The Lawbook Exchange has issued a catalogue of Recently Acquired Books, Manuscripts & Ephemera. It is divided into four sections, based on geography: the United States, Great Britain, Continental Europe, and Latin America. These items are mostly very old, though old tends to vary with region. There are books from Continental Europe that date back to the 15th century, though obviously you are not going to find books of that age from the Americas. There you will find much from the 19th century, and in the United States, the 20th century as well. The type of texts range from legal books meant primarily for lawyers to broadsides reciting accounts of horrible murders and their trials in verse. A good poet can turn anything into verse (as can a mediocre one). Here are a few of the items we found in this 80th Lawbook Exchange catalogue.
We start with one of the uglier episodes in a century of treaty breaking by the U. S. government. Sadly, "permanent" treaties the U. S. made with Indian nations never lasted very long, as the desire for more land outweighed legal and ethical considerations. Naturally, it was always the Indians' fault. Perhaps the worst of the violations was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It provided for exchanging Indian lands east of the Mississippi River, notably in Georgia, for land in "Indian Territory," today's Oklahoma. It was all supposed to be voluntary, but as many Indians resisted, trickery and eventually force was used. It ended in the brutal forced march of the "Trail of Tears." Not all Americans supported this policy, and item 21 preserves the voice of the opposition: Speeches on the Passage of the Bill for the Removal of the Indians, Delivered in the Congress of the United States, April and May, 1830. Published in 1830, the opposition speeches were compiled and edited by Jeremiah Evarts, a missionary and early advocate of Indian rights. Among the speakers was Davy Crockett, who as a frontier settler one might assume wanted to get rid of the Indians. That would be a very bad assumption as the "King of the Wild Frontier" sympathized with the American natives and probably destroyed his own political career (leading to his emigration to Texas) by defending their rights. Priced at $200.
This next book was already starting to age 500 years ago. Item 110 is De Censuris Ecclesiasticis... by Saint Antoninus, Archbishop of Florence. As with his other works, it was published a little after his death as he died just a bit too soon -1459 – to have his writings published during his lifetime. However, his level of respect was such that fairly soon thereafter his writings reached the press. This is a second edition, published in 1480, six years after the first. This book contains his tracts on censure and punishments, as well as his views on marriage. Antoninus was known for his moral theology and concern for his people, hence the popularity that concluded with his canonization in 1523. This copy contains many colored initial letters, and the first leaf includes colored floral drawings on the margin and foot of the page. $30,000.
Next up is a tragic story, A Genuine and Impartial Account of the Life of Miss Mary Blandy, Particularly from the Time of Her Commitment to Oxford-Castle, To Her Execution at Oxford, Monday, April 6, 1752, For Poisoning Her Father. It was published the year of her execution. There is no doubt Miss Blandy poisoned her father, but there was long a debate over whether that was what she intended to do. Miss Blandy was a well-educated young lady from a proper and prosperous family. Seeking to help his eligible but now 30-year-old daughter find a husband, her father promised suitors a £10,000 dowry, a great sum of money at the time. It brought Captain William Henry Cranstoun out of the woodwork. Cranstoun was seemingly a good match, son of a Scottish nobleman. There was one problem. He was already married. Cranstoun claimed the marriage was invalid and promised to clear the air, but as the months dragged on, Dad became suspicious and wanted his daughter to dump the cad. Cranstoun determined to resolve the problem by giving Mary a potion to give her father. We will never know for certain what Miss Blandy thought the potion was for, but at trial she claimed Cranstoun told her it would make her father like him. The primary ingredient of this love potion was arsenic. It certainly stopped Dad from complaining about the marriage. Perhaps if Mary had gone to the authorities and explained what happened immediately, the judge would have believed her, but instead, she burned Cranstoun's letters and disposed of the rest of the potion. Meanwhile, Cranstoun did what any right-thinking gentleman would do. He fled to France and left Mary to deal with the consequences. This case was notable as the first to use forensic evidence to prove the victim had consumed arsenic. If Mary truly meant only to make her father more loving, she soon found out that the road to the gallows is paved with good intentions. But, always the gentle lady, her last request was said to be, "For the sake of decency, gentlemen, don't hang me high." Item 86. $1,250.
Item 141 is a copy of the laws of the Republic of Yucatan, Coleccion de Leyes, Decretos y Ordenes del Augusto Congreso del Estado Libre de Yucatan. The Yucatan, a part of Mexico encompassing the states of Campeche and Quintana Roo, was for two relatively brief periods an independent republic. The first came in 1823 after the revolution, but ended when Yucatan joined up with the Mexican federation later that year. This 1832 compilation of laws, an expansion of an 1825 book, covers the First Republic. There would later be a longer lasting Second Republic, from Yucatan's withdrawal from Mexico in 1841 to its return in 1848. $950.