“Upon this point a page of history is worth a volume of logic.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U.S. 345, 349 (1921)
April 4, 2012 – When we think of the Web, it is often for current information. It is the perfect source for news events or recent documents from an agency or association. What we might not consider is the availability of historical information and legal classics. As the web matures, more historic and archival material will be added to aid researchers and preserve information. This article highlights only a few of the growing number of resources you may choose the next time you need to reference foundational legal principles or historic texts.
The Avalon Project
The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School is a terrific source for legal classics and foundational documents in the law. Whether you need to quote the Magna Carta or the Federalist Papers, the Yale collection is unsurpassed on the web for completeness and accuracy.
One legal classic often referenced at the Avalon Project is Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. The source document is the first edition of this venerable work. Each chapter is listed, and users only need to drill down to the text. An index and appendix are also included.
Open Jurist is an easy-to-use site that contains not only case law, but also the founding documents of the United States including the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Viewable facsimiles of the documents as well as short descriptions are also included. The site’s mission is to provide ready access to published U.S. legal opinions and other resources without charge. To this end, the site provides a straightforward layout and a handy search box.
American Memory Collection of Government and Law
The American Memory Collection of Government and Law is also a fascinating browse for those seeking historical legal information. You will find A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation here beginning with documents from the Continental Congress to 1875.
The American Memory Collection also contains papers from Abraham Lincoln the lawyer to his role as president – a period covering his life from the 1850s to 1865. The site contains writings by and about Lincoln, as well as a large body of publications concerning the issues of the times including slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and related topics.
University of Oklahoma College of Law
If you would like a more visual representation of the history of foundational legal documents, the University of Oklahoma College of Law has put together a fascinating Chronology of U.S. Historical Documents. The list contains entries from the pre-colonial era all the way to present day and will certainly grow as events warrant.
Proceedings of the Old Bailey
An engaging legal history source from England is the Proceedings of the Old Bailey from London’s Central Criminal Court 1674 to 1913. This site contains a fully searchable body of trial texts. A linked tutorial on how to read an Old Bailey trial is helpful and recommended to fully understand the form and content of a proceeding. The site also contains images of the original documents. Some people have even used this site for genealogical research.
State Bar of Wisconsin
Finally, besides national and state historical materials, the State Bar of Wisconsin’s website, WisBar.org, offers Wisconsin’s Legal History. This Web page highlights many documents and articles pertinent to our own state’s legal heritage. One helpful article is The Making of the Wisconsin Constitution, Wisconsin Lawyer™, September 1992, by Jay Ranney, which details the development of this document and its difficult ‘birth.”
About the author
Mary J. Koshollek, Marquette 1993, is the director of Information and Records Services for Godfrey & Kahn, Milwaukee. She is responsible for library operations for all of Godfrey’s offices as well as the records/conflicts/dockets systems. She was a member of the Marquette Law Review and a Hicks Research Fellow.