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Bouvier, John, 1787-1851.

Bouvier's Law Dictionary : (American Law, 1839)

Robert Kelham, KelhamR-1800.jpg

A Law Dictionary, 1839


Portrait of John Bouvier

John Bouvier was born in France, but came to the United States as a young man and began practicing law in Philadelphia. During his years of practice and study, he noticed the difficulties arising from the lack of a current American law dictionary that compiled information logically and conveniently. To fill this need, he worked on his dictionary indefatigably for ten years, intending to distinguish American law from its English antecedent. As he rose through the ranks of the legal system in Philadelphia, his duties increased with every promotion, but he managed to continue working on the dictionary. He finally presented it for publication in 1839. Like many of his generation, Bouvier used his preface to justify his endeavor, stating the irrelevance of English legal dictionaries to the legal system of the United States. He wanted to create a totally new law dictionary that would address the American legal system, so he derived his definitions almost wholly from customs, court decisions, and statutes of the United States. In addition, Bouvier included entries for all the states that had formed the union as of 1839. A large 2-volume work, Bouvier's dictionary has been especially useful for understanding obsolete terms given in older authorities, amplifying their meanings in the American context.

Jurists all over the country praised the work immediately, giving it unqualified commendation. The work is cogently written and well researched; Bouvier added copiously to each new edition and rewrote several articles, and many of the best-known legal scholars have contributed to its revisions. Bouvier published three editions in twelve years and was preparing a fourth at the time of his death in 1851. By the year 1886, when it was first revised, there had been fifteen editions. The work is still widely used.


  • A LAW DICTIONARY. Philadelphia : T. and J. W. Johnson, 1839. 2 v. "Appendix. A dictionary of the Norman of Old French language. By Robert Kelham." CALL # KF156 .B6 1839
  • A LAW DICTIONARY. 4th ed. Philadelphia : Printed for the estate of John Bouvier, 1852. 2 v. LIBRARY ONLY HAS: VOL. 2. CALL # KF 156 B6 1852
  • A LAW DICTIONARY. 5th ed. Philadelphia : Printed for the estate of John Bouvier, 1855. 2 v. CALL # KF 156 B6 1855 (Gift of Sam C. Lackey, UT Law 1889)
  • A LAW DICTIONARY. 6th ed. Philadelphia : Childs & Peterson, 1856 2 v. CALL # KF 156 B6 1856
  • A LAW DICTIONARY. 8th ed. Philadelphia : G.W. Childs, 1859. 2 v. CALL # KF 156 B6 1859
  • A LAW DICTIONARY, adapted to the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, and of the several states of the American union : with references to the civil and other systems of foreign law. 14th ed., rev. and greatly enl. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1878. 2 v. CALL # KF 156 B6 1878 (Gift of Joseph D. Jamail, UT Law 1953)
  • BOUVIER'S LAW DICTIONARY AND CONCISE ENCYCLOPEDIA. 3rd revision (being the 8th ed.) / by Francis Rawle. Kansas City, Mo. : Vernon Law Book Co. ; St. Paul, Minn. : West Pub., 1914. 3 v. CALL # KF 156 B6 1914 (Gift of Jack Little, UT Law 1957, in memory of his father James Little, UT Law 1926)