Rare First Edition of first Dictionary of American Law: Bouvier's Law Dictionary

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, with Reference to the Civil and Other Systems of Foreign Law.


Item Number: 22031

Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson, 1839.

First edition of this cornerstone of American law. Quarto, 2 volumes bound in period style calf, gilt titles and tooling. First editions are rare,  with no examples appearing at auction in the last 80 years.

John Bouvier was born in Codogno, France, but came to the United States at an early age. He became a U.S. citizen in 1812, was admitted to the bar in 1818, and began practicing law in Philadelphia. During his years of practice and study, he noticed the lack of a solid American law dictionary. He decided to fill this need, and worked on a new law dictionary incessantly for 10 years. One of his main goals was to distinguish American law from its English antecedent. Bouvier’s law dictionary continues to be used by scholars, lawyers, and judges interested in early meanings of legal terms and originalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. See, e.g., Bullock v. Bankchampaign, NA, 133 S.Ct. 1754 (2013) (defining “defalcation”); Nancy F. Cott, “Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States: 1830-1934,” 103 Amer. Hist. Rev. 1440, 1447 (1998) (defining “citizen”). Over 20 editions have been published since 1839, the latest in 2004.

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