IN FOUR VOLUMES (1826-1830)

Based on the first edition
Footnotes have been converted to chapter end notes.
Spelling has been modernized.

This electronic edition
© Copyright 2006 Lonang Institute

Preface to Vol. 1

HAVING retired from public office in the summer of 1823, I had the honor to receive the appointment of Professor of Law in Columbia College. The trustees of that institution have repeatedly given me the most liberal and encouraging proofs of their respect and confidence, and of which I shall ever retain a grateful recollection. A similar appointment was received from them in the year 1793; and this renewed mark of their approbation determined me to employ the entire leisure, in which I found myself, in further endeavors to discharge the debt which, according to Lord Bacon, every man owes to his profession. I was strongly induced to accept the trust, from want of occupation; being apprehensive that the sudden cessation of my habitual employment,1 and the contrast between the discussions of the forum and the solitude of retirement might be unpropitious to my health and spirits, and cast a premature shade over the happiness of declining years.

The following Lectures are the fruit of the acceptance of that trust; and, in the performance of my collegiate duty, I had the satisfaction to meet a collection of interesting young gentlemen, of fine talents and pure character, who placed themselves under my instruction, and in whose future welfare a deep interest is felt.

Having been encouraged to suppose that the publication of the Lectures might render them more extensively useful, I have been induced to submit the present volume to the notice of students, and of the junior members of the profession, for whose use they were originally compiled. Another volume is wanting, to embrace all the material parts of the Lectures which have been composed. It will treat, at large, and in an elementary manner, of the law of property, and of personal rights and commercial contracts; and will be prepared for the press in the course of the ensuing year, unless, in the mean time, there should be reason to apprehend that another volume would be trespassing too far upon the patience and indulgence of the public.

NEW YORK, November 23, 1826.


     1.    I was appointed Recorder of New York in March, 1797, and from that time until August, 1823, I was constantly employed in judicial duties.

Preface to Vol. 2

WHEN the first volume of these Commentaries was published, it was hoped and expected that a second would be sufficient to include the remainder of the Lectures which had been delivered in Columbia College. But, in revising them for the press, some parts required to be suppressed, others to be considerably enlarged, and the arrangement of the whole to be altered and improved. A third volume has accordingly become requisite,2 to embrace that remaining portion of the work which treats of commercial law, and of the doctrines of real estates, and the incorporeal rights and privileges incident to them.

It is probable that, in some instances, I may have been led into more detail than may be thought consistent with the plan of the publication. My apology is to be found in the difficulty of being really useful on some branches of the law, without going far into practical illustrations, and stating, as far as I was able, with precision and accuracy, the established distinctions. Such a detail, however, has been, and will hereafter be, avoided as much as possible; for the knowledge that is intended to be communicated in these volumes is believed to be, in most cases, of general application, and is of that elementary kind, which is not only essential to every person who pursues the science of the law as a practical profession, but is deemed useful and ornamental to gentlemen in every pursuit, and especially to those who are to assume places of public trust, and to take a share in the business and in the councils of our country.

NEW YORK, November 17, 1827.


     2.    When the N. Y. Revised Statutes are cited in this work, the first edition, of 1829, is generally referred to; and if the last edition, of 1846, be referred to, it is cited as New York Revised Statutes, 3d edition; and if the citation of the 3d edition be by the page, the reference is to the new paging at the top of each leaf. Whenever I have had occasion to refer, in this new edition of the Commentaries, to any of the New York statutes, I have always cited from the 3d edition; but, in other respects, the reference to the 1st edition of the New York Revised Statutes remains undisturbed; and I have not thought it worth the trouble of altering that reference, inasmuch as the paging to the first edition of the statutes is preserved in the margin to the 3d edition.