The Georgetown Law Library has recently acquired the 1765, third edition of Samuel Johnson’s epic Dictionary of the English Language. First published in 1755, Johnson’s Dictionary was the first dictionary of English words, and remained one of the most important reference books in the Anglo-American world, until the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was published in 1884. Johnson explained when he first proposed his Dictionary of the English Language in 1746 that “the rules of style, like those of law, arise from precedents.” The legal terms he defined in his Dictionary relied heavily on such legal authorities as John Cowell’s The Interpreter, Matthew Hale’s History and Analysis of the Common Law of England, Francis Bacon’s Collected Works, and John Ayliffe’s Parergon Juris Canonici Anglicani (Index guide to English canon law), among other authorities. Johnson's Dictionary became the dictionary of choice in colonial america in the 18th century. According to Johnson scholar John Stone, Noah Webster, America's first lexicographer, declared that it also played a part in the evolution of American constitutional law: "Legislators are much occupied with ascertaining 'first meanings', with trying to secure the literal sense of their predecessors' legislation ... To understand a law, you need to understand what its terminology meant to its original architects." Thomas Jefferson owned the later 1773 fourth edition of Johnson's Dictionary, and many of the framers of the U.S. Constitution also owned variant editions of the epic work.
For more information on this 1765 edition of Johnson's Dictionary, its history and importance in U.S. constitutional history, and for a chance to use it, please contact the Head of Special Collections, Laura Bedard at email@example.com, or stop by the Special Collections Department, on the west side of the Oakley Reading Room, in the Williams Library.