Every Man His Own Lawyer?

Erik Berner returns with his penultimate post on his research into the Secular Legislation section of the St. Ignatius College Library, this time on early legal self-help books in the collection. As Erik puts the finishing touches on his final post for next week, he is also packing up to move across the country for the next stage in his intellectual journey: as a student in UCLA’s law school next fall.  Way to go, Erik!

Frank Crosby, Everybody’s Lawyer and counsellor in business. (Philadelphia: 1859, Potter). 

Frank Crosby, Everybody’s Lawyer and book of forms. (Philadelphia: 1860, Potter). 

Theophilus Parsons, The Laws of Business for men in all states of the Union. (Boston: 1869, Little, Brown & Co). 

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Cambridge: 1863, Sever & Francis). 

John G. Wells, Every Man his Own Lawyer and United States form book (New York: 1859, self). 

The introduction to Frank Crosby’s Everybody’s Lawyer and Counsellor in Business explaining his intended audience.

As I have established in my posts over the year, there did not seem to be any intention, at least at the founding of St Ignatius, of educating future lawyers at the school. Though there were still many reasons that a knowledge of the law would be useful for the Jesuit priests and their students, for many of them, the dry and legalistic nature of a no-frills set of statutes or legislation rendered many of the previously discussed books incomprehensible. To somebody seeking only a functional knowledge of the law, explication was required. Writers and publishers were aware of this and a thriving culture of published legal commentary existed. These books were essential for a range of lay audience, such as a Jesuit seeking knowledge about property restrictions or an entrepreneur-in-training who would like to understand the legal parameters within which he must do business. Of the five books in this category, only one — perhaps the most unique and interesting one – still survives and, in fact, is in good enough condition to still be in general circulation at the library.

Title page from Google Books copy of Crosby’s 1859 edition of Everybody’s Lawyer and Counsellor in Business.

St Ignatius’s original collection contained two copies of Frank Crosby’s Everybody’s Lawyer. Though neither exist anymore, the catalog contains information about their publication. Both editions were printed in Philadelphia by a publisher named John E. Potter. The first edition is called, in full, Everybody’s lawyer and counsellor in business : containing plain and simple instructions to all classes for transacting their business according to law, with legal forms for drawing the various necessary papers connected therewith (1859). Fortunately for us a digitized version is available on Google Books. Though I was unable to glean from my research much about the writer or original publication of the book, I was able to gain a basic idea of the book’s contents through the digital surrogate. The book seems to offer, as the subtitle suggests, “plain and simple instructions” on the application of the various laws of the American states to business transactions. Indeed, this seems to be intended more for the “common business man.” This was, after all, the era of land-grant universities, when education and business acumen were becoming more easily accessible. Unfortunately, it is tough to conjecture on the differences of the second, 1860 edition: Everybody’s lawyer and book of forms : containing the laws of all the states … with plain and simple instructions to everybody for transacting their business according to law : the legal forms required for drawing up the various necessary papers : and useful information in regard to the government of the United States, and the various state governments, etc. etc.” I could not find a digital surrogate or background information on this edition.

Title Page to Parsons’ The Laws of Business from a copy in Google Books.

Theophilus Parsons’ The Laws of Business for Men in all States of the Union (1869) is a self-reference book, containing explications of commercial law specifically intended, as indicated in the introduction, for the mercantile community. Parsons is an interesting figure in the history of legal education. Joseph Story, whose own work will be analyzed later, is credited with instituting the first modern law program at Harvard around 1876. As Dane Professor of Law from 1848-1870, Parsons embodies, better than any other perhaps, the phase before Story’s more modern era of legal education. Though Loyola’s copy no longer exists, the same 1869 edition printed in Boston by Little, Brown, & Co. has been digitized on Google books. Parsons’ introduction gives us an insight into his changing views on legal education. Writing in an era when elite apprenticeships were the main avenue for the training of barristers (Parsons even confesses that the work started out as a volume intended for the reference of lawyers), he shares his personal view on the need for an expansion of common knowledge of law. He certainly believed that it was in the best interest of businessmen to understand the laws within which they must operate.

The Laws of Business is an attempt to explain the legalese of business regulations in a way that a reasonably-educated person could understand, rather than simply reprinting the statutes. Reading almost like a textbook, it is a useful commentary even beginning with some basics on law itself (such as the difference between civil vs. common law). It is understandable that the Jesuits would want a book like this in their collection, and it is not surprising that this one specifically was chosen. Parsons wrote many volumes of popular legal commentary which were among the most successful in the genre, particularly (according to his commentaries on maritime law.

Could John Wells have placed any more text on the title page to his 1860 edition of Every Man his Own Lawyer?

The last of the so-called “self-help” commentaries, also no longer held by Loyola, is an 1859 edition of John G Wells’ Every man his own lawyer, and United States form book: being a complete guide in all matters of law and business negotiations. Wells published the work himself in New York. Had it not been for Wells’ analysis and commentary, this book could have been considered for the category of straightforward statutes; it contains copies of many of the forms and laws necessary for an entrepreneurial businessman. Wells explains what he felt these were helpful for those wishing to represent themselves in the burgeoning world of capital. A digital copy of an 1860 edition, also printed in New York by the author, is available on the  . I referenced it in the hopes that it is not too different from the previous year’s edition, which the publisher notes was destroyed by a fire (p.10). Like the Crosby and Wells books, this does not seem intended explicitly for academia, but it does seem useful for the types of students St Ignatius was looking to enroll at the onset of their legal program. Specifically, the self-starter nature and simple writing style of Wells’ book, much like Crosby’s, would be easy for working immigrants to study largely on their own.

Unfortunately, it is hard to find any real information about Wells. The titles of a few of his other books indicate that the bulk of his publishing ventures were in this patriotic, educational mold. (If the existence of digitized copies is an indication of popularity, Wells’ publication of a New Map of the United States was more popular than his Every Man His Own Lawyer). While the previous three commentaries were expressly intended for self-reference by educated men intending to make their way in the business world, the last work is more philosophic in nature.

Fantastic former ownership stamp on surviving copy of de Toqueville’s Democracy in America in Loyola’s collection today.

Perhaps the most popular commentary the Jesuits owned, the original copy of which is still in Loyola’s collection, was an 1863 edition of Alex de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Many people know this book, or have heard of it (it is assigned as essential reading in many Political Science classes to this day) but do not know the unique story of how de Tocqueville came to write it. Democracy was his attempt to use observations he made about American society while traveling through the United States as a springboard for his philosophizing on the idea of democracy: why it had worked in America and why it had not worked in other parts of the world. The work was written in the 1830s; memory of the aftermath of the French Revolution was in De Tocqueville’s mind. He was not sent to America by the King of France to write this work however; he was actually a part of an expedition sent to study the United States prison system. He simply took advantage of his circumstances to work on something much larger than his actual assignment.

Titlepage of the surviving copy of Democracy in America in Loyola’s collection.

De Tocqueville seems, like many European commentators of the time, to be skeptical of democracy, particularly of empowering the masses. He takes a libertarian approach, cautioning against what he called the possibility of ‘soft despotism’ (strangulation by too much government regulation) and believed the character of the American people was the only thing stopping this sort of thing from happening. De Tocqueville did, however, take a decidedly progressive view when it came to race in the United States. His partner on the expedition, Gustave de Beaumont, wrote his own piece of social commentary based on the trip, a book called Marie critiquing American slavery and racial segregation. De Tocqueville agreed this was one of the most damning faults of American democracy, even going so far as to predict the Civil War that came decades later.

Loyola’s 1863 edition is in very good condition and still held in general circulation at the University’s library. It was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Sever and Francis, a publisher about whom little information is available online besides a small list of books printed by them available on the  , as well as a smaller list on Open Books. At first, I wondered if perhaps this publisher was connected to the still extant English publisher Taylor & Francis, but this does not seem to be the case (and, in fact, judging by some of the earliest publication dates on the Open Books list, Sever & Francis seem to have been publishing in the United States before Taylor & Francis were in Britain). Evidently they printed mostly philosophical and academic texts, such as books on Greek Logic and American political treatises. Additionally, the Loyola copy has a stamp in it indicating its ownership at some point by a “Rev. Dr. Lightner”, though Google was unable to crack the code of the identity of this donor.

De Tocqueville’s audience was educated lay people, but its inclusion in an academic library is understandable. By the time the Jesuits created their collection at St. Ignatius, the work was already quite popular in both Europe and the United States. It served as a useful piece of political philosophy as well as a valuable outsider’s perspective on the history of American politics. For a modern reader, the book can become an intense intellectual exercise in deciding whether the modern United States would disappoint de Tocqueville, impress him more than this country did during his lifetime, or leave much the same impression. Such speculation could fill volumes of scholarly journals but there is no space for it in this blog. One who finds such things intriguing would be well served to seek this book out at the library; you may even find the library’s original copy!

One of several audiences that John Wells identified in his 1860 Every Man His Own Lawyer …

and another …

and he even remembered the ladies, sort of.


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