settled Jamestown in 1607 and how the more than 100 American lawyers who studied at the Middle Temple during the eighteenth century had a profound and lasting impact in bringing the rule of law to America. Five of those lawyers signed the Declaration of Independence, and seven signed the United States Constitution.

The book is an engaging and entertaining read. Its "pedigree" is impeccable. The accomplished co-authors favor the reader with a deeply researched, scholarly presentation-rich text, informative endnotes, an extensive bibliography, and helpful tables and an index. And, while the book of course may be read cover to cover, its chapters are also interesting on a "standalone" basis: from the overview (Chapter 1), to the description of the lives of the American colonist students at the Middle Temple (Chapter 2), to the background and contributions of "Middle Templars" from Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, and Maryland (Chap ters 3 through 7), to the contributions of Middle Templars as post-Revolutionary War "ambassadors" (Chapter 8). Unique to the book are two forewords, one by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. of the United States Supreme Court and the other by The Rt. Hon. The Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

Telling the story

But the book is not just another scholarly history. The authors do a wonderful job of telling the story. They take a fresh look at individuals and events, and they share valuable insights. Moreover, they infuse the storytelling with welcome doses of humor.

The story is a captivating one with some surprises. Perhaps little known is that the four Inns of Court in London never insisted that all applicants for admission should intend to enter the legal profession. Hence, Walter Ralegh (or Raleigh) who was more interested in navigation and exploration than law and, in the late 1500s, attempted to settle Virginia. It was then other Middle Templars who later succeeded in settling Virginia and guaranteeing its colonists, through the "Great Charter," "self-government, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and trial by jury."

The authors observe that this sort of charter language sowed the seed for constitutionalism in America and that it had an unmistakable impact on the run-up to the fight for independence: "When in the eighteenth century the British government began to treat the colonists as though they had fewer rights than their kinsmen living in England, the lawyers among them, and particularly a significant number of Middle Templars, were quick to draw attention to the rights granted by the Virginia and later charters."

The authors detail how, after the approval of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, members of the Middle Temple were responsible for drafting some of the first state constitutions, drawing on their knowledge of and respect for English common law. With the state constitutions, the drafters sought to protect what they viewed as fundamental, immutable legal rights not subject to the changing will of the executive or the legislature.

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