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glish law. All the courts of law at Westminster have been filled with very eminent men, since the time of the accession of George III. ; and we need only refer to the Term Reports, and to East, and his successors, as reporters to the King's Bench, and to Wilson, Henry Blackstone, Bosanquet & Puller, Taunton, and their successors in the C. B., for views and sketches of the English law in its most correct and cultivated state.
A still deeper interest must be felt by the American lawyer in the perusal of the judicial decisions of his own country. Our American reports contain an exposition of the common law, as received and modified in reference to the genius of our institutions. By that law we are governed and protected, and it cannot but awaken a correspondent attachment. But I need not undertake the invidious task of selection and discrimination among the numerous volumes of the reports of American decisions.
of American decisions. Their relative character must be familiar to the profession, and it will be sufficient to advise the student to examine thoroughly, and to obtain the mastery of the principles of law, as expounded and declared by our more important tribunals, whether they be of federal or of state jurisdiction.
We have hitherto confined our attention to the reports of cases in the courts of common law. But the system of equity is equally to be found embodied in the reports of adjudged cases; and the maxims of the Court of Chancery Chancery are as fixed as those which govern other tribunals. That court is as much bound as a court of law, by a series of decisions, applicable to the case, and establishing a rule. It has no discretionary power over principles and established precedents; and Chancery has grown to be a jurisdiction of so much strict technical rule, that it is said by a distinguished writer on equity doctrines, that there are now many settled rules of equity which require to be moderated by the rules of good conscience, as much as the most rigorous rules of law did, before the chancellors interfered on equitable VOL. I.
grounds. A court of equity becomes, in the lapse of time, by gradual and almost imperceptible degrees, a court of strict technical jurisprudence, like a court of law. The binding nature of precedents in a court of equity was felt and acknowledged by Lord Keeper Bridgman, in the reign of Charles II. ; and in the case of The Earl of Montague v. Lord Bath, soon after the revolution, Lord Chief Justice Treby, who sat for the Lord Chancellor, declared, that the Court of Chancery was limited by the precedents and practice of former times, and that it was dangerous to extend its authority further. At this day, justice is administered in a court of equity upon as fixed and certain principles as in a court of law; and Lord Eldon has secured to himself a title to the reverence of his countrymen, for resisting the temptation so often pressed upon him, to make principles and precedents bend to the hardship of a particular case. In this country it is at least as important as in any other, that the administration of justice, both legal and equitable, should be stable and uniform ; and especially if there be any weight in the opinion of an ancient English lawyer, that " variety of judgments, and novelty of opinions, were the two plagues of a commonwealth.”
We have no reports of chancery decisions until subsequent to the time of Lord Bacon. Anciently, the Court of Chancery administered justice according to what appeared to be the dictate of conscience as applied to the case, without any regard to law or rule; and great inconvenience and mischief must have been produced in the infancy of the court, by reason of the uncertainty and inconsistency of its decisions, flowing from the want of settled principles. The jurisdiction of the court was greatly enlarged in the time of Cardinal Wolsey, who was chancellor under Henry VIII. ;
a Sugden's Lellers to a Man of Properly, p. 4. 61 Mod. 307. c 3 Ch. Cas. 95. d Pref. to Jenkins' Centuries.
and he maintained his equitable jurisdiction with a high hand, and exercised his authority over every thing which could be a subject of judicial inquiry, and decided with very little regard to the common law. This conduct in his judicial capacity was one of the grounds of accusation against him when he was impeached. Under his successor, Sir Thomas More, who was the first chancellor that ever had the requisite legal education, business rose again with rapidity, and to such extent as to require the assistance of a master of the rolls. He allowed injunctions so freely, as to displease the common law judges, though he acted always with great ability and integrity. To show how wonderfully business in chancery bad increased by the time of Lord Bacon, we need only recur to the fact which he gives us himself, that he made two thousand orders and decrees in a year; and yet we have not a single decision of his reported.
Those decisions, if well and faithfully reported, would doubtless have presented to the world a clear illustration and masterly display of many principles of equity since greatly considered and discussed; for even upon dry technical rules and points of law, he shed the illuminations of his mighty mind.
In West's Symboleography, a work published at the close of Elizabeth's reign, we have divers curious and authentic precedents of the process, and bills, and answers in chancery, prior to the time of Bacon. We have, also, in the same work, a brief digest of the powers and jurisdiction of the court, from which it would appear, that equity was regarded in that day as a matter of arbitrary conscience, unencumbered by any rules or principles of law. No cases are cited to show what the authority was, but such as were gleaned from the Year Books, and the treatises of the Doc
a Reeves' History of the English Law, vol. 4. p. 368—377. b Bacon's Works, vol. 4. p. 530.
Earliest Chancery Reports.
tor and Student, and of the Diversity of Courts. It was not until after the restoration, that any reports of adjudged cases in chancery were published. The volumes, entitled, “Reports of Cases taken and adjudged in the Court of Chancery in the reign of Charles I., Charles II., James II., William III., and Queen Anne," commence with the reign of Charles I., and contain the earliest adjudged cases in equity. But that work, and another contemporary work of the same character, entitled, “Cases argued and adjudged in the High Court of Chancery,” are both of them, in their general character, loose, meagre, and inaccurate reports, of not much weight or authority. But the report of some cases decided by Lord Chancellor Cowper, in the third and last volume of the Reports in Chancery, and the great case of the Duke of Norfolk, and the case of Bath and Montague, at the conclusion of the Cases in Chancery, are distinguished exceptions to this complaint, and those great cases are fully and very interestingly reported. In the latter part of the reign of Charles II., Lord Chancellor Nottingham raised the character of the court to high reputation, and established both its jurisprudence and its jurisdiction upon wide and rational foundations. We have but few reports of his decisions that are worthy of his fame. They are dispersed through several works of inferior authority. It is from his time, however, that equity became a regular and cultivated science, and the judicial decisions in chancery are to be carefully studied.
Vernon's Reports are the best of the old reports in chancery. They were published from his manuscripts, after his death, by order of Chancellor King, and were found to be quite imperfect and inaccurate. In 1806, Mr. Raithby favoured the profession with a new and excellent edition of Vernon, enriched by learned notes, and accurate extracts from the register's books, so that the volumes assumed a new dress and more unquestionable authenticity. Those reports include part of the judicial administration of Lord Nottingham, and the whole of the time of Lord Somers;
but they give us nothing equal to the reputation of those
Moseley's Reports of Cases during the time of Lord King, Moseley. have received a various and contradictory character and treatment. Lord Mansfield said it was a book not to be quoted; but Lord Eldon, who is presumed to have been a better judge of the merits of the work, says, that Moseley is a book of considerable accuracy. It is fortunate that we have even so imperfect a view of the decisions of Lord King, who was an eminent scholar, and to whom Mr. Locke bequeathed his papers and library.
Lord Talbot presided in chancery but a very few years. Talbot. He was a pure and exalted character, who died in the vigour of his age,
and his loss was lamented as a great national calamity. The cases during his time, under the title of Cases tempore Talbot, are well reported, and have a reputation for
a 1 Vesey, jr. 549. 3 Vesey, 285. 5 Vesey, 664. b 3 Anst. 861. 5 Burr. 2629. 1 Merivale, 92.