Blackstone and the Birth of Quebec's Legal Culture 1765-1867
Re-Interpreting Blackstone's Commentaries A Seminal Text in National and International Contexts, Edited by Wilfrid Prest, Hart Publishing, 2014, p. 105-124 Forthcoming
37 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2014 Last revised: 11 Jun 2014
Date Written: February 20, 2014
Blackstone’s commentaries were soon translated in French and became, prior to the French Revolution, the principal reference on British constitutional and criminal law. In Quebec, his work was known as early as 1767 and was used to buttress arguments for the preservation of French civil law. He was quoted in court proceedings and in a draft petition. In 1773, François-Joseph Cugnet sent documents concerning these issues to Blackstone, who forwarded them to the British Government. This probably convinced the ministry that the francophone population had no objection to English Criminal Law and to testamentary freedom. Thus, the Quebec Act of 1774 expressly preserved these parts of English Law, while restoring the laws in force prior to the Conquest concerning “Property and Civil Rights”. French versions of the Commentaries were available in Quebec as early as 1784. After the creation of an Assembly, politicians who opposed the Government and wanted to assimilate the provincial Assembly to the British House of Commons regularly quoted Blackstone. His Commentaries, which had benefitted from an improved translation by Chompré in 1822, remained a model for the first legal authors in Quebec. He clearly was part of Quebec’s legal culture and facilitated the understanding of arcane rules of English Law, both because of the clarity of his writings and of various translations of his work made in Europe.
Keywords: Legal History, Quebec, Canada, Bilingualism, Bi-juralism, Legal Traditions, Comparative Law
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