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We should far exceed our limits, if we were to attempt any analysis of the laws of the new states on a scale sufficiently minute to be satisfactory. To give, however, a specimen of the spirit of the legislation, we shall proceed to give some account of the laws of Illinois; that being the state with whose civil institutions we are best acquainted.
When we say that the laws of a state are frequently changed, we usually mean the details of the law; for there are certain general principles, which are always regarded as landmarks, and which, in. every country, may be considered as somewhat
permanent. In a popular government, even long established and fundamental principles are sometimes infringed, through inadvertence or ignorance, and they are sometimes deliberately discarded; but, so far as our observation extends, we think that legal principles are not, generally speaking, either frequently or hastily changed. Our object, therefore, will be, to give a brief outline of such principal laws as we consider most permanent, and which form characteristic features in the policy of the country, without noticing those municipal regulations, which are changed at every session of the legislature.
In reviewing the constitutions and laws of the new states, as well as the changes which have occurred in the older states, it will be seen, that the departures
from long established usages, have tended gradually, and almost uniformly, to democracy. Public officers have been, from time to time, stripped of all powers not thought to be actually necessary to the exercise of their official functions; salaries have been reduced, the terms of service abridged, and the right of suffrage extended, wherever practicable. The criminal codes have been ameliorated, legal proceedings simplified, laws for the collection of debts divested of their harshness, and a disposition manifested to trust more to the moral force of public sentiment, and less to the mere physical power of legal coercion.
In Illinois, the power of the executive is but small, and its patronage almost nothing. The great majority of the public officers are elected by the people directly, or by their representatives in the general assembly. Appropriations of public money seldom pass through the hands of the governor, or are made subject to his.order; but are usually placed under the immediate control of the persons appointed to disburse them. No house is provided for his residence, at the public expense, nor is he required to reside at the seat of government.
The courts are modeled chiefly upon the judiciary system of Kentucky. There is a supreme court composed of one chief justice and three associates, with appellate jurisdiction only, except in cases relating to the revenue of the state, in cases of mandamus, and in such cases of impeachment as may be required to be tried before it. Two judges form a quorum. In the decision of appeals from inferior tribunals, where the court is equally divided, the
decision of the court below stands affirmed. One term of this court is held annually, at the seat of government, and continues until all the business is disposed of. All its functions, as a court, are performed in bank. It appoints its own clerk and reporter. The judges, separately, grant writs of error, habeas corpus, certiorari, and injunction, in vacation.
The next in rank, is the circuit court. The whole state is divided into five circuits, in each of which a single judge presides. Two terms are held in each year,
in every connty. This court has original jurisdiction in all criminal cases, and in all civil suits, where the amount in controversy is more than twenty dollars. An appeal lies to it from the county courts, courts of probate, and justices of the peace. The judges appoint their own clerks, who hold their offices during good behavior. There is a chancery side to this court. The decisions of the circuit court may
be reviewed in the supreme court. . This court was held originally by the supreme judges, who presided singly in the circuit courts, and jointly in the supreme court. The obvious inconvenience of that arrangement, induced the legislature, at the session of 1824–5, to appoint five circuit judges, leaving to the supreme judges the duties alone properly belonging to their own court. At the following session, the legislature repealed the act under which the circuit judges were appointed, removed them from office, and recurred to the former
arrangement. But the rapid extension of the population rendering it impracticable for four individuals to per
form the duties, a fifth circuit was afterwards created, and one circuit judge appointed, by whom, with the four supreme judges, these courts are now held.
The weight of business, with a conviction that is rapidly gaining ground, that the ends of justice are not best obtained by having the original and appellate jurisdictions vested in the same individuals, must soon induce a recurrence to the circuit system, as contemplated by the constitution.
There is an attorney general and four circuit attornies, who prosecute in criminal cases, on the part of the people. The only distinction between these officers is, that the attorney general, receives a little larger compensation than the “state's attornies,” and is obliged, in addition to the duties of the circuit, to give written opinions to executive officers, on questions touching their official duties, and to prosecute civil suits on the part of the state.
The county commissioners' court is a court of record, composed of three commissioners, elected every two years, by the people. Its jurisdiction is now confined to the concerns of the counties respectively. It levies the county taxes; appoints a county treasurer, and settles his accounts; appropriates the funds of the county; establishes election districts; selects jurors for the circuit court; establishes, alters, or abolishes roads; appoints supervisors of roads; apportions the road labor among the inhabitants; and has a general superintendence of county business.
A judge of probate is appointed in each county, who holds a court of record; receives the probate of
wills; grants letters of administration; settles the accounts of intestates; and has jurisdiction in most cases concerning administrators, executors, and orphans.
Justices of the peace are elected every four years, by the people; for which purpose, the counties are divided into districts, in each of which, two justices are elected, except that which includes the county seat, in which there are four; but the jurisdiction of the justice is co-extensive with the county. This mode of electing justices was highly disapproved by many, when it was adopted, but the evils which were anticipated, have not been realized; and after a trial of four years, it seems to be now conceded, that though subject to some weighty objections, it is, upon the whole, the mode least liable to abuse, and most satisfactory to the people. The civil jurisdiction of the justices, extends to cases where the amount in controversy is not more than one hundred dollars, except an administrator or executor be a party, in which case, the limit is twenty dollars; and their criminal jurisdiction, is that usually exercised by the same officer in other states, except in prosecutions for assault and battery, and affrays; which offences, instead of being indictable, are punishable by the verdict of a jury before a justice of the peace.
Candidates for admission to the bar, are personally examined by two judges of the supreme court; and on getting a license from them, may practice in any court in the state. No particular term of study, or