Friday, June 24, 2011

Blackstone on the Right of Self-Defense (or "Self-Defence," If You Prefer the Old Spelling)

William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book III; 1768.

In John Adams' copy of this book (from which I copy the following), this can be found on page 4.

"The defence of one's self, or the mutual and reciprocal defence of such as stand in the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant.  In these cases, if the party himself, or any of these his relations, be forcibly attacked in his person or property, it is lawful for him to repel force by force; and the breach of the peace, which happens, is chargeable upon him only who began the affray.  For the law, in this case, respects the passions of the human mind; and (when external violence is offered to a man himself, or those to whom he bears a near connection) makes it lawful in him to do himself that immediate justice, to which he is prompted by nature, and which no prudential motives are strong enough to restrain.  It considers that the future process of law is by no means an adequate remedy for injuries accompanied with force; since it is impossible to say, to what wanton lengths of rapine or cruelty outrages of this sort might be carried, unless it were permitted a man immediately to oppose one violence with another.  Self-defence, therefore, as it is justly called the primary law of nature, so it is not, neither can it be in fact, taken away by the law of society.  In the English law particularly it is held an excuse for breaches of the peace, nay even for homicide itself: but care must be taken, that the resistance does not exceed the bounds of mere defence and prevention; for then the defender would himself become an aggressor."

Adams himself evidently wrote a note next to this, in the margin, but it is in Latin.  I'll try to get it translated.

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