Blue laws

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Wed Dec 11 11:33:44 UTC 2002

The following appears on a web site devoted to the rebuttal of
hoaxes ( "The term 'Blue
Laws' describes laws that regulate public morality. The phrase was
first used in an anonymous pamphlet published in 1762 titled 'The
Real Advantages Which Ministers and People May Enjoy, Especially in
the Colonies, by Conforming to the Church of England'". This - if
correct - predates the usual first citation in the Reverend Samuel
Peters' work of 1782 entitled "A General History of Connecticut".

If true, it might re-open the question of where the "blue" of "blue
laws" came from. I don't have easy access to reference collections
that might confirm or deny the truth of this interesting assertion.
Can anybody assist?

The writer references William L. Kingsley, "The Blue Laws" in "The
New Englander and Yale Review", April 1871, 243-304. There's an
interestingly close association of names here with an earlier
publication, "An Historical Discourse, delivered by Request, before
the Citizens of New Haven, April 25th, 1838, the Two Hundredth
Anniversary of the First Sttlement of the Town and Colony", by
James L. Kingsley. A review of this in the "North American Review"
of October 1838 says, "Professor Kingsley has found, what, perhaps,
will surprise some, that the popular notion of the existence in
Connecticut of a code of sumptuary legislation, commonly spoken of
as the Blue Laws, is utterly without foundation".

Incidentally, a writer in the same journal the following April,
reviewing a book on the blue laws, remarks disdainfully of it that
"The great object of the compiler was, obviously, to make a book
which would sell among a class of readers, with whom matter of fact
is of secondary importance". Nothing changes much, does it?

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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