World Treasures of the Library of Congress - Beginnings

Return to Creation Sections List Previous Section: The State of Nature and Society

The Law is what it is--a majestic edifice, sheltering all of us, each stone of which rests on another.

John Galsworthy, 1910.

Rules for Daily Living

Completed in 1517, this text became the authoritative source of many of the laws of the Ottoman Empire until reforms occurred in the nineteenth century. This manuscript contains rules covering practically every human activity-spiritual rites, domestic relations, inheritance, commercial transactions, and crimes. Written by Ibrahim Al-Halabi, one of the most learned legal scholars in the sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire, the work has annotations within the main body and all around the margins, made by various commentators, some of whom have initialed their remarks.

Burhan al-Din bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim Al-Halabi. Multaka Al Abhur (The Confluence of the Currents). Page 2. Manuscript, 1517. Law Library, Library of Congress (64)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj64

French Customary Law

This illuminated legal manuscript is one of the treasures of the Library of Congress. Probably prepared as a presentation copy, this unique manuscript has numerous engravings and illuminations. The text of the law and commentary are in French, followed by the text of law in Latin. The Customary Laws of Normandy is especially valuable to the comparative scholar, because it is more akin to English common law than to French civil law.

Coustumes de Normandie (Customary Laws of Normandy). Page 2. Page 3. Page 4. Page 5. Page 6. Page 7. Manuscript, circa. 1450-1470. Law Library, Library of Congress (65)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj65

Miniature Copy of 1861 Emancipation Manifesto

This miniature copy of three reform laws initiated by Tsar Alexander II 9reigned 1855-1881), with the tsar's crest on the cover, includes the 1861 Emancipation Manifesto that abolished serfdom in Russia. Approximately 23 million serfs gained personal freedom and a grant of land. (Serfs were farmers bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of a landlord.) Although the reform aroused great hopes, emancipation did not help most serfs because many uncooperative nobles gave serfs land that was useful for little more than subsistence. Nonetheless, the manifesto was an important step that led to social change in Russia. This volume may have been made for Alexander himself in commemoration of his reform measures or for him to give as a gift.

Gosudaria Imperatora Aleksandra II Vysochaishie manifest i ukayzy 19. Fevralia 1861, 1. Ianvaria 1864, 20. Noiabria 1864. S. Petersburg, 1869. (Imperial Manifest and Decrees of Emperor Alexander II of February 19, 1861; January 1, 1864; and November 20, 1864. St Petersburg, 1869). St. Petersburg: Imperial Court Printer, 1869. Rare Book Collection, Law Library, Library of Congress (65.1a,b)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj65.1a

Oldest German Law Code

This illuminated manuscript records one of the oldest and most influential German law codes. Between 1220 and 1235, the Sachsenspiegel (Mirror of the Saxons) was written by Eike of Repgow (1180-1235) to record and thus to stabilize what until the thirteenth century was an oral tradition. The book contains information on a wide variety of legal topics, including administration of the law; penal law; laws concerning inheritance, dowries, and marriage; property law; and laws governing the herding, keeping, and hunting of animals. Written for those charged with administering the law, the Sachsenspiegel was widely disseminated in Germany and beyond.

Eike of Repgow. Der Sachsenspiegel (Mirror of the Saxons). Germany, ca. 1500. Manuscript. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (66)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj66

Early Native American Legal Testimony

This is one of eight sheets prepared by the Nahua Indians of Huejotzingo to protest the excessive tribute they were forced to pay the Spanish colonial administrators whom Hernando Cortés had left in charge. When Cortés returned, the Nahua people joined him in a legal case against those Spanish administrators. The codex gives a precise accounting of what the people of Huejotzingo were required to provide. The displayed sheet is a record of the amount of gold and feathers the Indians provided to produce a banner of the Madonna and child for a Spanish military campaign.

Huejotzingo Codex, 1531. Page 2. Page 3. Page 4. Page 5. Page 6. Page 7. Page 8. Amatl paper. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (67)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj67

Principles of Individual Liberty

Among the Law Library's rarest books, this miniature manuscript is still in its original pigskin wrapper. Intricate colored pen work graces this small version of the Magna Carta, the basic source of English common law. The Magna Carta established the principle that no one, not even the king, is above the law. The principles of individual liberty it confirmed influenced later political thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson.

Magna charta cum statutis angliae, (Great Charter with English Statutes). Page 2. Page 3. Page 4. Manuscript, fourteenth century. Rare Book Collection, Law Library, Library of Congress (68)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj68

Carta of Imperial Russia

Granted by Empress Catherine II in 1785, this document may be regarded as a Russian Magna Carta. The carta concluded the legal consolidation of Russian nobility as a class and provided for its political and corporate rights, privileges, and principles of self-organization. Initially intended to apply only to nobility, the Carta contained ideas of liberty, which were later interpreted to extend to others. In this printing, the imperial title is hand written in gold and is surrounded by engraved coats of arms of the provinces of the Russian Empire.

Zhalovannaia Gramota Dvorianstvu (Carta Granted to the Nobility). 1785. Page 2. Rare Book Collection, Law Library, Library of Congress (70)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj70

Constitution of India, 1949

This book is one of 1000 photolithographed reproductions made in 1955 of the Constitution of the Republic of India, ratified in 1949, two years after India became independent of Britain. Concern for the rights of citizens is the basic principle established in the constitution, which sought to assimilate the various linguistic regions and religious groups of India into a cohesive nation. The opening page, shown, contains language echoing that of the Constitution of the United States. Borders, illuminated with real gold in the original, surround the text and illustrations, in Indian art styles of various times.

The Constitution of India. Calligraphy by Prem Behari Narain Raizda, illuminated by Nand Lal Bose. Dehra Dun, India: Survey of India Offices, 1955. Rare Book Collection, Law Library, Library of Congress (70.1)

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/rule.html#obj70.1

Back to Top

Return to Creation Sections List Previous Section: The State of Nature and Society