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arrow graphicRare Book Collection
Territorial and State Session Laws
American State Trials Collection
State Law
Federal Law




Rare Book Collection
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“An Act for Punishment of Scandalous Persons.” From A Complete Collection of the Laws of Virginia at a Grand Assembly held at James City 23 March, 1662 (London, [1684?]; Law <United States Virginia 2>). Law Library of Congress.

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The Rare Book Collection of the Law Library of Congress contains a large and diverse assortment of materials. These unique holdings include:

  • laws from colonial America
  • historical laws of other countries
  • early court decisions and treatises
  • reprints and other copies of colonial records relating to court decisions, such as the records of the Massachusetts' executor of wills and other property records
Laws, court decisions, and treatises written and published before 1801 are considered rare, as are certain "one of a kind" items published after 1801. Most of these materials are in their original printings.

The bulk of the Rare Book Collection relates to American law materials contained in two categories, Territorial and State Session Laws and the American State Trials Collection, which are described in greater detail in separate subsections.

In addition to these American law materials, the Rare Book Collection also includes historical laws and treatises from France, Spain, Russia, Great Britain, and other Commonwealth countries. The laws of Great Britain are the most extensive because of their significance in America and their influence on America's laws. Often the colonies based their original laws on the British or other European systems. The Statutes of the Realm of Great Britain, dating back to 1235, are the oldest. Law in Louisiana, the only civil law state, was, on the other hand, influenced by French and Spanish civil codes. The Coutumes of France, dating back to the fifteenth century and the precursor to the contemporary French Civil Code, are in this collection. The Castillian Leone Code, Las Siete Partidas, the precursor to the Spanish Civil Code, as well as a collection of Imperial Russian materials including the laws in force during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-96), can be found in the Rare Book Collection.

Although the Rare Book Collection consists primarily of laws, there are a number of treatises. One treatise pertaining to women is Laws Respecting Women as they regard their Natural Rights, or Their Connections and Conduct, published in Great Britain in 1777 (see bibliography at end of section on Married Women's Property Laws).

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