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TO THE FIRST EDITION.
ACCORDING to the custom of the times, a preface usually takes the form of an apology for adding to the multitude of books; and I shall so far comply with this custom as to explain my reason for making this publication.
While pursuing my legal studies, I found myself much in the condition of a mariner without chart or compass. I experienced at every step the want of a first book upon the law of this country. I felt that much time would have been saved if I could have commenced my course with a systematic outline of American instead of English law; for, as the two systems differ in nearly as many points as they correspond, and as I had no means of distinguishing between the applicable and the in applicable, I necessarily acquired many false impressions, the more difficult to be subsequently corrected because they were first impressions. In a word, I came to the conclusion that fewer facilities have been provided for studying the elementary principles of American jurisprudence, than for perhaps any other branch of usefal knowledge.
And these results of my experience as a student have acquired additional confirmation from my experience as a teacher. In the year 1833,
I became connected with the Cincinnati Law School, at first a private institution, but afterwards a department of the Cincinnati College; and here I was hourly called upon to remove the doubts and difficulties which I had myself encountered. In order to do this in the most convenient and effectual manner, and without a thought of publication, I commenced the preparation of the following Lectures, which I read to the students, as an introduction or accompaniment to the usual course of legal study. Such being my object, I endeavored to be clear and simple, rather than to seem profound or erudite; and instead of attempting to give a complete exposition of any single branch of law, I sought to bring together all the various branches, and present them to view under a comprehensive but systematic outline, which would exhibit their general bearings and relations only, and not their particular details ; but, at the same time, in connection with each successive topic, I mentioned the books containing more detailed information.
Such, briefly, were the views with which these Lectures were prepared ; and I now publish them under a belief that they will be useful to two classes of persons ; namely, first, those who are beginning a course of professional study, and require something in the nature of a guide-book; and, secondly, those who desire to obtain some general notions of the law, as an important part of practical education, but do not intend to pursue it as a profession. Whether this belief be well founded or not, experiment only can determine. If not, as my aim has been utility only, and not fame, so my failure will only occasion regret, and not mortification. I have, however, been induced to hope for a happier result, from the favorable opinion almost unanimously expressed by the students to whom these Lectures were read, and who may be presumed to be the best judges of what will satisfy their own wants; and also from the approbation expressed by several distinguished professional gentlemen, to whom I submitted the manuscript, and in whose judgment and candor I have the utmost confidence. I mention these facts to show that I have not acted rashly or unadvisedly ; but not to make others responsible for my errors. If I have been guilty of adding one more to the catalogue of useless books, as mine has been the presumption, let the censure rest on me alone ; and I will no further deprecate criticism, or implore mercy, than by asking those who may pass judgment upon my efforts to keep my purpose distinctly in view. Let it be remembered that I have written for beginners only, and not for adepts; that I have made no pretensions to deep professional lore; that this book does not propose to supersede other elementary books, but only to prepare the way for them; and that I seek no other praise than that of usefulness.
If an author may be allowed to express an opinion in his own case, I would say that the chief merits of this book will be found to consist in perspicuity and condensation. As to originality, unless it be in the arrangement and modes of illustration, it does not belong to such an undertaking ; but it is proper to say, that I have quoted very sparingly the language of other writers, and never without giving credit. I have, moreover, scrupulously avoided giving long abstracts of cases, though this is a very convenient method of making or amplifying law-books. In a word, I have crowded as many general principles as I could into the smallest compass compatible with clearness; and, to this end, I have sought to use just such words and so many words as would express my meaning, and no more. Believing that the language of a law-book should be seen through rather than looked at, I have made no attempt at what is called fine writing, but have used as much plainness and familiarity of speech as the exceedingly technical character of the subject would permit. Indeed, what other fault soever may be found, professional pedantry will not be imputed to me.
But I have entitled this book an Introduction to American Law, and I may be called upon to vindicate the propriety of this title. I confess, then, that in some minor respects it may not be equally adapted to all parts of the Union ; but my excuse is, that without being ten times as large as it is, it could not have been made so. If I had possessed the knowledge, I could not, within any reasonable compass, have referred to the local law of twentysix different States ; and yet local references were occasionally necessary, in order to exhibit an entire system. I was compelled, therefore, in such cases, to make choice of some particular State ; and I naturally selected that State in which the Lectures were read. But these local references, in an outline so general as this, are not so frequent as to detract materially from the general adaptation of the book to students in other States; and, in case of diversity, the
necessary corrections can be easily made. At all events, the diversity is less between the different States than between any one State and England; and therefore something is certainly gained even on the score of general adaptation.
And here let me anticipate an objection of another sort. It may be said, that, in attempting to teach what the law is, I have dwelt too much upon what I think it should be ; or, in other words, that in a work professedly didactic, I have speculated too much upon projects of reform. To this objection I have two answers. In the first place, I have never undertaken to show what the law ought to be, without first stating what it is. While, therefore, the primary end of instruction is obtained, the mind of the student is at the same time excited to compare, examine, and discuss the principles in question ; and thus impress them the more deeply upon his memory. And, in the second place, if the suggestions I have ventured to make be sound, they cannot be made too early, because bad laws are the very worst of bad things ; and if these suggestions be not sound, they can do no harm, because the antidote accompanies the bane; nay, the provision complained of will inspire increased confidence in the mind of the student from having been unsuccessfully assailed. But I cannot help believing that many of the proposed alterations would be decided improvements; and, in that belief, I have been anxious to present them to minds unhackneyed by custom, and therefore the more fitted to examine them without prejudice. I confess myself sanguine on the subject of legal reform; but I trust that I have nowhere pressed such considerations in an improper spirit.
Such, then, are the prefatory explanations which I have deemed it proper to make. That a book like that which I have endeavored to furnish is very much wanted, all will agree. How far my execution has corresponded with my design, it is for my readers to decide. I cannot but wonder, as well as regret, that the task has not long since been performed by abler hands, for it is well worthy of the very ablest. Why has not some distinguished lawyer, after retiring from the more active labors of his profession, added one more laurel to his brilliant wreath, by embodying, in an enduring form, for the