Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William W. Hening, 24 July 1794

From William W. Hening

Charle. 24th of July 1794


Being about to submit to the tribunal of the public the work in which I have been so long engaged, I feel all that diffidence which is natural to an author, particularly to one of my age. Altho’ I am conscious that neither pains nor expence have been spared to render the publication worthy of that patronage which, in every stage, it has experienced; yet I am sensible that no man can be a judge of his own performances—and that where the expences of the publication are partly sustained by the subscribers, they have a right to expect some better assurances of the merit of the performance than the author himself is able to give. It is from these impressions that I have never omitted an opportunity of laying it before gentlemen eminent for their literary talents—and with this conviction, I now, presume to trouble you with the revisal of a few sheets; requesting you would candidly point out the defects in the plan and execution. It will readily be perceived that, in quoting Hale, Hawkins, and other writers on Criminal law, I have not adopted their precise words, but in every instance have varied the expression, so as to suit the existing government and laws of this country. Whether this practice may be deemed justifiable or not, I am at a loss to determine; but of this I am certain, that it will be more generally pleasing to the people of America, and that the magistrates, in whose hands this book will principally fall, will thereby be less subject to error. I am very Respectfully yrs

Wm: W: Hening

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 25 July 1794 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found.

William Waller Hening (1767–1828), the noted Virginia legal writer and lawyer who was currently practicing in Charlottesville, later served as representative for Albemarle County in the House of Delegates, 1804–05, member of the Council of State, 1806–10, clerk of the Superior Court of Chancery for the Richmond District, 1810–28, and deputy adjutant general during the War of 1812. The work in which I have been so long engaged, The New Virginia Justice, comprising the Office and Authority of a Justice of the Peace, in the Commonwealth of Virginia (Richmond, 1795), to which TJ was one of the original subscribers, was the first in a series of writings that made Hening one of Virginia’s leading legal scholars. After publishing a variety of other books on American and British law, Hening capped his career with his edition of The Statutes at Large, an indispensable source for the study of Virginia history that drew heavily on TJ’s personal collection of Virginia legal records (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Samuel M. Walker, Jr., “William Waller Hening,” description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, 1809–23, 13 vols. description ends in W. Hamilton Bryson, ed., The Virginia Law Reporters before 1880 [Charlottesville, 1977], 19–24; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 1863, 1971).

According to SJL, Hening wrote letters to TJ on 16 and 30 Mch. 1800, received 29 Mch. and 7 Apr. 1800 respectively, the second from Richmond, and TJ wrote a letter to Hening on 7 Apr. 1800, none of which has been found.

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