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Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior.

Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior. Volume Four: The Law Reports, Part One (1761-1765). Edited by Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York. (Boston, Mass.: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, with University of Virginia Press, 2009. Pp. xii, 417. $40.00.)

Josiah Quincy, among historians of the American Revolution, is often referred to as a "forgotten patriot." A keen, active member of the Sons of Liberty, he published essays and articles that criticized politicians appointed by the crown and British policy on topics like the Stamp Act and the Coercive Acts. In 1775, he went to England to build support among British politicians for colonial activities; the return journey to Massachusetts was his undoing, for he died shortly before the ship arrived in Boston and before the Revolution itself commenced. To men of the Revolutionary age, he was a hero, but for modern-day Americans, he has remained in the shadows, at best.

Quincy's written legacy from the 1760s and 1770s takes many forms: a journal of his travels to the South, his commonplace book, and a set of law reports of the cases he witnessed between 1761 and 1772 at the Superior Court of Judicature in Massachusetts. Unlike law students of the period who might take down notes on cases that interested them for personal reference later, Quincy's note-taking purpose was to prepare a set of law reports that could be shared with others, giving basic information on precedents that might be cited by any lawyer in future. They are the oldest law reports in America and are still cited by Massachusetts courts today. In the last two volumes of Portrait of a Patriot, the editors, Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York, give us a complete republication of Quincy's Law Reports, to which they have added copious notes on the issues in play for each case, the lawyers for each side, other paperwork available on the cases (e.g., depositions and summonses for witnesses), the sources or authorities cited by lawyers in each suit, and even how cases were later cited by Massachusetts courts.

The volumes remind the modern reader that colonial law was far from being an amateur affair, as some legal historians have suggested was common in the period. The lawyers arguing in the cases Quincy recorded had access to a wide range of legal materials, as demonstrated by Quincy himself. Appendices in volume 5 give full bibliographical details on Quincy's law library both during his lifetime (works cited by him during arguments) as well as at his death (via probate records). Other appendices provide critical background detail on the judges and lawyers who were active during the last twenty years prior to the Revolution in Boston, all men who would have been known to Quincy and who feature largely in his Law Reports. These men had significant legal training and, in a few cases, highly specialized areas of emphasis or background (Jeremiah Gridley devoted an enormous amount of his library to the collection of texts on admiralty law, for example). The cast of characters is large, but Coquillette and York steer the reader through the maze of duplicate surnames (Gridley, Jeremiah, and Gridley, Benjamin), fleshing out the work Quincy did to its fullest extent. By the time of the Revolution, judges on the court were no longer merely men with political connections but often had extensive legal backgrounds of their own (e.g., Edmund Trowbridge).

Further detailed appendices enhance the value of these volumes. The works that judges cited in their decisions are broken down in another appendix, indicating what sources of authority were cited, whether English, colonial, or customary law. The number of times each judge on the Superior Court dissented is likewise encoded in an appendix, which reveals that Thomas Hutchinson dissented more than three or four other judges combined on the bench. The volumes also contain a breakdown of the type of cases heard by the Superior Court in this time period; by far, procedural and jurisdictional issues prevailed at the court of appeal, followed closely by issues about evidence, commercial law, and jury trial issues. Unlike trial courts, where matters of property and contract prevailed numerically, at this appellate level the problems at issue were more likely to be narrowly technical in nature. The editors have even provided a handy 'key' to the cases in both volumes in an appendix that summarizes the main issues and findings in each suit.

Although Quincy's great-grandson, Samuel Quincy, transcribed the original handwritten volumes in the 1860s and arranged for their publication after the Civil War, the 1865 edition contained only limited annotations and was produced using wartime pulp paper--a recipe for deterioration before the century's end. Scholars who have attempted to use the volume know its severe problems. This handsome new edition brings Josiah Quincy's work up to the highest standards of acid-free paper and clear presentation, which, by adding so many helpful tools and annotations, should make Quincy's work a more sought-after source for legal historians in generations to come.

Sally E. Hadden

Western Michigan University
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Author:Hadden, Sally E.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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