Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

over the less elevated, and perhaps we must add, the less attractive and ambitious systems of justice in the several states. The most interesting parts of Mr. Wheaton's Reports are those which contain the examination of those great constitutional questions which we have been reviewing; and I cannot conceive of any thing more grand and imposing in the whole administration of human justice, than the spectacle of the Supreme Court sitting in solemn judgment upon the conflicting claims of the national and state sovereignties, and tranquillizing all jealous and angry passions, and binding together this great confederacy of states in peace and barmony, by the ability, the moderation, and the equity of its decisions.

There are several reasons why we may anticipate the still increasing influence of the federal government, and the continual enlargement of the national system of law in magnitude and value. The judiciary of the United States has an advantage over many of the state courts, in the tenure of the office of the judges, and the liberal and stable provision for their support. The United States are, by these means, fairly entitled to command better talents, and to look for more firmness of purpose, greater independence of action, and brighter displays of learning. The federal administration of justice has a manifest superiority over that of the individual states, in consequence of the uniformity of its decisions, and the universality of their application. Every state court will naturally be disposed to borrow light and aid from the national courts, rather than froin the courts of other individual states, which will probably never be so generally respected and understood. The states are multiplying so fast, and the reports of their judicial decisions are becoming so numerous, that few lawyers will be able or willing to master all the intricacies and anomalies of local law, existing beyond the boundaries of their own state. Twenty-four independent state courts of final jurisdiction over the same questions, arising upon the same general

code of common and of equity law, must necessarily imp rị the symmetry of that code.

The danger to be apprehended is, that students will not have the courage to enter the complicated labyrinth of so many systems, and that they will, of course, entirely neglect them, and be contented with a knowledge of the law of their own state, and the law of the United States, and then resort for further assistance to the never failing fountains of European wisdom.

But though the national judiciary may be deemed preeminent in the weight of its influence, the authority of its decisions, and in the attraction of their materials, there are abundant considerations to cheer and animate us in the cultivation of our own local law. The judicial power of the United States is necessarily limited to national objects. The vast field of the law of property, the very extensive head of equity jurisdiction, and the principal rights and duties which flow from our civil and domestic relations, fall within the control, and we might almost say, the exclusive cognizance, of the state governments. We look essentially to the state courts for protection to all these momentous interests. They touch, in their operation, every cord of human sympathy, and control our best destinies. It is their province to reward, and to punish. Their blessings and their terrors will accompany us to the fireside, and be “in constant activity before the public eye." The elementary principles of the common law are the same in every state, and equally enlighten and invigorate every part of our country. Our municipal codes can be made to advance with equal steps with that of the nation, in discipline, in wisdom, and in lustre, if the state governments (as they ought in all honest policy) will only render equal patronage and security to the administration of justice. The true interests and the permanent freedom of this country require, that the jurisprudence of the individual states should be cultivated, cherished, and exalted, and the dignity and reputation of the state authorities sustained with becoming pride. In their subordinate relation to the United States, they should endeavour to discharge the duty which they owe to the latter, without forgetting the respect which they owe to themselves. In the appropriate language of Sir William Blackstone, and which be applied to the people of his own country, they should be " loyal, yet free; obedient, and yet independent."

PART III.

OF THE VARIOUS SOURCES OF THE MUNICIPAL

LAW OF THE SEVERAL STATES.

LECTURE XX.

OF STATUTE LAW.

MUNICIPAL law is a rule of civil conduct, prescribed by the supreme power in a state. It is composed of written and unwritten, or statute and common law. Statute law is the

express written will of the legislature, rendered authentic by certain prescribed forms and solemnities.

It is a principle in the English law, that an act of parliament, delivered in clear and intelligible terms, cannot be questioned, or its authority controlled in any court of justice. “It is," says Sir William Blackstone, “the exercise of the highest authority that the kingdom acknowledges upon earth.” When it is said in the books, that a statute contrary to natural equity and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, is void, the cases are onderstood to mean, that the courts are to give the statute a reasonable construction. They will not readily presume, out of respect and duty to the lawgiver, that any very unjust or absurd consequence was within the contemplation of the law. But if it should happen to be too palpable in its direction to admit of but one construction, there is no doubt in the English law, as to the binding efticacy of the statute. The will of the legislature is the supreme law of the land, and demands perfect obedience.

But while we admit this conclusion of the English law, we cannot but admire the intrepidity and powerful sense of justice which led Lord Cake, when chief justice of the K. B., to declare, as he did in Doctor Bonham's case, that the common law doth control acts of parliament, and adjudges them void when against common right and reason. The same sense of justice and freedom of opinion, led Lord Chief Justice Hobart, in Day v. Sarage, to insist that an act of parliament made against natural equity, as to make a man judge in his own case, was void; and induced Lord Chief Justice Holt to say, in the case of the City of London v. Wocd, that the observation of Lord Coke was not extravagant, but was a very reasonable and true saying. Perhaps what Lord Coke said in his reports, on this point, may have been one of the many things that King James alluded to, when he said, that in Coke's Reports there were many dangerous conceits of bis own uttered for law, to the pre

judice of the crown, parliament, and subjects. Laws repug

The principle in the English government, that the parliaconstiti dion ment is omnipotent, does not prevail in the United States;

though, if there be no constitutional objection to a statute, it is with us as absolute and uncontrollable as laws flowing from the sovereign power, under any other form of government. But in this, and all other countries where there is a written constitution, designating the powers and duties of the legislative, as well as of the other departments of the government, an act of the legislature may be void as

nant to the

Vojil.

a 1 Blacks. Com. 91. 160. 185. Christian's note to i Blacks. Con. 41.

68 (0, 118.
c Hob. 87.
d 12 Mod. 687.
e Bacon's Works, vol. 6. p. 128.

« AnteriorContinuar »