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In this section of
Gaspee History Page Up

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Go the section on
Gaspee Raiders
for biographical information on the Americans in the boats attacking the Royal Navy ship Gaspee.

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Books: American Colonial and Revolutionary War history or the people involved. We have suggestions for you.

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The American colonies had lawyers who were educated in and about  the common law and legal system of England.  These American attorneys had a large influence in the success of the Americans in resisting the laws passed by Parliament.

The widespread knowledge of English law and the use of it as a normal part of the colonists lives before the Revolutionary War is the primary reason why the American colonists were able to use law as a weapon of their resistance to the laws passed by the English Parliament.  What the Americans did was correct legal procedure.  In response the English had to respond in a correct legal manner, or lose the legal system which they assumed gave them political control of the colonies.  The English, perhaps even more than the Americans, did not want to resort to force to rule the colonies.  Both sides of the American controversy knew and respected English law.

The reason why the Americans knew English law so well was because the upper classes in American were educated about English law by their own sons. Unlike the English social culture that insisted a "gentleman" did not work if the family income was sufficient,  the American upper classes deliberately thought of useful occupations in which their children would increase the income of the family beyond that of the land itself.  The colonists recognized the practice of law as a needed learned profession. The American colonies knew they needed not only to order society in the ways they expected, but also they needed administrators (judges and lawyers) who could implement the socially expected system of regulation.   In a number of instances, American sons went to London to learn the practice of law and then returned to their home to practice as a lawyer.  These American colonists were Englishmen who expected the rights of Englishmen, and expected those rights to be enforced by their own local courts.

All of the four Inns of Court had students from the American Colonies.  And many of those who returned to the Colonies did not make historical marks in performing their profession of law.  So what I am about to say should not be taken as saying that only the Middle Temple was involved in training lawyer, nor should it taken as saying that all the lawyers trained in the Inns of Court became politically prominent back in the Colonies.

I do want to add a special note about Middle Temple.  Middle Temple was one of the four Inns of Court at which English barristers (the top of the legal profession in England) could learn law.  Middle Temple of London, England, had particularly strong links with the emerging United States.

  • Five Middle Templars (Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Junior, Thomas McKean, Thomas Lynch and Arthur Middleton) were among the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence. 
  • For good measure in linking American and English lawyers in history, we mention that the English Whig orator Edmund Burke (who championed the colonists' cause in Parliament before 1775) was also a Middle Templar.
  • A  Middle Templar (John Dickinson) drafted the 'Articles of Confederation',
  • Seven Middle Templars were in the thirty-nine members of the later Constitutional Convention who signed the completed 'Constitution (William Livingstone, John Blair, John Dickinson, John Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Jared Ingersoll and Charles Pinckney).  In short,  almost 20% of the signers of the Constitution  were trained in the Middle Temple in London. 

to emphasize the connection between Middle Temple and the United States, Middle Temple has a copy of  the American Constitution on their library wall. 

Read Law as a Weapon of the Americans in the Revolution


Note: The best single source identifying American lawyers trained in England is Jones, E. Alfred. American Members of the Inns of Court, 1 - 250. London: The Saint Catherine Press, 1924. [Abstract: Personal histories of those trained in the Inns of Court, who were born or practiced law in the American Colonies. Many of the law officers of the Colonies were members of the Inns of Court. Several members of the American bar were trained in the English Inns of Court.]  We are indebted to the chief librarian at the Middle Temple for telling us of this book, which can be found in some American university libraries.