Law and the Common School

In his final post, Eric Berner explores books of law that could have been used in the common school classroom. These are works that likely would have received the most attention from St. Ignatius College Students. A huge thanks to Eric for a great series and the best of luck as he heads off to law school. We hope his work on the JLPP has taught him a thing or two about the law!

John S. Hart, A Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (Philadelphia: 1871).

John S. Hart, A Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (Philadelphia: 1874, Eldridge & Brother).

Edward Mansfield, Political Grammar of the United States (Cincinnati: 1846, W.T. Truman). 

Furman Sheppard, The Constitutional Text-book (Philadelphia: 1855, Childs & Peterson). 

Charles Stearns, A Concordance to the Constitution of the United States of America (1872: New York, Mason Baker & Pratt). 

Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (1858: New York, Harper Brothers). 

“It is a simple, but an accurate synopsis of the rudiments of the federal government; so well adapted to the apprehension of youth, as to leave nothing further to be desired, in the shape of a political manual,” wrote Chief Justice Gibson – most likely John Bannister Gibson (1780-1853), Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – in the introduction to John Seeley Hart’s classic work A Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States for use in Common Schools. Before beginning research of this project, I was unaware of its existence, but along with Webster’s Blue Back Speller and The McGuffey Reader, it was, apparently, one of the most valued educational texts of the nineteenth century. As the name suggests, it was intended for use in the common school curriculum. The contents include the Constitution, with commentary, as well as an introduction with such easily understood questions and answers on basic American governance as, “What kind of government existed in America before the Revolution?” Insightful answer: “A Colonial government.”

Nineteenth-century common schools offered the children of the less-than-elite a basic education in reading, writing, and math. They also taught topics like American history and law, as well as Protestant ethics, intended to instill values of moral citizenship. Horace Mann, a Whig politician from Massachusetts, is often credited as the leading advocate for these schools, the first true public education system in the United States. The Jesuits who founded St Ignatius College had their own pedagogical system for educating the sons of Chicago’s They shared an emphasis on religious ethics and grooming children to be citizens. This makes it unsurprising that St Ignatius would have had two copies of Hart’s book.

An image of the title-page of the 1879 edition of Hart’s classic work.

Unfortunately, neither of the two editions of Hart’s Brief Exposition is still held in Loyola collections. The first is a mysterious 1871 edition printed in Philadelphia, but the publisher is not specified. The earliest edition I have found either listed or digitized online is an 1860 one printed by “E.H. Butler & Co” in Philadelphia. It is quite possible that this 1871 edition was a reprinting of this one, possibly by the same printer. After 1874, it seems the printing of this text was taken up by a different Philadelphia publisher, Eldrege & Brother on 17 North Seventh Street. St Ignatius held a copy of this 1874 edition. An 1879 reprint of which has been digitized on the HathiTrust website. While Eldrege & Brother publishing is no longer around, the company’s legacy lives on in perhaps the most famous seller of books in the United States. According to The Noble Legacy, Betty Turner’s biography of Gilbert Clifford Noble, Eldrege & Brother, largely a publisher of textbooks, was merged with another textbook publisher, Hinds and Noble. The “Noble” of this collective is the same one that still exists, after multiple buyouts and mergers through the twentieth century, in the name of “Barnes and Noble.”

St. Ignatius College’s original catalog lists a copy of Edward Mansfield’s The Political Grammar of the United States printed in 1846 in Cincinnati by W.T. Truman, a publisher known mostly for printing schoolbooks. An earlier edition, from 1834, is held in Loyola’s Special Collections today.  It’s publisher combined with its dedication, which reads “A complete view of the general and states governments with relations between them, dedicated and adapted to the young men of the United States,” would lead one to believe that the book was intended for educational purposes. Though similar to a self-teaching book in its common-language explication of the law, Mansfield wrote his book while professor of constitutional law at Cincinnati College to benefit his students. Interestingly, Mansfield later left the college after a brief tenure to focus on magazine editing, where he was decidedly more successful. He is credited with introducing the American public to popular writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, while editor of Atlas and the Cincinnati Chronicle, according to his Wikipedia page.

Mansfield’s goal in the Political Grammar is to instill in his students a thorough philosophical understanding of the rights behind the Constitution, how it came to be, and how it is applied through government, not just an understanding of its words or laws. Unfortunately for him (and the introduction in one particular edition on Google books says as much), Joseph Story’s commentaries came out just before Mansfield’s which soon became lost among the pack of the Harvard professor’s imitators and disputers. Loyola’s edition of Mansfield’s book, according to its ex libris, was originally owned by one Henry Boynton Sullivan, a lawyer from Maine.

Charles Stearn’s Concordance from 1872, still held by Loyola.

Another book explicitly intended for students (as judged by its subtitle indicating its inclusion of “Educational Questions” and the address in the preface) that Loyola still owns is A Concordance to the Constitution of the United States by Charles Stearns. The book itself is held by the Special Collections for reasons of safety; it is in the worst condition of all of the still-extant law books. The cover is peeling off and the pages are brittle and yellowed. Nevertheless, I was able to open it enough to scan its contents.  Barely over 100 pages, the book consists of the full text of the constitution, followed by explications of major points in the document (Presidential Powers, the Treasury, etc) and an index of relevant terms and definitions. Though not much different from many of the other works of Constitutional analysis included in my previous post, its explicit address to students led me to include it in this post. There is not much to say about why the Jesuits would include it; they seemed keen to collect as many explications of US law, particularly the Constitution, as they could through gift or purchase. This almost would seem to be one of the least useful due to its short length and relative lack of information.

Stearns’ Concordance was published in New York in 1872 by Mason, Baker, and Pratt. This publisher still exists, though, since at least the late nineteenth century, under the name Baker and Taylor Company. This company lasted for more than 180 years as an independently owned one. (It was in fact, ranked on a list by Forbes’ of most valuable independent companies in 2008.) Unfortunately, in a sign of the ever-monopolizing industry of publishing, the company was acquired just last year by – and absorbed into – Follett Corporation, which sells Loyola students their textbooks. Information was readily available on Stearns himself on Wikipedia. Educated as a surgeon, he practiced in New York and served in the medical units of the Union Army during the Civil War. Following the war, he became a carpetbagger, going to the South as a teacher and missionary and devoting more time to his writing on a wide range of subjects, including the conditions of blacks in the South and multiple works on Shakespeare, for whom he apparently had quite a passion.

Surviving copy of Furman Sheppard’s Constitutional Text-Book (1855)

Also still held in the Special Collections is a decidedly better-kept copy of Furman Sheppard’s The Constitutional Textbook. This 1855 edition was published by Childs and Peterson in Philadelphia. George William Childs, whose name was lent to this company, was apparently more known as the publisher of a newspaper called the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Today, Loyola’s copy has some sort of adhesive tape holding its spine together, but I did not fear for its safety upon opening it as I did with the Stearns book.  The book was another author’s attempt to give his own explications of Constitutional, as well as other local and state, laws for students.  The language, however, is not as simplistic as some of the self-help books or common school books, and the subtitle on the title page tells us why. It is specifically addressed as being “designed chiefly for the use of those in schools, academies, and colleges.” Finally, we have a piece of legal analysis intended for college students. 1855 was a good year for such a book to come out: Joseph Story had died ten years previously and his ideas on legal education were beginning to gain traction.  Which must bring us, in conclusion, to the man himself.

Modern American legal history began at Harvard in the nineteenth century. There in 1870 (as explained in one of my earliest posts) Christopher Columbus Langdell instituted his ‘case method’ of legal education which has become the standard model for law schools in this country to this day. But Harvard had already been at the forefront of legal education and innovation for decades before this. Harvard’s law department struggled from its founding in 1817 until 1827 when alumnus Nathan Dane endowed a law professorship on condition it be given to Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Story undertook strengthening the department, believing in the need for an elite law college in the United States. Wielding influence already as a long-serving and outspoken member of the highest Court in the land, he set out to leave his mark on the country’s legal landscape. In addition to writing textbooks, he also composed more opinions for the Marshall Court than anyone but the Chief Justice himself.

Joseph Story was a very popular author during his lifetime, as well as an influential judge and educator. (According to his Wikipedia page, he made almost double in publishing proceeds than his Supreme Court salary.) Judging by the number of digital surrogates, as well as the continued availability of modern editions, his Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, first published in 1840, was one of his most popular books. St Ignatius’s original library catalog lists an 1858 edition published by Harper Brothers in New York.  Though the college’s original edition no longer appears to exist, the text was popular enough for the school to replace it.  In fact, one of these replacement copies, by the same publisher and printed two years later, is close enough to the original that one can get an idea of what it was like.

Still in circulation, I confess that I originally was convinced that this 1860 edition in fact was the original, and that the catalog simply had an error in years. This theory died when it was pointed out to me by Dr. Roberts that, unlike the other originals still extant, this copy does not have a stamp for St Ignatius College on the inside.  This copy does in fact have not one, but two markings from pre-Loyola owners: one was JD Madden who, as his stamp says, gifted the book to the school, and an older owner, whose name is illegible but seemingly owned it in San Jose in 1860.

The contents of Story’s Familiar Exposition themselves are, as is conveniently done in many of these old books, explained on the title page. This is an exposition “containing a brief commentary on every clause, explaining the true nature, reasons, and objects thereof; designed for the use of school libraries and general readers with an appendix containing important public documents, illustrative of the Constitution.”  On its face, its content does not seem to differ from many of the other books on this list. It includes the Constitution, some other documents such as the Declaration of Independence, and the author’s opinions and commentaries on it.  Particularly interesting is Story’s own commentary. There is nothing brief about it.  He proceeds to explain the entire history of the colonies and the Revolution in the chapters leading up to Constitution.  Then, the reader is given a unique insight, not just into the laws of the land, but into the mind of one of the men who was involved in the official interpretations of many of them in the nation’s highest court.  This is essential reading for any law student interested in “original intent”, as well as a fantastic tool for a student of American government. If a reader only had time to read one book of American Constitutional exposition, this is the one to read.

The original St Ignatius collection, with copies of the Magna Carta older than the Virginia colony, reprints just as old of Roman legal codes from the sixth century, and the seminal work of Justice Story, among many others, is a perfect place for one to see just how old the study and practice of the law truly are. The history of the law is indeed the history of civilization and I’m glad I had the chance to study it through the lens of Loyola’s original library catalog.


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