The oldest law reports in North America were originally written by Josiah Quincy Junior (1744-1775), recording the cases of continental America’s oldest court, the Superior Court of Judicature of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. That is the direct ancestor of today’s Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which has been in continuous existence since 1692.
My friend Daniel R. Coquillette, former Dean of Boston College Law School has edited a new edition of the law reports published this month.
Quincy’s court reports offer a rare legal insight into life in the American colonies prior to the American Revolution, and cover such wide-ranging topics as trials by jury, statutory construction, slavery, women’s rights, early consumer protection and piracy. Some of the legal decisions from colonial times still have importance as precedent today.
“These books are the living spirit of the rule of law and the heritage of this great court,” Coquillette told an audience at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. “Josiah Quincy Junior, at age 18, had the vision that if America was going to be a great legal country, it needed to have its own legal reports.”
Quincy died from illness at the age of 32 and was not able to publish the reports before his death. That task fell to his son, Josiah Quincy, who later became mayor of Boston and president of Harvard University, and his grandson, Samuel Quincy, a Union Army officer who eventually transcribed the reports while serving on the front lines of Civil War battles.