Online Library of Liberty

A collection of scholarly works about individual liberty and free markets. A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.

Advanced Search

Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books, vol. 1 [1753]

1387.01 tp
Title Page
1387.01 toc
Original Table of Contents or First Page

Edition used:

Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England in Four Books. Notes selected from the editions of Archibold, Christian, Coleridge, Chitty, Stewart, Kerr, and others, Barron Field’s Analysis, and Additional Notes, and a Life of the Author by George Sharswood. In Two Volumes. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1893). Vol. 1 - Books I & II.

Available in the following formats:
MARC Record 1.84 KB MAchine-Readable Cataloging record.
Facsimile PDF 79.6 MB This is a facsimile or image-based PDF made from scans of the original book.
Facsimile PDF small 21.4 MB This is a compressed facsimile or image-based PDF made from scans of the original book.
Kindle 3.06 MB This is an E-book formatted for Amazon Kindle devices.
EBook PDF 6.46 MB This text-based PDF or EBook was created from the HTML version of this book and is part of the Portable Library of Liberty.
ePub 1.86 MB ePub standard file for your iPad or any e-reader compatible with that format
HTML 5.94 MB This version has been converted from the original text. Every effort has been taken to translate the unique features of the printed book into the HTML medium.
Simplified HTML 5.94 MB This is a simplifed HTML format, intended for screen readers and other limited-function browsers.

About this Title:

A two volume edition of the classic work on English law by Blackstone. This edition is interesting because it includes the commentaries of at least 5 previous editors of Blackstone’s work along with additional notes by Sharswood, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Vol. 1 contains the Introduction to the Study of the Laws of England, Book I Of the Rights of Persons, and Book II The Rights of Things.

Copyright information:

The text is in the public domain.

Fair use statement:

This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
BY Sir WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, Knt. one of the justices of his majesty’s court of common pleas. WITH NOTES SELECTED FROM THE EDITIONS OF ARCHBOLD, CHRISTIAN, COLERIDGE, CHITTY, STEWART, KERR, AND OTHERS, BARRON FIELD’S ANALYSIS, AND Additional Notes, and a Life of the Author,
BY GEORGE SHARSWOOD, chief justice of the supreme court of pennsylvania.
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1859, by CHILDS & PETERSON,

in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Edition: current; Page: [iii]


The present edition of the Commentaries of Sir William Blackstone has been prepared with especial reference to the use of American law-students. The main object of the notes, selected and original, has been to correct any statement in itself erroneous, and to explain what might be calculated to mislead. In some cases where the text appeared to pass over important topics, they have been introduced in order to render the book complete as an institute of legal education. Besides the editions of Archbold, Christian, and Chitty, which have been republished in this country, the editor has drawn largely upon the valuable notes of Mr. Justice Coleridge. The late English editions by James Stewart and Robert Malcolm Kerr—in which all the recent alterations by statutes have been referred to and incorporated—have been freely used, and an occasional note will be found from the late abridgment of Blackstone by Samuel Warren; and the attention of the student is especially called to the notes added to the last chapter of the work, on the rise, progress, and gradual improvement of the laws of England, for valuable sketches by Coleridge, John William Smith, Stewart, Warren, and Kerr, of the latest enactments, to which the American editor has ventured to add some remarks upon American jurisprudence. Barron Field’s Analysis—a most important aid to the student in the work of self-examination—has been added at the end. On the whole, it is hoped that this edition—the fruit of much care and toil, as much in rejecting (which does not appear) as in adopting (which does)—may meet the approbation of the profession and the public.

G. S.
Edition: current; Page: [iv]


The following sheets contain the substance of a course of lectures on the Laws of England, which were read by the author in the University of Oxford. His original plan took its rise in the year 1753; and, notwithstanding the novelty of such an attempt in this age and country, and the prejudices usually conceived against any innovations in the established mode of education, he had the satisfaction to find—and he acknowledges it with a mixture of pride and gratitude—that his endeavours were encouraged and patronized by those, both in the university and out of it, whose good opinion and esteem he was principally desirous to obtain.

The death of Mr. Viner in 1756, and his ample benefactions to the university for promoting the study of the law, produced about two years afterwards a regular and public establishment of what the author had privately undertaken. The knowledge of our laws and constitution was adopted as a liberal science by general academical authority; competent endowments were decreed for the support of a lecturer and the perpetual encouragement of students; and the compiler of the ensuing Commentaries had the honour to be elected the first Vinerian professor.

In this situation he was led, both by duty and inclination, to investigate the elements of the law and the grounds of our civil polity with greater assiduity and attention than many have thought it necessary to do. And yet all who of late years have attended the public administration of justice must be sensible that a masterly acquaintance with the general spirit of laws and principles of universal jurisprudence, combined with an accurate knowledge of our own municipal constitutions, their original, reason, and history, hath given a beauty and energy to many modern judicial decisions, with which our ancestors were wholly unacquainted. If, in the pursuit of these inquiries, the author hath been able to rectify any errors which either himself or others may have heretofore imbibed, his pains will be sufficiently answered; and if in some points he is still mistaken, the candid and judicious reader will make due allowances for the difficulties of a search so new, so extensive, and so laborious.


Notwithstanding the diffidence expressed in the foregoing Preface, no sooner was the work completed, but many of its positions were vehemently attacked by zealots of all (even opposite) denominations, religious as well as civil; by some with a greater, by others with a less, degree of acrimony. To such of these animadverters as have fallen within the author’s notice (for he doubts not but some have escaped it) he owes at least this obligation, that they have occasioned him from time to time to revise his work in respect to the particulars objected to; to retract or expunge from it what appeared to be really erroneous; to amend or supply it when inaccurate or defective; to illustrate and explain it when obscure. But, where he thought the objections ill founded, he hath left and shall leave the book to defend itself, being fully of opinion that, if his principles be false and his doctrines unwarrantable, no apology from himself can make them right; if founded in truth and rectitude, no censure from others can make them wrong.

Edition: current; Page: [v]


The ambition of posthumous fame is very general, if not universal, among mankind. It is one of the strong arguments for our immortality, that we stretch out our desires beyond the brief span of our present existence and live in the future. A sad and dreary thought would it be to a man,—that of dying unwept by any one, unhonoured by any survivor, and entirely forgotten as soon as removed from sight. If not an actor upon the more prominent theatre of the world’s history, within some narrower circle of society—his neighbourhood, his friends, his family, or at least his descendants—every one looks anxiously forward, in the hope that his memory will be respectfully cherished, his faults and foibles overlooked and excused, his virtues adorned in their fairest and loveliest colours. Whether, in that spirit-land where our immortal natures still live after their earthly tabernacles have crumbled to their original clay, they have any knowledge of or interest in the affairs of the world which they have left behind, we do not know: it has not been revealed to us. From that bourne no traveller has returned. The faculties and powers of the soul,—especially memory,—the strong affections of the heart, all belonging to and constituting an inseparable part of its spiritual nature, as well as its unwearying activity even while the body reposes in soundest slumber, render it, to say the least, a reasonable conjecture that, though engaged in moral and intellectual employments and enjoyments much nobler and purer than earth’s, they are still spectators—interested, curious spectators—in the works of God’s providence which relate to his moral creation. The common superstitions of the people in all ages and countries, which may be regarded either as the tradition of an original revelation or the result of a strongly-impressed innate sentiment, are not without weight on such a question. Such superstitions have intertwined themselves with the earliest poetry: they form a part of the legends of childhood: in spite of ourselves, we are all, more or less, believers in the communion of spirits. The man who has entirely cast off this prejudice or superstition, if we please to term it so, has lost one restraint which has been known to exert its salutary influence when even the sense of higher accountability has been disregarded. We may well fancy, then, Edition: current; Page: [vi] a power in departed spirits of watching and tracing the influences of their own lives, writings, or actions upon those who have come after them. If these influences have been for human virtue and happiness, the wider and more extended the purer must be the pleasure afforded; if they are otherwise, they must be the source of bitter, unavailing, and never-ending regrets. Such considerations may well excite us to the practice of virtuous actions, to the cultivation of noble and generous sympathies and emotions: a part of their appropriate reward may be the observation hereafter of their widening circles as they spread with their influences for good the name we have borne, down to the remotest generation.

The fame of a lawyer, however much he may live in the public eye, and however large may seem the space he occupies in the public consideration, is in general a very narrow and circumscribed one. He is prominently useful in his own day and generation and among his contemporaries. He supports and defends the accused and oppressed; he maintains the cause of the poor and friendless; he succours those that are ready to perish; he counsels the ignorant, he guides and saves those who are wandering and out of the way, and, when “he has run his course and sleeps in blessings,” his bones “have a tomb of orphans’ tears wept on them.” How much untold good is done by an honest, wise, and generous man, in the full practice of this profession, which even those to whom he has consecrated his time and thoughts without the hope of adequate compensation never appreciate! How often, contrary to his own interest, does he succeed in calming the surges of passion, and leading the bitter partisan to measures of peace and compromise! How often does his beneficence possess that best and purest characteristic of the heavenly grace, that his right hand knoweth not what his left hand doeth! Yet—beyond the circle of his own profession, the student of which may occasionally meet with a few brief evidences of his learning and industry in print on the pages of some dusty report-book, and pause to spell his name and wonder who he was—posterity will scarcely ever hear of him, and his severest efforts and brightest intellectual achievements will sink forever in the night of oblivion. The important case of Taylor on the demise of Atkyns vs. Horde was argued before Lord Mansfield and the court of King’s Bench about one hundred years ago. The title to a large estate was at issue; knotty and difficult points of old law-learning were required to be discussed, and they were discussed with exhausting research and ability. It is not to be doubted that the counsel engaged were the most eminent at the English bar. We have a further assurance from the character of some of them. Mr. Pratt,—afterwards Lord Camden, a name forever associated with English liberty, as the dauntless opponent of general warrants, and the champion of American colonial rights upon the floor of Parliament,—Mr. Yorke, son of Lord-Chancellor Hardwicke, the Hon. Charles Yorke, afterwards Lord-Chancellor, are named as of counsel for plaintiff. With them were Mr. Caldecot, the compiler of the Settlement Cases. Opposed to these men, there were for the defendant the names of Mr. Knowles, Mr. Perrot, and Mr. Sergeant Prime. Pratt and Yorke having occupied high political Edition: current; Page: [vii] and judicial positions, their lives have been written, their characters have been portrayed and will be preserved. Who were these others deemed worthy to enter the lists and measure lances with them in this important intellectual contest? Where is their memorial, even among the members of that profession of which, while they lived, they were the pride and ornament?

Besides official and political position, which must frequently give character and fame to the lawyer, there are some other exceptions,—of those who hand down their names within the bounds of their profession by contributing valuable works to its legal literature. The legal writings of Lord Coke have contributed more than his office and influence to this result. Hale, Foster, Gilbert, and others may be placed in the same category. But that they have largely paid that debt which, according to Lord Bacon, every man owes to his profession, how soon would the names of Fearne, Hargrave, Butler, Preston, Powell, Stephen, and Williams have to be classed with those of Knowles, Perrot, and Prime!

There is one English legal writer whose fortune in this respect is peculiar. He produced an elementary work,—written with so much system and accuracy, and in style and language so pure and elegant, that it not only at once assumed and has ever since maintained the place of First Institute of legal education to all who make the common law of England their special study, but became a book of instruction and interest to scholars and gentlemen of all pursuits,—which has been for that reason translated into many other tongues. That lawyer was Sir William Blackstone. An American author has in like manner illustrated his name by a work which both here and abroad will forever stand alongside and share the enviable fame of that of the illustrious English commentator. It is unnecessary to name James Kent.

The father of Sir William Blackstone was Charles Blackstone, a citizen and silkman of London, whose family was from the West of England. He was born on the 10th July, 1723: his father had died before; and he lost his mother at the early age of eleven.

By the early loss of both parents, William and his two brothers Charles and Henry were thrown upon the care of their maternal uncles. Charles and Henry were educated at Winchester, under the care of Dr. Bigg, who was warden of that school. Both of them took orders in the Church. The care and education of William fell to the lot of another uncle,—Mr. Thomas Bigg, an eminent surgeon of London.

In 1730, William, then about seven years old, was put to school at the Charter-House, and in 1735 was, by the nomination of Sir Robert Walpole, through the influence of another member of his mother’s family, admitted as a scholar upon its foundation. He is said to have been a studious and exemplary boy and to have gained the favour of his masters. At the age of fifteen he was at the head of the school, and was thought sufficiently advanced to be removed to the university; and he was accordingly entered a commoner at Pembroke College, in Oxford, on the 30th of November, 1736. He was allowed to remain at school until after the 12th of December, the anniversary commemoration Edition: current; Page: [viii] of the foundation of the Charter-House, in order that he might deliver the customary oration in honour of Richard Sutton,—by which he gained much applause.

After having been three years prosecuting his studies at this illustrious seat of learning, on the 20th November, 1741, being then eighteen, he entered himself a member of the Middle Temple and commenced the study of the law. He was called to the bar as soon as the probationary period of five years had expired,—viz., on the 28th November, 1746.

In the early periods of English jurisprudence, the Inns of Court were resorted to by large numbers of young gentlemen, not merely to acquire a profession, but to complete a liberal education by the study of the laws of their country. In the time of Fortescue, who wrote in the reign of Henry VI., there are said to have been about eighteen hundred or two thousand students in the Inns of Court and Chancery. The number was still very considerable in the time of Ben Jonson, who has left on record his estimate of their influence and character in the dedication of his comedy of Every Man out of his Humour, which he inscribed “To the noblest nurseries of humanity and liberty in the kingdom, the Inns of Court.” To characterize a law-school as the nursery of sound learning and civil liberty is indeed a highly-wrought eulogium of the legal profession,—a praise, however, which its history shows to have been well deserved. In the Inns of Chancery the younger students of the law were usually placed, “learning and studying,” says Fortescue, “the originals, and as it were the elements, of the law; who profiting therein, as they grew to ripeness, so were they admitted into the greater inns of the same study, called the Inns of Court.”

The word “Inns” was anciently used to denote town-houses, in which the nobility and gentry resided when they were in attendance at court; and it is frequently employed by the old poets to denote a spacious and elegant mansion. The Inns of Court were in old French termed hostells. In the court-records in Latin they are called hospitia; while diversoria is the name applied to public lodging-houses, which are now commonly known as inns. The buildings originally purchased for the purposes of these legal societies, having been at the time private residences, still retained in their new use the ancient names by which they were designated. The Middle and Inner Temples were formerly dwellings of the Knights Templars; Lincoln’s and Gray’s Inn anciently belonged to the Earls of Lincoln and Gray. So the names of the several Inns of Chancery are taken from the names of their original proprietors,—except New Inn, Staple Inn, which belonged to the Merchants of the Staple, and Lion Inn, which was a common tavern, with the sign of the lion.

There can be no doubt that there was originally provided in these schools some system of instruction for the students. Competent persons, termed readers, were appointed to deliver public lectures. Such men as More, Coke, and Holt were chosen as readers. They fell into disuse, however; and before the time of Blackstone the student at the Inns was left to his own discretion, and was even called to the bar, after a set time, without any examination as to Edition: current; Page: [ix] his qualification for the exercise of his profession. According to the regulations at that time, and with some modification still existing, every man was entitled to be called to the bar who had paid the fees accustomed and due to the Inn at which he had entered, and had kept twelve terms. A term was kept in a very easy and pleasant way indeed, by being present at a certain number of dinners in common—generally five in each term—in presence of the benchers. He must have gone nine times through a certain ceremony which is called performing an exercise. Exercises were performed thus. The student was furnished by the steward of the society with a piece of paper, on which was supposed to be written an argument on some point of law, but, owing to the negligence of successive copyists, the writing came at last to consist of a piece of legal jargon wholly unintelligible. When, after-dinner, grace had been said, the student advanced to the barristers’ table and commenced reading from this paper; upon which one of the barristers present made him a slight bow, took the paper from him and told him that it was quite sufficient. Throwing aside this piece of antiquated and ridiculous mummery, we may say, then, that practically all that was required as a qualification for the English bar was that the applicant had eaten sixty dinners at certain intervals.

We have not been informed under whose advice or by whose direction Blackstone prosecuted his course of legal studies in the Middle Temple. He has himself depicted in a very lively manner the dangers and difficulties of such a course:—“We may appeal to the experience of every sensible lawyer, whether any thing can be more hazardous or discouraging than the usual entrance on the study of the law. A raw and inexperienced youth, in the most dangerous season of life, is transplanted on a sudden into the midst of allurements to pleasure, without any restraint or check but what his own prudence can suggest; with no public direction in what course to pursue his inquiries, no private assistance to remove the distresses and difficulties which will always embarrass a beginner. In this situation, he is expected to sequester himself from the world, and, by a tedious, lonely process, to extract the theory of law from a mass of undigested learning; or else, by an assiduous attendance on the courts, to pick up theory and practice together sufficient to qualify him for the ordinary run of business.”

We may conjecture that Blackstone began with Finch, and then proceeded to set upon the rough mines of legal treasure to be found in Coke upon Littleton, as well as to look into Bracton, Glanville, Fleta, and the Reports. It was somewhat better than when, not quite two centuries before, in 1652, Sir Henry Spelman so graphically described it as linguam peregrinam, aïalectum barbarum, methodum inconcinnum, molem non ingentem solum sed perpetuis humeris sustinendam.

The young student, whose career we are to sketch, little thought that, in the design of Providence, he was the engineer selected to make a new road through this wild and almost impassable country, and that he would do so with so much skill and judgment, and at the same time adorn its sides and environs with so green and rich a landscape, as to convert the journey from a wearisome toil Edition: current; Page: [x] to an attractive pleasure. For almost a century the Commentaries have been the first book of the student of law; and, whatever criticisms have been or may be made upon their learning or accuracy, the fact is, that no lawyer fails to make them a part of his course of study, sooner or later.

At Oxford he had been a diligent student. Before he was twenty, he had compiled a treatise on the Elements of Architecture, with plans and drawings from his own pen. He devoted a large portion of his time to elegant literature, and had cultivated to a considerable extent the art of poetry. Even at school he had shown poetic ability by some verses on Milton, for which he was rewarded with a gold medal. Upon betaking himself to the study of the law, he appears to have considered it necessary to abandon this employment. He wrote “The Lawyer’s Farewell to his Muse,” which was afterwards printed in Dodsley’s Miscellanies,—a poem exhibiting a cultivated taste and a chastened fancy, as well as great command of language. Afterwards, in 1751, he wrote an elegy on the death of Frederick, Prince of Wales, which was published in the Oxford Collection. Judging from these pieces, it is, perhaps, not a subject of regret that he relinquished poetry; nor are we tempted to exclaim, as Pope did of Lord Mansfield,—

  • How sweet an Ovid, Murray, was our boast.
  • How many Martials were in Pulteney lost.

It has, however, been well remarked that “to his early predilection for poetry we may reasonably attribute the formation of that exquisite style and method with which he afterwards embellished and illustrated the law. For nothing so well can teach us that propriety of expression, that felicity of illustration, and that symmetry of method by which the most abstruse subject may be rendered clear and delightful, as the study of the works of those who may be styled the masters of language.” It is not uncommon to hear the expression, “The law is a jealous mistress.” It is true that this profession, like all others, demands of those who would succeed in it an earnest and entire devotion. It must be the main business of the student: he must love it. But it is not inconsistent with all this that he should still pursue his classical reading,—that he should maintain a constant acquaintance and familiarity with those authors in every tongue who, by the unanimous award of time, are the standards of taste and eloquence. A man may become a first rate practitioner or scrivener by devoting himself exclusively to professional reading, and, if money be his whole object, with great success; but if his aim be—as it ought to be—higher, then liberal studies will be found as necessary to make the truly great and accomplished lawyer as any other. It is not the mere gathering of flowers in devious by-paths, but of rich and nourishing fruit, which gives tone and vigour to the moral and intellectual man. The old partition of time, which even Lord Coke has sanctioned by his authority, “for the good spending of the day,” assigned six hours of the twenty-four to the “sacred muses:”—

  • “Sex horas somno, totidem des legibus æquis
  • Quatuor orabis, des epulisque duas
  • Quod superest ultra sacris largire camænis.”
Edition: current; Page: [xi]

Previously to Blackstone’s call to the bar, he had removed from Pembroke to All-Souls, and in June, 1744, had become a fellow of the latter college. All-Souls was celebrated for lawyers; and Lord Northington and Chief-Justice Willes were fellows of this college. In 1745, he graduated Bachelor of Civil Law.

After his admission to the bar, he was condemned, like the great majority of all who adopt this profession, to undergo a long and trying novitiate. From 1746 to 1760, he only reports himself to have been engaged in two cases, and those so unimportant that they are not mentioned in any other report-book. Happy are those who adopt as their motto Ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito,—who seize this as the favourable time for close observation of men and things, as well as for an extended and thorough course of professional reading,—remembering that the mower loses no time while he is whetting his scythe,—but being careful not to sink into the mere recluse and book-worm. Our author appears to have attempted this happy middle way; but, at the same time, hope so long deferred made his heart sick; and it has been noticed that though from his call to the bar until Michaelmas Term, 1750, he regularly attended the court of King’s Bench and took notes of cases, his diligence relaxed, and latterly the only cases noted are those concerning the universities, in whose affairs he always took an especial interest. He made the acquaintance, however, and secured the friendship, during this time, of some of the most eminent men in the profession, who appear to have discovered in him that merit which he only wanted the opportunity to display to all. One of these was William Murray, afterwards Earl of Mansfield. Upon a vacancy in the professorship of Civil Law in the University of Oxford, Mr. Murray introduced Mr. Blackstone to the Duke of Newcastle, then Chancellor of the University and warmly recommended him as entirely able to fill the vacant chair. For his grace, however, this was not enough, unless he could rely on his support in favour of the administration. To ascertain the political principles of Blackstone, he said to him, “Sir, I can rely upon the judgment of your friend Mr. Murray as to your giving law-lectures in a style most beneficial to the students; and I dare say I may safely rely on you, whenever any thing in the political nemisphere is agitated in the university, that you will exert yourself in our behalf.” The answer was, “Your grace may be assured that I will discharge my duty in giving law-lectures to the best of my poor ability.” “Ay, ay,” replied his grace, “and your duty in the other branch, too.” Mr. Blackstone coolly bowed; and a few days after Dr. Jenner was appointed professor.

Mr. Blackstone passed much of his time in Oxford, and took an active interest in the affairs of the university. He was elected bursar, or treasurer, of his college. Finding the muniments in a confused state, with considerable research and labour he made a new arrangement of them. He drew up a dissertation upon the method of keeping the accounts, with a view to render them more simple and intelligible,—a copy of which is still preserved, for the benefit of his successors in the bursarship. He took a lively interest in the Codrington Library, exerted himself actively to secure the completion of the building, Edition: current; Page: [xii] and formed a new arrangement and classification of the books. In May, 1749, as a small reward for his services, and to afford him further opportunities of advancing the interests of the college, he was appointed Steward of their Manors. In the same year, on the resignation of his uncle, Seymour Richmond, Esq., he was elected recorder of the borough of Wallingford, in Berkshire, and received the king’s approbation on the 30th of May. On the 26th of April, 1750, he commenced Doctor of Civil Law, and thereby became a member of the convocation. About this time he published An Essay on Collateral Consanguinity. The design of the work was to attack the claims of those who, on the ground of kindred with Archbishop Chichele, the founder of All-Souls, asserted a right of being elected in preference to all others into that society. He undertook to prove that as the archbishop, who by the canons could not lawfully marry, never had any legitimate lineal descendants, the great lapse of time since his death, by the rules both of the civil and canon law, had put an end to all collateral relationship,—or, in other words, that all mankind might be presumed equally akin to the founder. The college acted on this doctrine; but Archbishop Secker, in 1762, as visitor, reversed their decision. Secker’s successor, Archbishop Cornwallis, chose Blackstone one of his assessors, and with his assistance, and that of Dr. Hay, an eminent civilian, formed a regulation which, without entirely setting aside all claims founded on the express words of the college-statutes, limited the number of the founder’s kin who could be admitted,—a regulation which in a great measure removed the inconvenience and gave satisfaction on all sides.

It was about the year 1750 that Blackstone first began to plan his Lectures on the Laws of England. He despaired of success at the bar, and determined to confine himself to his fellowship and an academical life, continuing the practice of his profession as provincial counsel. In Michaelmas Term, 1753, he delivered his first course at Oxford. Whether from the novelty of the subject or the reputation of the lecturer, his first course was numerously attended. Nor did the interest flag. Such was the elegance of style and popular character of the course, that attendance soon became the fashion. In 1754, he found it worth while, from the number attending, to publish his Analysis of the Laws of England, for the use of his hearers. It is founded on a similar work by Sir Matthew Hale, with some alterations, not generally regarded as improvements.

In July, 1755, he was appointed one of the delegates of the Clarendon Press. He entered upon this office with that determination to do his whole duty which characterized him in every other situation in which he was placed. He found that abuses had crept into that trust; and, in order to obtain a clearer insight into the matter, and to be better qualified to enter upon the task of correcting them, he made himself master of the mechanical art of printing. He proposed a valuable reform, which he had the pleasure of seeing successfully put in execution, much to the advantage of the university. He wrote a small tract on the Management of the University Press, which he left for the use of his successors in that office. In 1757, he was elected by the surviving visitors of Michel’s new foundation in Queen’s College into that body. There had been Edition: current; Page: [xiii] a long dispute between the members of the old and the new foundation. Here again he exerted himself successfully; and principally through his instrumentality this donation became a valuable acquisition to the college, as well as an ornament to the university, by the completion of that handsome pile of buildings towards the High Street which for many years had been little better than a confused heap of ruins. Dr. Blackstone drew up a body of statutes for the regulation of the endowment, which was confirmed by Act of Parliament in the year 1769.

Mr. Viner having bequeathed to the University of Oxford a considerable sum of money and the copyright of his Abridgment of Law, for the purpose of instituting a professorship of Common Law, with fellowships and scholarships, Dr. Blackstone was, on the 20th of October, 1758, unanimously elected first Vinerian Professor. He lost no time in entering upon his duties, and on the 25th of the same month delivered his Introductory Lecture on the Study of the Law,—certainly, if no sketch had previously existed, a most remarkable composition to be prepared in so short a period of time. At the request of the Vice-Chancellor and heads of houses, he published this introductory, and afterwards prefixed it to his Commentaries. His lectures soon became celebrated throughout the kingdom. He was requested to read them to the Prince of Wales, (afterwards George III.;) but, being at that time engaged with a numerous class of pupils at Oxford, whom he did not think it right to leave, he declined the honour. However, he transmitted copies for the prince’s perusal, who in return sent him a handsome present.

In 1756, he had resumed his attendance at Westminster, coming up to town every winter and showing himself in court each Michaelmas and Hilary Term,—for the purpose, doubtless, of making himself known. He does not record, however, that he was engaged in any cause. In June, 1759, he resigned his offices of Assessor in the Vice-Chancellor’s Court and Steward of All-Souls Manors, and purchased chambers in the Temple, where he came to reside. He did not appear in court until Trinity Term, 1760; nor, indeed, does it seem that he ever acquired much celebrity as an advocate. His principal practice was as a chamber counsel. That he was commanding notice and regard in the profession appears from the fact that Lord Chief-Justice Willes and Mr. Justice Bathurst invited him to take the coif, which he declined,—probably from economical reasons. The expense accompanying that honour was considerable; and in that which Blackstone felt to be more his professional line, the advantages and privileges of the order—principally then the monopoly of the practice at the bar of the Common Pleas—were not sufficient to counterbalance its expense and inconvenience. In the same year (1759) he published two small pieces relative to the university: the one entitled Reflections on the Opinions of Messrs. Pratt, Morton, and Wilbraham, relating to Lord Litchfield’s Disqualification, who was then a candidate for the chancellorship; the other, A Case for the Opinion of Counsel on the Right of the University to make New Statutes. In November, 1759, he published a new edition of the Great Charter and Charter of the Forest, and also a tract On the Law of Descents in Fee-Simple. Edition: current; Page: [xiv] As to the former, while the mechanical execution reflected great honour on the author as the principal reformer of the Clarendon Press, from which no volume had ever before issued equal in beauty to this, the work itself added materially to his former reputation as a lawyer and antiquary. It led him, however, into an unpleasant controversy with Dr. Lyttelton, Dean of Exeter, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle, in regard to the authenticity of an ancient roll, containing the Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest, belonging to Lord Lyttelton, which, however, Blackstone did not consider an original.

The first cause of any interest which he argued was that of Robinson vs. Bland, in Trinity Term, 1760. The question was whether a gaming-debt, contracted in France could be recovered in England. It is to be found reported 1 W. Blacks. 234, 256; 2 Burr. 1077. His argument is certainly elaborate and ingenious. The next cause in which he appears to have been engaged was, in a legal point of view, decidedly the most interesting that ever came before the courts,—namely, the common-law right of literary property. It was the case of Tonson vs. Collins, 1 Sir W. Blacks. 301, 321. Blackstone’s admirable argument is to be found at p. 321. After this, it would be tedious and uninteresting to trace his connection with other important cases at the bar. In 1761, the appointment of Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland was offered to him, but declined. In March of the same year, he was returned to Parliament for Hindon, in Wiltshire, and on May 6th received a patent of precedence. On the 5th May, 1761, he married the daughter of James Clitherow, Esq., of Boston House, in the county of Middlesex. Having by this marriage vacated his fellowship of All-Souls, he was on the 28th of July, 1761, appointed Principal of New Inn Hall, by the Earl of Westmoreland, then Chancellor of Oxford. This appointment, besides the rank it gave him in the university, assured him an agreeable residence during the delivery of his lectures. In 1762, he collected and republished several of his pieces, under the title of Law Tracts, in two volumes octavo. In 1763, he was appointed Solicitor-General to the Queen, and elected about the same time a Bencher of the Middle Temple. In 1765 appeared the first volume of the Commentaries,—twelve years after the delivery of his original lectures; and the other three volumes were published in the course of the four succeeding years.

In 1766, he resigned the Vinerian professorship, and at the same time the principality of New Inn Hall. He had hoped that the professorship might be permanently connected with some college or hall, as Mr. Viner had contemplated, and thus a permanent settlement in Oxford be rendered agreeable. But this plan was rejected in convocation, and thus his views of a lasting settlement disappointed.

In 1768, he was returned to Parliament for the borough of Westbury, in Wiltshire, and took part in the debates relative to the election of John Wilkes, when his adversaries observed and pointed out an inconsistency between his position and the doctrine laid down in his Commentaries on the subject. He Edition: current; Page: [xv] published a pamphlet on the subject, which drew upon him severe sarcasms from the author of Junius. In the same year Dr. Priestley animadverted on his positions in the Commentaries relative to offences against the doctrine of the Established Church, and Dr. Furneaux addressed him some letters on his Exposition of the Toleration Act. He published an answer to Dr. Priestley, and in subsequent editions modified the passages in which errors and inaccuracies had been pointed out.

He was offered the Solicitor-Generalship by Lord North in January, 1770, on the resignation of Dunning. He accepted, however, the position of a Judge of the Common Pleas, on the resignation of Mr. Justice Clive. He was of course called to the degree of Sergeant, and gave rings with the motto “Secundis dubiisque rectus.” “But, Mr. Justice Yates being desirous to retire” (to use Blackstone’s own words) “into the court of Common Pleas, I consented to exchange with him; and accordingly (February 16th) I kissed his majesty’s hand on being appointed a Judge of the King’s Bench, and received the honour of knighthood.” Sir Joseph Yates did not long survive his retirement; for on the Whit-Sunday following he was taken ill at church, and died on Thursday following, “to the great loss of the public, and the court of Common Pleas in particular, wherein he sat one term only.” On this event Sir William Blackstone likewise “retired into the court of Common Pleas,” which, says Burrow, “he was always understood to have in view whenever opportunity offered.”

Sir William Blackstone maintained the reputation he had previously acquired by his performance of his duties on the bench. There are several very elaborate judgments of his, in his own reports, upon important and difficult questions, which display his ability and research to great advantage. The court of Common Pleas during the time of Blackstone differed in opinion only upon two cases. In both he dissented. The first was Scott vs. Shepherd, (2 W. Bl. 892,) relative to the distinction between actions of trespass and on the case; the other, Goodright dem. Rolfe vs. Harwood, (2 W. Bl. 937,) in which the judgment of the Common Pleas was unanimously reversed by the King’s Bench, and that reversal confirmed by the House of Lords, upon the opinions of the Barons of the Exchequer. The opinion of Sir William Blackstone in the celebrated case of Perrin vs. Blake (1 W. Bl. 672) has been always highly esteemed as a most ingenious and able view of the knotty question which arose in that case, and has attained a very just celebrity. It may well be doubted whether Mr. Roscoe is sustained by the facts in the opinion which he has so confidently expressed,—that “after the publication of the Commentaries the legal acquirements of Blackstone rather declined than advanced.”

He had purchased shortly after his marriage a villa, called Priory Place, in Wallingford. He exerted himself, with his accustomed activity, in the promotion of every plan for the improvement of his neighbourhood, not only substantially in the opening of roads and building of bridges, but ornamentally in the rebuilding of that handsome fabric, St. Peter’s Church. Such were his employments at home. In London, besides the duties of his public post, he was generally engaged in some scheme of public utility. In the latter part Edition: current; Page: [xvi] of his life he devoted much time to the consideration of the subject of prison-discipline. He exerted himself, in conjunction with John Howard, to procure an Act of Parliament for the establishment of Penitentiary Houses near London, the objects of which should be “to seclude the criminals from their former associates; to separate those of whom hopes might be entertained from those who were desperate; to teach them useful trades; to accustom them to habits of industry; to give them religious instruction; and to provide them with a recommendation to the world, and the means of obtaining an honest livelihood after the expiration of the term of their imprisonment.” The statute 19 Geo. III. c. 74 was accordingly passed; and, though it did not produce all the beneficial effects that were expected from it, it led the way to more just and rational views of prison-discipline. In one of his charges to a grand jury, he referred to the establishment of penitentiaries under this act in the following terms:—“In these houses the convicts are to be separately confined during the intervals of their labours, debarred from all incentives to debauchery, instructed in religion and morality, and forced to work for the benefit of the public. Imagination cannot figure to itself a species of punishment in which terror, benevolence, and reformation are more happily blended together. What can be more dreadful to the riotous, the libertine, the voluptuous, the idle delinquent, than solitude, confinement, sobriety, and constant labour? Yet what can be more truly beneficial? Solitude will awaken reflection, confinement will banish temptation, sobriety will restore vigour, and labour will beget a habit of honest industry; while the aid of a religious instructor may implant new principles in his heart, and, when the date of his punishment is expired, will conduce both to his temporal and eternal welfare. Such a prospect as this is surely well worth the trouble of an experiment.”

He indulged, also, in literary labours to some extent. The only fruits of these, however, are “An Account of the Dispute between Addison and Pope,” communicated to Dr. Kippis, and by him published in the “Biographia Britannica,” in the Life of Addison; and some notes upon Shakspeare, which are published in Malone’s edition of 1780, marked by the final letter of his name.

He did not, however, long continue to enjoy this life of quiet usefulness, honour, and happiness. Sedentary employments, such as those in which he delighted, are never conducive to health. As he advanced in age, he became corpulent, and was occasionally visited by gout, dropsy, and vertigo. About Christmas, 1779, he was seized with a violent shortness of breath, which his physicians attributed to his dropsical habit and to water on the chest; and their prescriptions gave him a temporary relief. He was able to come to town to attend Hilary Term,—when he was again attacked in a more formidable shape, chiefly in his head, which induced a drowsiness and stupor that baffled all the skill of his medical attendants. After lying in a state of insensibility for several days, he expired at his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on the 14th of February, 1780, being in the fifty-seventh year of his age. He was buried at St. Peter’s Church, Wallingford,—his friend Dr. Barrington, Bishop of Llandaff, officiating at his funeral.

Edition: current; Page: [xvii]

He had nine children, of whom seven survived him. Henry Blackstone, the reporter, was his nephew, and died from the effects of over-exertion in his profession. Of his sons, James enjoyed nearly the same university preferments as his father: he was Fellow of All-Souls, Principal of New Inn Hall, Vinerian Professor, Deputy High Steward, and Assessor in the Vice-Chancellor’s Courts. He died in 1831.

The notes of decisions which he had collected while at the bar and on the bench, and which he had himself prepared for the press, were published after his death, in two volumes folio, agreeably to a direction in his will. They seem to be only such as he had selected out of many from his rough notes, either as being of a more interesting nature, or as containing some essential point of law or practice, or perhaps such only (particularly for the first few years) as he had taken the most accurate notes of. They were published under the superintendence of his executor and brother-in-law, James Clitherow, Esq., prefaced by a sketch of his life, from which the facts contained in this memoir have been principally taken.

“Having now given,” says Mr. Clitherow, “a faithful, and, it is hoped, not too prolix, a detail of the life of this great man, from his cradle to his grave, it will be expected that it should be followed by the outlines at least of his character. A hard task for the pen of a friend! To do justice to the merits of such a character, without incurring the imputation of flattery, is as difficult as to touch on its imperfections (and such the most perfect human characters have) with truth and delicacy.

“In his public line of life he approved himself an able, upright, impartial judge, perfectly acquainted with the laws of his country and making them the invariable rule of his conduct. As a senator, he was averse to party violence and moderate in his sentiments. Not only in Parliament, but at all times and on all occasions, he was a firm supporter of the true principles of our happy Constitution in Church and State,—on the real merits of which few men were so well qualified to decide. He was ever an active and judicious promoter of whatever he thought useful or advantageous to the public in general, or to any particular society or neighbourhood he was connected with; and, having not only a sound judgment, but the clearest ideas and the most analytical head that any man perhaps was ever blessed with, these qualifications, joined to an unremitting perseverance in pursuing whatever he thought right, enabled him to carry many beneficial plans into execution, which probably would have failed if they had been attempted by other men.

“He was a believer in the great truths of Christianity from a thorough investigation of its evidence. Attached to the Church of England from conviction of its excellence, his principles were those of its genuine members,—enlarged and tolerant. His religion was pure and unaffected, and his attendance on its public duties regular, and those duties always performed with seriousness and devotion.

“His professional abilities need not be dwelt upon. They will be universally acknowledged and admired as long as his works shall be read, or, in other Edition: current; Page: [xviii] words, as long as the municipal laws of this country shall remain an object of study and practice. And, though his works will only hold forth to future generations his knowledge of the law and his talents as a writer, there was hardly any branch of literature he was unacquainted with. He ever employed much time in reading; and whatever he had read and once digested he never forgot.

“He was an excellent manager of his time; and though so much of it was spent in an application to books and the employment of his pen, yet this was done without the parade or ostentation of being a hard student. It was observed of him, during his residence at college, that his studies never appeared to break in upon the common business of life or the innocent amusements of society,—for the latter of which few men were better calculated, being possessed of the happy faculty of making his own company agreeable and instructive, whilst he enjoyed without reserve the society of others.

“Melancthon himself could not have been more rigid in observing the hour and minute of an appointment. During the years in which he read his lectures at Oxford, it could not be remembered that he had ever kept his audience waiting for him even for a few minutes. As he valued his own time, he was extremely careful not to be instrumental in squandering or trifling away that of others, who he hoped might have as much regard for theirs as he had for his. Indeed, punctuality was in his opinion so much a virtue that he could not bring himself to think perfectly well of any who were notoriously defective in it.

“The virtues of his private character, less conspicuous in their nature and consequently less generally known, endeared him to those he was more intimately connected with and who saw him in the more retired scenes of life. He was, notwithstanding his contracted brow, (owing in a great measure to his being very near-sighted,) a cheerful, agreeable, and facetious companion. He was a faithful friend, an affectionate husband and parent, and a charitable benefactor to the poor,—possessed of generosity without affectation, bounded by prudence and economy. The constant accurate knowledge he had of his income and expenses (the consequence of uncommon regularity in his accounts) enabled him to avoid the opposite extremes of meanness and profusion.

“Being himself strict in the exercise of every public and private duty, he expected the same attention to both in others, and, when disappointed in his expectation, was apt to animadvert with some degree of severity on those who, in his estimate of duty, seemed to deserve it. This rigid sense of obligation, added to a certain irritability of temper derived from nature and increased in his latter years by a strong nervous affection, together with his countenance and figure, conveyed an idea of sternness, which occasioned the heavy but unmerited imputation, among those who did not know him, of ill nature; but he had a heart as benevolent and as feeling as man ever possessed.

“A natural reserve and diffidence, which accompanied him from his earliest youth, and which he could never shake off, appeared to a casual observer Edition: current; Page: [xix] though it was only appearance, like pride,—especially after he became a judge, when he thought it his duty to keep strictly up to forms, (which, as he was wont to observe, are now too much laid aside,) and not to lessen the respect due to the dignity and gravity of his office by any outward levity of behaviour.

“In short, it may be said of him as the noble historian (Lord Clarendon) said of Mr. Selden: ‘If he had some infirmities with other men, they were weighed down with wonderful and prodigious abilities and excellencies in the other scale.’ ”

Such is the testimony of a friend and kinsman to the character of Sir William Blackstone. Partial, no doubt, in some respects; but on the whole it bears on its face the marks of an honest effort to tell the truth,—not to conceal what appeared to be unlovely. We may accept it with the more confidence as truthful and reliable. “There may have been,” concludes Mr. Welsby, (Lives of Eminent English Judges,) “more shining characters, of whom we read with deeper interest; but there have been few men more useful in their sphere, few whose example we can contemplate more profitably, few who better realized the wish so happily expressed by himself:—

  • “Untainted by the guilty bribe,
  • Uncursed amidst the harpy tribe;
  • No orphan’s cry to wound my ear,
  • My honour and my conscience clear;
  • Thus may I calmly meet my end,—
  • Thus to the grave in peace descend.”

Of the Commentaries as an Institute of Legal Education, very different opinions have been expressed; but, with one or two exceptions, there is a concurrent admiration of their style and method. When the illustrious contemporary of Blackstone—Lord Mansfield—was asked to point out the books proper for the perusal of a student of the law, that great man bore this emphatic testimony to their value:—“Till of late I could never with any satisfaction to myself answer that question; but since the publication of Mr. Blackstone’s Commentaries I can never be at a loss. There your son will find analytical reasoning, diffused in a pleasing and perspicuous style. There he may imbibe imperceptibly the first principles on which our excellent laws are founded; and there he may become acquainted with an uncouth crabbed author, Coke upon Littleton, who has disappointed many a tyro, but who cannot fail to please in a modern dress.” One of his most stern and unrelenting critics,—Jeremy Bentham,—himself a jurist, and fundamentally opposed to Blackstone in his general views and principles of government, thus speaks of the style in which the Commentaries were written:—“He it is who first of all institutional writers has taught jurisprudence to speak the language of the scholar and the gentleman, put a polish upon that rugged science, cleansed her from the dust and cobwebs of the office, and, if he has not enriched her with that precision which is drawn only from the sterling treasury of the sciences, has decked her out to advantage from the toilet of classic erudition, enlivened her with metaphors and allusions, and sent her abroad in some Edition: current; Page: [xx] measure to instruct, and in still greater measure to entertain, the most miscellaneous and even the most fastidious societies. The merit to which, as much perhaps as to any, this work stands indebted, is the enchanting harmony of its numbers.” “It is easy,” says Mr. Justice Coleridge, “to point out their faults; and their general merits of lucid order, sound and clear exposition, and a style almost faultless in its kind, are also easily perceived and universally acknowledged; but it requires perhaps the study necessarily imposed upon an editor to understand fully the whole extent of praise to which the author is entitled: his materials should be seen in their crude and scattered state; the controversies examined, of which the result only is shortly given; what he has rejected, what he has forborne to say, should be known before his learning, judgment, taste, and, above all, his total want of self-display, can be justly appreciated.” Lord Avonmore has said, “He it was who first gave to the law the air of a science. He found it a skeleton, and clothed it with life, colour, and complexion: he embraced the cold statue, and by his touch it grew into youth, health, and beauty.” Sir William Jones, one of the most accomplished scholars the legal profession can boast of having produced, and an ornament not to that profession alone, but to human nature, gives his opinion in these words:—“His Commentaries are the most correct and beautiful outline that ever was exhibited of any human science; but they alone will no more form a lawyer than a general map of the world, how accurately and elegantly soever it may be delineated, will make a geographer. If, indeed, all the titles which he professed only to sketch in elementary discourses were filled up with exactness and perspicuity, Englishmen might hope at length to possess a digest of their laws which would leave but little room for controversy except in cases depending upon their particular circumstances,—a work which every lover of humanity and peace must anxiously wish to see accomplished.”

To these many similar authorities might be added; but we may be allowed to subjoin the testimony of the distinguished American Commentator Chancellor Kent:—“He [Blackstone] is justly placed at the head of all the modern writers who treat of the general elementary principles of law. By the excellence of his arrangement, the variety of his learning, the justness of his taste, and the purity and elegance of his style, he communicated to those subjects, which were harsh and forbidding in the pages of Coke, the attraction of a liberal science and the embellishments of polite literature. The second and third volumes of the Commentaries are to be thoroughly studied and accurately understood. What is obsolete is necessary to illustrate that which remains in use; and the greater part of the matter in these volumes is law at this day and on this side of the Atlantic.”

In opposition to this stand Mr. Ritso and Mr. Austin, the former in his curious and useful Introduction to the Study of Coke upon Littleton, and the latter in his Outlines of Lectures on the Province of Jurisprudence. They deny to Sir William Blackstone all merit as an institutional writer, and even condemn his style, as unfitted to the subject and meretricious. His manner, says Mr. Austin, “is not the manner of those classical Roman jurists, who are Edition: current; Page: [xxi] always models of expression, though their meaning be never so faulty. It differs from their unaffected, yet apt and nervous, style, as the tawdry and flimsy dress of a milliner’s doll from the graceful and imposing nakedness of a Grecian statue.” Mr. Ritso is an idolater of Lord Coke, and unwilling that any book should share in the honours of the Institutes, much less displace it as a first book in the hands of the professional student. Mr. Austin is an enthusiastic Benthamite. His associations have been altogether with codes and systems. What other arrangement he would have made of the Common Law of England than that followed by Blackstone and Hale can only be conjectured; but the probability is that it would not have been adapted to the science as it practically existed, and would have been inconvenient because artificial. The Common Law is not a strait canal cut by the art of civil engineers, but a mighty river, its head lost in the sands of antiquity, which has sought and made its own channel, and that the most natural and the best, though occasionally requiring to be improved by legislative dams and embankments.

It is not difficult to arrive at a just conclusion between these conflicting opinions. Blackstone is not an authority in the law in the same sense in which Littleton or his commentator Lord Coke is. He has fallen into some errors and inaccuracies,—not, however, so many nor so important that the student ought to have his confidence in it as an Institute at all impaired. In fact, these errors and inaccuracies have been for the most part pointed out and corrected in the modern editions. There is certainly truth in the charge brought against Blackstone of overweening admiration of the British Constitution; but that is not likely to mislead an American student. We can sympathize with his panegyric of the free spirit and general justice of the Common Law. We claim it as our birthright and boast of it as the substratum of our own jurisprudence. As an elementary book, however, it may be enough to say that the whole body of American lawyers and advocates, with very few exceptions, since the Revolution, have drawn their first lessons in jurisprudence from the pages of Blackstone’s Commentaries; and no more modern work has succeeded as yet in superseding it.

Edition: current; Page: [xxii] Edition: current; Page: [xxiii]


  • Introduction.
  • Of the study of the law.............................. Section I
  • The nature of laws in general.............................. II
  • The grounds and foundation of the laws of England.............................. III
  • The countries subject to those laws.............................. IV
  • The objects of the laws of England, viz.:
    • I. The rights of persons; which are
      • 1. Natural persons; whose rights are
        • 1. Absolute; viz. the enjoyment of
          • 1. Personal security,
          • 2. Personal liberty,
          • 3. Private property.............................. Chapter I.
        • 2. Relative; as they stand in relations
          • 1. Public; as
            • 1. Magistrates; who are
              • 1. Supreme:
                • 1. Legislative; viz. the parliament.............................. II
                • 2. Executive; viz. the king, wherein of his
                  • 1. Title.............................. III
                  • 2. Royal family.............................. IV
                  • 3. Councils.............................. V.
                  • 4. Duties.............................. VI.
                  • 5. Prerogatives.............................. VII.
                  • 6. Revenue:
                    • 1. Ordinary; viz.
                      • 1. Ecclesiastical,
                      • 2. Temporal,
                    • 2. Extraordinary.............................. VIII.
              • 2. Subordinate.............................. IX.
            • 2. People; who are
              • 1. Aliens.............................. X.
              • 2. Natives; who are
                • 1. Clergy.............................. XI.
                • 2. Laity; who are in a state
                  • 1. Civil.............................. XII.
                  • 2. Military,
                  • 3. Maritime.............................. XIII.
          • 2. Private; as,
            • 1. Master and servant.............................. XIV.
            • 2. Husband and wife.............................. XV.
            • 3. Parent and child.............................. XVI.
            • 4. Guardian and ward.............................. XVII.
      • 2. Bodies politic, or corporations.............................. XVIII.
  • II. The Rights of Things.............................. Book II
  • III. Private Wrongs.............................. III.
  • IV. Public Wrongs.............................. IV.


  • INTRODUCTION. Of the Study, Nature, and Extent, of the Laws of England.
    • SECTION I. Of the Study of the Law.............................. Page 6 to 31
      • 1. The general utility of the study of the English common law will principally appear from considering the peculiar situations of, I. Gentlemen of fortune. II. The nobility. III. Persons in liberal professions.............................. Page 6-17
      • 2. The causes of its neglect were, chiefly, the revival of the study of the Roman laws in the twelfth century, their adoption by the Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] clergy and universities, and the illiberal jealousy that subsisted between the patrons and students of each.............................. Page 17-20
      • 3. The establishment of the court of Common Pleas at Westminster preserved the common law, and promoted its study in that neighbourhood, exclusive of the two universities .............................. 22
      • 4. But the universities are now the most eligible places for laying the foundations of this, as of every other liberal accomplishment; by tracing out the principles and grounds of the law, even to their original elements.............................. 31
    • SECTION II. Of the Nature of Laws in general..... 38 to 61
      • 1. Law is a rule of action prescribed by a superior power.............................. 38
      • 2. Natural law is the rule of human action, prescribed by the Creator, and discoverable by the light of reason.............................. 39
      • 3. The divine, or revealed law, considered as a rule of action, is also the law of nature, imparted by God himself .............................. 41
      • 4. The law of nations is that which regulates the conduct and mutual intercourse of independent states with each other, by reason and natural justice .............................. 43
      • 5. Municipal or civil law is the rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong.............................. 44
      • 6. Society is formed for the protection of individuals; and states, or government, for the preservation of society .............................. 47
      • 7. In all states there is an absolute supreme power, to which the right of legislation belongs, and which, by the singular constitution of these kingdoms, is vested in the king, lords, and commons .............................. 48-51
      • 8. The parts of a law are, I. The declaratory; which defines what is right and wrong. II. The directory; which consists in commanding the observation of right, or probibiting the commission of wrong. III. The remedial; or method of recovering private rights and redressing private wrongs. IV. The vindicatory sanction of punishments for public wrongs; wherein consists the most forcible obligation of human laws... 58-4
      • 9. To interpret a law, we must inquire after the will of the maker: which may be collected either from the words, the context, the subject-matter, the effects and consequence, or the spirit and reason of the law .............................. 59-61
      • 10. From the latter method of interpretation arises equity, or the correction of that wherein the law (by reason of its un versality) is deficient.............................. 61
    • SECTION III. Of the Laws of England.............................. 63 to 91
      • 1. The laws of England are of two kinds: the unwritten or common law, and the written or statute law .............................. 63
      • 2. The unwritten law includes, I. General customs. II. Particular customs. III. Particular laws.............................. 67
      • 3. General customs, or the common law properly so called, are founded upon immemorial universal usage, whereof judicial decisions are the evidence; which decisions are preserved in the public records, explained in the year-books and reports, and digested by writers of approved authority .............................. Page 68
      • 4. Particular customs are those which are only in use within some peculiar districts; as gavel-kind, the customs of London, &c.............................. 74
      • 5. These—I. must be proved to exist;—II. must appear to be legal; that is, immemorial, continued, peaceable, reasonable, certain, compulsory, and consistent;—III. must, when allowed, receive a strict construction.............................. 76-79
      • 6. Particular laws are such as, by special custom, are adopted and used only in certain peculiar courts, under the superintendence and control of the common and statute law; namely, the Roman civil and canon laws.............................. 79
      • 7. The written or statute laws are the acts which are made by the king, lords, and commons, in parliament, to supply the defects, or amend what is amiss, of the unwritten law.............................. 85
      • 8. In order to give a more specific relief than can sometimes be had, through the generality of both the unwritten and written law, in matters of private right, it is the office of equity to interpose.............................. 91
    • SECTION IV. Of the Countries subject to the Laws of England .............................. 93 to 113
      • 1. The laws of England are not received in their full extent in any other territories besides the kingdom of England, and the dominion of Wales, which have, in most respects, an entire communion of laws... 93
      • 2. Scotland, notwithstanding the union, retains its own municipal laws, though subject to regulation by the British parliament.............................. 95
      • 3. Berwick is governed by its own local usages, derived from the Scots law, but bound by all acts of parliament.............................. 98
      • 4. Ireland is a distinct subordinate kingdom, governed by the common law of England, but not bound by modern acts of the British parliament, unless particularly named.............................. 99
      • 5. The Isle of Man, the Norman isles, (as Guernsey, &c.,) and our plantations abroad, are governed by their own laws, but are bound by acts of the British parliament, if specially named therein.............................. 104-109
      • 6. The territory of England is divided, ecclesiastically, into provinces, dioceses, archdeaconries, rural deaneries, and parishes .............................. 110-118
      • 7. The civil division is, first, into counties, of which some are palatine; then, sometimes, into rapes, lathes, or trithings: next, into hundreds, or wapentakes; and lastly, into towns, vills, or tithings.............................. 118 Edition: current; Page: [xxv]
    • CHAPTER I. Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals.............................. Page 122 to 144
      • 1. The objects of the laws of England are, I. Rights. II. Wrongs.............................. 122
      • 2. Rights are, the rights of persons, or the rights of things.............................. 122
      • 3. The rights of persons are such as concern, and are annexed to, the persons of men: and, when the person to whom they are due is regarded, they are called (simply) rights; but when we consider the person from whom they are due, they are then denominated duties.............................. 123
      • 4. Persons are either natural, that is, such as they are formed by nature; or artificial, that is, created by human policy, as bodies politic or corporations.............................. 123
      • 5. The rights of natural persons are, I. Absolute, or such as belong to individuals. II. Relative, or such as regard members of society.............................. 123
      • 6. The absolute rights of individuals, regarded by the municipal laws, (which pay no attention to duties of the absolute kind,) compose what is called political or civil liberty.............................. 123
      • 7. Political or civil liberty is the natural liberty of mankind, so far restrained by human laws as is necessary for the good of society.............................. 125
      • 8. The absolute rights, or civil liberties, of Englishmen, as frequently declared in Parliament, are principally three: the right of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property.............................. 129
      • 9. The right of personal security consists in the legal enjoyment of life, limb, body, health, and reputation.............................. 129
      • 10. The right of personal liberty consists in the free power of locomotion, without illegal restraint or banishment.............................. 134
      • 11. The right of private property consists in every man’s free use and disposal of his own lawful acquisitions, without injury or illegal diminution.............................. 138
      • 12. Besides these three primary rights, there are others which are secondary and subordinate; viz. (to preserve the former from unlawful attacks,) I. The constitution and power of parliaments: II. The limitation of the king’s prerogative: and, (to vindicate them when actually violated,) III. The regular administration of public justice: IV. The right of petitioning for redress of grievances: V. The right of having and using arms for self-defence... 140-144
    • CHAPTER II. Of the Parliament.............................. 146 to 189
      • 1. The relations of persons are, I. Public. II. Private. The public relations are those of magistrates and people. Magistrates are supreme, or subordinate. And of supreme magistrates, in England, the parliament is the supreme executive.............................. 146
      • 2. Parliaments, in some shape, are of as high antiquity as the Saxon government in this island, and have subsisted, in their present form, at least five hundred years.............................. Page 147
      • 3. The parliament is assembled by the king’s writs, and its sitting must not be intermitted above three years.............................. 150
      • 4. Its constituent parts are the king’s majesty, the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons represented by their members: each of which parts has a negative, or necessary, voice in making laws.............................. 153-160
      • 5. With regard to the general law of parliament;—its power is absolute: each house is the judge of its own privileges: and all the members of either house are entitled to the privilege of speech, of person, of their domestics, and of their lands and goods.............................. 160-167
      • 6. The peculiar privileges of the lords (besides their judicial capacity) are to hunt in the king’s forests; to be attended by the sages of the law; to make proxies; to enter protests; and to regulate the election of the sixteen peers of North Britain.............................. 167
      • 7. The peculiar privileges of the commons are to frame taxes for the subject; and to determine the merits of their own elections, with regard to the qualifications of the electors and elected, and the proceedings at elections themselves.............................. 169-180
      • 8. Bills are usually twice read in each house, committed, engrossed, and then read a third time; and when they have obtained the concurrence of both houses and received the royal assent, they become acts of parliament.............................. 182-185
      • 9. The houses may adjourn themselves; but the king only can prorogue the parliament.............................. 186-187
      • 10. Parliaments are dissolved, I. At the king’s will. II. By the demise of the crown; that is, within six months after. III. By length of time, or having sat for the space of seven years.............................. 187-189
    • CHAPTER III. Of the King, and his Title.............................. 190 to 215
      • 1. The supreme executive power of this kingdom is lodged in a single person: the king or queen.............................. 190
      • 2. This royal person may be considered with regard to, I. His title. II. His royal family. III. His councils. IV. His duties. V. His prerogative. VI. His revenue.............................. 190
      • 3. With regard to his title: the crown of England, by the positive constitution of the kingdom, hath ever been descendible, and so continues.............................. 191
      • 4. The crown is descendible in a course peculiar to itself.............................. 193 Edition: current; Page: [xxvi]
      • 5. This course of descent is subject to limitation by parliament.............................. Page 195
      • 6. Notwithstanding such limitations, the crown retains its descendible quality, and becomes hereditary in the prince to whom it is limited.............................. 196
      • 7. King Egbert, king Canute, and king William I. have been successively constituted the common stocks, or ancestors, of this descent.............................. 198
      • 8. At the revolution, the convention of estates, or representative body of the nation, declared that the misconduct of king James II. amounted to an abdication of the government, and that the throne was thereby vacant.............................. 213
      • 9. In consequence of this vacancy, and from a regard to the ancient line, the convention appointed the next Protestant heirs of the blood-royal of king Charles I. to fill the vacant throne, in the old order of succession; with a temporary exception, or preference, to the person of king William III.............................. 214
      • 10. On the impending failure of the Protestant line of king Charles I., (whereby the throne might again have become vacant,) the parliament extended the settlement of the crown to the Protestant line of king James I., viz. to the princess Sophia of Hanover, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants; and she is now the common stock, from whom the heirs of the crown must descend.............................. 215
    • CHAPTER IV. Of the King’s Royal Family.............................. 218 to 224
      • 1. The king’s royal family consists, first, of the queen: who is either regnant, consort, or dowager.............................. 218
      • 2. The queen consort is a public person; and has many personal prerogatives and distinct revenues.............................. 218
      • 3. The prince and princess of Wales, and the princess-royal, are peculiarly regarded by the law.............................. 223
      • 4. The other princes of the blood-royal are only entitled to precedence.............................. 224
    • CHAPTER V. Of the Councils belonging to the King.............................. 227 to 232
      • 1. The king’s councils are, I. The parliament. II. The great council of peers. III. The judges, for matters of law. IV. The privy council.............................. 227-230
      • 2. In privy counsellors may be considered, I. Their creation. II. Their qualifications. III. Their duties. IV. Their powers. V. Their privileges. VI. Their dissolution.............................. 230-232
    • CHAPTER VI. Of the King’s Duties.............................. 233 to 235
      • 1. The king’s duties are, to govern his people according to law, to execute judgment in mercy, and to maintain the established religion.............................. 233
      • 2. These are his part of the original contract between himself and the people; founded in the nature of society, and expressed in his oath at the coronation. Page 235
    • CHAPTER VII. Of the King’s Prerogative.............................. 237 to 278
      • 1. Prerogative is that special power and pre-eminence which the king hath above other persons, and of the ordinary course of law, in right of his regal dignity... 237-239
      • 2. Such prerogatives are either direct, or incidental. The incidental, arising out of other matters, are considered as they arise: we now treat only of the direct.... 239
      • 3. The direct prerogatives regard, I. The king’s dignity, or royal character. II. His authority, or regal power. III. His revenue, or royal income.............................. 240
      • 4. The king’s dignity consists in the legal attributes of, I. Personal sovereignty. II. Absolute perfection. III. Political perpetuity.............................. 241-249
      • 5. In the king’s authority, or regal power, consists the executive part of government.............................. 250
      • 6. In foreign concerns, the king, as the representative of the nation, has the right or prerogative, I. Of sending and receiving embassadors. II. Of making treaties. III. Of proclaiming war or peace. IV. Of issuing reprisals. V. Of granting safe-conducts.............................. 253-261
      • 7. In domestic affairs, the king is, first, a constituent part of the supreme legislative power; hath a negative upon all new laws; and is bound by no statute, unless specially named therein.............................. 261
      • 8. He is also considered as the general of the kingdom, and may raise fleets and armies, build forts, appoint havens, erect beacons, prohibit the exportation of arms and ammunition, and confine his subjects within the realm, or recall them from foreign parts.............................. 262-266
      • 9. The king is also the fountain of justice, and general conservator of the peace; and therefore may erect courts, (wherein he hath a legal ubiquity,) prosecute offenders, pardon crimes, and issue proclamations.............................. 266
      • 10. He is likewise the fountain of honour, of office, and of privilege.............................. 271
      • 11. He is also the arbiter of domestic commerce, (not of foreign, which is regulated by the law of merchants;) and is, therefore, entitled to the erection of public marts, the regulation of weights and measures, and the coinage or legitimation of money.............................. 273
      • 12. The king is, lastly, the supreme head of the church; and, as such, convenes, regulates, and dissolves synods, nominates bishops, and receives appeals in all ecclesiastical causes.............................. 278
    • CHAPTER VIII. Of the King’s Revenue.............................. 281 to 330
      • 1. The king’s revenue is either ordinary or Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] extraordinary. And the ordinary is. I. Ecclesiastical. II. Temporal.............................. Page 281
      • 2. The king’s ecclesiastical revenue consists in, I. The custody of the temporalities of vacant bishoprics. II. Corodies and pensions. III. Extraparochial tithes. IV. The first-fruits and tenths of benefices.............................. 282-286
      • 3. The king’s ordinary temporal revenue consists in, I. The demesne lands of the crown. II. The hereditary excise; being part of the consideration for the purchase of his feodal profits, and the prerogatives of purveyance and pre-emption. III. An annual sum issuing from the duty on wine-licenses; being the residue of the same consideration. IV. His forests. V. His courts of justice. VI. Royal fish. VII. Wrecks, and things jetsam, flotsam, and ligan. VIII. Royal mines. IX. Treasure trove. X. Waifs. XI. Estrays. XII. Forfeitures for offences, and deodands. XIII. Escheats of lands. XIV. The custody of idiots and lunatics.............................. 286-306
      • 4. The king’s extraordinary revenue consists in aids, subsidies, and supplies granted to him by the commons in parliament.............................. 307
      • 5. Heretofore these were usually raised by grants of the (nominal) tenth or fifteenth part of the movables in every township; or by scutages, hydages, and talliages; which were succeeded by subsidies assessed upon individuals with respect to their lands and goods.............................. 308
      • 6. A new system of taxation took place about the time of the revolution: our modern taxes are, therefore, I. Annual. II. Perpetual.............................. 308
      • 7. The annual taxes are, I. The land-tax, or the ancient subsidy raised upon a new assessment. II. The malt-tax, being an annual excise on malt, mum, cider, and perry.............................. 308-313
      • 8. The perpetual taxes are, I. The customs, or tonnage and poundage of all merchandise exported or imported. II. The excise duty, or inland imposition, on a great variety of commodities. III. The salt duty, or excise on salt. IV. The post-office, or duty for the carriage of letters. V. The stamp duty on paper, parchment, &c. VI. The duty on houses and windows. VII. The duty on licenses for hackney coaches and chairs. VIII. The duty on offices and pensions.............................. 313-326
      • 9. Part of this revenue is applied to pay the interest of the national debt, till the principal is discharged by parliament..... 326
      • 10. The produce of these several taxes were originally separate and specific funds, to answer specific loans upon their respective credits, but are now consolidated by parliament into three principal funds, the aggregate, general, and South-Sea funds, to answer all the debts of the nation: the public faith being also superadded, to supply deficiencies and strengthen the security of the whole.............................. 329
      • 11. The surpluses of these funds, after paying the interest of the national debt, are carried together, and denominated the sinking fund; which, unless otherwise appropriated by parliament, is annually to be applied towards paying off some part of the principal.............................. Page 330
      • 12. But, previous to this, the aggregate fund is now charged with an annual sum for the civil list; which is the immediate proper revenue of the crown, settled by parliament on the king at his accession, for defraying the charges of civil government.............................. 330
    • CHAPTER IX. Of Subordinate Magistrates.............................. 338 to 365
      • 1. Subordinate magistrates, of the most general use and authority, are, I. Sheriffs II. Coroners. III. Justices of the peace. IV. Constables. V. Surveyors of the highways. VI. Overseers of the poor...... 338-339
      • 2. The sheriff is the keeper of each county, annually nominated in due form by the king; and is (within his county) a judge, a conservator of the peace, a ministerial officer, and the king’s bailiff.............................. 339
      • 3. Coroners are permanent officers of the crown, in each county, elected by the freeholders; whose office it is to make inquiry concerning the death of the king’s subjects, and certain revenues of the crown; and also, in particular cases, to supply the office of sheriff.............................. 346
      • 4. Justices of the peace are magistrates in each county, statutably qualified, and commissioned by the king’s majesty; with authority to conserve the peace, to hear and determine felonies and other misdemeanours, and to do many other acts, committed to their charge by particular statutes.............................. 349
      • 5. Constables are officers of hundreds and townships, appointed at the leet, and empowered to preserve the peace, to keep watch and ward, and to apprehend offenders.............................. 355
      • 6. Surveyors of the highways are officers appointed annually in every parish; to remove annoyances in, and to direct the reparation of, the public roads.............................. 357
      • 7. Overseers of the poor are officers appointed annually in every parish; to relieve such impotent and employ such sturdy poor as are settled in each parish, by birth;—by parentage;—by marriage;—or by forty days’ residence, accompanied with, I. Notice. II. Renting a tenement of ten pounds’ annual value. III. Paying their assessed taxations. IV. Serving an annual office. V. Hiring and serving for a year. VI. Apprenticeship for seven years. VII. Having a sufficient estate in the parish.............................. 359-365
    • CHAPTER X. Of the People, whether Aliens, Denizens, or Natives.............................. 366 to 375
      • 1. The people are either aliens, that is, born out of the dominions, or allegiance, of the crown of Great Britain; or natives, that is, born within it.............................. 366 Edition: current; Page: [xxviii]
      • 2. Allegiance is the duty of all subjects: being the reciprocal tie of the people to the prince, in return for the protection he affords them; and, in natives, this duty of allegiance is natural and perpetual; in aliens, is local and temporary only .............................. Page 366-371
      • 3. The rights of natives are also natural and perpetual: those of aliens local and temporary only; unless they be made denizens by the king, or naturalized by parliament.............................. 371-375
    • CHAPTER XI. Of the Clergy .............................. 376 to 395
      • 1. The people, whether aliens, denizens, or natives, are also either clergy, that is, all persons in holy orders, or in ecclesiastical offices; or laity, which comprehends the rest of the nation .............................. 376
      • 2. The clerical part of the nation, thus defined, are, I. Archbishops and bishops; who are elected by their several chapters, at the nomination of the crown, and afterwards confirmed and consecrated by each other. II. Deans and chapters. III. Archdeacons. IV. Rural deans. V. Parsons (under whom are included appropriators) and vicars; to whom there are generally requisite holy orders, presentation, institution, and induction. VI. Curates. To which may be added, VII. Churchwardens. VIII. Parish clerks and sextons.............................. 377-395
    • CHAPTER XII. Of the Civil State .............................. 396 to 407
      • 1. The laity are divisible into three states: civil, military, and maritime .............................. 396
      • 2. The civil state, which includes all the nation except the clergy, the army, and the navy, (and many individuals among them also,) may be divided into the nobility, and the commonalty .............................. 396
      • 3. The nobility are dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons. These had anciently duties annexed to their respective honours; they are created either by writ, that is, by summons to parliament; or by the king’s letters-patent, that is, by royal grant: and they enjoy many privileges exclusive of their senatorial capacity.............................. 396-402
      • 4. The commonalty consist of knights of the garter, knights bannerets, baronets, knights of the Bath, knights bachelors, esquires, gentlemen, yeomen, tradesmen, artificers and labourers.............................. 403-407
    • CHAPTER XIII. Of the Military and Maritime States ... 408 to 417
      • 1. The military state, by the standing constitutional law, consists of the militia of each county, raised from among the people by lot, officered by the principal landholders, and commanded by the lord lieutenant .............................. 408
      • 2. The more disciplined occasional troops of the kingdom are kept on foot only from year to year, by parliament, and, during that period, are governed by martial law, or arbitrary articles of war, formed at the pleasure of the crown.. Page 412
      • 3. The maritime state consists of the officers and mariners of the British navy; who are governed by express and permanent laws, or the articles of the navy, established by act of parliament.............................. 417
    • CHAPTER XIV. Of Master and Servant.............................. 422 to 431
      • 1. The private, economical relations of persons are those of, I. Master and servant. II. Husband and wife. III. Parent and child. IV. Guardian and ward .............................. 422
      • 2. The first relation may subsist between a master and four species of servants, (for slavery is unknown to our laws:) viz. I. Menial servants, who are hired. II. Apprentices, who are bound by indentures. III. Labourers, who are casually employed. IV. Stewards, bailiffs, and factors; who are rather in a ministerial state .............................. 428
      • 3. From this relation result divers powers to the master, and emoluments to the servant.............................. 427
      • 4. The master hath a property in the service of his servant, and must be answerable for such acts as the servant does by his express or implied command.............................. 431
    • CHAPTER XV. Of Husband and Wife.............................. 433 to 442
      • 1. The second private relation is that of marriage: which includes the reciprocal rights and duties of husband and wife... 434
      • 2. Marriage is duly contracted between persons, I. Consenting. II. Free from canonical impediments which make it voidable. III. Free also from the civil impediments,—of prior marriage;—of want of age;—of non-consent of parents or guardians, where requisite;—and of want of reason;—either of which make it totally void. And it must be celebrated by a clergyman in due form and place.............................. 433-440
      • 3. Marriage is dissolved, I. By death. II. By divorce in a spiritual court; not a mensa et thoro only, but a vinculo matrimonii, for canonical cause existing previous to the contract. III. By act of parliament, as, for adultery.............................. 440
      • 4. By marriage the husband and wife become one person in law; which unity is the principal foundation of their respective rights, duties, and disabilities.............................. 442
    • CHAPTER XVI. Of Parent and Child.............................. 446 to 459
      • 1. The third, and most universal, private relation is that of parent and child .............................. 446
      • 2. Children are, I. Legitimate; being those who are born in lawful wedlock, or within a competent time after. II. Bastards, being those who are not so .............................. 44[Editor: Illegible character] Edition: current; Page: [xxix]
      • 3. The duties of parents to legitimate children are, I. Maintenance. II. Protection. III. Education.............................. Page 447
      • 4. The power of parents consists principally in correction, and consent to marriage. Both may, after death, be delegated by will to a guardian; and the former also, living the parent, to a tutor or master.............................. 452
      • 5. The duties of legitimate children to parents are obedience, protection, and maintenance.............................. 453
      • 6. The duty of parents to bastards is only that of maintenance.............................. 458
      • 7. The rights of a bastard are such only as he can acquire; for he is incapable of inheriting any thing.............................. 459
    • CHAPTER XVII. Of Guardian and Ward.............................. 460 to 464
      • 1. The fourth private relation is that of guardian and ward, which is plainly derived from the preceding; these being, during the continuance of their relation, reciprocally subject to the same rights and duties.............................. 460
      • 2. Guardians are of divers sorts: I. Guardians by nature, or the parents. II. Guardians for nurture, assigned by the ordinary. III. Guardians in socage, assigned by the common law. IV. Guardians by statute, assigned by the father’s will. All subject to the superintendence of the court of Chancery .............................. 461
      • 3. Full age in male or female, for all purposes, is the age of twenty-one years, (different ages being allowed for different purposes;) till which age the person is an infant.............................. 463
      • 4. An infant, in respect to his tender years, hath various privileges, and various disabilities in law; chiefly with regard to suits, crimes, estates, and contracts.............................. 464
    • CHAPTER XVIII. Of Corporations.............................. 467 to 484
      • 1. Bodies politic, or corporations, which are artificial persons, are established for preserving in perpetual succession certain rights; which, being conferred on natural persons only, would fail in process of time.............................. Page 467
      • 2. Corporations are, I. Aggregate, consisting of many members. II. Sole, consisting of one person only.............................. 469
      • 3. Corporations are also either spiritual, erected to perpetuate the rights of the church; or lay. And the lay are, I. Civil; erected for many civil purposes. II. Eleemosynary; erected to perpetuate the charity of the founder.............................. 470
      • 4. Corporations are usually erected, and named, by virtue of the king’s royal charter; but may be created by act of parliament.............................. 472
      • 5. The powers incident to all corporations are, I. To maintain perpetual succession. II. To act in their corporate capacity like an individual. III. To hold lands, subject to the statutes of mortmain. IV. To have a common seal. V. To make by-laws. Which last power, in spiritual or eleemosynary corporations, may be executed by the king or the founder.............................. 475
      • 6. The duty of corporations is to answer the ends of their institution.............................. 479
      • 7. To enforce this duty, all corporations may be visited: spiritual corporations by the ordinary; lay corporations by the founder, or his representatives; viz., the civil by the king (who is the fundator incipiens of all) represented in his court of King’s Bench; the eleemosynary by the endower, (who is the fundator perficiens of such,) or by his heirs or assigns.............................. 480
      • 8. Corporations may be dissolved, I. By act of parliament. II. By the natural death of all their members. III. By the surrender of their franchises. IV. By forfeiture of their charter.............................. 484
Edition: current; Page: [xxx]


  • Which consist in dominion over.............................. Chapter L
    • 1. Things real; in which are considered
      • I. Their several kinds; viz.
        • 1. Corporeal .............................. II.
        • 2. Incorporeal .............................. III.
      • 2. The tenures by which they may be holden; viz.............................. IV.
        • 1. Ancient .............................. V.
        • 2. Modern.............................. VI.
      • 3. Estates therein; with respect to
        • 1. Quantity of interest; viz.
          • 1. Freehold,
            • 1. Of inheritance.............................. VII.
            • 2. Not of inheritance.............................. VIII.
          • 2. Less than freehold.............................. IX.
          • 3. On condition.............................. X.
        • 2. Time of enjoyment; in
          • 1. Possession,
          • 2. Remainder,
          • 3. Reversion.............................. XI.
        • 3. Number and connections of the tenants; who may hold in
          • 1. Severalty,
          • 2. Joint-tenancy,
          • 3. Coparcenary,
          • 4. Common .............................. XII.
      • 4. Title to them; which may be gained or lost by.............................. XIII.
        • 1. Descent.............................. XIV.
        • 2. Purchase; which includes
          • 1. Escheat.............................. XV.
          • 2. Occupancy.............................. XVI.
          • 3. Prescription .............................. XVII.
          • 4. Forfeiture .............................. XVIII.
          • 5. Alienation, by common assurances; which are.............................. XIX.
            • 1. Deed, or matter in pais; wherein of its
              • 1. General nature,
              • 2. Several species.............................. XX.
            • 2. Matter of record.............................. XXI.
            • 3. Special custom .............................. XXII.
            • 4. Devise.............................. XXIII.
    • II. Things personal, or chattels; in which are considered
      • 1. Their distribution.............................. XXIV.
      • 2. Property therein.............................. XXV.
      • 3. Title to them; which may be gained or lost by
        • 1. Occupancy.............................. XXVI.
        • 2. Prerogative,
        • 3. Forfeiture.............................. XXVII.
        • 4. Custom.............................. XXVIII.
        • 5. Succession,
        • 6. Marriage,
        • 7. Judgment.............................. XXIX.
        • 8. Grant,
        • 9. Contract.............................. XXX.
        • 10. Bankruptcy.............................. XXXI.
        • 11. Téstament,
        • 12. Administration.............................. XXXII.
Edition: current; Page: [xxxi]


    • CHAPTER I. Of Property in general.............................. Page 2 to 14
      • 1. All dominion over external objects has its original from the gift of the Creator to man in general .............................. 2
      • 2. The substance of things was, at first, common to all mankind; yet a temporary property in the use of them might even then be acquired and continued by occupancy .............................. 3
      • 3. In process of time a permanent property was established in the substance, as well as the use, of things; which was also originally acquired by occupancy only.............................. 4, 5
      • 4. Lest this property should determine by the owner’s dereliction, or death, whereby the thing would again become common, societies have established conveyances, wills, and heirships, in order to continue the property of the first occupant; and where, by accident, such property becomes discontinued or unknown, the thing usually results to the sovereign of the state, by virtue of the municipal law.............................. 9-11
      • 5. But of some things, which are incapable of permanent substantial dominion, there still subsists only the same transient usufructuary property which originally subsisted in all things.............................. 14
    • CHAPTER II. Of Real Property; and, 1st. Of Corporeal Hereditaments.............................. 16 to 18
      • 1. In this property, or exclusive dominion, consist the rights of things; which are, I. Things real. II. Things personal.............................. 16
      • 2. In things real may be considered, I. Their several kinds. II. The tenures by which they may be holden. III. The estates which may be acquired therein. IV. Their title, or the means of acquiring and losing them.............................. 16
      • 3. All the several kinds of things real are reducible to one of these three, viz. lands, tenements, or hereditaments; whereof the second includes the first, and the third includes the first and second .............................. 16
      • 4. Hereditaments, therefore, or whatever may come to be inherited, (being the most comprehensive denomination of things real,) are either corporeal or incorporeal .............................. 17
      • 5. Corporeal hereditaments consist wholly of lands, in their largest legal sense; wherein they include not only the face of the earth, but every other object of sense adjoining thereto, and subsisting either above or beneath it.............................. 17, 18
    • CHAPTER III. Of Incorporeal Hereditaments.............................. Page 20 to 42
      • 1. Incorporeal hereditaments are rights issuing out of things corporeal, or concerning, or annexed to, or exercisable within, the same.............................. 20
      • 2. Incorporeal hereditaments are, I. Advowsons. II. Tithes. III. Commons. IV. Ways. V. Offices. VI. Dignities. VII. Franchises. VIII. Corodies or pensions. IX. Annuities. X. Rents.............................. 21-41
      • 3. An advowson is a right of presentation to an ecclesiastical benefice; either appendant, or in gross. This may be, I. Presentative. II. Collative. III. Donative .............................. 21-23
      • 4. Tithes are the tenth part of the increase yearly arising from the profits and stock of lands and the personal industry of mankind. These, by the ancient and positive law of the land, are due of common right to the parson, or (by endowment) to the vicar; unless specially discharged, I. By real composition. II. By prescription, either de modo decimandi, or de non decimando .............................. 24-31
      • 5. Common is a profit which a man hath in the lands of another; being, I. Common of pasture; which is either appendant, appurtenant because of vicinage, or in gross. II. Common of piscary. III. Common of turbary. IV. Common of estovers, or botes.............................. 32-35
      • 6. Ways are a right of passing over another man’s ground .............................. 35
      • 7. Offices are the right to exercise a public, or private, employment .............................. 36
      • 8. For dignities, which are titles of honour, see Book I. Ch. XII.
      • 9. Franchises are a royal privilege, or branch of the king’s prerogative, subsisting in the hands of a subject .............................. 37
      • 10. Corodies are allotments for one’s sustenance; which may be converted into pensions. (See Book I. Ch. VIII.) .............................. 40
      • 11. An annuity is a yearly sum of money, charged upon the person, and not upon the lands, of the grantor.............................. 40
      • 12. Rents are a certain profit issuing yearly out of lands and tenements, and are reducible to, I. Rent-service. II. Rent-charge. III. Rent-seek.............................. 41-42
    • CHAPTER IV. Of the Feodal System.............................. 44 to 53
      • 1. The doctrine of tenures is derived from the feodal law; which was planted in Europe by its Northern conquerors at the dissolution of the Roman empire .............................. 44-45 Edition: current; Page: [xxxii]
      • 2. Pure and proper feuds were parcels of land allotted by a chief to his followers; to be held on the condition of personally rendering due military service to their lord .............................. Page 45
      • 3. These were granted by investiture; were held under the bond of fealty; were in heritable only by descendants, and could not be transferred without the mutual consent of the lord and vassal .............................. 53-57
      • 4. Improper feuds were derived from the other, but differed from them in their original, their services and renders, their descent, and other circumstances .............................. 58
      • 5. The lands of England were converted into feuds, of the improper kind, soon after the Norman conquest: which gave rise to the grand maxim of tenure; viz. that all lands in the kingdom are holden, mediately or immediately, of the king .............................. 48-53
    • CHAPTER V. Of the Ancient English Tenures .............................. 61 to 77
      • 1. The distinction of tenures consisted in the nature of their services: as, I. Chivalry, or knight-service; where the service was free, but uncertain. II. Free socage; where the service was free, and certain. III. Pure villenage; where the service was base, and uncertain. IV. Privileged villenage, or villein socage; where the service was base, but certain 61-78
      • 2. The most universal ancient tenure was that in chivalry, or by knight-service; in which the tenant of every knight’s fee was bound, if called upon, to attend his lord to the wars. This was granted by livery, and perfected by homage and fealty; which usually drew after them suit of court.............................. 62
      • 3. The other fruits and consequences of the tenure by knight-service were, I. Aid. II. Relief. III. Primer seisin. IV. Wardship. V. Marriage. VI. Fines upon alienation. VII. Escheat.............................. 63-72
      • 4. Grand serjeanty differed from chivalry principally in its render, or service, and not in its fruits and consequences .............................. 73
      • 5. The personal service in chivalry was at length gradually changed into pecuniary assessments, which were called scutage or escuage.............................. 74
      • 6. These military tenures (except the services of grand serjeanty) were, at the restoration of King Charles, totally abolished, and reduced to free socage, by act of parliament.............................. 77
    • CHAPTER VI. Of the Modern English Tenures .............................. 78 to 101
      • 1. Free socage is a tenure by any free, certain, and determinate service.............................. 78
      • 2. This tenure, the relic of Saxon liberty, includes petit serjeanty, tenure in burgage, and gavelkind.............................. 81
      • 3. Free-socage lands partake strongly of the feodal nature, as well as those in chivalry; being holden subject to some service,—at the least, to fealty and suit of court; subject to relief, to wardship, and to escheat, but not to marriage; subject also formerly to aids, primer seisin, and fines for alienation .............................. Page 86-88
      • 4. Pure villenage was a precarious and slavish tenure, at the absolute will of the lord, upon uncertain services of the basest nature.............................. 93
      • 5. From hence, by tacit (consent or encroachment, have arisen the modern copyholds, or tenure by copy of courtroll; in which lands may be still held at the (nominal) will of the lord, (but regulated) according to the custom of the manor .............................. 95
      • 6. These are subject, like socage lands, to services, relief, and escheat; and also to heriots, wardship, and fines upon descent and alienation .............................. 97
      • 7. Privileged villenage, or villein socage, is an exalted species of copyhold tenure, upon base but certain services; subsisting only in the ancient demesnes of the crown; whence the tenure is denominated the tenure in ancient demesne .............................. 98
      • 8. These copyholds of ancient demesne have divers immunities annexed to their tenure; but are still held by copy of court-roll, according to the custom of the manor, though not at the will of the lord .............................. 100
      • 9. Frankalmoign is a tenure by spiritual services at large; whereby many ecclesiastical and eleemosynary corporations now hold their lands and tenements: being of a nature distinct from tenure by divine service in certain .............................. 101
    • CHAPTER VII. Of Freehold Estates of Inheritance .............................. 103 to 117
      • 1. Estates in lands, tenements, and hereditaments are such interest as the tenant hath therein; to ascertain which, may be considered, I. The quantity of interest. II. The time of enjoyment. III. The number and connections of the tenants .............................. 103 to 119
      • 2. Estates, with respect to their quantity of interest, or duration, are either freehold or less than freehold .............................. 104
      • 3. A freehold estate, in lands, is such as is created by livery of seisin at common law; or, in tenements of an incorporeal nature, by what is equivalent thereto .............................. 104
      • 4. Freehold estates are either estates of inheritance, or not of inheritance, viz. for life only: and inheritances are, I. Absolute, or free-simple. II. Limited fees .............................. 104
      • 5. Tenant in fee-simple is he that hath lands, tenements, or hereditaments to hold to him and his heirs forever.............................. 104
      • 6. Limited fees are, I. Qualified, or base, fees. II. Fees conditional at the common law .............................. 109
      • 7. Qualified, or base, fees are those which, having a qualification subjoined thereto, are liable to be defeated when that qualification is at an end.............................. 109 Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii]
      • 8. Conditional fees, at the common law, were such as were granted to the donee, and the heirs of his body, in exclusion of collateral heirs .............................. Page 110
      • 9. These were held to be fees, granted on condition that the donee had issue of his body; which condition being once performed by the birth of issue, the donee might immediately aliene the land; but, the statute de donis being made to prevent such alienation, thereupon, from the division of the fee (by construction of this statute) into a particular estate and reversion, the conditional fees began to be called fees-tail.............................. 111, 112
      • 10. All tenements real, or savouring of the realty, are subject to entails .............................. 113
      • 11. Estates-tail may be, I. general, or special; II. male, or female; III. given in frank-marriage.............................. 113-115
      • 12. Incident to estates-tail are, I. Waste. II. Dower. III. Curtesy. IV. Bar,—by fine, recovery, or lineal warranty with assets.............................. 115
      • 13. Estates-tail are now, by many statutes and resolutions of the courts, almost brought back to the state of conditional fees at the common law .............................. 117
    • CHAPTER VIII. Of Freeholds not of Inheritance .............................. 120 to 136
      • 1. Freeholds not of inheritance, or for life only, are, I. Conventional, or created by the act of the parties. II. Legal, or created by operation of law .............................. 120
      • 2. Conventional estates for life are created by an express grant for term of one’s own life, or pur auter vie; or by a general grant, without expressing any term at all .............................. 120
      • 3. Incident to this, and all other estates for life, are estovers, and emblements; and to estates pur auter vie general occupancy was also incident; as special occupancy still is, if cestuy que vie survives the tenant .............................. 122
      • 4. Legal estates for life are, I. Tenancy in tail, after possibility of issue extinct. II. Tenancy by the curtesy of England. III. Tenancy in dower .............................. 124-129
      • 5. Tenancy in tail after possibility of issue extinct is where an estate is given in special tail, and, before issue had, a person dies from whose body the issue was to spring; whereupon the tenant (if surviving) becomes tenant in tail after possibility of issue extinct.............................. 124
      • 6. This estate partakes both of the incidents to an estate-tail, and those of an estate for life .............................. 125
      • 7. Tenancy by the curtesy of England is where a man’s wife is seised of an estate of inheritance, and he by her has issue, born alive, which was capable of inheriting her estate: in which case, he shall, upon her death, hold the tenements for his own life, as tenant by the curtesy .............................. 126
      • 8. Tenancy in dower is where a woman’s husband is seised of an estate of inheritance, of which her issue might by any possibility have been heir; and the husband dies: the woman is hereupon entitled to dower, or one-third part of the lands and tenements, to hold for her natural life .............................. Page 129
      • 9. Dower is either by the common law; by special custom; ad ostium ecclesiæ; or ex assensu patris.............................. 132-38
      • 10. Dower may be forfeited, or barred; particularly by an estate in jointure .............................. 136
    • CHAPTER IX. Of Estates Less than Freehold .............................. 140 to 150
      • 1. Estates less than freehold are, I. Estates for years. II. Estates at will. III. Estates at sufferance.............................. 140-150
      • 2. An estate for years is where a man, seised of lands and tenements, letteth them to another for a certain period of time, which transfers the interest of the term; and the lessee enters thereon, which gives him possession of the term, but not legal seisin of the land.............................. 140
      • 3. Incident to this estate are estovers; and also emblements, if it determines before the full end of the term.............................. 144-45
      • 4. An estate at will is where lands are let by one man to another, to hold at the will of both parties, and the lessee enters thereon .............................. 146
      • 5. Copyholds are estates held at the will of the lord, (regulated) according to the custom of the manor .............................. 147
      • 6. An estate at sufferance is where one comes into possession of land by lawful title, but keeps it afterwards without any title at all.............................. 150
    • CHAPTER X. Of Estates upon Condition.............................. 152 to 161
      • 1. Estates (whether freehold or otherwise) may also be held upon condition; in which case their existence depends on the happening, or not happening, of some uncertain event.............................. 152
      • 2. These estates are, I. On condition implied. II. On condition expressed. III. Estates in gage. IV. Estates by statute, merchant or staple. V. Estates by elegit 152
      • 3. Estates on condition implied are where a grant of an estate has, from its essence and constitution, a condition inseparably annexed to it; though none be expressed in words .............................. 152
      • 4. Estates on condition expressed are where an express qualification or provision is annexed to the grant of an estate.............................. 154
      • 5. On the performance of these conditions, either expressed or implied, (if precedent,) the estate may be vested or enlarged, or, on the breach of them, (if subsequent,) an estate already vested may be defeated .............................. 54-56
      • 6. Estates in gage, in vadio, or in pledge, are estates granted as a security for money lent; being, I. In vivo vadio, or living gage; where the profits of land are granted till a debt be paid, upon which payment the grantor’s estate will Edition: current; Page: [xxxiv] revive. II. In mortuo vadio, in dead or mort gage; where an estate is granted on condition to be void at a day certain if the grantor then repays the money borrowed; on failure of which, the estate becomes absolutely dead to the grantor .............................. Page 157
      • 7. Estates by statute merchant or statute staple are also estates conveyed to creditors, in pursuance of certain statutes, till their profits shall discharge the debt 160
      • 8. Estates by elegit are where, in consequence of a judicial writ so called, lands are delivered by the sheriff to a plaintiff till their profits shall satisfy a debt adjudged to be due by law .............................. 161
    • CHAPTER XI. Of Estates in Possession, Remainder, and Reversion .............................. 163 to 177
      • 1. Estates, with respect to their time of enjoyment, are either in immediate possession, or in expectancy: which estates in expectancy are created at the same time, and are parcel of the same estates, as those upon which they are expectant. These are, I. Remainders. II. Reversions.............................. 163
      • 2. A remainder is an estate limited to take effect and be enjoyed after another particular estate is determined .............................. 164
      • 3. Therefore, I. There must be a precedent particular estate, in order to support a remainder. II. The remainder must pass out of the grantor, at the creation of the particular estate. III. The remainder must vest in the grantee, during the continuance, or at the determination, of the particular estate.............................. 165-68
      • 4. Remainders are, I. Vested—where the estate is fixed to remain to a certain person after the particular estate is spent. II. Contingent—where the estate is limited to take effect, either to an uncertain person, or upon an uncertain event .............................. 168-69
      • 5. An executory devise is such a disposition of lands, by will, that an estate shall not vest thereby at the death of the devisor, but only upon some future contingency; and without any precedent particular estate to support it.............................. 172
      • 6. A reversion is the residue of an estate left in the grantor, to commence in possession after the determination of some particular estate granted; to which are incident fealty, and rent .............................. 176
      • 7. Where two estates, the one less, the other greater, the one in possession, the other in expectancy, meet together in one and the same person and in one and the same right, the less is merged in the greater.............................. 177
    • CHAPTER XII. Of Estates in Severalty, Joint-Tenancy, Coparcenary, and Common.............................. 179 to 195
      • 1. Estates, with respect to the number and connections of their tenants, may be held, I. In severalty. II. In joint-tenancy. III. In coparcenary. IV. In common .............................. 179
      • 2. An estate in severalty is where one tenant holds it in his own sole right, without any other person being joined with him.............................. Page 179
      • 3. An estate in joint-tenancy is where an estate is granted to two or more persons; in which case the law construes them to be joint-tenants, unless the words of the grant expressly exclude such construction 180
      • 4. Joint-tenants have a unity of interest, of title, of time, and of possession: they are seised per my et per tout: and therefore, upon the decease of one joint-tenant, the whole interest remains to the survivor.............................. 182
      • 5. Joint-tenancy may be dissolved, by destroying one of its four constituent unities 185
      • 6. An estate in coparcenary is where an estate of inheritance descends from the ancestor to two or more persons; who are called parceners, and all together make but one heir.............................. 187
      • 7. Parceners have a unity of interest, title, and possession; but are only seised per my, and not per tout: wherefore there is no survivorship among parceners.............................. 188
      • 8. Incident to this estate is the law of hotchpot.............................. 190
      • 9. Coparcenary may also be dissolved by destroying any of its three constituent unities .............................. 191
      • 10. An estate in common is where two or more persons hold lands, possibly by distinct titles, and for distinct interests, but by unity of possession, because none knoweth his own severalty.............................. 191
      • 11. Tenants in common have therefore a unity of possession, (without survivorship; being seised per my, and not per tout,) but no necessary unity of title, time, or interest.............................. 191
      • 12. This estate may be created. I. By dissolving the constituent unities of the two former; II. By express limitation in a grant; and may be destroyed, I. By uniting the several titles in one tenant; II. By partition of the land.............................. 191-194
    • CHAPTER XIII. Of the Title to Things Real, in General.............................. 195 to 199
      • 1. A title to things real is the means whereby a man cometh to the just possession of his property.............................. 195
      • 2. Herein may be considered, I. A mere or naked possession. II. The right of possession; which is, 1st, an apparent, 2dly, an actual, right. III. The mere right of property. IV. The conjunction of actual possession with both these rights; which constitutes a perfect title .............................. 195-199
    • CHAPTER XIV. Of Title by Descent.............................. 200 to 234
      • 1. The title to things real may be reciprocally acquired or lost, I. By descent. II. By purchase .............................. 200
      • 2. Descent is the means whereby a man, on the death of his ancestor, acquires a title to his estate, in right of representation, as his heir-at-law.............................. 201 Edition: current; Page: [xxxv]
      • 3. To understand the doctrine of descents, we must form a clear notion of consanguinity; which is the connection or relation of persons descended from the same stock or common ancestor; and it is, I. Lineal, where one of the kinsmen is lineally descended from the other. II. Collateral, where they are lineally descended, not one from the other, but both from the same common ancestor. Page 203-204
      • 4. The rules of descent, or canons of inheritance, observed by the laws of England, are these:
        • Inheritances shall lineally descend, to the issue of the person last actually seised, in infinitum; but shall never lineally ascend.............................. 208
        • The male issue shall be admitted before the female.............................. 212
        • Where there are two or more males of equal degree, the eldest only shall inherit; but the females all together.............................. 214
        • The lineal descendants, in infinitum, of any person deceased, shall represent their ancestor; that is, shall stand in the same place as the person himself would have done had he been living.............................. 216
        • On failure of lineal descendants, or issue, of the person last seised, the inheritance shall descend to the blood of the first purchasor; subject to the three preceding rules. To evidence which blood, the two following rules are established.............................. 220
        • The collateral heir of the person last seised must be his next collateral kinsman of the whole blood .............................. 224
        • In collateral inheritances, the male stock shall be preferred to the female; that is, kindred derived from the blood of the male ancestors shall be admitted before those from the blood of the female; unless where the lands have in fact descended from a female.............................. 234
    • CHAPTER XV. Of Title by Purchase; and, first, by Escheat .............................. 241 to 257
      • 1. Purchase, or perquisition, is the possession of an estate which a man hath by his own act or agreement, and not by the mere act of law, or descent from any of his ancestors. This includes, I. Escheat. II. Occupancy. III. Prescription. IV. Forfeiture. V. Alienation.............................. 241-244
      • 2. Escheat is where, upon deficiency of the tenant’s inheritable blood, the estate falls to the lord of the fee.............................. 244
      • 3. Inheritable blood is wanting to, I. Such as are not related to the person last seised. II. His maternal relations in paternal inheritances, and vice versâ. III. His kindred of the half-blood. IV. Monsters. V. Bastards. VI. Aliens, and their issue. VII. Persons attainted of treason or felony. VIII. Papists, in respect of themselves only, by the statute law.............................. 246-257
    • CHAPTER XVI. Of Title by Occupancy.............................. 258-261
      • 1. Occupancy is the taking possession of those things which before had no owner.............................. Page 258
      • 2. Thus, at the common law, where tenant pur auter vie died during the life of cestuy que vie, he who could first enter might lawfully retain the possession; unless by the original grant the heir was made a special occupant.............................. 259
      • 3. The law of derelictions and alluvions has narrowed the title by occupancy.............................. 261
    • CHAPTER XVII. Of Title by Prescription.............................. 261
      • 1. Prescription (as distinguished from custom) is a personal immemorial usage of enjoying a right in some incorporeal hereditament, by a man, and either his ancestors or those whose estate of inheritance he hath; of which the first is called prescribing in his ancestors, the latter, in a que estate.............................. 263
    • CHAPTER XVIII. Of Title by Forfeiture.............................. 267 to 286
      • 1. Forfeiture is a punishment annexed by law to some illegal act, or negligence, in the owner of things real; whereby the estate is transferred to another, who is usually the party injured.............................. 267
      • 2. Forfeitures are occasioned, I. By crimes. II. By alienation contrary to law. III. By lapse. IV. By simony. V. By non-performance of conditions. VI. By waste. VII. By breach of copyhold customs. VIII. By bankruptcy.............................. 267
      • 3. Forfeitures for crimes, or misdemeanours, are for, I. Treason. II. Felony. III. Misprision of treason. IV. Præmunire. V. Assaults on a judge, and batteries, sitting the courts. VI. Popish recusancy, &c.............................. 267
      • 4. Alienations or conveyances which induce a forfeiture are, I. Those in mortmain, made to corporations contrary to the statute law. II. Those made to aliens. III. Those made by particular tenants, when larger than their estates will warrant .............................. 268-274
      • 5. Lapse is a forfeiture of the right of presentation to a vacant church, by neglect of the patron to present within six calendar months .............................. 276
      • 6. Simony is the corrupt presentation of any one to an ecclesiastical benefice, whereby that turn becomes forfeited to the crown.............................. 278
      • 7. For forfeiture by non-performance of conditions, see Ch. X.
      • 8. Waste is a spoil, or destruction, in any corporeal hereditaments, to the prejudice of him that hath the inheritance.............................. 281
      • 9. Copyhold estates may have also other peculiar causes of forfeiture, according to the custom of the manor .............................. 284
      • 10. Bankruptcy is the act of becoming a bankrupt; that is, a trader who secretes himself, or does certain other acts tending to defraud his creditors. (See Ch. XXII.) .............................. 284 Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi]
      • 11. By bankruptcy, all the estates of the bankrupt are transferred to the assignees of his commissioners, to be sold for the benefit of his creditors .............................. Page 286
    • CHAPTER XIX. Of Title by Alienation .............................. 287 to 294
      • 1. Alienation, conveyance, or purchase, in its more limited sense, is a means of transferring real estates, wherein they are voluntarily resigned by one man and accepted by another .............................. 287
      • 2. This formerly could not be done by a tenant, without license from his lord; nor by a lord, without attornment of his tenant 287
      • 3. All persons are capable of purchasing; and all that are in possession of any estates are capable of conveying them;—unless under peculiar disabilities by law: as being attainted, non compotes, infants, under duress, feme-coverts, aliens, or papists.............................. 288-293
      • 4. Alienations are made by common assurances; which are, I. By deed, or matter in pais. II. By matter of record. III. By special custom. IV. By devise.............................. 293-294
    • CHAPTER XX. Of Alienation by Deed .............................. 295 to 342
      • 1. In assurances by deed may be considered, I. Its general nature. II. Its several species .............................. 295
      • 2. A deed, in general, is the solemn act of the parties: being, usually, a writing sealed and delivered: and it may be, I. A deed indented, or indenture. II. A deed-poll .............................. 295-296
      • 3. The requisites of a deed are, I. Sufficient parties, and proper subject-matter. II. A good and sufficient consideration. III. Writing on paper, or parchment, duly stamped. IV. Legal and orderly parts; which are usually, 1st, the premises; 2dly, the habendum; 3dly, the tenendum; 4thly, the reddendum; 5thly, the conditions; 6thly, the warranty, (which is either lineal or collateral); 7thly, the covenants; 8thly, the conclusion, (which includes the date.) V. Reading it, if desired. VI. Sealing, and, in many cases, signing it also. VII. Delivery. VIII. Attestation.............................. 296-307
      • 4. A deed may be avoided, I. By the want of any of the requisites before mentioned. II. By subsequent matter: as, 1st, rasure, or alteration; 2dly, defacing its seal; 3dly, cancelling it; 4thly, disagreement of those whose consent is necessary; 5thly, judgment of a court of justice.............................. 308
      • 5. Of the several species of deeds, some serve to convey real property, some only to charge and discharge it .............................. 309
      • 6. Deeds which serve to convey real property, or conveyances, are either by common law, or by statute. And, of conveyances by common law, some are original or primary, others derivative or secondary 309
      • 7. Original conveyances are, I. Feoffments. II. Gifts. III. Grants. IV. Leases. V. Exchanges. VI. Partitions.—Derivative are, VII. Releases. VIII. Confirmations. IX. Surrenders. X. Assignments. XI. Defeazances.............................. Page 310
      • 8. A feoffment is the transfer of any corporeal hereditament to another, perfected by livery of seisin, or delivery of bodily possession from the feoffor to the feoffee; without which no freehold estate therein can be created at common law .............................. 310
      • 9. A gift is properly the conveyance of lands in tail.............................. 816
      • 10. A grant is the regular method, by common law, of conveying incorporeal hereditaments.............................. 317
      • 11. A lease is the demise, granting, or letting to farm of any tenement, usually for a less term than the lessor hath therein; yet sometimes possibly for a greater; according to the regulations of the restraining and enabling statutes.............................. 317
      • 12. An exchange is the mutual conveyance of equal interests, the one in consideration of the other.............................. 323
      • 13. A partition is the division of an estate held in joint-tenancy, in coparcenary, or in common, between the respective tonants; so that each may hold his distinct part in severalty .............................. 323
      • 14. A release is the discharge or conveyance of a man’s right in lands and tenements to another that hath some former estate in possession therein.............................. 324
      • 15. A confirmation is the conveyance of an estate or right in esse, whereby a voidable estate is made sure, or a particular estate is increased.............................. 325
      • 16. A surrender is the yielding up of an estate for life, or years, to him that hath the immediate remainder or reversion; wherein the particular estate may merge 326
      • 17. An assignment is the transfer, or making over to another, of the whole right one has in any estate; but usually in a lease, for life or years.............................. 326
      • 18. A defeazance is a collateral deed, made at the same time with the original conveyance; containing some condition upon which the estate may be defeated .............................. 327
      • 19. Conveyances by statute depend much on the doctrine of uses and trusts; which are a confidence reposed in the terre-tenant, or tenant of the land, that he shall permit the profits to be enjoyed, according to the directions of cestuy que use, or cestuy que trust.............................. 327
      • 20. The statute of uses, having transferred all uses into actual possession, (or, rather, having drawn the possession to the use,) has given birth to divers other species of conveyance: I. A covenant to stand seised to uses. II. A bargain and sale, enrolled. III. A lease and release. IV. A deed to lead or declare the use of other more direct conveyances. V. A revocation of uses; being the execution of a power, reserved at the creation of the use, of recalling at a future time the use or estate so creating. All which owe their present operation principally to the statute of uses.............................. 337-339 Edition: current; Page: [xxxvii]
      • 21. Deeds which do not convey, but only charge real property, and discharge it, are, I. Obligations. II. Recognizances. III. Defeazances upon both .............................. Page 340-342
    • CHAPTER XXI. Of Alienation by Matter of Record. 344 to 363
      • 1. Assurances by matter of record are, where the sanction of some court of record is called in to substantiate and witness the transfer of real property. These are, I. Private acts of parliament. II. The king’s grants. III. Fines. IV. Common recoveries.............................. 344
      • 2. Private acts of parliament are a species of assurances, calculated to give (by the transcendent authority of parliament) such reasonable powers or relief as are beyond the reach of the ordinary course of law .............................. 344
      • 3. The king’s grants, contained in charters or letters-patent, are all entered on record, for the dignity of the royal person and security of the royal revenue.............................. 346
      • 4. A fine (sometimes said to be a feoffment of record) is an amicable composition and agreement of an actual or fictitious suit; whereby the estate in question is acknowledged to be the right of one of the parties 348
      • 5. The parts of a fine are, I. The writ of covenant. II. The license to agree. III. The concord. IV. The note. V. The foot. To which the statute hath added, VI. Proclamations .............................. 350-352
      • 6. Fines are of four kinds: I. Sur cognizance de droit, come ceo que il ad de son done. II. Sur cognizance de droit tantum. III. Sur concessit. IV. Sur done, grant, et render; which is a double fine .............................. 353
      • 7. The force and effect of fines (when levied by such as have themselves any interest in the estate) are to assure the lands in question to the cognizee, by barring the respective rights of parties, privies, and strangers .............................. 354
      • 8. A common recovery is by an actual, or fictitious, suit or action for land, brought against the tenant of the freehold; who thereupon vouches another, who undertakes to warrant the tenant’s title; but upon such vouchee’s making default, the land is recovered by judgment at law against the tenant; who, in return, obtains judgment against the vouchee to recover lands of equal value in recompense.............................. 357-359
      • 9. The force and effect of a recovery are to assure lands to the recoveror, by barring estates tail, and all remainders and reversions expectant thereon; provided the tenant in tail either suffers, or is vouched in such recovery.............................. 361
      • 10. The uses of a fine or recovery may be directed by, I. Deeds to lead such uses; which are made previous to the levying or suffering them. II. Deeds to declare the uses; which are made subsequent.............................. 363
    • CHAPTER XXII. Of Alienation by Special Custom .............................. 365 to 371
      • 1. Assurances by special custom are confined to the transfer of copyhold estates.............................. 365
      • 2. This is effected by, I. Surrender by the tenant into the hands of the lord to the use of another, according to the custom of the manor. II. Presentment, by the tenants, or homage, of such surrender. III. Admittance of the surrenderee by the lord, according to the uses expressed in such surrender .............................. Page 368-370
      • 3. Admittance may also be had upon original grants to the tenant from the lord, and upon descents to the heir from the ancestor.............................. 371
    • CHAPTER XXIII. Of Alienation by Devise.............................. 378 to 381
      • 1. Devise is a disposition of lands and tenements, contained in the last will and testament of the owner.............................. 373
      • 2. This was not permitted by the common law, as it stood since the conquest; but was introduced by the statute law, under Henry VIII.: since made more universal by the statute of tenures under Charles II., with the introduction of additional solemnities by the statute of frauds and perjuries in the same reign.............................. 375-370
      • 3. The construction of all common assurances should be, I. Agreeable to the intention, II. to the words, of the parties. III. Made upon the entire deed. IV. Bearing strongest against the contractor V. Conformable to law. VI. Rejecting the latter of two totally repugnant clauses in a deed, and the former in a will. VII. Most favourable in case of a devise .............................. 379-381
    • CHAPTER XXIV. Of Things Personal .............................. 384 to 387
      • 1. Things personal are comprehended under the general name of chattels; which include whatever wants either the duration, or the immobility, attending things real.............................. 384
      • 2. In these are to be considered, I. Their distribution. II. The property of them. III. The title to that property.............................. 384-387
      • 3. As to the distribution of chattels, they are, I. Chattels real. II. Chattels personal.............................. 386
      • 4. Chattels real are such quantities of interest, in things immovable, as are short of the duration of freeholds; being limited to a time certain, beyond which they cannot subsist. (See Ch. IX.).............................. 386
      • 5. Chattels personal are things movable, which may be transferred from place to place, together with the person of the owner .............................. 387
    • CHAPTER XXV. Of Property in Things Personal .............................. 389 to 398
      • 1. Property in chattels personal is either in possession or in action .............................. 389
      • 2. Property in possession, where a man has the actual enjoyment of the thing, is, I. Absolute. II. Qualified.............................. 389
      • 3. Absolute property is where a man has such an exclusive right in the thing that it cannot cease to be his, without his own act or default.............................. 389
      • 4. Qualified property is such as is not, in its nature, permanent; but may sometimes Edition: current; Page: [xxxviii] subsist, and at other times not subsist.............................. Page 391
      • 5. This may arise, I. Where the subject is incapable of absolute ownership. II. From the peculiar circumstances of the owners .............................. 391-396
      • 6. Property in action is where a man hath not the actual occupation of the thing; but only a right to it, arising upon some contract and recoverable by an action at law. .............................. 396
      • 7. The property of chattels personal is liable to remainders, expectant on estates for life; to joint-tenancy, and to tenancy in common.............................. 398
    • CHAPTER XXVI. Of Title to Things Personal by Occupancy.............................. 400 to 407
      • 1. The title to things personal may be acquired or lost by, I. Occupancy. II. Prerogative. III. Forfeiture. IV. Custom. V. Succession. VI. Marriage. VII. Judgment. VIII. Gift, or Grant. IX. Contract. X. Bankruptcy. XI. Testament. XII. Administration .............................. 400
      • 2. Occupancy still gives the first occupant a right to those few things which have no legal owner, or which are incapable of permanent ownership. Such as, I. Goods of alien enemies. II. Things found. III. The benefit of the elements. IV. Animals feræ naturæ. V. Emblements. VI. Things gained by accession;—or, VII. By confusion. VIII. Literary property.............................. 400-407
    • CHAPTER XXVII. Of Title by Prerogative, and Forfeiture.............................. 408 to 421
      • 1. By prerogative is vested in the crown, or its grantees, the property of the royal revenue, (see book I., ch. VIII.;) and also the property of all game in the kingdom, with the right of pursuing and taking it.............................. 408-419
      • 2. By forfeiture, for crimes and misdemeanours, the right of goods and chattels may be transferred from one man to another; either in part or totally .............................. 420
      • 3. Total forfeitures of goods arise from conviction of, I. Treason, and Misprision thereof. II. Felony. III. Excusable homicide. IV. Outlawry for treason or felony. V. Flight. VI. Standing mute. VII. Assaults on a judge, and batteries, sitting the courts. VIII. Præmunire. IX. Pretended prophecies. X. Owling. XI. Residing abroad of artificers. XII. Challenges to fight for debts at play.............................. 421
    • CHAPTER XXVIII. Of Title by Custom .............................. 422 to 427
      • 1. By custom, obtaining in particular places, a right may be acquired in chattels; the most usual of which customs are those relating to, I. Heriots. II. Mortuaries. III. Heir-looms.............................. 422
      • 2. Heriots are either heriot-service, which differs little from a rent; or heriot-custom, which is a customary tribute, of goods and chattels, payable to the lord of the fee on the decease of the owner of lands .............................. Page 423
      • 3. Mortuaries are a customary gift, due to the minister in many parishes, on the death of his parishioners .............................. 425
      • 4. Heir-looms are such personal chattels as descend by special custom to the heir, along with the inheritance of his ancestor 427
    • CHAPTER XXIX. Of Title by Succession, Marriage, and Judgment.............................. 430 to 439
      • 1. By succession the right of chattels is vested in corporations aggregate; and likewise in such corporations sole as are the heads and representatives of bodies aggregate.............................. 430
      • 2. By marriage the chattels real and personal of the wife are vested in the husband, in the same degree of property, and with the same powers, as the wife when sole had over them; provided he reduces them to possession.............................. 433
      • 3. The wife also acquires by marriage a property in her paraphernalia.............................. 435
      • 4. By judgment consequent on a suit at law, a man may, in some cases, not only recover, but originally acquire, a right to personal property. As, I. To penalties recoverable by action popular. II. To damages. III. To costs of suit.............................. 436-439
    • CHAPTER XXX. Of Title by Gift, Grant, and Contract.............................. 440 to 470
      • 1. A gift, or grant, is a voluntary conveyance of a chattel personal in possession, without any consideration or equivalent. 440
      • 2. A contract is an agreement, upon sufficient consideration, to do or not to do a particular thing; and by such contract any personal property (either in possession or in action) may be transferred.............................. 442
      • 3. Contracts may be either express, or implied; either executed, or executory .............................. 448
      • 4. The consideration of contracts is, I. A good consideration. II. A valuable consideration; which is, 1. Do, ut des. 2. Facio, ut facias. 3. Facio, ut des. 4. Do, ut facias .............................. 444-5
      • 5. The most usual species of personal contracts are, I. Sale or exchange. II. Bailment. III. Hiring or borrowing. IV. Debt .............................. 446
      • 6. Sale or exchange is a transmutation of property from one man to another, in consideration of some recompense in value 446
      • 7. Bailment is the delivery of goods in trust, upon a contract, express or implied, that the trust shall be faithfully performed by the bailee .............................. 451
      • 8. Hiring or borrowing is a contract whereby the possession of chattels is transferred for a particular time, on condition that the identical goods (or, sometimes, their value) be restored at the time appointed; together with (in case of hiring) a stipend or price for the use.............................. 452
      • 9. This price, being calculated to answer the hazard, as well as inconvenience, of Edition: current; Page: [xxxix] lending, gives birth to the doctrine of interest, or usury, upon loan; and, consequently, to the doctrine of bottomry or respondentia, and insurance. .............................. Page 453-464
      • 10. Debt is any contract, whereby a certain sum of money becomes due to the creditor. This is, I. A debt of record. II. A debt upon special contract. III. A debt upon simple contract; which last includes paper credit, or bills of exchange, and promissory notes .............................. 464-470
    • CHAPTER XXXI. Of Title by Bankruptcy.............................. 471 to 488
      • 1. Bankruptcy (as defined in Ch. XVIII.) is the act of becoming a bankrupt .............................. 471
      • 2. Herein may be considered, I. Who may become a bankrupt. II. The acts whereby he may become a bankrupt. III. The proceedings on a commission of bankruptcy. IV. How his property is transferred thereby.............................. 471
      • 3. Persons of full age, using the trade of merchandise, by buying and selling, and seeking their livelihood thereby, are liable to become bankrupts for debts of a sufficient amount.............................. 473
      • 4. A trader who endeavours to avoid his creditors, or evade their just demands, by any of the ways specified in the several statutes of bankruptcy, doth thereby commit a bankruptcy .............................. 478
      • 5. The proceedings on a commission of bankrupt, so far as they affect the bankrupt himself, are principally by, I. Petition. II. Commission. III. Declaration of bankruptcy. IV. Choice of assignees. V. The bankrupt’s surrender. VI. His examination. VII. His discovery. VIII. His certificate. IX. His allowance. X. His indemnity.............................. 479-485
      • 6. The property of a bankrupt’s personal estate is, immediately upon the act of bankruptcy, vested by construction of law in the assignees: and they, when they have collected, distribute the whole by equal dividends among all the creditors .............................. 485-488
    • CHAPTER XXXII. Of Title by Testament, and Administration.............................. 489 to 520
      • 1. Concerning testaments and administrations, considered jointly, are to be observed, I. Their original and antiquity. II. Who may make a testament. III. Its nature and incidents. IV. What are executors and administrators. V. Their office and duty .............................. Page 481
      • 2. Testaments have subsisted in England immemorially; whereby the deceased was at liberty to dispose of his personal estate, reserving antiently to his wife and children their reasonable part of his effects.............................. 491
      • 3. The goods of intestates belonged antiently to the king, who granted them to the prelates to be disposed in pious uses: but, on their abuse of this trust, in the times of popery, the legislature compelled them to delegate their power to administrators expressly provided by law .............................. 494-496
      • 4. All persons may make a testament, unless disabled by, I. Want of discretion. II. Want of free will. III. Criminal conduct.............................. 496-497
      • 5. Testaments are the legal declaration of a man’s intentions, which he wills to be performed after his death. These are, I. Written. II. Nuncupative.............................. 499-500
      • 6. An executor is he to whom a man by his will commits the execution thereof.............................. 503
      • 7. Administrators are, I. Durante minore ætate of an infant executor or administrator; or durante absentia; or pendente lite. II. Cum testamento annexo; when no executor is named, or the executor refuses to act. III. General administrators; in pursuance of the statutes of Edward III. and Henry VIII. IV. Administrators de bonis non; when a former executor or administrator dies without completing his trust.............................. 503-507
      • 8. The office and duty of executors (and, in many points, of administrators also) are, I. To bury the deceased. II. To prove the will, or take out administration. III. To make an inventory. IV. To collect the goods and chattels. V. To pay debts; observing the rules of priority. VI. To pay legacies, either general or specific; if they be vested, and not lapsed. VII. To distribute the undevised surplus, according to the statute of distributions. 508-520
Edition: current; Page: [1]

INTRODUCTION. Of the Study, Nature, and Extent of the Laws of England.


Mr. Vice-Chancellor and the Gentlemen of the University.

The general expectation of so numerous and respectable an audience, the novelty, and (I may add) the importance of the duty required from this chair, must unavoidably be productive of great diffidence and apprehensions in him who has the honour to be placed in it. He must be sensible how much will depend upon his conduct in the infancy of a study, which is now first adopted by public academical authority; which has generally been reputed (however unjustly) of a dry and unfruitful nature; and of which the theoretical elementary parts, have hitherto received a very moderate share of cultivation. He cannot but reflect that, if either his plan of instruction be crude and injudicious, or the execution of it lame and superficial, it will cast a damp upon the farther progress of this most useful and most rational branch of learning; and may defeat for a time the *[*4public-spirited design of our wise and munificent benefactor. And this he must more especially dread, when he feels by experience how unequal his abilities are (unassisted by preceding examples) to complete, in the manner he could wish, so extensive and arduous a task; since he freely confesses, that his former more private attempts have fallen very short of his own ideas of perfection. And yet the candour he has already experienced, and this last transcendent mark of regard, his present nomination by the free and unanimous suffrage of a great and learned university, (an honour to be ever remembered with the deepest and most affectionate gratitude,) these testimonies of your public judgment must entirely supersede his own, and forbid him to believe himself totally insufficient for the labour at least of this employment. One thing he will venture to hope for, and it certainly shall be his constant aim, by diligence and attention to atone for his other defects: esteeming, that the best return which he can possibly make for your favourable opinion of his capacity, will be his unwearied endeavours in some little degree to deserve it.

The science thus committed to his charge, to be cultivated, methodized, and explained in a course of academical lectures, is that of the laws and constitution of our own country: a species of knowledge, in which the gentlemen of England have been more remarkably deficient than those of all Europe besides. In most of the nations of the continent, where the civil or imperial law, under different modifications, is closely interwoven with the municipal laws of the land, no gentleman, or at least no scholar, thinks his education is completed, till he has attended a course or two of lectures, both upon the institutes of Justinian and Edition: current; Page: [4] the local constitutions of his native soil, under the very eminent professors that abound in their several universities. And in the northern parts of our own island, where also the municipal laws are frequently connected with the civil, it is difficult to meet with a person of liberal education, who is destitute of a competent knowledge in that science which is to be the guardian of his natural rights and the rule of his civil conduct.

**5]Nor have the imperial laws been totally neglected even in the English nation. A general acquaintance with their decisions has ever been deservedly considered as no small accomplishment of a gentleman; and a fashion has prevailed, especially of late, to transport the growing hopes of this island to foreign universities, in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland; which, though infinitely inferior to our own in every other consideration, have been looked upon as better nurseries of the civil, or (which is nearly the same) of their own municipal law. In the mean time, it has been the peculiar lot of our admirable system of laws to be neglected, and even unknown, by all but one practical profession; though built upon the soundest foundations, and approved by the experience of ages.

Far be it from me to derogate from the study of the civil law, considered (apart from any binding authority) as a collection of written reason. No man is more thoroughly persuaded of the general excellence of its rules, and the usual equity of its decisions, nor is better convinced of its use as well as ornament to the scholar, the divine, the statesman, and even the common lawyer. But we must not carry our veneration so far as to sacrifice our Alfred and Edward to the manes of Theodosius and Justinian; we must not prefer the edict of the prætor, or the rescript of the Roman emperor, to our own immemorial customs, or the sanctions of an English parliament; unless we can also prefer the despotic monarchy of Rome and Byzantium, for whose meridians the former were calculated, to the free constitution of Britain, which the latter are adapted to perpetuate.

Without detracting, therefore, from the real merits which abound in the imperial law, I hope I may have leave to assert, that if an Englishman must be ignorant of either the one or the other, he had better be a stranger to the Roman than the English institutions. For I think it an undeniable position, that a competent knowledge of the laws of that society **6]in which we live, is the proper accomplishment of every gentleman and scholar; an highly useful, I had almost said essential, part of liberal and polite education. And in this I am warranted by the example of ancient Rome; where, as Cicero informs us,(a) the very boys were obliged to learn the twelve tables by heart, as a carmen necessarium or indispensable lesson, to imprint on their tender minds an early knowledge of the laws and constitution of their country.1

But, as the long and universal neglect of this study with us in England seems in some degree to call in question the truth of this evident position, it shall therefore be the business of this introductory discourse, in the first place to demonstrate the utility of some general acquaintance with the municipal law of the land, by pointing out its particular uses in all considerable situations of life. Some conjectures will then be offered with regard to the causes of neglecting this useful study: to which will be subjoined a few reflections on the peculiar propriety of reviving it in our own universities.

And, first, to demonstrate the utility of some acquaintance with the laws of the land, let us only reflect a moment on the singular frame and polity of that land which is governed by this system of laws. A land, perhaps, the only one in the universe, in which political or civil liberty is the very end and scope of the constitution.(b) This liberty, rightly understood, consists in the power of doing Edition: current; Page: [6] whatever the laws permit,(c)2 which is only to be effected by a general conformity of all orders and degrees to those equitable rules of action by which the meanest individual is protected from the insults and oppression of the greatest. As therefore every subject is interested in the preservation of the laws, it is incumbent upon every man to be acquainted with those at least with which he is immediately concerned; lest he incur the censure, as well as inconvenience, of living in society without knowing the obligations which it lays him under. And thus much may suffice for *[*7persons of inferior condition, who have neither time nor capacity to enlarge their views beyond that contracted sphere in which they are appointed to move. But those, on whom nature and fortune have bestowed more abilities and greater leisure, cannot be so easily excused. These advantages are given them, not for the benefit of themselves only, but also of the public: and yet they cannot, in any scene of life, discharge properly their duty either to the public or themselves, without some degree of knowledge in the laws. To evince this the more clearly, it may not be amiss to descend to a few particulars.

Let us therefore begin with our gentlemen of independent estates and fortune, the most useful as well as considerable body of men in the nation; whom even to suppose ignorant in this branch of learning is treated by Mr. Locke(d) as a strange absurdity. It is their landed property, with its long and voluminous train of descents and conveyances, settlements, entails, and incumbrances, that forms the most intricate and most extensive object of legal knowledge. The thorough comprehension of these, in all their minute distinctions, is perhaps too laborious a task for any but a lawyer by profession; yet still the understanding of a few leading principles, relating to estates and conveyancing, may form some check and guard upon a gentleman’s inferior agents, and preserve him at least from very gross and notorious imposition.

Again, the policy of all laws has made some forms necessary in the wording of last wills and testaments, and more with regard to their attestation. An ignorance in these must always be of dangerous consequence, to such as by choice or necessity compile their own testaments without any technical assistance. Those who have attended the courts of justice are the best witnesses of the confusion and distresses that are hereby occasioned in families; and of the difficulties that arise in discerning the true meaning of the testator, or sometimes in discovering any meaning at all; so that in the end his estate *[*8may often be vested quite contrary to these his enigmatical intentions, because perhaps he has omitted one or two formal words, which are necessary to ascertain the sense with indisputable legal precision, or has executed his will in the presence of fewer witnesses than the law requires.

But to proceed from private concerns to those of a more public consideration. All gentlemen of fortune are, in consequence of their property, liable to be called upon to establish the rights, to estimate the injuries, to weigh the accusations and sometimes to dispose of the lives of their fellow-subjects, by serving upon juries. In this situation they have frequently a right to decide, and that upon their oaths, Edition: current; Page: [8] questions of nice importance, in the solution of which some legal skill is requisite; especially where the law and the fact, as it often happens, are intimately blended together. And the general incapacity, even of our best juries, to do this with any tolerable propriety, has greatly debased their authority; and has unavoidably thrown more power into the hands of the judges, to direct, control, and even reverse their verdicts, than perhaps the constitution intended.

But it is not as a juror only that the English gentleman is called upon to determine questions of right, and distribute justice to his fellow-subjects: it is principally with this order of men that the commission of the peace is filled. And here a very ample field is opened for a gentleman to exert his talents, by maintaining good order in his neighbourhood; by punishing the dissolute and idle; by protecting the peaceable and industrious; and, above all, by healing petty differences, and preventing vexatious prosecutions. But, in order to attain these desirable ends, it is necessary that the magistrate should understand his business; and have not only the will, but the power also, (under which must be included the knowledge,) of administering legal and effectual justice. Else, when he has mistaken his authority, through passion, through ignorance, or absurdity, he will be the object of **9]contempt from his inferiors, and of censure from those to whom he is accountable for his conduct.

Yet farther; most gentlemen of considerable property, at some period or other in their lives, are ambitious of representing their country in parliament: and those, who are ambitious of receiving so high a trust, would also do well to remember its nature and importance. They are not thus honourably distinguished from the rest of their fellow-subjects, merely that they may privilege their persons, their estates, or their domestics; that they may list under party banners; may grant or withhold supplies; may vote with or vote against a popular or unpopular administration; but upon considerations far more interesting and important. They are the guardians of the English constitution; the makers, repealers, and interpreters of the English laws; delegated to watch, to check, and to avert every dangerous innovation, to propose, to adopt, and to cherish any solid and well-weighed improvement; bound by every tie of nature, of honour, and of religion, to transmit that constitution and those laws to posterity, amended if possible, at least without any derogation. And how unbecoming must it appear in a member of the legislature to vote for a new law, who is utterly ignorant of the old! what kind of interpretation can he be enabled to give, who is a stranger to the text upon which he comments!

Indeed it is perfectly amazing that there should be no other state of life, no other occupation, art, or science, in which some method of instruction is not looked upon as requisite, except only the science of legislation, the noblest and most difficult of any. Apprenticeships are held necessary to almost every art, commercial or mechanical: a long course of reading and study must form the divine, the physician, and the practical professor of the laws; but every man of superior fortune thinks himself born a legislator. Yet Tully was of a different opinion: “It is **10]necessary,” says he,(e) “for a senator to be thoroughly acquainted with the constitution; and this,” he declares, “is a knowledge of the most extensive nature; a matter of science, of diligence, of reflection; without which no senator can possibly be fit for his office.”

The mischiefs that have arisen to the public from inconsiderate alterations in our laws, are too obvious to be called in question; and how far they have been owing to the defective education of our senators, is a point well worthy the public attention. The common law of England has fared like other venerable edifices of antiquity, which rash and unexperienced workmen have ventured to new-dress and refine, with all the rage of modern improvement. Hence frequently its symmetry has been destroyed, its proportions distorted, and its majestic simplicity exchanged for specious embellishments and fantastic novelties. For, to say the truth, almost all the perplexed questions, almost all the niceties, intricacies, and delays, (which have sometimes disgraced the English, as well as other Edition: current; Page: [10] courts of justice,) owe their original not to the common law itself, but to innovations that have been made in it by acts of parliament, “overladen (as Sir Edward Coke expresses it)(f) with provisoes and additions, and many times on a sudden penned or corrected by men of none or very little judgment in law.” This great and well-experienced judge declares, that in all his time he never knew two questions made upon rights merely depending upon the common law; and warmly laments the confusion introduced by ill-judging and unlearned legislators. “But if,” he subjoins, “acts of parliament were after the old fashion penned, by such only as perfectly knew what the common law was before the making of any act of parliament concerning that matter, as also how far forth former statues had provided remedy for former mischiefs and defects discovered by experience; then should very few questions in law arise, *[*11and the learned should not so often and so much perplex their heads to make atonement and peace, by construction of law, between insensible and disagreeing words, sentences, and provisoes, as they now do.” And if this inconvenience was so heavily felt in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, you may judge how the evil is increased in later times, when the statute book is swelled to ten times a larger bulk, unless it should be found that the penners of our modern statutes have proportionably better informed themselves in the knowledge of the common law.

What is said of our gentlemen in general, and the propriety of their application to the study of the laws of their country, will hold equally strong or still stronger with regard to the nobility of this realm, except only in the article of serving upon juries. But, instead of this, they have several peculiar provinces of far greater consequence and concern; being not only by birth hereditary counsellors of the crown, and judges upon their honour of the lives of their brother-peers, but also arbiters of the property of all their fellow-subjects, and that in the last resort. In this their judicial capacity they are bound to decide the nicest and most critical points of the law: to examine and correct such errors as have escaped the most experienced sages of the profession, the lord keeper, and the judges of the courts at Westminster. Their sentence is final, decisive, irrevocable; no appeal, no correction, not even a review, can be had: and to their determination, whatever it be, the inferior courts of justice must conform; otherwise the rule of property would no longer be uniform and steady.

Should a judge in the most subordinate jurisdiction be deficient in the knowledge of the law, it would reflect infinite contempt upon himself, and disgrace upon those who employ him. And yet the consequence of his ignorance is comparatively very trifling and small: his judgment may be examined, and his errors rectified, by other courts. But how much more serious and affecting is the case of a superior judge, *[*12if without any skill in the laws he will boldly venture to decide a question upon which the welfare and subsistence of whole families may depend! where the chance of his judging right, or wrong, is barely equal; and where, if he chances to judge wrong, he does an injury of the most alarming nature, an injury without possibility of redress.

Yet, vast as this trust is, it can nowhere be so properly reposed as in the noble hands where our excellent constitution has placed it: and therefore placed it, because, from the independence of their fortune and the dignity of their station, they are presumed to employ that leisure which is the consequence of both, in attaining a more extensive knowledge of the laws than persons of inferior rank: and because the founders of our polity relied upon that delicacy of sentiment, so peculiar to noble birth; which, as on the one hand it will prevent either interest or affection from interfering in questions of right, so on the other it will bind a peer in honour, an obligation which the law esteems equal to another’s oath, to be master of those points upon which it is his birth-right to decide.3

Edition: current; Page: [12]

The Roman pandects will furnish us with a piece of history not unapplicable to our present purpose. Servius Sulpicius, a gentleman of the patrician order, and a celebrated orator, had occasion to take the opinion of Quintus Mutius Scævola, the then oracle of the Roman law; but, for want of some knowledge in that science, could not so much as understand even the technical terms, which his friend was obliged to make use of. Upon which Mutius Scævola could not forbear to upbraid him with this memorable reproof,(g) “that it was a shame for a patrician, a nobleman, and an orator of causes, to be ignorant of that law in which he was so peculiarly concerned.” This reproach made so deep an impression on Sulpicius, that he immediately applied himself to the study of the law, wherein he arrived to that **13]proficiency, that he left behind him about an hundred and fourscore volumes of his own compiling upon the subject; and became, in the opinion of Cicero,(h) a much more complete lawyer than even Mutius Scævola himself.

I would not be thought to recommend to our English nobility and gentry to become as great lawyers as Sulpicius; though he, together with this character, sustained likewise that of an excellent orator, a firm patriot, and a wise, indefatigable senator; but the inference which arises from the story is this, that ignorance of the laws of the land hath ever been esteemed dishonourable in those who are intrusted by their country to maintain, to administer, and to amend them.

But surely there is little occasion to enforce this argument any farther to persons of rank and distinction, if we of this place may be allowed to form a general judgment from those who are under our inspection: happy that while we lay down the rule, we can also produce the example. You will therefore permit your professor to indulge both a public and private satisfaction by bearing this open testimony, that, in the infancy of these studies among us, they were favoured with the most diligent attendance, and pursued with the most unwearied application, by those of the noblest birth and most ample patrimony, some of whom are still the ornaments of this seat of learning, and others, at a greater distance, continue doing honour to its institutions, by comparing our polity and laws with those of other kingdoms abroad, or exerting their senatorial abilities in the councils of the nation at home.

Nor will some degree of legal knowledge be found in the least superfluous to persons of inferior rank, especially those of the learned professions. The clergy in particular, besides the common obligations they are under in proportion to their rank and fortune, have also abundant reason, considered **14]merely as clergymen, to be acquainted with many branches of the law, which are almost peculiar and appropriated to themselves alone. Such are the laws relating to advowsons, institutions, and inductions; to simony and simoniacal contracts; to uniformity, residence, and pluralities; to tithes and other ecclesiastical dues; to marriages, (more especially of late,) and to a variety of other subjects, which are consigned to the care of their order by the provisions of particular statutes. To Edition: current; Page: [14] understand these aright, to discern what is warranted or enjoined, and what is forbidden by law, demands a sort of legal apprehension, which is no otherwise to be acquired than by use and a familiar acquaintance with legal writers.

For the gentlemen of the faculty of physic, I must frankly own that I see no special reason why they in particular should apply themselves to the study of the law, unless in common with other gentlemen, and to complete the character of general and extensive knowledge; a character which their profession, beyond others, has remarkably deserved. They will give me leave however to suggest, and that not ludicrously, that it might frequently be of use to families upon sudden emergencies, if the physician were acquainted with the doctrine of last wills and testaments, at least so far as relates to the formal part of their execution.4

But those gentlemen who intend to profess the civil and ecclesiastical laws, in the spiritual and maritime courts of this kingdom, are of all men (next to common lawyers) the most indispensably obliged to apply themselves seriously to the study of our municipal laws. For the civil and canon laws, considered with respect to any intrinsic obligation, have no force or authority in this kingdom; they are no more binding in England than our laws are binding at Rome. But as far as these foreign laws, on account of some peculiar propriety, have in some particular cases, and in some particular courts, been introduced and allowed by our laws, so far they oblige, and no farther; their authority being wholly founded upon that permission and adoption. In which we are not singular in our *[*15notions; for even in Holland, where the imperial law is much cultivated, and its decisions pretty generally followed, we are informed by Van Leeuwen(i) that “it receives its force from custom and the consent of the people, either tacitly or expressly given; for otherwise,” he adds, “we should no more be bound by this law, than by that of the Almains, the Franks, the Saxons, the Goths, the Vandals, and other of the ancient nations.” Wherefore, in all points in which the different systems depart from each other, the law of the land takes place of the law of Rome, whether ancient or modern, imperial or pontifical. And, in those of our English courts wherein a reception has been allowed to the civil and canon laws, if either they exceed the bounds of that reception, by extending themselves to other matters than are permitted to them; or if such courts proceed according to the decisions of those laws, in cases wherein it is controlled by the law of the land, the common law in either instance both may, and frequently does, prohibit and annul their proceedings:(k) and it will not be a sufficient excuse for them to tell the king’s courts at Westminster, that their practice is warranted by the laws of Justinian or Gregory, or is conformable to the decrees of the Rota or imperial chamber.5 For which reason it becomes highly necessary for every civilian and canonist, that would act with Edition: current; Page: [15] safety as a judge, or with prudence and reputation as an advocate, to know in what cases and how far the English laws have given sanction to the Roman; in what points the latter are rejected; and where they are both so intermixed and blended together as to form certain supplemental parts of the common law of England, distinguished by the titles of the king’s maritime, the king’s military, and the king’s ecclesiastical law; the propriety of which inquiry the university of Oxford has for more than a century so thoroughly seen, that in her statutes(l) she appoints, that one of the three questions to be annually discussed at the act by the jurist-inceptors shall relate to the common law; subjoining this reason, “quia juris civilis studiosos decet haud imperitos esse **16]juris municipalis, et differentias exteri patriique juris notas habere.” And the statutes(m) of the university of Cambridge speak expressly to the same effect.

From the general use and necessity of some acquaintance with the common law, the inference were extremely easy with regard to the propriety of the present institution, in a place to which gentlemen of all ranks and degrees resort, as the fountain of all useful knowledge. But how it has come to pass that a design of this sort has never before taken place in the university, and the reason why the study of our laws has in general fallen into disuse, I shall previously proceed to inquire.

Sir John Fortescue, in his panegyric on the laws of England, (which was written in the reign of Henry the Sixth,) puts(n) a very obvious question in the mouth of the young prince, whom he is exhorting to apply himself to that branch of learning: “Why the laws of England, being so good, so fruitful and so commodious, are not taught in the universities, as the civil and canon laws are?” In answer to which he gives(o) what seems, with due deference be it spoken, a very jejune and unsatisfactory reason; being, in short, that “as the proceedings at common law were in his time carried on in three different tongues, the English, the Latin, and the French, that science must be necessarily taught in those three several languages; but that in the universities all sciences were taught in the Latin tongue only;” and therefore he concludes, “that they could not be conveniently taught or studied in our universities.” But without attempting to examine seriously the validity of this reason, (the very shadow of which, by the wisdom of your late constitutions, is entirely taken away,) we perhaps may find out a better, or at least a more plausible account, why the study of the municipal laws has been banished from these seats of science, than what the learned chancellor thought it prudent to give to his royal pupil.

**17]That ancient collection of unwritten maxims and customs, which is called the common law, however compounded or from whatever fountains derived, had subsisted immemorially in this kingdom; and, though somewhat altered and impaired by the violence of the times, had in great measure weathered the rude shock of the Norman conquest. This had endeared it to the people in general, as well because its decisions were universally known, as because it was found to be excellently adapted to the genius of the English nation. In the knowledge of this law consisted great part of the learning of those dark ages; it was then taught, says Mr. Selden,(p) in the monasteries, in the universities, and in the families of the principal nobility. The clergy, in particular, as they then engrossed almost every other branch of learning, so (like their predecessors Edition: current; Page: [17] the British Draids),(q) they were peculiarly remarkable for their proficiency in the study of the law. Nullus clericus nisi causidicus, is the character given of them soon after the conquest by William of Malmsbury.(r) The judges there fore were usually created out of the sacred order,(s) as was likewise the case among the Normans;(t) and all the inferior offices were supplied by the lower clergy, which has occasioned their successors to be denominated clerks to this day.

But the common law of England, being not committed to writing, but only handed down by tradition, use, and experience, was not so heartily relished by the foreign clergy, who came over hither in shoals during the reign of the conqueror and his two sons, and were utter strangers to our constitution as well as our language. And an accident, which soon after happened, had nearly completed its ruin. A copy of Justinian’s pandects, being newly(u) discovered at Amalfi,6 *[*18soon brought the civil law into vogue all over the west of Europe, where before it was quite laid aside,(w) and in a manner forgotten, though some traces of its authority remained in Italy(x) and the eastern provinces of the empire.(y) This now became in a particular manner the favourite of the popish clergy, who borrowed the method and many of the maxims of their canon law from this original. The study of it was introduced into several universities abroad, particularly that of Bologna, where exercises were performed, lectures read, and degrees conferred in this faculty, as in other branches of science; and many nations on the continent, just then beginning to recover from the convulsions consequent upon the overthrow of the Roman empire, and settling by degrees into peaceable forms of government, adopted the civil law, (being the best written system then extant,) as the basis of their several constitutions; blending and interweaving it among their own feodal customs, in some places with a more extensive, in others a more confined authority.(z)

Nor was it long before the prevailing mode of the times reached England For Theobald, a Norman abbot, being elected to the see of Canterbury,(a) and extremely addicted to this new study, brought over with him in his retinue many learned proficients therein; and, among the rest, Roger, surnamed Vacarius, whom he placed in the university of Oxford(b) to teach it to the people of this country. But it did not meet with the same easy reception in England, where a mild and rational system of laws had been long established, as it did upon the continent; and though the monkish clergy, devoted to the will of a foreign primate, received it with eagerness and zeal, yet the laity, who were more interested to preserve the old constitution, and had already severely felt the effect of many Edition: current; Page: [19] Norman innovations, continued wedded to the use of the common law: King Stephen immediately **19]published a proclamation,(c) forbidding the study of the laws, then newly imported from Italy, which was treated by the monks(d) as a piece of impiety; and, though it might prevent the introduction of the civil law process into our courts of justice, yet did not hinder the clergy from reading and teaching it in their own schools and monasteries.

From this time the nation seems to have been divided into two parties, the bishops and clergy, many of them foreigners, who applied themselves wholly to the study of the civil and canon laws, which now came to be inseparably interwoven with each other, and the nobility and laity, who adhered with equal pertinacity to the old common laws; both of them reciprocally jealous of what they were unacquainted with, and neither of them, perhaps, allowing the opposite system that real merit which is abundantly to be found in each. This appears, on the one hand, from the spleen with which the monastic writers(e) speak of our municipal laws upon all occasions; and, on the other, from the firm temper which the nobility shewed at the famous parliament of Merton, when the prelates endeavoured to procure an act to declare all bastards legitimate in case the parents intermarried at any time afterwards; alleging this only reason, because holy church (that is, the canon law) declared such children legitimate; but “all the earls and barons (says the parliament roll)(f) with one voice an swered, that they would not change the laws of England, which had hitherto been used and approved.” And we find the same jealousy prevailing above a century afterwards,(g) when the nobility declared, with a kind of prophetic spirit, “that the realm of England hath never been unto this hour, neither by the consent of our lord the king, and the lords of parliament, shall it ever be **20]ruled or governed by the civil law.”(h) And of this temper between the clergy and laity many more instances might be given.

While things were in this situation, the clergy, finding it impossible to root out the municipal law, began to withdraw themselves by degrees from the temporal courts;7 and to that end, very early in the reign of King Henry the Third, Edition: current; Page: [20] episcopal constitutions were published,(i) forbidding all ecclesiastics to appear as advocates in foro sæculari: nor did they long continue to act as judges there, not caring to take the oath of office which was then found necessary to be administered, that they should in all things determine according to the law and custom of this realm,(k) though they still kept possession of the high office of chancellor, an office then of little juridical power; and afterwards, as its business increased by degrees, they modelled the process of the court at their own discretion.

But wherever they retired, and wherever their authority extended, they carried with them the same zeal to introduce the rules of the civil, in exclusion of the municipal law. This appears in a particular manner from the spiritual courts of all denominations, from the chancellor’s courts in both our universities, and from the high court of chancery before mentioned; in all of which the proceedings are to this day in a course much conformed to the civil law: for which no tolerable reason can be assigned, unless that these courts were all under the immediate direction of the popish ecclesiastics, among whom it was a point of religion to exclude the municipal law; Pope Innocent the Fourth having forbidden(l) the very reading of it by the clergy, because its decisions were not founded on the imperial constitutions, but merely on the customs of the laity. And if it be considered, that our universities began about that period to receive their present form of scholastic discipline; that they were then, and continued to *[*21be till the time of the Reformation, entirely under the influence of the popish clergy; (Sir John Mason the first Protestant, being also the first lay, Chancellor of Oxford;) this will lead us to perceive the reason, why the study of the Roman laws was in those days of bigotry(m) pursued with such alacrity in these seats of learning; and why the common law was entirely despised, and esteemed little better than heretical.

And, since the Reformation, many causes have conspired to prevent its becoming a part of academical education. As, first, long usage and established custom; which, as in every thing else, so especially in the forms of scholastic exercise, have justly great weight and authority. Secondly, the real intrinsic merit of the civil law, considered upon the footing of reason and not of obligation, which was well known to the instructors of our youth; and their total ignorance of the merit of the common law, though its equal at least, and perhaps an improvement on the other. But the principal reason of all, that has hindered the introduction of this branch of learning, is, that the study of the common law being banished from hence in the times of popery, has fallen into a quite different channel, and has hitherto been wholly cultivated in another place. But, as the long usage and established custom of ignorance of the laws of the land, begin now to be thought unreasonable; and as by these means the merit of those *[*22laws will probably be more generally known; we may hope that the method of studying them will soon revert to its antient course, and the foundations at least of that science will be laid in the two universities; without being exclusively confined to the channel which it fell into at the times I have just been describing.

For, being then entirely abandoned by the clergy, a few stragglers excepted, the study and practice of it devolved of course into the hands of laymen: who entertained upon their parts a most hearty aversion to the civil law,(n) and made no scruple to profess their contempt, nay even their ignorance(o) of it in Edition: current; Page: [22] the most public manner. But still as the balance of learning was greatly on the side of the clergy, and as the common law was no longer taught, as formerly, in any part of the kingdom, it must have been subjected to many inconveniences, and perhaps would have been gradually lost and overrun by the civil, (a suspicion well justified from the frequent transcripts of Justinian to be met with in Bracton and Fleta,) had it not been for a peculiar incident, which happened at a very critical time, and contributed greatly to its support.

The incident which I mean was the fixing of the court of common pleas, the grand tribunal for disputes of property, to be held in one certain spot; that the seat of ordinary justice might be permanent and notorious to all the nation. Formerly that, in conjunction with all the other superior **23]courts, was held before the king’s capital justiciary of England, in the aula regis, or such of his palaces wherein his royal person resided; and removed, with his household, from one end of the kingdom to the other. This was found to occasion great inconvenience to the suitors; to remedy which it was made an article of the great charter of liberties, both that of King John and King Henry the Third,(p) that “common pleas should no longer follow the king’s court, but be held in some certain place:” in consequence of which they have ever since been held (a few necessary removals in times of the plague excepted) in the palace of Westminster only. This brought together the professors of the municipal law, who before were dispersed about the kingdom, and formed them into an aggregate body; whereby a society was established of persons, who, (as Spelman(q) observes,) addicting themselves wholly to the study of the laws of the land, and no longer considering it as a mere subordinate science for the amusement of leisure hours, soon raised those laws to that pitch of perfection, which they suddenly attained under the auspices of our English Justinian, King Edward the First.

In consequence of this lucky assemblage, they naturally fell into a kind of collegiate order, and, being excluded from Oxford and Cambridge, found it necessary to establish a new university of their own. This they did by purchasing at various times certain houses (now called the inns of court and of chancery) between the city of Westminster, the place of holding the king’s courts, and the city of London; for advantage of ready access to the one, and plenty of provisions in the other.(r) Here exercises were performed, lectures read, and degrees were at length conferred in the common law, as at other universities in the canon and civil. The degrees were those of barristers (first styled apprentices(s) from apprendre, to **24]learn) who answered to our bachelors: as the state and degree of a serjeant,(t) servientis ad legem, did to that of doctor.

The crown seems to have soon taken under its protection this infant seminary of common law; and, the more effectually to foster and cherish it, King Henry the Third, in the nineteenth year of his reign, issued out an order directed to the mayor and sheriffs of London, commanding that no regent of any law schools within that city should, for the future, teach law therein.(u) The word law, or leges, being a general term, may create some doubt, at this distance of time, Edition: current; Page: [24] whether the teaching of the civil law or the common, or both, is hereby restrained But in either case it tends to the same end. If the civil law only is prohibited, (which is Mr. Selden’s(w) opinion,) it is then a retaliation upon the clergy, who had excluded the common law from their seats of learning. If the municipal law be also included in the restriction, (as Sir Edward Coke(x) understands it, and which the words seem to import,) then the intention is evidently this; by preventing private teachers within the walls of the city, to collect all the common lawyers into the one public university, which was newly instituted in the suburbs.

*[*25In this juridical university (for such it is insisted to have been by Fortescue(y) and Sir Edward Coke)(z) there are two sorts of collegiate houses; one called inns of chancery, in which the younger students of the law were usually placed, “learning and studying, (says Fortescue,)(a) the originals, and, as it were, the elements of the law; who, profiting therein, as they grew to ripeness, so were they admitted into the greater inns of the same study, called the inns of court.” And in these inns of both kinds, he goes on to tell us, the knights and barons, with other grandees and noblemen of the realm, did use to place their children, though they did not desire to have them thoroughly learned in the law, or to get their living by its practice: and that in his time there were about two thousand students at these several inns, all of whom, he informs us, were filii nobilium, or gentlemen born.8

Edition: current; Page: [25]

Hence it is evident, that (though under the influence of the monks, our universities neglected this study, yet) in the time of Henry the Sixth it was thought highly necessary, and was the universal practice, for the young nobility and gentry to be instructed in the originals and elements of the laws. But by degrees this custom has fallen into disuse; so that, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Edition: current; Page: [25] Sir Edward Coke(b) does not reckon above a thousand students, and the number at present is very considerably less. Which seems principally owing to these reasons: first, because the inns of chancery, being now almost totally filled by the inferior branch of the profession, are neither commodious nor proper for the resort of gentlemen of any rank or figure; so that there are very rarely any young students entered at the inns of chancery: secondly, because in the inns of court all sorts of regimen and academical superintendence, either with regard to morals or studies, are found impracticable, and therefore entirely neglected: lastly, because persons of birth and fortune, after having finished their usual courses at the universities, have *[*26seldom leisure or resolution sufficient to enter upon a new scheme of study at a new place of instruction. Wherefore few gentlemen now resort to the inns of court, but such for whom the knowledge of practice is absolutely necessary; such, I mean, as are intended for the profession: the rest of our gentry (not to say our nobility also) having usually retired to their estates, or visited foreign kingdoms, or entered upon public life, without any instruction in the laws of the land, and indeed with hardly any opportunity of gaining instruction, unless it can be afforded them in these seats of learning.

And that these are the proper places, for affording assistances of this kind to gentlemen of all stations and degrees, cannot (I think) with any colour of reason be denied. For not one of the objections, which are made to the inns of court and chancery, and which I have just now enumerated, will hold with regard to the universities. Gentlemen may here associate with gentlemen of their own rank and degree. Nor are their conduct and studies left entirely to their own discretion; but regulated by a discipline so wise and exact, yet so liberal, so sensible, and manly, that their conformity to its rules (which does at present so much honour to our youth) is not more the effect of constraint than of their own inclinations and choice. Neither need they apprehend too long an avocation hereby from their private concerns and amusements, or (what is a more noble object) the service of their friends and their country. This study will go hand in hand with their other pursuits: it will obstruct none of them; it will ornament and assist them all.

But if, upon the whole, there are any still wedded to monastic prejudice, that can entertain a doubt how far this study is properly and regularly academical, such persons I am afraid either have not considered the constitution and design of an university, or else think very meanly of it. It must be a deplorable narrowness of mind, that would confine these seats of instruction to the limited views of one or two learned professions. To the praise of this age be it spoken, a more open *[*27and generous way of thinking begins now universally to prevail. The attainment of liberal and genteel accomplishments, though not of the intellectual sort, has been thought by our wisest and most affectionate patrons,(c) and very lately by the whole university,(d) no small improvement of our ancient plan of education: and therefore I may safely affirm that nothing (how unusual soever) is, under due regulations, improper to be taught in this place, which is proper for a gentleman to learn. But that a science, which distinguishes the criterions of right and wrong; which teaches to establish the one, and prevent, punish, or redress the other; which employs in its theory the noblest faculties of the soul, and exerts in its practice the cardinal virtues of the heart; a science, which is universal in its use and extent, accommodated to each individual, yet comprehending the whole community; that a science like this should ever have been deemed unnecessary to be studied in an university, is matter of astonishment and concern.9 Surely, if it were not before an object Edition: current; Page: [27] of academical knowledge, it was high time to make it one: and to those who can doubt the propriety of its reception among us, (if any such there be,) we may return an answer in their own way, that ethics are confessedly a branch of academical learning; and Aristotle himself has said, speaking of the laws of his own country, that jurisprudence, or the knowledge of those laws, is the principal and most perfect branch of ethics.(e)

From a thorough conviction of this truth, our munificent benefactor, Mr. Viner, having employed above half a century in amassing materials for new-modelling and rendering more commodious the rude study of the laws of the land, consigned **28]both the plan and execution of these his public-spirited designs to the wisdom of his parent university. Resolving to dedicate his learned labours “to the benefit of posterity and the perpetual service of his country,”(f) he was sensible he could not perform his resolution in a better and more effectual manner, than by extending to the youth of this place, those assistances of which he so well remembered and so heartily regretted the want. And the sense which the university has entertained of this ample and most useful benefaction must appear beyond a doubt from their gratitude, in receiving it with all possible marks of esteem;(g) from their alacrity and unexampled dispatch in carrying it into execution;(h) and, above all, from the laws and constitutions by which they have effectually guarded it from the neglect and abuse to which such institutions are liable.(i) We have seen an universal emulation who best should understand, or most faithfully pursue, the designs of our generous patron: and with pleasure we recollect, that those who are most distinguished **30]by their quality, their fortune, their station, their learning, or their experience, have appeared the most zealous to promote the success of Mr. Viner’s establishment.

Edition: current; Page: [30]

The advantages that might result to the science of the law itself, when a little more attended to in these seats of knowledge, perhaps, would be very considerable. The leisure and abilities of the learned in these retirements might either suggest expedients, or execute those dictated by wiser heads,(k) for improving its method, retrenching its superfluities, and reconciling the little contrarieties, which the practice of many centuries will necessarily create in any human system; a task which those who are deeply employed in business, and the more active scenes of the profession, can hardly condescend to engage in. And as to Edition: current; Page: [30] the interest, or (which is the same) the reputation of the universities themselves, I may venture to pronounce, that if ever this study should arrive to any tolerable perfection, either here or at Cambridge, the nobility and gentry of this kingdom would not shorten their residence upon this account, nor perhaps entertain a worse opinion of the benefits of academical education. Neither should it be considered as a matter of light importance, that while we thus extend the pomæria of university learning, and adopt a new tribe of citizens within these philosophical walls, we interest a very **31]numerous and very powerful profession in the preservation of our rights and revenues.10

For I think it past dispute that those gentlemen who resort to the inns of court with a view to pursue the profession, will find it expedient, whenever it is practicable, to lay the previous foundations of this, as well as every other science, in one of our learned universities. We may appeal to the experience of every sensible lawyer, whether any thing can be more hazardous or discouraging, than the usual entrance on the study of the law. A raw and unexperienced youth, in the most dangerous season of life, is transplanted on a sudden into the midst of allurements to pleasure, without any restraint or check but what his own prudence can suggest; with no public direction in what course to pursue his inquiries; no private assistance to remove the distresses and difficulties which will always embarrass a beginner. In this situation he is expected to sequester himself from the world, and, by a tedious lonely process, to extract the theory of law from a mass of undigested learning; or else, by an assiduous attendance on the courts, to pick up theory and practice together, sufficient to qualify him for the ordinary run of business. How little, therefore, is it to be wondered at, that we hear of so frequent miscarriages; that so many gentlemen of bright Edition: current; Page: [31] imaginations grow weary of so unpromising a search,(l) and addict themselves wholly to amusements, or other less innocent pursuits; and that so many persons of moderate capacity confuse themselves at first setting out, and continue ever dark and puzzled during the remainder of their lives.

The evident want of some assistance in the rudiments of legal knowledge has given birth to a practice, which, if ever it had grown to be general, must have proved of extremely *[*32pernicious consequence I mean the custom, by some so very warmly recommended, of dropping all liberal education, as of no use to students in the law, and placing them, in its stead, at the desk of some skilful attorney, in order to initiate them early in all the depths of practice, and render them more dexterous in the mechanical part of business. A few instances of particular persons, (men of excellent learning and unblemished integrity,) who, in spite of this method of education, have shone in the foremost ranks of the bar, afforded some kind of sanction to this illiberal path to the profession, and biassed many parents, of short-sighted judgment, in its favour; not considering that there are some geniuses formed to overcome all disadvantages, and that, from such particular instances, no general rules can be formed; nor observing that those very persons have frequently recommended, by the most forcible of all examples, the disposal of their own offspring, a very different foundation of legal studies, a regular academical education. Perhaps, too, in return, I could now direct their eyes to our principal seats of justice, and suggest a few lines in favour of university learning:(m)11 but in these, all who hear me, I know, have already prevented me.

Making, therefore, due allowance for one or two shining exceptions, experience may teach us to foretell that a lawyer, thus educated to the bar, in subservience to attorneys and solicitors,(n) will find he has begun at the wrong end. If practice be the whole he is taught, practice must also be the whole he will ever know: if he be not instructed in the elements and first principles upon which the rule of practice is founded, the least variation from established precedents will totally distract and bewilder him: ita lex scripta est(o) is the utmost his knowledge will arrive at; he must never aspire to form, and seldom expect to comprehend, any arguments drawn, a priori, from the spirit of the laws and the natural foundations of justice.

*[*33Nor is this all; for (as few persons of birth or fortune, or even of scholastic education, will submit to the drudgery of servitude, and the manual labour of copying the trash of an office,) should this infatuation prevail to any considerable degree, we must rarely expect to see a gentleman of distinction or learning at the bar. And what the consequence may be, to have the interpretation and enforcement of the laws (which include the entire disposal of our properties, liberties, and lives) fall wholly into the hands of obscure or illiterate men, is matter of very public concern.

The inconveniences here pointed out can never be effectually prevented, but by making academical education a previous step to the profession of the common law, and at the same time making the rudiments of the law a part of academical education. For sciences are of a sociable disposition, and flourish best in the neighbourhood of each other; nor is there any branch of learning but may be helped and improved by assistances drawn from other arts. If, therefore, the student in our laws hath formed both his sentiments and style by perusal and imitation of the purest classical writers, among whom the historians and orators Edition: current; Page: [33] will best deserve his regard; if he can reason with precision, and separate argument from fallacy, by the clear simple rules of pure unsophisticated logic; if he can fix his attention, and steadily pursue truth through any the most intricate deduction, by the use of mathematical demonstrations; if he has enlarged his conceptions of nature and art, by a view of the several branches of genuine experimental philosophy; if he has impressed on his mind the sound maxims of the law of nature, the best and most authentic foundation of human laws; if, lastly, he has contemplated those maxims reduced to a practical system in the laws of imperial Rome; if he has done this, or any part of it, (though all may be easily done under as able instructors as ever graced any seats of learning,) a student thus qualified may enter upon the study of the law with incredible advantage and reputation. And if, at the conclusion, or during **34]the acquisition of these accomplishments, he will afford himself here a year or two’s further leisure, to lay the foundation of his future labours in a solid scientifical method, without thirsting too early to attend that practice which it is impossible he should rightly comprehend, he will afterwards proceed with the greatest ease, and will unfold the most intricate points with an intuitive rapidity and clearness.

I shall not insist upon such motives as might be drawn from principles of economy, and are applicable to particulars only: I reason upon more general topics. And therefore to the qualities of the head, which I have just enumerated, I cannot but add those of the heart; affectionate loyalty to the king, a zeal for liberty and the constitution, a sense of real honour, and well-grounded principles of religion, as necessary to form a truly valuable English lawyer, a Hyde, a Hale, or a Talbot. And, whatever the ignorance of some, or unkindness of others, may have heretofore untruly suggested, experience will warrant us to affirm, that these endowments of loyalty and public spirit, of honour and religion, are nowhere to be found in more high perfection than in the two universities of this kingdom.

Before I conclude, it may perhaps be expected that I lay before you a short and general account of the method I propose to follow, in endeavouring to execute the trust you have been pleased to repose in my hands. And in these solemn lectures, which are ordained to be read at the entrance of every term, (more perhaps to do public honour to this laudable institution, than for the private instruction of individuals,)(p) I presume it will best answer the intent of our benefactor, and the expectation of this learned body, if I attempt to illustrate at times such detached titles of the law as are the most easy to be understood, and most capable of historical or critical ornament. But in reading the complete course, which is annually consigned to my care, a more regular method will be necessary; and, till a better is proposed, I **35]shall take the liberty to follow the same that I have already submitted to the public,(q) to fill up and finish that outline with propriety and correctness, and to render the whole intelligible to the uninformed minds of beginners, (whom we are too apt to suppose acquainted with terms and ideas, which they never had opportunity to learn,) this must be my ardent endeavour, though by no means my promise, to accomplish. You will permit me, however, very briefly to describe rather what I conceive an academical expounder of the laws should do, than what I have ever known to be done.

He should consider his course as a general map of the law, marking out the shape of the country, its connections and boundaries, its greater divisions and principal cities: it is not his business to describe minutely the subordinate limits, or to fix the longitude and latitude of every inconsiderable hamlet. His attention should be engaged, like that of the readers in Fortescue’s inns of chancery, “in tracing out the originals, and as it were the elements, of the law.” For if, as Justinian(r) has observed, the tender understanding of the student be loaded Edition: current; Page: [35] at the first with a multitude and variety of matter, it will either occasion him to desert his studies, or will carry him heavily through them, with much labour delay, and despondence. These originals should be traced to their fountains, as well as our distance will permit; to the customs of the Britons and Germans, as recorded by Cæsar and Tacitus; to the codes of the northern nations on the continent, and more especially to those of our own Saxon princes; to the rules of the Roman law either left here in the days of Papinian, or imported by Vacarius and his *[*36followers; but above all, to that inexhaustible reservoir of legal antiquities and learning, the feodal law, or, as Spelman(s) has entitled it, the law of nations in our western orb. These primary rules and fundamental principles should be weighed and compared with the precepts of the law of nature, and the practice of other countries; should be explained by reasons, illustrated by examples, and confirmed by undoubted authorities; their history should be deduced, their changes and revolutions observed, and it should be shown how far they are connected with, or have at any time been affected by, the civil transactions of the kingdom.

A plan of this nature, if executed with care and ability, cannot fail of administering a most useful and rational entertainment to students of all ranks and professions; and yet it must be confessed that the study of the laws is not merely a matter of amusement; for, as a very judicious writer(t) has observed upon a similar occasion, the learner “will be considerably disappointed, if he looks for entertainment without the expense of attention.” An attention, however, not greater than is usually bestowed in mastering the rudiments of other sciences, or sometimes pursuing a favourite recreation or exercise. And this attention is not equally necessary to be exerted by every student upon every occasion. Some branches of the law, as the formal process of civil suits, and the subtle distinctions incident to landed property, which are the most difficult to be thoroughly understood, are the least worth the pains of understanding, except to such gentlemen as intend to pursue the profession. To others I may venture to apply, with a slight alteration, the words of Sir John Fortescue(u) when first his royal pupil determines to engage in this study: “It will not be necessary for a gentleman, as such, to examine with a close application the critical niceties of the law. It will fully be sufficient, and he may well enough be denominated a lawyer, if under the instruction of a master he traces up the principles and grounds of the *[*37law, even to their original elements. Therefore, in a very short period, and with very little labour, he may be sufficiently informed in the laws of his country, if he will but apply his mind in good earnest to receive and apprehend them. For, though such knowledge as is necessary for a judge is hardly to be acquired by the lucubrations of twenty years, yet, with a genius of tolerable perspicacity, that knowledge which is fit for a person of birth or condition may be learned in a single year, without neglecting his other improvements.”

To the few therefore (the very few I am persuaded) that entertain such unworthy notions of an university, as to suppose it intended for mere dissipation of thought; to such as mean only to while away the awkward interval from childhood to twenty-one, between the restraints of the school and the licentiousness of politer life, in a calm middle state of mental and of moral inactivity; to these Mr. Viner gives no invitation to an entertainment which they never can relish. But to the long and illustrious train of noble and ingenuous youth, who are not more distinguished among us by their birth and possessions, than by the regularity of their conduct and their thirst after useful knowledge, to these our benefactor has consecrated the fruits of a long and laborious life, worn out in the duties of his calling; and will joyfully reflect (if such reflections can be now the employment of his thoughts) that he could not more effectually have benefited posterity, or contributed to the service of the public, than by founding an institution which may instruct the rising generation in the wisdom of our civil polity, Edition: current; Page: [37] and inspire them with a desire to be still better acquainted with the laws and constitution of their country.12

Edition: current; Page: [37] Edition: current; Page: [38]


Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action; and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.

Thus, when the Supreme Being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be. When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion, to which all movable bodies must conform. And, to descend from the greatest operations to the smallest, when a workman forms a clock, or other piece of mechanism, he establishes, at his own pleasure, certain arbitrary laws for its direction,—as that the hand shall describe a given space in a given time, to which law as long as the work conforms, so long it continues in perfection, and answers the end of its formation.

If we farther advance, from mere inactive matter to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws, more numerous indeed, but equally fixed and invariable. The whole progress of plants, from the seed to the root, and from thence to the seed again; the method of animal **39]nutrition, digestion, secretion, and all other branches of vital economy; are not left to chance, or the will of the creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the great Creator.

Edition: current; Page: [39]

This, then, is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being; and, in those creatures that have neither the power to think, nor to will, such laws must be invariably obeyed, so long as the creature itself subsists, for its existence depends on that obedience. But laws, in their more confined sense, and in which it is our present business to consider them, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct; that is, the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free-will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behaviour.1

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. A being, independent of any other, has no rule to pursue, but such as he prescribes to himself; but a state of dependence will inevitably oblige the inferior to take the will of him on whom he depends as the rule of his conduct; not, indeed, in every particular, but in all those points wherein his dependence consists. This principle, therefore, has Edition: current; Page: [39] more or less extent and effect, in proportion as the superiority of the one and the dependence of the other is greater or less, absolute or limited. And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should, in all points, conform to his Maker’s will.

This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion, so, when he created man, and endued him with free-will to conduct himself in all parts of **40]life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that free-will is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.2

Considering the Creator only as a being of infinite power, he was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws he pleased to his creature, man, however unjust or severe. But, as he is also a being of infinite wisdom, he has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator himself, in all his dispensations, conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to every one his due; to which three general precepts Justinian(a) has reduced the whole doctrine of law.3

Edition: current; Page: [40]

But if the discovery of these first principles of the law of nature depended only upon the due exertion of right reason, and could not otherwise be obtained than by a chain of metaphysical disquisitions, mankind would have wanted some inducement to have quickened their inquiries, and the greater part of the world would have rested content in mental indolence, and ignorance its inseparable companion. As, therefore, the Creator is a being not only of infinite power, and wisdom, but also of infinite goodness, he has been pleased so to contrive the constitution and frame of humanity, that we should want no other prompter to inquire after and pursue the rule of right, but only our own self-love, that universal principle of action. For he has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter. In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity, he *[*41has not perplexed the law of nature with a multitude of abstracted rules and precepts, referring merely to the fitness or unfitness of things, as some have vainly surmised, but has graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, “that man should pursue his own true and substantial happiness.” This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law; for the several articles into which it is branched in our systems, amount to no more than demonstrating that this or that action tends to man’s real happiness, and therefore very justly concluding that the performance of it is a part of the law of nature; or, on the other hand, that this or that action is destructive of man’s real happiness, and therefore that the law of nature forbids it.4

Edition: current; Page: [41]

This law of nature, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.5

But, in order to apply this to the particular exigencies of each individual, it is still necessary to have recourse to reason, whose office it is to discover, as was before observed, what the law of nature directs in every circumstance of life, by considering what method will tend the most effectually to our own substantial happiness. And if our reason were always, as in our first ancestor before his transgression, clear and perfect, unruffled by passions, unclouded by prejudice, unimpaired by disease or intemperance, the task would be pleasant and easy; we should need no other guide but this. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.

This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine Providence, which, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, **42]hath been pleased, at sundry times and in divers manners, to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature, as they tend in all their consequences to man’s felicity. But we are not from thence to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state; since we find that, until they were revealed, they were hid from the wisdom of ages. As then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature, so their intrinsic obligation is of equal strength and perpetuity. Yet undoubtedly the revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system which is framed by ethical Edition: current; Page: [42] writers, and denominated the natural law; because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together.

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these. There are, it is true, a great number of indifferent points in which both the divine law and the natural leave a man at his own liberty, but which are found necessary, for the benefit of society, to be restrained within certain limits. And herein it is that human laws have their greatest force and efficacy; for, with regard to such points as are not indifferent, human laws are only declaratory of, and act in subordination to, the former. To instance in the case of murder: this is expressly forbidden by the divine, and demonstrably by the natural law; and, from these prohibitions, arises the true unlawfulness of this crime. Those human laws that annex a punishment to it do not at all increase its moral guilt, or *[*43superadd any fresh obligation, in foro conscientiæ, to abstain from its perpetration. Nay, if any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it, we are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine. But, with regard to matters that are in themselves indifferent, and are not commanded or forbidden by those superior laws,—such, for instance, as exporting of wool into foreign countries,—here the inferior legislature has scope and opportunity to interpose, and to make that action unlawful which before was not so.

If man were to live in a state of nature, unconnected with other individuals, there would be no occasion for any other laws than the law of nature, and the law of God. Neither could any other law possibly exist: for a law always supposes some superior who is to make it; and, in a state of nature, we are all equal, without any other superior but Him who is the author of our being. But man was formed for society; and, as is demonstrated by the writers on this subject,(b) is neither capable of living alone, nor indeed has the courage to do it. However, as it is impossible for the whole race of mankind to be united in one great society, they must necessarily divide into many, and form separate states, commonwealths, and nations, entirely independent of each other, and yet liable to a mutual intercourse. Hence arises a third kind of law to regulate this mutual intercourse, called “the law of nations,” which, as none of these states will acknowledge a superiority in the other, cannot be dictated by any, but depends entirely upon the rules of natural law, or upon mutual compacts, treaties, leagues, and agreements between these several communities: in the construction also of which compacts we have no other rule to resort to, but the law of nature; being the only one to which all the communities are equally subject; and therefore the civil law(c) very justly observes, that quod naturalis ratio inter omnes homines constituit, vocatur jus gentium.7

Edition: current; Page: [14]

**44]Thus much I thought it necessary to premise concerning the law of nature, the revealed law, and the law of nations, before I proceeded to treat more fully of the principal subject of this section, municipal or civil law; that is, the rule by which particular districts; communities, or nations, are governed; being thus defined by Justinian,(d)jus civile est quod quisque sibi populus constituit.” I call it municipal law, in compliance with common speech; for, though strictly that expression denotes the particular customs of one single municipium or free town, yet it may with sufficient propriety be applied to any one state or nation which is governed by the same laws and customs.

Municipal law, thus understood, is properly defined to be “a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong.”8 Let us endeavour to explain its several properties, Edition: current; Page: [44] as they arise out of this definition. And, first, it is a rute: not a transient sudden order from a superior to or concerning a particular person; but something permanent, uniform, and universal. Therefore a particular act of the legislature to confiscate the goods of Titius, or to attaint him of high treason, does not enter into the idea of a municipal law: for the operation of this act is spent upon Titius only, and has no relation to the community in general; it is rather a sentence than a law.9 But an act to declare that the crime of which Titius is accused shall be deemed high treason: this has permanency, uniformity, and universality, and therefore is properly a rule. It is also called a rule, to distinguish it from advice or counsel, which we are at liberty to follow or not, as we see proper, and to judge upon the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the thing advised: whereas our obedience to the law depends not upon our approbation, but upon the maker’s will. Counsel is only matter of persuasion, law is matter of injunction; counsel acts only upon the willing, law upon the unwilling also.

*[*45It is also called a rule, to distinguish it from a compact or agreement; for a compact is a promise proceeding from us, law is a command directed to us. The language of a compact is, “I will, or will not, do this;” that of a law is, “thou shalt, or shalt not, do it.” It is true there is an obligation which a compact carries with it, equal in point of conscience to that of a law; but then the original of the obligation is different. In compacts we ourselves determine and promise what shall be done, before we are obliged to do it; in laws, we are obliged to act without ourselves determining or promising any thing at all. Upon these accounts law is defined to be “a rule.

Municipal law is also “a rule of civil conduct.” This distinguishes municipal law from the natural, or revealed; the former of which is the rule of moral conduct, and the latter not only the rule of moral conduct, but also the rule of faith. These regard man as a creature, and point out his duty to God, to himself, and to his neighbour, considered in the light of an individual. But municipal or civil law regards him also as a citizen, and bound to other duties towards his neighbour than those of mere nature and religion: duties, which he has engaged in by enjoying the benefits of the common union; and which amount to no more than that he do contribute, on his part, to the subsistence and peace of the society.

It is likewise “a rule prescribed.” Because a bare resolution, confined in the breast of the legislator, without manifesting itself by some external sign, can never be properly a law. It is requisite that this resolution be notified to the people who are to obey it. But the manner in which this notification is to be made, is matter of very great indifference. It may be notified by universal tradition and long practice, which supposes a previous publication, and is the case of the common law of England. It may be notified viva voce, by officers appointed for that purpose, as is done with regard to proclamations, and such Edition: current; Page: [46] acts of parliament as are appointed**46] to be publicly read in churches and other assemblies. It may lastly be notified by writing, printing, or the like; which is the general course taken with all our acts of parliament. Yet, whatever way is made use of, it is incumbent on the promulgators to do it in the most public and perspicuous manner; not like Caligula, who (according to Dio Cassius) wrote his laws in a very small character, and hung them upon high pillars, the more effectually to ensnare the people. There is still a more unreasonable method than this, which is called making of laws ex post facto; when after an action (indifferent in itself) is committed, the legislator then for the first time declares it to have been a crime, and inflicts a punishment upon the person who has committed it. Here it is impossible that the party could foresee that an action, innocent when it was done, should be afterwards converted to guilt by a subsequent law; he had therefore no cause to abstain from it; and all punishment for not abstaining must of consequence be cruel and unjust.(e) All laws should be therefore made to commence in futuro, and be notified before their commencement; which is implied in the term “prescribed.” But when this rule is in the usual manner notified, or prescribed, it is then the subject’s business to be thoroughly acquainted therewith; for if ignorance, of what he might know were admitted as a legitimate excuse, the laws would be of no effect, but might always be eluded with impunity.10

Edition: current; Page: [46]

But farther: municipal law is “a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state.” For legislature, as was before observed, is the greatest act of superiority that can be exercised by one being over another. Wherefore it is requisite to the very essence of a law, that it be made by the supreme power Sovereignty and legislature are indeed convertible terms; one cannot subsist without the other.

*[*47This will naturally lead us into a short inquiry concerning the nature of society and civil government; and the natural, inherent right that belongs to the sovereignty of a state, wherever that sovereignty be lodged, of making and enforcing laws.

The only true and natural foundations of society are the wants and the fears of individuals. Not that we can believe, with some theoretical writers, that there ever was a time when there was no such thing as society either natural or civil; and that, from the impulse of reason, and through a sense of their wants and weaknesses, individuals met together in a large plain, entered into an original contract, and chose the tallest man present to be their governor. This notion, of an actually existing unconnected state of nature, is too wild to be seriously admitted: and besides it is plainly contradictory to the revealed accounts of the primitive origin of mankind, and their preservation two thousand years afterwards; both which were effected by the means of single families These formed the first natural society, among themselves; which, every day extending its limits, laid the first though imperfect rudiments of civil or political society: and when it grew too large to subsist with convenience in that pastoral state, wherein the patriarchs appear to have lived, it necessarily subdivided itself by various migrations into more. Afterwards, as agriculture increased, which employs and can maintain a much greater number of hands, migrations became less frequent: and various tribes, which had formerly separated, reunited again; sometimes by compulsion and conquest, sometimes by accident, and sometimes perhaps by compact. But though society had not its formal beginning from any convention of individuals, actuated by their wants and their fears; yet it is the sense of their weakness and imperfection that keeps mankind together; that demonstrates the necessity of this union; and that therefore is the solid and natural foundation, as well as the cement of civil society. And this is what we mean by the original contract of society; which, though perhaps in no instance it has ever been formally expressed at the first institution of a state, yet in nature and reason must always be understood and implied, *[*48in the very act of associating together: namely, that the whole should protect all its parts, and that every part should pay obedience to the will of the whole, or, in other words, that the community should guard the rights of each individual member, and that (in return for this protection) each individual should submit to the laws of the community; without which submission of all it was impossible that protection should be certainly extended to any.11

Edition: current; Page: [48]

For when civil society is once formed, government at the same time results of course, as necessary to preserve and to keep that society in order. Unless some superior be constituted, whose commands and decisions all the members are bound to obey, they would still remain as in a state of nature, without any judge upon earth to define their several rights, and redress their several wrongs. But, as all the members which compose this society were naturally equal, it may be asked, in whose hands are the reins of government to be intrusted? To this the general answer is easy; but the application of it to particular cases has occasioned one half of those mischiefs, which are apt to proceed from misguided political zeal. In general, all mankind will agree that government should be reposed in such persons, in whom those qualities are most likely to be found, the perfection of which is among the attributes of Him who is emphatically styled the Supreme Being; the three grand requisites, I mean, of wisdom, of goodness, and of power: wisdom, to discern the real interest of the community; goodness, to endeavour always to pursue that real interest; and strength, or power, to carry this knowledge and intention into action. These are the natural foundations of sovereignty, and these are the requisites that ought to be found in every well constituted frame of government.

Edition: current; Page: [48]

How the several forms of government we now see in the world at first actually began, is matter of great uncertainty, and has occasioned infinite disputes. It is not my business or intention to enter into any of them. However they began, or by *[*49what right soever they subsist, there is and must be in all of them a supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority, in which the jura summi imperii, or the rights of sovereignty, reside. And this authority is placed in those hands, wherein (according to the opinion of the founders of such respective states, either expressly given, or collected from their tacit appro bation) the qualities requisite for supremacy, wisdom, goodness, and power, are the most likely to be found.

The political writers of antiquity will not allow more than three regular forms of government: the first, when the sovereign power is lodged in an aggregate assembly, consisting of all the free members of a community, which is called a democracy; the second, when it is lodged in a council, composed of select members, and then it is styled an aristocracy; the last, when it is intrusted in the hands of a single person, and then it takes the name of a monarchy. All other species of government, they say, are either corruptions of, or reducible to, these three.

By the sovereign power, as was before observed, is meant the making of laws, for wherever that power resides, all others must conform to and be directed by it, whatever appearance the outward form and administration of the government may put on. For it is at any time in the option of the legislature to alter that form and administration by a new edict or rule, and to put the execution of the laws into whatever hands it pleases; by constituting one, or a few, or many executive magistrates: and all the other powers of the state must obey the Edition: current; Page: [49] legislative power in the discharge of their several functions, or else the constitution is at an end.12

Edition: current; Page: [49]

In a democracy, where the right of making laws resides in the people at large, public virtue, or goodness of intention, is more likely to be found, than either of the other qualities of government. Popular assemblies are frequently foolish in their contrivance, and weak in their execution; but generally mean to do the thing that is right and just, and have always a degree of patriotism or public spirit. In *[*50aristocracies there is more wisdom to be found, than in the other frames of government; being composed, or intended to be composed, of the most experienced citizens: but there is less honesty than in a republic, and less strength than in a monarchy. A monarchy is indeed the most powerful of any; for, by the entire conjunction of the legislative and executive powers, all the sinews of government are knitted together, and united in the hand of the prince: but then there is imminent danger of his employing that strength to improvident or oppressive purposes.

Thus these three species of government have, all of them, their several perfections and imperfections. Democracies are usually the best calculated to direct the end of a law; aristocracies to invent the means by which that end shall be obtained; and monarchies to carry these means into execution. And the ancients, as was observed, had in general no idea of any other permanent form Edition: current; Page: [50] of government but these three: for though Cicero(f) declares himself of opinion “esse optime constitutam rempublicam quæ ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo, et populari, sit modice confusa;” yet Tacitus treats this notion of a mixed government, formed out of them all, and partaking of the advantages of each, as a visionary whim, and one that, if effected, could never be lasting or secure.(g)

But, happily for us of this island, the British constitution has long remained, and I trust will long continue, a standing exception to the truth of this observation. For, as with us the executive power of the laws is lodged in a single person, they have all the advantages of strength and despatch, that are to be found in the most absolute monarchy: and, as the legislature of the kingdom is intrusted to three distinct powers, entirely independent of each other; first, the king; secondly, the lords spiritual and temporal, which is an aristocratical assemblage of persons selected for their piety, **51]their birth, their wisdom, their valour, or their property; and, thirdly, the House of Commons, freely chosen by the people from among themselves, which makes it a kind of democracy: as this aggregate body, actuated by different springs, and attentive to different interests, composes the British parliament, and has the supreme disposal of every thing; there can no inconvenience be attempted by either of the three branches, but will be withstood by one of the other two; each branch being armed with a negative power, sufficient to repel any innovation which it shall think inexpedient or dangerous.

Here then is lodged the sovereignty of the British constitution; and lodged as beneficially as is possible for society. For in no other shape could we be so certain of finding the three great qualities of government so well and so happily united. If the supreme power were lodged in any one of the three branches separately, we must be exposed to the inconveniences of either absolute monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy; and so want two of the three principal ingredients of good polity, either virtue, wisdom, or power. If it were lodged in any two of the branches; for instance, in the king and House of Lords, our laws might be providently made and well executed, but they might not always have the good of the people in view: if lodged in the king and commons, we should want that circumspection and mediatory caution, which the wisdom of the peers is to afford: if the supreme rights of legislature were lodged in the two houses only, and the king had no negative upon their proceedings, they might be tempted to encroach upon the royal prerogative, or perhaps to abolish the kingly office, and thereby weaken (if not totally destroy) the strength of the executive power. But the constitutional government of this island is so admirably tempered and compounded, that nothing can endanger or hurt it, but destroying the equilibrium of power between one branch of the legislature and the rest. For if ever it should happen that the independence of any one of the three should be lost, or that it should become subservient to the views of either of the other two, there would **52]soon be an end of our constitution.13 The legislature would be changed from that, which (upon the supposition of an original contract, either actual or implied) is presumed to have been originally set up by the general consent and fundamental act of the society: and such a change, however effected, is according to Mr. Locke,(h) (who perhaps carries his theory too far,) at once an entire dissolution of the bands of government; and the people are thereby reduced to Edition: current; Page: [52] a state of anarchy, with liberty to constitute to themselves a new legislative power.

Having thus cursorily considered the three usual species of government, and our own singular constitution, selected and compounded from them all, I proceed to observe, that, as the power of making laws constitutes the supreme authority, so wherever the supreme authority in any state resides, it is the right of that authority to make laws; that is, in the words of our definition, to prescribe the rule of civil action. And this may be discovered from the very end and institution of civil states. For a state is a collective body, composed of a multitude of individuals, united for their safety and convenience, and intending to act together as one man. If it therefore is to act as one man, it ought to act by one uniform will. But, inasmuch as political communities are made up of many natural persons, each of whom has his particular will and inclination, these several wills cannot by any natural union be joined together, or tempered and disposed into a lasting harmony, so as to constitute and produce that one uniform will of the whole. It can therefore be no otherwise produced than by a political union; by the consent of all persons to submit their own private wills to the will of one man, or of one or more assemblies of men, to whom the supreme authority is intrusted: and this will of that one man, or assemblage of men, is in different states, according to their different constitutions, understood to be law.

Thus far as to the right of the supreme power to make laws; but farther, it is its duty likewise. For since the *[*53respective members are bound to conform themselves to the will of the state, it is expedient that they receive directions from the state declaratory of that its will. But, as it is impossible, in so great a multitude, to give injunctions to every particular man, relative to each particular action, it is therefore incumbent on the state to establish general rules, for the perpetual information and direction of all persons in all points, whether of positive or negative duty. And this, in order that every man may know what to look upon as his own, what as another’s; what absolute and what relative duties are required at his hands; what is to be esteemed honest, dishonest, or indifferent; what degree every man retains of his natural liberty; what he has given up as the price of the benefits of society; and after what manner each person is to moderate the use and exercise of those rights which the state assigns him, in order to promote and secure the public tranquillity.

From what has been advanced, the truth of the former branch of our definition, is (I trust) sufficiently evident; that “municipal law is a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state.” I proceed now to the latter branch of it; that it is a rule so prescribed, “commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong.

Now in order to do this completely, it is first of all necessary that the boundaries of right and wrong be established and ascertained by law. And when this is once done, it will follow of course that it is likewise the business of the law, considered as a rule of civil conduct, to enforce these rights, and to restrain or redress these wrongs. It remains therefore only to consider in what manner the law is said to ascertain the boundaries of right and wrong; and the methods which it takes to command the one and prohibit the other.

For this purpose every law may be said to consist of several parts: one, declaratory; whereby the rights to be observed, and the wrongs to be eschewed, are clearly defined and *[*54laid down: another, directory; whereby the subject is instructed and enjoined to observe those rights, and to abstain from the commission of those wrongs: a third, remedial, whereby a method is pointed out to recover a man’s private rights, or redress his private wrongs: to which may be added a fourth, usually termed the sanction, or vindicatory branch of the law; whereby it is signified what evil or penalty shall be incurred by such as commit any public wrongs, and transgress or neglect their duty.

With regard to the first of these, the declaratory part of the municipal law, this depends not so much upon the law of revelation or of nature, as upon the wisdom and will of the legislator. This doctrine, which before was slightly touched, deserves a more particular explication. Those rights then which God Edition: current; Page: [54] and nature have established, and are therefore called natural rights, such as are life and liberty, need not the aid of human laws to be more effectually invested in every man than they are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable. On the contrary, no human legislature has power to abridge or destroy them, unless the owner shall himself commit some act that amounts to a forfeiture. Neither do divine or natural duties (such as, for instance, the worship of God, the maintenance of children, and the like) receive any stronger sanction from being also declared to be duties by the law of the land. The case is the same as to crimes and misdemesnors, that are forbidden by the superior laws, and therefore styled mala in se, such as murder, theft, and perjury; which contract no additional turpitude from being declared unlawful by the inferior legislature. For that legislature in all these cases acts only, as was before observed, in subordination to the great law-giver, transcribing and publishing his precepts. So that, upon the whole, the declaratory part of the municipal law has no force or operation at all, with regard to actions that are naturally and intrinsically right or wrong.

**55]But, with regard to things in themselves indifferent, the case is entirely altered. These become either right or wrong, just or unjust, duties or misdemesnors, according as the municipal legislator sees proper, for promoting the welfare of the society, and more effectually carrying on the purposes of civil life. Thus our own common law has declared, that the goods of the wife do instantly upon marriage become the property and right of the husband; and our statute law has declared all monopolies a public offence: yet that right, and this offence, have no foundation in nature, but are merely created by the law, for the purposes of civil society. And sometimes, where the thing itself has its rise from the law of nature, the particular circumstances and mode of doing it become right or wrong, as the law of the land shall direct. Thus, for instance, in civil duties; obedience to superiors is the doctrine of revealed as well as natural religion: but who those superiors shall be, and in what circumstances or to what degrees they shall be obeyed, it is the province of human laws to determine. And so, as to injuries or crimes, it must be left to our own legislature to decide, in what cases the seizing another’s cattle shall amount to a trespass or a theft; and where it shall be a justifiable action, as when a landlord takes them by way of distress for rent.

Thus much for the declaratory part of the municipal law: and the directory stands much upon the same footing; for this virtually includes the former, the declaration being usually collected from the direction. The law that says, “thou shalt not steal,” implies a declaration that stealing is a crime. And we have seen(i) that, in things naturally indifferent, the very essence of right and wrong depends upon the direction of the laws to do or to omit them.

The remedial part of a law is so necessary a consequence of the former two, that laws must be very vague and imperfect **56]without it. For in vain would rights be declared, in vain directed to be observed, if there were no method of recovering and asserting these rights, when wrongfully withheld or invaded. This is what we mean properly, when we speak of the protection of the law. When, for instance, the declaratory part of the law has said, “that the field or inheritance, which belonged to Titius’s father, is vested by his death in Titius;” and the directory part has “forbidden any one to enter on another’s property, without the leave of the owner:” if Gaius after this will presume to take possession of the land, the remedial part of the law will then interpose its office; will make Gaius restore the possession to Titius, and also pay him damages for the invasion.

With regard to the sanction of laws, or the evil that may attend the breach of public duties, it is observed, that human legislators have for the most part chosen to make the sanction of their laws rather vindicatory than remuneratory, or to consist rather in punishments, than in actual particular rewards. Because, in the first place, the quiet enjoyment and protection of all our civil rights and liberties, which are the sure and general consequence of obedience to the municipal Edition: current; Page: [56] law, are in themselves the best and most valuable of all rewards. Because also, were the exercise of every virtue to be enforced by the proposal of particular rewards, it were impossible for any state to furnish stock enough for so profuse a bounty. And farther, because the dread of evil is a much more forcible principle of human actions than the prospect of good.(k) For which reasons, though a prudent bestowing of rewards is sometimes of exquisite use, yet we find that those civil laws, which enforce and enjoin our duty, do seldom, if ever, propose any privilege or gift to such as obey the law; but do constantly come armed with a penalty denounced against transgressors, either expressly defining the nature and quantity of the punishment, or else leaving it to the discretion of the judges, and those who are intrusted with the care of putting the laws in execution.

*[*57Of all the parts of a law the most effectual is the vindicatory. For it is but lost labour to say, “do this, or avoid that,” unless we also declare, “this shall be the consequence of your non-compliance.” We must therefore observe, that the main strength and force of a law consists in the penalty annexed to it. Herein is to be found the principal obligation of human laws.

Legislators and their laws are said to compel and oblige: not that by any natural violence they so constrain a man, as to render it impossible for him to act otherwise than as they direct, which is the strict sense of obligation; but because, by declaring and exhibiting a penalty against offenders, they bring it to pass that no man can easily choose to transgress the law; since, by reason of the impending correction, compliance is in a high degree preferable to disobedience. And, even where rewards are proposed as well as punishments threatened, the obligation of the law seems chiefly to consist in the penalty; for rewards, in their nature, can only persuade and allure; nothing is compulsory but punishment.

It is true, it hath been holden, and very justly, by the principal of our ethical writers, that human laws are binding upon men’s consciences. But if that were the only or most forcible obligation, the good only would regard the laws, and the bad would set them at defiance. And, true as this principle is, it must still be understood with some restriction. It holds, I apprehend, as to rights; and that, when the law has determined the field to belong to Titius, it is matter of conscience no longer to withhold or to invade it. So also in regard to natural duties, and such offences as are mala in se: here we are bound in conscience; because we are bound by superior laws, before those human laws were in being, to perform the one and abstain from the other. But in relation to those laws which enjoin only positive duties, and forbid only such things as are not mala in se, but mala prohibita merely, without any intermixture of moral guilt, *[*58annexing a penalty to non-compliance,(l) here I apprehend conscience is no farther concerned, than by directing a submission to the penalty, in case of our breach of those laws: for otherwise the multitude of penal laws in a state would not only be looked upon as an impolitic, but would also be a very wicked thing; if every such law were a snare for the conscience of the subject. But in these cases the alternative is offered to every man; “either abstain from this, or submit to such a penalty:” and his conscience will be clear, whichever side of the alternative he thinks proper to embrace. Thus, by the statutes for preserving the game, a penalty is denounced against every unqualified person that kills a hare, and against every person who possesses a partridge in August. And so too, by other statutes, pecuniary penalties are inflicted for exercising trades without serving an apprenticeship thereto,14 for not burying the dead in woollen, for not performing the statute-work on the public roads, and for innumerable other positive misdemesnors. Now these prohibitory laws do not make the transgression a moral offence, or sin: the only obligation in conscience is to submit to the penalty, if levied. It must however be observed, that we are here Edition: current; Page: [58] speaking of laws that are simply and purely penal, where the thing forbidden or enjoined is wholly a matter of indifference, and where the penalty inflicted is an adequate compensation for the civil inconvenience supposed to arise from the offence.15 But where disobedience to the law involves in it also any degree of public mischief or private injury, there it falls within our former distinction, and is also an offence against conscience.(m)

I have now gone through the definition laid down of a municipal law; and Edition: current; Page: [58] have shown that it is “a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong;” in the explication of which I have endeavoured to interweave a few useful principles concerning the nature of civil government, and the obligation of human laws Before I conclude this section, it may not be amiss to add a few observations concerning the interpretation of laws.

When any doubt arose upon the construction of the Roman laws, the usage was to state the case to the emperor in writing, and take his opinion upon it. This was certainly a bad method of interpretation. To interrogate the legislature to decide particular disputes is not only endless, but affords great room for partiality and oppression. The answers of the emperor were called his rescripts, and these had in succeeding cases the force of perpetual laws; though they ought to be carefully distinguished by every rational civilian from those general constitutions which had only the nature of things for their guide. The emperor Macrinus, as his historian Capitolinus informs us, had once resolved to *[*59abolish these rescripts, and retain only the general edicts: he could not bear that the hasty and crude answers of such princes as Commodus and Caracalla should be reverenced as laws. But Justinian thought otherwise,(n) and he has preserved them all. In like manner the canon laws, or decretal epistles of the popes, are all of them rescripts in the strictest sense. Contrary to all true forms of reasoning, they argue from particulars to generals.

The fairest and most rational method to interpret the will of the legislator is by exploring his intentions at the time when the law was made, by signs the most natural and probable. And these signs are either the words, the context, the subject matter, the effects and consequence, or the spirit and reason of the law. Let us take a short view of them all.

1. Words are generally to be understood in their usual and most known signification; not so much regarding the propriety of grammar, as their general and popular use. Thus the law mentioned by Puffendorf(o) which forbade a layman to lay hands on a priest, was adjudged to extend to him who had hurt a priest with a weapon. Again, terms of art, or technical terms, must be taken according Edition: current; Page: [59] to the acceptation of the learned in each art, trade, and science. So in the act of settlement, where the crown of England is limited “to the princess Sophia, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants,” it becomes necessary to call in the assistance of lawyers to ascertain the precise idea of the words “heirs of her body,” which, in a legal sense, comprise only certain of her lineal descendants.16

**60]2. If words happen to be still dubious, we may establish their meaning from the context, with which it may be of singular use to compare a word, or a sentence, whenever they are ambiguous, equivocal, or intricate. Thus the proeme, or preamble, is often called in to help the construction of an act of parliament.17 Of the same nature and use is the comparison of a law with other laws, that are made by the same legislator, that have some affinity with the subject, or that expressly relate to the same point.18 Thus, when the law Edition: current; Page: [60] of England declares murder to be felony without benefit of clergy, we must resort to the same law of England to learn what the benefit of clergy is; and, when the common law censures simoniacal contracts, it affords great light to the subject to consider what the canon law has adjudged to be simony.19

3. As to the subject matter, words are always to be understood as having a regard thereto, for that is always supposed to be in the eye of the legislator, and all his expressions directed to that end. Thus, when a law of our Edward III. forbids all ecclesiastical persons to purchase provisions at Rome, it might seem to prohibit the buying of grain and other victual; but, when we consider that the statute was made to repress the usurpations of the papal see, and that the nominations to benefices by the pope were called provisions, we shall see that the restraint is intended to be laid upon such provisions only.

4. As to the effects and consequence, the rule is, that where words bear either none, or a very absurd signification, if literally understood, we must a little deviate from the received sense of them. Therefore the Bolognian law, mentioned by Puffendorf,(p) which enacted “that whoever drew blood in the streets should be punished with the utmost severity,” was held after long debate not to extend to the surgeon who opened the vein of a person that fell down in the street with a fit.

*[*615. But, lastly, the most universal and effectual way of discovering the true meaning of a law, when the words are dubious, is by considering the reason and spirit of it; or the cause which moved the legislator to enact it.20 For when this reason ceases, the law itself ought likewise to cease with it. An instance of this is given in a case put by Cicero, or whoever was the author of the treatise inscribed to Herennius.(q) There was a law, that those who in a storm forsook the ship should forfeit all property therein; and that the ship and lading should belong entirely to those who stayed in it. In a dangerous tempest all the mariners forsook the ship, except only one sick passenger, who, by reason Edition: current; Page: [61] of his disease, was unable to get out and escape. By chance the ship came safe to port. The sick man kept possession, and claimed the benefit of the law. Now here all the learned agree, that the sick man is not within the reason of the law; for the reason of making it was, to give encouragement to such as should venture their lives to save the vessel; but this is a merit which he could never pretend to, who neither stayed in the ship upon that account, nor contributed any thing to its preservation.21

From this method of interpreting laws by the reason of them, arises what we call equity, which is thus defined by Grotius:(r) “the correction of that wherein the law (by reason of its universality) is deficient.” For, since in laws all cases cannot be foreseen or expressed, it is necessary that, when the general decrees of the law come to be applied to particular cases, there should be somewhere a power vested of defining those circumstances, which (had they been foreseen) the legislator himself would have expressed. And these are the cases which, according to Grotius, “lex non exacte definit, sed arbitrio boni viri permittit.22

Equity thus depending, essentially, upon the particular circumstances of each individual case, there can be no established **62]rules and fixed precepts of equity laid down, without destroying its very essence, and reducing it to a positive law. And, on the other hand, the liberty of considering all cases in an equitable light must not be indulged too far, lest thereby we destroy all law, and leave the decision of every question entirely in the breast of the judge. And law, without equity, though hard and disagreeable, is much more desirable for the public good than equity without law; which would make every judge a legislator, and introduce most infinite confusion; as there would then be almost as many different rules of action laid down in our courts, as there are differences of capacity and sentiment in the human mind.

Edition: current; Page: [63]


The municipal law of England, or the rule of civil conduct prescribed to the inhabitants of this kingdom, may with sufficient propriety be divided into two kinds: the lex non scripta, the unwritten, or common law; and the lex scripta, the written, or statute law.

The lex non scripta, or unwritten law, includes not only general customs, on the common law properly so called; but also the particular customs of certain parts of the kingdom; and likewise those particular laws, that are by custom observed only in certain courts and jurisdictions.

When I call these parts of our law leges non scriptæ, I would not be understood as if all those laws were at present merely oral, or communicated from the former ages to the present solely by word of mouth. It is true indeed that, in the profound ignorance of letters, which formerly overspread the whole western world, all laws were entirely traditional, for this plain reason, because the nations among which they prevailed had but little idea of writing. Thus the British as well as the Gallic Druids committed all their laws as well as learning to memory;(a) and it is said of the primitive Saxons here, as well as their brethren on the continent, that leges sola memoria et usu retinebant.(b) But, with us at present, the monuments and evidences of our legal customs are contained in the records of the several courts of justice in books of *[*64reports and judicial decisions, and in the treatises of learned sages of the profession, preserved and handed down to us from the times of highest antiquity. However, I therefore style these parts of our law leges non scriptæ, because their original institution and authority are not set down in writing, as acts of parliament are, but they receive their binding power, and the force of laws, by long and immemorial usage, and by their universal reception throughout the kingdom. In like manner as Aulus Gellius defines the jus non scriptum to be that, which is “tacito et illiterato hominum consensu et moribus expressum.

Our ancient lawyers, and particularly Fortescue,(c) insist with abundance of warmth that these customs are as old as the primitive Britons, and continued down through the several mutations of government and inhabitants, to the present time, unchanged and unadulterated. This may be the case as to some; but in general, as Mr. Selden in his notes observes, this assertion must be understood with many grains of allowance; and ought only to signify, as the truth seems to be, that there never was any formal exchange of one system of laws for another; though doubtless, by the intermixture of adventitious nations, the Romans, the Picts, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans, they must have insensibly introduced and incorporated many of their own customs with those that were before established; thereby, in all probability, improving the texture and wisdom of the whole by the accumulated wisdom of divers particular countries. Our laws, saith Lord Bacon,(d) are mixed as our language; and, as our language is so much the richer, the laws are the more complete.

And indeed our antiquaries and early historians do all positively assure us, that our body of laws is of this compounded nature. For they tell us that in the time of Alfred the local customs of the several provinces of the kingdom were grown so various, that he found it expedient to compile his Dome-Book, or Liber Judicialis, for the general use of the whole kingdom. *[*65This book is said to have been extant so late as the reign of King Edward the Edition: current; Page: [65] Fourth, but is now unfortunately lost.1 It contained, we may probably suppose, the principal maxims of the common law, the penalties for misdemesnors, and the forms of judicial proceedings. Thus much may at least be collected from that injunction to observe it, which we find in the laws of king Edward the elder, the son of Alfred.(e)Omnibus qui reipublicæ præsunt etiam atque etiam mando, ut omnibus æquos se præbeant judices, perinde ac in judiciali libro (Saxonice, lf1387-01_GAfigure_001.jpg) scriptum habetur: nec quicquam formident quin jus commune (Saxonice, lf1387-01_GAfigure_002.jpg) audacter libereque dicant.

But the irruption and establishment of the Danes in England, which followed soon after, introduced new customs, and caused this code of Alfred in many provinces to fall into disuse, or at least to be mixed and debased with other laws of a coarser alloy; so that about the beginning of the eleventh century there were three principal systems of laws prevailing in different districts: 1. The Mercen-Lage, or Mercian laws, which were observed in many of the midland counties, and those bordering on the principality of Wales, the retreat of the ancient Britons; and therefore very probably intermixed with the British or Druidical customs. 2. The West-Saxon Lage, or laws of the West Saxons, which obtained in the counties to the south and west of the island, from Kent to Devonshire. These were probably much the same with the laws of Alfred above mentioned, being the municipal law of the far most considerable part of his dominions, and particularly including Berkshire, the seat of his peculiar residence. 3. The Dane-Lage, or Danish law, the very name of which speaks its original and composition. This was principally maintained in the rest of the midland counties, and also on the eastern coast, the part most exposed to the visits of that piratical people. As for the very northern provinces, they were at that time under a distinct government.(f)

**66]Out of these three laws, Roger Hoveden(g) and Ranulphus Cestrensis(h) inform us, king Edward the confessor extracted one uniform law, or digest of laws, to be observed throughout the whole kingdom; though Hoveden, and the author of an old manuscript chronicle,(i) assure us likewise that this work was projected and begun by his grandfather king Edgar. And indeed a general digest of the same nature has been constantly found expedient, and therefore put in practice by other great nations, which were formed from an assemblage of little provinces, governed by peculiar customs, as in Portugal, under king Edward, about the beginning of the fifteenth century:(k) in Spain under Alonzo X., who, about the year 1250, executed the plan of his father St. Ferdinand, and collected all the provincial customs into one uniform law, in the celebrated code entitled Las Partidas:(l) and in Sweden, about the same æra, when a universal body of common law was compiled out of the particular customs established Edition: current; Page: [66] by the laghman of every province, and entitled the land’s lagh, being analogous to the common law of England.(m)2

Both these undertakings of king Edgar and Edward the confessor seem to have been no more than a new edition, or fresh promulgation, of Alfred’s code or dome-book, with such additions and improvements as the experience of a century and a half had suggested; for Alfred is generally styled by the same historians the legum Anglicanarum conditor, as Edward the confessor is the restitutor.3 These, however, are the laws which our histories so often mention under the name of the laws of Edward the confessor, which our ancestors struggled so hardly to maintain, under the first princes of the Norman line; and which subsequent princes so frequently promised to keep and restore, as the most popular act they could do, when pressed by foreign emergencies or domestic discontents. These are the laws that so vigorously withstood *[*67the repeated attacks of the civil law, which established in the twelfth century a new Roman empire over most of the states of the continent; states that have lost, and perhaps upon that account, their political liberties: while the free constitution of England, perhaps upon the same account, has been rather improved than debased. These, in short, are the laws which gave rise and original to that collection of maxims and customs which is now known by the name of the common law; a name either given to it in contradistinction to other laws, as the statute law, the civil law, the law merchant, and the like; or, more probably, as a law common to all the realm, the jus commune, or folcright, mentioned by king Edward the elder, after the abolition of the several provincial customs and particular laws before mentioned.4

But though this is the most likely foundation of this collection of maxims and customs, yet the maxims and customs, so collected, are of higher antiquity than memory or history can reach.5 nothing being more difficult than to ascertain the precise beginning and first spring of an ancient and long established custom. Whence it is that in our law the goodness of a custom depends upon its having been used time out of mind; or, in the solemnity of our legal phrase, time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. This it is that gives it its weight and authority: and of this nature are the maxims and customs which compose the common law, or lex non scripta, of this kingdom.6

Edition: current; Page: [67]

This unwritten, or common, law is properly distinguishable into three kinds: 1. General customs; which are the universal rule of the whole kingdom, and form the common law, in its stricter and more usual signification. 2. Particular customs; which, for the most part, affect only the inhabitants of particular districts. 3. Certain particular laws; which, by custom, are adopted and used by some particular courts, of pretty general and extensive jurisdiction.

*68*]I. As to general customs, or the common law, properly so called; this is that law, by which proceedings and determinations in the king’s ordinary courts of justice are guided and directed. This, for the most part, settles the course in which lands descend by inheritance; the manner and form of acquiring and transferring property; the solemnities and obligation of contracts; the rules of expounding wills, deeds, and acts of parliament; the respective remedies of civil injuries; the several species of temporal offences, with the manner and degree of punishment; and an infinite number of minuter particulars, which diffuse themselves as extensively as the ordinary distribution of common justice requires. Thus, for example, that there shall be four superior courts of record, the Chancery, the King’s Bench, the Common Pleas, and the Exchequer;—that the eldest son alone is heir to his ancestor;—that property may be acquired and transferred by writing;—that a deed is of no validity unless sealed and delivered;—that wills shall be construed more favourably, and deeds more strictly;—that money lent upon bond is recoverable by action of debt;—that breaking the public peace is an offence, and punishable by fine and imprisonment:—all these are doctrines that are not set down in any written statute or ordinance, but depend merely upon immemorial usage, that is, upon common law, for their support.

Some have divided the common law into two principal grounds or foundations: 1. Established customs; such as that, where there are three brothers, the eldest brother shall be heir to the second, in exclusion of the youngest: and 2. Established rules and maxims; as, “that the king can do no wrong, that no man shall be bound to accuse himself,” and the like. But I take these to be one and the same thing. For the authority of these maxims rests entirely upon general reception and usage: and the only method of proving, that this or that maxim is a rule of the common law, is by showing that it hath been always the custom to observe it.

*69*]But here a very natural, and very material, question arises: how are these customs or maxims to be known, and by whom is their validity Edition: current; Page: [69] to be determined? The answer is, by the judges in the several courts of justice. They are the depositaries of the laws; the living oracles, who must decide in all cases of doubt, and who are bound by an oath to decide according to the law of the land. The knowledge of that law is derived from experience and study; from the “viginti annorum lucubrationes,” which Fortescue(n) mentions; and from being long persoually accustomed to the judicial decisions of their predecessors. And indeed these judicial decisions are the principal and most authoritative evidence, that can be given, of the existence of such a custom as shall form a part of the common law. The judgment itself, and all the proceedings previous thereto, are carefully registered and preserved, under the name of records, in public repositories set apart for that particular purpose; and to them frequent recourse is had, when any critical question arises, in the determination of which former precedents may give light or assistance. And therefore, even so early as the conquest, we find the “præteritorum memoria eventorum” reckoned up as one of the chief qualifications of those, who were held to be “legibus patriæ optime instituti.(o) For it is an established rule to abide by former precedents, where the same points come again in litigation: as well to keep the scale of justice even and steady, and not liable to waver with every new judge’s opinion; as also because the law in that case being solemnly declared and determined, what before was uncertain, and perhaps indifferent, is now become a permanent rule, which it is not in the breast of any subsequent judge to alter or vary from according to his private sentiments: he being sworn to determine, not according to his own private judgement, but according to the known laws and customs of the land; not delegated to pronounce a new law, but to maintain and expound the old one. Yet this rule admits of exception, where the former determination is most evidently contrary to reason; *[*70much more if it be clearly contrary to the divine law. But even in such cases the subsequent judges do not pretend to make a new law, but to vindicate the old one from misrepresentation. For if it be found that the former decision is manifestly absurd or unjust,7 it is declared, not that such a sentence was bad law, but that it was not law; that is, that it is not the established custom of the realm, as has been erroneously determined. And hence it is that our lawyers are with justice so copious in their encomiums on the reason of the common law; that they tell us, that the law is the perfection of reason, that it always intends to conform thereto, and that what is not reason is not law. Not that the particular reason of every rule in the law can at this distance of time be always precisely assigned; but it is sufficient that there be nothing in the rule flatly contradictory to reason, and then the law will presume it to be well founded.(p) And it hath been an ancient observation in the laws of England, that whenever a standing rule of law of which the reason perhaps could not be remembered or discerned, hath been Edition: current; Page: [70] wantonly broken in upon by statutes or new resolutions, the wisdom of the rule hath in the end appeared from the inconveniences that have followed the innovation.

The doctrine of the law then is this: that precedents and rules must be followed, unless flatly absurd or unjust;8 for though their reason be not obvious at first view, yet we owe such a deference to former times as not to suppose that they acted wholly without consideration. To illustrate this doctrine by examples. It has been determined, time out of mind, that a brother of the half blood shall never succeed as heir to the estate of his half brother, but it shall Edition: current; Page: [70] rather escheat to the king or other superior lord. Now this is a positive law, fixed and established by custom, which custom is evidenced by judicial decisions, and therefore can never be departed from by any modern judge without a breach of his oath and *[*71the law. For herein there is nothing repugnant to natural justice;9 though the artificial reason of it, drawn from the feodal law, may not be quite obvious to everybody.10 And therefore, though a modern judge, on account of a supposed hardship upon the half brother, might wish it had been otherwise settled, yet it is not in his power to alter it. But if any court were now to determine, that an elder brother of the half blood might enter upon and seize any lands that were purchased by his younger brother, no subsequent judges would scruple to declare that such prior determination was unjust, was unreasonable, and therefore was not law. So that the law, and the opinion of the judge, are not always convertible terms, or one and the same thing; since it sometimes may happen that the judge may mistake the law. Upon the whole, however, we may take it as a general rule, “that the decisions of courts of justice are the evidence of what is common law:” in the same manner as, in the civil law, what the emperor had once determined was to serve for a guide for the future.(q)11

Edition: current; Page: [71]

The decisions therefore of courts are held in the highest regard, and are not only preserved as authentic records in the treasuries of the several courts, but are handed out to public view in the numerous volumes of reports which furnish the lawyer’s library. These reports are histories of the several cases, with a short summary of the proceedings, which are preserved at large in the record; the arguments on both sides, and the reasons the court gave for its judgment; taken down in short notes by persons present at the determination. And these serve as indexes to, and also to explain the records, which always, in matters of consequence and nicety, the judges direct to be searched. The reports are extant in a regular series from the reign of king Edward the Second inclusive; and from this time to that of Henry the **72]Eighth, were taken by the prothonotaries, or chief scribes of the court, at the expense of the crown, and published annually, whence they are known under the denomination of the year books. And it is much to be wished that this beneficial custom had, under proper regulations, been continued to this day; for, though king James the First, at the instance of Lord Bacon, appointed two reporters(r) with a handsome stipend for this purpose, yet that wise institution was soon neglected, and from the reign of Henry the Eighth to the present time this task has been executed by many private and contemporary hands; who sometimes through haste and inaccuracy, sometimes through mistake and want of skill, have published very crude and imperfect (perhaps contradictory) accounts of one and the same determination. Some of the most valuable of the ancient reports are those published by Lord Chief-Justice Coke; a man of infinite learning in his profession, though not a little infected with the pedantry and quaintness of the times he lived in, which appear strongly in all his works. However, his writings are so highly esteemed, that they are generally cited without the author’s name.(s)

Besides these reporters, there are also other authors, to whom great veneration and respect is paid by the students of the common law. Such are Glanvil and Bracton, Britton and Fleta, Hengham and Littleton, Statham, Brooke, Fitzherbert, and Staundforde,12 with some others of ancient date; whose treatises are cited as authority, and are evidence that cases have formerly happened in which such and such points were determined, which are now become settled and first principles. One of the last of these methodical writers in point of time, whose works are of any intrinsic authority in the courts of justice, and do not entirely depend on the strength of their quotations from older authors, is the **73]same learned judge we have just mentioned, Sir Edward Coke; who hath written four volumes of institutes, as he is pleased to call them, though they have little of the institutional method to warrant such a title Edition: current; Page: [73] The first volume is a very extensive comment upon a little excellent treatise of tenures, compiled by Judge Littleton in the reign of Edward the Fourth. This comment is a rich mine of valuable common law learning, collected and heaped together from the ancient reports and year books, but greatly defective in method.(t) The second volume is a comment upon many old acts of parliament, without any systematical order; the third a more methodical treatise of the pleas of the crown; and the fourth an account of the several species of courts.(u)

And thus much for the first ground and chief corner-stone of the laws of England, which is general immemorial custom, or common law, from time to time declared in the decisions of the courts of justice; which decisions are preserved among our public records, explained in our reports, and digested for general use in the authoritative writings of the venerable sages of the law.

The Roman law, as practised in the times of its liberty, paid also a great regard to custom; but not so much as our law: it only then adopting it, when the written law was deficient. Though the reasons alleged in the digest(v) will fully justify our practice, in making it of equal authority with, when it is not contradicted by, the written law. “For since, (says Julianus,) the written law binds us for no other reason but because it is approved by the judgment of the people, therefore those laws which the people have approved without writing ought also to bind everybody. For where is the difference, whether the people declare their *[*74assent to a law by suffrage, or by a uniform course of acting accordingly?” Thus did they reason while Rome had some remains of her freedom; but, when the imperial tyranny came to be fully established, the civil laws speak a very different language. “Quod principi placuit13 legis habet vigorem, cum populus ei et in eum omne suum imperium et potestatem conferat,” says Ulpian.(w)Imperator solus et conditor et interpres legis existimatur,” says the code.(x) And again, “sacrilegii instar est rescripto principis obviari.(y) And indeed it is one of the characteristic marks of English liberty, that our common law depends upon custom; which carries this internal evidence of freedom along with it, that it probably was introduced by the voluntary consent of the people.14

Edition: current; Page: [74]

II. The second branch of the unwritten laws of England are particular customs, or laws, which affect only the inhabitants of particular districts.

These particular customs, or some of them, are without doubt the remains of that multitude of local customs before mentioned, out of which the common law, as it now stands, was collected at first by king Alfred, and afterwards by king Edgar and Edward the confessor: each district mutually sacrificing some of its own special usages, in order that the whole kingdom might enjoy the benefit of one uniform and universal system of laws. But for reasons that have been now long forgotten, particular counties, cities, towns, manors, and lordships, were very early indulged with the privilege of abiding by their own customs, in contradistinction to the rest of the nation at large: which privilege is confirmed to them by several acts of parliament.(z)

Such is the custom of gavelkind in Kent, and some other parts of the kingdom, (though perhaps it was also general till the Norman conquest,) which ordains, among other things, **75]that not the eldest son only of the father shall succeed to his inheritance, but all the sons alike; and that, though the ancestor be attainted and hanged, yet the heir shall succeed to his estate, without any escheat to the lord.—Such is the custom that prevails in divers ancient boroughs, and therefore called borough-English, that the youngest son shall inherit the estate, in preference to all his elder brothers.—Such is the custom in other boroughs, that a widow shall be entitled, for her dower, to all her husband’s lands; whereas, at the common law, she shall be endowed of one-third part only.—Such also are the special and particular customs of manors, of which every one has more or less, and which bind all the copyhold and customary tenants that hold of the said manors.—Such likewise is the custom of holding divers inferior courts, with power of trying causes, in cities and trading towns, the right of holding which, when no royal grant can be shown, depends entirely upon immemorial and established usage.—Such, lastly, are many particular customs within the city of London, with regard to trade, apprentices, widows, orphans, and a variety of other matters. All these are contrary to the general law of the land, and are good only by special usage; though the customs of London are also confirmed by act of parliament.(a)

To this head may most properly be referred a particular system of customs used only among one set of the king’s subjects, called the custom of merchants or lex mercatoria: which, however different from the general rules of the common law, is yet ingrafted into it, and made a part of it;(b) being allowed, for the benefit of trade, to be of the utmost validity in all commercial transactions: for it is a maxim of law, that “cuilibet in sua arte credendum est.15

Edition: current; Page: [75]

The rules relating to particular customs regard either the proof of their exist ence; their legality when proved; or their usual method of allowance. And first we will consider the rules of proof.

*[*76As to gavelkind, and borough-English, the law takes particular notice of them,(c) and there is no occasion to prove that such customs actually exist, but only that the lands in question are subject thereto. All other private customs must be particularly pleaded,(d) and as well the existence of such customs must be shown, as that the thing in dispute is within the custom alleged. The trial in both cases (both to show the existence of the custom, as, “that in the manor of Dale, lands shall descend only to the heirs male, and never to the heirs female;” and also to show “that the lands in question are within that manor”) is by a jury of twelve men, and not by the judges; except the same particular custom has been before tried, determined, and recorded in the same court.(e)

The customs of London differ from all others in point of trial: for, if the existence of the custom be brought in question, it shall not be tried by a jury, but by certificate from the lord mayor and aldermen by the mouth of their recorder;(f) Edition: current; Page: [76] unless it be such a custom as the corporation is itself interested in, as a right of taking toll, &c.; for then the law permits them not to certify on their own behalf.(g)

When a custom is actually proved to exist, the next inquiry is into the legality of it; for, if it is not a good custom, it ought to be no longer used. “Malus usus abolendus est” is an established maxim of the law.(h) To make a particular custom good, the following are necessary requisites.

1. That it have been used so long, that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.16 So that, if any one can show the beginning of it, it is no good custom. For which reason no custom can prevail against an express act of **77]parliament,17 since the statute itself is a proof of a time when such a custom did not exist.(i)

2. It must have been continued. Any interruption would cause a temporary ceasing: the revival gives it a new beginning, which will be within time of memory, and thereupon the custom will be void. But this must be understood with regard to an interruption of the right; for an interruption of the possession only, for ten or twenty years, will not destroy the custom.(j) As if the inhabitants of a parish have a customary right of watering their cattle at a certain pool, the custom is not destroyed, though they do not use it for ten years; it only becomes more difficult to prove: but if the right be any how discontinued for a day, the custom is quite at an end.

3. It must have been peaceable, and acquiesced in; not subject to contention and dispute.(k) For as customs owe their original to common consent, their being immemorially disputed, either at law or otherwise, is a proof that such consent was wanting.

4. Customs must be reasonable;(l) or rather, taken negatively, they must not be unreasonable. Which is not always, as Sir Edward Coke says,(m) to be understood of every unlearned man’s reason, but of artificial and legal reason, warranted by authority of law. Upon which account a custom may be good, though the particular reason of it cannot be assigned; for it sufficeth, if no good legal reason can be assigned against it. Thus a custom in a parish, that no man shall put his beasts into the common till the third of October, would be good; and yet it would be hard to show the reason why that day in particular is fixed upon, rather than the day before or after. But a custom, that no cattle shall be put in till the lord of the manor has first put in his, is unreasonable, and therefore bad: for peradventure the lord will never put in his, and then the tenants will lose all their profits.(n)

**78]5. Customs ought to be certain. A custom, that lands shall descend to the most worthy of the owner’s blood, is void; for how shall this worth be determined? but a custom to descend to the next male of the blood, exclusive of females, is certain, and therefore good.(o) A custom to pay two-pence Edition: current; Page: [78] an acre in lieu of tithes, is good; but to pay sometimes two-pense, and sometimes three-pence, as the occupier of the land pleases, is bad for its uncertainty. Yet a custom, to pay a year’s improved value for a fine on a copyhold estate, is good; though the value is a thing uncertain: for the value may at any time be ascertained; and the maxim of law is, id certum est, quod certum reddi potest.18

6. Customs, though established by consent, must be (when established) comulsory; and not left to the option of every man, whether he will use them or no. Therefore a custom, that all the inhabitants shall be rated toward the maintenance of a bridge, will be good; but a custom, that every man is to contribute thereto at his own pleasure, is idle and absurd, and indeed no custom at all.

7. Lastly, customs must be consistent with each other: one custom cannot be set up in opposition to another. For if both are really customs, then both are of equal antiquity, and both established by mutual consent; which to say of contradictory customs is absurd. Therefore, if one man prescribes that by custom he has a right to have windows looking into another’s garden; the other cannot claim a right by custom to stop up or obstruct those windows: for these two contradictory customs cannot both be good, nor both stand together. He ought rather to deny the existence of the former custom.(p)

Next, as to the allowance of special customs. Customs, in derogation of the common law, must be construed strictly.19 Thus, by the custom of gavelkind, an infant of fifteen years *[*79may, by one species of conveyance, (called a deed of feoffment,) convey away his lands in fee-simple, or forever Yet this custom does not empower him to use any other conveyance, or even to lease them for seven years; for the custom must be strictly pursued.(q)20 And, moreover, all special customs must submit to the king’s prerogative. Therefore, if the king purchases lands of the nature of gavelkind, where all the sons inherit equally; yet, upon the king’s demise, his eldest son shall succeed to those lands alone.(r) And thus much for the second part of the leges non scriptæ, or those particular customs which affect particular persons or districts only.21

Edition: current; Page: [79]

III. The third branch of them are those peculiar laws, which by custom are adopted and used only in certain peculiar courts and jurisdictions. And by these I understand the civil and canon laws.(s)

It may seem a little improper at first view to rank these laws under the head of leges non scriptæ, or unwritten laws, seeing they are set forth by authority in their pandects, their codes, and their institutions; their councils, decrees, and decretals; and enforced by an immense number of expositions, decisions and treatises of the learned in both branches of the law. But I do this, after the example of Sir Matthew Hale,(t) because it is most plain, that it is not on account of their being written laws that either the canon law, or the civil law, have any obligation within this kingdom: neither do their force and efficacy depend upon their own intrinsic authority, which is the case of our written laws, or acts of parliament. They bind not the subjects of England, because their materials were collected from popes or emperors, were digested by Justinian, or declared to be authentic by Gregory. These considerations give them no authority here; for the legislature of England doth not, nor ever did, recognise any foreign power as superior or equal to it in this kingdom, or as having the right to give law to any, the meanest, of its subjects. But all the **80]strength that either the papal or imperial laws have obtained in this realm, or indeed in any other kingdom in Europe, is only because they have been admitted and received by immemorial usage and custom in some particular cases, and some particular courts; and then they form a branch of the leges non scriptæ, or customary laws; or else because they are in some other cases introduced by consent of parliament; and then they owe their validity to the leges scriptæ, or statute law. This is expressly declared in those remarkable words of the statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 21, addressed to the king’s royal majesty:—“This your grace’s realm, recognising no superior under God but only your grace, hath been and is free from subjection to any man’s laws, but only to such as have been devised, made, and ordained within this realm, for the wealth of the same; or to such other as, by sufferance of your grace and your progenitors, the people of this your realm have taken at their free liberty, by their own consent, to be used among them; and have bound themselves by long use and custom to the observance of the same; not as to the observance of the laws of any foreign prince, potentate, or prelate; but as to the customed and ancient laws of this realm, originally established as laws of the same, by the said sufferance, consents, and custom; and none otherwise.”

By the civil law, absolutely taken, is generally understood the civil or municipal law of the Roman empire, as comprised in the institute, the code, and the digest of the emperor Justinian, and the novel constitutions of himself and some of his successors. Of which, as there will frequently be occasion to cite them, by way of illustrating our own laws, it may not be amiss to give a short and general account.

The Roman law (founded first upon the regal constitutions of their ancient kings, next upon the twelve tables of the decemviri, then upon the laws or statutes enacted by the senate or people, the edicts of the prætor, and the responsa prudentum, or opinions of learned lawyers, and **81]lastly upon the imperial decrees, or constitutions of successive emperors) had grown to so great a bulk, or, as Livy expresses it,(u)tam immensus aliarum super alias acervatarum legum cumulus,” that they were computed to be many camels’ load by an author who preceded Justinian.(v) This was in part remedied by the collections of three private lawyers, Gregorius, Hermogenes, and Papirius; and then by the emperor Theodosius the younger, by whose orders a code was compiled ad 438, being a methodical collection of all the imperial constitutions then in force: which Theodosian code was the only book of civil law received as authentic in Edition: current; Page: [81] the western part of Europe till many centuries after; and to this it is probable that the Franks and Goths might frequently pay some regard, in framing legal constitutions for their newly erected kingdoms: for Justinian commanded only in the eastern remains of the empire; and it was under his auspices that the present body of civil law was compiled and finished by Tribonian and other lawyers, about the year 533.

This consists of, 1. The institutes, which contain the elements or first principles of the Roman law, in four books. 2. The digests, or pandects, in fifty books; containing the opinions and writings of eminent lawyers, digested in a systematical method. 3. A new code, or collection of imperial constitutions, in twelve books; the lapse of a whole century having rendered the former code of Theodosius imperfect. 4. The novels, or new constitutions, posterior in time to the other books, and amounting to a supplement to the code; containing new decrees of successive emperors, as new questions happened to arise. These form the body of Roman law, or corpus juris civilis, as published about the time of Justinian; which, however, fell soon into neglect and oblivion, till about the year 1130, when a copy of the digests was found at Amalfi, in Italy; which accident, concurring with the policy of the Roman ecclesiastics,(w) suddenly gave new vogue and authority to the civil law, introduced it into several nations, and *[*82occasioned that mighty inundation of voluminous comments, with which this system of law, more than any other, is now loaded.

The canon law is a body of Roman ecclesiastical law, relative to such matters as that church either has, or pretends to have, the proper jurisdiction over. This is compiled from the opinions of the ancient Latin fathers, the decrees of general councils, and the decretal epistles and bulls of the holy see; all which lay in the same disorder and confusion as the Roman civil law, till, about the year 1151, one Gratian, an Italian monk, animated by the discovery of Justinian’s pandects, reduced the ecclesiastical constitutions also into some method, in three books, which he entitled Concordia Discordantium Canonum, but which are generally known by the name of Decretum Gratiani. These reached as low as the time of pope Alexander III. The subsequent papal decrees, to the pontificate of Gregory IX., were published in much the same method, under the auspices of that pope, about the year 1230, in five books, entitled Decretalia Gregorii Noni. A sixth book was added by Boniface VIII. about the year 1298, which is called Sextus Decretalium. The Clementine constitutions, or decrees of Clement V., were in like manner authenticated in 1317, by his successor John XXII., who also published twenty constitutions of his own, called the Extravagantes Joannis, all which in some measure answer to the novels of the civil law. To these have been since added some decrees of later popes, in five books, called Extravagantes Communes: and all these together, Gratian’s decree, Gregory’s decretals, the sixth decretal, the Clementine constitutions, and the extravagants of John and his successors, form the corpus juris canonici, or body of the Roman canon law.

Besides these pontifical collections, which, during the times of popery, were received as authentic in this island, as well as in other parts of Christendom, there is also a kind of natural canon law, composed of legatine and provincial constitutions, and adapted only to the exigencies of this church *[*83and kingdom. The legatine constitutions were ecclesiastical laws, enacted in national synods held under the cardinals Otho and Othobon, legates from pope Gregory IX. and pope Clement IV. in the reign of king Henry III., about the years 1220 and 1268. The provincial constitutions are principally the decrees of provincial synods, held under divers archbishops of Canterbury, from Stephen Langton, in the reign of Henry III., to Henry Chichele, in the reign of Henry V.; and adopted also by the province of York(x) in the reign of Henry VI. At the dawn of the Reformation, in the reign of king Henry VIII., it was enacted in parliament(y) that a review should be had of the canon law; and, till such review should be made, all canons, constitutions, ordinances, and synodals Edition: current; Page: [83] provincial, being then already made, and not repugnant to the law of the land or the king’s prerogative, should still be used and executed. And, as no such review has yet been perfected, upon this statute now depends the authority of the canon law in England.

As for the canons enacted by the clergy under James I. in the year 1603, and never confirmed in parliament, it has been solemnly adjudged upon the principles of law and the constitution, that where they are not merely declaratory of the ancient canon law, but are introductory of new regulations, they do not bind the laity,(z) whatever regard the clergy may think proper to pay them.22

There are four species of courts in which the civil and canon laws are permitted, under different restrictions, to be used: 1. The courts of the archbishops and bishops, and their derivative officers, usually called in our law courts Christian, curiæ Christianitatis, or the ecclesiastical courts. 2. The military courts. 3. The courts of admiralty. 4. The courts of the two universities. In all, their reception in general, and the different degrees of that reception, are grounded entirely upon custom, corroborated in the latter instance by act of **84]parliament, ratifying those charters which confirm the customary law of the universities. The more minute consideration of these will fall properly under that part of these commentaries which treats of the jurisdiction of courts. It will suffice at present to remark a few particulars relative to them all, which may serve to inculcate more strongly the doctrine laid down concerning them.(a)

1. And, first, the courts of common law have the superintendency over these courts; to keep them within their jurisdictions, to determine wherein they exceed them, to restrain and prohibit such excess, and, in case of contumacy, to punish the officer who executes, and in some cases the judge who enforces, the sentence so declared to be illegal.

2. The common law has reserved to itself the exposition of all such acts of parliament as concern either the extent of these courts, or the matters depending before them. And therefore, if these courts either refuse to allow these acts of parliament, or will expound them in any other sense than what the common law puts upon them, the king’s courts at Westminster will grant prohibitions to restrain and control them.

3. An appeal lies from all these courts to the king, in the last resort; which proves that the jurisdiction exercised in them is derived from the crown of England, and not from any foreign potentate, or intrinsic authority of their own.—And, from these three strong marks and ensigns of superiority, it appears beyond a doubt that the civil and canon laws, though admitted in some cases by custom in some courts, are only subordinate, and leges sub graviori lege; and that, thus admitted, restrained, altered, new-modelled, and amended, they are by no means with us a distinct independent species of laws, but are inferior branches of the customary or unwritten laws of England, properly called the king’s ecclesiastical, the king’s military, the king’s maritime, or the king’s academical laws.

**85]Let us next proceed to the leges scriptæ, the written laws of the kingdom, which are statutes, acts, or edicts, made by the king’s majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons in parliament assembled.(b) The oldest of these now extant, and printed in our statute books, is the famous magna charta, as confirmed in parliament 9 Hen. III., though doubtless there were many acts before that time, the records of which Edition: current; Page: [85] are now lost, and the determinations of them perhaps at present currently received for the maxims of the old common law.

The manner of making these statutes will be better considered hereafter, when we examine the constitution of parliaments. At present we will only take notice of the different kinds of statutes, and of some general rules with regard to their construction.(c)

First, as to their several kinds. Statutes are either general or special, public or private. A general or public act is an *[*86universal rule, that regards the whole community; and of this the courts of law are bound to take notice judicially and ex officio; without the statute being particularly pleaded, or formally set forth by the party who claims an advantage under it. Special or private acts are rather exceptions than rules, being those which only operate upon particular persons, and private concerns; such as the Romans entitled senatus decreta, in contradistinction to the senatus consulta, which regarded the whole community;(d) and of these (which are not promulgated with the same notoriety as the former) the judges are not bound to take notice, unless they be formally shown and pleaded. Thus, to show the distinction, the statute 13 Eliz. c. 10, to prevent spiritual persons from making leases for longer terms than twenty-one years, or three lives, is a public act; it being a rule prescribed to the whole body of spiritual persons in the nation: but an act to enable the bishop of Chester to make a lease to A.B. for sixty years is an exception to this rule; it concerns only the parties and the bishop’s successors; and is therefore a private act.23

Edition: current; Page: [86]

Statutes also are either declaratory of the common law, or remedial of some defects therein.24 Declaratory, where the old custom of the kingdom is almost fallen into disuse, or become disputable; in which case the parliament has thought proper, in perpetuum rei testimonium, and for avoiding all doubts and difficulties, to declare what the common law is and ever hath been. Thus the statute of treasons, 25 Edw. III. cap. 2, doth not make any new species of treasons, but only, for the benefit of the subject, declares and enumerates those several kinds of offence which before were treason at the common law. Remedial statutes are those which are made to supply such defects, and abridge such superfluities, in the common law, as arise either from the general imperfection of all human laws, from change of time and circumstances, from the mistakes and unadvised determinations of unlearned (or even learned) judges, or from any other cause whatsoever. And this being done, either by enlarging the common law, where it was too narrow and circumscribed, or by restraining it **87]where it was too lax and luxuriant, hath occasioned another subordinate division of remedial acts of parliament into enlarging and restraining statutes. To instance again in the case of treason: clipping the current coin of the kingdom was an offence not sufficiently guarded against by the common law; therefore it was thought expedient, by statute 5 Eliz. c. 11, to make it high treason, which it was not at the common law: so that this was an enlarging statute.25 At common law also spiritual corporations might lease out their estates for any term of years, till prevented by the statute 13 Eliz. before mentioned: this was, therefore, a restraining statute.

Secondly, the rules to be observed with regard to the construction of statutes are principally these which follow.26

1. There are three points to be considered in the construction of all remedial statutes; the old law, the mischief, and the remedy: that is, how the common law stood at the making of the act; what the mischief was, for which the common law did not provide; and what remedy the parliament hath provided to cure this mischief. And it is the business of the judges so to construe the act as to suppress the mischief and advance the remedy.(e) Let us instance again in the same restraining statute of 13 Eliz. c. 10: By the common law, ecclesiastical corporations might let as long leases as they thought proper: the mischief was, that they let long and unreasonable leases, to the impoverishment of their successors; the remedy applied by the statute was by making void all leases by ecclesiastical bodies for longer terms than three lives, or twenty-one years. Now, in the construction of this statute, it is held, that leases, though for a longer Edition: current; Page: [87] term, if made by a bishop, are not void during the bishop’s continuance in his see; or, if made by a dean and chapter, they are not void during the continuance of the dean; for the act was made for the benefit and protection of the successor.(f) The mischief is therefore sufficiently suppressed by vacating them after the determination of the interest of the *[*88grantors; but the leases, during their continuance, being not within the mischief, are not within the remedy.

2. A statute, which treats of things or persons of an inferior rank, cannot by any general words be extended to those of a superior.27 So a statute, treating of “deans, prebendaries, parsons, vicars, and others having spiritual promotion,” is held not to extend to bishops, though they have spiritual promotion, deans being the highest persons named, and bishops being of a still higher order.(g)

3. Penal statutes must be construed strictly. Thus the statute 1 Edw. VI. c. 12, having enacted that those who are convicted of stealing horses should not have the benefit of clergy, the judges conceived that this should not extend to him that should steal but one horse,28 and therefore procured a new act for that purpose in the following year.(h) And, to come nearer our own times, by the statute 14 Geo II. c. 6, stealing sheep, or other cattle, was made felony, without benefit of clergy. But these general words, “or other cattle,” being looked upon as much too loose to create a capital offence, the act was held to extend to nothing but mere sheep. And therefore, in the next sessions, it was found necessary to make another statute, 15 Geo. II. c. 34, extending the former to bulls, cows, oxen, steers, bullocks, heifers, calves, and lambs, by name.29

Edition: current; Page: [88]

4. Statutes against frauds30 are to be liberally and beneficially expounded. This may seem a contradiction to the last rule; most statutes against frauds being in their consequences penal. But this difference is here to be taken: where the statute acts upon the offender, and inflicts a penalty, as the pillory or a fire, it is then to be taken strictly; but when the statute acts upon the offence, by setting aside the fraudulent transaction,31 here it is to be construed liberally. Upon this footing the statute of 13 Eliz. c. 5, which avoids all gifts of goods, &c. made to defraud creditors and others, was **89]held to extend by the general words to a gift made to defraud the queen of a forfeiture.(i)32

Edition: current; Page: [88]

5. One part of a statute must be so construed by another, that the whole may (if possible) stand: ut res magis valeat, quam pereat. As if land be vested in the king and his heirs by act of parliament, saving the right of A and A. has at that time a lease of it for three years: here A. shall hold it for his term of three years, and afterwards it shall go to the king. For this interpretation furnishes matter for every clause of the statute to work and operate upon. But,

6. A saving, totally repugnant to the body of the act, is void. If, therefore, an act of parliament vests land in the king and his heirs, saving the right of all persons whatsoever; or vests the land of A. in the king, saving the right of A.; in either of these cases the saving is totally repugnant to the body of the statute, and (if good) would render the statute of no effect or operation; and therefore the saving is void, and the land vests absolutely in the king.(k)33

7. Where the common law and a statute differ, the common law gives place to the statute; and an old statute gives place to a new one. And this upon a general principle of universal law, that “leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant:” consonant to which it was laid down by a law of the twelve tables at Rome, that “quod populus postremum jussit, id jus ratum esto.” But this is to be understood only when the letter statute is couched in negative terms, or where its matter is so clearly repugnant that it necessarily implies a negative. As if a former act says, that a juror upon such a trial shall have twenty pounds a year; and a new statute afterwards enacts, that he shall have twenty marks: here the latter statute, though it does not express, yet necessarily implies a negative, and virtually repeals the former. For if twenty marks be made qualification sufficient, the former statute which requires twenty pounds is at an end.(l) But if both acts be merely affirmative, *[*90and the substance such that both may stand together, here the latter does not repeal the former, but they shall both have a concurrent efficacy. If by a former law an offence be indictable at the quarter-sessions, and a latter law makes the same offence indictable at the assizes, here the jurisdiction of the sessions is not taken away, but both have a concurrent jurisdiction, and the offender may be prosecuted at either: unless the new statute subjoins express negative words, as, that the offence shall be indictable at the assizes, and not elsewhere.(m)34

Edition: current; Page: [90]

8. If a statute, that repeals another, is itself repealed afterwards, the first statute is hereby revived, without any formal words for that purpose. So when the statutes of 26 and 35 Hen. VIII., declaring the king to be the supreme head of the church, were repealed by a statute 1 and 2 Philip and Mary, and this latter statute was afterwards repealed by an act of 1 Eliz. there needed not any express words of revival in Queen Elizabeth’s statute, but these acts of King Henry were impliedly and virtually revived.(n)35

9. Acts of parliament derogatory from the power of subsequent parliaments bind not. So the statute 11 Hen. VII. c. 1, which directs that no person for assisting a king de facto shall be attainted of treason by act of parliament or otherwise, is held to be good only as to common prosecutions for high treason; but will not restrain or clog any parliamentary attainder.(o) Because the legislature, being in truth the sovereign power, is always of equal, always of absolute authority: it acknowledges no superior upon earth, which the prior legislature must have been, if its ordinances could bind a subsequent parliament. And upon the same principle Cicero, in his letters to Atticus, treats with a proper contempt these restraining clauses, which endeavour to tie up the hands of succeeding legislatures. “When you repeal the **91]law itself, (says he,) you at the same time repeal the prohibitory clause, which guards against such repeal.”(p)

10. Lastly, acts of parliament that are impossible to be performed are of no validity: and if there arise out of them collaterally any absurd consequences, manifestly contradictory to common reason, they are, with regard to those collateral consequences, void.36 I lay down the rule with these restrictions; though I know it is generally laid down more largely, that acts of parliament contrary to reason are void. But if the parliament will positively enact a thing to be done which is unreasonable, I know of no power in the ordinary forms of the constitution that is vested with authority to control it: and the examples usually alleged in support of this sense of the rule do none of them prove, that, where the main object of a statute is unreasonable, the judges are at liberty to reject it; for that were to set the judicial power above that of the legislature, which would be subversive of all government. But where some collateral matter arises out of the general words, and happens to be unreasonable; there the judges are in decency to conclude that this consequence was not foreseen by the parliament, and therefore they are at liberty to expound the statute by equity, and only quoad hoc disregard it. Thus if an act of parliament gives a man power to try all causes, that arise within his manor of Dale; yet, if a cause should arise in Edition: current; Page: [91] which he himself is party, the act is construed not to extend to that, because it is unreasonable that any man should determine his own quarrel.(q) But, if we could conceive it possible for the parliament to enact, that he should try as well his own causes as those of other persons, there is no court that has power to defeat the intent of the legislature, when couched in such evident and express words, as leave no doubt whether it was the intent of the legislature or no.37

These are the several grounds of the laws of England: over and above which, equity is also frequently called in to *[*92assist, to moderate, and to explain them. What equity is, and how impossible in its very essence to be reduced to stated rules, hath been shown in the preceding section. I shall therefore only add, that (besides the liberality of sentiment with which our common law judges interpret acts of parliament, and such rules of the unwritten law as are not of a positive kind) there are also peculiar courts of equity established for the benefit of the subject: to detect latent frauds and concealments, which the process of the courts of law is not adapted to reach; to enforce the execution of such matters of trust and confidence, as are binding in conscience, though not cognizable in a court of law; to deliver from such dangers as are owing to misfortune or oversight; and to give a more specific relief, and more adapted to the circumstances of the case, than can always be obtained by the generality of the rules of the positive or common law. This is the business of our courts of equity, which however are only conversant in matters of property. For the freedom of our constitution will not permit, that in criminal cases a power Edition: current; Page: [92] should be lodged in any judge, to construe the law otherwise than according to the letter. This caution, while it admirably protects the public liberty, can never bear hard upon individuals. A man cannot suffer more punishment than the law assigns, but he may suffer less. The laws cannot be strained by partiality to inflict a penalty beyond what the letter will warrant; but, in cases where the letter induces any apparent hardship, the crown has the power to pardon.


The kingdom of England, over which our municipal laws have jurisdiction, includes not, by the common law, either Wales, Scotland, or Ireland, or any other part of the king’s dominions, except the territory of England only. And yet the civil laws and local customs of this territory do now obtain, in part or in all, with more or less restrictions, in these and many other adjacent countries; of which it will be proper first to take a review, before we consider the kingdom of England itself, the original and proper subject of these laws.

Wales had continued independent of England, unconquered and uncultivated, in the primitive pastoral state which Cæsar and Tacitus ascribe to Britain in general, for many centuries; even from the time of the hostile invasions of the Saxons, when the ancient and Christian inhabitants of the island retired to those natural intrenchments, for protection from their pagan visitants. But when these invaders themselves were converted to Christianity, and settled into regular and potent governments, this retreat of the ancient Britons grew every day narrower; they were overrun by little and little, gradually driven from one fastness to another, and by repeated losses abridged of their wild independence. Very early in our history we find their princes doing homage to the crown of England; till at length in the reign of Edward the First, who may justly be styled the conqueror of **94]Wales, the line of their ancient princes was abolished, and the King of England’s eldest son became, as a matter of course,1 their titular prince; the territory of Wales being then entirely reannexed (by a kind of feodal resumption) to the dominion of the crown of England;(a) or, as the statute2 of Rhudlan(b) expresses it, “Terra Walliæ cum incolis suis, prius regi jure feodali subjecta, (of which homage was the sign,) jam in proprietatis dominium totaliter et cum integritate conversa est, et coronæ regni Angliæ tanquam pars corporis ejusdem annexa et unita.” By the statute also of Wales(c) very material alterations were made in divers parts of their laws, so Edition: current; Page: [94] as to reduce them nearer to the English standard, especially in the forms of their judicial proceedings: but they still retained very much of their original polity; particularly their rule of inheritance, viz. that their lands were divided equally among all the issue male, and did not descend to the eldest son alone. By other subsequent statutes their provincial immunities were still farther abridged: but the finishing stroke to their independency was given by the statute 27 Hen. VIII. c. 26, which at the same time gave the utmost advancement to their civil prosperity, by admitting them to a thorough communication of laws with the subjects of England. Thus were this brave people gradually conquered into the enjoyment of true liberty; being insensibly put upon the same footing, and made fellow-citizens with their conquerors. A generous method of triumph, which the republic of Rome practised with great success, till she reduced all Italy to her obedience, by admitting the vanquished states to partake of the Roman privileges.

It is enacted by this statute 27 Henry VIII., 1. That the dominion of Wales shall be forever united to the kingdom of England. 2. That all Welshmen born shall have the same liberties as other the king’s subjects. 3. That lands in Wales shall be inheritable according to the English tenures and rules of descent. 4. That the laws of England, and no other, shall *[*95be used in Wales: besides many other regulations of the police of this principality. And the statute 34 and 35 Hen. VIII., c. 26, confirms the same, adds farther regulations, divides it into twelve shires, and, in short, reduces it into the same order in which it stands at this day; differing from the kingdom of England in only a few particulars, and those too of the nature of privileges, (such as having courts within itself, independent of the process of Westminster-hall,) and some other immaterial peculiarities, hardly more than are to be found in many counties of England itself.

The kingdom of Scotland, notwithstanding the union of the crowns on the accession of their King James VI. to that of England, continued an entirely separate and distinct kingdom for above a century more, though an union had been long projected; which was judged to be the more easy to be done, as both kingdoms were anciently under the same government, and still retained a very great resemblance, though far from an identity, in their laws. By an act of parliament 1 Jac. I. c. 1, it is declared, that these two mighty, famous, and ancient kingdoms, were formerly one. And Sir Edward Coke observes,(d) how marvellous a conformity there was, not only in the religion and language of the two nations, but also in their ancient laws, the descent of the crown, their parliaments, their titles of nobility, their officers of state and of justice, their writs, their customs, and even the language of their laws. Upon which account he supposes the common law of each to have been originally the same; especially as their most ancient and authentic book, called regiam majestatem, and containing the rules of their ancient common law, is extremely similar to that of Glanvil, which contains the principles of ours, as it stood in the reign of Henry II. And the many diversities, subsisting between the two laws at present, may be well enough accounted for, from a diversity of practice in two large and uncommunicating jurisdictions, and from the acts of two distinct and independent parliaments, which have in many points altered and abrogated the old common law of both kingdoms.3

Edition: current; Page: [96]

**96]However, Sir Edward Coke, and the politicians of that time, conceived great difficulties in carrying on the projected union; but these were at length overcome, and the great work was happily effected in 1707, 6 Anne; when twenty-five articles of union were agreed to by the parliaments of both nations; the purport of the most considerable being as follows:

1. That on the first of May, 1707, and forever after, the kingdoms of England and Scotland shall be united into one kingdom, by the name of Great Britain.

2. The succession to the monarchy of Great Britain shall be the same as was before settled with regard to that of England.

3. The united kingdom shall be represented by one parliament.

4. There shall be a communication of all rights and privileges between the subjects of both kingdoms, except where it is otherwise agreed.

9. When England raises 2,000,000l. by a land tax, Scotland shall raise 48,000l.

16, 17. The standards of the coin, of weights, and of measures, shall be reduced to those of England, throughout the united kingdoms.

18. The laws relating to trade, customs, and the excise, shall be the same in Scotland as in England. But all the other laws of Scotland shall remain in force; though alterable by the parliament of Great Britain. Yet with this caution: that laws relating to public policy are alterable at the discretion of the parliament: laws relating to private right are not to be altered but for the evident utility of the people of Scotland.

**97]22. Sixteen peers are to be chosen to represent the peerage of Scotland in parliament, and forty-five members to sit in the House of Commons.4

Edition: current; Page: [97]

23. The sixteen peers of Scotland shall have all privileges of parliament; and all peers of Scotland shall be peers of Great Britain, and rank next after those of the same degree at the time of the union, and shall have all privileges of peers, except sitting in the House of Lords, and voting on the trial of a peer.5

Edition: current; Page: [97]

These are the principal of the twenty-five articles of union, which are ratified and confirmed by statute 5 Ann. c. 8, in which statute there are also two acts of parliament recited; the one of Scotland, whereby the church of Scotland, and also the four universities of that kingdom, are established forever, and all succeeding sovereigns are to take an oath inviolably to maintain the same; the other of England, 5 Ann. c. 6, whereby the acts of uniformity of 13 Eliz. and 13 Car. II. (except as the same had been altered by parliament at that time,) and all other acts then in force for the preservation of the church of England, are declared perpetual; and it is stipulated, that every subsequent king and queen shall take an oath inviolably to maintain the same within England, Ireland, Wales, and the town of Berwick upon Tweed. And it is enacted, that these two acts “shall forever be observed as fundamental and essential conditions of the union.”

Upon these articles and act of union, it is to be observed, 1. That the two kingdoms are now so inseparably united, that nothing can ever disunite them again, except the mutual consent of both, or the successful resistance of either, upon apprehending an infringement of those points which, when they were separate and independent nations, it was mutually stipulated should be “fundamental and essential conditions of the union.”(e) 2. That whatever else may be deemed “fundamental **98]and essential conditions,” the preservation of the two churches of England and Scotland in the same state that they were in at the time of the union, and the maintenance of the acts of uniformity which establish our common prayer, are expressly declared so to be. 3. That therefore any alteration in the constitution of either of those churches, or in the liturgy of the church of England, (unless with the consent of the respective churches, collectively or representatively given,) would be an infringement of these “fundamental and essential conditions,” and greatly endanger the union. 4. That the municipal laws of Scotland are ordained to be still observed in that part of the island, unless altered by parliament; and as the parliament has not yet thought proper, except in a few instances, to alter them, they still, with regard to the particulars unaltered, continue in full force. Wherefore Edition: current; Page: [98] the municipal or common laws of England are, generally speaking, of no force or validity in Scotland; and of consequence, in the ensuing Commentaries, we shall have very little occasion to mention, any further than sometimes by way of illustration, the municipal laws of that part of the united kingdoms.

The town of Berwick upon Tweed was originally part of the kingdom of Scotland; and, as such, was for a time reduced *[*99by king Edward I. into the possession of the crown of England: and during such, its subjection, it received from that prince a charter, which (after its subsequent cession by Edward Balliol, to be forever united to the crown and realm of England,) was confirmed by king Edward III. with some additions; particularly that it should be governed by the laws and usages which it enjoyed during the time of king Alexander, that is, before its reduction by Edward I. Its constitution was new-modelled, and put upon an English footing, by a charter of king James I.: and all its liberties, franchises, and customs, were confirmed in parliament by the statutes 22 Edward IV. c. 8, and 2 Jac. I. c. 28. Though, therefore, it hath some local peculiarities, derived from the ancient laws of Scotland,(f) yet it is clearly part of the realm of England, being represented by burgesses in the house of Commons, and bound by all Acts of the British parliament, whether specially named or otherwise. And therefore it was, perhaps superfluously, declared, by statute 20 Geo. II. c. 42, that, where England only is mentioned in any Act of parliament, the same, notwithstanding, hath and shall be deemed to comprehend the dominion of Wales and town of Berwick upon Tweed. And though certain of the king’s writs or processes of the courts of Westminster do not usually run into Berwick, any more than the principality of Wales, yet it hath been solemnly adjudged(g) that all prerogative writs, as those of mandamus, prohibition, habeas corpus, certiorari, &c., may issue to Berwick as well as to every other of the dominions of the crown of England, and that indictments and other local matters arising in the town of Berwick may be tried by a jury of the county of Northumberland.6

As to Ireland, that is still a distinct kingdom, though a dependent subordinate kingdom. It was only entitled the dominion or lordship of Ireland,(h) and the king’s style was no other than dominus Hiberniæ, lord of Ireland, till the thirty-third year of king Henry the Eighth, when he assumed the *[*100title of king, which is recognised by act of parliament 35 Hen. VIII. c. 3. But, as Scotland and England are now one and the same kingdom, and yet differ in their municipal laws, so England and Ireland are, on the other hand, distinct kingdoms, and yet in general agree in their laws. The inhabitants of Ireland are, for the most part, descended from the English, who planted it as a kind of colony, after the conquest of it by king Henry the Second; and the laws of England were then received and sworn to by the Irish nation assembled at the council of Lismore.(i) And as Ireland, thus conquered, planted, and governed, still continues in a state of dependence, it must necessarily conform to, and be obliged by, such laws as the superior state thinks proper to prescribe.

At the time of this conquest the Irish were governed by what they called the Brehon law, so styled from the Irish name of judges, who were denominated Brehons.(k) But king John, in the twelfth year of his reign, went into Ireland, and carried over with him many able sages of the law; and there by his letters patent, in right of the dominion of conquest, is said to have ordained and established that Ireland should be governed by the laws of England:(l) which letters patent Sir Edward Coke(m) apprehends to have been there confirmed in parliament. Edition: current; Page: [100] But to this ordinance many of the Irish were averse to conform, and still stuck to their Brehon law: so that both Henry the Third(n) and Edward the First(o) were obliged to renew the injunction; and at length, in a parliament holden at Kilkenny, 40 Edw. III., under Lionel duke of Clarence, the then lieutenant of Ireland, the Brehon law was formally abolished, it being unanimously declared to be indeed no law, but a lewd custom crept in of later times. And yet, even in the reign of queen Elizabeth, the **101]wild natives still kept and preserved their Brehon law, which is described(p) to have been “a rule of right unwritten, but delivered by tradition from one to another, in which oftentimes there appeared great show of equity in determining the right between party and party, but in many things repugnant quite both to God’s laws and man’s.” The latter part of this character is alone ascribed to it, by the laws before cited of Edward the First and his grandson.

But as Ireland was a distinct dominion, and had parliaments of its own, it is to be observed that though the immemorial customs, or common law, of England were made the rule of justice in Ireland also, yet no acts of the English parliament, since the twelfth of king John, extended into that kingdom, unless it were specially named, or included under general words, such as “within any of the king’s dominions.” And this is particularly expressed, and the reason given in the year books:(q) “a tax granted by the parliament of England shall not bind those of Ireland, because they are not summoned to our parliament;” and again, “Ireland hath a parliament of its own, and maketh and altereth laws; and our statutes do not bind them, because they do not send knights to our parliament, but their persons are the king’s subjects, like as the inhabitants of Calais, Gascoigne, and Guienne, while they continued under the king’s subjection.” The general run of laws, enacted by the superior state, are supposed to be calculated for its own internal government, and do not extend to its distant dependent countries, which, bearing no part in the legislature, are not therefore in its ordinary and daily contemplation. But, when the sovereign legislative power sees it necessary to extend its care to any of its subordinate dominions, and mentions them expressly by name, or includes them under general words, there can be no doubt but then they are bound by its laws.(r)

**102]The original method of passing statutes in Ireland was nearly the same as in England, the chief governor holding parliaments at his pleasure, which enacted such laws as they thought proper.(s) But an ill use being made of this liberty, particularly by lord Gormanstown, deputy-lieutenant in the reign of Edward IV.,(t) a set of statutes were then enacted in the 10 Hen. VII. (Sir Edward Poynings being then lord deputy, whence they are called Poynings’ laws) one of which,(u) in order to restrain the power as well of the deputy as the Irish parliament, provides, 1. That, before any parliament be summoned or holden, the chief governor and council of Ireland shall certify to the king, under the great seal of Ireland, the consideration and causes thereof, and the articles of the acts proposed to be passed therein. 2. That after the king, in his council of England, shall have considered, approved, or altered the said acts or any of them, and certified them back under the great seal of England, and shall have given license to summon and hold a parliament, then the same shall be summoned and held; and therein the said acts so certified, and no other, shall be proposed, received, or rejected.(w) But as this precluded any law from being proposed, but such as were preconceived before the parliament was in being, which occasioned many inconveniences and made frequent dissolutions necessary, it was provided by the statute of Philip and Mary, before cited, that any new propositions might be certified to England in the usual forms, even after the summons and during the session of parliament. By this means however, there was nothing left to the parliament in Ireland but a bare negative Edition: current; Page: [102] or power of rejecting, not of proposing or altering, any law. But the usage now is, that bills are often framed in either house, under the denomination of “heads for a bill or bills:” and in that shape they are offered to the consideration of the lord lieutenant and privy council, who, upon such parliamentary intimation or otherwise upon the application of private persons, receive and transmit such *[*103heads, or reject them without any transmission to England. And with regard to Poynings’ law in particular, it cannot be repealed or suspended, unless the bill for that purpose, before it be certified to England, be approved by both the houses.(x)

But the Irish nation, being excluded from the benefit of the English statutes, were deprived of many good and profitable laws, made for the improvement of the common law: and the measure of justice in both kingdoms becoming thence no longer uniform, it was therefore enacted by another of Poynings’ laws,(y) that all acts of parliament before made in England should be of force within the realm of Ireland.(z) But, by the same rule, that no laws made in England, between king John’s time and Poynings’ law, were then binding in Ireland, it follows that no acts of the English parliament, made since the 10 Hen. VII. do now bind the people of Ireland, unless specially named or included under general words.(a) And on the other hand it is equally clear, that where Ireland is particularly named, or is included under general words, they are bound by such acts of parliament. For this follows from the very nature and constitution of a dependent state: dependence being very little else, but an obligation to conform to the will or law of that superior person or state, upon which the inferior depends. The original and true ground of this superiority, in the present case, is what we usually call, though somewhat improperly, the right of conquest: a right allowed by the law of nations, if not by that of nature; but which in reason and civil policy can mean nothing more, than that, in order to put an end to hostilities, a compact is either expressly or tacitly made between the conqueror and the conquered, that if they will acknowledge the victor for their master, he will treat them for the future as subjects, and not as enemies.(b)

*[*104But this state of dependence being almost forgotten and ready to be disputed by the Irish nation, it became necessary some years ago to declare how that matter really stood: and therefore by statute 6 Geo. I. c. 5, it is declared that the kingdom of Ireland ought to be subordinate to, and dependent upon, the imperial crown of Great Britain, as being inseparably united thereto; and that the king’s majesty, with the consent of the lords and commons of Great Britain in parliament, hath power to make laws to bind the people of Ireland.7

Thus we see how extensively the laws of Ireland communicate with those of England: and indeed such communication is highly necessary, as the ultimate resort from the courts of justice in Ireland is, as in Wales, to those in England; a writ of error (in the nature of an appeal) lying from the King’s Bench in Ireland to the King’s Bench in England,(c) as the appeal from the Chancery in Ireland lies immediately to the House of Lords here: it being expressly declared by the same statute, 6 Geo. I. c. 5, that the peers of Ireland have no jurisdiction to affirm or reverse any judgments or decrees whatsoever. The propriety, and even necessity, in all inferior dominions, of this constitution, “that, though justice be in general administered by courts of their own, yet that the appeal Edition: current; Page: [104] in the last resort ought to be to the courts of the superior state,” is founded upon these two reasons. 1. Because otherwise the law, appointed or permitted to such inferior dominion, might be insensibly changed within itself, without the assent of the superior. 2. Because otherwise judgments might be given to the disadvantage or diminution of the superiority; or to make the dependence to be only of the person of the king, and not of the crown of England.(d)8

Edition: current; Page: [105]

With regard to the other adjacent islands which are subject to the crown of Great Britain, some of them (as the isle of *[*105Wight, of Portland, of Thanet, &c.) are comprised within some neighbouring county, and are therefore to be looked upon as annexed to the mother island, and part of the kingdom of England. But there are others which require a more particular consideration.

And, first, the isle of Man is a distinct territory from England, and is not governed by our laws: neither doth any act of parliament extend to it, unless it be particularly named therein; and then an act of parliament is binding there.(e) It was formerly a subordinate feudatory kingdom, subject to the kings of Norway; then to king John and Henry III. of England, afterwards to the kings of Scotland; and then again to the crown of England: and at length we find king Henry IV, claiming the island by right of conquest, and disposing of it to the Earl of Northumberland; upon whose attainder it was granted (by the name of the lordship of Man) to Sir John de Stanley by letters patent 7 Henry IV.(f) In his lineal descendants it continued for eight generations, till the death of Ferdinando Earl of Derby, ad 1594: when a controversy arose concerning the inheritance thereof, between his daughters and Edition: current; Page: [105] William his surviving brother: upon which, and a doubt that was started concerning the validity of the original patent,(g) the island was seized into the queen’s hands, and afterwards various grants were made of it by king James the First; all which being expired or surrendered, it was granted afresh in 7 Jac. I. to William Earl of Derby, and the heirs male of his body, with remainder to his heirs general; which grant was the next year confirmed by act of parliament, with a restraint of the power of alienation by the said earl and his issue male. On the death of James Earl of Derby, ad 1735, the male line of Earl William failing, the Duke of Atholl succeeded to the island as heir general by a female branch. In the mean time, though the title of king had been long disused, the Earls of Derby, as Lords of Man, had maintained a sort of royal authority therein; by assenting or **106]dissenting to laws, and exercising an appellate jurisdiction. Yet, though no English writ, or process from the courts of Westminster, was of any authority in Man, an appeal lay from a decree of the lord of the island to the King of Great Britain in council.(h) But the distinct jurisdiction of this little subordinate royalty being found inconvenient for the purposes of public justice, and for the revenue, (it affording a commodious asylum for debtors, outlaws, and smugglers,) authority was given to the treasury by statute 12 Geo. I. c. 28, to purchase the interest of the then proprietors for the use of the crown: which purchase was at length completed in the year 1765, and confirmed by statutes 5 Geo. III. c. 26 and 39, whereby the whole island and all its dependencies so granted as aforesaid, (except the landed property of the Atholl family, their manorial rights and emoluments, and the patronage of the bishopric(i) and other ecclesiastical benefices,) are unalienably vested in the crown, and subjected to the regulations of the British excise and customs.

The islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, and their appendages, were parcel of the duchy of Normandy, and were united to the crown of England by the first princes of the Norman line. They are governed by their own laws, which are for the most part the ducal customs of Normandy, being collected in an ancient book of very great authority, entitled, le grand Coustumier. The king’s writ, or process from the courts of Westminster, is there of no force; but his commission is. They are not bound by common Acts of our parliaments, unless particularly named.(k) All causes are originally determined by their own officers, the bailiffs and jurats of the islands; but an appeal lies from them to the king and council, in the last resort.

Besides these adjacent islands, our more distant plantations in America, and elsewhere, are also in some respect subject to the English laws. Plantations or colonies, in distant **107]countries, are either such where the lands are claimed by right of occupancy only, by finding them desert and uncultivated, and peopling them from the mother-country; or where, when already cultivated, they have been either gained by conquest, or ceded to us by treaties. And both these rights are founded upon the law of nature, or at least upon that of nations. But there is a difference between these two species of colonies, with respect to the laws by which they are bound. For it hath Edition: current; Page: [107] been held,(l) that if an uninhabited country be discovered and planted by English subjects, all the English laws then in being, which are the birthright of every subject,(m) are immediately there in force. But this must be understood with very many and very great restrictions. Such colonists carry with them only so much of the English law as is applicable to their own situation and the condition of an infant colony; such, for instance, as the general rules of inheritance, and of protection from personal injuries. The artificial refinements and distinctions incident to the property of a great and commercial people, the laws of police and revenue, (such especially as are enforced by penalties,) the mode of maintenance for the established clergy, the jurisdiction of spiritual courts, and a multitude of other provisions, are neither necessary nor convenient for them, and therefore are not in force.9 What shall be admitted and what rejected, at what times, and under what restrictions, must, in case of dispute, be decided in the first instance by their own provincial judicature, subject to the revision and control of the king in council: the whole of their constitution being also liable to be new-modelled and reformed by the general superintending power of the legislature in the mother-country. But in conquered or ceded countries, that have already laws of their own, the king may indeed alter and change those laws;10 but, till he does actually change them, the ancient laws of the country remain, unless such as are against the law of God, as in the case of an infidel country.(n) Our American plantations are principally of this latter sort, being obtained in the last century either by right of conquest and driving out the natives, (with what natural justice I shall not at present inquire,) *[*108or by treaties. And therefore the common law of England, as such, has no allowance or authority there; they being no part of the mother-country, but distinct, though dependent, dominions. They are subject, however, to the control of the parliament; though (like Ireland, Man, and the rest) not bound by any acts of parliament, unless particularly named.11

Edition: current; Page: [108]

With respect to their interior polity, our colonies are properly of three sorts. 1. Provincial establishments, the constitutions of which depend on the respective commissions issued by the crown to the governors, and the instructions which usually accompany those commissions; under the authority of which, provincial assemblies are constituted, with the power of making local ordinances, not repugnant to the laws of England. 2. Proprietary governments, granted out by the crown to individuals, in the nature of feudatory principalities, with all the inferior regalities, and subordinate powers of legislation, which formerly belonged to the owners of counties-palatine: yet still with these express conditions, that the ends for which the grant was made be substantially pursued, and that nothing be attempted which may derogate from the sovereignty of the mother-country. 3. Charter governments, in the nature of civil corporations, with the power of making bye-laws for their own interior regulations, not contrary to the laws of England; and with such rights and authorities as are specially given them in their several charters of incorporation. The form of government in most of them is borrowed from that of England. They have a governor named by the king, (or, in some proprietary colonies, by the proprietor,) who is his representative or deputy. They have courts of justice of their own, from whose decisions an appeal lies to the king and council here in England. Their general assemblies, which are their House of Commons, together with their council of state, being their upper house, with the concurrence of the king or his representative the governor, Edition: current; Page: [108] make laws suited to their own emergencies.12 But it is particularly declared by statute 7 and 8 W. III. c. 22, that *[*109all laws, bye-laws, usages, and customs, which shall be in practice in any of the plantations, repugnant to any law, made or to be made in this kingdom relative to the said plantations, shall be utterly void and of none effect. And, because several of the colonies had claimed a sole and exclusive right of imposing taxes upon themselves, the statute 6 Geo. III. c. 12 expressly declares, that all his majesty’s colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate to and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; who have full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever. And this authority has been since very forcibly exemplified, and carried into act, by the statute 7 Geo. III. c. 59, for suspending the legislation of New York; and by several subsequent statutes.13

These are the several parts of the dominions of the crown of Great Britain, in which the municipal laws of England are not of force or authority, merely Edition: current; Page: [109] as the municipal laws of England. Most of them have probably copied the spirit of their own law from this original; but then it receives its obligation, and authoritative force, from being the law of the country.

As to any foreign dominions which may belong to the person of the king by hereditary descent, by purchase, or other acquisition, as the territory of Hanover, and his majesty’s other property in Germany; as these do not in any wise appertain to the crown of these kingdoms, they are entirely unconnected with the laws of England, and do not communicate with this nation in any respect whatsoever. The English legislature had wisely remarked the inconveniences that had formerly resulted from dominions on the continent of Europe; from the Norman territory which William the conqueror brought with him, and held in conjunction with the **110]English throne; and from Anjou, and its appendages, which fell to Henry the Second by hereditary descent. They had seen the nation engaged for near four hundred years together in ruinous wars for defence of these foreign dominions; till, happily for this country, they were lost under the reign of Henry the Sixth. They observed that, from that time, the maritime interests of England were better understood and more closely pursued: that, in consequence of this attention, the nation, as soon as she had rested from her civil wars, began at this period to flourish all at once; and became much more considerable in Europe than when her princes were possessed of a large territory, and her councils distracted by foreign interests. This experience, and these considerations, gave birth to a conditional clause in the act(o) of settlement, which vested the crown in his present majesty’s illustrious house, “that in case the crown and imperial dignity of this realm shall hereafter come to any person not being a native of this kingdom of England, this nation shall not be obliged to engage in any war for the defence of any dominions or territories which do not belong to the crown of England, without consent of parliament.”

We come now to consider the kingdom of England in particular, the direct and immediate subject of those laws, concerning which we are to treat in the ensuing commentaries. And this comprehends not only Wales and Berwick, of which enough has been already said, but also part of the sea. The main or high seas are part of the realm of England, for thereon our courts of admiralty have jurisdiction, as will be shown hereafter; but they are not subject to the common law.(p)14 This main sea begins at the low-water mark. But between the high-water mark and the low-water mark, where the sea ebbs and flows, the common law and admiralty have divisum imperium, an alternate jurisdiction; one upon the water, when it is full sea; the other upon the land, when it is an ebb.(q)

Edition: current; Page: [111]

*[*111The territory of England is liable to two divisions; the one ecclesiastical, the other civil.

1. The ecclesiastical division is primarily into two provinces, those of Canterbury and York. A province is the circuit of an archbishop’s jurisdiction. Each province contains divers dioceses, or sees of suffragan bishops; whereof Canterbury includes twenty-one, and York three: besides the bishopric of the isle of Man, which was annexed to the province of York by king Henry VIII. Every diocese is divided into archdeaconries, whereof there are sixty in all; each archdeaconry into rural deaneries, which are the circuit of the archdeacon’s and rural dean’s jurisdiction, of whom hereafter: and every deanery is divided into parishes.(r)

A parish is that circuit of ground which is committed to the charge of one parson or vicar, or other minister having cure of souls therein. These districts are computed to be near ten thousand in number.(s) How ancient the division of parishes is, may at present be difficult to ascertain; for it seems to be agreed on all hands, that in the early ages of Christianity in this island, parishes were unknown, or at least signified the same that a diocese does now. There was then no appropriation of ecclesiastical dues to any particular church; but every man was at liberty to contribute his tithes to whatever priest or church he pleased, provided only that he did it to some; or if he made no special appointment or appropriation thereof, they were paid into the hands of the bishop, whose duty it was to distribute them among the clergy, and for other pious purposes, according to his own discretion.(t)

Mr. Camden(u) says, England was divided into parishes by Archbishop Honorius about the year 630. Sir Henry Hobart(w) lays it down, that parishes were first erected by the council of Lateran, which was held ad 1179. Each widely differing *[*112from the other, and both of them perhaps from the truth; which will probably be found in the medium between the two extremes. For Mr. Selden has clearly shown(x) that the clergy lived in common without any division of parishes, long after the time mentioned by Camden. And it appears from the Saxon laws, that parishes were in being long before the date of that council of Lateran, to which they are ascribed by Hobart.

We find the distinction of parishes, nay, even of mother-churches, so early as in the laws of king Edgar, about the year 970. Before that time the consecration of tithes was in general arbitrary; that is, every man paid his own (as was before observed) to what church or parish he pleased. But this being liable to be attended with either fraud, or at least caprice, in the persons paying; and with either jealousies or mean compliances in such as were competitors for receiving them; it was now ordered by the law of king Edgar,(y) that “dentur omnes decimæ primariæ ecclesiæ ad quam parochia pertinet.” However, if any thane, or great lord, had a church, within his own demesnes, distinct from the mother-church, in the nature of a private chapel; then, provided such church had a cemetery or consecrated place of burial belonging to it, he might allot one-third of his tithes for the maintenance of the officiating minister; but if it had no cemetery, the thane must himself have maintained his chaplain by some other means; for in such case all his tithes were ordained to be paid to the primariæ ecclesiæ or mother-church.(z)

This proves that the kingdom was then generally divided into parishes; which division happened probably not all at once, but by degrees. For it seems pretty clear and certain that the boundaries of parishes were originally ascertained by those of a manor or manors: since it very seldom happens that a manor extends itself over more parishes than one, though there are often many manors in one parish. *[*113The lords, as Christianity spread itself, began to build churches upon their own demesnes or wastes, to accommodate their tenants in one or two adjoining lordships; and, in order to have divine service regularly Edition: current; Page: [113] performed therein, obliged all their tenants to appropriate their tithes to the maintenance of the one officiating minister, instead of leaving them at liberty to distribute them among the clergy of the diocese in general; and this tract of land, the tithes whereof were so appropriated, formed a distinct parish. Which will well enough account for the frequent intermixture of parishes one with another. For, if a lord had a parcel of land detached from the main of his estate, but not sufficient to form a parish of itself, it was natural for him to endow his newly erected church with the tithes of those disjointed lands; especially if no church was then built in any lordship adjoining to those outlying parcels.

Thus parishes were gradually formed, and parish churches endowed with the tithes that arose within the circuit assigned. But some lands, either because they were in the hands of irreligious and careless owners, or were situate in forests and desert places, or for other now unsearchable reasons, were never united to any parish, and therefore continue to this day extra-parochial; and their tithes are now by immemorial custom payable to the king instead of the bishop, in trust and confidence that he will distribute them for the general good of the church:(a) yet extra-parochial wastes and marsh-lands, when improved and drained, are by the statute 17 Geo. II. c. 37, to be assessed to all parochial rates in the parish next adjoining. And thus much for the ecclesiastical division of this kingdom.

2. The civil division of the territory of England is into counties, of those counties into hundreds, of those hundreds into tithings or towns. Which division, as it now stands, seems to owe its original to king Alfred,15 who, to prevent **114]the rapines and disorders which formerly prevailed in the realm, instituted tithings, so called from the Saxon, because ten freeholders, with their families, composed one. These all dwelt together, and were sureties or free pledges to the king for the good behaviour of each other; and, if any offence was committed in their district, they were bound to have the offender forthcoming.(b) And therefore anciently no man was suffered to abide in England above forty days, unless he were enrolled in some tithing or decennary.(c) One of the principal inhabitants of the tithing is annually appointed to preside ever the rest, being called the tithing-man, the headborough, (words which speak their own etymology,) and in some countries the borsholder, or borough’s-ealder, being supposed the discreetest man in the borough, town, or tithing.(d)

Tithings, towns, or vills, are of the same signification in law; and are said to have had, each of them, originally a church and celebration of divine service, sacraments, and burials:(e) though that seems to be rather an ecclesiastical, than a civil, distinction. The word town or vill is indeed, by the alteration of times and language, now become a generical term, comprehending under it the several species of cities, boroughs, and common towns. A city is a town incorporated, which is or hath been the see of a bishop; and though the Edition: current; Page: [114] bishopric be dissolved, as at Westminster,16 yet it still remaineth a city.(f) A borough is now understood to be a town, either corporate or not, that sendeth burgesses to parliament.(g) Other towns there are, to the number, Sir Edward Coke says,(h) of 8803, which are neither cities nor boroughs; some of which have the privileges of markets and others not; but both are equally towns in law. To several of these towns there are small appendages belonging, called *[*115hamlets, which are taken notice of in the statute of Exeter,(i) which makes frequent mention of entire vills, demi-vills, and hamlets. Entire vills Sir Henry Spelman(k) conjectures to have consisted of ten freemen, or frank-pledges, demi-vills of five, and hamlets of less than five. These little collections of houses are sometimes under the same administration as the town itself, sometimes governed by separate officers; in which last case they are, to some purposes in law, looked upon as distinct townships. These towns, as was before hinted, contained each originally but one parish, and one tithing; though many of them now, by the increase of inhabitants, are divided into several parishes and tithings; and sometimes, where there is but one parish, there are two or more vills or tithings.

As ten families of freeholders made up a town or tithing, so ten tithings composed a superior division, called a hundred, as consisting of ten times ten families. The hundred is governed by a high constable, or bailiff, and formerly there was regularly held in it the hundred court for the trial of causes, though now fallen into disuse. In some of the more northern counties these hundreds are called wapentakes.(l)17

The subdivision of hundreds into tithings seems to be most peculiarly the Edition: current; Page: [115] invention of Alfred: the institution of hundreds themselves he rather introduced than invented; for they seem to have obtained in Denmark:(m) and we find that in France a regulation of this sort was made above two hundred years before, set on foot by Clotharius and Childebert, with a view of obliging each district to answer for the robberies committed in its own division. These divisions were, in that country, as well military as civil, and each contained a hundred freemen, who were subject to an officer called the centenarius, a number of which centenarii were themselves subject to a superior officer called the count or comes.(n) And **116]indeed something like this institution of hundreds may be traced back as far as the ancient Germans, from whom were derived both the Franks, who became masters of Gaul, and the Saxons, who settled in England; for both the thing and the name, as a territorial assemblage of persons, from which afterwards a territory itself might properly receive its denomination, were well known to that warlike people. “Centeni ex singulis pagis sunt, idque ipsum inter suos vocantur; et quod primo numerus fuit, jam nomen et honor est.(o)

An indefinite number of these hundreds make up a county or shire. Shire is a Saxon word signifying a division; but a county, comitatus, is plainly derived from comes, the count of the Franks; that is, the earl, or alderman (as the Saxons called him) of the shire, to whom the government of it was intrusted. This he usually exercised by his deputy, still called in Latin vice-comes, and in English the sheriff, shrieve, or shire-reeve, signifying the officer of the shire, upon whom, by process of time, the civil administration of it is now totally devolved. In some counties there is an intermediate division between the shire and the hundreds, as lathes in Kent, and rapes in Sussex, each of them containing about three or four hundreds apiece. These had formerly their lathe-reeves, and rape-reeves, acting in subordination to the shire-reeve. Where a county is divided into three of these intermediate jurisdictions, they are called trithings,(p) which were anciently governed by a trithing-reeve. These trithings still subsist in the large county of York, where, by an easy corruption, they are denominated ridings; the north, the east, and the west riding. The number of counties in England and Wales have been different at different times; at present they are forty in England and twelve in Wales.

Three of these counties, Chester, Durham, and Lancaster, are called counties palatine. The two former are such by prescription or immemorial custom, or at least as old as **117]the Norman conquest:(q) the latter was created by king Edward III. in favour of Henry Plantagenet, first earl and then duke of Lancaster;(r) whose heiress being married to John of Gaunt, the king’s son, the franchise was greatly enlarged and confirmed in parliament,(s) to honour John of Gaunt himself, whom, on the death of his father-in-law, the king had also created duke of Lancaster.(t) Counties palatine are so called a palatio, because the owners thereof, the earl of Chester, the bishop of Durham, and the duke of Lancaster, had in those counties jura regalia, as fully as the king hath in his palace; regalem potestatem in omnibus, as Bracton expresses it.(u) They might pardon treasons, murders, and felonies; they appointed all judges and justices of the peace; all writs and indictments ran in their names, as in other counties in the king’s; and all offences were said to be done against their peace, and not, as in other places, contra pacem domini regis.(w) And indeed by the ancient law in all peculiar jurisdictions, offences were said to be done against his peace in whose court they were tried: in a court-leet, contra pacem domini; in the court of a corporation, contra pacem ballivorum; in the sheriff’s court or tourn, contra pacem vice-comitis.(x) These palatine privileges (so similar to the regal independent jurisdictions usurped by the great barons on the continent, during the weak and infant state of the first feodal kingdoms in Europe,)(y) were, in all probability, originally granted to the counties of Chester and Durham, Edition: current; Page: [117] because they bordered upon inimical countries, Wales and Scotland, in order that the inhabitants, having justice administered at home, might not be obliged to go out of the county, and leave it open to the enemy’s incursions; and that the owners, being encouraged by so large an authority, might be the more watchful in its defence. And upon this account also there were formerly two other counties palatine, *[*118Pembrokeshire and Hexhamshire, the latter now united with Northumberland; but these were abolished by parliament, the former in 27 Hen. VIII., the latter in 14 Eliz. And in 27 Hen. VIII. likewise, the powers before mentioned of owners of counties palatine were abridged; the reason for their continuance in a manner ceasing; though still all writs are witnessed in their names, and all forfeitures for treason by the common law accrue to them.(z)

Of these three, the county of Durham is now the only one remaining in the hands of a subject; for the earldom of Chester, as Camden testifies, was united to the crown by Henry III., and has ever since given title to the king’s eldest son. And the county palatine, or duchy, of Lancaster, was the property of Henry Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt, at the time when he wrested the crown from king Richard II. and assumed the title of king Henry IV. But he was too prudent to suffer this to be united to the crown, lest, if he lost one, he should lose the other also; for, as Plowden(a) and Sir Edward Coke(b) observe, “he knew he had the duchy of Lancaster by sure and indefeasible title, but that his title to the crown was not so assured; for that, after the decease of Richard II. the right heir of the crown was in the heir of Lionel, duke of Clarence, second son of Edward III.; John of Gaunt, father to this Henry IV., being but the fourth son.” And therefore he procured an act of parliament, in the first year of his reign, ordaining that the duchy of Lancaster, and all other his hereditary estates, with all their royalties and franchises, should remain to him and his heirs forever; and should remain, descend, be administered, and governed, in like manner as if he never had attained the regal dignity: and thus they descended to his son and grandson, Henry V. and Henry VI., many new territories and privileges being annexed to the duchy by the former.(c) Henry VI. being attainted in 1 Edw. IV. this duchy was declared in parliament *[*119to have become forfeited to the crown,(d) and at the same time an act was made to incorporate the duchy of Lancaster, to continue the county palatine, (which might otherwise have determined by the attainder,)(e) and to make the same parcel of the duchy; and farther, to vest the whole in king Edward IV. and his heirs, kings of England, forever; but under a separate guiding and governance from the other inheritances of the crown. And in 1 Hen. VII. another act was made, to resume such parts of the duchy lands as had been dismembered from it in the reign of Edw. IV., and to vest the inheritance of the whole in the king and his heirs forever, as amply and largely, and in like manner, form, and condition, separate from the crown of England and possession of the same, as the three Henries and Edward IV., or any of them, had and held the same.(f)

The Isle of Ely is not a county palatine, though sometimes erroneously called so, but only a royal franchise; the bishop having, by grant of king Henry the First, jura regalia within the Isle of Ely, whereby he exercises a jurisdiction over all causes, as well criminal as civil.(g)

Edition: current; Page: [120]

**120]There are also counties corporate, which are certain cities and towns, some with more, some with less territory annexed to them; to which, out of special grace and favour, the kings of England have granted the privilege to be counties of themselves, and not to be comprised in any other county; but to be governed by their own sheriffs and other magistrates, so that no officers of the county at large have any power to intermeddle therein. Such are London, York, Bristol, Norwich, Coventry, and many others. And thus much of the countries subject to the laws of England.18

Edition: current; Page: [121]


BOOK THE FIRST. Of the Rights of Persons.


The objects of the laws of England are so very numerous and extensive, that, in order to consider them with any tolerable ease and perspicuity, it will be necessary to distribute them methodically under proper and distinct heads; avoiding as much as possible divisions too large and comprehensive on the one hand, and too trifling and minute on the other; both of which are equally productive of confusion.

*[*122Now, as municipal law is a rule of civil conduct, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong; or as Cicero,(a) and after him our Bracton,(b) have expressed it, sanctio justa, jubens honesta et prohibens contraria, it follows that the primary and principal object of the law are rights and wrongs. In the prosecution, therefore, of these commentaries, I shall follow this very simple and obvious division; and shall, in the first place, consider the rights that are commanded, and secondly the wrongs that are forbidden, by the laws of England.

Rights are, however, liable to another subdivision; being either, first, those which concern and are annexed to the persons of men, and are then called jura personarum, or the rights of persons; or they are, secondly, such as a man may acquire over external objects, or things unconnected with his person, which are styled jura rerum, or the rights of things. Wrongs also are divisible into, first, private wrongs, which, being an infringement merely of particular rights, concern individuals only, and are called civil injuries; and, secondly, public wrongs, which, being a breach of general and public rights, affect the whole community, and are called crimes and misdemesnors.

The objects of the laws of England falling into this fourfold division, the present commentaries will therefore consist of the four following parts: 1. The rights of persons, with the means whereby such rights may be either acquired or lost. 2. The rights of things, with the means also of acquiring or losing them. 3. Private wrongs, or civil injuries, with the means of redressing them by law. 4. Public wrongs, or crimes and misdemesnors, with the means of prevention and punishment.1

Edition: current; Page: [122]

We are now first to consider the rights of persons, with the means of acquiring and losing them.

**123]Now the rights of persons that are commanded to be observed by the municipal law are of two sorts: first, such as are due from every citizen, which are usually called civil duties; and, secondly, such as belong to him, which is the more popular acceptation of rights or jura. Both may indeed be comprised in this latter division; for, as all social duties are of a relative nature, at the same time that they are due from one man, or set of men, they must also be due to another. But I apprehend it will be more clear and easy to consider many of them as duties required from, rather than as rights belonging to, particular persons. Thus, for instance, allegiance is usually, and therefore most easily, considered as the duty of the people, and protection as the duty of the magistrate; and yet they are reciprocally the rights as well as duties of each other. Allegiance is the right of the magistrate, and protection the right of the people.

Persons also are divided by the law into either natural persons, or artificial. Natural persons are such as the God of nature formed us; artificial are such as are created and devised by human laws for the purposes of society and government, which are called corporations or bodies politic.

The rights of persons considered in their natural capacities are also of two sorts, absolute and relative. Absolute, which are such as appertain and belong to particular men, merely as individuals or single persons: relative, which are incident to them as members of society, and standing in various relations to each other. The first, that is, absolute rights, will be the subject of the present chapter.

By the absolute rights of individuals, we mean those which are so in their primary and strictest sense; such as would belong to their persons merely in a state of nature, and which every man is entitled to enjoy, whether out of society or in it. But with regard to the absolute duties, which man is bound **124]to perform considered as a mere individual, it is not to be expected that any human municipal law should at all explain or enforce them. For the end and intent of such laws being only to regulate the behaviour of mankind, as they are members of society, and stand in various relations to each other, they have consequently no concern with any other but social or relative duties. Let a man therefore be ever so abandoned in his principles, or vicious in his practice, provided he keeps his wickedness to himself, and does not offend against the rules of public decency, he is out of the reach of human laws. But if he makes his vices public, though they be such as seem principally to affect himself, (as drunkenness, or the like,) then they become, by the bad example they set, of pernicious effects to society; and therefore it is then the business of human laws to correct them. Here the circumstance of publication is what alters the nature of the case. Public sobriety is a relative duty, and therefore enjoined by our laws; private sobriety is an absolute duty, which, whether it be performed or not, human tribunals can never know; and therefore they can never enforce Edition: current; Page: [124] it by any civil sanction.2 But, with respect to rights, the case is different Human laws define and enforce as well those rights which belong to a man considered as an individual, as those which belong to him considered as related to others.

For the principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature, but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities. Hence it follows, that the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals. Such rights as are social and relative result from, and are posterior to, the formation of states and societies: so that to maintain and regulate these is clearly a subsequent consideration. And, therefore, the principal view of human laws is, or ought always to be, to explain, protect, and enforce such rights as are absolute, which in *[*125themselves are few and simple: and then such rights as are relative, which, arising from a variety of connections, will be far more numerous and more complicated. These will take up a greater space in any code of laws, and hence may appear to be more attended to—though in reality they are not—than the rights of the former kind. Let us therefore proceed to examine how far all laws ought, and how far the laws of England actually do, take notice of these absolute rights, and provide for their lasting security.3

Edition: current; Page: [125]

The absolute rights of man, considered as a free agent, endowed with discernment to know good from evil, and with power of choosing those measures which appear to him to be most desirable, are usually summed up in one general appellation, and denominated the natural liberty of mankind. This natural liberty consists properly in a power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, unless by the law of nature; being a right inherent in us by birth, and one of the gifts of God to man at his creation, when he endued him with the faculty of free will. But every man, when he enters into society, gives up a part of his natural liberty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and, in consideration of receiving the advantages of mutual commerce, obligos himself to conform to those laws, which the community has thought proper to establish. And this species of legal obedience and conformity is infinitely more desirable than that wild and savage liberty which is sacrificed to obtain it. For no man that considers a moment would wish to retain the absolute and uncontrolled power of doing whatever he pleases: the consequence of which is, that every other man would also have the same power, and then there would be no security to individuals in any of the enjoyments of life. Political, therefore, or civil liberty, which is that of a member of society, is no other than natural liberty so far restrained by human laws (and no farther) as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public.(c) Hence we may collect that the law, which restrains a man from doing **126]mischief to his fellow-citizens, though it diminishes the natural, increases the civil liberty of mankind; but that every wanton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether practised by a monarch, a nobility, or a popular assembly, is a degree of tyranny: nay, that even laws themselves, whether made with or without our consent, if they regulate and constrain our conduct in matters of more indifference, without any good end in view, are regulations destructive Edition: current; Page: [126] of liberty: whereas, if any public advantage can arise from observing such precepts, the control of our private inclinations, in one or two particular points, will conduce to preserve our general freedom in others of more importance; by supporting that state of society, which alone can secure our independence. Thus the statute of king Edward IV.,(d) which forbade the fine gentlemen of those times (under the degree of a lord) to wear pikes upon their shoes or boots of more than two inches in length, was a law that savoured of oppression; because, however ridiculous the fashion then in use might appear, the restraining it by pecuniary penalties could serve no purpose of common utility. But the statute of king Charles II.,(e)4 which prescribes a thing seemingly as indifferent, (a dress for the dead, who are all ordered to be buried in woollen,) is a law consistent with public liberty; for it encourages the staple trade, on which in great measure depends the universal good of the nation. So that laws, when prudently framed, are by no means subversive, but rather introductive, of liberty; for, as Mr. Locke has well observed,(f) where there is no law there is no freedom. But then, on the other hand, that constitution or frame of government, that system of laws, is alone calculated to maintain civil liberty, which leaves the subject entire master of his own conduct, except in those points wherein the public good requires some direction or restraint.5

Edition: current; Page: [126]

The idea and practice of this political or civil liberty flourish in their highest vigour in these kingdoms, where it falls **127]little short of perfection, and can only be lost or destroyed by the folly or demerits of its owner: the legislature, and of course the laws of England, being peculiarly adapted to the preservation of this inestimable blessing even in the meanest subject. Very Edition: current; Page: [127] different from the modern constitutions of other states, on the continent of Europe, and from the genius of the imperial law; which in general are calculated to vest an arbitrary and despotic power, of controlling the actions of the subject, in the prince, or in a few grandees. And this spirit of liberty is so deeply implanted in our constitution, and rooted even in our very soil, that a slave or a negro, the moment he lands in England, falls under the protection of the laws, and so far becomes a freeman;(g) though the master’s right to his service may possibly still continue.6

The absolute rights of every Englishman, (which, taken in a political and extensive sense, are usually called their liberties,) as they are founded on nature and reason, so they are coeval with our form of government; though subject at times to fluctuate and change: their establishment (excellent as it is) being still human. At some times we have seen them depressed by overbearing and tyrannical princes; at others so luxuriant as even to tend to anarchy, a worse state than tyranny itself, as any government is better than none at all.7 But the vigour of our free constitution has always delivered the nation from these embarrassments: and, as soon as the convulsions consequent on the struggle have been over, the balance of our rights and liberties has settled to its proper level; and their fundamental articles have been from time to time asserted in parliament, as often as they were thought to be in danger.8

Edition: current; Page: [127]

First, by the great charter of liberties, which was obtained, sword in hand, from king John, and afterwards, with some alterations, confirmed in parliament by king Henry the Third, his son. Which charter contained very few new grants; but, as Sir Edward Coke(h) observes, was for the most part declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental **128]laws of England. Afterwards by the statute called confirmatio cartarum,(i) whereby the great Edition: current; Page: [128] charter is directed to be allowed as the common law; all judgments contrary to it are declared void; copies of it are ordered to be sent to all cathedral churches, and read twice a year to the people; and sentence of excommunication is directed to be as constantly denounced against all those that, by word, deed, or counsel, act contrary thereto, or in any degree infringe it. Next, by a multitude of subsequent corroborating statutes, (Sir Edward Coke, I think, reckons thirty-two,)(k) from the first Edward to Henry the Fourth. Then, after a long interval, by the petition of right; which was a parliamentary declaration of the liberties of the people, assented to by king Charles the First in the beginning of his reign: which was closely followed by the still more ample concessions made by that unhappy prince to his parliament before the fatal rupture between them; and by the many salutary laws, particularly the habeas corpus act, passed under Charles the Second. To these succeeded the bill of rights, or declaration delivered by the lords and commons to the Prince and Princess of Orange, 13th of February, 1688; and afterwards enacted in parliament, when they became king and queen; which declaration concludes in these remarkable words:—“and Edition: current; Page: [128] they do claim, demand, and insist upon, all and singular the premises, as their undoubted rights and liberties.” And the act of parliament itself(l) recognises “all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and claimed in the said declaration to be the true, ancient, and indubitable rights of the people of this kingdom.” Lastly, these liberties were again asserted at the commencement of the present century, in the act of settlement,(m) whereby the crown was limited to his present majesty’s illustrious house: and some new provisions were added, at the same fortunate era, for better securing our religion, laws, and liberties; which the statute declares to be “the birthright of the people of England,” according to the ancient doctrine of the common law.(n)

**129]Thus much for the declaration of our rights and liberties. The rights themselves, thus defined by these several statutes, consist in a number of private immunities; which will appear, from what has been premised, to be indeed no other, than either that residuum of natural liberty, which is not required by the laws of society to be sacrificed to public convenience; or else those civil privileges, which society hath engaged to provide, in lieu of the natural liberties so given up by individuals. These, therefore, were formerly, either by inheritance or purchase, the rights of all mankind; but, in most other countries of the world being now more or less debased and destroyed, they at present may be said to remain, in a peculiar and emphatical manner, the rights of the people of England. And these may be reduced to three principal or primary articles; the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property: because, as there is no other known method of compulsion, or abridging man’s natural free will, but by an infringement or diminution of one or other of these important rights, the preservation of these, inviolate, may justly be said to include the preservation of our civil immunities in their largest and most extensive sense.

I. The right of personal security consists in a person’s legal and uninterrupted enjoyment of his life, his limbs, his body, his health, and his reputation.

1. Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb. For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion or otherwise, killeth it in her womb; or if any one beat her, whereby the child dieth in her body, and she is delivered of a dead child; this, though not murder,9 was by the ancient law homicide or manslaughter.(o) But the modern law doth not look **130]upon this offence in quite so atrocious a light,10 but merely as a heinous misdemesnor.(p)

An infant in ventre sa mere, or in the mother’s womb, is supposed in law to be born for many purposes.11 It is capable of having a legacy, or a surrender of a copyhold estate, made to it. It may have a guardian assigned to it;(q) and it is enabled to have an estate limited to its use, and to take afterwards by such limitation, Edition: current; Page: [130] as if it were then actually born.(r) And in this point the civil law agrees with ours.(s)

2. A man’s limbs (by which for the present we only understand those members which may be useful to him in fight, and the loss of which alone amounts to mayhem by the common law) are also the gift of the wise Creator, to enable him to protect himself from external injuries in a state of nature. To these therefore he has a natural inherent right; and they cannot be wantonly destroyed or disabled without a manifest breach of civil liberty.

Both the life and limbs of a man are of such high value, in the estimation of the law of England, that it pardons even homicide if committed se defendendo, or in order to preserve them. For whatever is done by a man to save either life or member, is looked upon as done upon the highest necessity and compulsion. Therefore, if a man through fear of death or mayhem is prevailed upon to execute a deed, or do any other legal act; these, though accompanied with all other the requisite solemnities, may be afterwards avoided, if forced upon him by a well-grounded apprehension of losing his life, or even his limbs, in case of his non-compliance.(t) And the same is also a sufficient excuse for the commission of many misdemesnors, as will appear in the fourth book. The constraint a man is under in these circumstances is called in law duress, from the Latin durities, of which there are two *[*131sorts: duress of imprisonment, where a man actually loses his liberty, of which we shall presently speak; and duress per minas, where the hardship is only threatened and impending, which is that we are now discoursing of. Duress per minas is either for fear of loss of life, or else for fear of mayhem, or loss of limb. And this fear must be upon sufficient reason; “non,” as Bracton expresses it, “suspicio cujuslibet vani et meticulosi hominis, sed talis qui possit cadere in virum constantem; talis enim debet esse metus, qui in se contineat vitæ periculum, aut corporis cruciatum.(u) A fear of battery, or being beaten, though never so well grounded, is no duress; neither is Edition: current; Page: [131] the fear of having one’s house burned, or one’s goods taken away and destroyed, because in these cases, should the threat be performed, a man may have satisfaction by recovering equivalent damages:(x) but no suitable atonement can be made for the loss of life or limb. And the indulgence shown to a man under this, the principal, sort of duress, the fear of losing his life or limbs, agrees also with that maxim of the civil law; ignoscitur ei qui sanguinem suum qualiter redemptum voluit.12

The law not only regards life and member, and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor, of which in their proper places. A humane provision; yet, though dictated by the principles of society, discountenanced by the Roman laws. For the edicts of the Emperor Constantine, commanding the public to maintain the children of those who were unable to provide for them, in order to prevent the murder and exposure of infants, an institution founded on the same principle as our foundling hospitals, though comprised in the Theodosian code,(y) were rejected in Justinian’s collection.

**132]These rights of life and member, can only be determined by the death of the person; which was formerly accounted to be either a civil or natural death. The civil death commenced, if any man was banished or abjured the realm(z) by the process of the common law, or entered into religion; that is, went into a monastery, and became there a monk professed: in which cases he was absolutely dead in law, and his next heir should have his estate. For such banished man was entirely cut off from society; and such a monk, upon his profession, renounced solemnly all secular concerns: and besides, as the popish clergy claimed an exemption from the duties of civil life and the commands of the temporal magistrate, the genius of the English laws would not suffer those persons to enjoy the benefits of society, who secluded themselves from it, and refused to submit to its regulations.(a) A monk was therefore counted civiliter mortuus, and when he entered into religion might, like other dying men, make his testament and executors; or if he made none, the ordinary might grant administration to his next of kin, as if he were actually dead intestate. And such executors and administrators had the same power, and might bring the same actions for debts due to the religious, and were liable to the same actions for those due from him, as if he were naturally deceased.(b) Nay, so far has this principle been carried, that when one was bound in a bond to an abbot and his successors, and afterwards made his executors, and professed himself a monk of the same abbey, and in process of time was himself made abbot thereof; here the law gave him, in the capacity of abbot, an action of debt against his own executors to recover the money due.(c) In short, a monk or religious was so effectually dead in law, that a lease made even to a third person, during the life (generally) of one who afterwards became a monk, determined by such his entry into religion; for which reason leases, and other conveyances for life, were usually made to have and to hold for the term of one’s natural life.(d) Edition: current; Page: [132] But, *[*133even in the times of popery, the law of England took no cognizance of profession in any foreign country, because the fact could not be tried in our courts;(e) and therefore, since the Reformation, this disability is held to be abolished:(f) as is also the disability of banishment, consequent upon abjuration, by statute 21 Jac. I. c. 28.13

This natural life, being, as was before observed, the immediate donation of the great Creator, cannot legally be disposed of or destroyed by any individual, neither by the person himself, nor by any other of his fellow-creatures, merely upon their own authority. Yet nevertheless it may, by the divine permission, be frequently forfeited for the breach of those laws of society, which are enforced by the sanction of capital punishments; of the nature, restrictions, expedience, and legality of which, we may hereafter more conveniently inquire in the concluding book of these commentaries. At present, I shall only observe, that whenever the constitution of a state vests in any man, or body of men, a power of destroying at pleasure without the direction of laws, the lives or members of the subject, such constitution is in the highest degree tyrannical; and that, whenever any laws direct such destruction for light and trivial causes, such laws are likewise tyrannical, though in an inferior degree; because here the subject is aware of the danger he is exposed to, and may, by prudent caution, provide against it. The statute law of England does therefore very seldom, and the common law does never, inflict any punishment extending to life or limb, unless upon the highest necessity;14 and the constitution is an utter stranger to any arbitrary power of killing or maiming the subject without the express warrant of law. “Nullus liber homo,” says the great charter,(g)aliquo modo destruatur, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum aut per legem terræ.” Which words, “aliquo modo destruatur,” according to Sir Edward Coke,(h) include a prohibition, not only of killing and maiming, but also of torturing, (to which our laws are strangers,) and of every oppression by colour of an illegal authority. And it is enacted by the statute of 5 Edw. III. c. 9, that no man shall be forejudged of life or limb contrary to the great charter and the *[*134law of the land; and again, by statute 28 Edw. III. c. 3, that no man shall be put to death, without being brought to answer by due process of law.

3. Besides those limbs and members that may be necessary to a man in order to defend himself or annoy his enemy, the rest of his person or body is also entitled, by the same natural right, to security from the corporal insults of menaces, assaults, beating, and wounding; though such insults amount not to destruction of life or member.

4. The preservation of a man’s health from such practices as may prejudice or annoy it; and

5. The security of his reputation or good name from the arts of detraction and slander, are rights to which every man is entitled by reason and natural justice; since, without these, it is impossible to have the perfect enjoyment of any other advantage or right. But these three last articles (being of much less importance than those which have gone before, and those which are yet to come,) it will suffice to have barely mentioned among the rights of persons: referring Edition: current; Page: [134] the more minute discussion of their several branches to those parts of our commentaries which treat of the infringement of these rights, under the head of personal wrongs.

II. Next to personal security, the law of England regards, asserts, and preserves the personal liberty of individuals. This personal liberty consists in the power of locomotion, of changing situation, or moving one’s person to whatsoever place one’s own inclination may direct, without imprisonment or restraint, unless by due course of law. Concerning which we may make the same observations as upon the preceding article, that it is a right strictly natural; that the laws of England have never abridged it without sufficient cause; and that, in this kingdom, it cannot ever be abridged at the mere discretion of the magistrate, without the explicit permission of the laws. Here again the language of the great **135]charter(i) is, that no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned but by the lawful judgment of his equals, or by the law of the land.15 And many subsequent old statutes(j) expressly direct, that no man shall be taken or imprisoned by suggestion or petition to the king or his council, unless it be by legal indictment, or the process of the common law. By the petition of right, 3 Car. I., it is enacted, that no freeman shall be imprisoned or detained without cause shown, to which he may make answer according to law. By 16 Car. 1. c. 10, if any person be restrained of his liberty by order or decree of any illegal court, or by command of the king’s majesty in person, or by warrant of the council board, or of any of the privy council, he shall, upon demand of his counsel, have a writ of habeas corpus, to bring his body before the court of king’s bench or common pleas, who shall determine whether the cause of his commitment be just, and thereupon do as to justice shall appertain. And by 31 Car. II. c. 2, commonly called the habeas corpus act, the methods of obtaining this writ are so plainly pointed out and enforced, that, so long as this statute remains unimpeached, no subject of England can be long detained in prison, except in those cases in which the law requires and justifies such detainer.16 Edition: current; Page: [135] And, lest this act should be evaded by demanding unreasonable bail or sureties for the prisoner’s appearance, it is declared by 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, that excessive bail ought not to be required.

Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty; for if once it were left in the power of any the highest magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper, (as in France it is daily practised by the crown,)(k) there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. Some have thought that unjust attacks, even upon life or property, at the arbitrary will of the magistrate, *[*136are less dangerous to the commonwealth than such as are made upon the personal liberty of the subject. To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government. And yet sometimes, when the state is in real danger, even this may be a necessary measure. But the happiness of our constitution is, that it is not left to the executive power to determine when the danger of the state is so great as to render this measure expedient; for it is the parliament only, or legislative power, that, whenever it sees proper, can authorize the crown, by suspending the habeas corpus act for a short and limited time, to imprison suspected persons without giving any reason for so doing; as the senate of Rome was wont to have recourse to a dictator, a magistrate of absolute authority, when they judged the republic in any imminent danger. The decree of the senate, which usually preceded the nomination of this magistrate, “dent operam consules ne quid respublica detrimenti capiat,” was called the senatus consultum ultimæ necessitatis. In like manner this experiment ought only to be tried in cases of extreme emergency; and in these the nation parts with its liberty for a while, in order to preserve it forever.

The confinement of the person, in any wise, is an imprisonment; so that the keeping a man against his will in a private house, putting him in the stocks, arresting or forcibly detaining him in the street, is an imprisonment.(l) And the law so much discourages unlawful confinement, that if a man is under duress of imprisonment, which we before explained to mean a compulsion by an illegal restraint of liberty, until he seals a bond or the like, he may allege this duress, and avoid the extorted bond. But if a man be lawfully imprisoned, Edition: current; Page: [137] **137]and, either to procure his discharge, or on any other fair account, seals a bond or a deed, this is not by duress of imprisonment, and he is not at liberty to avoid it.(m) To make imprisonment lawful, it must either be by process from the courts of judicature, or by warrant from some legal officer having authority to commit to prison; which warrant must be in writing, under the hand and seal of the magistrate, and express the causes of the commitment, in order to be examined into, if necessary, upon a habeas corpus.17 If there be no cause expressed, the jailer is not bound to detain the prisoner;(n) for the law judges, in this respect, saith Sir Edward Coke, like Festus the Roman governor, that it is unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not to signify withal the crimes alleged.

A natural and regular consequence of this personal liberty is, that every Englishman may claim a right to abide in his own country so long as he pleases; and not to be driven from it unless by the sentence of the law. The king, indeed, by his royal prerogative, may issue out his writ ne exeat regno, and prohibit any of his subjects from going into foreign parts without license.(o) This may be necessary for the public service and safeguard of the commonwealth. But no power on earth, except the authority of parliament, can send any subject of England out of the land against his will; no, not even a criminal. For exile and transportation are punishments at present unknown to the common law; and, wherever the latter is now inflicted, it is either by the choice of the criminal himself to escape a capital punishment, or else by the express direction of some modern act of parliament.18 To this purpose the great charter(p) declares, that no freeman shall be banished, unless by the judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. And by the habeas corpus act, 31 Car. II. c. 2, (that second magna carta, and stable bulwark of our liberties,) it is enacted, that no subject of this realm, who is an inhabitant of England, Wales, or Berwick, shall be sent prisoner into Scotland, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, or places beyond the seas, (where **138]they cannot have the full benefit and protection of the common law;) but that all such imprisonments shall be illegal; that the person, who shall dare to commit another contrary to this law, shall be disabled from bearing any office, shall incur the penalty of a præmunire, and be incapable of receiving the king’s pardon; and the party suffering shall also have his private action against the person committing, and all his aiders, advisers, and abettors; and shall recover treble costs; besides his damages, which no jury shall assess at less than five hundred pounds.

The law is in this respect so benignly and liberally construed for the benefit of the subject, that, though within the realm the king may command the attendance and service of all his liegemen, yet he cannot send any man out of the realm, even upon the public service; excepting sailors and soldiers, the nature of whose employment necessarily implies an exception: he cannot even constitute a man lord deputy or lieutenant of Ireland against his will, nor make him a foreign ambassador.(q) For this might, in reality, be no more than an honourable exile.

Edition: current; Page: [138]

III. The third absolute right, inherent in every Englishman, is that of property: which consists in the free use, enjoyment, and disposal of all his acquisitions, without any control or diminution, save only by the laws of the land. The original of private property is probably founded in nature, as will be more fully explained in the second book of the ensuing commentaries: but certainly the modifications under which we at present find it, the method of conserving it in the present owner, and of translating it from man to man, are entirely derived from society; and are some of those civil advantages, in exchange for which every individual has resigned a part of his natural liberty. The laws of England are therefore, in point of honour and justice, extremely watchful in ascertaining and protecting this right. Upon this principle the great charter(r) has declared that no freeman shall be disseised, or divested, of his freehold, or of his liberties, or free *[*139customs, but by the judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. And by a variety of ancient statutes(s) it is enacted, that no man’s lands or goods shall be seized into the king’s hands, against the great charter, and the law of the land; and that no man shall be disinherited, nor put out of his franchises or freehold, unless he be duly brought to answer, and be forejudged by course of law; and if any thing be done to the contrary, it shall be redressed, and holden for none.

So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community. If a new road, for instance, were to be made through the grounds of a private person, it might perhaps be extensively beneficial to the public; but the law permits no man, or set of men, to do this without consent of the owner of the land. In vain may it be urged, that the good of the individual ought to yield to that of the community; for it would be dangerous to allow any private man, or even any public tribunal, to be the judge of this common good, and to decide whether it be expedient or no. Besides, the public good is in nothing more essentially interested, than in the protection of every individual’s private rights, as modelled by the municipal law. In this and similar cases the legislature alone can, and indeed frequently does, interpose, and compel the individual to acquiesce. But how does it interpose and compel? Not by absolutely stripping the subject of his property in an arbitrary manner; but by giving him a full indemnification and equivalent for the injury thereby sustained. The public is now considered as an individual, treating with an individual for an exchange. All that the legislature does is to oblige the owner to alienate his possessions for a reasonable price; and even this is an exertion of power, which the legislature indulges with caution, and which nothing but the legislature can perform.19

Edition: current; Page: [140]

**140]Nor is this the only instance in which the law of the land has postponed even public necessity to the sacred and inviolable rights of private property. For no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes, even for the defence of the realm or the support of government, but such as are imposed by his own consent, or that of his representatives in parliament. By the statute 25 Edw. I. c. 5 and 6, it is provided, that the king shall not take any aids or tasks, but by the common assent of the realm. And what that common assent is, is more fully explained by 34 Edw. I. st. 4, c. 1, which(t) enacts that no talliage or aid shall be taken without the assent of the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, knights, burgesses, and other freemen of the land: and again by 14 Edw. III. st. 2, c. 1, the prelates, earls, barons, and commons, citizens, burgesses, and merchants, shall not be charged to make any aid, if it be not by the common assent of the great men and commons in parliament. And as this fundamental law had been shamefully evaded under many succeeding princes, by compulsive loans, and benevolences extorted without a real and voluntary consent, it was made an article in the petition of right 3 Car. I., that no man shall be compelled to yield any gift, loan, or benevolence, tax, or such like charge without common consent by act of parliament. And, lastly, by the statute 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, it is declared, that levying money for or to the use of the crown, by pretence of prerogative, without grant of parliament, or for longer time, or in other manner, than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.

In the three preceding articles we have taken a short view of the principal absolute rights which appertain to every Englishman.20 But in vain would Edition: current; Page: [140] these rights be declared, ascertained, and protected by the dead letter of the laws, if the *[*141constitution had provided no other method to secure their actual enjoyment. It has therefore established certain other auxiliary subordinate rights of the subject, which serve principally as outworks or barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights, of personal security, personal liberty, and private property. These are,

1. The constitution, powers, and privileges of parliament; of which I shall treat at large in the ensuing chapter.

2. The limitation of the king’s prerogative, by bounds so certain and notorious, that it is impossible he should either mistake or legally exceed them without the consent of the people. Of this, also, I shall treat in its proper place. The former of these keeps the legislative power in due health and vigour, so as to make it improbable that laws should be enacted destructive of general liberty: the latter is a guard upon the executive power by restraining it from acting either beyond or in contradiction to the laws, that are framed and established by the other.

3. A third subordinate right of every Englishman is that of applying to the courts of justice for redress of injuries. Since the law is in England the supreme arbiter of every man’s life, liberty, and property, courts of justice must at all times be open to the subject, and the law be duly administered therein. The emphatical words of magna carta,(u) spoken in the person of the king, who in judgment of law (says Sir Edward Coke)(w) is ever present and repeating them in all his courts, are these; nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differemus rectum vel justitiam: “and therefore every subject,” continues the same learned author, “for injury done to him in bonis, in terris, vel persona, by any other subject, be he ecclesiastical or temporal, without any exception, may take his remedy by the course of the law, and have justice and right for the injury done to him, freely without sale, fully without any denial, and speedily without delay.” It were endless to enumerate all the affirmative acts of parliament, *[*142wherein justice is directed to be done according to the law of the land; and what that law is every subject knows, or may know, if he pleases; for it depends not upon the arbitrary will of any judge, but is permanent, fixed, and unchangeable, unless by authority of parliament. Edition: current; Page: [142] I shall, however, just mention a few negative statutes, whereby abuses, perversions, or delays of justice, especially by the prerogative, are restrained. It is ordained by magna carta,(x) that no freeman shall be outlawed, that is, put out of the protection and benefit of the laws, but according to the law of the land. By 2 Edw. III. c. 8, and 11 Ric. II. c. 10, it is enacted, that no commands or letters shall be sent under the great seal, or the little seal, the signet, or privy seal, in disturbance of the law; or to disturb or delay common right: and, though such commandments should come, the judges shall not cease to do right; which is also made a part of their oath by statute 18 Edw. III. st. 4. And by 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, it is declared that the pretended power of suspending, or dispensing with laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament, is illegal.

Not only the substantial part, or judicial decisions, of the law, but also the formal part, or method of proceeding, cannot be altered but by parliament; for, if once those outworks were demolished, there would be an inlet to all manner of innovation in the body of the law itself. The king, it is true, may erect new courts of justice; but then they must proceed according to the old-established forms of the common law. For which reason it is declared, in the statute 16 Car. I. c. 10, upon the dissolution of the court of starchamber, that neither his majesty, nor his privy council, have any jurisdiction, power, or authority, by English bill, petition, articles, libel, (which were the course of proceeding in the starchamber, borrowed from the civil law,) or by any other arbitrary way whatsoever, to examine, or draw into question, determine, or dispose of the lands or goods of any subjects of this kingdom; but that the same ought to be tried and determined in the ordinary courts of justice, and by course of law.

4. **143]If there should happen any uncommon injury, or infringement of the rights before mentioned, which the ordinary course of law is too defective to reach, there still remains a fourth subordinate right, appertaining to every individual, namely, the right of petitioning the king, or either house of parliament, for the redress of grievances.21 In Russia we are told(y) that the czar Peter established a law, that no subject might petition the throne till he had first petitioned two different ministers of state. In case he obtained justice from neither, he might then present a third petition to the prince; but upon pain of death, if found to be in the wrong: the consequence of which was, that no one dared to offer such third petition; and grievances seldom falling under the notice of the sovereign, he had little opportunity to redress them. The restrictions, for some there are, which are laid upon petitioning in England, are of a nature extremely different; and, while they promote the spirit of peace, they are no check upon that of liberty. Care only must be taken, lest, under the pretence of petitioning, the subject be guilty of any riot or tumult, as happened in the opening of the memorable parliament in 1640: and, to prevent this, it is provided by the statute 13 Car. II. st. 1, c. 5, that no petition to the king, or either house of parliament, for any alteration in church or state, shall be signed by above twenty persons, unless the matter thereof be approved by three justices of the peace, or the major part of the grand jury22 in the country; and in London by the lord mayor, aldermen, and common Edition: current; Page: [143] council: nor shall any petition be presented by more than ten persons at a time. But, under these regulations, it is declared by the statute 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, that the subject hath a right to petition; and that all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.

5. The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are *[*144allowed by law.23 Which is also declared by the same statute, 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.

In these several articles consist the rights, or, as they are frequently termed, the liberties of Englishmen: liberties more generally talked of, than thoroughly understood; and yet highly necessary to be perfectly known and considered by every man of rank and property, lest his ignorance of the points whereon they are founded should hurry him into faction and licentiousness on the one hand, or a pusillanimous indifference and criminal submission on the other. And we have seen that these rights consist, primarily, in the free enjoyment of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property. So long as these remain inviolate, the subject is perfectly free; for every species of compulsive tyranny and oppression must act in opposition to one or other of these rights, having no other object upon which it can possibly be employed. To preserve these from violation, it is necessary that the constitution of parliament be supported in its full vigour; and limits, certainly known, be set to the royal prerogative. And, lastly, to vindicate these rights, when actually violated or attacked, the subjects of England are entitled, in the first place, to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law; next, to the right Edition: current; Page: [144] of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and, lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence. And all these rights and liberties it is our birthright to enjoy entire; unless where the laws of our country have laid them under necessary restraints: restraints in themselves so gentle and moderate, as will appear, upon further inquiry, that no man of sense or probity would wish to see them slackened. For all of us have it in our choice to do every thing that a good man would desire to do; and are restrained from nothing but what would be pernicious either to ourselves or our fellow-citizens. So that this review **145]of our situation may fully justify the observation of a learned French author, who indeed generally both thought and wrote in the spirit of genuine freedom,(z) and who hath not scrupled to profess, even in the very bosom of his native country, that the English is the only nation in the world where political or civil liberty is the direct end of its constitution. Recommending, therefore, to the student in our laws a further and more accurate search into this extensive and important title, I shall close my remarks upon it with the expiring wish of the famous father Paul to his country, “Esto Perpetua.


We are next to treat of the rights and duties of persons, as they are members of society, and stand in various relations to each other. These relations are either public or private: and we will first consider those that are public.

The most universal public relation, by which men are connected together, is that of government; namely, as governors or governed; or, in other words, as magistrates and people. Of magistrates, some also are supreme, in whom the sovereign power of the state resides; others are subordinate, deriving all their authority from the supreme magistrate, accountable to him for their conduct, and acting in an inferior secondary sphere.

In all tyrannical governments, the supreme magistracy, or the right of both making and of enforcing the laws, is vested in one and the same man, or one and the same body of men; and wherever these two powers are united together, there can be no public liberty. The magistrate may enact tyrannical laws, and execute them in a tyrannical manner, since he is possessed, in quality of dispenser of justice, with all the power which he, as legislator, thinks proper to give himself. But, where the legislative and executive authority are in distinct hands, the former will take care not to intrust the latter with so large a power as may tend to the subversion of its own independence, and therewith of the liberty of the subject. With us, therefore, in England, this supreme power is divided into **147]two branches; the one legislative, to wit, the parliament, consisting of king, lords, and commons; the other executive, consisting of the king alone. It will be the business of this chapter to consider the British parliament, in which the legislative power, and (of course) the supreme and absolute authority of the state, is vested by our constitution.1

Edition: current; Page: [147]

The original or first institution of parliament is one of those matters which lie so far hidden in the dark ages of antiquity, that the tracing of it out is a thing equally difficult and uncertain. The word parliament itself, (parlement or colloquium, as some of our historians translate it,) is comparatively of modern date; derived from the French, and signifying an assembly that met and conferred together.2 It was first applied to general assemblies of the states under Louis VII. in France, about the middle of the twelfth century.(a) But it is certain that, long before the introduction of the Norman language into England, all matters of importance were debated and settled in the great councils of the realm: a practice which seems to have been universal among the northern nations, particularly the Germans,(b) and carried by them into all the countries of Europe, which they overran at the dissolution of the Roman empire: relics of which constitution, under various modifications and changes, are still to be met with in the diets of Poland, Germany, and Sweden, and the assembly of the estates in France;(c) for what is there now called the parliament is only the supreme court of justice, consisting of the peers, certain dignified ecclesiastics, and judges, which neither is in practice, nor is supposed to be in theory, a general council of the realm.

With us in England this general council hath been held immemorially, under the several names of michel-synoth, or great council, michel-gemote, or great meeting, Edition: current; Page: [148] and more **148]frequently wittena-gemote, or the meeting of wise men. It was also styled in Latin commune concilium regni, magnum concilium regis, curia magna, conventus magnatum vel procerum, assisa generalis, and sometimes communitas regni Angliæ.(d) We have instances of its meeting to order the affairs of the kingdom, to make new laws, and to mend the old; or, as Fleta(e) expresses it, “novis injuriis emersis nova constituere remedia,” so early as the reign of Ina, king of the West Saxons, Offa, king of the Mercians, and Ethelbert, king of Kent, in the several realms of the heptarchy. And, after their union, the Mirror(f) informs us, that king Alfred ordained for a perpetual usage, that these councils should meet twice in the year, or oftener, if need be, to treat of the government of God’s people; how they should keep themselves from sin, should live in quiet, and should receive right. Our succeeding Saxon and Danish monarchs held frequent councils of this sort, as appears from their respective codes of laws; the titles whereof usually speak them to be enacted, either by the king with the advice of his wittena-gemote, or wise men, as “hæc sunt instituta quæ Edgarus rex consilio sapientum suorum instituit;” or to be enacted by those sages with the advice of the king, as, “hæc sunt judicia, quæ sapientes consilio regis Ethelstani instituerunt;” or lastly, to be enacted by them both together, as, “hæc sunt institutiones, quas rex Edmundus et episcopi sui cum sapientibus suis instituerunt.

There is also no doubt but these great councils were occasionally held under the first princes of the Norman line. Glanvil, who wrote in the reign of Henry the Second, speaking of the particular amount of an amercement in the sheriff’s court, says, it had never been yet ascertained by the general assize, or assembly, but was left to the custom of particular counties.(g) Here the general assize is spoken of as a meeting well known, and its statutes or decisions are put in **149]a manifest contradistinction to custom, or the common law. And in Edward the Third’s time an act of parliament, made in the reign of William the Conqueror, was pleaded in the case of the Abbey of St. Edmunds-bury, and judicially allowed by the court.(h)

Hence it indisputably appears, that parliaments, or general councils, are coeval with the kingdom itself. How those parliaments were constituted and composed, is another question, which has been matter of great dispute among our learned antiquaries; and, particularly, whether the commons were summoned at all; or, if summoned, at what period they began to form a distinct assembly. But it is not my intention here to enter into controversies of this sort. I hold it sufficient that it is generally agreed, that in the main the constitution of parliament, as it now stands, was marked out so long ago as the seventeenth year of king John, ad 1215, in the great charter granted by that prince; wherein he promises to summon all archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons, personally; and all other tenants in chief under the crown, by the sheriff and bailiffs; to meet at a certain place, with forty days’ notice, to assess aids and scutages when necessary. And this constitution has subsisted in fact at least from the year 1266, 49 Hen. III.: there being still extant writs of that date, to summon knights, citizens, and burgesses to parliament. I proceed therefore to inquire wherein consists this constitution of parliament, as it now stands, and has stood for the space of at least five hundred years. And in the prosecution of this inquiry, I shall consider, first, the manner and time of its assembling: secondly, its constituent parts: thirdly, the laws and customs relating to parliament, considered as one aggregate body: fourthly and fifthly, the laws and customs relating to each house, separately and distinctly taken: sixthly, the methods of proceeding, and of making statutes, in both houses: and lastly, the manner of the parliament’s adjournment, prorogation, and dissolution.

**150]I. As to the manner and time of assembling. The parliament is regularly to be summoned by the king’s writ or letter, issued out of Edition: current; Page: [150] chancery by advice of the privy council, at least forty days before it begins to sit.3 It is a branch of the royal prerogative, that no parliament can be convened by its own authority, or by the authority of any, except the king alone. And this prerogative is founded upon very good reason. For, supposing it had a right to meet spontaneously, without being called together, it is impossible to conceive that all the members, and each of the houses, would agree unanimously upon the proper time and place of meeting; and if half of the members met, and half absented themselves, who shall determine which is really the legislative body, the part assembled, or that which stays away? It is therefore necessary that the parliament should be called together at a determinate time and place: and highly becoming its dignity and independence, that it should be called together by none but one of its own constituent parts: and, of the three constituent parts, this office can only appertain to the king; as he is a single person, whose will may be uniform and steady; the first person in the nation, being superior to both houses in dignity; and the only branch of the legislature that has a separate existence, and is capable of performing any act at a time when no parliament is in being.(i) Nor is it an exception to this rule that, by some modern statutes, on the demise of a king or queen, if there be then no parliament in being, the last parliament revives, and it is to sit again for six months, unless dissolved by the successor: for this revived parliament must have been originally summoned by the crown.

*[*151It is true, that by a statute, 16 Car. I. c. 1, it was enacted, that, if the king neglected to call a parliament for three years, the peers might assemble and issue out writs for choosing one; and, in case of neglect of the peers, the constituents might meet and elect one themselves. But this, if ever put in practice, would have been liable to all the inconveniences I have just now stated; and the act itself was esteemed so highly detrimental and injurious to the royal prerogative, that it was repealed by statute 16 Car. II. c. 1. From thence therefore no precedent can be drawn.

It is also true, that the convention-parliament, which restored king Charles the Second, met above a month before his return; the lords by their own authority, and the commons, in pursuance of writs issued in the name of the keepers of the liberty of England, by authority of parliament: and that the said parliament sat till the twenty-ninth of December, full seven months after the restoration; and enacted many laws, several of which are still in force. But this was Edition: current; Page: [151] for the necessity of the thing, which supersedes all law; for if they had not so met, it was morally impossible that the kingdom should have been settled in peace. And the first thing done after the king’s return was to pass an act declaring this to be a good parliament, notwithstanding the defect of the king’s writs.(k) So that, as the royal prerogative was chiefly wounded by their so meeting, and as the king himself, who alone had a right to object, consented to waive the objection, this cannot be drawn into an example in prejudice of the rights of the crown. Besides, we should also remember, that it was at that time a great doubt among the lawyers,(l) whether even this healing act made it a good parliament; and held by very many in the negative; though it seems to have been too nice a scruple.4 And yet out of abundant caution, it was thought necessary to confirm its acts in the next parliament, by statute 13 Car. II. c. 7, and c. 14.

**152]It is likewise true, that at the time of the revolution, ad 1688, the lords and commons, by their own authority, and upon the summons of the Prince of Orange, (afterwards king William,) met in a convention, and therein disposed of the crown and kingdom. But it must be remembered, that this assembling was upon a like principle of necessity as at the restoration; that is, upon a full conviction that king James the Second had abdicated the government, and that the throne was thereby vacant: which supposition of the individual members was confirmed by their concurrent resolution, when they actually came together. And, in such a case as the palpable vacancy of a throne, it follows ex necessitate rei, that the form of the royal writs must be laid aside, otherwise no parliament can ever meet again. For let us put another possible case, and suppose, for the sake of argument, that the whole royal line should at any time fail and become extinct, which would indisputably vacate the throne: in this situation it seems reasonable to presume, that the body of the nation, consisting of lords and commons, would have a right to meet and settle the government; otherwise there must be no government at all. And upon this and no other principle, did the convention in 1688 assemble. The vacancy of the throne was precedent to their meeting without any royal summons, not a consequence of it. They did not assemble without writ, and then make the throne vacant; but the throne being previously vacant by the king’s abdication, they assembled without writ, as they must do if they assembled at all. Had the throne been full, their meeting would not have been regular; but, as it was really empty, such meeting became absolutely necessary. And accordingly it is declared by statute 1 W. and M. st. 1, c. 1, that this convention was really the two houses of parliament, notwithstanding the want of writs or other defects of form. So that, notwithstanding these two capital exceptions, which were justifiable only on a principle of necessity, (and each of which, by the way, induced a revolution in the government,) the rule laid down is in general certain, that the king only can convoke a parliament.

**153]And this, by the ancient statutes of the realm,(m) he is bound to do every year, or oftener, if need be. Not that he is, or ever was, obliged by these statutes to call a new parliament every year; but only to permit a parliament to sit annually for the redress of grievances, and despatch of business, if need be.5 These last words are so loose and vague, that such of our Edition: current; Page: [153] monarchs as were inclined to govern without parliaments, neglected the convoking them sometimes for a very considerable period, under pretence that there was no need of them. But, to remedy this, by the statute 16 Car. II. c. 1, it is enacted, that the sitting and holding of parliaments shall not be intermitted above three years at the most. And by the statute 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, it is declared to be one of the rights of the people, that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving the laws, parliaments ought to be held frequently. And this indefinite frequency is again reduced to a certainty by statute 6 W. and M. c. 2, which enacts, as the statute of Charles the Second had done before, that a new parliament shall be called within three years(n) after the determination of the former.6

II. The constituent parts of a parliament are the next objects of our inquiry. And these are the king’s majesty, sitting there in his royal political capacity, and the three estates of the realm; the lords spiritual, the lords temporal, (who sit, together with the king, in one house,) and the commons, who sit by themselves in another. And the king and these three estates, together, form the great corporation or body politic of the kingdom,(o) of which the king is said to be caput, principium, et finis. For, upon their coming together, the king meets them, Edition: current; Page: [153] either in person or by representation; without which there can be no beginning of a parliament;(p) and he also has alone the power of dissolving them.

**154]It is highly necessary for preserving the balance of the constitution, that the executive power should be a branch, though not the whole, of the legislative. The total union of them, we have seen, would be productive of tyranny; the total disjunction of them, for the present, would in the end produce the same effects, by causing that union against which it seems to provide. The legislative would soon become tyrannical, by making continual encroachments, and gradually assuming to itself the rights of the executive power. Thus the long parliament of Charles the First, while it acted in a constitutional manner, with the royal concurrence, redressed many heavy grievances, and established many salutary laws. But when the two houses assumed the power of legislation, in exclusion of the royal authority, they soon after assumed likewise the reins of administration; and, in consequence of these united powers, overturned both church and state, and established a worse oppression than any they pretended to remedy. To hinder therefore any such encroachments, the king is himself a part of the parliament: and as this is the reason of his being so, very properly therefore the share of legislation, which the constitution has placed in the crown, consists in the power of rejecting rather than resolving; this being sufficient to answer the end proposed. For we may apply to the royal negative, in this instance, what Cicero observes of the negative of the Roman tribunes, that the crown has not any power of doing wrong, but merely of preventing wrong from being done.(q) The crown cannot begin of itself any alterations in the present established law; but it may approve or disapprove of the alterations suggested and consented to by the two houses. The legislative therefore cannot abridge the executive power of any rights which it now has by law, without its own consent; since the law must perpetually stand as it now does, unless all the powers will agree to alter it. And herein indeed consists the true excellence of the English government, that all the parts of it form a mutual **155]check upon each other. In the legislature, the people are a check upon the nobility, and the nobility a check upon the people, by the mutual privilege of rejecting what the other has resolved: while the king is a check upon both, which preserves the executive power from encroachments. And this very executive power is again checked and kept within due bounds by the two houses, through the privilege they have of inquiring into, impeaching, and punishing the conduct (not indeed of the king,(r) which would destroy his constitutional independence; but, which is more beneficial to the public) of his evil and pernicious counsellors. Thus every branch of our civil polity supports and is supported, regulates and is regulated, by the rest: for the two houses naturally drawing in two directions of opposite interest, and the prerogative in another still different from them both, they mutually keep each other from exceeding their proper limits; while the whole is prevented from separation and artificially connected together by the mixed nature of the crown, which is a part of the legislative, and the sole executive magistrate. Like three distinct powers in mechanics, they jointly impel the machine of government in a direction different from what either, acting by itself, would have done; but at the same time in a direction partaking of each, and formed out of all; a direction which constitutes the true line of the liberty and happiness of the community.7

Edition: current; Page: [155]

Let us now consider these constituent parts of the sovereign power, or parliament, each in a separate view. The king’s majesty will be the subject of the next, and many subsequent chapters, to which we must at present refer.

The next in order are the spiritual lords. These consist of two archbishops Edition: current; Page: [155] and twenty-four bishops,8 and, at the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII., consisted likewise of twenty-six mitred abbots, and two priors:(s) a very considerable body, and in those times equal in number to the temporal nobility.(t)9 All these hold, or are supposed to hold, **156]certain ancient baronies under the king; for William the Conqueror thought proper to change the spiritual tenure of frankalmoign, or free alms, under which the bishops held their lands during the Saxon government, into the feodal or Norman tenure by barony, which subjected their estates to all civil charges and assessments, from which they were before exempt:(u) and, in right of succession to those baronies, which were unalienable from their respective dignities, the bishops and abbots were allowed their seats in the house of lords.(x)10 But though these lords spiritual are, in the eye of the law, a distinct estate from the lords temporal, and are so distinguished in most of our acts of parliament, yet in practice they are usually blended together under the one name of the lords; they intermix in their votes; and the majority of such intermixture binds both estates. And from this want of a separate assembly and separate negative of the prelates, some writers have argued(y) very cogently, that the lords temporal and spiritual are now, in reality, only one estate,(z) which is unquestionably true in every effectual sense, though the ancient distinction between them still nominally continues. For if a bill should pass their house, there is no doubt of its validity, though every lord spiritual should vote against it; of which Selden,(a) and Sir Edward Coke,(b) Edition: current; Page: [156] give many instances: as, on the other hand, I presume it would be equally good, if the lords temporal present were inferior to the bishops in number, and every one of those temporal lords gave his vote to reject the bill; though Sir Edward Coke seems to doubt(c) whether this would not be an ordinance, rather than an act, of parliament.

*[*157The lords temporal consist of all the peers of the realm,11 (the bishops not being in strictness held to be such, but merely lords of parliament,)(d) by whatever title of nobility distinguished, dukes, marquisses, earls, vicounts, or barons; of which dignities we shall speak more hereafter. Some of these sit by descent, as do all ancient peers; some by creation, as do all new-made ones; others, since the union with Scotland, by election, which is the case of the sixteen peers who represent the body of the Scots nobility. Their number is indefinite, and may be increased at will by the power of the crown; and once, in the reign of queen Anne, there was an instance of creating no less than twelve together; in contemplation of which, in the reign of king George the First, a bill passed the house of lords, and was countenanced by the then ministry, for limiting the number of the peerage. This was thought, by some, to promise a great acquisition to the constitution, by restraining the prerogative from gaining the ascendant in that august assembly, by pouring in at pleasure an unlimited number of new-created lords. But the bill was ill relished, and miscarried in the house of commons, whose leading members were then desirous to keep the avenues to the other house as open and easy as possible.12

The distinction of rank and honours is necessary in every well-governed state, in order to reward such as are eminent for their services to the public in a manner the most desirable to individuals, and yet without burden to the community; exciting thereby an ambitious yet laudable ardour, and generous emulation, in others: and emulation, or virtuous ambition, is a spring of action, which, however dangerous or invidious in a mere republic, or under a despotic sway, will certainly be attended with good effects under a free monarchy, where, without Edition: current; Page: [157] destroying its existence, its excesses may be continually restrained by that superior power, from which all honour is derived. Such a spirit, when nationally diffused, gives life and vigour to the community; it sets all the wheels of government in motion, **158]which, under a wise regulator, may be directed to any beneficial purpose; and thereby every individual may be made subservient to the public good, while he principally means to promote his own particular views. A body of nobility is also more peculiarly necessary in our mixed and compounded constitution, in order to support the rights of both the crown and the people, by forming a barrier to withstand the encroachments of both. It creates and preserves that gradual scale of dignity, which proceeds from the peasant to the prince; rising like a pyramid from a broad foundation, and diminishing to a point as it rises. It is this ascending and contracting proportion that adds stability to any government; for when the departure is sudden from one extreme to another, we may pronounce that state to be precarious. The nobility, therefore, are the pillars which are reared from among the people more immediately to support the throne; and, if that falls, they must also be buried under its ruins. Accordingly, when in the last century the commons had determined to extirpate monarchy, they also voted the house of lords to be useless and dangerous. And since titles of nobility are thus expedient in the state, it is also expedient that their owners should form an independent and separate branch of the legislature. If they were confounded with the mass of the people, and like them had only a vote in electing representatives, their privileges would soon be borne down and overwhelmed by the popular torrent, which would effectually level all distinctions. It is therefore highly necessary that the body of nobles should have a distinct assembly, distinct deliberations, and distinct powers from the commons.

The commons consist of all such men of property in the kingdom as have not seats in the house of lords; every one of whom has a voice in parliament, either personally, or by his representatives. In a free state every man, who is supposed a free agent, ought to be in some measure his own governor; and therefore a branch at least of the legislative power should reside in the whole body of the people. And this power, when the territories of the state are small and its citizens easily known, should be exercised by the people **159]in their aggregate or collective capacity, as was wisely ordained in the petty republics of Greece, and the first rudiments of the Roman state. But this will be highly inconvenient, when the public territory is extended to any considerable degree, and the number of citizens is increased. Thus when, after the social war, all the burghers of Italy were admitted free citizens of Rome, and each had a vote in the public assemblies, it became impossible to distinguish the spurious from the real voter, and from that time all elections and popular deliberations grew tumultuous and disorderly; which paved the way for Marius and Sylla, Pompey and Cæsar, to trample on the liberties of their country, and at last to dissolve the commonwealth. In so large a state as ours, it is therefore very wisely contrived that the people should do that by their representatives, which it is impracticable to perform in person; representatives, chosen by a number of minute and separate districts, wherein all the voters are, or easily may be, distinguished. The counties are therefore represented by knights, elected by the proprietors of lands; the citizens and boroughs are represented by citizens and burgesses, chosen by the mercantile part, or supposed trading interest of the nation; much in the same manner as the burghers in the diet of Sweden are chosen by the corporate towns, Stockholm sending four, as London does with us, other cities two, and some only one.(e) The number of English representatives is 513, and of Scots 45; in all, 558.13 And every member, though chosen by one particular district, when elected and returned, serves for the whole realm; for the end of his coming thither is not particular, but general; not barely to advantage his Edition: current; Page: [159] constituents, but the common wealth; to advise his majesty (as appears from the writ of summons)(f)de communi consilio super negotiis quibusdam arduis et urgentibus, regem, statum, defensionem regni Angliæ et ecclesiæ Anglicanæ concernentibus.” And therefore he is not bound, like a deputy in the united provinces, to consult with, or take the advice of, his constituents upon any particular point, unless he himself thinks it proper or prudent so to do.

*[*160These are the constituent parts of a parliament; the king, the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons. Parts, of which each is so necessary, that the consent of all three is required to make any new law that shall bind the subject. Whatever is enacted for law by one, or by two only, of the three, is no statute; and to it no regard is due, unless in matters relating to their own privileges. For though, in the times of madness and anarchy, the commons once passed a vote,(g) “that whatever is enacted or declared for law by the commons in parliament assembled hath the force of law; and all the people of this nation are concluded thereby, although the consent and concurrence of the king or house of peers be not had thereto;” yet, when the constitution was restored in all its forms, it was particularly enacted by statute 13 Car. II. c. 1, that if any person shall maliciously or advisedly affirm that both or either of the houses of parliament have any legislative authority without the king, such person shall incur all the penalties of a præmunire.14

III. We are next to examine the laws and customs relating to parliament, thus united together, and considered as one aggregate body.

The power and jurisdiction of parliament, says Sir Edward Coke,(h) is so transcendent and absolute, that it cannot be confined, either for causes or persons, within any bounds. And of this high court, he adds, it may be truly said, “si antiquitatem spectes, est vetustissima; si dignitatem, est honoratissima; si jurisdictionem, est capacissima.” It hath sovereign and uncontrollable authority in the making, confirming, enlarging, restraining, abrogating, repealing, reviving, and expounding of laws, concerning matters of all possible denominations, ecclesiastical or temporal, civil, military, maritime, or criminal: this being the place where that absolute despotic power, which must in all governments reside Edition: current; Page: [160] somewhere, is intrusted by the constitution of these kingdoms. All mischiefs and **161]grievances, operations and remedies, that transcend the ordinary course of the laws, are within the reach of this extraordinary tribunal. It can regulate or new-model the succession to the crown; as was done in the reign of Henry VIII. and William III. It can alter the established religion of the land; as was done in a variety of instances, in the reign of king Henry VIII. and his three children. It can change and create afresh even the constitution of the kingdom and of parliaments themselves; as was done by the act of union, and the several statutes for triennial and septennial elections. It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call its power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what the parliament doth, no authority upon earth can undo: so that it is a matter most essential to the liberties of this kingdom that such members be delegated to this important trust as are most eminent for their probity, their fortitude, and their knowledge; for it was a known apophthegm of the great lord treasurer Burleigh, “that England could never be ruined but by a parliament;” and, as Sir Matthew Hale observes,(i) “this being the highest and greatest court, over which none other can have jurisdiction in the kingdom, if by any means a misgovernment should any way fall upon it, the subjects of this kingdom are left without all manner of remedy.” To the same purpose the president Montesquieu, though I trust too hastily, presages(k) that, as Rome, Sparta, and Carthage, have lost their liberty, and perished, so the constitution of England will in time lose its liberty, will perish: it will perish, whenever the legislative power shall become more corrupt than the executive.

It must be owned that Mr. Locke,(l) and other theoretical writers, have held, that “there remains still inherent in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust **162]reposed in them; for, when such trust is absued, it is thereby forfeited, and devolves to those who gave it.” But however just this conclusion may be in theory, we cannot practically adopt it, nor take any legal steps for carrying it into execution, under any dispensation of government at present actually existing. For this devolution of power, to the people at large, includes in it a dissolution of the whole form of government established by that people; reduces all the members to their original state of equality; and, by annihilating the sovereign power, repeals all positive laws whatsoever before enacted. No human laws will therefore suppose a case, which at once must destroy all law, and compel men to build afresh upon a new foundation; nor will they make provision for so desperate an event, as must render all legal provisions ineffectual.(m) So long therefore as the English constitution lasts, we may venture to affirm, that the power of parliament is absolute and without control.15

Edition: current; Page: [162]

In order to prevent the mischiefs that might arise by placing this extensive authority in hands that are either incapable, or else improper, to manage it, it is provided by the custom and law of parliament,(n) that no one shall sit or Edition: current; Page: [162] vote in either house, unless he be twenty-one years of age. This is also expressly declared by statute 7 and 8 W. III. c. 25, with regard to the house of commons; doubts having arisen from some contradictory adjudications, whether or no a minor was incapacitated from sitting in that house.(o)16 It is also enacted, by statute 7 Jac. I. c. 6, that no member be permitted to enter into the house of commons, till he hath taken the oath of allegiance before the lord steward or his deputy; and, by 30 Car. II. st. 2, and 1 Geo. I. c. 13,17 that no member shall vote or sit in either house, till he hath in the presence of the house taken the oath of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, and subscribed and repeated the declaration against transubstantiation, and invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass.18 Aliens, unless naturalized, were likewise by the law of parliament incapable to serve therein:(p) and now it is enacted, by statute 12 and 13 W. III. c. 3, that no alien, **163]even though he be naturalized, shall be capable of being a member of either house of parliament. And there are not only these standing incapacities; but if any person is made a peer by the king, or elected to serve in the house of commons by the people, yet may the respective houses, upon complaint of any crime in such person, and proof thereof, adjudge him disabled and incapable to sit as a member:(q) and this by the law and custom of parliament.19

Edition: current; Page: [163]

For, as every court of justice hath laws and customs for its direction, some the civil and canon, some the common law, others their own peculiar laws and customs, so the high court of parliament hath also its own peculiar law, called the lex et consuetudo parliamenti; a law which, Sir Edward Coke(r) observes, is “ab omnibus quærenda a multis ignorata,20 a paucis cognita.(s) It will not therefore be expected that we should enter into the examination of this law, with any degree of minuteness: since, as the same learned author assures us,(t) it is much better to be learned out of the rolls of parliament, and other records, and by precedents, and continual experience, than can be expressed by any one man. It will be sufficient to observe, that the whole of the law and custom of parliament has its original from this one maxim, “that whatever matter arises concerning either house of parliament, ought to be examined, discussed, and adjudged in that house to which it relates, and not elsewhere.”(u) Hence, for instance, the lords will not suffer the commons to interfere in settling the election of a peer of Scotland; the commons will not allow the lords to judge of the election of a burgess; nor will either house permit the subordinate courts of law to examine the merits of either case.21 But the maxims upon which they Edition: current; Page: [163] proceed, together with the method of proceeding, rest entirely in the breast of the parliament itself; and are not defined and ascertained by any particular stated laws.22

**164]The privileges of parliament are likewise very large and indefinite. And therefore when in 31 Hen. VI. the house of lords propounded a question to the judges concerning them, the chief justice, Sir John Fortescue, in the name of his brethren, declared, “that they ought not to make answer to that question: for it hath not been used aforetime that the justices should in any wise determine the privileges of the high court of parliament. For it is so high and mighty in its nature, that it may make law: and that which is law, it may make no law: and the determination and knowledge of that privilege belongs to the lords of parliament, and not to the justices.”(x) Privilege of parliament Edition: current; Page: [164] was principally established, in order to protect its members, not only from being molested by their fellow-subjects, but also more especially from being oppressed by the power of the crown. If therefore all the privileges of parliament were once to be set down and ascertained, and no privilege to be allowed but what was so defined and determined, it were easy for the executive power to devise some new case, not within the line of privilege, and under pretence thereof to harass any refractory member and violate the freedom of parliament. The dignity and independence of the two houses are therefore in great measure preserved by keeping their privileges indefinite.23 Some however of the more notorious privileges of the members of either house are, privilege of speech, of person, of their domestics, and of their lands and goods.24 As to the first, privilege of speech, it is declared by the statute 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, as one of the liberties of the people, “that the freedom of speech, and debates, and proceedings in parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament.” And this freedom of speech is particularly demanded of the king in person, by the speaker of the house of commons, at the opening of every new parliament.25 So likewise are the other privileges, of persons, servants, lands, and goods: which are immunities as ancient as Edward the Confessor; in whose laws(z) *[*165we find this precept, “ad synodos venientibus sive summoniti sint, sive per se quid agendum habuerint, sit summa pax; and so too, in the old Gothic constitutions, “extenditur hæc pax et securitas ad quatuordecim dies, convocato regni senatu.(a) This included formerly not only privilege from illegal violence, but also from legal arrests, and seizures by process from the courts of law. And still, to assault by violence a member of either house, or his menial servant, is a high contempt of parliament, and there punished with the utmost severity. It has likewise peculiar penalties annexed to it in the courts of law, by the statutes 5 Henry IV. c. 6, and 11 Hen. VI. c. 11. Neither can any member of either house be arrested and taken into custody, unless for some indictable offence, without a breach of the privilege of parliament.26

But all other privileges which derogate from the common law in matters of Edition: current; Page: [165] civil right are now at an end, save only as to the freedom of the member’s person: which in a peer (by the privilege of peerage) is forever sacred and inviolable; and in a commoner (by the privilege of parliament) for forty days after every prorogation, and forty days before the next appointed meeting;(b) which is now in effect as long as the parliament subsists, it seldom being prorogued for more than fourscore days at a time. As to all other privileges, which obstruct the ordinary course of justice, they were restrained by the statutes 12 W. III. c. 3, 2 and 3 Anne, c. 18, and 11 Geo. II. c. 24, and are now totally abolished by statute 10 Geo. III. c. 50, which enacts that any suit may at any time be brought against any peer or member of parliament, their servants, or any other person entitled to privilege of parliament; which shall not be impeached or delayed by pretence of any such privilege; except that the person of a member of the house of commons shall not thereby be subjected to any arrest of imprisonment. Likewise, for the benefit of commerce, it is provided by statute 4 Geo. III. c. 34, that any trader, having privilege of parliament, may be served **166]with legal process for any just debt to the amount of 100l., and unless he make satisfaction within two months, it shall be deemed an act of bankruptcy; and that commissions of bankrupt may be issued against such privileged traders, in like manner as against any other.

The only way by which courts of justice could anciently take cognizance of privilege of parliament was by writ of privilege, in the nature of a supersedeas, to deliver the party out of custody when arrested in a civil suit.(c) For when a letter was written by the speaker to the judges, to stay proceedings against a privileged person, they rejected it as contrary to their oath of office.(d) But since the statute 12 W. III. c. 3, which enacts that no privileged person shall be subject to arrest or imprisonment, it hath been held that such arrest is irregular ab initio, and that the party may be discharged upon motion.(e) It is to be observed, that there is no precedent of any such writ of privilege, but only in civil suits; and that the statute of 1 Jac. I. c. 13, and that of King William, (which remedy some inconveniences arising from privilege of parliament,) speak only of civil actions. And therefore the claim of privilege hath been usually guarded with an exception as to the case of indictable crimes;(f) or, as it has been frequently expressed, of treason, felony, and breach (or Edition: current; Page: [166] surety) of the peace.(g) Whereby it seems to have been understood that no privilege was allowable to the members, their families or servants, in any crime whatsoever, for all crimes are treated by the law as being contra pacem domini regis. And instances have not been wanting wherein privileged persons have been convicted of misdemesnors, and committed, or prosecuted to outlawry: even in the middle of a session;(h) which proceeding has afterwards received the sanction and approbation of parliament.(i) *[*167To which may be added, that a few years ago the case of writing and publishing seditious libels was resolved by both houses(k) not to be entitled to privilege;27 and that the reasons upon which that case proceeded(l) extended equally to every indictable offence.28 So that the chief, if not the only, privilege of parliament, in such cases, seems to be the right of receiving immediate information of the imprisonment or detention of any member, with the reason for which he is detained; a practice that is daily used upon the slightest military accusation, preparatory to a trial by a court martial;(m) and which is recognised by the several temporary statutes for suspending the habeas corpus act;(n) whereby it is provided, that no member of either house shall be detained till the matter of which he stands suspected be first communicated to the house of which he is a member, and the consent of the said house obtained for his commitment or detaining. But yet the usage has uniformly been, ever since the revolution, that the communication has been subsequent to the arrest.

These are the general heads of the laws and customs relating to parliament considered as one aggregate body. We will next proceed to.

IV. The laws and customs relating to the house of lords in particular. These, if we exclude their judicial capacity, which will be more properly treated of in the third and fourth books of these Commentaries, will take up but little of our time.

One very ancient privilege is that declared by the charter of the forest,(o) confirmed in parliament 9 Hen. III.; viz. that every lord spiritual or temporal summoned to parliament, and passing through the king’s forests, may, both in going and returning, kill one or two of the king’s deer without *[*168warrant; in view of the forester if he be present, or on blowing a horn if he be absent; that he may not seem to take the king’s venison by stealth.

In the next place they have a right to be attended, and constantly are, by the judges of the court of King’s Bench and Common Pleas, and such of the barons of the Exchequer as are of the degree of the coif, or have been made serjeants at law; as likewise by the king’s learned counsel, being serjeants, and by the masters of the court of chancery; for their advice in point of law, and for the greater dignity of their proceedings. The secretaries of state, with the attorney and solicitor general, were also used to attend the house of peers, and have to this day (together with the judges, &c.) their regular writs of summons issued out at the beginning of every parliament,(p) ad tractandum et consilium impendendum, though not ad consentiendum; but, whenever of late years they have been members of the house of commons,(q) their attendance here hath fallen into disuse.29

Edition: current; Page: [168]

Another privilege is, that every peer, by license obtained from the king,30 may make another lord of parliament his proxy, to vote for him in his absence.(r) A privilege which a member of the other house can by no means have, as he is himself but a proxy for a multitude of other people.(s)

Each peer has also a right, by leave of the house, when a vote passes contrary to his sentiments, to enter his dissent on the journals of the house, with the reasons for such dissent; which is usually styled his protest.31

All bills likewise, that may in their consequences any way affect the right of the peerage, are by the custom of parliament to have their first rise and beginning in the house of peers, and to suffer no changes or amendments in the house of commons.

**169]There is also one statute peculiarly relative to the house of lords; 6 Anne, c. 23, which regulates the election of the sixteen representative peers of North Britain, in consequence of the twenty-second and twenty-third articles of the union: and for that purpose prescribes the oaths, &c. to be taken by the electors; directs the mode of balloting; prohibits the peers electing from being attended in an unusual manner; and expressly provides, that no other matter shall be treated of in that assembly, save only the election, on pain of incurring a præmunire.

V. The peculiar laws and customs of the house of commons relate principally to the raising of taxes, and the election of members to serve in parliament.

First, with regard to taxes: it is the ancient indisputable privilege and right of the house of commons, that all grants of subsidies or parliamentary aids do begin in their house, and are first bestowed by them;(t) although their grants are not effectual to all intents and purposes, until they have the assent of the other two branches of the legislature.32 The general reason, given for this exclusive privilege of the house of commons, is, that the supplies are raised upon the body of the people, and therefore it is proper that they alone should have the right of taxing themselves. This reason would be unanswerable, if the commons taxed none but themselves: but it is notorious that a very large Edition: current; Page: [169] share of property is in the possession of the house of lords; that this property is equally taxable, and taxed, as the property of the commons; and therefore the commons not being the sole persons taxed, this cannot be the reason of their having the sole right of raising and modelling the supply. The true reason, arising from the spirit of our constitution, seems to be this. The lords being a permanent hereditary body, created at pleasure by the king, are supposed more liable to be influenced by the crown, and when once influenced to continue so, than the commons, who are a temporary, elective body, freely *[*170nominated by the people. It would therefore be extremely dangerous to give the lords any power of framing new taxes for the subject; it is sufficient that they have a power of rejecting, if they think the commons too lavish or improvident in their grants. But so reasonably jealous are the commons of this valuable privilege that herein they will not suffer the other house to exert any power but that of rejecting; they will not permit the least alteration or amendment to be made by the lords to the mode of taxing the people by a money bill; under which appellation are included all bills, by which money is directed to be raised upon the subject, for any purpose or in any shape whatsoever; either for the exigencies of government, and collected from the kingdom in general, as the land-tax; or for private benefit, and collected in any particular district, as by turnpikes, parish rates, and the like.33 Yet Sir Matthew Hale(u) mentions one case, founded on the practice of parliament in the reign of Henry VI.,(w) wherein he thinks the lords may alter a money bill: and that is, if the commons grant a tax, as that of tonnage and poundage, for four years; and the lords alter it to a less time, as for two years; here, he says, the bill need not be sent back to the commons for their concurrence, but may receive the royal assent without further ceremony; for the alteration of the lords is consistent with the grant of the commons. But such an experiment will hardly be repeated by the lords, under the present improved idea of the privilege of the house of commons, and, in any case where a money bill is remanded to the commons, all amendments in the mode of taxation are sure to be rejected.

Next, with regard to the election of knights, citizens, and burgesses; we may observe that herein consists the exercise of the democratical part of our constitution: for in a democracy there can be no exercise of sovereignty but by suffrage, which is the declaration of the people’s will. In all democracies, therefore, it is of the utmost importance to regulate by whom, and in what manner, the suffrages are to *[*171be given. And the Athenians were so justly jealous of this prerogative, that a stranger who interfered in the assemblies of the people, was punished by their laws with death; because such a man was esteemed guilty of high treason, by usurping those rights of sovereignty to which he had no title. In England, where the people do not debate in a collective body, but by representation, the exercise of his sovereignty consists in the choice of representatives. The laws have therefore very strictly guarded against usurpation or abuse of this power, by many salutary provisions; which may be reduced to these three points, 1. The qualifications of the electors. 2. The qualifications of the elected. 3. The proceedings at elections.

Edition: current; Page: [171]

1. As to the qualifications of the electors. The true reason of requiring any qualification, with regard to property, in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a situation that they are esteemed to have no will of their own. If these persons had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other. This would give a great, an artful, or a wealthy man, a larger share in elections than is consistent with general liberty. If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote in electing those delegates, to whose charge is committed the disposal of his property, his liberty, and his life. But, since that can hardly be expected in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications; whereby some, who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting, in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.

And this constitution of suffrages is framed upon a wiser principle, with us, than either of the methods of voting, by centuries or by tribes, among the Romans. In the method **172]by centuries, instituted by Servius Tullius, it was principally property, and not numbers, that turned the scale: in the method by tribes, gradually introduced by the tribunes of the people, numbers only were regarded, and property entirely overlooked. Hence the laws passed by the former method had usually too great a tendency to aggrandize the patricians or rich nobles; and those by the latter had too much of a levelling principle. Our constitution steers between the two extremes. Only such are entirely excluded, as can have no will of their own: there is hardly a free agent to be found, who is not entitled to a vote in some place or other in the kingdom. Nor is comparative wealth or property, entirely disregarded in elections; for though the richest man has only one vote at one place, yet, if his property be at all diffused, he has probably a right to vote at more places than one, and therefore has many representatives. This is the spirit of our constitution: not that I assert it is in fact quite so perfect(x) as I have here endeavoured to describe it; for, if any alteration might be wished or suggested in the present frame of parliaments, it should be in favour of a more complete representation of the people.34

But to return to our qualifications; and first those of electors for knights of the shire. 1. By statute 8 Hen. VI. c. 7, and 10 Hen. VI. c. 2, (amended by 14 Geo. III. c. 58,35) the knights of the shire shall be chosen of people whereof Edition: current; Page: [172] every man shall have freehold to the value of forty shillings by the year within the county; which (by subsequent statutes) is to be clear of all charges and deductions, except parliamentary and parochial taxes.36 The knights of shires are the representatives of the landholders, or landed interest of the kingdom: their electors must therefore have estates in lands or tenements, within the county represented: these estates must be freehold, that is, for term of life at least; because beneficial leases for long terms of years were not in use at the making of these statutes, and copyholders were then little better than villeins, absolutely dependent upon their lords: this freehold must be of forty shillings annual value; because that sum would then, with proper industry, furnish all the *[*173necessaries of life, and render the freeholder, if he pleased, an independent man. For Bishop Fleetwood, in his chronicon preciosum, written at the beginning of the present century, has fully proved forty shillings in the reign of Henry VI. to have been equal to twelve pounds per annum in the reign of Queen Anne; and, as the value of money is very considerably lowered since the bishop wrote, I think we may fairly conclude, from this and other circumstances, that what was equivalent to twelve pounds in his days is equivalent to twenty at present. The other less important qualifications of the electors for counties in England and Wales may be collected from the statutes cited in the margin,(y) which direct, 2. That no person under twenty-one years of age shall be capable of voting for any member. This extends to all sorts of members, as well for boroughs as counties; as does also the next, viz. 3. That no person convicted of perjury, or subornation of perjury, shall be capable of voting in any election. 4. That no person shall vote in right of any freehold, granted to him fraudulently to qualify him to vote. Fraudulent grants are such as contain an agreement to reconvey, or to defeat the estate granted; which agreements are made void, and the estate is absolutely vested in the person to whom it is so granted. And, to guard the better against such frauds, it is further provided, 5. That every voter shall have been in the actual possession, or receipt of the profits, of his freehold to his own use for twelve calendar months before; except it came to him by descent, marriage, marriage-settlement, will, or promotion to a benefice or office. 6. That no person shall vote in respect of an annuity or rent-charge, unless registered with the clerk of the peace twelve calendar months before.37 7. That in mortgaged or trust estates, the person in possession, under the above-mentioned restrictions, shall have the vote. 8. That only one person shall be admitted to vote for any one house or tenement, to prevent the splitting of freeholds.38 9. That no estate Edition: current; Page: [173] shall qualify a voter, unless the estate has been assessed to some land-tax aid, at least twelve months before the election.39 10. That no tenant by copy of court-roll shall **174]be permitted to vote as a freeholder. Thus much for the electors in counties.40

Edition: current; Page: [174]

As for the electors of citizens and burgesses, these are supposed to be the mercantile part or trading interest of this kingdom. But, as trade is of a fluctuating nature, and seldom long fixed in a place, it was formerly left to the crown to summon, pro re nata, the most flourishing towns to send representatives to parliament. So that as towns increased in trade, and grew populous, they were admitted to a share in the legislature. But the misfortune is, that the deserted boroughs continued to be summoned, as well as those to whom their trade and inhabitants were transferred; except a few which petitioned to be eased of the expense, then usual, of maintaining their members: four shillings a day being allowed for a knight of the shire, and two shillings for a citizen or burgess; which was the rate of wages established in the reign of Edward III.(z)41 Hence the members for boroughs now bear above a quadruple proportion Edition: current; Page: [174] to those for counties, and the number of parliament men is increased since Fortescue’s time, in the reign of Henry the Sixth, from 300 to upwards of 500, exclusive of those for Scotland. The universities were in general not empowered to send burgesses to parliament; though once, in 28 Edw. I., when a parliament was summoned to consider of the king’s right to Scotland, there were issued writs which required the university of Oxford to send up four or five, and that of Cambridge two or three, of their most discreet and learned lawyers for that purpose.(a) But it was king James the First who indulged them with the permanent privilege to send constantly two of their own body: to serve for those students who, though useful members of the community, were neither concerned in the landed nor the trading interest; and to protect Edition: current; Page: [174] in the legislature the rights of the republic of letters. The right of election in boroughs is various, depending entirely on the several charters, customs, and constitutions of the respective places, which has occasioned infinite disputes; though now, by statute *[*1752 Geo. II. c. 24, the right of voting for the future shall be allowed according to the last determination of the house of commons concerning it.42 And by the statute 3 Geo. III. c. 15, no freeman of any city or borough (other than such as claim by birth, marriage, or servitude) shall be admitted to vote therein, unless he hath been admitted to his freedom twelve calendar months before.43

2. Next, as to the qualifications of persons to be elected members of the house of commons. Some of these depend upon the law and custom of parliament, declared by the house of commons;(b) others upon certain statutes. And from these it appears, 1. That they must not be aliens born,(c) or minors.(d) 2. That they must not be any of the twelve judges,(e) because they sit in the lords’ house; nor the clergy,(f) for they sit in the convocation;44 nor persons attainted Edition: current; Page: [175] of treason or felony,(g) for they are unfit to sit anywhere. 3. That sheriffs of counties, and mayors and bailiffs of boroughs, are not eligible in their respective jurisdictions, as being returning officers;(h) but that sheriffs of one county are eligible to be knights of another.(i)45 4. That, in strictness, all members ought to have been inhabitants of the places for which they are chosen;(k) but this, having been long disregarded, was at length entirely repealed by statute 14 Geo. III. c. 58. 5. That no persons concerned in the management of any duties or taxes created since 1692, except the commissioners of the treasury,(l) nor any of the officers following,(m) (viz., commissioners of prizes, transports, sick and wounded, wine licenses, navy, and victualling; secretaries or receivers of prizes; comptrollers of the army accounts; agents for regiments; governors of plantations and their deputies; officers of Minorca or Gibraltar; officers of the excise and customs; **176]clerks or deputies in the several offices of the treasury, exchequer, navy, victualling, admiralty, pay of the army or navy, secretaries of state, salt, stamps, appeals, wine licenses, hackney coaches, hawkers, and pedlars,) nor any persons that hold any new office under the crown created since 1705,(n) are capable of being elected or sitting as members.46 6. That no person having a pension under the crown during pleasure, or for any term of years, is capable of being elected or sitting.(o) 7. That if any member accepts an office under the crown, except an officer in the army or navy accepting a new commission, his seat is void; but such member is capable of being re-elected.(p) 8. That all knights of the shire shall be actual knights, or such notable esquires and gentlemen as have Edition: current; Page: [176] estates sufficient to be knights, and by no means of the degree of yeomen.(q) This is reduced to a still greater certainty, by ordaining, 9. That every knight of a shire shall have a clear estate of freehold of freehold or copyhold to the value of six hundred pounds per annum, and every citizen and burgess to the value of three hundred pounds; except the eldest sons of peers, and of persons qualified to be knights of shires, and except the members for the two universities:(r) which somewhat balances the ascendant which the boroughs have gained over the counties, by obliging the trading interest to make choice of landed men; and of this qualification the member must make oath, and give the particulars in writing, at the time of his taking his seat.(s) But, subject to these standing restrictions and disqualifications, every subject of the realm is eligible of common right; though there are instances wherein persons in particular circumstances have forfeited the common right, and have been declared ineligible for that parliament by vote of the house of commons,(t) or forever by an act of the legislature.(u)47 But it was an unconstitutional prohibition, which was grounded on an ordinance of the house of lords,(w) and inserted in the king’s writs for the parliament holden at Coventry, 6 Hen. IV., that no apprentice or *[*177other man of the law should be elected a knight of the shire therein:(x) in return for which, our law books and historians(y) have branded this parliament with the name of parliamentum indoctum, or the lack-learning parliament; and Sir Edward Coke observes, with some spleen,(z) that there was never a good law made thereat.

3. The third point, regarding elections, is the method of proceeding therein. This is also regulated by the law of parliament, and the several statutes referred to in the margin;(a) all which I shall blend together, and extract out of them a summary account of the method of proceeding to elections.

As soon as the parliament is summoned, the lord chancellor (or, if a vacancy happens during the sitting of parliament, the speaker, by order of the house, and without such order, if a vacancy happens by death, or the member’s becoming a peer,48 in the time of a recess for upwards of twenty days) sends his warrant Edition: current; Page: [177] to the clerk of the crown in chancery; who thereupon issues out writs to the sheriff of every county, for the election of all the members to serve for that county, and every city and borough therein. Within three days after the receipt of this writ, the sheriff is to send his precept, under his seal, to the proper returning officers of the cities and boroughs, commanding them to elect their members: and the said returning officers are to proceed to election within eight days from the receipt of the precept, giving four days’ notice of the same;(b) and to return the persons chosen, together with the precept, to the sheriff.

But elections of knights of the shire must be proceeded to by the sheriffs themselves in person, at the next county court **178]that shall happen after the delivery of the writ. The county court is a court held every month or oftener by the sheriff, intended to try little causes not exceeding the value of forty shillings, in what part of the county he pleases to appoint for that purpose; but for the election of knights of the shire it must be held at the most usual place. If the county court falls upon the day of delivering the writ or within six days after, the sheriff may adjourn the court and election to some other convenient time, not longer than sixteen days, nor shorter than ten; but he cannot alter the place, without the consent of all the candidates: and, in all such cases, ten days’ public notice must be given of the time and place of the election.

And, as it is essential to the very being of parliament that elections should be absolutely free, therefore all undue influences upon the electors are illegal and strongly prohibited.49 For Mr. Locke(c) ranks it among those breaches of trust in the executive magistrate, which, according to his notions, amount to a dissolution of the government, “if he employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, or openly to pre-engage the electors, and prescribe what manner of persons shall be chosen. For, thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of election, what is it,” says he, “but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public security?” As soon, therefore, as the time and place of election, either in counties or boroughs, are fixed, all soldiers quartered in the place are to remove, at least one day before the election, to the distance of two miles or more; and not to return till one day after the poll is ended. Riots likewise have been frequently Edition: current; Page: [178] determined to make an election void. By vote also of the house of commons, to whom alone belongs the power of determining contested elections, no lord of parliament, or lord lieutenant of a county, hath any right to interfere in the elections of commoners; and, by statute, the lord warden of the cinque ports shall not recommend any members there. If any officer of the excise, customs, stamps, *[*179or certain other branches of the revenue, presume to intermeddle in elections, by persuading any voter or dissuading him, he forfeits 100l. and is disabled to hold any office.

Thus are the electors of one branch of the legislature secured from any undue influence from either of the other two, and from all external violence and compulsion. But the greatest danger is that in which themselves co-operate, by the infamous practice of bribery and corruption. To prevent which it is enacted, that no candidate shall, after the date (usually called the teste) of the writs, or after the vacancy, give any money or entertainment to his electors, or promise to give any, either to particular persons, or to the place in general, in order to his being elected: on pain of being incapable to serve for that place in parliament.50 And if any money, gift, office, employment, or reward be given or promised Edition: current; Page: [179] to be given to any voter at any time, in order to influence him to give or withhold his vote, as well he that takes as he that offers such bribe forfeits 500l., and is forever disabled from voting and holding any office in any corporation; unless, before conviction, he will discover some other offender of the same kind, and then he is indemnified for his own offence.(d)51 The first instance that occurs, of election bribery, was so early as 13 Eliz., when one Thomas Longe (being a simple man and of small capacity to serve in parliament) acknowledged that he had given the returning officer and others of the borough for which he was chosen, four pounds to be returned member, and was for that premium elected. But for this offence the borough was amerced,52 the member was removed, and the officer fined and imprisoned.(e) But as this practice hath since taken much deeper and more universal root, it hath occasioned the making of these wholesome statutes; to complete the efficacy of which, there is nothing wanting but resolution, and integrity to put them in strict execution.53

**180]Undue influence being thus (I wish the depravity of mankind would permit me to say, effectually) guarded against, the election is to be proceeded to on the day appointed; the sheriff or other returning officer first taking an oath against bribery, and for the due execution of his office. The Edition: current; Page: [180] candidates likewise, if required, must swear to their qualification; and the electors in counties to theirs; and the electors both in counties and boroughs are also compellable to take the oath of abjuration and that against bribery and corruption. And it might not be amiss, if the members elected were bound to take the latter oath, as well as the former; which in all probability would be much more effectual, than administering it only to the electors.54

The election being closed, the returning officer in boroughs returns his precept to the sheriff, with the persons elected by the majority, and the sheriff returns the whole, together with the writ for the county, and the knights elected thereupon, to the clerk of the crown in chancery, before the day of meeting, if it be a new parliament, or within fourteen days after the election, if it be an occasional vacancy, and this under penalty of 500l. If the sheriff does not return such knights only as are duly elected, he forfeits, by the old statutes of Hen. VI., 100l., and the returning officer in boroughs for a like false return 40l.; and they are besides liable to an action, in which double damages shall be recovered, by the latter statutes of king William: and any person bribing the returning officer shall also forfeit 300l. But the members returned by him are the sitting members, until the house of commons, upon petition, shall adjudge the return to be false and illegal. The form and manner of proceeding upon such petition are now regulated by statute 10 Geo. III. c. 10,55 (amended by 11 Edition: current; Page: [180] Geo. III. c. 42, and made perpetual by 14 Geo. III. c. 15,) which directs the method of choosing by lot a select committee of fifteen members, who are sworn well and truly to try the same, and a true judgment to give according to the evidence. And this abstract of the proceedings at elections of knights, citizens, and burgesses, concludes our inquiries into the laws and customs more peculiarly relative to the house of commons.

**181]VI. I proceed now, sixthly, to the method of making laws, which is much the same in both houses; and I shall touch it very briefly, ginning in the house of commons. But first I must premise, that for despatch of business each house of parliament has its speaker. The speaker of the house of lords, whose office it is to preside there, and manage the formality of business, is the lord chancellor, or keeper of the king’s great seal, or any other appointed by the king’s commission: and, if none be so appointed, the house of lords (it is said) may elect. The speaker of the house of commons is chosen by the house;56 but must be approved by the king.57 And herein the usage of Edition: current; Page: [181] the two houses differ, that the speaker of the house of commons cannot give his opinion or argue any question in the house; but the speaker of the house of lords, if a lord of parliament, may. In each house the act of the majority58 binds the whole; and this majority is declared by votes openly and publicly given, not as at Venice, and many other senatorial assemblies, privately or by ballot. This latter method may be serviceable, to prevent intrigues and unconstitutional combinations: but it is impossible to be practised with us; at least in the house of commons, where every member’s conduct is subject to the future censure of his constituents, and therefore should be openly submitted to their inspection.

Edition: current; Page: [181]

To bring a bill into the house, if the relief sought by it is of a private nature, it is first necessary to prefer a petition; which must be presented by a member, and usually sets forth the grievance desired to be remedied. This petition (when founded on facts that may be in their nature disputed) is referred to a committee of members, who examine the matter alleged, and accordingly report it to the house; and then (or otherwise, upon the mere petition) leave is given to bring in the bill. In public matters the bill is brought in upon motion made to the house, without any petition at all. Formerly, all bills were drawn in the form of petitions,59 which were entered upon the parliament rolls, with the king’s answer thereunto subjoined; not in any settled forms of words, but **182]as the circumstances of the case required:(f) and, at the end of each parliament, the judges drew them into the form of a statute, which was entered on the statute rolls. In the reign of Henry V., to prevent mistakes and abuses, the statutes were drawn up by the judges before the end of the parliament; and, in the reign of Henry VI., bills in the form of acts, according to the modern customs, were first introduced.

The persons directed to bring in the bill present it in a competent time to the house, drawn out on paper, with a multitude of blanks, or void spaces, where any thing occurs that is dubious, or necessary to be settled by the parliament itself; (such, especially, as the precise date of times, the nature and quantity of penalties, or of any sums of money to be raised,) being indeed only the skeleton of the bill. In the house of lords, if the bill begins there, it is (when of a private nature) referred to two of the judges, to examine and report the state of the facts alleged, to see that all necessary parties consent, and to settle all points of technical propriety. This is read a first time, and at a convenient distance a second time; and, after each reading, the speaker opens to the house the substance of the bill, and puts the question whether it shall proceed any further. The introduction of the bill may be originally opposed, as the bill itself may at either of the readings; and, if the opposition succeeds, the bill must be dropped for that session; as it must also if opposed with success in any of the subsequent stages.

After the second reading it is committed, that is, referred to a committee; which is either selected by the house in matters of small importance, or else, upon a bill of consequence, the house resolves itself into a committee of the whole house. A committee of the whole house is composed of every member; and, to form it, the speaker quits the chair, (another member being appointed chairman,) and may sit and debate as a private member. In these committees the bill is debated clause by clause, amendments made, the blanks filled up, and sometimes the bill entirely new-modelled. After it **183]has gone through the committee, the chairman reports it to the house, with such Edition: current; Page: [183] amendments as the committee have made; and then the house reconsiders the whole bill again, and the question is repeatedly put upon every clause and amendment. When the house hath agreed or disagreed to the amendments of the committee, and sometimes added new amendments of its own, the bill is then ordered to be engrossed, or written in a strong gross hand, on one or more long rolls (or presses) of parchment sewed together. When this is finished it is read a third time, and amendments are sometimes then made to it; and, if a new clause be added, it is done by tacking a separate piece of parchment on the bill, which is called a rider.(g) The speaker then again opens the contents; and, holding it up in his hands, puts the question whether the bill shall pass. If this is agreed to, the title to it is then settled, which used to be a general one for all the acts passed in the session, till, in the first year of Henry VIII., distinct titles were introduced for each chapter. After this, one of the members is directed to carry it to the lords, and desire their concurrence; who, attended by several more, carries it to the bar of the house of peers, and there delivers it to their speaker, who comes down from his woolsack to receive it.

It there passes through the same forms as in the other house, (except engrossing, which is already done,) and, if rejected, no more notice is taken, but it passes sub silentio, to prevent unbecoming altercations. But, if it is agreed to, the lords send a message by two masters in chancery, (or, upon matters of high dignity or importance, by two of the judges,) that they have agreed to the same; and the bill remains with the lords, if they have made no amendment to it. But, if any amendments are made, such amendments are sent down with the bill to receive the concurrence of the commons. If the commons disagree to the amendments, a conference usually follows between members deputed from each house, who, for the most part, settle and adjust the difference; but, if both houses remain inflexible, the bill is dropped. If the commons agree to the amendments, the bill is sent back to the lords by one of the members, *[*184with a message to acquaint them therewith. The same forms are observed, mutatis mutandis, when the bill begins in the house of lords. But, when an act of grace or pardon is passed, it is first signed by his majesty, and then read once only in each of the houses, without any new engrossing or amendment.(h) And when both houses have done with any bill, it always is deposited in the house of peers, to wait the royal assent; except in the case of a bill of supply, which, after receiving the concurrence of the lords, is sent back to the house of commons.(i)

The royal assent may be given two ways: 1. In person; when the king comes to the house of peers, in his crown and royal robes, and, sending for the commons to the bar, the titles of all the bills that have passed both houses are read; and the king’s answer is declared by the clerk of the parliament in Norman-French:60 a badge, it must be owned, (now the only one remaining,) of conquest; and which one could wish to see fall into total oblivion, unless it be reserved as a solemn memento to remind us that our liberties are mortal, having once been destroyed by a foreign force. If the king consents to a public bill, the clerk usually declares, “le roy le veut, the king wills it so to be:” if to a private bill, “soit fait comme il est desiré, be it as it is desired.” If the king refuses his assent, it is in the gentle language of “le roy s’avisera,61 the Edition: current; Page: [184] king will advise upon it.” When a bill of supply is passed, it is carried up and presented to the king by the speaker of the house of commons;(k) and the royal assent is thus expressed, “le roy remercie ses loyal subjects, accepte lour benevolence, et aussi le veut, the king thanks his loyal subjects, accepts their benevolence, and wills it so to be.” In case of an act of grace, which originally proceeds from the crown, and has the royal assent in the first stage of it, the clerk of the parliament thus pronounces the gratitude of the subject: “les prelats, seigneurs, et commons, en ce present parliament assembleés, au nom de touts vous autres subjects, **185]remercient tres humblement votre majesté, et prient a Dieu vous donner en santé bone vie et longue; the prelates, lords, and commons, in this present parliament assembled, in the name of all your other subjects, most humbly thank your majesty, and pray to God to grant you in health and wealth long to live.”(l) 2. By the statute 33 Hen. VIII. c. 21, the king may give his assent by letters patent under his great seal, signed with his hand, and notified in his absence, to both houses assembled together in the high house. And, when the bill has received the royal assent in either of these ways, it is then, and not before, a statute or act of parliament.62

This statute or act is placed among the records of the kingdom; there needing no formal promulgation to give it the force of a law, as was necessary by the civil law with regard to the emperor’s edicts; because every man in England is, in judgment of law, party to the making of an act of parliament, being present thereat by his representatives. However, a copy thereof is usually printed at the king’s press, for the information of the whole land. And formerly, before the invention of printing, it was used to be published by the sheriff of every county; the king’s writ being sent to him at the end of every session, together with a transcript of all the acts made at that session, commanding him “ut statuta illa, et omnes articulos, in eisdem contentos, in singulis locis ubi expedire viderit, publice proclamari, et firmiter teneri et observari faciat.” And the usage was to proclaim them at his county court, and there to keep them, that whoever would might read or take copies thereof; which custom continued till the reign of Henry the Seventh.(m)

An act of parliament, thus made, is the exercise of the highest authority that Edition: current; Page: [185] this kingdom acknowledges upon earth. It hath power to bind every subject in the land, and the dominions thereunto belonging; nay, even the king himself, if particularly named therein. And it cannot be altered, *[*186amended, dispensed with, suspended, or repealed, but in the same forms, and by the same authority of parliament: for it is a maxim in law, that it requires the same strength to dissolve, as to create, an obligation. It is true it was formerly held, that the king might, in many cases, dispense with penal statutes:(n) but now, by statute 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, it is declared that the suspending or dispensing with laws by regal authority, without consent of parliament, is illegal.

VII. There remains only, in the seventh and last place, to add a word or two concerning the manner in which parliaments may be adjourned, prorogued, or dissolved.

An adjournment is no more than a continuance of the session from one day to another, as the word itself signifies: and this is done by the authority of each house separately every day; and sometimes for a fortnight or a month together, as at Christmas or Easter, or upon other particular occasions. But the adjournment of one house is no adjournment of the other.(o) It hath also been usual, when his majesty hath signified his pleasure that both or either of the houses should adjourn themselves to a certain day, to obey the king’s pleasure so signified, and to adjourn accordingly.(p) Otherwise, besides the indecorum of a refusal, a prorogation would assuredly follow; which would often be very inconvenient to both public and private business: for prorogation puts an end to the session; and then such bills as are only begun and not perfected, must be resumed de novo (if at all) in a subsequent session: whereas, after an adjournment, all things continue in the same state as at the time of the adjournment made, and may be proceeded on without any fresh commencement.63

A prorogation is the continuance of the parliament from one session to another, as an adjournment is a *[*187continuation of the session from day to day. This is done by the royal authority, expressed either by the lord chancellor in his majesty’s presence, or by commission from the crown, or frequently by proclamation.64 Both houses are necessarily prorogued at the same time, it not being a prorogation of the house of lords, or commons, but of the parliament. The session is never understood to be at an end until a prorogation; Edition: current; Page: [187] though, unless some act be passed or some judgment given in parliament, it is in truth no session at all.(q) And, formerly, the usage was for the king to give the royal assent to all such bills as he approved, at the end of every session, and then to prorogue the parliament; though sometimes only for a day or two;(r) after which all business then depending in the houses was to be begun again: which custom obtained so strongly, that it once became a question,(s) whether giving the royal assent to a single bill did not of course put an end to the session. And, though it was then resolved in the negative, yet the notion was so deeply rooted, that the statute 1 Car. I. c. 7 was passed to declare, that the king’s assent to that and some other acts should not put an end to the session; and even so late as the reign of Charles II. we find a proviso frequently tacked to a bill,(t) that his majesty’s assent thereto should not determine the session of parliament. But it now seems to be allowed, that a prorogation must be expressly made, in order to determine the session. And, if at the time of an actual rebellion, or imminent danger of invasion, the parliament shall be separated by adjournment or prorogation, the king is empowered(u) to call them together by proclamation, with fourteen days’ notice of the time appointed for their reassembling.65

A dissolution is the civil death of the parliament; and this may be effected three ways: 1. By the king’s will, expressed either in person or by representation; for, as the king has the sole right of convening the parliament, so also **188]it is a branch of the royal prerogative that he may (whenever he pleases) prorogue the parliament for a time, or put a final period to its existence. If nothing had a right to prorogue or dissolve a parliament but itself, it might happen to become perpetual. And this would be extremely dangerous, if at any time it should attempt to encroach upon the executive power: as was fatally experienced by the unfortunate king Charles the First, who having unadvisedly passed an act to continue the parliament then in being till such time as it should please to dissolve itself, at last fell a sacrifice to that inordinate power, which he himself had consented to give them. It is therefore extremely necessary that the crown should be empowered to regulate the duration of these assemblies, under the limitations which the English constitution has prescribed: so that, on the one hand, they may frequently and regularly come together, for the despatch of business, and redress of grievances; and may not, on the other, even with the consent of the crown, be continued to an inconvenient or unconstitutional length.

2. A parliament may be dissolved by the demise of the crown. This dissolution formerly happened immediately upon the death of the reigning sovereign: for he being considered in law as the head of the parliament, (caput principium et finis,) that failing, the whole body was held to be extinct. But, the calling a new parliament immediately on the inauguration of the successor being found inconvenient, and dangers being apprehended from having no parliament in being in case of a disputed succession, it was enacted by the statutes 7 & 8 W. III. c. 15, and 6 Anne, c. 7, that the parliament in being shall continue for six months after the death of any king or queen, unless sooner prorogued or dissolved by the successor: that, if the parliament be, at the time of the king’s death, separated by adjournment or prorogation, it shall, notwithstanding, assemble immediately; and that, if no parliament is then in being, the members of the last parliament shall assemble, and be again a parliament.

**189]3. Lastly, a parliament may be dissolved or expire by length or time. For, if either the legislative body were perpetual, or might last Edition: current; Page: [189] for the life of the prince who convened them, as formerly; and were so to be supplied, by occasionally filling the vacancies with new representatives: in these cases, if it were once corrupted, the evil would be past all remedy; but when different bodies succeed each other, if the people see cause to disapprove of the present, they may rectify its faults in the next. A legislative assembly, also, which is sure to be separated again, (whereby its members will themselves become private men, and subject to the full extent of the laws which they have enacted for others,) will think themselves bound, in interest as well as duty, to make only such laws as are good. The utmost extent of time that the same parliament was allowed to sit, by the statute 6 W. and M. c. 2, was three years; after the expiration of which, reckoning from the return of the first summons, the parliament was to have no longer continuance. But, by the statute 1 Geo. I. st. 2, c. 38, (in order, professedly, to prevent the great and continued expenses of frequent elections, and the violent heats and animosities consequent thereupon, and for the peace and security of the government, then just recovering from the late rebellion,) this term was prolonged to seven years: and, what alone is an instance of the vast authority of parliament, the very same house, that was chosen for three years, enacted its own continuance for seven.66 So that, as our constitution now stands, the parliament must expire, or die a natural death, at the end of every seventh year, if not sooner dissolved by the royal prerogative.


The supreme executive power of these kingdoms is vested by our laws in a single person, the king or queen: for it matters not to which sex the crown descends; but the person entitled to it, whether male or female, is immediately invested with all the ensigns, rights, and prerogatives of sovereign power; as is declared by statute 1 Mar. st. 3, c. 1.1

Edition: current; Page: [189]

In discoursing of the royal rights and authority, I shall consider the king under six distinct views: 1. With regard to his title. 2. His royal family. 3. His councils. 4. His duties. 5. His prerogative. 6. His revenue. And, first, with regard to his title.

Edition: current; Page: [190]

The executive power of the English nation being vested in a single person, by the general consent of the people, the evidence of which general consent is long and immemorial usage, it became necessary to the freedom and peace of the state, that a rule should be laid down, uniform, universal, and permanent; in order to mark out with precision, who is that single person, to whom are committed (in subservience to the law of the land) the care and protection of the community; and to whom, in return, the duty and allegiance of every individual are due. It is of the highest importance to the public tranquillity, and to the consciences *[*191of private men, that this rule should be clear and indisputable: and our constitution has not left us in the dark upon this material occasion. It will therefore be the endeavour of this chapter to trace out the constitutional doctrine of the royal succession, with that freedom Edition: current; Page: [191] and regard to truth, yet mixed with that reverence and respect, which the principles of liberty and the dignity of the subject require.

The grand fundamental maxim upon which the jus coronæ, or right of succession to the throne of these kingdoms, depends, I take to be this: “that the crown is, by common law and constitutional custom, hereditary; and this in a manner peculiar to itself: but that the right of inheritance may from time to time be changed or limited by act of parliament; under which limitations the crown still continues hereditary.” And this proposition it will be the business of this chapter to prove, in all its branches: first, that the crown is hereditary; secondly, that it is hereditary in a manner peculiar to itself; thirdly, that this inheritance is subject to limitation by parliament; lastly, that when it is so limited, it is hereditary in the new proprietor.

1. First, it is in general hereditary, or descendible to the next heir, on the death or demise of the last proprietor. All regal governments must be either hereditary or elective: and, as I believe there is no instance wherein the crown of England has ever been asserted to be elective, except by the regicides at the infamous and unparalleled trial of king Charles I., it must of consequence be hereditary. Yet, while I assert an hereditary, I by no means intend a jure divino, title to the throne. Such a title may be allowed to have subsisted under the theocratic establishments of the children of Israel in Palestine; but it never yet subsisted in any other country; save only so far as kingdoms, like other human fabrics, are subject to the general and ordinary dispensations of providence. Nor indeed have a jure divino and an hereditary right any necessary connection with each other; as some have very weakly imagined. The titles of David and Jehu were **192]equally jure divino, as those of either Solomon or Ahab; and yet David slew the sons of his predecessor, and Jehu his predecessor himself. And when our kings have the same warrant as they had, whether it be to sit upon the throne of their fathers, or to destroy the house of the preceding sovereign, they will then, and not before, possess the crown of England by a right like theirs, immediately derived from heaven. The hereditary right which the laws of England acknowledge, owes its origin to the founders of our constitution, and to them only. It has no relation to, nor depends upon, the civil laws of the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, or any other nation upon earth: the municipal laws of one society, having no connection with, or influence upon, the fundamental polity of another. The founders of our English monarchy might perhaps, if they had thought proper, have made it an elective monarchy: but they rather chose, and upon good reason, to establish originally a succession by inheritance. This has been acquiesced in by general consent; and ripened by degrees into common law: the very same title that every private man has to his own estate. Lands are not naturally descendible any more than thrones; but the law has thought proper, for the benefit and peace of the public, to establish hereditary succession in the one as well as the other.

It must be owned, an elective monarchy seems to be the most obvious, and best suited of any to the rational principles of government, and the freedom of human nature: and accordingly we find from history that, in the infancy and first rudiments of almost every state, the leader, chief magistrate, or prince, hath usually been elective. And, if the individuals who compose that state could always continue true to first principles, uninfluenced by passion or prejudice, unassailed by corruption, and unawed by violence, elective succession were as much to be desired in a kingdom, as in other inferior communities. The best the wisest, and the bravest man, would then be sure of receiving that crown, which his endowments have merited; and the sense of an unbiassed majority would be dutifully acquiesced in by the few who were **193]of different opinions. But history and observation will inform us, that elections of every kind (in the present state of human nature) are too frequently brought about by influence, partiality, and artifice: and, even where the case is otherwise, these practices will be often suspected, and as constantly charged upon the successful, by a splenetic disappointed minority. This is an evil to which Edition: current; Page: [193] all societies are liable; as well those of a private and domestic kind, as the great community of the public, which regulates and includes the rest. But in the former there is this advantage; that such suspicions, if false, proceed no further than jealousies and murmurs, which time will effectually suppress; and, if true, the injustice may be remedied by legal means, by an appeal to the tribunals to which every member of society has (by becoming such) virtually engaged to submit. Whereas in the great and independent society, which every nation composes, there is no superior to resort to but the law of nature: no method to redress the infringements of that law, but the actual exertion of private force. As therefore between two nations, complaining of mutual injuries, the quarrel can only be decided by the law of arms; so in one and the same nation, when the fundamental principles of their common union are supposed to be invaded, and more especially when the appointment of their chief magistrate is alleged to be unduly made, the only tribunal to which the complainants can appeal is that of the God of battles, the only process by which the appeal can be carried on is that of a civil and intestine war. An hereditary succession to the crown is therefore now established, in this and most other countries, in order to prevent that periodical bloodshed and misery, which the history of ancient imperial Rome, and the more modern experience of Poland and Germany, may show us are the consequences of elective kingdoms.

2. But, secondly, as to the particular mode of inheritance, it in general corresponds with the feodal path of descents, chalked out by the common law in the succession to landed estates; yet with one or two material exceptions. Like estates, the crown will descend lineally to the issue of the reigning monarch; as it did from king John to Richard II., through *[*194a regular pedigree of six lineal generations. As in common descents, the preference of males to females, and the right of primogeniture among the males, are strictly adhered to. Thus Edward V. succeeded to the crown, in preference to Richard, his younger brother, and Elizabeth, his elder sister. Like lands or tenements, the crown, on failure of the male line, descends to the issue female; according to the ancient British custom remarked by Tacitus;(a)solent fœminarum ductu bellare, et sexum in imperiis non discernere.” Thus Mary I. succeeded to Edward VI.; and the line of Margaret Queen of Scots, the daughter of Henry VII., succeeded on failure of the line of Henry VIII., his son. But, among the females, the crown descends by right of primogeniture to the eldest daughter only and her issue; and not, as in common inheritances, to all the daughters at once; the evident necessity of a sole succession to the throne having occasioned the royal law of descents to depart from the common law in this respect: and therefore queen Mary on the death of her brother succeeded to the crown alone, and not in partnership with her sister Elizabeth. Again: the doctrine of representation prevails in the descent of the crown, as it does in other inheritances; whereby the lineal descendants of any person deceased stand in the same place as their ancestor, if living, would have done. Thus Richard II. succeeded his grandfather Edward III., in right of his father the Black Prince; to the exclusion of all his uncles, his grandfather’s younger children. Lastly, on failure of lineal descendants, the crown goes to the next collateral relations of the late king; provided they are lineally descended from the blood royal, that is, from that royal stock, which originally acquired the crown. Thus Henry I. succeeded to William II., John to Richard I., and James I. to Elizabeth; being all derived from the conqueror, who was then the only regal stock. But herein there is no objection (as in the case of common descents) to the succession of a brother, an uncle, or other collateral relation, of the half blood; that is, where the relationship proceeds not from the same couple of ancestors (which constitutes a kinsman of the whole blood) but from a single ancestor only; as when two persons are derived from the same father and not from the same *[*195mother, or vice versa; provided only, that the one ancestor, from whom both are descended, be that from whose veins the blood royal is communicated to each. Thus Mary I. inherited to Edward VI., and Elizabeth Edition: current; Page: [195] inherited to Mary; all children of the same father, King Henry VIII., but all by different mothers. The reason of which diversity, between royal and common descents, will be better understood hereafter, when we examine the nature of inheritances in general.

3. The doctrine of hereditary right does by no means imply an indefeasible right to the throne. No man will, I think, assert this, that has considered our laws, constitution, and history, without prejudice, and with any degree of attention. It is unquestionably in the breast of the supreme legislative authority of this kingdom, the king and both houses of parliament, to defeat this hereditary right; and, by particular entails, limitations, and provisions, to exclude the immediate heir, and vest the inheritance in any one else. This is strictly consonant to our laws and constitution; as may be gathered from the expression so frequently used in our statute book, of “the king’s majesty, his heirs, and successors.” In which we may observe, that as the word, “heirs,” necessarily implies an inheritance of hereditary right, generally subsisting in the royal person; so the word, “successors,” distinctly taken, must imply that this inheritance may sometimes be broken through; or, that there may be a successor, without being the heir, of the king. And this is so extremely reasonable, that without such a power, lodged somewhere, our polity would be very defective. For, let us barely suppose so melancholy a case, as that the heir apparent should be a lunatic, an idiot, or otherwise incapable of reigning: how miserable would the condition of the nation be, if he were also incapable of being set aside! It is therefore necessary that this power should be lodged somewhere: and yet the inheritance, and regal dignity, would be very precarious indeed, if this power were expressly and avowedly lodged in the hands of the subject only, to be exerted whenever prejudice, caprice, or discontent, should happen to take the lead. Consequently it can nowhere be so properly lodged as in the two houses of parliament, by and with the **196]consent of the reigning king; who, it is not to be supposed, will agree to any thing improperly prejudicial to the rights of his own descendants. And therefore in the king, lords, and commons, in parliament assembled, our laws have expressly lodged it.

4. But, fourthly; however the crown may be limited or transferred, it still retains its descendible quality, and becomes hereditary in the wearer of it. And hence in our law the king is said never to die, in his political capacity; though, in common with other men, he is subject to mortality in his natural: because immediately upon the natural death of Henry, William, or Edward, the king survives in his successor. For the right of the crown vests, eo instanti, upon his heir; either the hæres natus, if the course of descent remains unimpeached, or the hæres factus, if the inheritance be under any particular settlement. So that there can be no interregnum;2 but, as Sir Matthew Hale(b) observes, the right of sovereignty is fully invested in the successor by the very descent of the crown. And therefore, however acquired, it becomes in him absolutely hereditary, unless by the rules of the limitation it is otherwise ordered, and determined. In the same manner as landed estates, to continue our former comparison, are by the law hereditary, or descendible to the heirs of the owner; but still there exists a power, by which the property of those lands may be transferred to another person. If this transfer be made simply and absolutely, the lands will be hereditary in the new owner, and descend to his heir-at-law: but if the transfer be clogged with any limitations, conditions, or entails, the lands must descend in that channel, so limited and prescribed, and no other.

In these four points consists, as I take it, the constitutional notion of hereditary right to the throne: which will be still further elucidated, and made clear Edition: current; Page: [196] beyond all dispute, from a short historical view of the successions to the crown of England, the doctrines of our ancient lawyers, and the several acts of parliament that have from time to time been made, to create, to declare, to confirm, to limit, or to bar, the hereditary *[*197title to the throne. And in the pursuit of this inquiry we shall find, that, from the days of Egbert, the first sole monarch of this kingdom, even to the present, the four cardinal maxims above mentioned have ever been held the constitutional canons of succession. It is true, the succession, through fraud, or force, or sometimes through necessity, when in hostile times the crown descended on a minor or the like, has been very frequently suspended; but has generally at last returned back into the old hereditary channel, though sometimes a very considerable period has intervened. And, even in those instances where the succession has been violated, the crown has ever been looked upon as hereditary in the wearer of it. Of which the usurpers themselves were so sensible, that they for the most part endeavoured to vamp up some feeble show of a title by descent, in order to amuse the people, while they gained the possession of the kingdom. And, when possession was once gained, they considered it as the purchase or acquisition of a new estate of inheritance, and transmitted or endeavoured to transmit it to their own posterity, by a kind of hereditary right of usurpation.

King Egbert, about the year 800, found himself in possession of the throne of the West Saxons, by a long and undisturbed descent from his ancestors of above three hundred years. How his ancestors acquired their title, whether by force, by fraud, by contract, or by election, it matters not much to inquire; and is indeed a point of such high antiquity, as must render all inquiries at best but plausible guesses. His right must be supposed indisputably good, because we know no better. The other kingdoms of the heptarchy he acquired, some by consent, but most by a voluntary submission. And it is an established maxim in civil polity, and the law of nations, that when one country is united to another in such a manner, as that one keeps its government and states, and the other loses them; the latter entirely assimilates with or is melted down in the former, and must adopt its laws and customs.(c) And in pursuance of this maxim there hath ever been, since the union of the heptarchy in king Egbert, a *[*198general acquiescence under the hereditary monarchy of the West Saxons, through all the united kingdoms.

From Egbert to the death of Edmund Ironside, a period of above two hundred years, the crown descended regularly, through a succession of fifteen princes, without any deviation or interruption: save only that the sons of king Ethelwolf succeeded to each other in the kingdom, without regard to the children of the elder branches, according to the rule of succession prescribed by their father and confirmed by the wittena-gemote, in the heat of the Danish invasions; and also that king Edred, the uncle of Edwy, mounted the throne for about nine years, in the right of his nephew, a minor, the times being very troublesome and dangerous. But this was with a view to preserve, and not to destroy, the succession; and accordingly Edwy succeeded him.3

King Edmund Ironside was obliged, by the hostile irruption of the Danes, at first to divide his kingdom with Canute, king of Denmark; and Canute, after his death, seized the whole of it, Edmund’s sons being driven into foreign countries. Here the succession was suspended by actual force, and a new family introduced upon the throne: in whom however this new-acquired throne continued hereditary for three reigns; when, upon the death of Hardiknute, the ancient Saxon line was restored in the person of Edward the Confessor.

He was not indeed the true heir to the crown, being the younger brother of king Edmund Ironside, who had a son Edward, sirnamed (from his exile) the outlaw, still living.4 But this son was then in Hungary; and, the English Edition: current; Page: [198] having just shaken off the Danish yoke, it was necessary that somebody on the spot should mount the throne; and the Confessor was the next of the royal line then in England. On his decease without issue, Harold II. usurped the throne; and almost at the same instant came on the Norman invasion: the right to the crown being all the time in Edgar, sirnamed Atheling, (which signifies in the Saxon language illustrious, or of royal blood,) who was the son of Edward the Outlaw, and grandson of Edmund **199]Ironside; or as Matthew Paris(d) well expresses the sense of our old constitution, “Edmundus autem latusferreum, rex naturalis de stirpe regum, genuit Edwardum; et Edwardus genuit Edgarum, cui de jure debebatur regnum Anglorum.

William the Norman claimed the crown by virtue of a pretended grant from king Edward the Confessor; a grant which, if real, was in itself utterly invalid; because it was made, as Harold well observed in his reply to William’s demand,(e)absque generali senatus et populi conventu et edicto;” which also very plainly implies, that it then was generally understood that the king, with consent of the general council, might dispose of the crown, and change the line of succession. William’s title however was altogether as good as Harold’s, he being a mere private subject, and an utter stranger to the royal blood. Edgar Atheling’s undoubted right was overwhelmed by the violence of the times; though frequently asserted by the English nobility after the conquest, till such time as he died without issue: but all their attempts proved unsuccessful, and only served the more firmly to establish the crown in the family which had newly acquired it.

This conquest then by William of Normandy was, like that of Canute before, a forcible transfer of the crown of England into a new family: but the crown being so transferred, all the inherent properties of the crown were with it transferred also. For, the victory obtained at Hastings not being(f) a victory over the nation collectively, but only over the person of Harold, the only right that the Conqueror could pretend to acquire thereby, was the right to possess the crown of England, not to alter the nature of the government. And therefore, as the English laws still remained in force, he must necessarily take the crown subject to those laws, and with all its inherent properties; the first and principal of which was its descendibility. Here then we must drop our race of Saxon kings, at least for a while, and derive our descents from William the Conqueror as from a new stock, who acquired by right of war (such as it is, yet still the **200]dernier resort of kings) a strong and undisputed title to the inheritable crown of England.

Accordingly it descended from him to his sons William II. and Henry I. Robert, it must be owned, his eldest son, was kept out of possession by the arts and violence of his brethren; who perhaps might proceed upon a notion, which prevailed for some time in the law of descents, (though never adopted as the rule of public successions,)(g) that when the eldest son was already provided for, (as Robert was constituted duke of Normandy by his father’s will,) in such a case the next brother was entitled to enjoy the rest of their father’s inheritance. But, as he died without issue, Henry at last had a good title to the throne, whatever he might have at first.

Stephen of Blois, who succeeded him, was indeed the grandson of the Conqueror, by Adelicia his daughter, and claimed the throne by a feeble kind of hereditary right: not as being the nearest of the male line, but as the nearest male of the blood royal, excepting his elder brother Theobald, who was earl of Blois, and therefore seems to have waived, as he certainly never insisted on, so troublesome and precarious a claim. The real right was in the empress Matilda, or Maud, the daughter of Henry I.; the rule of succession being, (where women are admitted at all,) that the daughter of a son shall be preferred to the son of a daughter. So that Stephen was little better than a mere usurper; and therefore Edition: current; Page: [206] he rather chose to rely on a title by election,(h) while the empress Maud did not fail to assert her hereditary right by the sword: which dispute was attended with various success, and ended at last in the compromise made at Wallingford, that Stephen should keep the crown, but that Henry, the son of Maud, should succeed him, as he afterwards accordingly did.

Henry, the second of that name, was (next after his mother Matilda) the undoubted heir of William the Conqueror; but he had also another connection in blood, which endeared *[*201him still further to the English. He was lineally descended from Edmund Ironside, the last of the Saxon race of hereditary kings. For Edward the Outlaw, the son of Edmund Ironside, had (besides Edgar Atheling, who died without issue) a daughter Margaret, who was married to Malcolm, king of Scotland, and in her the Saxon hereditary right resided. By Malcolm she had several children, and among the rest Matilda the wife of Henry I., who by him had the empress Maud, the mother of Henry II. Upon which account the Saxon line is in our histories frequently said to have been restored in his person, though in reality that right subsisted in the sons of Malcolm by queen Margaret; king Henry’s best title being as heir to the Conqueror.

From Henry II. the crown descended to his eldest son Richard I., who dying childless, the right vested in his nephew Arthur, the son of Geoffrey his next brother; but John, the youngest son of king Henry, seized the throne, claiming, as appears from his charters, the crown by hereditary right;(i) that is to say, he was next of kin to the deceased king, being his surviving brother: whereas Arthur was removed one degree further, being his brother’s son, though by right of representation he stood in the place of his father Geoffrey. And however flimsy this title, and those of William Rufus and Stephen of Blois, may appear at this distance to us, after the law of descents hath now been settled for so many centuries, they were sufficient to puzzle the understandings of our brave but unlettered ancestors. Nor, indeed, can we wonder at the number of partisans who espoused the pretensions of king John in particular, since even in the reign of his father, king Henry II., it was a point undetermined,(k) whether, even in common inheritances, the child of an elder brother should succeed to the land in right of representation, or the younger surviving brother in right of proximity of blood. Nor is it to this day decided, in the collateral succession to the fiefs of the empire, whether the order of the stocks, or the proximity of degree, shall take place.(l) However, on the death of Arthur *[*202and his sister Eleanor without issue, a clear and indisputable title vested in Henry III., the son of John; and from him to Richard the Second, a succession of six generations, the crown descended in the true hereditary line. Under one of which race of princes(m) we find it declared in parliament, “that the law of the crown of England is, and always hath been, that the children of the king of England, whether born in England or elsewhere, ought to bear the inheritance after the death of their ancestors: which law our sovereign lord the king, the prelates, earls, and barons, and other great men, together with all the commons in parliament assembled, do approve and affirm forever.”

Upon Richard the Second’s resignation of the crown, he having no children, he right resulted to the issue of his grandfather Edward III. That king had many children besides his eldest, Edward the black prince of Wales, the father of Richard II.; but to avoid confusion, I shall only mention three:—William, his second son, who died without issue; Lionel, duke of Clarence, his third son; and John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, his fourth. By the rules of succession, therefore, the posterity of Lionel, duke of Clarence, were entitled to the throne upon the resignation of king Richard; and had accordingly been declared by the king, many years before, the presumptive heirs of the crown; which declaration Edition: current; Page: [202] was also confirmed in parliament.(n) But Henry, duke of Lancaster, the son of John of Gaunt, having then a large army in the kingdom, the pretence of raising which was to recover his patrimony from the king, and to redress the grievances of the subject, it was impossible for any other title to be asserted with any safety, and he became king under the title of Henry IV. But, as Sir Matthew Hale remarks,(o) though the people unjustly assisted Henry IV. in his usurpation of the crown, yet he was not admitted thereto until he had declared that he claimed, not as a conqueror, (which he very much inclined to do,(p) but as a successor, descended by right line of the blood royal, as appears from the rolls of parliament in those times. And, in order to this, he set up a show of two titles: **203]the one upon the pretence of being the first of the blood royal in the entire male line, whereas the duke of Clarence left only one daughter, Philippa; from which female branch, by a marriage with Edmond Mortimer, earl of March, the house of York descended: the other, by reviving an exploded rumour, first propagated by John of Gaunt, that Edmond, earl of Lancaster, (to whom Henry’s mother was heiress,) was in reality the elder brother of king Edward I.; though his parents, on account of his personal deformity, had imposed him on the world for the younger; and therefore Henry would be entitled to the crown, either as successor to Richard II. in case the entire male line was allowed a preference to the female; or even prior to that unfortunate prince, if the crown could descend through a female, while an entire male line was existing.

However, as in Edward the Third’s time we find the parliament approving and affirming the law of the crown, as before stated, so in the reign of Henry IV. they actually exerted their right of new-settling the succession to the crown. And this was done by the statute 7 Hen. IV. c. 2, whereby it is enacted, “that the inheritance of the crown and realms of England and France, and all other the king’s dominions, shall be set and remain(q) in the person of our sovereign lord the king, and in the heirs of his body issuing;” and prince Henry is declared heir apparent to the crown, to hold to him and the heirs of his body issuing, with remainder to the Lord Thomas, Lord John, and Lord Humphry, the king’s sons, and the heirs of their bodies respectively; which is indeed nothing more than the law would have done before, provided Henry the Fourth had been a rightful king. It however serves to show that it was then generally understood, that the king and parliament had a right to new-model and regulate the succession to the crown; and we may also observe with what caution and delicacy the parliament then avoided declaring any sentiment of Henry’s original title. However, Sir Edward Coke more than once expressly declares,(r) that at the time of **204]passing this act the right of the crown was in the descent from Philippa, daughter and heir of Lionel duke of Clarence.

Nevertheless the crown descended regularly from Henry IV. to his son and grandson Henry V. and VI.; in the latter of whose reigns the house of York asserted their dormant title; and, after imbruing the kingdom in blood and confusion for seven years together, at last established it in the person of Edward IV. At his accession to the throne, after a breach of the succession that continued for three descents, and above threescore years, the distinction of a king de jure and a king de facto began to be first taken; in order to indemnify such as had submitted to the late establishment, and to provide for the peace of the kingdom, by confirming all honours conferred and all acts done by those who were now called the usurpers, not tending to the disherison of the rightful heir. In statute 1 Edw. IV. c. 1, the three Henrys are styled, “late kings of England successively in dede, and not of ryght.” And in all the charters which I have met with of king Edward, wherever he has occasion to speak of any of the line of Lancaster, he calls them “nuper de facto, et non de jure, reges Angliæ

Edition: current; Page: [204]

Edward IV. left two sons and a daughter; the eldest of which sons, king Edward V., enjoyed the regal dignity for a very short time, and was then deposed by Richard, his unnatural uncle, who immediately usurped the royal dignity, having previously insinuated to the populace a suspicion of bastardy in the children of Edward IV. to make a show of some hereditary title: after which he is generally believed to have murdered his two nephews, upon whose death the right of the crown devolved to their sister Elizabeth.

The tyrannical reign of king Richard III. gave occasion to Henry earl of Richmond to assert his title to the crown; a title the most remote and unaccountable that was ever set up, and which nothing could have given success to but the universal detestation of the then usurper Richard. For, besides that he claimed under a descent from John of Gaunt, whose title was now exploded, the claim (such as it was) was through John earl of Somerset, a bastard son, hegotten by John of *[*205Gaunt upon Catherine Swinford. It is true that, by an act of parliament 20 Ric. II. this son was, with others, legitimated and made inheritable to all lands, offices, and dignities, as if he had been born in wedlock; but still with an express reservation of the crown, “excepta dignitate regali.(s)5

Notwithstanding all this, immediately after the battle of Bosworth Field, he assumed the regal dignity; the right of the crown then being, as Sir Edward Coke expressly declares,(t) in Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV.; and his possession was established by parliament, holden the first year of his reign. In the act for which purpose the parliament seems to have copied the caution of their predecessors in the reign of Henry IV.; and therefore (as Lord Bacon the historian of this reign observes) carefully avoided any recognition of Henry VII.’s right, which indeed was none at all; and the king would not have it by way of new law or ordinance, whereby a right might seem to be created and conferred upon him; and therefore a middle way was rather chosen, by way (as the noble historian expresses it) of establishment, and that under covert and indifferent words, “that the inheritance of the crown should rest, remain, and abide, in King Henry VII. and the heirs of his body;” thereby providing for the future, and at the same time acknowledging his present possession; but not determining either way, whether that possession was de jure or de facto merely. However, he soon after married Elizabeth of York, the undoubted heiress of the Conqueror, and thereby gained (as Sir Edward Coke(u) declares) by much his best title to the crown. Whereupon the act made in his favour was so much disregarded, that it never was printed in our statute books.

Henry the Eighth, the issue of this marriage, succeeded to the crown by clear indisputable hereditary right, and transmitted it to his three children in successive order. But in his reign we at several times find the parliament busy in regulating the succession to the kingdom. And, first, by *[*206statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 12, which recites the mischiefs which have and may ensue by disputed titles, because no perfect and substantial provision hath been made by law concerning the succession; and then enacts, that the crown shall be entailed to his majesty, and the sons or heirs male of his body; and in default of such sons to the Lady Elizabeth (who is declared to be the king’s eldest issue female, in exclusion of the Lady Mary, on account of her supposed Edition: current; Page: [206] illegitimacy by the divorce of her mother queen Catherine) and to the Lady Elizabeth’s heirs of her body; and so on from issue female to issue female, and the heirs of their bodies, by course of inheritance according to their ages, as the crown of England hath been accustomed, and ought to go, in case where there be heirs female of the same: and in default of issue female, then to the king’s right heirs forever. This single statute is an ample proof of all the four positions we at first set out with.

But, upon the king’s divorce from Anne Boleyn, this statute was, with regard to the settlement of the crown, repealed by statute 28 Hen. VIII. c. 7, wherein the Lady Elizabeth is also, as well as the Lady Mary, bastardized, and the crown settled on the king’s children by queen Jane Seymour, and his future wives; and, in defect of such children, then with this remarkable remainder, to such persons as the king by letters patent, or last will and testament, should limit and appoint the same: a vast power, but notwithstanding, as it was regularly vested in him by the supreme legislative authority, it was therefore indisputably valid. But this power was never carried into execution; for by statute 35 Hen. VIII. c. 1, the king’s two daughters are legitimated again, and the crown is limited to prince Edward by name, after that to the Lady Mary, and then to the Lady Elizabeth and the heirs of their respective bodies; which succession took effect accordingly, being indeed no other than the usual course of the law, with regard to the descent of the crown.

But lest there should remain any doubt in the minds of the people, through this jumble of acts for limiting the succession, by statute 1 Mar. st. 2, c. 1, queen Mary’s **207]hereditary right to the throne is acknowledged and recognised in these words:—“The crown of these realms is most lawfully, justly, and rightly descended and come to the queen’s highness that now is, being the very true and undoubted heir and inheritrix thereof.” And again, upon the queen’s marriage with Philip of Spain, in the statute which settles the preliminaries of that match,(x) the hereditary right to the crown is thus asserted and declared:—“As touching the right of the queen’s inheritance in the realm and dominions of England, the children, whether male or female, shall succeed in them, according to the known laws, statutes, and customs of the same:” which determination of the parliament, that the succession shall continue in the usual course, seems tacitly to imply a power of new-modelling and altering it, in case the legislature had thought proper.

On queen Elizabeth’s accession, her right is recognised in still stronger terms than her sister’s; the parliament acknowledging(y) “that the queen’s highness is, and in very deed and of most mere right ought to be, by the laws of God, and the laws and statutes of this realm, our most lawful and rightful sovereign liege lady and queen; and that her highness is rightly, lineally, and lawfully descended and come of the blood royal of this realm of England; in and to whose princely person, and to the heirs of her body lawfully to be begotten, after her, the imperial crown and dignity of this realm doth belong.” And in the same reign, by statute 13 Eliz. c. 1, we find the right of parliament to direct the succession of the crown asserted in the most explicit words:—“If any person shall hold, affirm, or maintain that the common laws of this realm, not altered by parliament, ought not to direct the right of the crown of England; or that the queen’s majesty, with and by the authority of parliament, is not able to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to limit and bind the crown of this realm, and the descent, limitation, inheritance, and government thereof: such person, so holding, affirming, or maintaining, shall, **208]during the life of the queen, be guilty of high treason; and after her decease shall be guilty of a misdemesnor, and forfeit his goods and chattels.”

On the death of queen Elizabeth without issue, the line of Henry VIII. became extinct. It therefore became necessary to recur to the other issue of Henry VII. by Elizabeth of York his queen; whose eldest daughter Margaret having married James IV. king of Scotland, king James the Sixth of Scotland, Edition: current; Page: [208] and of England the First, was the lineal descendant from that alliance. So that in his person, as clearly as in Henry VIII., centred all the claims of different competitors, from the conquest downwards, he being indisputably the lineal heir of the Conqueror.6 And, what is still more remarkable, in his person also centred the right of the Saxon monarchs, which had been suspended from the conquest till his accession. For, as formerly observed, Margaret, the sister of Edgar Atheling, the daughter of Edward the Outlaw, and grand-daughter of king Edmund Ironside, was the person in whom the hereditary right of the Saxon kings, supposing it not abolished by the conquest, resided. She married Malcolm, king of Scotland; and Henry II., by a descent from Matilda their daughter, is generally called the restorer of the Saxon line. But it must be remembered, that Malcolm by his Saxon queen had sons as well as daughters, and that the royal family of Scotland, from that time downwards, were the offspring of Malcolm and Margaret. Of this royal family, king James the First was the direct lineal heir, and therefore united in his person every possible claim by hereditary right to the English as well as Scottish throne, being the heir both of Egbert and William the Conqueror.

And it is no wonder that a prince of more learning than wisdom, who could deduce an hereditary title for more than eight hundred years, should easily be taught by the flatterers of the times to believe there was something divine in his right, and that the finger of Providence was visible in its *[*209preservation. Whereas, though a wise institution, it was clearly a human institution; and the right inherent in him no natural, but a positive, right. And in this, and no other, light was it taken by the English parliament; who, by statute 1 Jac. I. c. 1, did “recognise and acknowledge, that immediately upon the dissolution and decease of Elizabeth, late queen of England, the imperial crown thereof did by inherent birthright, and lawful and undoubted succession, descend and come to his most excellent majesty, as being lineally, justly, and lawfully next and sole heir of the blood royal of this realm.” Not a word here of any right immediately derived from Heaven; which, if it existed anywhere, must be sought for among the aborigines of the island, the ancient Britons, among whose princes, indeed, some have gone to search it for him.(z)

But, wild and absurd as the doctrine of divine right most undoubtedly is, it is still more astonishing, that when so many hereditary rights had centred in this king, his son and heir king Charles the First should be told by those infamous judges who pronounced his unparalleled sentence, that he was an elective prince; elected by his people, and therefore accountable to them, in his own proper person, for his conduct. The confusion, instability, and madness which followed the fatal catastrophe of that pious and unfortunate prince, will be a standing argument in favour of hereditary monarchy to all future ages; as they proved at last to the then deluded people; who, in order to recover that peace and happiness, which for twenty years together they had lost, in a solemn parliamentary convention of the states restored the right heir of the crown. And in the proclamation for that purpose, which was drawn up and attended by both houses,(a) they declared “that, according to their duty and allegiance, they did heartily, joyfully, and unanimously acknowledge and proclaim, that immediately upon the *[*210decease of our late sovereign lord king Charles, the imperial crown of these realms did by inherent birthright and lawful and undoubted succession descend and come to his most excellent majesty Charles the Second, as being lineally, justly, and lawfully next heir of the blood royal of Edition: current; Page: [210] this realm: and thereunto they most humbly and faithfully did submit and oblige themselves, their heirs, and posterity forever.”

Thus I think it clearly appears, from the highest authority this nation is acquainted with, that the crown of England hath been ever an hereditary crown, though subject to limitations by parliament. The remainder of this chapter will consist principally of those instances wherein the parliament has asserted or exercised this right of altering and limiting the succession; a right which, we have seen, was before exercised and asserted in the reigns of Henry IV., Henry VII., Henry VIII., queen Mary, and queen Elizabeth.

The first instance, in point of time, is the famous bill of exclusion, which raised such a ferment in the latter end of the reign of king Charles the Second. It is well known that the purport of this bill was to have set aside the king’s brother and presumptive heir, the duke of York, from the succession, on the score of his being a papist; that it passed the house of commons, but was rejected by the lords; the king having also declared, beforehand, that he never would be brought to consent to it. And from this transaction we may collect two things: 1. That the crown was universally acknowledged to be hereditary; and the inheritance indefeasible unless by parliament: else it had been needless to prefer such a bill. 2. That the parliament had a power to have defeated the inheritance: else such a bill had been ineffectual. The commons acknowledged the hereditary right then subsisting; and the lords did not dispute the power, but merely the propriety, of an exclusion. However, as the bill took no effect, king James the Second succeeded to the throne of his ancestors; and might have enjoyed it during the remainder of his life but for his own infatuated conduct, which, with other concurring circumstances, brought on the revolution in 1688.

**211]The true ground and principle upon which that memorable event proceeded was an entirely new case in politics, which had never before happened in our history,—the abdication of the reigning monarch, and the vacancy of the throne thereupon. It was not a defeasance of the right of succession, and a new limitation of the crown, by the king and both houses of parliament: it was the act of the nation alone, upon a conviction that there was no king in being. For, in a full assembly of the lords and commons, met in a convention upon the supposition of this vacancy, both houses(b) came to this resolution:—“That king James the Second, having endeavoured to subvert the constitution of the kingdom, by breaking the original contract between king and people; and, by the advice of jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws; and having withdrawn himself out of this kingdom; has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant.” Thus ended at once, by this sudden and unexpected vacancy of the throne, the old line of succession; which from the conquest had lasted above six hundred years, and from the union of the heptarchy in king Egbert almost nine hundred. The facts themselves thus appealed to, the king’s endeavour to subvert the constitution by breaking the original contract, his violation of the fundamental laws, and his withdrawing himself out of the kingdom, were evident and notorious; and the consequences drawn from these facts, (namely, that they amounted to an abdication of the government; which abdication did not affect only the person of the king himself, but also all his heirs, and rendered the throne absolutely and completely vacant,) it belonged to our ancestors to determine.7 For, whenever Edition: current; Page: [211] a question arises between the society at large and any magistrate vested with powers originally delegated by that society, it must be decided by the voice of the society itself: there is not upon earth any other tribunal to resort to. And that these consequences were fairly deduced from these facts, our ancestors have solemnly determined, in a full parliamentary convention representing the whole society. The *[*212reasons upon which they decided may be found at large in the parliamentary proceedings of the times; and may be matter of distructive amusement for us to contemplate, as a speculative point of history. But care must be taken not to carry this inquiry further than merely for instruction or amusement.8 The idea, that the consciences of posterity were concerned in the rectitude of their ancestors’ decisions, gave birth to those dangerous political heresies, which so long distracted the state, but at length are all happily extinguished. I therefore rather choose to consider this great political measure upon the solid footing of authority, than to reason in its favour from its justice, moderation, and expedience: because that might imply a right of dissenting or revolting from it, in case we should think it to have been unjust, oppressive, or inexpedient. Whereas, our ancestors having most indisputably a competent jurisdiction to decide this great and important question, and having in fact decided it, it is now become our duty at this distance of time to acquiesce in their determination; being born under that establishment which was built upon this foundation, and obliged by every tie, religious as well as civil, to maintain it.9

But, while we rest this fundamental transaction, in point of authority, upon grounds the least liable to cavil, we are bound both in justice and gratitude to add, that it was conducted with a temper and moderation which naturally arose from its equity; that, however it might in some respects go beyond the letter of our ancient laws, (the reason of which will more fully appear hereafter,)(c) it was agreeable to the spirit of our constitution, and the rights of human nature; and that though in other points, owing to the peculiar circumstances of things and persons, it was not altogether so perfect as might have been wished, yet from thence a new era commenced, in which the bounds of prerogative and liberty have been better defined, the principles of government more thoroughly Edition: current; Page: [212] examined and understood, and the rights of the subject more explicitly guarded by legal provisions, than in any other period of the English history. In particular it is **213]worthy observation that the convention, in this their judgment, avoided with great wisdom the wild extremes into which the visionary theories of some zealous republicans would have led them. They held that this misconduct of king James amounted to an endeavour to subvert the constitution; and not to an actual subversion, or total dissolution, of the government, according to the principles of Mr. Locke:(d) which would have reduced the society almost to a state of nature; would have levelled all distinctions of honour, rank, offices, and property; would have annihilated the sovereign power, and in consequence have repealed all positive laws; and would have left the people at liberty to have erected a new system of state upon a new foundation of polity. They therefore very prudently voted it to amount to no more than an abdication of the government, and a consequent vacancy of the throne; whereby the government was allowed to subsist, though the executive magistrate was gone, and the kingly office to remain, though king James was no longer king.(e) And thus the constitution was kept entire; which upon every sound principle of government must otherwise have fallen to pieces, had so principal and constituent a part as the royal authority been abolished, or even suspended.

This single postulatum, the vacancy of the throne, being once established, the rest that was then done followed almost of course. For, if the throne be at any time vacant, (which may happen by other means besides that of abdication; as if all the blood royal should fail, without any successor appointed by parliament;) if, I say, a vacancy by any means whatsoever should happen, the right of disposing of this vacancy seems naturally to result to the lords and commons, the trustees and representatives of the nation.10 For there are no other hands in which it can so properly be intrusted; and there is a necessity of its being intrusted somewhere, else the whole frame of government must be dissolved and perish. The lords and commons having therefore determined this main fundamental article, that there was a vacancy of the throne, they proceeded to fill up that vacancy in such manner as they **214]judged the most proper. And this was done by their declaration of 12 February, 1688,(f) in the following manner:—“that William and Mary, prince and princess of Orange, be, and be declared, king and queen, to hold the crown and royal dignity during their lives, and the life of the survivor of them; and that the sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in, and executed by, the said prince of Orange, in the names of the said prince and princess, during their joint lives: and after their deceases the said crown and royal dignity to be to the heirs of the body of the said princess; and for default of such issue to the princess Anne of Denmark and the heirs of her body; and for default of such issue to the heirs of the body of the said prince of Orange.”

Perhaps, upon the principles before established, the convention might (if they pleased) have vested the regal dignity in a family entirely new, and strangers to the royal blood: but they were too well acquainted with the benefits of hereditary succession, and the influence which it has by custom over the minds of the people, to depart any farther from the ancient line than temporary necessity and self-preservation required. They therefore settled the crown, first on king William and queen Mary, king James’s eldest daughter, for their joint lives: then on the survivor of them; and then on the issue of queen Mary: upon failure Edition: current; Page: [214] of such issue, it was limited to the princess Anne, king James’s second daughter, and her issue; and lastly, on failure of that, to the issue of king William, who was the grandson of Charles the First, and nephew as well as son-in-law of king James the Second, being the son of Mary his eldest sister. This settlement included all the protestant posterity of king Charles I., except such other issue as king James might at any time have, which was totally omitted through fear of a popish succession. And this order of succession took effect accordingly.

These three princes, therefore, king William, queen Mary, and queen Anne, did not take the crown by hereditary right or descent, but by way of donation or purchase, as the *[*215lawyers call it; by which they mean any method of acquiring an estate otherwise than by descent. The new settlement did not merely consist in excluding king James, and the person pretended to be prince of Wales, and then suffering the crown to descend in the old hereditary channel: for the usual course of descent was in some instances broken through; and yet the convention still kept it in their eye, and paid a great, though not total, regard to it. Let us see how the succession would have stood, if no abdication had happened, and king James had left no other issue than his two daughters, queen Mary and queen Anne. It would have stood thus: queen Mary and her issue; queen Anne and her issue; king William and his issue. But we may remember, that queen Mary was only nominally queen, jointly with her husband, king William, who alone had the regal power; and king William was personally preferred to queen Anne, though his issue was postponed to hers. Clearly therefore these princes were successively in possession of the crown by a title different from the usual course of descents.

It was towards the end of king William’s reign, when all hopes of any surviving issue from any of these princes died with the duke of Gloucester, that the king and parliament thought it necessary again to exert their power of limiting and appointing the succession, in order to prevent another vacancy of the throne; which must have ensued upon their deaths, as no further provision was made at the revolution than for the issue of queen Mary, queen Anne, and king William. The parliament had previously, by the statute of 1 W. and M. st. 2, c. 2, enacted, that every person who should be reconciled to, or hold communion with, the see of Rome, should profess the popish religion, or should marry a papist, should be excluded, and be forever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the crown: and that in such case the people should be absolved from their allegiance, and the crown should descend to such persons, being protestants, as would have inherited the same, in case the person, so reconciled, holding communion, professing, or marrying, were naturally dead. To act therefore consistently with themselves, and at the same *[*216time pay as much regard to the old hereditary line as their former resolutions would admit, they turned their eyes on the princess Sophia, electress and duchess dowager of Hanover, the most accomplished princess of her age.(g) For, upon the impending extinction of the protestant posterity of Charles the First, the old law of legal descent directed them to recur to the descendants of James the First; and the princess Sophia, being the youngest daughter of Elizabeth queen of Bohemia, who was the daughter of James the First, was the nearest of the ancient blood royal who was not incapacitated by professing the popish religion. On her, therefore, and the heirs of her body, being protestants, the remainder of the crown, expectant on the death of king William and queen Anne, without issue, was settled by statute 12 & 13 W. III. c. 2. And at the same time it was enacted, that whosoever should hereafter come to the possession of the crown should join in the communion of the church of England as by law established.

This is the last limitation of the crown that has been made by parliament, and these several actual limitations, from the time of Henry IV. to the present, do clearly prove the power of the king and parliament to new-model or alter Edition: current; Page: [216] the succession. And indeed it is now again made highly penal to dispute it; for by the statute 6 Anne, c. 7, it is enacted, that if any person maliciously, advisedly, and directly, shall maintain, by writing or printing, that the kings of this realm with the authority of parliament are not able to make laws to bind the crown and the descent thereof, he shall be guilty of high treason; or if he maintains the same by only preaching, teaching, or advised speaking, he shall incur the penalties of a præmunire.

The princess Sophia dying before queen Anne, the inheritance thus limited descended on her son and heir king George the First; and, having on the death of the queen taken effect in his person, from him it descended to his late majesty king George the Second; and from him to his grandson and heir, our present gracious sovereign, king George the Third.11

**217]Hence it is easy to collect, that the title to the crown is at present hereditary, though not quite so absolutely hereditary as formerly: and the common stock or ancestor, from whom the descent must be derived, is also different. Formerly the common stock was king Egbert; then William the Conqueror; afterwards in James the First’s time the two common stocks united, and so continued till the vacancy of the throne in 1688; now it is the princess Sophia, in whom the inheritance was vested by the new king and parliament. Formerly the descent was absolute, and the crown went to the next heir without any restriction: but now, upon the new settlement, the inheritance is conditional; being limited to such heirs only, of the body of the princess Sophia, as are protestant members of the church of England, and are married to none but protestants.

And in this due medium consists, I apprehend, the true constitutional notion of the right of succession to the imperial crown of these kingdoms. The extremes, between which it steers, are each of them equally destructive of those ends for which societies were formed and are kept on foot. Where the magistrate, upon every succession, is elected by the people, and may by the express provision of the laws be deposed (if not punished) by his subjects, this may sound like the perfection of liberty, and look well enough when delineated on paper; but in practice will be ever productive of tumult, contention, and anarchy. And on the other hand, divine indefeasible hereditary right, when coupled with the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience, is surely of all constitutions the most thoroughly slavish and dreadful. But when such an hereditary right, as our laws have created and vested in the royal stock, is closely interwoven with those liberties, which, we have seen in a former chapter, are equally the inheritance of the subject; this union will form a constitution, in theory the most beautiful of any, in practice the most approved, and, I trust, in duration the most permanent. It was the duty of an expounder of our laws to lay this constitution before the student in its true and genuine light: it is the duty of every good Englishman to understand, to revere, to defend it.

Edition: current; Page: [218]


The first and most considerable branch of the king’s royal family, regarded by the laws of England, is the queen.

The queen of England is either queen regent, queen consort, or queen dowager. The queen regent, regnant, or sovereign, is she who holds the crown in her own right; as the first (and perhaps the second) queen Mary, queen Elizabeth, and queen Anne; and such a one has the same powers, prerogatives, rights, dignities, and duties, as if she had been a king. This was observed in the entrance of the last chapter, and is expressly declared by statute 1 Mar. I. st. 3, c. 1.1 But the queen consort is the wife of the reigning king; and she, by virtue of her marriage, is participant of divers prerogatives above other women.(a)

And, first, she is a public person, exempt and distinct from the king; and not, like other married women, so closely connected as to have lost all legal or separate existence so long as the marriage continues. For the queen is of ability to purchase lands, and to convey them, to make leases, to grant copyholds, and do other acts of ownership, without the concurrence of her lord; which no other married woman can do:(b) a privilege as old as the Saxon era.(c) She is also capable of taking a grant from the king, which no other wife is from her husband; and in this particular she agrees with the Augusta, or piissima regina conjux divi imperatoris of the Roman laws; who, according to Justinian,(d) was equally *[*219capable of making a grant to, and receiving one from, the emperor. The queen of England hath separate courts and offices distinct from the king’s, not only in matters of ceremony, but even of law; and her attorney and solicitor general are entitled to a place within the bar of his majesty’s courts, together with the king’s counsel.(e) She may likewise sue and be sued alone, without joining her husband.2 She may also have a separate property in goods, as well as lands, and has a right to dispose of them by will.3 In short, she is in all legal proceedings looked upon as a feme sole, and not as a feme covert; as a single, not as a married woman.(f) For which the reason given by Sir Edward Coke is this: because the wisdom of the common law would not have the king (whose continual care and study is for the public, and circa ardua regni) to be troubled and disquieted on account of his wife’s domestic affairs; and therefore it vests in the queen a power of transacting her own concerns, without the intervention of the king, as if she was an unmarried woman.

The queen hath also many exemptions and minute prerogatives. For instance, she pays no toll;(g) nor is she liable to any amercement in any court.(h) But Edition: current; Page: [219] in general, unless where the law has expressly declared her exempted, she is upon the same footing with other subjects; being to all intents and purposes the king’s subject and not his equal: in like manner, as in the imperial law, “Augusta legibus soluta non est.(i)

The queen hath also some pecuniary advantages, which form her a distinct revenue: as, in the first place, she is entitled to an ancient perquisite called queen-gold, or aurum reginæ, which is a royal revenue, belonging to every queen consort during her marriage with the king, and due from every person who hath made a voluntary offering or fine to the king, amounting to ten marks or upwards, for and in consideration of any privileges, grants, licenses, pardons, or **220]other matter of royal favour conferred upon him by the king: and it is due in the proportion of one-tenth part or more, over and above the entire offering or fine made to the king; and becomes an actual debt of record to the queen’s majesty by the mere recording of the fine.(k) As, if an hundred marks of silver be given to the king for liberty to take in mortmain, or to have a fair, market, park, chase, or free-warren; there the queen is entitled to ten marks in silver, or (what was formerly an equivalent denomination) to one mark in gold, by the name of queen-gold, or aurum reginæ.(l) But no such payment is due for any aids or subsidies granted to the king in parliament or convocation; nor for fines imposed by courts on offenders, against their will; nor for voluntary presents to the king, without any consideration moving from him to the subject; nor for any sale or contract whereby the present revenues or possessions of the crown are granted away or diminished.(m)

The original revenue of our ancient queens, before and soon after the conquest, seems to have consisted in certain reservations or rents out of the demesne lands of the crown, which were expressly appropriated to her majesty, distinct from the king. It is frequent in domesday book, after specifying the rent due to the crown, to add likewise the quantity of gold or other renders reserved to the queen.(n) These were frequently appropriated to particular purposes; to buy wool for her majesty’s use,(o) to purchase oil for her lamps,(p) or to furnish her attire from head to foot,(q) which was frequently very costly, as one single robe in the fifth year of Henry II. **221]stood the city of London in upwards of fourscore pounds.(r) A practice somewhat similar to that of the eastern countries, where whole cities and provinces were specifically assigned to purchase particular parts of the queen’s apparel.(s) And for a further addition to her income, this duty of queen-gold is supposed to have been originally granted; those matters of grace and favour, out of which it arose, being frequently obtained from the crown by the powerful intercession of the queen. There are traces of its payment, though obscure ones, in the book of domesday, and in the great pipe-roll of Henry the First.(t) In the reign of Henry the Second the manner of collecting it appears to have been well understood, and it forms a distinct head in the ancient dialogue of the exchequer,(u) written in the time of that prince, and usually attributed to Gervase of Tilbury. From that time downwards it was regularly claimed and enjoyed by all the queen consorts of England till the death of Henry VIII.; though, after the accession of the Tudor family, the collecting of it seems to have been much neglected: and there being no queen consort afterwards till the accession of James I., a period of near sixty years, its very nature and quantity became then a matter of doubt; and, being referred by the king to the chief justices and chief baron, their report of it was so very unfavourable,(v) that his consort queen Anne (though she claimed Edition: current; Page: [221] it) yet never thought proper to exact it. In 1635, 11 Car. I., a time fertile of expedients for raising money upon dormant precedents in our old records, (of which ship-money was a fatal instance,) the king, at the petition of his queen, Henrietta Maria, issued out his writ(w) for levying it; but afterwards purchased it of his consort at the price of ten thousand pounds; finding it, perhaps, too trifling and troublesome to levy. And when afterwards, at the restoration, by *[*222the abolition of the military tenures, and the fines that were consequent upon them, the little that legally remained of this revenue was reduced to almost nothing at all, in vain did Mr. Prynne, by a treatise which does honour to his abilities as a painful and judicious antiquary, endeavour to excite queen Catherine to revive this antiquated claim.

Another ancient perquisite belonging to the queen consort, mentioned by all our old writers,(x) and, therefore only, worthy notice, is this: that, on the taking of a whale on the coasts, which is a royal fish, it shall be divided between the king and queen; the head only being the king’s property, and the tail of it the queen’s. “De sturgione observatur, quod rex illum habebit integrum: de balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam.” The reason of this whimsical division, as assigned by our ancient records,(y) was to furnish the queen’s wardrobe with whalebone.4

But further, though the queen is in all respects a subject, yet, in point of the security of her life and person, she is put on the same footing with the king. It is equally treason (by the statute 25 Edw. III.) to compass or imagine the death of our lady the king’s companion, as of the king himself; and to violate or defile the queen consort, amounts to the same high crime; as well in the person committing the fact, as in the queen herself, if consenting. A law of Henry the Eighth(z) made it treason also for any woman, who was not a virgin, to marry the king without informing him thereof; but this law was soon after repealed, it trespassing too strongly as well on natural justice as female modesty.5 If, however, the queen be accused of any species of treason, she shall (whether consort or dowager) be tried by the peers of parliament, as queen Anne Boleyn was in 28 Hen. VIII.6

The husband of a queen regnant, as prince George of Denmark was to queen Anne, is her subject, and may be guilty of high treason against her;7 but, in the instance of conjugal infidelity, he is not subjected to the same penal *[*223restrictions: for which the reason seems to be that, if a queen consort is unfaithful to the royal bed, this may debase or bastardize the heirs to the crown; Edition: current; Page: [223] but no such danger can be consequent on the infidelity of the husband to a queen regnant.

A queen dowager is the widow of the king, and, as such, enjoys most of the privileges belonging to her as queen consort. But it is not high treason to conspire her death, or to violate her chastity, for the same reason as was before alleged, because the succession to the crown is not thereby endangered. Yet still, pro dignitate regali, no man can marry a queen dowager without special license from the king, on pain of forfeiting his lands and goods. This, Sir Edward Coke(a) tells us, was enacted in parliament in 6 Hen. VI., though the statute be not in print.8 But she though an alien born, shall still be entitled to dower after the king’s demise, which no other alien is.(b) A queen dowager, when married again to a subject, doth not lose her regal dignity, as peeresses dowager do their peerage when they marry commoners. For Catherine, queen dowager of Henry V., though she married a private gentleman, Owen ap Meredith ap Theodore, commonly called Owen Tudor, yet, by the name of Catherine, queen of England, maintained an action against the bishop of Carlisle.9 And so, the queen dowager of Navarre, marrying with Edmond earl of Lancaster, brother to king Edward the First, maintained an action of dower (after the death of her second husband) by the name of queen of Navarre.(c)

The prince of Wales, or heir-apparent to the crown, and also his royal consort, and the princess royal, or eldest daughter of the king, are likewise peculiarly regarded by the laws. For, by statute 25 Edw. III., to compass or conspire the death of the former, or to violate the chastity of either of the latter, are as much high treason as to conspire the death of the king, or violate the chastity of the queen. And this upon the same reason as was before given: because the prince of Wales is next in succession to the crown, and to violate his wife might taint the blood royal with bastardy; and the eldest daughter of the king is also alone inheritable10 to the **224]crown, on failure of issue male, and therefore more respected by the laws than any of her younger sisters,11 insomuch that upon this, united with other (feodal) principles, while our military tenures were in force, the king might levy an aid for marrying his eldest daughter, and her only. The heir-apparent to the crown12 is usually made Edition: current; Page: [224] prince of Wales and earl of Chester13 by special creation and investiture;14 but, being the king’s eldest son,15 he is by inheritance duke of Cornwall, without any new creation.(d)16

Edition: current; Page: [224]

The rest of the royal family may be considered in two different lights, according to the different senses in which the term royal family is used. The larger sense includes all those who are by any possibility inheritable to the crown. Such, before the revolution, were all the descendants of William the Conqueror, who had branched into an amazing extent, by intermarriages with the ancient nobility. Since the revolution and act of settlement, it means the protestant issue of the princess Sophia; now comparatively few in number, but which, in process of time, may possibly be as largely diffused. The more confined sense includes only those, who are within a certain degree of propinquity to the reigning prince, and to whom, therefore, the law pays an extraordinary regard and respect; but, after that degree is past, they fall into the rank of ordinary subjects, and are seldom considered any further, unless called to the succession upon failure of the nearer lines. For, though collateral consanguinity is regarded indefinitely, with respect to inheritance or succession, yet it is and can only be regarded within some certain limits, in any other respect, by the natural constitution of things and the dictates of positive law.(e)

The younger sons and daughters of the king, and other branches of the royal family, who are not in the immediate line of succession, were therefore little further regarded by the ancient law, than to give them to a certain degree precedence before all peers and public officers, as well ecclesiastical as temporal. This is done by the statute 31 Hen. VIII. c. 10, **225]which enacts that no person, except the king’s children, shall presume to sit or have place at the side of the cloth of estate in the parliament chamber; and that certain great officers therein named shall have precedence above all dukes, except only such as shall happen to be the king’s son, brother, uncle, nephew, (which Sir Edward Coke(f) explains to signify grandson or nepos,) or brother’s or sister’s son. Therefore, after these degrees are past, peers or others of the blood royal are entitled to no place or precedence except what belongs to them by their personal rank or dignity: which made Sir Edward Walker complain,(g) that, by the hasty creation of prince Rupert to be duke of Cumberland, and of the earl of Lenox to be duke of that name, previous to the creation of king Charles’s second son, James, to be duke of York, it might happen that their grandsons would have precedence of the grandsons of the duke of York.

Indeed, under the description of the king’s children his grandsons are held to be included, without having recourse to Sir Edward Coke’s interpretation of nephew; and therefore, when his late majesty king George II. created his grandson Edward, the second son of Frederick prince of Wales deceased, duke of York, and referred it to the house of lords to settle his place and precedence, they certified(h) that he ought to have place next to the late duke of Cumberland, the then king’s youngest son; and that he might have a seat on the left hand of the cloth of estate. But when, on the accession of his present majesty, those royal personages ceased to take place as the children, and ranked only as the brother and uncle, of the king; they also left their seats on the side of the cloth of estate: so that when the duke of Gloucester, his majesty’s second brother, took his seat in the house of peers,(i) he was placed on the upper end of Edition: current; Page: [226] the carls’ bench (on which the dukes usually sit) next to his royal highness the duke of York. And in 1718, upon a question referred to all the judges by king George I., it was resolved, by the opinion of ten against the other two, that the education and care of all the king’s grandchildren while minors did belong of right to his majesty, as king of this realm, even during their father’s life.(k)17 But they all agreed, that the care and approbation of their marriages, when grown up, belonged to the king their grandfather. And the judges have more recently concurred in the opinion,(l) that this care and approbation extend also to the presumptive heir of the crown; though to what other branches of the royal family the same did extend, they did not find precisely determined. The most frequent instances of the crown’s interposition go no *[*226further than nephews and nieces;(m) but examples are not wanting of its reaching to more distant collaterals.(n) And the statute 6 Henry VI. before mentioned, which prohibits the marriage of a queen dowager without the consent of the king, assigns this reason for it:18—“because the disparagement of the queen shall give greater comfort and example to other ladies of estate, who are of the blood-royal, more lightly to disparage themselves.”(o) Therefore by the statute 28 Hen. VIII. c. 18, (repealed, among other statutes of treasons, by 1 Edw. VI. c. 12,) it was made high treason for any man to contract marriage with the king’s children or reputed children, his sisters or aunts ex parte paterna, or the children of his brethren or sisters; being exactly the same degrees to which precedence is allowed by the statute 31 Hen. VIII. before mentioned. And now, by statute 12 Geo. III. c. 11, no descendant of the body of king George II. (other than the issue of princesses married into foreign families) is capable of contracting matrimony, without the previous consent of the king signified under the great seal; and any marriage contracted without such consent is void. Provided, that such of the said descendants as are above the age of twenty-five may, after a twelvemonth’s notice given to the king’s privy council, contract and solemnize marriage without the consent of the crown; unless both houses of parliament shall, before the expiration of the said year, expressly declare their disapprobation of such intended marriage. And all persons solemnizing, assisting, or being present at, any such prohibited marriage, shall incur the penalties of the statute of præmunire.19

Edition: current; Page: [227]


The third point of view, in which we are to consider the king, is with regard to his councils. For, in order to assist him in the discharge of his duties, the maintenance of his dignity, and the exertion of his prerogative, the law hath assigned him a diversity of councils to advise with.1

1. The first of these is the high court of parliament, whereof we have already treated at large.

2. Secondly, the peers of the realm are by their birth hereditary counsellors of the crown, and may be called together by the king to impart their advice in all matters of importance to the realm, either in time of parliament, or, which hath been their principal use, when there is no parliament in being.(a) Accordingly Bracton,(b) speaking of the nobility of his time, says they might probably be called “consules, a consulendo; reges enim tales sibi associant ad consulendum.” And in our law books(c) it is laid down, that peers are created for two reasons: 1, ad consulendum 2, ad defendendum regem: on which account the law gives them certain great and high privileges; such as freedom from arrests, &c., even when no parliament is sitting: because it intends, that they are always assisting the king with their counsel for the commonwealth, or keeping the realm in safety by their prowess and valour.

**228]Instances of conventions of the peers, to advise the king, have been in former times very frequent, though now fallen into disuse by reason of the more regular meetings of parliament. Sir Edward Coke(d) gives us an extract of a record, 5 Hen. IV., concerning an exchange of lands between the king and the earl of Northumberland, wherein the value of each was agreed to be settled by advice of parliament, (if any should be called before the feast of Saint Lucia,) or otherwise by advice of the grand council of peers, which the king promises to assemble before the said feast, in case no parliament shall be called. Many other instances of this kind of meeting are to be found under our ancient kings; though the formal method of convoking them had been so long left off, that when king Charles I. in 1640 issued out writs under the great seal, to call a great council of all the peers of England to meet and attend his majesty at York, previous to the meeting of the long parliament, the earl of Clarendon(e) mentions it as a new invention, not before heard of; that is, as he explains himself, so old that it had not been practised in some hundreds of years. But, though there had not so long before been an instance, nor has there been any since, of assembling them in so solemn a manner, yet in cases of emergency our princes have at several times thought proper to call for and consult as many of the nobility as could easily be got together; as was particularly the case with king James the Second, after the landing of the prince of Orange, and with the prince of Orange himself, before he called that convention-parliament, which afterwards called him to the throne.

Besides this general meeting, it is usually looked upon to be the right of each Edition: current; Page: [228] particular peer of the realm to demand an audience of the king, and to lay before him, with decency and respect, such matters as he shall judge of importance to the public weal. And therefore, in the reign of Edward II., it was made an article of impeachment in parliament against *[*229the two Hugh Spencers, father and son, for which they were banished the kingdom, “that they by their evil covin would not suffer the great men of the realm, the king’s good counsellors, to speak with the king, or to come near him, but only in the presence and hearing of the said Hugh the father and Hugh the son, or one of them, and at their will, and according to such things as pleased them.”(f)

3. A third council belonging to the king are, according to Sir Edward Coke,(g) his judges of the courts of law, for law matters. And this appears frequently in our statutes, particularly 14 Edw. III. c. 5, and in other books of law. So that when the king’s council is mentioned generally, it must be defined, particularized, and understood, secundum subjectam materiam; and, if the subject be of a legal nature, then by the king’s council is understood his council for matters of law, namely, his judges. Therefore when by st. 16 Ric. II. c. 5 it was made a high offence to import into this kingdom any papal bulles, or other processes from Rome; and it was enacted that the offenders should be attached by their bodies, and brought before the king and his council to answer for such offence; here, by the expression of the king’s council were understood the king’s judges of his courts of justice, the subject matter being legal; this being the general way of interpreting the word council.(h)2

4. But the principal council belonging to the king is his privy council, which is generally called, by way of eminence, the council. And this, according to Sir Edward Coke’s description of it,(i) is a noble, honourable, and reverend assembly of the king and such as he wills to be of his privy council, in the king’s court or palace. The king’s will is the sole constituent of a privy counsellor; and this also regulates their number, which of ancient time was twelve or thereabouts. Afterwards it increased to so large a number that it was found inconvenient for secrecy and dispatch; and *[*230therefore king Charles the Second, 1679, limited it to thirty; whereof fifteen were to be the principal officers of state, and those to be counsellors, virtue officii; and the other fifteen were composed of ten lords and five commoners of the king’s choosing.(k) But since that time the number has been much augmented, and now continues indefinite.3 At the same time, also, the ancient office of lord president of the Edition: current; Page: [230] council was revived in the person of Anthony, earl of Shaftsbury, an officer that, by the statute of 31 Hen. VIII. c. 10, has precedence next after the lord chancellor and lord treasurer.

4Privy counsellors are made by the king’s nomination, without either patent or grant; and, on taking the necessary oaths, they become immediately privy counsellors during the life of the king that chooses them, but subject to removal at his discretion.

As to qualifications of members to sit at this board: any natural-born subject of England is capable of being a member of the privy council, taking the proper oaths for security of the government, and the test for security of the church.5 But, in order to prevent any person under foreign attachments from insinuating themselves into this important trust, as happened in the reign of king William in many instances, it is enacted by the act of settlement,(l) that no person born out of the dominions of the crown of England, unless born of English parents, even though naturalized by parliament, shall be capable of being of the privy council.

The duty of a privy counsellor appears from the oath of office,(m) which consists of seven articles:—1. To advise the king according to the best of his cunning and discretion. 2. To advise for the king’s honour and good of the public, without partiality through affection, love, reward, doubt, or dread. 3. To keep the king’s council secret. 4. To avoid corruption. 5. To help and strengthen the execution of what **231]shall be there resolved. 6. To withstand all persons who shall attempt the contrary. And, lastly, in general, 7. To observe, keep, and do all that a good and true counsellor ought to do to his sovereign lord.

Edition: current; Page: [231]

The power of the privy council is to inquire into all offences against the government, and to commit the offenders to safe custody, in order to take their trial in some of the courts of law. But their jurisdiction herein is only to inquire, and not to punish; and the persons committed by them are entitled to their habeas corpus by statute 16 Car. I. c. 10, as much as if committed by an ordinary justice of the peace. And, by the same statute, the court of star-chamber, and the court of requests, both of which consisted of privy counsellors, were dissolved; and it was declared illegal for them to take cognizance of any matter of property belonging to the subjects of this kingdom. But in plantation or admiralty causes, which arise out of the jurisdiction of this kingdom; and in matters of lunacy or idiocy,(n) being a special flower of the prerogative; with regard to these, although they may eventually involve questions of extensive property, the privy council continues to have cognizance, being the court of appeal in such cases, or rather the appeal lies to the king’s majesty himself in council. Whenever also a question arises between two provinces in America, or elsewhere, as concerning the extent of their charters and the like, the king in his council exercises original jurisdiction therein, upon the principles of feodal sovereignty. And so likewise when any person claims an island or a province, in the nature of a feodal principality, by grant from the king or his ancestors, the determination of that right belongs to his majesty in council: as was the case of the earl of Derby with regard to the Isle of Man, in the reign of queen Elizabeth; and the earl of Cardigan and others, as representatives of the duke of Montague, with relation to the island of St. Vincent, in 1764. But from all the dominions of the crown, excepting Great Britain and Ireland, an appellate jurisdiction *[*232(in the last resort) is vested in the same tribunal; which usually exercises its judicial authority in a committee of the whole privy council, who hear the allegations and proofs, and make their report to his majesty in council, by whom the judgment is finally given.6

The privileges of privy counsellors, as such, (abstracted from their honorary precedence,)(o) consist principally in the security which the law has given them against attempts and conspiracies to destroy their lives. For by statute 3 Hen. VII. c. 14, if any of the king’s servants of his household conspire or imagine to take away the life of a privy counsellor, it is felony, though nothing be done upon it. The reason of making this statute, Sir Edward Coke(p) tells us, was because such a conspiracy was, just before this parliament, made by some of king Henry the Seventh’s household servants, and great mischief was like to have ensued thereupon. This extends only to the king’s menial servants. But the statute 9 Anne, c. 16, goes further, and enacts that any person that shall unlawfully attempt to kill, or shall unlawfully assault, and strike, or wound, any privy counsellor in the execution of his office, shall be a felon without benefit of clergy. This statute was made upon the daring attempt of the Sieur Guiscard, who stabbed Mr. Harley, afterwards earl of Oxford, with a penknife, when under examination for high crimes in a committee of the privy council.

The dissolution of the privy council depends upon the king’s pleasure; and he Edition: current; Page: [232] may, whenever he thinks proper, discharge any particular member, or the whole of it, and appoint another. By the common law, also, it was dissolved ipso facto by the king’s demise, as deriving all its authority from him. But, now, to prevent the inconveniences of having no council in being at the accession of a new prince, it is enacted by statute 6 Anne, c. 7 that the privy council shall continue for six months after the demise of the crown, unless sooner determined by the successor.


I proceed next to the duties, incumbent on the king by our constitution; in consideration of which duties his dignity and prerogative are established by the laws of the land: it being a maxim in the law, that protection and subjection are reciprocal.(a) And these reciprocal duties are what, I apprehend, were meant by the convention in 1688, when they declared that king James had broken the original contract between king and people. But, however, as the terms of that original contract were in some measure disputed, being alleged to exist principally in theory, and to be only deducible by reason and the rules of natural law; in which deduction different understandings might very considerably differ; it was, after the revolution, judged proper to declare these duties expressly, and to reduce that contract to a plain certainty. So that, whatever doubts might be formerly raised by weak and scrupulous minds about the existence of such an original contract, they must now entirely cease; especially with regard to every prince who hath reigned since the year 1688.1

The principal duty of the king is, to govern his people according to law. Nec regibus infinita aut libera potestas, was the constitution of our German ancestors on the continent.(b) And this is not only consonant to the principles of nature, of **234]liberty, of reason, and of society, but has always been esteemed an express part of the common law of England, even when prerogative was at the highest. “The king,” saith Bracton,(c) who wrote under Henry III., “ought not to be subject to man, but to God, and to the law; for Edition: current; Page: [234] the law maketh the king. Let the king therefore render to the law, what the law has invested in him with regard to others, dominion and power: for he is not truly king, where will and pleasure rules, and not the law.” And again,(d) “the king also hath a superior, namely God, and also the law, by which he was made a king.”2 Thus Bracton; and Fortescue also,(e) having first well distinguished between a monarchy absolutely and despotically regal, which is introduced by conquest and violence, and a political or civil monarchy, which arises from mutual consent, (of which last species he asserts the government of England to be,) immediately lays it down as a principle, that “the king of England must rule his people according to the decrees of the laws thereof: insomuch that he is bound by an oath at his coronation to the observance and keeping of his own laws.” But, to obviate all doubts and difficulties concerning this matter, it is expressly declared by statute 12 & 13 W. III. c. 2, “that the laws of England are the birthright of the people thereof: and all the kings and queens who shall ascend the throne of this realm ought to administer the government of the same according to the said laws; and all their officers and ministers ought to serve them respectively according to the same: and therefore all the laws and statutes of this realm, for securing the established religion, and the rights and liberties of the people thereof, and all other laws and statutes of the same now in force, are ratified and confirmed accordingly.”

And, as to the terms of the original contract between king and people, these I apprehend to be now couched in the *[*235coronation oath, which, by the statute 1 W. and M. st. 1, c. 6, is to be administered to every king and queen who shall succeed to the imperial crown of these realms, by one of the archbishops or bishops of the realm, in the presence of all the people; who on their parts do reciprocally take the oath of allegiance to the crown. This coronation oath is conceived in the following terms:—

The archbishop or bishop shall say,—“Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the people of this kingdom of England, and the dominions thereto belonging, according to the statutes in parliament agreed on, and the laws and customs of the same?” The king or queen shall say,—“I solemnly promise so to do.” Archbishop or bishop:—“Will you to your power cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed in all your judgments?” King or queen:—“I will.” Archbishop or bishop:—“Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the laws of God, the true profession of the gospel, and the protestant reformed religion established by the law? And will you preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm, and the churches committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain unto them, or any of them?” King or queen:—“All this I promise to do.” After this the king or queen, laying his or her hand upon the holy gospels, shall say,—“The things which I have here before promised I will perform and keep: so help me God:” and then shall kiss the book.3

This is the form of the coronation oath, as it is now prescribed by our laws; the principal articles of which appear to be at least as ancient as the mirror of justices,(f) and even as the time of Bracton;(g) but the wording of it was changed at the revolution, because (as the statute alleges) the oath itself *[*236had been framed in doubtful words and expressions with relation to Edition: current; Page: [236] ancient laws and constitutions at this time unknown.(h) However, in what form soever it be conceived, this is most indisputably a fundamental and original express contract, though doubtless the duty of protection is impliedly as much incumbent on the sovereign before coronation as after: in the same manner as allegiance to the king becomes the duty of the subject immediately on the descent of the crown, before he has taken the oath of allegiance, or whether he ever takes it at all. This reciprocal duty of the subject will be considered in its proper place. At present we are only to observe, that in the king’s part of this original contract are expressed all the duties that a monarch can owe to his people; viz., to govern according to law; to execute judgment in mercy; and to maintain the established religion. And, with respect to the latter of these three branches, we may further remark that, by the act of union, 5 Anne, c. 8, two preceding statutes are recited and confirmed; the one of the parliament of Scotland, the other of the parliament of England: which enact,—the former, that every king at his accession shall take and subscribe an oath to preserve the protestant religion and presbyterian church government in Scotland; the latter, that at his coronation he shall take and subscribe a similar oath to preserve the settlement of the church of England within England, Ireland, Walos, and Berwick, and the territories thereunto belonging.


It was observed in a former chapter(a) that one of the principal bulwarks of civil liberty, or (in other words) of the British constitution, was the limitation of the king’s prerogative by bounds so certain and notorious that it is impossible he should ever exceed them, without the consent of the people on the one hand; or without, on the other, a violation of that original contract which, in all states impliedly, and in ours most expressly, subsists between the prince and the subject. It will now be our business to consider this prerogative minutely; to demonstrate its necessity in general; and to mark out in the most important instances its particular extent and restrictions: from which considerations this conclusion will evidently follow, that the powers which are vested in the crown by the laws of England, are necessary for the support of society; and do not intrench any further on our natural liberties, than is expedient for the maintenance of our civil.1

Edition: current; Page: [237]

There cannot be a stronger proof of that genuine freedom, which is the boast of this age and country, than the power of discussing and examining, with decency and respect, the limits of the king’s prerogative; a topic, that in some former ages was thought too delicate and sacred to be profaned by the pen of a subject. It was ranked among the arcana imperii: and, like the mysteries of the bona dea, was *[*238not suffered to be pried into by any but such as were initiated in its service: because perhaps the exertion of the one, like the solemnities of the other, would not bear the inspection of a rational and sober inquiry. The glorious queen Elizabeth herself made no scruple to direct her parliaments to abstain from discoursing of matters of state;(b) and it was the constant language of this favourite princess and her ministers, that even that august assembly “ought not to deal, to judge, or to meddle with her majesty’s prerogative royal.”(c) And her successor, king James the First, who had imbibed high notions of the divinity of regal sway, more than once laid it down in his speeches, that, “as it is atheism and blasphemy in a creature to dispute what the Deity may do, so it is presumption and sedition in a subject to dispute what a king may do in the height of his power: good Christians, he adds, will be content with God’s will, revealed in his word; and good subjects will rest in the king’s will, revealed in his law.”(d)

But, whatever might be the sentiments of some of our princes, this was never the language of our ancient constitution and laws. The limitation of the regal authority was a first and essential principle in all the Gothic systems of government established in Europe; though gradually driven out and overborne, by violence and chicane, in most of the kingdoms on the continent. We have seen, Edition: current; Page: [238] in the preceding chapter, the sentiments of Bracton and Fortescue, at the distance of two centuries from each other. And Sir Henry Finch, under Charles the First, after the lapse of two centuries more, though he lays down the law of prerogative in very strong and emphatical terms, yet qualifies it with a general restriction, in regard to the liberties of the people. “The king hath a prerogative in all things, that are not injurious to the subject; for in them all it must be remembered, that the king’s prerogative stretcheth not to the doing of any wrong.”(e) Nihil enim aliud potest rex, nisi id solum quod **239]de jure potest.(f) And here it may be some satisfaction to remark, how widely the civil law differs from our own, with regard to the authority of the laws over the prince, or (as a civilian would rather have expressed it) the authority of the prince over the laws. It is a maxim of the English law, as we have seen from Bracton, that “rex debet esse sub lege, quia lex facit regem:” the imperial law will tell us, that, “in omnibus, imperatoris excipitur fortuna; cui ipsas leges Deus subjecit.(g) We shall not long hesitate to which of them to give the preference, as most conducive to those ends for which societies were framed, and are kept together; especially as the Roman lawyers themselves seem to be sensible of the unreasonableness of their own constitution. “Decet tamen principem,” says Paulus, “servare leges, quibus ipse solutus est.(h) This is at once laying down the principle of despotic power, and at the same time acknowledging its absurdity.

By the word prerogative we usually understand that special pre-eminence, which the king hath over and above all other persons, and out of the ordinary course of the common law, in right of his regal dignity. It signifies, in its etymology, (from præ and rogo,) something that is required or demanded before, or in preference to, all others. And hence it follows, that it must be in its nature singular and eccentrical; that it can only be applied to those rights and capacities which the king enjoys alone, in contradistinction to others, and not to those which he enjoys in common with any of his subjects: for if once any one prerogative of the crown could be held in common with the subject, it would cease to be prerogative any longer. And therefore Finch(i) lays it down as a maxim, that the prerogative is that law in case of the king, which is law in no case of the subject.

Prerogatives are either direct or incidental. The direct are such positive substantial parts of the royal character and **240]authority, as are rooted in and spring from the king’s political person, considered merely by itself, without reference to any other extrinsic circumstance; as, the right of sending ambassadors, of creating peers, and of making war or peace. But such prerogatives as are incidental bear always a relation to something else, distinct from the king’s person; and are indeed only exceptions, in favour of the crown, to those general rules that are established for the rest of the community; such as, that no costs shall be recovered against the king; that the king can never be a joint-tenant; and that his debt shall be preferred before a debt to any of his subjects. These, and an infinite number of other instances, will better be understood, when we come regularly to consider the rules themselves, to which these incidental prerogatives are exceptions. And therefore we will at present only dwell upon the king’s substantive or direct prerogatives.

These substantive or direct prerogatives may again be divided into three kinds: being such as regard, first, the king’s royal character; secondly, his royal authority; and, lastly, his royal income. These are necessary, to secure reverence to his person, obedience to his commands, and an affluent supply for the ordinary expenses of government; without all of which it is impossible to maintain the executive power in due independence and vigour. Yet, in every branch of this large and extensive dominion, our free constitution has interposed such seasonable checks and restrictions, as may curb it from trampling on those liberties which it was meant to secure and establish. The enormous weight of Edition: current; Page: [240] prerogative, if left to itself, (as in arbitrary governments it is,) spreads havoc and destruction among all the inferior movements: but, when balanced and regulated (as with us) by its proper counterpoise, timely and judiciously applied, its operations are then equable and certain, it invigorates the whole machine, and enables every part to answer the end of its construction.

In the present chapter we shall only consider the two first of these divisions, which relate to the king’s political *[*241character and authority; or, in other words, his dignity and regal power; to which last the name of prerogative is frequently narrowed and confined. The other division, which forms the royal revenue, will require a distinct examination; according to the known distribution of the feodal writers, who distinguish the royal prerogatives into the majora and minora regalia, in the latter of which classes the rights of the revenue are ranked. For to use their own words, “majora regalia imperii præ-eminentiam spectant; minora vero ab commodum pecuniarum immediate attinent; et hæc proprie fiscalia sunt, et ad jus fisci pertinent.(k)

First, then, of the royal dignity. Under every monarchical establishment, it is necessary to distinguish the prince from his subjects, not only by the outward pomp and decorations of majesty, but also by ascribing to him certain qualities, as inherent in his royal capacity, distinct from and superior to those of any other individual in the nation. For though a philosophical mind will consider the royal person merely as one man appointed by mutual consent to presido over many others, and will pay him that reverence and duty which the principles of society demand; yet the mass of mankind will be apt to grow insolent and refractory, if taught to consider their prince as a man of no greater perfection than themselves. The law therefore ascribes to the king, in his high political character, not only large powers and emoluments, which form his prerogative and revenue, but likewise certain attributes of a great and transcendent nature; by which the people are led to consider him in the light of a superior being, and to pay him that awful respect, which may enable him with greater ease to carry on the business of government. This is what I understand by the royal dignity, the several branches of which we will now proceed to examine.

I. And, first, the law ascribes to the king the attribute of sovereignty, or pre-eminence. “Rex est vicarius,” says Bracton,(l)et minister Dei in terra: omnis quidem sub eo est, et ipse *[*242sub nullo, nisi tantum sub Deo.2 He is said to have imperial dignity; and in charters before the conquest is frequently styled basileus and imperator, the titles respectively assumed by the emperors of the east and west.(m) His realm is declared to be an empire, and his crown imperial, by many acts of parliament, particularly the statutes 24 Hen. VIII. c. 12, and 25 Hen. VIII. c. 28;(n) which at the same time declare the king to be the supreme head of the realm in matters both civil and ecclesiastical, and of consequence inferior to no man upon earth, dependent on no man, accountable to no man. Formerly there prevailed a ridiculous notion, propagated by the German and Italian civilians, that an emperor could do many things which a king could not, (as the creation of notaries and the like,) and that all kings were in some degree subordinate and subject to the emperor of Germany or Rome. The Edition: current; Page: [242] meaning therefore of the legislature, when it uses these terms of empire and imperial, and applies them to the realm and crown of England, is only to assert that our king is equally sovereign and independent within these his dominions, as any emperor is in his empire;(o) and owes no kind of subjection to any other potentate upon earth. Hence it is, that no suit or action can be brought against the king, even in civil matters, because no court can have jurisdiction over him. For all jurisdiction implies superiority of power: authority to try would be vain and idle, without an authority to redress; and the sentence of a court would be contemptible, unless that court had power to command the execution of it: but who, says Finch,(p) shall command the king? Hence it is likewise, that by law the person of the king is sacred, even though the measures pursued in his reign be completely tyrannical and arbitrary: for no jurisdiction upon earth has power to try him in a criminal way; much less to condemn him to punishment. If any foreign jurisdiction had this power, as was formerly claimed by the pope, the independence of the kingdom would be no more; and, if such a power were vested in any domestic **243]tribunal, there would soon be an end of the constitution, by destroying the free agency of one of the constituent parts of the sovereign legislative power.3

Are then, it may be asked, the subjects of England totally destitute of remedy, in case the crown should invade their rights, either by private injuries, or public oppressions? To this we may answer, that the law has provided a remedy in both cases.

And, first, as to private injuries: if any person has, in point of property, a just demand upon the king, he must petition him in his court of chancery, where his chancellor will administer right as a matter of grace, though not upon compulsion.(q)4 And this is entirely consonant to what is laid down by the writers on natural law. “A subject,” says Puffendorf,(r) “so long as he continues a subject, hath no way to oblige his prince to give him his due, when he refuses it; though no wise prince will ever refuse to stand to a lawful contract. And if the prince gives the subject leave to enter an action against him, upon such contract, in his own courts, the action itself proceeds rather upon natural equity than upon the municipal laws.” For the end of such action is not to compel the prince to observe the contract, but to persuade him. And, as to personal wrongs, it is well observed by Mr. Locke,(s) “the harm which the sovereign can do in his own person not being likely to happen often, nor to extend itself far; nor being able by his single strength to subvert the laws, nor oppress the body of the people, (should any prince have so much weakness and ill nature as to endeavour to do it,) the inconveniency therefore of some particular mischiefs that may happen sometimes, when a heady prince comes to the throne, are well recompensed by the peace of the public and security of the government, Edition: current; Page: [243] in the person of the chief magistrate being thus set out of the reach of danger.”

*[*244Next, as to cases of ordinary public oppression, where the vitals of the constitution are not attacked, the law hath also assigned a remedy. For, as the king cannot misuse his power, without the advice of evil counsellors, and the assistance of wicked ministers, these men may be examined and punished. The constitution has therefore provided, by means of indictments and parliamentary impeachments, that no man shall dare to assist the crown in contradiction to the laws of the land. But it is at the same time a maxim in those laws, that the king himself can do no wrong: since it would be a great weakness and absurdity in any system of positive law to define any possible wrong, without any possible redress.

For, as to such public oppressions as tend to dissolve the constitution and subvert the fundamentals of government, they are cases which the law will not, out of decency, suppose; being incapable of distrusting those whom it has invested with any part of the supreme power; since such distrust would render the exercise of that power precarious and impracticable.(t) For, wherever the law expresses its distrust of abuse of power, it always vests a superior coercive authority in some other hand to correct it; the very notion of which destroys the idea of sovereignty. If therefore, for example, the two houses of parliament, or either of them, had avowedly a right to animadvert on the king, or each other, or if the king had a right to animadvert on either of the houses, that branch of the legislature, so subject to animadversion, would cease to be part of the supreme power; the balance of the constitution would be overturned, and that branch or branches, in which this jurisdiction resided, would be completely sovereign. The supposition of law therefore is, that neither the king nor either house of parliament, collectively taken, is capable of doing any wrong: since in such cases the law feels itself incapable of furnishing any adequate *[*245remedy. For which reason all oppression which may happen to spring from any branch of the sovereign power, must necessarily be out of the reach of any stated rule, or express legal provision; but if ever they unfortunately happen, the prudence of the times must provide new remedies upon new emergencies.

Indeed, it is found by experience, that whenever the unconstitutional oppressions, even of the sovereign power, advance with gigantic strides, and threaten desolation to a state, mankind will not be reasoned out of the feelings of humanity; nor will sacrifice their liberty by a scrupulous adherence to those political maxims which were originally established to preserve it. And therefore, though the positive laws are silent, experience will furnish us with a very remarkable case wherein nature and reason prevailed. When king James the Second invaded the fundamental constitution of the realm, the convention declared an abdication, whereby the throne was rendered vacant, which induced a new settlement of the crown. And so far as the precedent leads, and no further, we may now be allowed to lay down the law of redress against public oppression. If, therefore, any future prince should endeavour to subvert the constitution by breaking the original contract between king and people, should violate the fundamental laws, and should withdraw himself out of the kingdom; we are now authorized to declare that this conjunction of circumstances would amount to an abdication, and the throne would be thereby vacant. But it is not for us to say that any one, or two, of these ingredients would amount to such a situation; for there our precedent would fail us. In these, therefore, or other circumstances, which a fertile imagination may furnish, since both law and history are silent, it becomes us to be silent too; leaving to future generations, whenever necessity and the safety of the whole shall require it, the exertion of those inherent, though latent, powers of society, which no climate, no time, no constitution, no contract, can ever destroy or diminish.

*[*246II. Besides the attribute of sovereignty, the law also ascribes to the king, in his political capacity, absolute perfection. The king can do Edition: current; Page: [246] no wrong: which ancient and fundamental maxim is not to be understood, as if every thing transacted by the government was of course just and lawful, but means only two things. First, that whatever is exceptionable in the conduct of public affairs, is not to be imputed to the king, nor is he answerable for it personally to his people; for this doctrine would totally destroy that constitutional independence of the crown, which is necessary for the balance of power in our free and active, and therefore compounded, constitution. And, secondly, it means that the prerogative of the crown extends not to any injury: it is created for the benefit of the people, and therefore cannot be exerted to their prejudice.(u)5

The king, moreover, is not only incapable of doing wrong, but even of thinking wrong: he can never mean to do an improper thing: in him is no folly or weakness. And, therefore, if the crown should be induced to grant any franchise or privilege to a subject contrary to reason, or in any wise prejudicial to the commonwealth, or a private person, the law will not suppose the king to have meant either an unwise or an injurious action, but declares that the king was deceived in his grant; and thereupon such grant is rendered void, merely upon the foundation of fraud and deception, either by or upon those agents whom the crown has thought proper to employ. For the law will not cast an imputation on that magistrate whom it intrusts with the executive power, as if he was capable of intentionally disregarding his trust; but attributes to mere imposition (to which the most perfect of sublunary beings must still continue liable) those little inadvertencies, which, if charged on the will of the prince, might lessen him in the eyes of his subjects.

**247]Yet still, notwithstanding this personal perfection, which the law attributes to the sovereign, the sovereign, the constitution has allowed a latitude of supposing the contrary, in respect to both houses of parliament, each of which, in its turn, hath exerted the right of remonstrating and complaining to the king even of those acts of royalty, which are most properly and personally his own; such as messages signed by himself, and speeches delivered from the throne. And yet, such is the reverence which is paid to the royal person, that though the two houses have an undoubted right to consider these acts of state in any light whatever, and accordingly treat them in their addresses as personally proceeding from the prince, yet among themselves, (to preserve the more perfect decency, and for the greater freedom of debate,) they usually suppose them to flow from the advice of the administration. But the privilege of canvassing thus freely the personal acts of the sovereign (either directly or even through the medium of his reputed advisers) belongs to no individual, but is consigned to those august assemblies; and there too the objections must be proposed with the utmost respect and deference. One member was sent to the tower(v) for suggesting that his majesty’s answer to the address of the commons contained “high words to fright the members out of their duty;” and another,(w) for saying that a part of the king’s speech “seemed rather to be calculated for the meridian of Germany than Great Britain, and that the king was a stranger to our language and constitution.”

In further pursuance of this principle, the law also determines that in the king can be no negligence, or laches, and therefore no delay will bar his right. Nullum tempus occurrit regi has been the standing maxim upon all occasions; for the law intends that the king is always busied for the public good, and Edition: current; Page: [247] therefore has not leisure to assert his right within the times limited to subjects.(y)6 In the king also can be no stain or corruption of *[*248blood; for, if the heir to the crown were attained of treason or felony, and afterwards the crown should descend to him, this would purge the attainder ipso facto.(z) And therefore when Henry VII., who, as earl of Richmond, stood attained, came to the crown, it was not thought necessary to pass an act of parliament to reverse this attainder; because, as lord Bacon, in his history of that prince, informs us, it was agreed that the assumption of the crown had at once purged all attainders. Neither can the king in judgment of law, as king, ever be a minor or under age; and therefore his royal grants and assents to acts of parliament are good, though he has not in his natural capacity attained the legal age of twenty-one.(a) By a statute, indeed, 28 Hen. VIII. c. 17, power was given to future kings to rescind and revoke all acts of parliament that should be made while they were under the age of twenty-four; but this was repealed by the statute 1 Edw. VI. c. 11, so far as related to that prince; and both statutes are declared to be determined by 24 Geo. II. c. 24. It hath also been usually thought prudent, when the heir-apparent hath been very young, to appoint a protector, guardian, or regent, for a limited time: but the very necessity of such extraordinary provision is sufficient to demonstrate the truth of that maxim of the common law, that in the king is no minority; and therefore he hath no legal guardian.(b)7

Edition: current; Page: [249]

**249]III. A third attribute of the king’s majesty is his perpetuity. The law ascribes to him in his political capacity an absolute immortality. The king never dies. Henry, Edward, or George may die; but the king survives them all. For immediately upon the decease of the reigning prince in his natural capacity, his kingship or imperial dignity, by act of law, without any interregnum or interval, is vested at once in his heir, who is, eo instanti, king to all intents and purposes. And so tender is the law of supposing even a possibility of his death that his natural dissolution is generally called his demise; demissio regis, vel coronæ: an expression which signifies merely a transfer of property; for, as is observed in Plowden,(c) when we say the demise of the crown, we mean only that, in consequence of the disunion of the king’s natural body from his body politic, the kingdom is transferred or demised to his successor; and so the royal dignity remains perpetual. Thus, too, when Edward the Fourth, in the tenth year of his reign, was driven from his throne for a few months by the house of Lancaster, this temporary transfer of his dignity was denominated his demise; and all process was held to be discontinued, as upon a natural death of the king.(d)8

**250]We are next to consider those branches of the royal prerogative, which invest this our sovereign lord, thus all-perfect and immortal in his kingly capacity, with a number of authorities and powers, in the exertion whereof consists the executive part of government. This is wisely placed in a single hand by the British constitution, for the sake of unanimity, strength, and despatch. Were it placed in many hands, it would be subject to many wills: many wills, if disunited and drawing different ways, create weakness in a government; and to unite those several wills, and reduce them to one, is a work of more time and delay than the exigencies of state will afford. The king of England is therefore not only the chief, but properly the sole, magistrate Edition: current; Page: [250] of the nation, all others acting by commission from, and in due subordination to him: in like manner as, upon the great revolution in the Roman state, all the powers of the ancient magistracy of the commonwealth were concentrated in the new emperor: so that, as Gravina(e) expresses it, “in ejus unius versona veteris reipublicæ vis atque majestas per cumulatas magistratuum potestates exprimebatur.

After what has been premised in this chapter, I shall not (I trust) be considered as an advocate for arbitrary power, when I lay it down as a principle, that in the exertion of lawful prerogative the king is and ought to be absolute; that is, so far absolute that there is no legal authority that can either delay or resist him. He may reject what bills, may make what treaties, may coin what money, may create what peers, may pardon what offences, he pleases; unless where the constitution hath expressly, or by evident consequence, laid down some exception or boundary; declaring that thus far the prerogative shall go, and no further. For otherwise the power of the crown would indeed be but a name and a shadow, insufficient for the ends of government, if, where its jurisdiction is clearly established and allowed, any man or body of men were permitted to disobey it, in the ordinary course of law: I say in the ordinary course of law; for I do not *[*251now speak of those extraordinary recourses to first principles, which are necessary when the contracts of society are in danger of dissolution, and the law proves too weak a defence against the violence of fraud or oppression. And yet the want of attending to this obvious distinction has occasioned these doctrines, of absolute power in the prince and of national resistance by the people, to be much misunderstood and perverted, by the advocates of slavery on the one hand, and the demagogues of faction on the other. The former, observing the absolute sovereignty and transcendent dominion of the crown laid down (as it certainly is) most strongly and emphatically in our law-books, as well as our homilies, have denied that any case can be excepted from so general and positive a rule; forgetting how impossible it is, in any practical system of laws, to point out beforehand those eccentrical remedies, which the sudden emergence of national distress may dictate, and which that alone can justify. On the other hand, over-zealous republicans, feeling the absurdity of unlimited passive obedience, have fancifully (or sometimes factiously) gone over to the other extreme; and because resistance is justifiable to the person of the prince when the being of the state is endangered, and the public voice proclaims such resistance necessary, they have therefore allowed to every individual the right of determining this expedience, and of employing private force to resist even private oppression. A doctrine productive of anarchy, and, in consequence, equally fatal to civil liberty, as tyranny itself. For civil liberty, rightly understood, consists in protecting the rights of individuals by the united force of society; society cannot be maintained, and of course can exert no protection, without obedience to some sovereign power; and obedience is an empty name, if every individual has a right to decide how far he himself shall obey.

In the exertion, therefore, of those prerogatives which the law has given, the king is irresistible and absolute, according to the forms of the constitution And yet, if the consequence of that exertion be manifestly to the grievance or dishonour of the kingdom, the parliament will call his advisers *[*252to a just and severe account. For prerogative consisting (as Mr. Locke(f) has well defined it) in the discretionary power of acting for the public good, where the positive laws are silent; if that discretionary power be abused to the public detriment, such prerogative is exerted in an unconstitutional manner. Thus the king may make a treaty with a foreign state, which shall irrevocably bind the nation; and yet, when such treaties have been judged pernicious, impeachments have pursued those ministers, by whose agency or advice they were concluded.

The prerogatives of the crown (in the sense under which we are now considering Edition: current; Page: [252] them) respect either this nation’s intercourse with foreign nations, or its own domestic government and civil polity.

With regard to foreign concerns, the king is the delegate or representative of his people. It is impossible that the individuals of a state, in their collective capacity, can transact the affairs of that state with another community equally numerous as themselves. Unanimity must be wanting to their measures, and strength to the execution of their counsels. In the king therefore, as in a centre, all the rays of his people are united, and form by that union a consistency, splendour, and power, that make him feared and respected by foreign potentates; who would scruple to enter into any engagement that must afterwards be revised and ratified by a popular assembly. What is done by the royal authority, with regard to foreign powers, is the act of the whole nation; what is done without the king’s concurrence, is the act only of private men. And so far is this point carried by our law, that it hath been held,(g) that should all the subjects of England make war with a king in league with the king of England, without the royal assent, such war is no breach of the league. And, by the statute 2 Hen. V. c. 6, any subject committing acts of hostility upon any nation in league with the king was declared to be guilty of high treason; and, though that act was repealed by the statute 20 Hen. VI. c. 11, so far as **253]relates to the making this offence high treason, yet still it remains a very great offence against the law of nations, and punishable by our laws, either capitally or otherwise, according to the circumstances of the case.

I. The king therefore, considered as the representative of his people, has the sole power of sending ambassadors to foreign states, and receiving ambassadors at home. This may lead us into a short digression, by way of inquiry, how far the municipal laws of England intermeddle with or protect the rights of these messengers from one potentate to another, whom we call ambassadors.

The rights, the powers, the duties, and the privileges of ambassadors are determined by the law of nature and nations, and not by any municipal constitutions. For, as they represent the persons of their respective masters, who owe no subjection to any laws but those of their own country, their actions are not subject to the control of the private law of that state wherein they are appointed to reside. He that is subject to the coercion of laws is necessarily dependent on that power by whom those laws were made: but an ambassador ought to be independent of every power except that by which he is sent, and of consequence ought not to be subject to the mere municipal laws of that nation wherein he is to exercise his functions. If he grossly offends, or makes an ill use of his character, he may be sent home and accused before his master;(h) who is bound either to do justice upon him, or avow himself the accomplice of his crimes.(i) But there is great dispute among the writers on the laws of nations, whether this exemption of ambassadors extends to all crimes, as well natural as positive; or whether it only extends to such as are mala prohibita, as coining, and not to those that are mala in se, as murder.(k) Our law seems to have formerly taken in the restriction, as well as the general exemption. **254]For it has been held, both by our common lawyers and civilians,(l) that an ambassador is privileged by the law of nature and nations; and yet, if he commits any offence against the law of reason and nature, he shall lose his privilege;(m) and that therefore, if an ambassador conspires the death of the king in whose land he is, he may be condemned and executed for treason; but if he commits any other species of treason, it is otherwise, and he must be sent to his own kingdom.(n) And these positions seem to be built upon good appearance of reason. For since, as we have formerly shown, all municipal laws act in subordination to the primary law of nature, and, where they annex a punishment to natural crimes, are only declaratory of, and auxiliary to, that law; therefore to this Edition: current; Page: [254] natural universal rule of justice, ambassadors, as well as other men, are subject in all countries; and of consequence it is reasonable that, wherever they transgress it, there they shall be liable to make atonement.(o) But, however these principles might formerly obtain, the general practice of this country, as well as of the rest of Europe, seems now to pursue the sentiments of the learned Grotius, that the security of ambassadors is of more importance than the punishment of a particular crime.(p) And therefore few, if any, examples have happened within a century past, where an ambassador has been punished for any offence, however atrocious in its nature.9

In respect to civil suits, all the foreign jurists agree that neither an ambassador, or any of his train or comites, can be prosecuted for any debt or contract in the courts of that kingdom wherein he is sent to reside. Yet Sir Edward Coke maintains that, if an ambassador make a contract which is good jure gentium, he shall answer for it here.(q) But the truth is, so few cases (if any) had arisen, wherein the privilege was either claimed or disputed, even with regard to civil suits, that our law-books are (in general) quite silent upon it previous to the *[*255reign of queen Anne; when an ambassador from Peter the Great, czar of Muscovy, was actually arrested and taken out of his coach in London,(r) for a debt of fifty pounds which he had there contracted. Instead of applying to be discharged upon his privilege, he gave bail to the action, and the next day complained to the queen. The persons who were concerned in the arrest were examined before the privy council, (of which the Lord Chief Justice Holt was at the same time sworn a member,)(s) and seventeen were committed to prison;(t) most of whom were prosecuted by information in the court of Queen’s Bench, at the suit of the attorney general,(u) and at their trial before the lord chief justice were convicted of the facts by the jury,(v) reserving the question of law, how far those facts were criminal, to be Edition: current; Page: [255] afterwards argued before the judges; which question was never determined.10 In the mean time the czar resented this affront very highly, and demanded that the sheriff of Middlesex and all others concerned in the arrest should be punished with instant death.(w) But the queen (to the amazement of that despotic court) directed her secretary to inform him, “that she could inflict no punishment upon any, the meanest, of her subjects, unless warranted by the law of the land; and therefore was persuaded that he would not insist upon impossibilities.”(x) To satisfy, however, the clamours of the foreign ministers, (who made it a common cause,) as well as to appease the wrath of Peter, a bill was brought into parliament,(y) and afterwards passed into a law,(z) to prevent and punish such outrageous insolence for the future. And with a copy of this act, elegantly engrossed and illuminated, accompanied by a letter from the queen, an ambassador extraordinary(a) was commissioned to appear at Moscow,(b) who declared “that though her majesty could not inflict such a punishment as was required, **256]because of the defect in that particular of the former established constitutions of her kingdom, yet, with the unanimous consent of the parliament, she had caused a new act to be passed, to serve as a law for the future.” This humiliating step was accepted as a full satisfaction by the czar; and the offenders, at his request, were discharged from all further prosecution.

This statute(c) recites the arrest which had been made, “in contempt of the protection granted by her majesty, contrary to the law of nations, and in prejudice of the rights and privileges which ambassadors and other public ministers have at all times been thereby possessed of, and ought to be kept sacred and inviolable:” wherefore it enacts, that for the future all process whereby the person of any ambassador, or of his domestic or domestic servant, may be arrested, or his goods distrained or seised, shall be utterly null and void; and the persons prosecuting, soliciting, or executing such process, shall be deemed violators of the law of nations, and disturbers of the public repose; and shall suffer such penalties and corporal punishment as the lord chancellor and the two chief justices, or any two of them, shall think fit. But it is expressly provided, that no trader, within the description of the bankrupt laws, who shall be in the service of any ambassador, shall be privileged or protected by this act; nor shall any one be punished for arresting an ambassador’s servant, unless his name be registered with the secretary of state, and by him transmitted to the sheriffs of London and Middlesex. Exceptions that are strictly conformable to the rights of ambassadors,(d) as observed in the most civilized countries. And in consequence of this statute, thus declaring and enforcing the law of nations, these privileges are **257]now held to be part of the law of the land, and are constantly allowed in the courts of common law.(e)11

Edition: current; Page: [257]

II. It is also the king’s prerogative to make treaties, leagues, and alliances with foreign states and princes. For it is by the law of nations essential to the goodness of a league, that it be made by the sovereign power;(f) and then it is binding upon the whole community: and in England the sovereign power, Edition: current; Page: [257] quoad hoc, is vested in the person of the king. Whatever contracts therefore he engages in, no other power in the kingdom can legally delay, resist, or annul. And yet, lest this plenitude of authority should be abused to the detriment of the public, the constitution (as was hinted before) hath here interposed a check, by the means of parliamentary impeachment, for the punishment Edition: current; Page: [257] of such ministers as from criminal motives advise or conclude any treaty, which shall afterwards be judged to derogate from the honour and interest of the nation.

III. Upon the same principle, the king has also the sole prerogative of making war and peace.12 For it is held by all the writers on the law of nature and nations, that the right of making war, which by nature subsisted in every individual, is given up by all private persons that enter into society, and is vested in the sovereign power:(g) and this right is given up, not only by individuals, but even by the entire body of people, that are under the dominion of a sovereign. It would, indeed, be extremely improper, that any number of subjects should have the power of binding the supreme magistrate, and putting him against his will in a state of war. Whatever hostilities therefore may be committed by private citizens, the state ought not to be affected thereby; unless that should justify their proceedings, and thereby become partner in the guilt. Such unauthorized volunteers in violence are not ranked among open enemies, but are treated like pirates and robbers: according to that rule of the civil law,(h) hostes hi sunt qui nobis, aut quibus nos, publice bellum decrevimus: cæteri latrones aut *[*258prædones sunt. And the reason which is given by Grotius(i) why, according to the law of nations, a denunciation of war ought always to precede the actual commencement of hostilities, is not so much that the enemy may be put upon his guard, (which is matter rather of magnanimity than right,) but that it may be certainly clear that the war is not undertaken by private persons, but by the will of the whole community, whose right of willing is in this case transferred to the supreme magistrate by the fundamental laws of society. So that, in order to make a war completely effectual, it is necessary with us in England that it be publicly declared and duly proclaimed by the king’s authority; and, then, all parts of both the contending nations, from the highest to the lowest, are bound by it. And wherever the right resides of beginning a national war, there also must reside the right of ending it, or the power of making peace. And the same check of parliamentary impeachment, for improper or inglorious conduct, in beginning, conducting, or concluding a national war, is in general sufficient to restrain the ministers of the crown from a wanton or injurious exertion of this great prerogative.

IV. But, as the delay of making war may sometimes be detrimental to individuals who have suffered by depredations from foreign potentates, our laws have in some respects armed the subject with powers to impel the prerogative, by directing the ministers of the crown to issue letters of marque and reprisal upon due demand; the prerogative of granting which is nearly related to, and plainly derived from, that other of making war; this being, indeed, only an incomplete state of hostilities, and generally ending in a formal declaration of war. These letters are grantable by the law of nations,(k) whenever the subjects of one state are oppressed and injured by those of another, and justice is denied by that state to which the oppressor belongs. In this case letters of marque and reprisal (words used as synonymous, and signifying, the latter, a taking in return; the former, the passing the frontiers in order to such taking)(l) may be obtained, in order to seize the bodies or goods of the subjects of the offending state, until satisfaction *[*259be made, wherever they happen to be found. And indeed this custom of reprisals seems dictated by nature herself; Edition: current; Page: [259] for which reason we find in the most ancient times very notable instances of it.(m) But here the necessity is obvious of calling in the sovereign power, to determine when reprisals may be made; else every private sufferer would be a judge in his own cause. In pursuance of which principle, it is with us declared, by the statute 4 Hen. V. c. 7, that, if any subjects of the realm are oppressed in the time of truce by any foreigners, the king will grant marque in due form to all that feel themselves grieved. Which form is thus directed to be observed: the sufferer must first apply to the lord privy-seal, and he shall make out letters of request under the privy-seal; and if, after such request of satisfaction be made, the party required do not within convenient time make due satisfaction or restitution to the party grieved, the lord chancellor shall make him out letters of marque under the great seal; and by virtue of these he may attack and seize the property of the aggressor nation without hazard of being condemned as a robber or pirate.13

Edition: current; Page: [259]

V. Upon exactly the same reason stands the prerogative of granting safe-conducts, without which, by the law of nations, no member of one society has a right to intrude into another.14 And therefore Puffendorf very justly resolves(n) that it is left in the power of all states to take such measures about the admission of strangers as they think convenient; those being ever excepted who are driven on the coast by necessity, or by any cause that deserves pity or compassion. Great tenderness is shown by our laws, not only to foreigners in distress, (as will appear when we come to speak of shipwrecks,) but with regard also to the admission of strangers who come spontaneously. For so long as their nation continues at peace with ours, and they themselves behave peaceably, they are under *[*260the king’s protection, though liable to be sent home whenever the king sees occasion. But no subject of a nation at war with us can, by the law of nations, come into the realm, nor can travel himself upon the high seas, or send his goods or merchandise from one place to another, without danger of being seized by our subjects, unless he has letters of safe-conduct; which, by divers ancient statutes,(o) must be granted under the king’s great seal and enrolled in chancery, or else are of no effect; the king being supposed the best judge of such emergencies as may deserve exception from the general law of arms. But passports under the king’s sign-manual, or licenses from his ambassadors abroad, are now more usually obtained, and are allowed to be of equal validity.15

Indeed, the law of England, as a commercial country, pays a very particular regard to foreign merchants in innumerable instances. One I cannot omit to mention: that by magna carta(p) it is provided, that all merchants (unless publicly prohibited beforehand) shall have safe-conduct to depart from, to come into, to tarry in, and to go through, England, for the exercise of merchandise, without any unreasonable imposts, except in time of war: and, if a war breaks out between us and their country, they shall be attached (if in England) without harm of body or goods, till the king or his chief justiciary be informed how our merchants are treated in the land with which we are at war; and if ours be secure in that land, they shall be secure in ours. This seems to have been a common rule of equity among all the northern nations; for we learn from Stiernhook,(q) that it was a maxim among the Goths and Swedes, “quam legem exteri nobis posuere, eandem illis ponemus.” But it is somewhat extraordinary, that it should have found a place in magna carta, a mere interior treaty between the Edition: current; Page: [260] king and his natural-born subjects; which occasions the learned Montesquieu to remark with a degree of admiration, “that the English have made **261]the protection of foreign merchants one of the articles of their national liberty.”(r) But indeed it well justifies another observation which he has made,(s) “that the English know better than any other people upon earth, how to value at the same time these three great advantages, religion, liberty, and commerce.” Very different from the genius of the Roman people; who in their manners, their constitution, and even in their laws, treated commerce as a dishonourable employment, and prohibited the exercise thereof to persons of birth, or rank, or fortune:(t) and equally different from the bigotry of the canonists, who looked on trade as inconsistent with Christianity,(u) and determined at the council of Melfi, under pope Urban II., ad 1090, that it was impossible with a safe conscience to exercise any traffic, or follow the profession of the law.(w)

These are the principal prerogatives of the king respecting this nation’s intercourse with foreign nations; in all of which he is considered as the delegate or representative of his people. But in domestic affairs he is considered in a great variety of characters, and from thence there arises an abundant number of other prerogatives.

I. First, he is a constituent part of the supreme legislative power; and, as such, has the prerogative of rejecting such provisions in parliament as he judges improper to be passed. The expediency of which constitution has before been evinced at large.(x) I shall only further remark, that the king is not bound by any act of parliament, unless he be named therein by special and particular words. The most general words that can be devised (“any person or persons, bodies politic or corporate, &c.”) affect not him in the least, if **262]they may tend to restrain or diminish any of his rights or interests.(y) For it would be of most mischievous consequence to the public, if the strength of the executive power were liable to be curtailed without its own express consent, by constructions and implications of the subject. Yet, where an act of parliament is expressly made for the preservation of public rights and the suppression of public wrongs, and does not interfere with the established rights of the crown, it is said to be binding as well upon the king as upon the subject:(z) and, likewise, the king may take the benefit of any particular act, though he be not named.(a)

II. The king is considered, in the next place, as the generalissimo, or the first in military command, within the kingdom. The great end of society is to protect the weakness of individuals by the united strength of the community: and the principal use of government is to direct that united strength in the best and most effectual manner to answer the end proposed. Monarchical government is allowed to be the fittest of any for this purpose: it follows therefore, from the very end of its institution, that in a monarchy the military power must be trusted in the hands of the prince.

In this capacity therefore, of general of the kingdom, the king has the sole power of raising and regulating fleets and armies. Of the manner in which they are raised and regulated I shall speak more, when I come to consider the military state. We are now only to consider the prerogative of enlisting and of governing them: which indeed was disputed and claimed, contrary to all reason and precedent, by the long parliament of king Charles I.; but, upon the restoration of his son, was solemnly declared, by the statute 13 Car. II. c. 6, to be in the king alone: for that the sole supreme government and command of the militia within all his majesty’s realms and dominions, and of all forces by sea and land, and of all forts and places of strength, ever was and is the Edition: current; Page: [263] *[*263undoubted right of his majesty, and his royal predecessors, kings and queons of England; and that both or either house of parliament cannot, nor ought to, pretend to the same.16

This statute, it is obvious to observe, extends not only to fleets and armies, but also to forts, and other places of strength, within the realm; the sole prerogative as well of erecting, as manning and governing of which, belongs to the king in his capacity of general of the kingdom:(b) and all lands were formerly subject to a tax, for building of castles wherever the king thought proper. This was one of the three things, from contributing to the performance of which no lands were exempted; and therefore called by our Saxon ancestors the trinoda necessitas: sc. pontis réparatio, arcis constructio, et expeditio contra hostem.(c) And this they were called upon to do so often, that, as Sir Edward Coke from M. Paris assures us,(d) there were, in the time of Hen. II., 1115 castles subsisting in England. The inconveniences of which, when granted out to private subjects, the lordly barons of those times, was severely felt by the whole kingdom; for, as William of Newburgh remarks in the reign of king Stephen, “erant in Anglia quodammodo tot reges vel potius tyranni, quot domini castellorum:” but it was felt by none more sensibly than by two succeeding princes, king John and king Henry III. And, therefore, the greatest part of them being demolished in the barons’ wars, the kings of after-times have been very cautious of suffering them to be rebuilt in a fortified manner: and Sir Edward Coke lays it down,(e) that no subject can build a castle, or house of strength embattled, or other fortress defensible, without the license of the king; for the danger which might ensue, if every man at his pleasure might do it.

It is partly upon the same, and partly upon a fiscal foundation, to secure his marine revenue, that the king has the *[*264prerogative of appointing ports and havens, or such places only, for persons and merchandise to pass into and out of the realm, as he in his wisdom sees proper. By the feodal law all navigable rivers and havens were computed among the regalia,(f) and were subject to the sovereign of the state. And in England it hath always been holden, that the king is lord of the whole shore,(g) and particularly is the guardian of the ports and havens, which are the inlets and gates of the realm;(h) and therefore, so early as the reign of king John, we find ships seized by the king’s officers for putting in at a place that was not a legal port.(i) These legal ports were undoubtedly at first assigned by the crown; since to each of them a court of portmote is incident,(j) the jurisdiction of which must flow from the royal authority: the great ports of the sea are also referred to, as well known and established, by statute 4 Hen. IV. c. 20, which prohibits the landing elsewhere under pain of confiscation: and the statute 1 Eliz. c. 11 recites, that the franchise of lading and discharging had been frequently granted by the crown.

But though the king had a power of granting the franchise of havens and ports, yet he had not the power of resumption, or of narrowing and confining their limits when once established; but any person had a right to load or discharge his merchandise in any part of the haven: whereby the revenue of the customs was much impaired and diminished, by fraudulent landings in obscure and private corners. This occasioned the statutes of 1 Eliz. c. 11, and 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 11, § 14, which enable the crown by commission to ascertain the limits of all ports, and to assign proper wharfs and quays in each port, for the exclusive landing and loading of merchandise.

The erection of beacons, light-houses, and sea-marks, is also a branch of the Edition: current; Page: [264] royal prerogative: whereof the first was **265]anciently used in order to alarm the country, in case of the approach of an enemy; and all of them are signally useful in guiding and preserving vessels at sea by night as well as by day. For this purpose the king hath the exclusive power, by commission under his great seal,(k) to cause them to be erected in fit and convenient places,(l) as well upon the lands of the subject as upon the demesnes of the crown: which power is usually vested by letters patent in the office of lord high admiral.(m) And by statute 8 Eliz. c. 13, the corporation of the trinity-house are empowered to set up any beacons or sea-marks wherever they shall think them necessary; and if the owner of the land or any other person shall destroy them, or shall take down any steeple, tree, or other known sea-mark, he shall forfeit 100l., or in case of inability to pay it, shall be ipso facto outlawed.

To this branch of the prerogative may also be referred the power vested in his majesty, by statutes 12 Car. II. c. 4, and 29 Geo. II. c. 16, of prohibiting the exportation of arms or ammunition out of this kingdom, under severe penalties: and likewise the right which the king has, whenever he sees proper, of confining his subjects to stay within the realm, or of recalling them when beyond the seas. By the common law,(n) every man may go out of the realm for whatever cause he pleaseth, without obtaining the king’s leave; provided he is under no injunction of staying at home, (which liberty was expressly declared in king John’s great charter, though left out in that of Henry III.:) but, because that every man ought of right to defend the king and his realm, therefore the king at his pleasure may command him by his writ that he go not beyond the seas, or out of the realm, without license; and, if he do the contrary, he shall be punished for disobeying the king’s command. Some persons there anciently were, that, by reason of their stations, were under a perpetual prohibition of going abroad without license obtained; among which were reckoned all peers, on account of their being counsellors of **266]the crown; all knights, who were bound to defend the kingdom from invasions; all ecclesiastics, who were expressly confined by the fourth chapter of the constitutions of Clarendon, on account of their attachment in the times of popery to the see of Rome; all archers and other artificers, lest they should instruct foreigners to rival us in their several trades and manufactures. This was law in the times of Britton,(o) who wrote in the reign of Edward I.: and Sir Edward Coke(p) gives us many instances to this effect in the time of Edward III. In the succeeding reign the affair of travelling wore a very different aspect: an act of parliament being made,(q) forbidding all persons whatever to go abroad without license; except only the lords and other great men of the realm; and true and notable merchants; and the king’s soldiers. But this act was repealed by the statute 4 Jac. I. c. 1. And at present everybody has, or at least assumes, the liberty of going abroad when he pleases. Yet undoubtedly if the king, by writ of ne exeat regnum, under his great seal or privy seal, thinks proper to prohibit him from so doing; or if the king sends a writ to any man, when abroad, commanding his return; and, in either case, the subject disobeys; it is a high contempt of the king’s prerogative, for which the offender’s lands shall be seized till he return; and then he is liable to fine and imprisonment.(r)17

Edition: current; Page: [266]

III. Another capacity, in which the king is considered in domestic affairs, is as the fountain of justice and general conservator of the peace of the kingdom. By the fountain of justice, the law does not mean the author or original, but only the distributor. Justice is not derived from the king, as from his free gift, but he is the steward of the public, to dispense it to whom it is due.(s) He is not the spring, but the reservoir, from whence right and equity are conducted by a thousand channels to every individual. The original power of judicature, by the fundamental principles of society, is *[*267lodged in the society at large; but, as it would be impracticable to render complete justice to every individual, by the people in their collective capacity, therefore every nation has committed that power to certain select magistrates, who with more ease and expedition can hear and determine complaints; and in England this authority has immemorially been exercised by the king or his substitutes. He therefore has alone the right of erecting courts of judicature; for, though the constitution of the kingdom hath intrusted him with the whole executive power of the laws, it is impossible, as well as improper, that he should personally carry into execution this great and extensive trust: it is consequently necessary that courts should be erected to assist him in executing this power; and equally necessary that, if erected, they should be erected by his authority. And hence it is that all jurisdictions of courts are either mediately or immediately derived from the crown, their proceedings run generally in the king’s name, they pass under his seal, and are executed by his officers.

It is probable, and almost certain, that in very early times, before our constitution arrived at its full perfection, our kings in person often heard and determined causes between party and party. But at present, by the long and uniform usage of many ages, our kings have delegated their whole judicial power to the judges of their several courts; which are the grand depositories of the fundamental laws of the kingdom, and have gained a known and stated jurisdiction, regulated by certain established rules, which the crown itself cannot now alter but by act of parliament.(t) And, in order to maintain both the dignity and independence of the judges in the superior courts, it is enacted by the statute 13 W. III. c. 2, that their commissions shall be made (not as formerly, durante bene placito, but) quamdiu bene se gesserint,(u) and their salaries ascertained and established; but that it may be lawful to remove them on the address Edition: current; Page: [267] of both houses of parliament. And now, by the noble improvements of that law, in the statute of 1 Geo. III. c. 23, enacted at the earnest recommendation of **268]the king himself from the throne, the judges are continued in their offices during their good behaviour, notwithstanding any demise of the crown, (which was formerly held(w) immediately to vacate their seats,)18 and their full salaries are absolutely secured to them during the continuance of their commissions; his majesty having been pleased to declare, that “he looked upon the independence and uprightness of the judges as essential to the impartial administration of justice; as one of the best securities of the rights and liberties of his subjects; and as most conducive to the honour of the crown.”(x)19

In criminal proceedings, or prosecutions for offences, it would still be a higher absurdity if the king personally sat in judgment; because, in regard to these, he appears in another capacity, that of prosecutor. All offences are either against the king’s peace, or his crown and dignity; and are so laid in every indictment. For though in their consequences they generally seem (except in the case of treason, and a very few others) to be rather offences against the kingdom than the king, yet as the public, which is an invisible body, has delegated all its power and rights, with regard to the execution of the laws, to one visible magistrate, all affronts to that power, and breaches of those rights, are immediately offences against him to whom they are so delegated by the public. He is therefore the proper person to prosecute for all public offences and breaches of the peace, being the person injured in the eye of the law. And this notion was carried so far in the old Gothic constitution, (wherein the king was bound by his coronation oath to conserve the peace,) that in case of any forcible injury offered to the person of a fellow-subject, the offender was accused Edition: current; Page: [268] of a kind of perjury in having violated the king’s coronation oath, dicebatur fregisse juramentum regis juratum.(y) And hence also arises another *[*269branch of the prerogative, that of pardoning offences; for it is reasonable that he only who is injured should have the power of forgiving.20 Of prosecutions and pardons I shall treat more at large hereafter, and only mention them here in this cursory manner to show the constitutional grounds of this power of the crown, and how regularly connected all the links are in the vast chain of prerogative.

In this distinct and separate existence of the judicial power in a peculiar body of men, nominated indeed, but not removable at pleasure, by the crown, consists one main preservative of the public liberty, which cannot subsist long in any state unless the administration of common justice be in some degree separated both from the legislative and also from the executive power. Were it joined with the legislative, the life, liberty, and property of the subject would be in the hands of arbitrary judges, whose decisions would be then regulated only by their own opinions, and not by any fundamental principles of law; which, though legislators may depart from, yet judges are bound to observe. Were it joined with the executive, this union might soon be an overbalance for the legislative. For which reason, by the statute of 16 Car. I. c. 10, which abolished the court of Starchamber, effectual care is taken to remove all judicial power out of the hands of the king’s privy council; who, as then was evident from recent instances, might soon be inclined to pronounce that for law which was most agreeable to the prince or his officers. Nothing therefore is more to be avoided, in a free constitution, than uniting the provinces of a judge and a minister of state. And, indeed, that the absolute power claimed and exercised in a neighbouring nation is more tolerable than that of the eastern empires, is in great measure owing to their having vested the judicial power in their parliaments, a body separate and distinct from both the legislative and executive; and, if ever that nation recovers its former liberty, it will owe it to the efforts of those assemblies. In Turkey, where every thing is centred in Edition: current; Page: [269] the sultan or his ministers, **270]despotic power is in its meridian, and wears a more dreadful aspect.

A consequence of this prerogative is the legal ubiquity of the king. His majesty, in the eye of the law, is always present in all his courts, though he cannot personally distribute justice.(z) His judges are the mirror by which the king’s image is reflected. It is the regal office, and not the royal person, that is always present in court, always ready to undertake prosecutions, or pronounce judgment, for the benefit and protection of the subject. And from this ubiquity it follows that the king can never be nonsuit;(a) for a nonsuit is the desertion of a suit or action by the non-appearance of the plaintiff in court.21 For the same reason, also, in the forms of legal proceedings, the king is not said to appear by his attorney, as other men do; for in contemplation of law he is always present in court.(b)

From the same original, of the king’s being the fountain of justice, we may also deduce the prerogative of issuing proclamations, which is vested in the king alone. These proclamations have then a binding force, when (as Sir Edward Coke observes)(c) they are grounded upon and enforce the laws of the realm. For, though the making of laws is entirely the work of a distinct part, the legislative branch, of the sovereign power, yet the manner, time, and circumstances of putting those laws in execution must frequently be left to the discretion of the executive magistrate. And therefore his constitutions or edicts concerning these points, which we call proclamations, are binding upon the subject, where they do not either contradict the old laws or tend to establish new ones; but only enforce the execution of such laws as are already in being, in such manner as the king shall judge necessary. Thus the established law is, that the king may prohibit any of his subjects from leaving the realm: a proclamation therefore forbidding this in general for three weeks, by laying **271]an embargo upon all shipping in time of war,(d) will be equally binding as an act of parliament, because founded upon a prior law. But a proclamation to lay an embargo in time of peace upon all vessels laden with wheat (though in the time of public scarcity) being contrary to law, and particularly to statute 22 Car. II. c. 13, the advisers of such a proclamation, and all persons acting under it, found it necessary to be indemnified by a special act of parliament, 7 Geo. III. c. 7. A proclamation for disarming papists is also binding, being only in execution of what the legislature has first ordained: but a proclamation for allowing arms to papists, or for disarming any protestant subjects, will not bind; because the first would be to assume a dispensing power, the latter a legislative one; to the vesting of either of which in any single person the laws of England are absolutely strangers. Indeed, by the statute 31 Hen. VIII. c. 8, it was enacted, that the king’s proclamations should have the force of acts of parliament; a statute which was calculated to introduce the most despotic tyranny, and which must have proved fatal to the liberties of this kingdom, had it not been luckily repealed in the minority of his successor, about five years after.(e)22

IV. The king is likewise the fountain of honour, of office, and of privilege; and this in a different sense from that wherein he is styled the fountain of justice; for here he is really the parent of them. It is impossible that government can be maintained without a due subordination of rank; that the people may know and distinguish such as are set over them, in order to yield them their due respect and obedience; and also that the officers themselves, being encouraged Edition: current; Page: [271] by emulation and the hopes of superiority, may the better discharge their functions; and the law supposes that no one can be so good a judge of their several merits and services as the king himself who employs them. It has, therefore, intrusted him with the sole power of conferring dignities and honours, in confidence that he will bestow them upon none but such as deserve them. And therefore all degrees of *[*272nobility and knighthood, and other titles, are received by immediate grant from the crown: either expressed in writing, by writs or letters patent, as in the creations of peers and baronets, or by corporeal investiture, as in the creation of a simple knight.

From the same principle also arises the prerogative of erecting and disposing of offices; for honours and offices are in their nature convertible and synonymous. All offices under the crown carry in the eye of the law an honour along with them; because they imply a superiority of parts and abilities, being supposed to be always filled with those that are most able to execute them. And, on the other hand, all honours in their original had duties or offices annexed to them: an earl, comes, was the conservator or governor of a county; and a knight, miles, was bound to attend the king in his wars. For the same reason, therefore, that honours are in the disposal of the king, offices ought to be so likewise; and, as the king may create new titles, so may he create new offices: but with this restriction, that he cannot create new offices with new fees annexed to them, nor annex new fees to old offices; for this would be a tax upon the subject, which cannot be imposed but by act of parliament.(f) Wherefore, in 13 Hen. IV. a new office being created by the king’s letters patent for measuring cloths, with a new fee for the same, the letters patent were, on account of the new fee, revoked and declared void in parliament.23

Upon the same, or a like reason, the king has also the prerogative of conferring privileges upon private persons. Such as granting place or precedence to any of his subjects,24 as shall seem good to his royal wisdom:(g) or such as converting aliens, or persons born out of the king’s dominions, into denizens; whereby some very considerable privileges of natural-born subjects are conferred upon them. Such also is the prerogative of erecting corporations; whereby a number of private persons are united and knit together, and enjoy many liberties, powers, and immunities in their politic *[*273capacity, which they were utterly incapable of in their natural. Of aliens, denizens, natural-born, and naturalized subjects I shall speak more largely in a subsequent chapter; as also of corporations at the close of this book of our commentaries.25 Edition: current; Page: [273] I now only mention them incidentally, in order to remark the king’s prerogative of making them; which is grounded upon this foundation, that the king, having the sole administration of the government in his hands, is the best and the only judge in what capacities, with what privileges, and under what distinctions his people are the best qualified to serve and to act under him. A principle which was carried so far by the imperial law, that it was determined to be the crime of sacrilege even to doubt whether the prince had appointed proper officers in the state.(h)

V. Another light, in which the laws of England consider the king with regard to domestic concerns, is as the arbiter of commerce. By commerce I at present mean domestic commerce only. It would lead me into too large a field, if I were to attempt to enter upon the nature of foreign trade, its privileges, regulations, and restrictions; and would be also quite beside the purpose of these commentaries, which are confined to the laws of England; whereas no municipal laws can be sufficient to order and determine the very extensive and complicated affairs of traffic and merchandise; neither can they have a proper authority for this purpose. For, as these are transactions carried on between subjects of independent states, the municipal laws of one will not be regarded by the other. For which reason the affairs of commerce are regulated by a law of their own, called the law merchant, or lex mercatoria, which all nations agree in and take notice of. And in particular it is held to be part of the law of England, which decides the causes of merchants by the general rules which obtain in all commercial countries; and that often even in matters relating to domestic trade, as, for instance, with regard to the drawing, the acceptance, and the transfer of inland bills of exchange.(i)26

**274]With us in England, the king’s prerogative, so far as it relates to mere domestic commerce, will fall principally under the following articles:—

First, the establishment of public marts or places of buying and selling, such as markets and fairs, with the tolls thereunto belonging. These can only be set up by virtue of the king’s grant, or by long and immemorial usage and prescription, which presupposes such a grant.(k) The limitation of these public resorts to such time and such place as may be most convenient for the neighbourhood, forms a part of economics, or domestic polity, which, considering the kingdom as a large family, and the king as the master of it, he clearly has a right to dispose and order as he pleases.

Secondly, the regulation of weights and measures. These, for the advantage of the public, ought to be universally the same throughout the kingdom; being the general criterions which reduce all things to the same or an equivalent value. But, as weight and measure are things in their nature arbitrary and uncertain, it is therefore expedient that they be reduced to some fixed rule or standard; which standard it is impossible to fix by any written law or oral proclamation; for no man can, by words only, give another an adequate idea of a foot-rule, or a pound-weight. It is therefore necessary to have recourse to some visible, palpable, material standard; by forming a comparison with which all weights and measures may be reduced to one uniform size: and the prerogative of fixing this standard our ancient law vested in the crown, as in Normandy it belonged to the duke.(l) This standard was originally kept at Edition: current; Page: [274] Winchester, and we find in the laws of king Edgar,(m) near a century before the conquest, an injunction that one measure, which was kept at Winchester, should be observed throughout the realm. Most nations have regulated the standard of measures of length by *[*275comparison with the parts of the human body; as the palm, the hand, the span, the foot, the cubit, the ell, (ulna, or arm,) the pace, and the fathom. But, as these are of different dimension in men of different proportions, our ancient historians(n) inform us, that a new standard of longitudinal measure was ascertained by king Henry the First, who commanded that the ulna, or ancient ell, which answers to the modern yard, should be made of the exact length of his own arm. And, one standard of measures of length being gained, all others are easily derived from thence; those of greater length by multiplying, those of less by subdividing, that original standard. Thus, by the statute called compositio ulnarum et perticarum, five yards and a half make a perch; and the yard is subdivided into three feet, and each foot into twelve inches; which inches will be each of the length of three grains of barley. Superficial measures are derived by squaring those of length: and measures of capacity by cubing them. The standard of weights was originally taken from corns of wheat, whence the lowest denomination of weights we have is still called a grain; thirty-two of which are directed, by the statute called compositio mensurarum, to compose a pennyweight, whereof twenty make an ounce, twelve ounces a pound, and so upwards. And upon these principles the first standards were made; which, being originally so fixed by the crown, their subsequent regulations have been generally made by the king in parliament. Thus, under king Richard I., in his parliament holden at Westminster, ad 1197, it was ordained that there should be only one weight and one measure throughout the kingdom, and that the custody of the assize, or standard of weights and measures, should be committed to certain persons in every city and borough;(o) from whence the ancient office of the king’s aulnager seems to have been derived, whose duty it was, for a certain fee, to measure all cloths made for sale, till the office was abolished by the statute 11 & 12 W. III. c. 20. In king John’s time, this ordinance of king Richard was *[*276frequently dispensed with for money,(p) which occasioned a provision to be made for enforcing it, in the great charters of king John and his son.(q) These original standards were called pondus regis,(r) and mensura domini regis;(s) and are directed by a variety of subsequent statutes to be kept in the exchequer, and all weights and measures to be made conformable thereto.(t) But, as Sir Edward Coke observes,(u) though this hath so often by authority of parliament been enacted, yet it could never be effected; so forcible is custom with the multitude.27

Edition: current; Page: [276]

Thirdly, as money is the medium of commerce, it is the king’s prerogative, as the arbiter of domestic commerce, to give it authority or make it current. Money is an universal medium, or common standard, by comparison with which the value of all merchandise may be ascertained: or it is a sign which represents the respective values of all commodities. Metals are well calculated for this sign, because they are durable and are capable of many subdivisions; and a precious metal is still better calculated for this purpose, because it is the most portable. A metal is also the most proper for a common measure, because it can easily be reduced to the same standard in all nations: and every particular nation fixes on it its own impression, that the weight and standard (wherein consists the intrinsic value) may both be known by inspection only.

As the quantity of precious metals increases, that is, the more of them there is extracted from the mine, this universal medium, or common sign, will sink in value, and grow less precious. Above a thousand millions of bullion are calculated to have been imported into Europe from America within less than three centuries; and the quantity is daily increasing. **277]The consequence is, that more money must be given now for the same commodity than was given a hundred years ago. And, if any accident were to diminish the quantity of gold and silver, their value would proportionably rise. A horse, that was formerly worth ten pounds, is now perhaps worth twenty; and, by any failure of current specie, the price may be reduced to what it was. Yet is the horse, in reality, neither dearer nor cheaper at one time than another: for, if the metal which constitutes the coin was formerly twice as scarce as at present, the commodity was then as dear at half the price as now it is at the whole.28

Edition: current; Page: [277]

The coining of money is in all states the act of the sovereign power, for the reason just mentioned, that its value may be known on inspection. And with respect to coinage in general, there are three things to be considered therein; the materials, the impression, and the denomination.

With regard to the materials, Sir Edward Coke lays it down,(v) that the money of England must either be of gold or silver; and none other was ever issued by the royal authority till 1672, when copper farthings and half-pence were coined by king Charles the Second, and ordered by proclamation to be current in all payments under the value of sixpence, and not otherwise. But this copper coin is not upon the same footing with the other in many respects, particularly with regard to the offence of counterfeiting it. And, as to the silver coin, it is enacted by statute 14 Geo. III. c. 42, that no tender of payment in silver money, exceeding twenty-five pounds at one time, shall be a sufficient tender in law for more than its value by weight, at the rate of 5s. 2d. an ounce.29

As to the impression, the stamping thereof is the unquestionable prerogative of the crown: for, though divers bishops and monasteries had formerly the privilege of coining money, yet, as Sir Matthew Hale observes,(w) this was usually done by special grant from the king, or by prescription, which supposes one; and therefore was derived from, and not in derogation of, the royal prerogative. Besides that, they had only the profit of the coinage, and not the power of *[*278instituting either the impression or denomination; but had usually the stamp sent them from the exchequer.

The denomination, or the value for which the coin is to pass current, is likewise in the breast of the king; and, if any unusual pieces are coined, that value must be ascertained by proclamation. In order to fix the value, the weight and the fineness of the metal are to be taken into consideration together. When a given weight of gold or silver is of a given fineness, it is then of the true standard,(x) and called esterling or sterling metal; a name for which there are various reasons given,(y) but none of them entirely satisfactory.30 And of this sterling or esterling metal all the coin of the kingdom must be made, by the statute 25 Edw. III. c. 13. So that the king’s prerogative seemeth not to extend to the debasing or enhancing the value of the coin, below or above the sterling Edition: current; Page: [278] value,(z) though Sir Matthew Hale(a) appears to be of another opinion.31 The king may also, by his proclamation, legitimate foreign coin, and make it current here; declaring at what value it shall be taken in payments.(b) But this, I apprehend, ought to be by comparison with the standard of our own coin; otherwise the consent of parliament will be necessary. There is at present no such legitimated money; Portugal coin being only current by private consent, so that any one who pleases may refuse to take it in payment. The king may also at any time decry, or cry down, any coin of the kingdom, and make it no longer current.(c)32

VI. The king is, lastly, considered by the laws of England as the head and supreme governor of the national church.

To enter into the reasons upon which this prerogative is founded is matter rather of divinity than of law. I shall therefore only observe that, by statute 26 Hen. VIII. c. 1, (reciting that the king’s majesty justly and rightfully is and ought **279]to be the supreme head of the church of England; and so had been recognised by the clergy of this kingdom in their convocation,) it is enacted, that the king shall be reputed the only supreme head in earth of the church of England, and shall have, annexed to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and style thereof, as all jurisdictions, authorities, and commodities, to the said dignity of the supreme head of the church appertaining. And another statute to the same purport was made, 1 Eliz. c. 1.

In virtue of this authority the king convenes, prorogues, restrains; regulates, and dissolves all ecclesiastical synods or convocations. This was an inherent prerogative of the crown long before the time of Henry VIII., as appears by the statute 8 Hen. VI. c. 1, and the many authors, both lawyers and historians, vouched by Sir Edward Coke.(d) So that the statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 19, which restrains the convocation from making or putting in execution any canons repugnant to the king’s prerogative, or the laws, customs, and statutes of the realm, was merely declaratory of the old common law:(e) that part of it only being new which makes the king’s royal assent actually necessary to the validity of every canon. The convocation, or ecclesiastical synod, in England, differs considerably in its constitution from the synods of other Christian kingdoms: those consisting wholly of bishops: whereas with us the convocation is the miniature of parliament, wherein the archbishop presides with regal state; the upper house of bishops represents the house of lords; and the lower house, composed of representatives of the several dioceses at large, and of each particular chapter therein, resembles the house of commons, with its knights of the shire and burgesses.(f)33 This constitution is said to be owing to the policy of Edition: current; Page: [279] Edward I., who thereby, at one and the same time, let in the inferior clergy to the privileges of forming *[*280ecclesiastical canons, (which before they had not,) and also introduced a method of taxing ecclesiastical benefices, by consent of convocation.(g)34

From this prerogative also, of being the head of the church, arises the king’s right of nomination to vacant bishoprics, and certain other ecclesiastical preferments; which will more properly be considered when we come to treat of the clergy. I shall only here observe, that this is now done in consequence of the statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 20.

As head of the church, the king is likewise the dernier resort in all ecclesiastical causes: an appeal lying ultimately to him in chancery from the sentence of every ecclesiastical judge: which right was restored to the crown by statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 19, as will more fully be shown hereafter.35

Edition: current; Page: [281]


Having, in the preceding chapter, considered at large those branches of the king’s prerogative, which contribute to his royal dignity, and constitute the executive power of the government, we proceed now to examine the king’s fiscus prerogatives, or such as regard his revenue; which the British constitution hath vested in the royal person, in order to support his dignity and maintain his power: being a portion which each subject contributes of his property, in order to secure the remainder.

This revenue is either ordinary or extraordinary. The king’s ordinary revenue is such, as has either subsisted time out of mind in the crown; or else has been granted by parliament, by way of purchase or exchange for such of the king’s inherent hereditary revenues, as were found inconvenient to the subject.

When I say that it has subsisted time out of mind in the crown, I do not mean that the king is at present in the actual possession of the whole of this revenue. Much (nay, the greatest part) of it is at this day in the hands of subjects, to whom it has been granted out from time to time by the kings of England: which has rendered the crown in some measure dependent on the people for its ordinary support and subsistence. So that I must be obliged to recount, as part of the royal revenue, what lords of manors and other subjects **282]frequently look upon to be their own absolute inherent rights; because they are and have been vested in them and their ancestors for ages, though in reality originally derived from the grants of our ancient princes.

I. The first of the king’s ordinary revenues, which I shall take notice of, is of an ecclesiastical kind; (as are also the three succeeding ones) viz. the custody of the temporalties of bishops: by which are meant all the lay revenues, lands, and tenements, (in which is included his barony,) which belong to an archbishop’s or bishop’s see. And these upon the vacancy of the bishopric are immediately the right of the king, as a consequence of his prerogative in church matters; whereby he is considered as the founder of all archbishoprics and bishoprics, to whom during the vacancy they revert. And for the same reason, before the dissolution of abbeys, the king had the custody of the temporalties of all such abbeys and priories as were of royal foundation (but not of those founded by subjects) on the death of the abbot or prior.(a) Another reason may also be given, why the policy of the law hath vested this custody in the king; because as the successor is not known, the lands and possessions of the see would be liable to spoil and devastation, if no one had a property therein. Therefore the law has given the king, not the temporalties themselves, but the custody of the temporalties, till such time as a successor is appointed; with power of taking to himself all the intermediate profits, without any account of the successor; and with the right of presenting (which the crown very frequently exercises) to such benefices and other preferments as fall within the time of vacation.(b) This revenue is of so high a nature, that it could not be granted out to a subject, before, or even after, it accrued: but now by the statute 15 Edw. III. st. 4, c. 4 and 5, the king may, after the vacancy, lease the temporalties to the dean and chapter; saving to himself all advowsons, escheats, and the like. Our ancient kings, and particularly William Rufus, were not only remarkable for keeping the bishoprics a long time **283]vacant, for the sake of enjoying the temporalties, but also committed horrible waste on the woods and other parts of the estate; and to crown all, would never, when the see was filled up, restore to the bishop his temporalties again, unless he purchased them at an exorbitant price. To remedy which, king Henry the First(c) granted a charter at the beginning of his reign, promising Edition: current; Page: [283] neither to sell, nor let to farm, nor take any thing from, the domains of the church, till the successor was installed.1 And it was made one of the articles of the great charter,(d) that no waste should be committed in the temporalties of bishoprics, neither should the custody of them be sold. The same is ordained by the statute of Westminster the 1st;(e) and the statute 14 Edw. III. st. 4, c. 4, (which permits, as we have seen, a lease to the dean and chapter,) is still more explicit in prohibiting the other exactions. It was also a frequent abuse, that the king would for trifling, or no causes, seize the temporalties of bishops, even during their lives, into his own hands: but this is guarded against by statute 1 Edw. III. st. 2, c. 2.

This revenue of the king, which was formerly very considerable, is now by a customary indulgence almost reduced to nothing: for, at present, as soon as the new bishop is consecrated and confirmed, he usually receives the restitution of his temporalties quite entire, and untouched, from the king; and at the same time does homage to his sovereign: and then, and not sooner, he has a fee simple in his bishopric, and may maintain an action for the profits.(f)

II. The king is entitled to a corody, as the law calls it, out of every bishopric, that is, to send one of his chaplains to be maintained by the bishop, or to have a pension allowed him till the bishop promotes him to a benefice.(g) This is also in the nature of an acknowledgment to the king, as founder of the see, since he had formerly the same corody or pension from every abbey or priory of royal foundation.2 It is, I *[*284apprehend, now fallen into total disuse; though Sir Matthew Hale says(h) that it is due of common right,3 and that no prescription will discharge it.

III. The king also, as was formerly observed,(i) is entitled to all the tithes arising in extra-parochial places:(k) though perhaps it may be doubted how far this article, as well as the last, can be properly reckoned a part of the king’s own royal revenue; since a corody supports only his chaplains, and these extra-parochial tithes are held under an implied trust, that the king will distribute them for the good of the clergy in general.

IV. The next branch consists in the first-fruits, and tenths, of all spiritual preferments in the kingdom; both of which I shall consider together.

These were originally a part of the papal usurpations over the clergy of this kingdom; first introduced by Pandulph, the pope’s legate, during the reigns of king John and Henry the Third, in the see of Norwich; and afterwards attempted to be made universal by the popes Clement V. and John XXII., about the beginning of the fourteenth century. The first-fruits, primitiæ, or annates, were the first year’s whole profits of the spiritual preferment, according to a rate or valor made under the direction of pope Innocent IV. by Walter, bishop of Norwich, in 38 Hen. III., and afterwards advanced in value by commission from pope Nicholas III., ad 1292, 20 Edw. I.;(l) which valuation of pope Nicholas is still preserved in the exchequer.(m)4 The tenths, or decimæ, were Edition: current; Page: [284] the tenth part of the annual profit of each living by the same valuation; which was also claimed by the holy see, under no better pretence than a strange misapplication of that precept of the Levitical law, which directs,(n) that the Levites “should offer the tenth part of their tithes as a heave-offering to the Lord, and give it to Aaron the high priest.” But **285]this claim of the pope met with a vigorous resistance from the English parliament; and a variety of acts were passed to prevent and restrain it, particularly the statute 6 Hen. IV. c. 1, which calls it a horrible mischief and damnable custom. But the popish clergy, blindly devoted to the will of a foreign master, still kept it on foot; sometimes more secretly, sometimes more openly and avowedly: so that in the reign of Henry VIII. it was computed, that in the compass of fifty years 800,000 ducats had been sent to Rome for first-fruits only. And, as the clergy expressed this willingness to contribute so much of their income to the head of the church, it was thought proper (when in the same reign the papal power was abolished, and the king was declared the head of the church of England) to annex this revenue to the crown; which was done by statute 26 Hen. VIII. c. 3, (confirmed by statute 1 Eliz. c. 4,) and a new valor beneficiorum was then made, by which the clergy are at present rated.5

By these last-mentioned statutes all vicarages under ten pounds a year, and all rectories under ten marks, are discharged from the payment of first-fruits; and if, in such livings as continue chargeable with this payment, the incumbent lives but half a year, he shall pay only one quarter of his first-fruits; if but one whole year, then half of them; if a year and a half, three quarters; and if two years, then the whole; and not otherwise.6 Likewise by the statute 27 Hen. VIII. c. 8, no tenths are to be paid for the first year, for then the first-fruits are due: and by other statutes of queen Anne, in the fifth and sixth years of her reign, if a benefice be under fifty pounds per annum clear yearly value, it shall be discharged of the payment of first-fruits and tenths.7

Thus the richer clergy, being, by the criminal bigotry of their popish predecessors, subjected at first to a foreign exaction, were afterwards, when that yoke was shaken off, liable to a like misapplication of their revenues, through the rapacious disposition of the then reigning monarch: till at length the piety Edition: current; Page: [285] of queen Anne restored to the church what had been *[*286thus indirectly taken from it. This she did, not by remitting the tenths and first-fruits entirely; but, in a spirit of the truest equity, by applying these superfluities of the larger benefices to make up the deficiencies of the smaller. And to this end she granted her royal charter, which was confirmed by the statute 2 Anne, c. 11, whereby all the revenue of first-fruits and tenths is vested in trustees forever, to form a perpetual fund for the augmentation of poor livings. This is usually called queen Anne’s bounty, which has been still further regulated by subsequent statutes.(o)8

V. The next branch of the king’s ordinary revenue (which, as well as the subsequent branches, is of a lay or temporal nature) consists in the rents and profits of the demesne lands of the crown. These demesne lands, terræ dominicales regis, being either the share reserved to the crown at the original distribution of landed property, or such as came to it afterwards by forfeitures or other means, were anciently very large and extensive; comprising divers manors, honours, and lordships: the tenants of which had very peculiar privileges, Edition: current; Page: [286] as will be shown in the second book of these commentaries, when we speak of the tenure in ancient demesne. At present they are contracted within a very narrow compass, having been almost entirely granted away to private subjects. This has occasioned the parliament frequently to interpose; and, particularly, after king William III. had greatly impoverished the crown, an act passed,(p) whereby all future grants or leases from the crown for any longer term than thirty-one years, or three lives, are declared to be void; except with regard to houses, which may be granted for fifty years. And no reversionary lease can be made, so as to exceed, together with the estate in being, the same term of three lives, or thirty-one years: that is, where there is a subsisting lease, of which there are twenty years still to come, the king cannot grant a future interest to commence after the expiration of the former, for any longer term than eleven years. The tenant must also be made liable to be punished for committing waste; **287]and the usual rent must be reserved, or, where there has usually been no rent, one-third of the clear yearly value.(q) The misfortune is, that this act was made too late, after almost every valuable possession of the crown had been granted away forever, or else upon very long leases; but may be of some benefit to posterity, when those leases come to expire.9

VI. Hither might have been referred the advantages which used to arise to the king from the profits of his military tenures, to which most lands in the kingdom were subject till the statute 12 Car. II. c. 24, which in great measure abolished them all: the explication of the nature of which tenures must be postponed to the second book of these commentaries. Hither also might have been referred the profitable prerogative of purveyance and pre-emption: which was a right enjoyed by the crown of buying up provisions and other necessaries, by the intervention of the king’s purveyors, for the use of his royal household, at an appraised valuation, in preference to all others, and even without the consent of the owner: and also of forcibly impressing the carriages and horses of the subject to do the king’s business on the public roads, in the conveyance of timber, baggage, and the like, however inconvenient to the proprietor, upon paying him a settled price: a prerogative which prevailed pretty generally throughout Europe during the scarcity of gold and silver, and the high valuation of money consequential thereupon. In those early times the king’s household (as well as those of inferior lords) were supported by specific renders of corn, and other victuals, from the tenants of the respective demesnes; and there was also a continual market kept at the palace gate to furnish viands for the royal use.(r) And this answered all purposes, in those ages of simplicity, so long as the king’s court continued in any certain place. But when it removed from one part of the kingdom to another, as was formerly very frequently done, it was found necessary to send **288]purveyors beforehand to get together a sufficient quantity of provisions and other necessaries for the household: and, lest the unusual demand should raise them to an exorbitant price, the powers before mentioned were vested in these purveyors; who in process of time very greatly abused their authority, and became a great oppression to the subject, though of little advantage to the crown; ready money in open market (when the royal residence was more permanent, and specie began to be plenty) being found upon experience to be the best proveditor of any. Wherefore by degrees the powers of purveyance have declined, in foreign countries as well as our own; and particularly were abolished in Sweden by Gustavus Adolphus, towards the beginning of the last century.(s) And, with us in England, having fallen into disuse during the suspension of monarchy, king Charles at his restoration Edition: current; Page: [288] consented, by the same statute, to resign entirely these branches of his revenue and power; and the parliament, in part of recompense, settled on him, his heirs and successors forever, the hereditary excise of fifteen pence per barrel on all beer and ale sold in the kingdom, and a proportionable sum for certain other liquors. So that this hereditary excise, the nature of which shall be further explained in the subsequent part of this chapter, now forms the sixth branch of his majesty’s ordinary revenue.

VII. A seventh branch might also be computed to have arisen from wine licenses, or the rents payable to the crown by such persons as are licensed to sell wine by retail throughout England, except in a few privileged places. These were first settled on the crown by the statute 12 Car. II. c. 25; and, together with the hereditary excise, made up the equivalent in value for the loss sustained by the prerogative in the abolition of the military tenures, and the right of pre-emption and purveyance; but this revenue was abolished by the statute 30 Geo. II. c. 19, and an annual sum of upwards of 7000l. per annum, issuing out of the new stamp duties imposed on wine licenses, was settled on the crown in its stead.

*[*289VIII. An eighth branch of the king’s ordinary revenue is usually reckoned to consist in the profits arising from his forests. Forests are waste grounds belonging to the king, replenished with all manner of beasts of chase or venary; which are under the king’s protection, for the sake of his royal recreation and delight: and to that end, and for preservation of the king’s game, there are particular laws, privileges, courts, and offices belonging to the king’s forests; all which will be, in their turns, explained in the subsequent books of these commentaries. What we are now to consider are only the profits arising to the king from hence, which consist principally in amercements or fines levied for offences against the forest laws. But as few, if any, courts of this kind for levying amercements(t) have been held since 1632, 8 Car. I.,10 and as, from the accounts given of the proceedings in that court by our histories and law-books,(u) nobody would now wish to see them again revived, it is needless, at least in this place, to pursue this inquiry any further.

IX. The profits arising from the king’s ordinary courts of justice make a ninth branch of his revenue. And these consist not only in fines imposed upon offenders, forfeitures of recognizances, and amercements levied upon defaulters; but also in certain fees due to the crown in a variety of legal matters, as, for setting the great seal to charters, original writs, and other forensic proceedings, and for permitting fines to be levied of lands in order to bar entails, or otherwise to insure their title. As none of these can be done without the immediate intervention of the king, by himself or his officers, the law allows him certain perquisites and profits as a recompense for the trouble he undertakes for the public. These, in process of time, have been almost all granted out to private persons, or else appropriated to certain particular uses: so that, though our law-proceedings are still loaded with their payment, very little of them is now returned into the king’s *[*290exchequer; for a part of whose royal maintenance they were originally intended. All future grants of them, however, by the statute 1 Anne, st. 1, c. 7, are to endure for no longer time than the prince’s life who grants them.

X. A tenth branch of the king’s ordinary revenue, said to be grounded on the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from pirates and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and sturgeon: and these, when either thrown ashore, or caught near the coast, are the property of the king, on account(v) of their superior excellence. Indeed, our ancestors seem to have entertained a very high notion of the importance of this right; it being the prerogative of the kings of Denmark and the dukes of Normandy;(w) and Edition: current; Page: [290] from one of these it was probably derived to our princes. It is expressly claimed and allowed in the statute de prærogativa regis:(x) and the most ancient treatises of law now extant make mention of it,(y) though they seem to have made a distinction between whale and sturgeon, as was incidentally observed in a former chapter.(z)

XI. Another maritime revenue, and founded partly upon the same reason, is that of shipwrecks; which are also declared to be the king’s property by the same prerogative statute 17 Edw. II. c. 11, and were so, long before, at the common law. It is worthy observation, how greatly the law of wrecks has been altered, and the rigour of it gradually softened in favour of the distressed proprietors. Wreck, by the ancient common law, was where any ship was lost at sea, and the goods or cargo were thrown upon the land; in which case these goods so wrecked were adjudged to belong to the king; for it was held, that by the loss of the ship all property was gone out of the original owner.(a) But this was undoubtedly adding sorrow to sorrow, and was consonant neither to reason nor humanity. Wherefore it was first **291]ordained by king Henry I. that if any person escaped alive out of the ship, it should be no wreck;(b) and afterwards king Henry II. by his charter(c) declared that if on the coasts of either England, Poictou, Oleron, or Gascony, any ship should be distressed, and either man or beast should escape or be found therein alive, the goods should remain to the owners, if they claimed them within three months; but otherwise should be esteemed a wreck, and should belong to the king, or other lord of the franchise. This was again confirmed with improvements by king Richard the First; who, in the second year of his reign,(d) not only established these concessions, by ordaining that the owner, if he was ship-wrecked and escaped, “omnes res suas liberas et quietas haberet,(e) but also that, if he perished, his children, or, in default of them, his brethren and sisters, should retain the property; and in default of brother or sister, then the goods should remain to the king.(f) And the law, as laid down by Bracton in the reign of Henry III., seems still to have improved in its equity. For then, if not only a dog, for instance, escaped, by which the owner might be discovered, but if any certain mark were set on the goods, by which they might be known again, it was held to be no wreck.(g) And this is certainly most agreeable to reason; the rational claim of the king being only founded upon this, that the true owner cannot be ascertained. Afterwards, in the statute of Westminster, the first,(h) the time of limitation of claims, given by the charter of Henry II., is extended to a year and a day, according to the usage of Normandy;(i) and it enacts, that if a man, a dog, or a cat escape alive, the vessel shall not be adjudged a wreck. These animals, as in Bracton, are only put for examples;(j) for it is now held(k) that not only if any live thing escape, but if proof can be made of the **292]property of any of the goods or lading which come to shore, they shall not be forfeited as wreck. The statute further ordains that the sheriff of the county shall be bound to keep the goods a year and a day, (as in France for one year, agreeably to the maritime laws of Oleron,(l) and in Holland for a year and a half,) that if any man can prove a property in them, either in his own right or by right of representation,(m) they shall be restored to him without delay; but if no such property be proved within that time, they then shall be the king’s. If the goods are of a perishable nature, the sheriff may sell them, and the money shall be liable in their stead.(n) This revenue of wrecks is frequently granted out to lords of manors as a royal franchise; Edition: current; Page: [292] and if any one be thus entitled to wrecks in his own land, and the king’s goods are wrecked thereon, the king may claim them at any time, even after the year and day.(o)

It is to be observed, that in order to constitute a legal wreck the goods must come to land. If they continue at sea, the law distinguishes them by the barbarous and uncouth appellations of jetsam, flotsam, and ligan. Jetsam is where goods are cast into the sea, and there sink and remain under water; flotsam is where they continue swimming on the surface of the waves; ligan is where they are sunk in the sea, but tied to a cork or buoy in order to be found again.(p) These are also the king’s, if no owner appears to claim them; but if any owner appears, he is entitled to recover the possession. For, even if they be cast overboard without any mark or buoy, in order to lighten the ship, the owner is not by this act of necessity construed to have renounced his property;(q) much less can things ligan be supposed to be abandoned, since the owner has done all in his power to assert and retain his property. These three are therefore accounted so far a distinct thing from the former, that by the *[*293king’s grant to a man of wrecks, things jetsam, flotsam, and ligan will not pass.(r)

Wrecks, in their legal acceptation, are at present not very frequent; for if any goods come to land, it rarely happens, since the improvement of commerce, navigation, and correspondence, that the owner is not able to assert his property within the year and day limited by law. And in order to preserve this property entire for him, and if possible to prevent wrecks at all, our laws have made many very humane regulations, in a spirit quite opposite to those savage laws which formerly prevailed in all the northern regions of Europe, and a few years ago were still said to subsist on the coasts of the Baltic sea, permitting the inhabitants to seize on whatever they could get as lawful prize; or, as an author of their own expresses it, “in naufragorum miseria et calamitate tanquam vultures ad prædam currere.(s) For, by the statute 27 Edw. III. c. 13, if any ship be lost on the shore, and the goods come to land, (which cannot, says the statute, be called wreck,) they shall be presently delivered to the merchants, paying only a reasonable reward to those that saved and preserved them, which is entitled salvage. And by the common law, if any persons (other than the sheriff) take any goods so cast on shore, which are not legal wreck, the owners might have a commission to inquire and find them out, and compel them to make restitution.(t) And by statute 12 Anne, st. 2, c. 18, confirmed by 4 Geo. I. c. 12, in order to assist the distressed and prevent the scandalous illegal practices on some of our sea-coasts, (too similar to those on the Baltic,) it is enacted, that all head officers and others of towns near the sea, shall, upon application made to them, summon as many hands as are necessary, and send them to the relief of any ship in distress, on forfeiture of 100l., and, in case of assistance given, salvage shall be paid by the owners, to be assessed by three neighbouring justices. All persons that secrete any goods shall forfeit their treble value; and if they wilfully do any act whereby the ship is lost or destroyed, *[*294by making holes in her, stealing her pumps, or otherwise, they are guilty of felony, without benefit of clergy. Lastly, by the statute 26 Geo. II. c. 19, plundering any vessel either in distress or wrecked, and whether any living creature be on board or not, (for, whether wreck or otherwise, it is clearly not the property of the populace,) such plundering, I say, or preventing the escape of any person that endeavours to save his life, or wounding him with intent to destroy him, or putting out false lights in order to bring any vessel into danger, are all declared to be capital felonies; in like manner as the destroying of trees, steeples, or other stated seamarks, is punished by the statute 8 Eliz. c. 13 with a forfeiture of 100l. or outlawry. Moreover, by the statute of George II., pilfering any goods cast ashore is declared to be petty larceny; and many other salutary Edition: current; Page: [294] regulations are made for the more effectually preserving ships of any nation in distress.(u)11

XII. A twelfth branch of the royal revenue, the right to mines, has its original from the king’s prerogative of coinage, in order to supply him with materials; and therefore those mines which are properly royal, and to which the king is entitled when found, are only those of silver and gold.(v) By the old common law, if gold or silver be found in mines of base metal, according to the opinion of some, the whole was a royal mine, and belonged to the king; though others held that it only did so, if the quantity of gold or silver was of greater value than the quantity of base metal.(w) But now by the statutes 1 W. and M. st. 1, c. 30, and 8 W. and M. c. 6, this difference is made immaterial; it being enacted that no mines of copper, tin, iron, or lead, shall be looked upon as royal mines, notwithstanding gold or silver may be extracted from them in any quantities; but that the king or **295]persons claiming royal mines under his authority, may have the ore, (other than tin ore in the counties of Devon and Cornwall,) paying for the same a price stated in the act. This was an extremely reasonable law; for now private owners are not discouraged from working mines, through a fear that they may be claimed as royal ones; neither does the king depart from the just rights of his revenue, since he may have all the precious metal contained in the ore, paying no more for it than the value of the base metal which it is supposed to be; to which base metal the land-owner is by reason and law entitled.

XIII. To the same original may in part be referred the revenue of treasuretrove, (derived from the French word trover, to find,) called in Latin thesaurus inventus, which is where any money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion is found hidden in the earth, or other private place, the owner thereof being unknown; in which case the treasure belongs to the king: but if he that hid it be known, or afterwards found out, the owner, and not the king, is entitled to it.(x)12 Also if it be found in the sea, or upon the earth, it doth not belong to the king, but the finder, if no owner appears.(y) So that it seems it is the hiding, and not the abandoning of it, that gives the king a property: Bracton(z) defining it, in the words of the civilians, to be “vetus depositio pecuniæ.” This difference clearly arises from the different intentions which the law implies in the owner. A man that hides his treasure in a secret place evidently does not mean to relinquish his property, but reserves a right of claiming it again, when Edition: current; Page: [295] he sees occasion; and if he dies, and the secret also dies with him, the law gives it the king, in part of his royal revenue. But a man that scatters his treasure into the sea, or upon the public surface of the earth, is construed to have absolutely abandoned his property, and returned it into the common stock, without any intention of reclaiming it: and therefore it belongs, as in a state of nature, to the first occupant, or finder,13 unless the owner appear and assert his right, which *[*296then proves that the loss was by accident, and not with an intent to renounce his property.

Formerly all treasure-trove belonged to the finder;(a) as was also the rule of the civil law.(b) Afterwards it was judged expedient for the purposes of the state, and particularly for the coinage, to allow part of what was so found to the king; which part was assigned to be all hidden treasure; such as is casually lost and unclaimed, and also such as is designedly abandoned, still remaining the right of the fortunate finder. And that the prince shall be entitled to this hidden treasure is now grown to be, according to Grotius,(c)jus commune, et quasi gentium;” for it is not only observed, he adds, in England, but in Germany, France, Spain, and Denmark. The finding of deposited treasure was much more frequent, and the treasures themselves more considerable, in the infancy of our constitution than at present. When the Romans, and other inhabitants of the respective countries which composed their empire, were driven out by the northern nations, they concealed their money under ground, with a view of resorting to it again when the heat of the irruption should be over, and the invaders driven back to their deserts. But, as this never happened, the treasures were never claimed; and on the death of the owners the secret also died along with them. The conquering generals, being aware of the value of these hidden mines, made it highly penal to secrete them from the public service. In England therefore, as among the feudists,(d) the punishment of such as concealed from the king the finding of hidden treasure was formerly no less than death; but now it is only fine and imprisonment.(e)

XIV. Waifs, bona waviata, are goods stolen, and waved or thrown away by the thief in his flight, for fear of being apprehended. These are given to the king by the law, as a punishment upon the owner for not himself pursuing the felon and taking away his goods from him.(f) And therefore *[*297if the party robbed do his diligence immediately to follow and apprehend the thief, (which is called making fresh suit,) or do convict him afterwards, or procure evidence to convict him, he shall have his goods again.(g) Waved goods do also not belong to the king till seized by somebody for his use; for if the party robbed can seize them first, though at the distance of twenty years, the king shall never have them.(h) If the goods are hid by the thief, or left anywhere by him, so that he had them not about him, when he fled, and therefore did not throw them away in his flight; these also are not bona waviata, but the owner may have them again when he pleases.(i) The goods of a foreign merchant, though stolen and thrown away in flight, shall never be waifs:(j) the reason whereof may be, not only for the encouragement of trade, but also because there is no wilful default in the foreign merchant’s not pursuing the thief, he being generally a stranger to our laws, our usages, and our language.14

XV. Estrays are such valuable animals as are found wandering in any manor Edition: current; Page: [297] or lordship, and no man knoweth the owner of them; in which case the law gives them to the king as the general owner and lord paramount of the soil, in recompense for the damage which they may have done therein:15 and they now most commonly belong to the lord of the manor, by special grant from the crown. But, in order to vest an absolute property in the king, or his grantees, they must be proclaimed in the church and two market towns next adjoining to the place where they are found: and then, if no man claims them, after proclamation and a year and a day passed, they belong to the king or his substitute without redemption;(k) even though the owner were a minor, or under any other legal incapacity.(l) A provision similar to which obtained in the old Gothic constitution, with regard to all things that were found, which were to be thrice proclaimed; “primum coram comitibus et viatoribus obviis, deinde in proxima **298]villa vel pago, postremo coram ecclesia vel judicio;” and the space of a year was allowed for the owner to reclaim his property.(m) If the owner claims them within the year and day, he must pay the charges of finding, keeping, and proclaiming them.(n)16 The king or lord has no property till the year and day passed; for if a lord keepeth an estray three-quarters of a year, and within the year it strayeth again, and another lord getteth it, the first lord cannot take it again.(o) Any beasts may be estrays, that are by nature tame or reclaimable, and in which there is a valuable property, as sheep, oxen, swine, and horses, which we in general call cattle; and so Fleta(p) defines them, pecus vagans, quod nullus petit, sequitur, vel advocat. For animals upon which the law sets no value, as a dog or cat, and animals feræ naturæ, as a bear or wolf, cannot be considered as estrays. So swans may be estrays, but not any other fowl;(q) whence they are said to be royal fowl. The reason of which distinction seems to be, that, cattle and swans being of a reclaimable nature, the owner’s property in them is not lost merely by their temporary escape; and they also, from their intrinsic value, are a sufficient pledge for the expense of the lord of the franchise in keeping them the year and day. For he that takes an estray is bound, so long as he keeps it, to find it in provisions and preserve it from damage;(r) and may not use it by way of labour, but is liable to an action for so doing.(s) Yet he may milk a cow, or the like; for that tends to the preservation, and is for the benefit, of the animal(t)17

Edition: current; Page: [298]

Besides the particular reasons before given why the king should have the several revenues of royal fish, shipwrecks, treasure-trove, waifs, and estrays, there is also one general reason which holds for them all; and that is, because they are bona vacantia, or goods in which no one else can claim a property. And therefore by the law of nature they belonged to the first occupation or finder; and so continued under the *[*299imperial law. But, in settling the modern constitutions of most of the governments in Europe, it was thought proper (to prevent that strife and contention, which the mere title of occupancy is apt to create and continue, and to provide for the support of public authority in a manner the least burdensome to individuals) that these rights should be annexed to the supreme power by the positive laws of the state. And so it came to pass that, as Bracton expresses it,(u) hæc quæ nullius in bonis sunt, et olim fuerunt inventoris de jure naturali, jam efficiuntur principis de jure gentium.(v)18

XVI. The next branch of the king’s ordinary revenue consists in forfeitures of lands and goods for offences; bona confiscata, as they are called by the civilians, because they belonged to the fiscus or imperial treasury; or, as our lawyers term them, forisfacta; that is, such whereof the property is gone away or departed from the owner. The true reason and only substantial ground of any forfeiture for crimes consists in this; that all property is derived from society, being one of those civil rights which are conferred upon individuals, in exchange for that degree of natural freedom which every man must sacrifice when he enters into social communities. If therefore a member of any national community violates the fundamental contract of his association, by transgressing the municipal law, he forfeits his right to such privileges as he claims by that contract; and the state may very justly resume that portion of property, or any part of it, which the laws have before assigned him. Hence, in every offence of an atrocious kind, the laws of England have exacted a total confiscation Edition: current; Page: [299] of the movables or personal estate; and in many cases a perpetual, in others only a temporary, loss of the offender’s immovables or landed property, and have vested them both in the king, who is the person supposed to be offended, being the one visible magistrate in whom the majesty of the public resides. The particulars of these forfeitures will be more properly recited when we treat of crimes and misdemesnors. I therefore only mention them here, for **300]the sake of regularity, as a part of the census regalis; and shall postpone for the present the further consideration of all forfeitures, excepting one species only, which arises from the misfortune rather than the crime of the owner, and is called a deodand.

By this is meant whatever personal chattel is the immediate occasion of the death of any reasonable creature: which is forfeited to the king, to be applied to pious uses, and distributed in alms by his high almoner;(w) though formerly destined to a more superstitious purpose. It seems to have been originally designed, in the blind days of popery, as an expiation for the souls of such as were snatched away by sudden death; and for that purpose ought properly to have been given to holy church:(x) in the same manner as the apparel of a stranger, who was found dead, was applied to purchase masses for the good of his soul. And this may account for that rule of law, that no deodand is due where an infant under the age of discretion is killed by a fall from a cart, or horse, or the like, not being in motion:(y) whereas, if an adult person falls from thence, and is killed, the thing is certainly forfeited. For the reason given by Sir Matthew Hale seems to be very inadequate, viz. because an infant is not able to take care of himself; for why should the owner save his forfeiture, on account of the imbecility of the child, which ought rather to have made him more cautious to prevent any accident or mischief? The true ground of this rule seems rather to have been, that the child, by reason of its want of discretion, was presumed incapable of actual sin, and therefore needed no deodand to purchase propitiatory masses: but every adult, who died in actual sin, stood in need of such atonement, according to the humane superstition of the founders of the English law.

Thus stands the law if a person be killed by a fall from a thing standing still. But if a horse, or ox, or other animal, **301]of his own motion, kill as well an infant as an adult, or if a cart run over him, they shall in either case be forfeited as deodands;(z) which is grounded upon this additional reason, that such misfortunes are in part owing to the negligence of the owner, and therefore he is properly punished by such forfeiture. A like punishment is in like cases inflicted by the Mosaical law:(a) “if an ox gore a man that he die, the ox shall be stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten.” And, among the Athenians,(b) whatever was the cause of a man’s death, by falling upon him, was exterminated or cast out of the dominions of the republic.19 Where a thing not in motion, is the occasion of a man’s death, that part only which is the immediate cause is forfeited; as if a man be climbing up the wheel of a cart, and is killed by falling from it, the wheel alone is a deodand: