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BURLAMAQUI, Jean Jacques.

Principes du droit naturel.

Barrillot & fils, Geneva , 1747 Stock Code: 113546
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First edition of the Swiss legal and political theorist's principal work, an important influence on the American Founding Fathers. A natural law professor at the University of Geneva, Burlamaqui (1694-1748) conceived of his treatise as a general introduction to his subject intended for students, but its success and influence far exceeded his expectations. It was "translated into English, Latin, Dutch, Danish, Italian, and Spanish and republished in more than sixty different editions. The English translation became a standard textbook both at Cambridge and at the foremost American colleges" (Petter Korkman, introduction to The Principles of Natural and Political Law, 2006).
Thomas Jefferson possessed a 1756 French edition of the work (Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1409). "Jefferson's concept of moral sense is closest to that of Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, one of his favourite authorities on legal studies" (Ari Helo, Thomas Jefferson's Ethics and the Politics of Human Progress: the Morality of a Slaveholder, Cambridge 2014, p. 96). In Principes du droit naturel Burlamaqui was the first modern thinker to identify the pursuit of happiness as a defining characteristic of man; hence it has been argued by Ray Forrest Harvey, the leading authority on Burlamaqui, that he was a major inspiration for Jefferson when the latter included the famous assertion of the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Aside from his influence on Jefferson in particular, Burlamaqui was more generally a major influence on the American Founding Fathers, especially through his conception of the balance of powers: "Early American thought also drew on ideas circulating on the Continent. The author who played the greatest part in transmitting those ideas over the Atlantic was the Swiss writer Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, now almost forgotten, but at one time a best-selling author" (Ronald Hamowy, general introduction to The Encyclopaedia of Libertarianism). Principes du droit naturel was Burlamaqui's only work to be published during his lifetime. It first appeared in English the year of his death in a translation by Thomas Nugent.

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Quarto (248 x 190 mm). Contemporary mottled calf, red morocco label, raised bands, compartments tooled in gilt, red edges. Woodcut device to title.


Head of spine and front joint skilfully repaired, and extremities refurbished; horizontal tears to rear free endpaper with some loss, removed bookplate to front pastedown exposing board underneath; still a very good copy.


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