With his ideas influencing lawyers, historians, sociologists, and others, Sir Henry Sumner Maine’s writings on law have been extremely influential. Maine, a comparative jurist and historian, is noted for developing comparative studies of law and for focusing on law among indigenous populations.
Maine’s notable achievements in the study of law include leading people to situate the study of law in its social and historical setting and noting that changes in laws reveal changes in society at large. Maine believed that all societies evolved from having customs to having laws. In his writings, he arranged the laws of ancient societies to try to develop and confirm a standard process of the evolution of legal and political systems. In Ancient Law (1861), Maine’s most popular work, ancient laws were examined as an attempt to learn the earliest human belief systems and relate these beliefs to those of modern humans. Maine developed the theory that traditional societies were based on status (personal rights based on kinship or other relationships), whereas modern societies are based on contract (rights based on written ethics). In one of Maine’s later publications, Popular Government (1885), he outlined his theory that democracy is not necessarily more durable than other forms of government. Moreover, Maine argued that democracy does not inevitably lead to development.
Maine began attending Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, in 1840. His honors include the Craven scholarship and senior chancellor’s medalist in classics, and he graduated as senior classic in 1844. Maine became a junior tutor at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1845. He was named Regius professor of civil law at the University of Cambridge in 1847 and remained in that position until 1854. In 1850, he was called to the bar and held this position until 1854. He also lectured on Roman law at the Inns of Court, London, and was an original contributor to the Saturday Review. Maine was then offered the post of legal member of council in India in 1862. Although he turned it down the first year, he accepted the offer when the post was again vacated the following year. In this position, Maine acted as adviser to the government of India on both political and legal issues. He also worked as the vice chancellor of the University of Calcutta. Maine remained in India until 1869, when he returned to the University of Oxford to the position of chair of historical and comparative jurisprudence. Maine became a member of the secretary of states council in 1871 and remained in that position until his death in 1888. In addition, in 1877 he was appointed mastership of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and then in 1887 he became the Whewell professor of international law at Cambridge.
- Cocks, R. (1988). Sir Henry Maine: A study in Victorian jurisprudence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Maine, H. S. (1886). Popular government: Four essays. New York: Henry Holt.
- Maine, H. S. (1946). Ancient law: Its connection with the early history of society and its relation to modern ideas (with introduction by C. K. Allen). London: Oxford University Press.