In October 1905 F. W. Maitland wrote a letter to the secretary of the Selden Society in which he remarked:
I have often wondered where the Americans found their emi-
nent domain — or rather how they came to borrow just this
from the continental sources. Has it ever struck you that what
protected us against this was the completeness of our feudalism?
Unquestionably we all hold of the King, but the lord has no right
to “expropriate” the tenant. Just because there is supreme land-
lordship there is no eminent domain in the foreign sense.1
Maitland died just over a year later, so that, what with his teaching, involvement with the Selden Society, writing the life of Leslie Stephen, and struggling with illness, it is not surprising that he never got around to exploring the history of eminent domain. In the century since he wrote those words, various people have engaged with bits of the subject, but no one seems to have attempted a general history of what can better be called “expropriation of land for the common good.” I prefer not to call it “eminent domain” in the American fashion for three reasons: first, because the
1. Maitland, Letters, ed. Fifoot, no. 449. He referred to the eminent domain of the modern state in Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, 2:3.