Security in the Alabama Judicial Building on Montgomery's Dexter Avenue is high and effective.

That's a needed thing. In addition to the appellate courtroom, Administrative Office of Courts, the Supreme Court Law Library, judicial records, and the offices of every appellate judge, the judicial building now holds a growing collection of invaluable law books from the nation's founding period – irreplaceable in the physical form and immutable in the continuing application of law in our constitutional republic.

The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Tom Parker, is also the elected CEO of the state's unified judicial system. In addition to other duties, he effectively serves as building superintendent of the Alabama Judicial Building. He decided to become a collector of historical books and a bust of legal jurist William Blackstone.

Right now, Parker's historical Blackstone volumes and bust are housed in the outer office suite of the Chief Justice. In January 2025, Parker's term of office will end, and a new Chief Justice will take over. At that point, arrangements were made for the valuable Blackstone volumes and bust to be placed on loan in the Alabama Supreme Court Law Library. It is in the same building, the Judicial Building. The precious items won't have to move far this time. They have moved a great distance over a quarter of a millennium.

The Supreme Court law library is refinishing an appropriate showcase.

If you saw these books and hadn't read this article, you might think they are just a bunch of old books. That's right, very old. They are also a pillar of the foundation for the rule of law and the United States Constitution. They were around and well-read at the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the state constitutions.

There are two sets. Both are Sir William Blackstone's 'Commentaries on the Laws of England.' Parker bought both sets. That's another long, interesting story.

The first set is a "mixed first edition." Blackstone's books were originally printed in 1765, 1766, 1767 and 1769. Parker's first set is from different years of the 1760s printing runs.

Overlooking the law books is a valued bust of the head of Sir William Blackstone, the English jurist who authored the Commentaries. Chief Justice Tom Parker, an ardent student of Blackstone, acquired the bust of Blackstone at auction.

Blackstonebust Alabama News
Bust of William Blackstone. Chief Justice Tom Parker

Blackstone is considered a pillar of English and American law. Though he lived from 1723 to 1780, his influence continues today.

Blackstone's commentaries influenced American founders Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, John Jay, John Adams and, later, Abraham Lincoln. To this day, the Commentaries are cited in court decisions, including those from the Alabama and U.S. Supreme Courts.

The influence of Blackstone's Commentaries on the development of American law cannot be overstated.

English legal Professor William Searle Holdsworth expressed it this way: "If the Commentaries had not been written when they were written, I think it very doubtful that the United States and other English-speaking countries would have so universally adopted the common law."

Parker's bust of Blackstone was sculpted by Felix de Weldon, originally from Vienna and later a U.S. citizen. He became one of our nation's outstanding sculptors of famous people and events. 

The iconic sculpture which became the Iwo Jima Memorial; John Marshall; bust of Harry Truman; bust of John F. Kennedy; the statue of World War I hero Sergeant York; and the statue of General Pershing.

Parker's copy of de Weldon's Blackstone bust was owned by Major General Arthur Briggs Hanson. After his World War II service, Hanson practiced law in the District of Columbia and wrote "Hanson on Libel and Related Torts."

Blackstone was an English judge and jurist, but his philosophy and treatises were more popular in early America than in England.

Parker bought his first set at auction in New York City. Before he purchased it, the Bar Association of New York owned it. However, it had at least one very famous owner—Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States.

Parker draws parallels between Blackstone's words and those in the Declaration of Independence. He shows how Blackstone's influence can be seen in a number of legal topics, including the right to petition, taxation and the king's protection of his subjects.

"I bought this … because of the impact it had on our country," Parker said.

Parker then connected the dots of all the previous owners of the books and what their role was in shaping the foundations of the country. He also discussed the early popularity of the books, which were pre-ordered by 1,400 people. John Adams was at the top of the alphabetical list.

Early origins

Parker's mixed first edition set was first owned by Edmund Rush Wegg, the attorney general of British West Florida. The territory spanned from roughly Apalachicola to the Mississippi River and north to near Wetumpka. It includes the state capital of Montgomery.

"This set of books originated in Alabama," Parker points out. "Can you believe the providence of God that he would allow me to return them to Alabama where it originated?"

As proof of how early statesmen were influenced by Blackstone, Parker cited a book about Wegg's protest of the Stamp Act. The book, by Kathleen DuVal, claims Wegg said Florida had no right to levy taxes on the colonies without their consent and charged no man can be bound to any government unless his own consent is conveyed by either himself or a representative.

The second owner of the set was William Wylly, who once served as attorney general of the Bahamas. He may be best known, however, as an abolitionist after he began a correspondence with William Wilberforce, another abolitionist and philanthropist. Wilberforce's mentor was John Newton, author of the beloved Christian song "Amazing Grace."

The books were next owned by William Jones, who fought with George Washington at the Battle of Trenton. Jones was imprisoned on a British prison ship, but was ultimately traded for a British officer. Jones would later become secretary of the Navy under James Madison. Van Buren would become the next owner of the books.

Parker's second set was published in 1783 and was first owned by John Lansing Jr., a delegate to the 6th Continental Congress, Speaker of the New York Assembly, and a delegate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Lansing and another delegate, Robert Yates, walked out of the Constitutional Convention because they thought the document infringed on individual liberties and the sovereignty of the states.

Despite his affection for both book sets, Parker said he reads Blackstone's words from a modern printing to avoid damaging the originals.

Parker gives presentations about Blackstone and the books, including a show and tell, to groups. On June 22, he gave the hour-long presentation to new law clerks and interns at the Alabama Supreme Court. 1819 News covered the presentation.

Parker has been a justice on the Alabama Supreme Court since 2005. He was elevated by the voters to Chief Justice in 2018.

Blackstone was the greatest exponent of the common law that we have ever had... To this, we owe his immortal 'Commentaries on the Laws of England.' In four books. They were the product of his lectures over a period of twelve years. The work was at once acclaimed as a classic by lawyers and by men of letters. It has remained a classic ever since. I have an early edition in my library. I refer to it constantly when I want to know what the law was in his day. I am always amazed at the breadth of his knowledge, the research which he did, the style of his prose, and his statement of principles. It is the greatest law book that we have ever had. Lord Denning

Jim' Zig' Zeigler's beat is the colorful and positive about Alabama. He writes about Alabama people, places, events, groups and prominent deaths. He is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.