American law has its roots in the laws of England. As such, many of the laws still on the books in the 21st Century depend on what English judges thought prior to our War for Independence began in 1776. Because our modern laws go back centuries since before the United States was a country, we should care about how our legal terms were originally understood as they may implicate a judge’s decision today. The most important of all the English Judges who influenced our modern laws was most likely Sir William Blackstone.
Blackstone’s 1765 work, Commentaries on the Laws of England, is his most famous legal treatise, forming the backbone of common law analysis as modern lawyers understand it today. Without his efforts centuries ago, our conceptions of property, individual rights, and governmental authority would not be the same. His works remain cited even now in judicial decisions at all levels, including the Supreme Court of the United States.
Blackstone’s comments on property law are particularly striking, for they bear the foundational ideas now found in our statutes governing real estate transactions, estate types, property rights, and ownership disputes. His analysis of tenancies in common and joint tenancy is so similar to our own California statutes that they warrant their own discussion.