Banner graphic for Studies in the history of science, technology & culture

**  A second window aside called by the Studies page, entitled
“The Missing Historical Context: Anglo-American
Gun Laws & the Original Intent of the Second Amendment”

First Published:  6 July 2021
Revised (substantive):  n/a

H T M L   T R A N S C R I P T   O F

Hening, William Waller (1767?–01 April 1828), lawyer and legal editor

[  an American National
Biography entry  ]

by   W A V E R L Y   K.   W I N F R E E

Opening quotation mark[William Waller Hening] was born on the family farm about five miles west of Fredericksburg, Culpeper County, Virginia, the son of David Hening and Mary Waller. Hening received his earliest education at a school conducted by the Reverend John Price in Culpeper County. He studied under Adam Goodlett, whom he styled as his ‘preceptor of the classics.’ He read law in Fredericksburg, where he was admitted to the bar in April 1789.

“ Hening had a reasonably successful law practice. In June 1790 he was admitted to the bar of Stafford County Court, and by 1793 he had extended his practice as far away as Fauquier County. He purchased land in Spotsylvania County; he may have acquired additional means when in 1790 he married Agatha Banks. The Henings had seven children.

“ Early in 1793 Hening moved his law practice to Charlottesville, where he dealt in real estate and acquired a major interest in a distillery. He also became sufficiently acquainted with Thomas Jefferson to ask him to revise several sheets of the manuscript of The New Virginia Justice, a handbook for Virginia justices of the peace. This volume was widely distributed throughout Virginia; a second edition appeared in 1799. Numerous and significant later changes in state law, including the penal code, dictated a revised edition by 1810; the legislators codified the laws again in 1820. The popularity of the work required still another edition in 1825.

“ Hening joined the Masonic order as an entered apprentice on 18 March 1796 and was raised to master mason the next day. He rose rapidly in the Masonic hierarchy. Between 1801 and 1811 members elected him to the state organization’s major offices — senior warden, grand master, and grand high priest. His interest in Masonic work waned in about 1813.

“ Hening was elected to represent Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1804; here he was particularly active. Near the end of his second term he was elevated to the Executive Council, an office designed as a check on the powers of the governor. He moved to Richmond in 1807 to facilitate attending council meetings. He served as a councilman until 1810, when he became clerk of the Superior Court of Chancery for the Richmond District, a post he held until his death.

“ Between 1808 and 1814 Hening served as deputy adjutant general of Virginia. This post offered no particular political or social prestige and was probably desired by him to supplement his income. In this capacity he published a pamphlet, The Militia Laws of This Commonwealth and the United States, in 1808.

“ In collaboration with William Munford, Hening published The Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia (1810). Under the supervision of Benjamin Watkins Leigh, the two men also worked on the Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia (1819) and The American Pleader and Lawyer’s Guide (1811), which had been collected for years. Volume one was issued in 1811, volume two in 1826. A third projected volume never appeared. In addition, Hening edited three treatises on law and equity. His edition of Richard Francis’s Maxims in Equity appeared in 1824; a year later he published editions of Thomas Branch’s Pricipia Legis et Aequetates and William Hoy’s Grounds and Maxims of the Law of England.

“ Shortly after Hening moved to Richmond he joined the Amicable Society, an organization for the relief of strangers and wayfarers. Membership was limited to sixty residents of the city. About this time, he also began to make arrangements for his major work, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. Thomas Jefferson offered his collection of manuscripts and printed materials to the proposed project. The state treasury promised financial support in the form of subscriptions. After examination and approval by at least two Executive Council members, the work would have the force of law. The first volume appeared in 1809 and the last in 1823. A second edition of the first four volumes followed in 1820–1823, and a reprint edition of the entire thirteen volumes in 1969. Hening died at the home of his son in Richmond.Closing quotation mark

SOURCE:  Winfree, Waverly K. “Hening, William Waller (1767?–01 April 1828), lawyer and legal editor.” American National Biography. Online edition, Oxford University Press, December 1999, n. pag. Accessed 7 Aug. 2019, from < https://​​10.1093/​anb/​9780198606697.​article.​1100406 >.