Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769)
4 volumes in 1

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)  
[Created: 10 July, 2023]
[Updated: 21 August, 2023 ]
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William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England. By William Blackstone, Esq. Vinerian Professor of Law, and Solicitor General to Her Majesty. (Oxford. Printed at the Clarendon Press. M. DCC. LXV. (1765-69)). Four volumes.http://davidmhart.com/liberty/EnglishClassicalLiberals/Blackstone/1754-Commentaries/index.html

William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England. By William Blackstone, Esq. Vinerian Professor of Law, and Solicitor General to Her Majesty. (Oxford. Printed at the Clarendon Press. M. DCC. LXV. (1765-69)). Four volumes.

Vol. 1 is dated 1765 [facs. PDF], Vol. 2 1766 [facs. PDF], vol. 3 1768 [facs. PDF] and vol. 4 1769 [facs. PDF].

This title is also available in a facsimile PDF of the original and various eBook formats - HTML, PDF, and ePub.

This book is part of a collection of works by Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780).



Table of Contents











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 it’s 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 endeavors 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 benefaction 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 honor 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 the 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.

The labor indeed of these researches, and of a regular attention to his duty, for a series of so many years, he hath found inconsistent with his health, as well as his other avocations: and hath therefore desired the university’s permission to retire from his office, after the conclusion of the annual course in which he is at present engaged. But the hints, which he had collected for the use of his pupils, having been thought by some of his more experienced friends not wholly unworthy of the public eye, it is therefore with the less reluctance that he now commits them to the press: though probably the little degree of reputation, which their author may have acquired by the candor of an audience (a test widely different from that of a deliberate perusal) would have been better consulted by a total suppression of his lectures; — had that been a matter entirely within his power.

For the truth is, that the present publication is as much the effect of necessity, as it is of choice. The notes which were taken by his hearers, have by some of them (too partial in his favor) been thought worth revising and transcribing; and these transcripts have been frequently lent to others. Hence copies have been multiplied, in their nature imperfect, if not erroneous; some of which have fallen into mercenary hands, and become the object of clandestine sale. Having therefore so much reason to apprehend a surreptitious impression, he chose rather to submit his own errors to the world, than to seem answerable for those of other men. And, with this apology, he commits himself to the indulgence of the public.





On The Study of The Law [1a]

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, And 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 honor 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 can not 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 public-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 candor 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 honor 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 labor 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 favorable opinion of his capacity, will be his unwearied endeavors 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 on 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 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.

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 praetor, 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 merit which abounds 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 stronger to the Roman than the English institutions. For I think it an undeniable position, that a competent knowledge of the laws of that society 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 inform us, [1] 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.

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. [2] This liberty, rightly understood consists in the power of doing whatever the laws permit; [3] 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 persons 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 [4] as a strange absurdity. It is their landed property, with its long and voluminous train of descents and conveyances, settlements, entails and encumbrances, 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 may 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, 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 neighborhood; 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 anti effectual justice. Else, when he has mistaken his authority, through passion through ignorance, or absurdity, he will be the object of 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 honorably 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 with-hold 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 honor, and of religion, to transmit that constitution and those laws to their 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 professors of the laws: but every man of superior fortune clinks himself born a legislator. Yet Tully was of a different opinion; “it is necessary,” says he, [5] “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 inexperienced 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 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 [6]) “with provisos 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 statutes had provided remedy for former mischiefs, and defects discovered by experience; then should very few questions in law arise, and 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 provisos, 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 proportionally 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 counselors of the crown, and judges upon their honor 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 hound 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, if 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 no where 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 honor, an obligation which the law esteems equal to another’s oath, to be master of those points upon which it is his birthright to decide.

The Roman pandects will furnish us with a piece of history not inapplicable 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 Scaevola, 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 Scaevola could not forbear to upbraid him with this memorable reproof, [7] “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 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, [8] a much more complete lawyer than even Mutius Scaevola 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 has ever been esteemed dishonorable in those, who are entrusted 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 favored 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 honor 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 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 clues; 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 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.

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 notions: for even in Holland, where the imperial law is much cultivated and its decisions pretty generally followed, we are informed by Van Leeuwen, [9] that “it receives its force from custom and the consent of the people, 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: [10] 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 degrees of the Rota or imperial chamber, For which reason it becomes highly necessary for every civilian and canonist, that would act with 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 [11] 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 juris municipalis, et differentias exteri patriique juris notas habere. “ [“For students of civil law should not be ignorant of the municipal law nor of the remarkable differences between their own laws and those of foreign nations."] And the statutes [12] 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 [13] 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 cannon laws are?” In answer to which he gives [14] 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.

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, [15] 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 the British Druids [16]) they were peculiarly remarkable for their proficiency in the study of the law. Nullus clericus nisi causidicus [No clergyman who is not a lawyer also], is the character given of them soon after the conquest by William of Malmsbury. [17] The judges therefore were usually created out of the sacred order, [18] as was likewise the case among the Normans; [19] 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 [20] discovered at Amalfi, soon brought the civil law into vogue all over the west of Europe, where before it was quite laid aside [21] and in a manner forgotten; though some traces of its authority remained in Italy [22] and the eastern provinces of the empire. [23] This now became in a particular manner the favorite 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 feudal customs, in some places with a more extensive, in others a more confined authority. [24]

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, [25] 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, [26] 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 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 Norman innovations, continued wedded to the use of the common law. King Stephen immediately published a proclamation, [27] forbidding the study of the laws, then newly imported from Italy; which was treated by the monks [28] 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 law, which now came to be inseparably interwoven with each other; and the nobility and laity, who adhered with equal pertinacity to the old common law: 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 [29] speak of our municipal laws upon all occasions; and, on the other, from the firm temper which the nobility showed at the famous parliament of Merton: when the prelates endeavored 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 [30]) with one voice answered, 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, [31] when the nobility declared with a kind of prophetic spirit, “that the realm of England has never been unto this hour, neither by the consent of our lord the king and the lords of parliament shall it ever be, ruled or governed by the civil law.” [32] 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: and to that end, very early in the reign of king Henry the third, episcopal constitutions were published, [33] forbidding all ecclesiastics to appear as advocates in foro saeculari [in the secular court]: 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; [34] 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 modeled 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 [35] 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 be 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 [36] 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 everything 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 laws will probably be more generally known; we may hope that the method of studying them will soon revert to its ancient 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, [37] and made no scruple to profess their contempt, nay even their ignorance [38] of it, in 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, & 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 within 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 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 courts, was held before the king’s capital justiciary of England, in the aula regis [King’s court], 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, [39] 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 [40] 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. [41] 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 [42] from apprendre, to learn) who answered to our bachelors: as the state and degree of a sergeant, [43] servientis ad legem [a sergeant at law], 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. [44] The word, law, or leges, being a general term, may create some doubt at this distance of time 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[45] 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 [46] 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.

In this juridical university (for such it is insisted to have been by Fortescue [47] and sir Edward Coke [48]) 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, [49] “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.”

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 sir Edward Coke [50] 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 seldom 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 color 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 honor 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 and 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, [51] and very lately by the whole university, [52] 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, comprehend 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. Surely, if it were not before an object 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. [53]

From a thorough conviction of this truth, our munificent benefactor Mr. Viner, having employed above half a century in amassing materials for new-modeling and rendering more commodious the rude study of the laws of the land, consigned both the plan and execution of these his public-spirited designs to the wisdom of his parent university. Resolving to dedicate his learned labors “to the benefit of posterity and the perpetual service of his Country,” [54] 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 assistance, 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; [55] from their alacrity and unexampled dispatch in carrying it into execution; [56] 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. [57] 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 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.

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, [58] 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 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 pomoeria [bounds] of university learning, and adopt a new tribe of citizens within these philosophical walls, we interest a very numerous and very powerful profession in the preservation of our rights and revenues.

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 anything 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. How little therefore is it to be wondered at, that we hear of so frequent miscarriages; that so many gentlemen of bright imaginations, grow weary of so unpromising a search, [59] 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 pernicious 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 skillful 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, have afforded some kind of sanction to this illiberal path to the profession, and biased many parents, of short-sighted judgment in its favor: 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 hints in favor of university learning: [60] . . . 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, [61] 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 uninstructed 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 [62] [so the law is written] is the utmost his knowledge will arrive at; he must never aspire to form, and seldom expect to comprehend, any arguments drawn a priori [beforehand], from the spirit of the laws and the natural foundations of justice.

Nor 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 labor 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 their 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 a 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 neighborhood of each other: nor is there any branch of learning, but may be helped and improved by assistance drawn from other arts. If therefore the student in our laws has formed both his sentiments and style, by perusal and imitation of the purest classical writers, among whom the historians and orators 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 maybe 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 the acquisition of these accomplishments, he will afford himself here a year or two’s farther leisure, to lay the foundation of his future labors in a solid scientific 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 honor, 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, unkindness of others, may have heretofore untruly suggested, experience will warrant us to affirm, that these endowments of loyalty and public spirit, of honor and religion, are no where 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 endeavoring 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 honor to this laudable institution, than for the private instruction of individuals [63]) 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 shall take the liberty to follow the same that I have already submitted to the public. [64] 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 endeavor, 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 principalities: 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 [65] has observed, the tender understanding of the student be loaded 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 labor, 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 Caesar 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 followers; but, shove all, to that inexhaustible reservoir of legal antiquities and learning, the feudal law, or, as Spelman [66] 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 anytime 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 [67] 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 in pursuing a favorite recreation or exercise. And this attention 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, [68] when first his royal pupil determines to engage in this study. “It will not be necessary for a gentleman as such, to examine with 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 law, even to their original elements. Therefore in a very short period, and with very little labor, he may be sufficiently informed in the laws of his county, 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 benefitted 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, and inspire them with a desire to be still better acquainted with the laws and constitution of their country.




[1a] Read in Oxford, at the opening of the Vinerian lectures: 25 Oct. 1758.

[1] De Legg. 2. 23.

[2] Montesq. Esp. L. l. 11. C. 5.

[3] Facultas ejus, quod cuique facere libet, nisi quid vi, aut jure, prohibetur. [Its essence is the power of doing whatsoever we please, unless where authority or law forbids.] Inst. 1. 3. 1.

[4] Education, §. 187.

[5] De Legg. 3.18. Est senatori necessarium nosse rempublicam; idque late patet: - genus hoc omne scientiae, diligentiae, memoriae est; sine quo paratus esse senator nullo pacto potest. [It is necessary for a senator to be thoroughly acquainted with the constitution; and this 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.]

[6] 2 Rep. pref.

[7] Ff 1.2.2.§. 43. Turpe esse patricio, et nobili, et causus oranti, jus in quo versaretur ignorare. [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.]

[8] Brut. 41.

[9] Dedicatio corporis juris civilis. [Dedication to the body of civil law.] Edit. 1663.

[10] Hale Hist. C. L. c. 2. Selden in Fletam. 5 Rep. Caudrey’s case. 2Inst. 599.

[11] Tit. VII. Sect. a. §. 2.

[12] Doctor legum mox a doctoratu dabit operam legibus Angliae, ut non sit imperitus earum legum quas habet sua patria, et differentias exteri patriique juris noscat. [A doctor of laws, having taken his degree, should study the laws of England, that he be not unskilled in those of his own country, nor be ignorant of the essential differences between them and foreign laws.] Stat. Eliz. R C. 14. Cowel. Institut. in proemio.

[13] c. 47.

[14] c. 48.

[15] in Fletam. 7.7.

[16] Caesar de bello Gal 6.12.

[17] de gest. reg. l. 4.

[18] Dugdale Orig. jurid. c. 8.

[19] Les juges sont sages personnes et autentiques - sicome les archevesques, evesques, les chanoines des eglises cathedraulx, et les autres personnes qui ont dignitez in saincte eglise; les abbez, les prieurs conventaulx, et les gouverneurs des eglises, &c. [The judges are persons of wisdom and authority - such as archbishops, bishops, canons of cathedral churches, and other dignitaries of holy church, the abbeys, priors of convents and church governors, etc.] Grand Coustumier, ch. 9.

[20] circ. A D. 1130.

[21] LL. Wisigoth. 2. 1, 9.

[22] Capitular. Hlubov. Pli. 4. 102.

[23] Selden in Fletam. 5.5,

[24] Domat’s treatise of law, c. 13.§. 9. Epistol. Innocent. IV. in M. Paris ed. A. D. 1254.

[25] A. D. 1138.

[26] Gervas. Dorobern. Act. Pontif Gartuar. cd. 1665.

[27] Reg. Bacon citat. per Selden in Fletam. 76. in Fortesc. c. 33. & 8 Rep. Pref.

[28] Joan. Sarisburiens. Polycrat. 8. 22.

[29] Idem, ibid. 5.16 Polydor, Virgil. Hist. l. 9.

[30] Stat. Merton. 20 Hen. III. e. 9. Et omnes comites et barones una voce responderunt, quod nolunt leges Angliae mutare, quae hucusque usitatae sunt et approbatae. [All the earls and barons with one voice answered, that they would not change the laws of England, which had hitherto been used and approved.]

[31] 11 Ric. 11.

[32] Selden. Jan. Anglor. l. 2. §. 4.3. in Fortese. c. 33.

[33] Spelman. Council. A. D. 1217. Wilkins, vol. 1. p. 574. 599

[34] Selden in Fletam. 9. 3.

[35] M. Paris ad A. D. 1254.

[36] There cannot be a stranger instance of the absurd and superstitious veneration that was paid to these laws, than that the most learned writers of the times thought they could not form a perfect character, even of the blessed virgin, without making her a civilian and a canonist. Which Albertus Magnsus, the renowned dominican doctor of the thirteenth century, thus proves in his Summa de laudibus Christiferae Virginis (divinum magis quam humanum opus) [Perfections of the Christ-bearing Virgin (a work more divine than human)]. ” Item quod jura civilia, et leges, et decreta scivit in summo, probatur hoc modo; sapientia advocati manifestatur in tribus; unum quod obtineat omnia contra judicem justum et sapientem; secundo, quod contra adversarium astutum et sagacem; tertio, quod in causa desperata: sed beatissima virgo, contra judicem sapientissimum, Dominum; contra adversarium callidissimum, diabolum; in causa nostra desperata; sententiam optatam obtinuit.” [“Likewise that she had a perfect knowledge of civil rights, laws, and decrees is thus proved: the wisdom of an advocate is manifested in three things first, that he have a prevailing influence before a wise and just judge; secondly, against a subtle and sagacious adversary; and thirdly, in a desperate cause: The most blessed Virgin obtained the desired judgment from the most wise judge, the Lord against our most cunning enemy, the devil in our desperate cause."] To which an eminent franciscan, two centuries afterwards, Bernardinus de Busti (Mariale, part. 4. serm. 9.) very gravely subjoins this note. ” Nec videtur incongruum mulieres habere peritiam juris. Legitur enim de uxore Joannis Andrea glossatoris, quod tantam peritiam in utroque jure habuit, ut publice in scholis legere ausa sit.” [“Nor does a knowledge of the law seem inconsistent with the female character. For we read that the wife of John Andrew the Lexicographer, was so skilled both in the common and municipal law, that she ventured to deliver lectures on both publicly in the schools."]

[37] Fortesc. de laud. LL. C. 25.

[38] This remarkably appeared in the case of the abbot of Torun. M. 22. Edw. 111.24. who had caused a certain prior to be summoned to answer at Avignon for erecting an oratory contra inhibitiomem novi operis [contrary to the prohibition of a new work]; by which words Mr. Selden, ( in Flet. 8. 5.) very justly understands to be meant the title de novi operis numtiatione [concerning the denunciation of a new work] both in the civil and canon laws, (Ff. 39. 1. C. 8.11. and Decretal. not Extrav. 5. 32.) whereby the erection of any new buildings in prejudice of more ancient ones was prohibited. But Skipwith the king’s sergeant and afterwards chief baron of the exchequer, declares them to be flat nonsense; In ceux parolx,“contra inhibitionem novi operis” ny ad pas entendment [In these words, “contrary to the prohibition of a new work,” there is no meaning], and justice Schardelow mends the matter but little by informing him, that they signify a restitution in their law: for which reason he very sagely to pay no sort of regard to them. ” Ceo n’est que un restitution en leur ley, pur que a ceo n’avemus regard, &c. “ [“This is but a restitution in their law, therefore we shall pay no regard to it."]

[39] p c. 11.

[40] Glossar. 334.

[41] Fortesc. c. 48.

[42] Apprentices or barristers seem to have been first appointed by an ordinance of king Edward the first in parliament, in the 20th year of his reign, (Spelm. Glos. 37. Dugdale, Orig. jurid. 55.)

[43] The first mention which I have met with in our lawbooks of sergeants or countors, is in the statute of Westm. 1.3 Edw. I. c. 29. and in Horn’s Mirror, e l. §.10. c. 2.§.5. c. 3.§.1. in the same reign. But M. Paris in his life of John II, abbot of St. Alban’s, which he wrote in 1255,39 Hen. 111. speaks of advocates at the common law, or countors, ( quos banci narratores vulgariter appellamus) [whom we commonly call bench reporters] as of an order of men well known. And we have an example of the antiquity of the coif in the same author’s history of England, A D. 1259, in the ease of one William de Bussy; who, being called to account for his great knavery and malpractices, claimed the benefit of his orders or clergy. which till then remained an entire secret; and to that end, Voluit ligamenta coifae suae solvere ut palam monstraret se tonsuram habere clericalem; sed non est permissus. - Satelles vero eum arripiens, non per coifae ligamina sed per guttur eum apprehendens, traxit ad carcerem. [He wished to untie the strings of his coif that he might prove to all his having the clerical tonsure; but this was not allowed - Then an officer seizing him, not by the strings of his coif but by his throat, dragged him to prison.] And hence sir H. Spelman conjectures, (Glossar. 335.) that coifs were introduced to hide the tonsure of such renegade clerks, as were still tempted to remain in the secular courts in the quality of advocates or judges, notwithstanding their prohibition by canon.

[44] Ne aliquis scholas regens de legibus in eadem civitate de caetero ibidem leges doceat. [No regent of any law schools within that city should for the future teach law therein.]

[45] in Flet. 8. 2.

[46] 2 Inst. proem.

[47] c. 49.

[48] 3 Rep. pref.

[49] 3 Rep pref.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Lord chancellor Clarendon, in his dialogue of education, among his tracts, p. 325. appears to have been very solicitous, that it might be made “a part of the ornament of our learned academies to teach the qualities of riding, dancing and fencing, at those hours when more serious exercises should be intermitted.”

[52] By accepting in full convocation the remainder of lord Clarendon’s history from his noble descendants, on condition to apply the profits arising from its publication to the establishment of a manage in the university.

[53] Teleia malista azeih, oti thV teleiaV areihV czhsiV esi. [Jurisprudence or the knowledge of laws is the principal and most perfect branch of ethics.] Ethic ad. Nichmach. l.5. c. 3.

[54] See the preface to the eighteenth volume of his abridgment.

[55] Mr. Viner is enrolled among the public benefactor of the university by decree of convocation.

[56] Mr. Viner died June 5, 1756. His effects were collected and settled, near a volume of his work printed, almost the whole disposed of, and the accounts made up in a year and a half from his decease, by the very diligent and worthy administrators with the will annexed,(Dr. West and Dr. Good of Magdalane, Dr. Halley of Oriel, Mr. Buckler of All Souls, and Mr. Betts of University college) to whom that care was consigned by the university. Another half year was employed in considering and settling a plan of the proposed institution, and in framing the statutes thereupon, which were finally confirmed by convocation on the 3d of July 1756. The professor was elected on the 20th of October following, and two scholars on the succeeding day. And, lastly, it was agreed at the annual audit in 1761, to establish a fellowship; and a fellow was accordingly elected in January following. — The residue of this fund, arising from the sale of Mr. Viner’s abridgment, will probably be sufficient hereafter to found another fellowship and scholarship, or three more scholarships as shall be thought most expedient.

[57] The statutes are in substance as follows:

[59] Sir Henry Spelman, in the preface to his glossary, has given us a very lively picture of his own distress upon this occasion. ” Emisit me mater Londinum, juris nostri capessendi gratia; cujus cum vestibulum salutassem, reperissemque linguam peregrinam, dialectum barbaram, methodum inconcinnam, molem non ingentem solemn sed perpetuis humeris sustinendam, excidit mihi (fateor) animus, &c. “ [“My mother sent me to London to commence the study of the law; but when, having paid my respects to the vestibule of this branch of learning I was met by a foreign language, a barbarous dialect, an uncouth style, and a mass not only vast but always to be endured, I confess my courage failed me."]

[60] The four highest judicial offices were at that time filled by gentlemen, two of whom had been fellows of All Souls college; another, student of Christ church; and the fourth a fellow of Trinity college, Cambridge.

[61] See Kennet’s Life of Somner, p 67.

[62] Ff. 40. 9. 12.

[63] See Lowth’s Oratio Crewiana, p. 365.

[64] The analysis of the laws of England, first published, A. D. 1759, and exhibiting the order and principal division of the ensuing COMMENTARIES; which were originally submitted to the university in a private course of lectures, A, D. 1753.

[65] Incipientibus nobis exponere jura populi Romani, ita videntur tradi posse commodissime, si primo levi ac simplici via singula tradantur; alioqui, si statim ab initio rudem adhuc et infirmum animum studiosi multitudine ac varietate rerum oneravimus, duorum alterum, aut desertorem studiorum efficiemus, aut cum magno labore, saepe etiam cum diffidentia (quae plerumque juvenes avertit) serius ad id perducemus, ad quod, leviore via ductus, sine magno labore, et sine ulla diffidentia maturius perduci potuisset. [To us about to expound the laws of the Romans, it seems that it may be done more advantageously if first delivered separately and in an easy and simple manner; otherwise, if in the very beginning we burden the mind of the student as yet unexercised and weak, with a multitude and diversity of things, we either cause him to relinquish his studies altogether, or bring him much later, with great labor, and often with great diffidence (which very frequently deters young men) to that point, to which, conducted by a more easy method, he might have been brought earlier, with little trouble, and with sufficient confidence.] Inst. l. 1. 2.

[66] Of parliaments. 57.

[67] Dr. TayIors pref. to Elem. of civil law.

[68] De laud. Leg. C. 8,


Of the Nature of Laws in General

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 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.

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 freewill, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.

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 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 freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.

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 be 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 [1] has reduced the whole doctrine of law.

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 has 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.

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.

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, has been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse 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 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 superadd any fresh obligation in foro conscientiae [in the court of conscience] 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, [2] 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 [3] very justly observes, that quod naturalis ratio inter omnes homines constituit, vocatur jus gentium. [That rule which natural reason has dictated to all men, is called the law of nations.]

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, [4] ” jus civile est quod quisque sibi populus constituit” [“the civil law is that which every nation has established for its own government”]. 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.” Let us endeavor to explain its several properties, as they arise out of this definition.

And, first, it is a rule; 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. 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.

It 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 shall, 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 anything 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 neighbor, 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 neighbor, 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 acts of parliament as are appointed 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 up 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 [after the fact]; 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. [5] All laws should be therefore made to commence in futuro [in the future], 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.

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.

This 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 roan 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, in 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 could be certainly extended to any.

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 entrusted? 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 endeavor 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.

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 what 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 approbation) 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 entrusted 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 legislative power in the discharge of their several functions, or else the constitution is at an end.

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 aristocracies 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 knit together, and united in the hand of the prince: but then there is eminent 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 those means into execution. And the ancients, as was observed, had in general no idea of any other permanent form of government but these three: for though Cicero [6] declares himself of opinion, ” esse optime constitutam rempublicam, quae ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo, et populari, sit modice confusa” [“the best constituted republic, is that which is duly compounded of these three estates, the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical”]; 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. [7]

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 dispatch, that are to be found in the most absolute monarchy: and as the legislature of the kingdom is entrusted to three distinct powers, entirely independent of each other; first, the king; secondly, the lords spiritual and temporal, which is an aristocratical assembly of persons selected for their piety, their birth, their wisdom, their valor, 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 have always 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 soon be an end of our constitution. 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 [8] (who perhaps carries his theory too far) at once an entire dissolution of the bands of government; and the people are thereby reduced to 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 entrusted; 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 respective 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 tranquility.

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 laid 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 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 misdemeanors, that are forbidden by the superior laws, and therefore styled mala in se [wrong in itself], 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 lawgiver, 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.

But with regard to things in themselves indifferent, the case is entirely altered. These become either right or wrong, just or unjust, duties or misdemeanors, 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 offense: yet that right, and this offense, 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 laws 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 shall not steal,” implies a declaration that stealing is a crime. And we have seen [9] 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 without it. For in vain would rights be declared, in vain directed to be observed, if there were no method of recovering and asserting those rights, when wrongly 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 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. [10] 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 entrusted with the care of putting the laws in execution.

Of all the parts of a law the most effectual is the vindicatory. For it is but lost labor 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 has been held, 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 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 offenses 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 [wrong because prohibited] merely, without any intermixture of moral guilt, annexing a penalty to non-compliance, [11] 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 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, for not burying the dead in woolen, for not performing statute-work on the public roads, and for innumerable other positive misdemeanors. Now these prohibitory laws do not make the transgression a moral offense, or sin: the only obligation in conscience is to submit to the penalty, if levied. It must however be observed, that we are here 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 offense. 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 offense against conscience. [12]

I have now gone through the definition laid down of a municipal law; and 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 endeavored 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 abolish 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, [13] 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 Pufendorf, [14] which forbad 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 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.

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. 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.

Thus, when the law 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.

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 victuals; 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 Pufendorf, [15] which enacted “that whoever drew blood in the streets should be punished with the utmost severity,” was held after a long debate not to extend to the surgeon, who opened the vein of a person that fell down in the street with a fit.

5. 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. 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. [16] 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 staid in it. In a dangerous tempest all the mariners forsook the ship, except only one sick passenger, who by reason 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 staid in the ship upon that account, nor contributed anything to its preservation.

From this method of interpreting laws, by the reason of them, arises what we call equity; which is thus defined by Grotius, [17] “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 “ [“law does not define exactly, but leaves some discretion to the wise judge”].

Equity thus depending, essentially, upon the particular circumstances of each individual case, there can be no established 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.




[1] Juris praecepta sunt haec, honesta vivere, non laudere suum cuique tribuere. [The precepts of the law are these, to live honestly, not to injure another, and to give to every one his due.] Inst. 1.1.3.

[2] Pufendorf, l 7. c. 1. compared with Barbeyrac’s Commentary.

[3] Ff. 1. 19.

[4] Inst 1.2. 1.

[5] Such laws among the Romans were denominated privilegia, or private laws of which Cicero (de leg. 3.19. and in his oration pro domo, 17.) thus speaks: ” Vetant leges sacratae, vetant duodecim tabulae, leges privatis hominibus inogari; id enim est privilegium. Nemo unquam tulit: nihil est crudelius, nihil perniciosius, nihil quod minus haec civitas ferre possit.” [“The sacred laws forbid, the twelve tables forbid, that the interests of private individuals should be affected by special laws; for that is privilege. There has never been an instance of it: nothing could be more cruel, nothing more injurious, nothing which to this nation could be less tolerable."]

[6] In his fragments de rep. l. 2.

[7] ” Cunctas nationes et urbes, populus, aut primores, aut singuli regunt: delecta ex his et constituta reipublicae forma laudari facilius quam eveniri, vel, si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest. “ [“The government of all cities or countries is either democratical, aristocratical, or monarchical. It is more easy to approve of a government composed of these three in the form of a republic than to carry it into execution; or if effected, it cannot be lasting."] Ann l. 4.”

[8] On government, part ii. §. 212.

[9] See page 43.

[10] Locke, Hum. Und. b. 2. c. 21.

[11] See Vol III. 420.

[12] Lex pure poenalis obligat tantum ad poenam, non item ad culpam: lex poenalis mixta et ad culpam obligat et ad poenam. [The object of a law purely penal regards the punishment solely, not the crime also: a mixed penal law involves both the crime and punishment.] (Sanderson de conscient. obligat. prael. viii. §. 17. 24.)

[13] Inst. 1.2.6.

[14] L. of N. and N. 5.12. 3.

[15] l. 5. C. 12. §8.

[16] l. 1. c. 11.

[17] de aequitate, §3.


Of the Laws of England

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, or 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 scriptae, 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; [1] and it is said of the primitive Saxons here, as well as their brethren on the continent, that leges sola memoria et usu retinebant [laws were retained solely by memory and custom]. [2] 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 reports 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 stile these parts of our law leges non scriptae, 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 “ [“expressed by the tacit and unwritten customs and consent of men”].

Our ancient lawyers, and particularly Fortescue, [3] 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 diverse particular countries. Our laws, says lord Bacon, [4] 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. This book is said to have been extant so late as the reign of king Edward the fourth, but is now unfortunately lost. It contained, we may probably suppose, the principal maxims of the common law, the penalties for misdemeanors, 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. [5] ” Omnibus qui reipublicae praesunt etiam atque etiam mando, ut omnibus aequos se praebeant judices, perinde ac in judiciali libro (Saxonice, dom-bec) scriptum habeter: nec quicquam formident quin jus commune (Saxonice, folcnihte) audacter libereque dicant.” [“To all who preside over the republic my positive and repeated injunction is, that they conduct themselves towards all as just judges, as it is written in the dome-book, and without fear boldly and freely to declare the common law."]

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. [6]

Out of these three laws, Roger Hoveden [7] and Ranulphus Cestrensis [8] 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 [9] 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: [10] 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 : [11] and in Sweden, about the same era; when a universal body of common law was compiled out of the particular customs established by the laghmen of every province, and entitled the land’s lagh, being analogous to the common law of England. [12]

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 an half had suggested. For Alfred is generally styled by the same historians the legum Anglicanarum conditor [founder of the English laws], as Edward the confessor is the restitutor [restorer]. 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 the 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 folk-right mentioned by king Edward the elder, after the abolition of the several provincial customs and particular laws before-mentioned.

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: 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 runs 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.

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.

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 offenses, 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 favorably, and deeds more strictly — that money lent upon bond is recoverable by action of debt — that breaking the public peace is an offense, 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 has been always the custom to observe it.

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 to be determined? The answer is, by the judges in the several courts of justice. They are the depositories 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. Their knowledge of that law is derived from experience and study; from the “ viginti annorum lucubrationes “ [“night-time studies of twenty years”], which Fortescue [13] mentions; and from being long personally 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 ” praeteritorum memoria eventorum “ [“remembrance of past events”] reckoned up as one of the chief qualifications of those, who were held to be ” legibus patriae optime instituti “ [14] [“best instructed in the laws of their country”]. 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 judgment, 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; much more if it be dearly 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, 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. [15] And it has 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, has been wantonly broken in upon by statutes or new resolutions, the wisdom of the rule has 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: 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 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 the law. For herein there is nothing repugnant to natural justice; though the artificial reason of it, drawn from the feudal law, may not be quite obvious to every body. 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. [16]

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 his time to that of Henry the 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 [17] 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. [18]

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, 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 old authors, is the same learned judge we have just mentioned, sir Edward Coke; who has 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. 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. [19] 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. [20]

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 practiced 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 [21] 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 every body. For where is the difference, whether the people declare their assent 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 placuit legis habet vigorem, cum populus ei et in eum omne suum imperium et potestatum conferat” [“the constitution of the prince has the force of law, as the people place all their power and authority in his hands”], says Ulpian. [22] ” Imperator solus et conditor et interpres legis existimatur “ [“The emperor alone is both the maker and interpreter of law”], says the code: [23] and again, “sacrilegii instar est rescripto principis obviari “ [24] [“it is sacrilege to oppose the answer of the prince”]. 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.

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 customs, in contradistinction to the rest of the nation at large: which privilege is confirmed to them by several acts of parliament. [25]

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, 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 diverse 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 diverse 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. [26]

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 engrafted into it, and made a part of it; [27] 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 “ [“every man is to be credited in what concerns his own profession”].

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

As to gavelkind, and borough-english, the law takes particular notice of them, [28] 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, [29] 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. [30]

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 alderman by the mouth of their recorder, [31] unless it be such a custom as the corporation is itself interested in, as a right of taking toll, etc. for then the law permits them not to certify on their own behalf. [32]

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 “ [“bad customs should be abolished”] is an established maxim of the law. [33] To make a particular custom good, the following are necessary requisites.

1. That it have been used so long, that the memory of man runs not to the contrary. 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 parliament; since the statute itself is a proof of a time when such a custom did not exist. [34]

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. [35] 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. [36] 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; [37] or rather, taken negatively, they must not be unreasonable. Which is not always, as sir Edward Coke says, [38] 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 suffices, 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. [39]

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. [40] A custom to pay two pence an acre in lieu of tithes, is good; but to pay sometimes two pence 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 [that is certain which can be made certain].

6. Customs, though established by consent, must be (when established) compulsory; 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 abridge, 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. [41]

Next, as to the allowance of special customs. Customs, in derogation of the common law, must be construed strictly. Thus, by the custom of gavelkind, an infant of fifteen years may by one species of conveyance (called a deed of feoffment) convey away his lands in fee simple, or for ever. 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. [42] 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. [43] And thus much for the second part of the leges non scriptae, or those particular customs which affect particular persons or districts only.

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.

It may seem a little improper at first view to rank these laws under the head of leges non scriptae, 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, [44] 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 does not, nor ever did, recognize 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 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 scriptae, 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 scriptae, or statute law. This is expressly declared in those remarkable words of the statute 25 Henry VIII. c. 21, addressed to the king’s royal majesty. — “This your grace’s realm, recognizing no superior under God but only your grace, has 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 institutes, 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 praetor, and the responsa prudentum or opinions of learned lawyers, and lastly upon the imperial decrees, or constitutions of successive emperors) had grown to so great a bulk, or, as Livy expresses it, [45] ” tam immensus aliarum super alias acervatarum legum cumulus “ [“such a vast pile of laws heaped one upon the other”], that they were computed to be many camels’ load by an author who preceded Justinian. [46] 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, A. D. 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 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, [47] suddenly gave new vogue and authority to the civil law, introduced it into several nations, and occasioned 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 [arrangement of confused canons], but which are generally known by the name of decretum Gratiani [decree of Gratian]. 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 [decretals of Gregory the ninth]. A sixth book was added by Boniface VIII, about the year 1298, which is called sextus decretalium [sixth decretal]. 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 [extravagance of John]: 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 [common extravagance]. And all these together, Gratian’s decree, Gregory’s decretals, the sixth decretal, the Clementine constitutions, and the extravagance 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 national canon law, composed of legatine and provincial constitutions, and adapted only to the exigencies of this church and 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 diverse 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, [48] in the reign of Henry VI. At the dawn of the reformation, in the reign of king Henry VIII, it was enacted in parliament [49] that a review should be had of the canon law; and, till such review should be made, all canons, constitutions, ordinances, and synodals 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; [50] whatever regard the clergy may think proper to pay them.

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, curiae 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 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. [51]

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 [laws subject to a more weighty law]; and that, thus admitted, restrained, altered, new-modeled, 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.

Let us next proceed to the leges scriptae, 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. [52] 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 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. [53]

First, as to their several kinds. Statutes are either general or special, public or private. A general or public act is an universal rule, that regards the whole community: and of this the courts of law are bound to take notice judicially and ex officio [officially]; 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 [Senate decrees], in contradistinction to the senatus consulta [Senate acts], which regarded the whole community: [54] and of these (which are not promulgated with the same notoriety as the former) the judges are not 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.

Statutes are also either declaratory of the common law, or remedial of some defects therein. 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 [as its lasting testimony], and for avoiding all doubts and difficulties, to declare what the common law is and ever has been. Thus the statute of treasons, 25 Edw. III. cap. 2, does not make any new species of treasons; but only, for the benefit of the subject, declares and enumerates those several kinds of offense, 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 where it was too lax and luxuriant, has 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 offense 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. 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.

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 has 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. [55] 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 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. [56] The mischief is therefore sufficiently suppressed by vacating them after the determination of the interest of the grantors; 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. 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. [57]

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 did not extend to him that should steal but one horse, and therefore procured a new act for that purpose in the following year. [58] 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 offense, 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.

4. Statutes against frauds 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 fine, it is then to be taken strictly: but when the statute acts upon the offense, by setting aside the fraudulent transaction, here it is to be construed liberally. Upon this footing the statute of 13 Eliz. c. 5. which avoids all gifts of goods, etc. made to defraud creditors and others, was held to extend by the general words to a gift made to defraud the queen of a forfeiture. [59]

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 [the whole subject matter may rather operate than be annulled]. 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. [60]

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 “ [“new laws repeal those preceding which are contrary”]: consonant to which it was laid down by a law of the twelve tables of Rome, that ” quod populus postremum jussit, id jus ratum esto “ [“let that which the people have last decreed be considered as law”]. But this is to be understood, only when the latter 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. [61] But if both acts be merely affirmative, and 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 offense be indictable at the quarter-sessions, and a latter law makes the same offense 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 offense shall be indictable at the assizes, and not elsewhere. [62]

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. [63]

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 [in fact] 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. [64] 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 endeavor to tie up the hands of succeeding legislatures. “When you repeal the law itself, says he, you at the same time repeal the prohibitory clause, which guards against such repeal.” [65]

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. 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 he 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 [as to this] 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 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. [66] 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.

These are the several grounds of the laws of England: over and above which, equity is also frequently called in to assist, to moderate, and to explain them. What equity is, and how impossible in its very essence to be reduced to stated rules, has 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 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.




[1] Caes. de b. G. lib. 6. c. 13.

[2] Spelm. Gl. 362.

[3] c. 17.

[4] See his proposals of a digest.

[5] c. 2.

[6] Hal. Hist. 55.

[7] in Hen. II.

[8] in Edw. Confessor.

[9] in Seld. ad Eadmer. 6

[10] Mod. Un. Hist. xxii 135.

[11] Ibid xx. 211.

[12] Ibid xxxiii. 21. 58.

[13] cap. 8.

[14] Seld. review of Tith c. 8.

[15] Herein agreeing with the civil law, Ff. 1. 3. 20, 21. ” Non omnium, quae a majoribus nostris constituta sunt, ratio reddi potest; et ideo rationes eorum, quae constituuntur, inquiri non oportet: alioquin multa ex his, quae certa sunt, subvertuntur.” [“Reasons cannot be given for all the laws which our ancestors have appointed; therefore we should not seek them; otherwise many of those laws which are established would be subverted."]

[16] ” Si imperialis majestas causam cognitionaliter examinaverit, et partibus, cominus constitutis sententiam dixerit, omnes omnino judices, qui sub nostro imperio sunt, sciant hanc esse legem, non solum illi causae pro qua producta est, sed et in omnibus similibus.” [“If the Emperor shall have examined the cause, and shall immediately declare his opinion, let all the judges of the land know that this is law, not only with respect to that cause which first produced the opinion, but to every other of the like nature."] C. 1. 14. 12.

[17] Pat. 15 Jac. I. p. 18, 17 Rym. 26.

[18] His reports, for instance, are styled kat exochn the reports, and in quoting them we usually say, 1 or 2 Kep. not 1 or 2 Coke’s Rep. as in citing other authors. The reports of judge Croke are also cited in a peculiar manner, by the name of those princes, in whose reigns the cases reported in his three volumes were determined; viz. queen Elizabeth, king James, and king Charles the first; as well as by the number of each volume. For sometimes we call them 1, 2, and 3 Cro. but more commonly Cro. Eliz. Cro. Jac. and Cro. Car.

[19] It is usually cited either by the name of Co. Litt. or as 1 Inst.

[20] These are cited as 2, 3, or 4 Inst. without any author’s name. An honorary distinction, which, we observed, is paid to the works of no other writer; the generality of reports and other tracts being quoted in the name of the compiler, as 2 Ventris, 4 Leonard, 1 Siderfin, and the like.

[21] Ff. 1. 3. 32.

[22] Ff. 1. 4. 1.

[23] C. 1. 14. 12.

[24] C. 1. 23. 5.

[25] Mag. Chart. 9 Hen. III. c. 9 . . . 1 Edw. III. st. 2. c. 9 . . . 14 Edw. III. st. 1. c. 1 . . . and 2 Hen. IV. c. 1.

[26] 8 Rep 126. Cro. Car. 347.

[27] Winch. 24.

[28] Co. Litt. 175.

[29] Litt. §. 265.

[30] Dr. & St. 1. 10.

[31] Cro. Car. 516.

[32] Hob. 85.

[33] Litt. §. 212. 4 Inst. 274.

[34] Co. Litt. 113.

[35] Ibid. 114.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Litt. § 212.

[38] 1 Inst. 62.

[39] Co. Copyh. § 33.

[40] 1 Roll Abr 565

[41] 9 Rep 58

[42] Co. Cop. §. 33.

[43] Co. Litt. 15.

[44] Hist. C. L. c. 2.

[45] l. 3. c. 34.

[46] Taylor’s elements of civil law 17.

[47] See §. 1. p. 18.

[48] Burn’s eccl. law, pref. viii.

[49] Statute 25 Hen. VIII, c. 19, revived and confirmed by 1 Eliz. c. 1.

[50] Stra. 1057.

[51] Hale Hist. c. 2.

[52] 8 Rep. 20.

[53] The method of citing these acts of parliament is various. Many of our ancient statutes are called after the name of the place where the parliament was held that made them; as the statutes of Merton and Marlbridge, of Westminster, Gloucester, and Winchester. Others are denominated entirely from their subject; as the statutes of Wales and Ireland, the articuli cleri [articles of the clergy], and the praerogativa regis [King’s prerogative]. Some are distinguished by their initial words, a method of citing very ancient: being used by the Jews in denominating the books of the pentateuch, by the Christian church in distinguishing their hymns and divine offices; by the Romanists in describing their papal bulls; and in short by the whole body of ancient civilians and canonists, among whom this method of citation generally prevailed, not only with regard to chapters, but inferior sections also; in imitation of all which we still call some of our old statutes by their initial words, as the statute of quia emptores [because purchasers], and that of circumspecte agatis [that ye act circumspectly]. But the most usual method of citing them, especially since the time of Edward the second, is by naming the year of the king’s reign in which the statute was made, together with the chapter, or particular act, according to its numeral order, as 9 Geo. II. c. 4. For all the acts of one session of parliament taken together make properly but one statute: and therefore when two sessions have been held in one year, we usually mention stat. 1. or 2. Thus the bill of rights is cited, as 1 W. and M. st. 2. c. 2 signifying that it is the second chapter or act, of the second statute, or the laws made in the second session of parliament, in the first year of king William and queen Mary.

[54] Gravin. Orig. 1. §. 24.

[55] 3 Rep. 7. Co. Litt. 11. 42.

[56] Co. Litt. 45. 3 Rep. 60. 10 Rep. 58.

[57] 2 Rep. 46.

[58] 2 & 3 Edw. VI. c. 33 Bac. Elem. c. 12.

[59] 3 Rep. 83.

[60] 1 Rep. 47.

[61] Jenk. Cent. 2. 73.

[62] 11 Rep. 63.

[63] 4 Inst. 325.

[64] 4 Inst. 43.

[65] Cum lex abrogatur, illad ipsum abrogatur, quo non eam abrogari oporteut. [When you repeal the law itself, you at the same time repeal the prohibitory clause, which guards against such repeal.] l ep. 23.

[66] 8. Rep. 118.


Of the Countries Subject to the Laws of England

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 view, 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 Caesar 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 entrenchments, 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 over-run 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 Wales, the line of their ancient princes was abolished, and the king of England’s eldest son became, as a matter of course, their titular prince; the territory of Wales being then entirely re-annexed (by a kind of feudal resumption) to the dominion of the crown of England; [1] or, as the statute of Rhudhlan [2] expresses it, ” terra Walliae 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 coronae regni Angliae tanquam pars corporis ejusdem annexa et unita” [“the country of Wales, together with its inhabitants, was formerly held under the King by the feudal law; it is now completely converted into a principality, and annexed to, and united with, the crown of England, as forming a part of the same kingdom”]. By the statute also of Wales [3] very material alterations were made in diverse parts of their laws, so 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 practiced 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 Hen. VIII, 1. That the dominion of Wales shall be for ever 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 be 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, [4] how marvelous 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.

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 for ever 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 2,000,000£ by a land-tax, Scotland shall raise 48,000£.

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.

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.

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.

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 for ever, 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 for ever 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.” [5] 2. That whatever else may be deemed “fundamental 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 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 farther 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 by 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 for ever 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-modeled, 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 Edw. IV. c. 8. and 2 Jac. I. c. 28. Though therefore it has some local peculiarities, derived from the ancient laws of Scotland, [6] 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 has 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 has been solemnly adjudged [7] that all prerogative writs (as those of mandamus [we command], prohibition, habeas corpus [we have the body] , certiorari [we have given notice], etc.) 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.

As to Ireland, that is still a distinct kingdom; though a dependent subordinate kingdom. It was only entitled the dominion or lordship of Ireland [8] and the king’s stile was no other than dominus Hiberniae, lord of Ireland, till the thirty-third year of king Henry the eighth; when he assumed the title of king, which is recognized 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. [9] 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 call the Brehon law, so styled from the Irish name of judges, who were denominated Brehons. [10] 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: [11] which letters patent sir Edward Coke [12] apprehends to have been there confirmed in parliament. 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 [13] and Edward the first [14] were obliged to renew the injunction; and at length in a parliament held at Kilkenny, 40 Edw. III. under Lionel the duke of Clarence, 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 wild natives still kept and preserved their Brehon law; which is described [15] 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: [16] “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 has a parliament of its own, and makes and alters 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 Gulenne, 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. [17]

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. [18] But an ill use being made of this liberty, particularly by lord Gormanstown, deputy-lieutenant in the reign of Edward IV, [19] a set of statutes were there enacted in the 10 Hen. VII. (sir Edward Poynings being then lord deputy, whence they are called Poyning’s laws) one of which, [20] in order to restrain the power as well of the deputy as the Irish parliament, provides, 1. That, before any parliament be summoned or held, the chief governor and council of Ireland shall certify to the king under the great seal of Ireland the considerations 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. [21] But as this precluded any law from being proposed, but such as were pre-conceived 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 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 heads, 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. [22]

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, [23] that all acts of parliament, before made in England, should be of force within the realm of Ireland. [24] 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. [25] 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. [26]

But 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, has power to make laws to bind the people of Ireland.

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, [27] 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 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. [28]

With regard to the other adjacent islands which are subject to the crown of Great Britain, some of them (as the isle of Wight, of Portland, of Thanet, etc.) are comprised within some neighboring 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 does any act of parliament extend to it, unless it be particularly named therein: and then an act of parliament is binding there. [29] It was formerly a subordinate feudatory kingdom, subject to the kings of Norway; then to king John and Henry III. of England; afterward 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. [30] In his lineal descendants it continued for eight generations, till the death of Ferdinando earl of Derby, A. D. 1594: when a controversy arose concerning the inheritance thereof, between his daughters and William his surviving brother: upon which, and a doubt that was started concerning the validity of the original patent, [31] 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, A. D. 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 long been disused, the earls of Derby, as lords of Man, had maintained a sort of royal authority therein; by assenting or 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. [32] 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 [33] and other ecclesiastical benefices,) are inalienably 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. [34] 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 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 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 has been held, [35] 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, [36] 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. 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-modeled 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; 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. [37]

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) or 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.

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 regulation, 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, make laws suited to their own emergencies. But it is particularly declared by statute 7 and 8 W. III. c. 22. that all 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 the 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.

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 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 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 defense 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 larger territory, and her councils distracted by foreign interests. This experience and these considerations gave birth to a conditional clause in the act [38] 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 defense 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. [39] 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 the admiralty have divisum imperium [divided authority], an alternate jurisdiction; one upon the water, when it is full sea; the other upon the land when it is an ebb. [40]

The 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 diverse 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. [41]

A parish is that circuit of ground which is committed to the charge of one parson, or vicar, or other minister having care of souls therein. These districts are computed to be near ten thousand in number. [42] 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. [43]

Mr. Camden [44] says, England was divided into parishes by archbishop Honorius about the year 630. Sir Henry Hobart [45] lays it down, that parishes were first erected by the council of Lateran, which was held A. D. 1179. Each widely differing from 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, [46] 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, [47] that ” dentur omnes decimae primariae ecclesiae ad quam parochia pertinet “ [“all tithes be given to the mother church to which the parish belongs”]. 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 primariae ecclesiae or mother church. [48]

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. The 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 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 extraparochial, 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; [49] yet extraparochial 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, seem to owe its original to king Alfred, who, to prevent 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 behavior of each other; and if any offense was committed in their district, they were bound to have the offender forthcoming. [50] And therefore anciently no man was suffered to abide in England above forty days, unless he were enrolled in some tithing or decennary. [51] One of the principal inhabitants of the tithing is annually appointed to preside over 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. [52]

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: [53]

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 has been the see of a bishop: and though the bishopric be dissolved, as at Westminster, yet still it remains a city. [54] A borough is now understood to be a town, either corporate or not, that sends burgesses to parliament. [55] Other towns there are, to the number sir Edward Coke says [56] 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 hamlets; which are taken notice of in the statute of Exeter, [57] which makes frequent mention of entire vills, demi-vills, and hamlets. Entire vills sir Henry Spelman [58] 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 an 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. [59]

The subdivision of hundreds into tithings seems to be most peculiarly the invention of Alfred: the institution of hundreds themselves he rather introduced than invented. For they seem to have obtained in Denmark: [60] 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 [head of a hundred]; a number of which centenarii were themselves subject to a superior officer called the count or comes. [61] And 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 the territory itself might probably receive its denomination, were well known to that warlike people. ” Centeni ex singulis pagis sunt, idque ipsum inter suos vocantur; et quod primo numerus suit, jam nomen et honor est.” [62] [“Each village is divided into hundreds, and are so called by their inhabitants; and that which first was a mere number has now become both a name and an honor."]

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 entrusted. 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, [63] 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 the Norman conquest: [64] the latter was created by king Edward III, in favor of Henry Plantagenet, first earl and then duke of Lancaster; [65] whose heiress being married to John of Gant the king’s son, the franchise was greatly enlarged and confirmed in parliament, [66] to honor John of Gant himself, whom, on the death of his father-in-law, the king had also created duke of Lancaster. [67] Counties palatine are so called a palatio [of royal court]; because the owners thereof, the earl of Chester, the bishop of Durham, and the duke of Lancaster, had in those counties jura regalia [by regal right], as fully as the king has in his palace; regalem potestatem in omnibus [regal power in all things], as Bracton expresses it. [68] 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 offenses were said to be done against their peace, and not, as in other places, contra pacem domini regis [69] [against the peace of our lord the King]. And indeed by the ancient law, in all peculiar jurisdictions, offenses were said to be done against his peace in whose court they were tried: in a court-leet, contra pacem domini [against the peace of the King]; in the court of a corporation, contre pacem ballivorum [against the peace of the bailiffs]; in the sheriff’s court or tourn, contra pacem vice-comitis [70] [against the peace of the sheriff]. 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 feudal kingdoms in Europe [71]) were in all probability originally granted to the counties of Chester and Durham, 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 country, 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 defense. And upon this account also there were formerly two other counties palatine, Pembrokeshire 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. [72]

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 of Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gant, at the time when he wrested the crown from king Richard II, and assumed the stile 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 [73] and sir Edward Coke [74] 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 of the crown was in the heir of Lionel duke of Clarence, second son of Edward III; John of Gant, 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 for ever; 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. [75] Henry VI. being attainted in 1 Edw. IV, this duchy was declared in parliament to have become forfeited to the crown, [76] 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 [77]) 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, for ever; 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 part of the duchy lands as had been dismembered from it in the reign of Edward IV, and to vest the inheritance of the whole in the king and his heirs for ever, 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. [78]

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. [79]

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 favor 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.




[1] Vaugh. 400.

[2] 10 Edw. I.

[3] 12 Edw. I

[4] 4 Inst. 345

[5] It may justly be doubted, whether even such an infringement (though a manifest breach of good faith, unless done upon the most pressing necessity) would of itself dissolve the union: for the bare idea of a state, without a power somewhere vested to alter every part of its laws, is the height of political absurdity. The truth seems to be, that in such an incorporate union (which is well distinguished by a very learned prelate from a foederate alliance, where such an infringement would certainly rescind the compact) the two contracting states are totally annihilated, without any power of a revival; and a third arises from their conjunction, in which all the rights of sovereignty, and particularly that of legislation, must of necessity reside. (See Warburton’s alliance, 195.) But the wanton or imprudent exertion of this right would probably raise a very alarming ferment in the minds of individuals; and therefore it is hinted above that such an attempt might endanger (though by no means destroy) the union.
       To illustrate this matter a little farther: an act of parliament to repeal or alter the act of uniformity in England, or to establish episcopacy in Scotland, would doubtless in point of authority be sufficiently valid and binding; and, notwithstanding such an act, the union would continue unbroken. Nay, each of these measures might be safely and honorably pursued, if respectively agreeable to the sentiments of the English church, or the kirk in Scotland. But it should seem neither prudent, nor perhaps consistent with good faith, to venture upon either of those steps, by a spontaneous exertion of the inherent powers of parliament, or at the instance of mere individuals. — So sacred indeed are the laws abovementioned (for protecting each church and the English liturgy) esteemed, that in the regency acts both of 1751 and 1765 the regents are expressly disabled from assenting to the repeal or alteration of either these, or the act of settlement.

[6] Hale Hist. C. L. 183.1 Sid. 382. 462. 2 Show. 365.

[7] Cro. Jac. 543. 2 Roll. abr. 292. Stat. 11 Geo. I. c. 4. 4 Burr. 834.

[8] Stat. Hiberniae. 14 Hen. III.

[9] Pryn. on 4 inst. 249.

[10] 4 Inst. 358. Edm. Spenser’s state of Ireland. p. 1513. edit. Hughes.

[11] Vaugh. 294. 2. Pryn. Rec. 85. 7 Rep. 23.

[12] 1 Inst. 141.

[13] A. R. 30. 1 Rym. Feod. 443.

[14] A. R. 5. pro eo quod leges quibus utuntur Hybernici Deo detestabiles existunt, et omni juri dissonant, adeo, quod leges censeri non debeant; nobis et consilio nostro satis videtur expediens, eisdem utendas concedere leges Anglicanas. [Inasmuch as the laws by which the Irish are governed, are hateful to God and incompatible with justice, and therefore ought not to be considered as laws; it seems highly expedient to us and to our council, to give them the laws of England for their government.] 3 Pryn. Rec. 1218.

[15] Edm. Spenser, ibid.

[16] 20 Hen. VI. 8. 2 Ric. III. 12.

[17] Yearbook 1 Hen. VII. 3. 7. Rep. 22 Calvin’s case.

[18] Irish Stat. 11 Eliz. st. 3. c. S.

[19] Ibid. 10 Hen. VII. c. 22.

[20] Cap. 4. expounded by 3 & 4 Ph. and M. c. 4.

[21] 4 Inst. 353.

[22] Irish Stat. 11 Eliz. st. 3. c. 38.

[23] cap. 23.

[24] 4 Inst. 351.

[25] 12 Rep. 112.

[26] Puf. L. of N. viii. 6. 24.

[27] This was law in the time of Hen. VIII; as appears by the ancient book, entitled, diversity of courts, c. bank le roy.

[28] Vaugh. 402.

[29] 4 Inst. 284. 2 And 116.

[30] Selden tit. hon 13.

[31] Camden. Eliz A. D 1594.

[32] 1 P. Wms. 329.

[33] The bishopric of Man, or Sodor, or Sodor and Man, was formerly within the province of Canterbury, but annexed to that of York by statute 33 Hen. VIII. c. 31.

[34] 4 Inst. 286.

[35] Salk. 411. 666.

[36] 2 P. Wms. 75.

[37] 7 Rep. 17. Calvin’s case. Show. Parl. C. 31. See also in the case of Campbell v. Hall. Cowp. Rep. 204. a great and elaborate argument of Lord Mansfield, in delivering the judgment of the court of king’s bench.

[38] Stat. 12 & 13 Will. III. c. 3.

[39] Co. Litt. 260.

[40] Finch. L. 78.

[41] Co. Litt. 94.

[42] Gibson’s Britain.

[43] Seld. of tith. 9. 4. 2 Inst. 643. Hob. 296.

[44] in his Britannia.

[45] Hob. 29.

[46] of tithes, c 9.

[47] c. 1.

[48] Ibid c. 2. See also the laws of king Canute, c. II. about the year 1030.

[49] 3 Inst. 647. 2 Rep. 44. Cro. Eliz. 512.

[50] Flet. 1. 47. This the laws of king Edward the confessor, c. 20. very justly entitled, ” summa et maxima securitas, per quam omnes statu firmissimo sustinentur; quae hoc modo fiebat, quod sub decennali fidejussione debebant esse universi “ [“the best and greatest security by which all persons are kept in the safest state; which was effected in this manner, that every ten should be sureties for each other”].

[51] Mirr. c. 1. §. 3.

[52] Finch. L. 8.

[53] 1 Inst. 115.

[54] Co. Litt. 109.

[55] Litt. §. 164.

[56] 1 Inst. 116.

[57] 14 Edw. I.

[58] Gloss. 274.

[59] Seld. in Fortesc. c. 24.

[60] Seld. tit. of honor. 2. 5. 3.

[61] Montesq. Sp. L. 30. 17.

[62] Tacit. de morib. German. 6.

[63] LL. Edw. c. 34.

[64] Seld. tit. hon. 2. 5. 8.

[65] Pat. 25 Edw. III. p. 1. m. 18 Seld. ibid. Sandford’s gen. hist. 112. 4. 204.

[66] Cart. 36 Edw. 111. n. 9.

[67] Pat. 31 Edw. III. m. 33 Plowd. 215. 7. Rym. 138.

[68] l. 3. c. 8. §. 4.

[69] 4 Inst. 204.

[70] Seld. in Heng. magn. c. 2.

[71] Robertson. Cha. V. i. 60.

[72] 4 Inst. 205.

[73] 215.

[74] 4 Inst. 205.

[75] Parl. 2 Hen. V. n. 30. 3 Hen. V. n. 15.

[76] 1 Ventr. 155.

[77] 1 Ventr. 157.

[78] Some have entertained an opinion (Plowd. 320, 1, 2. Lamb. Archeion. 233. 4 Inst. 206.) that by this act the right of the duchy vested only in the natural, and not in the political person of king Henry VII, as formerly in that of Henry IV; and was descendible to his natural heirs, independent of the succession to the crown. And, if this notion were well founded, it might have become a very curious question at the time of the revolution in 1688, in whom the right of the duchy remained after king James’s abdication, and previous to the attainder of the pretended prince of Wales. But it is observable, that in the same act the duchy of Cornwall is also vested in king Henry VII and his heirs; which could never be intended in any event to be separated from the inheritance of the crown. And indeed it seems to have been understood very early after the statute of Henry VII, that the duchy of Lancaster was by no means thereby made a separate inheritance from the rest of the royal patrimony; since it descended, with the crown, to the half-blood in the instances of queen Mary and queen Elizabeth: which it could not have done, as the estate of a mere duke of Lancaster, in the common course of legal descent. The better opinion therefore seems to be that of those judges, who held (Plowd. 221) that notwithstanding the statute of Hen. VII (which was only an act of resumption) the duchy still remained as established by the act of Edward IV; separate from the other possessions of the crown in order and government, but united in point of inheritance.

[79] 4 Inst 220.






Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals

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.

Now, as municipal law is a rule of civil conduct, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong; or, as Cicero, [1] and after him our Bracton, [2] has expressed it, sanctio justa, jubens honesta et prohibens contraria ; it follows, that the primary and principal objects 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 a divisible into, first, private wrongs, which, being a 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 misdemeanors.

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 and losing them. 3. Private wrongs, or civil injuries; with the means of redressing them by law. 4. Public wrongs, or crimes and misdemeanors; with the means of prevention and punishment.

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

Now the rights of persons that are commanded to be observed by the municipal law are to 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 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 created and devised by human laws for the purposed 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 indigent 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 to perform considered as a mere individual, it is not to be expected that any human municipal laws should at all explain or enforce them. For the end and intent of such laws being only to regulate the behavior of mankind, as they are members of society, and stand in various relations to each other, they have consequently no business or concern with any 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) they then 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 it by any civil sanction. 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 no 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 themselves 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.

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, obliges 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 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 not farther) as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public. [3] Hence we may collect that the law, which restrains a man from doing mischief to his fellow citizens, though it diminishes the natural, increases the civil liberty of mankind: but every wanton and causeless restraint of the will to the subject, whether practiced by a monarch, a nobility, or a popular assembly, is a degree to tyranny. Nay, that even laws themselves, whether made with or without our consent, if they regulate and constrain our conduct in matters of mere indifference, without any good end in view, are laws destructive 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, [4] which forbad 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 law that favored of oppression; because, however ridiculous the fashion than in use might appear, the restraining it by pecuniary penalties could serve no purpose of common utility. But the statute of king Charles II, [5] which prescribes a thing seemingly as indifferent; viz. a dress for the dead, who are all ordered to be buried in woolen; 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 [6]) 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.

The idea and practice of this political or civil liberty flourish in their highest vigor in these kingdoms, where it falls 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 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 with regard to all natural rights becomes eo instanti [instantly] a freeman. [7]

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. But the vigor 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.

First, by the great charter of liberties, which was obtained, sword in hand, form 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 [8] observes, was for the most part declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental laws of England. Afterwards by the statute called confirmatio cartarum [9] [confirming charter], whereby the great 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, [10]) 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 13 February 1688; and afterwards enacted in parliament, when they became king and queen: which declaration concludes in these remarkable words; “and they do claim, demand, and insist upon all and singular the premises, as their undoubted rights and liberties.” And the act of parliament itself [11] recognizes “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, [12] where by the crown is limited to his present majesty’s illustrious house, and some new provisions were added at the same fortunate area 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. [13]

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 [remainder] of natural liberty, which is not required by laws of society to be sacrificed to public convenience; or else those civil privileges, which society has 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 al 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 emphatic 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 of 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 kills it in her womb; or if any one beat her, whereby the child dies in her body, and she is delivered of a dead child; this, though not murder, was by the ancient law homicide or manslaughter. [14] But at present it is not looked upon in quite so atrocious a light, though it remains a very heinous misdemeanor. [15]

An infant in ventre sa mere, or in the mother’s womb, is supposed in law to be born for many purposes. 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; [16] and it is enabled to have an estate limited to its use, and to take afterwards by such limitation, as if it were then actually born. [17] And in this point the civil law agrees with ours. [18]

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 only amounts to mayhem by the common law) are also the gift of the wise creator; to enable man 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 [in self-defense], 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. [19] And the same is also a sufficient excuse for the commission of many misdemeanors, 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 sorts; duress of imprisonment, where a man actually loses his liberty, of which we shall presently speak; and duress per minas [by threat], 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 vitae periculum, aut corporis cruciatum. “ [20] [It must not be the apprehensionn of a foolish and fearful man, but such as a courageous man may be susceptible of; it should be, for instance, such a fear as consists in an apprehension of bodily pain, or danger to life.] A fear of battery, or being beaten, though never so well grounded, is no duress; neither is the fear of having one’s house burnt, 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: [21] 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 qualiter redemptum voluit [22] [He is justified who has acted in pure defense of his own life or limb].

The law not only regards life and member, and protects every man in the enjoyment of them, but also furnishes him with everything 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 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, and institution founded on the same principle as our foundling hospitals, though comprised in the Theodosian code [23] were rejected in Justinian’s collection.

These rights, of life and member, can only be determined by the death of the person; which is either a civil or natural death. The civil death commences if any man be banished the realm [24] by the process of the common law, or enters into religion; that is, goes into a monastery, and becomes there a monk professed: in which cases he is absolutely dead in law, and his next heir shall have his estate. For, such banished man is entirely cut off form society; and such a monk, upon his profession, renounces solemnly all secular concerns: and besides, as the popish clergy exclaimed an exemption from the duties of civil life, and the commands of the temporal magistrate, the genius of the English law would not suffer those persons to enjoy the benefits of society, who secluded themselves from it, and refused to submit to its regulations. [25] A monk is therefore accounted civiliter mortuus [legally dead], and when he enters into religion may, like other dying men, make his testament and executors; or, if he makes none, the ordinary may grant administration to his next of kin, as if he were actually dead intestate. And such executors and administrators shall have the same power, and may bring the same actions for the debts due to the religious, and are liable to the same actions for those due from him, as if he were naturally deceased. [26] 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. [27] In short, a monk or religious is so effectually dead in law, that a lease made even to a third person, during the life (generally) of one who afterwards becomes a monk, determines by such his entry into religion: for which reason leases, and other conveyances, for life, are usually made to have and to hold for the term of one’s natural life. [28] But, even 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; [29] and therefore, since the reformation, the disability is held to be abolished. [30]

This natural life being, as was before observed, the immediate donation of the great creator, cannot legally be dispose 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 of 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: 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 charters, ” aliquo modo destruatur, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum aut per legem terrae.” [31] [“No freeman shall be deprived of life but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land."] Which words, ” aliquo modo destruatur,” according to sir Edward Coke, [32] include a prohibition not only of killing, and maiming, but also of torturing (to which our laws are strangers) and of every oppression by color of an illegal authority. And it is enacted by the statute 5 Edw. III. c. 9. that no man shall be forejudged of life of limb, contrary to the great charter and the law of the land: and again, by statute 28 Ed. III. c. 3. that no man shall be put the death, without being brought to answer by due process of law.

3. Besides those limbs and members that may be necessary to 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’ 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 prefect enjoyment of any other advantage or right. But these three last articles (being of much less importance that 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 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 removing 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 charter [33] is, that no freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, but by lawful judgment of his equals, or by the law of the land. And many subsequent old statures [34] 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 the law. By 17 Car.I. c. 10. if any person be restrained of his liberty by order of 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. III. 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. And, lest this act should be evaded by demanding unreasonable bail, or sureties for the prisoner’s appearance, it is declared by 1 W. & 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 practiced by the crown) 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, are 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 and 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 the parliament only, or legislative power, 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 Roam 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 “ [“let the consuls take care that the commonwealth receive no injury”] was called the senatus consultum ultimae necessitatis [Senate decrees in special emergency]. In like manner this experiment ought only to be tried in cases of extreme emergency; and in these that nation parts with its liberty for a while, in order to preserve it for ever.

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. [35] 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, 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. [36] 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. If there be no cause expressed, the jailer is not bound to detain the prisoner. [37] For the law judges in this respect, says sir Edward Coke, like Festus the Roman governor; that it is unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not to signify withal the crimes alleged against him.

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 form it unless by the sentence of the law. The king indeed, by his royal prerogative, may issue out his writ ne exeat regnum [not leave the kingdom], and prohibit any of his subjects from going into foreign parts without license. [38] 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, or transportation, is a punishment unknown to the common law; and, wherever it is now inflicted, it is either by choice of the criminal himself, to escape a capital punishment, or else by the express direction of some modern act of parliament. To this purpose the great charter [39] 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 they cannot have the benefit and protection of the common law) but that all such imprisonment’s 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 praemunire [forewarning], 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 of lieutenant of Ireland against his will, nor make him a foreign ambassador. [40] For this might in reality be no more than an honorable exile.

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 in, the method of conserving in the present owner, and of translating it from man to man, are entirely derived for 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 honor and justice, extremely watchful in ascertaining and protecting this right. Upon this principle the great charter [41] has declared That no freeman shall be disseized, or divested, of his freehold, or of his liberties, or free customs, but by the judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. And by a variety of ancient statutes [42] 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 anything be done to the contrary, it shall be redressed, and held 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 modeled 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.

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 defense 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. cap. I. which enacts, that no talliage or aid shall be taken without assent of the arch-bishops, bishops, earls, baron, knights, burgesses, and other freemen of the land; [43] and again by 14 Edw. III. st. 2. c. I. the prelates, earls, barons, and commons, citizens, burgesses, and merchants shall not be charged to make any aid, it be not by the common assent of the great men and commons in parliament. And, lastly, by the statute I W. & M. st. 2. c. 2. it is declared, that levying money for or to the use of the crown, by pretense 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 very Englishman. But in vain would these rights be declared, ascertained, and protected by the dead letter of the laws, if the constitution 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 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 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 vigor, 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 emphatic words of Magna Carta, [44] spoken in the person of the king, who in judgment of law (says sir Edward Coke [45]) is ever present and repeating them in all his courts, are these; ” nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differemus rectum vel justitiam [to none will we sell, to none deny, to none delay either right or justice]: and therefore every subject,” continues the same learned author, “for injury done to him in bonis, in terris, vel persona [in his goods, lands, or person], 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 wherein 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. 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, [46] 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 II 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. And by I W. & 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. If there should happen any uncommon injury, or infringement of the rights beforementioned, 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. In Russia we are told [47] 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 pretense 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 alterations 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 jury, in the country; and in London by the lord mayor, aldermen, and common council; nor shall any petition be presented by more than two persons at a time. But under these regulations, it is declared by the statute I W. & M. st. 2. c. 2. that the subject has 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 defense, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute I W. & 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 or property, lest his ignorance of the points whereon it is 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 parliaments be supported in its full vigor; 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 and law; next to the right of petitioning the king and parliament for redress of grievances; and lastly to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defense. 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 farther 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 everything 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 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; [48] and who has 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 direct end of its constitution. Recommending therefore to the student in our laws a farther 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 !” [“ENDURE FOREVER!"]




[1] 11 Phillip. 12.

[2] L. 1. c. 3.

[3] Facultas ejus, quod cuique facere libet, nisi quid jure prohibetur. [Its essence is the power of doing whatsoever we please, unless where authority or law forbids.] Inst. 1.3.1.

[4] 3 Edw IV. c. 5.

[5] 30 Car, II. st.1.c.3.

[6] on Gov, p.2., 57.

[7] Salk. 666.

[8] Inst. proem.

[9] 25 Edw. I.

[10] 2 Inst. proem.

[11] 1W. and M. st.2. c.2.

[12] 12 & 13 W. III. c.2.

[13] Plowd. 55.

[14] Si aliquis mulierem pregnantem percusserit, vel ei venenum dederit, per quod fecerit abortivam; si puerperium jam formatum fuerit, et maxime si fuerit animatum, facit homicidium. [If any one strike a woman when pregnant, or administer poison to her, by which abortion shall ensue, if the child should be already formed, and particularly if it be alive, that person is guilty of manslaughter.] Bracton. l.3. c.21.

[15] 3 Inst. 90

[16] Stat. 12 Car II. c.24

[17] Stat. 10 & 11 W. III. c. 16

[18] Qui in utero sunt, in jure civili intelliguntur in rerum natura esse, cum de eorum commodo agatur. [Those who are in the womb, are considered by the civil law to be in the nature of things, as they are capable of being benefited] Ff. 1. 5. 26.

[19] 2 Inst. 483

[20] L. 2. c. 5.

[21] 2 Inst. 483

[22] Ff. 48. 21. 1.

[23] l. 11. t.27

[24] Co. Litt. 133.

[25] This was also a rule in the feudal law, l.2. t.21. desiit esse miles seculi, qui factus est miles Christi; nec beneficium pertinet ad eum qui non debet gerere officium [he who becomes a soldier of Christ has ceased to be a soldier of the world, nor is he entitled to any reward who acknowledges no duty].

[26] Litt. 200.

[27] Co. Litt. 133 b.

[28] 2 Rep. 48 Co. Litt. 132

[29] Co. Litt. 132.

[30] Salk. 162.

[31] c. 29.

[32] 2 Inst. 48

[33] c.29.

[34] 5 Edw. III. c.9. 25 Edw. III. st. 5. c.4. and 28 Edw. III. 4.3.

[35] 2 Inst. 589.

[36] 2 Inst. 482.

[37] 2 Inst. 52, 53.

[38] F. N. B. 85.

[39] cap. 29.

[40] 2 Inst. 47.

[41] c. 29.

[42] 5 Edw. III. c.9. 25 Edw. III. st. 5. c.4. 28 Edw. III. c.3.

[43] See the historical introduction to the great charter, etc, sub anno 1297; wherein it is shown that this statue de talliagio non concedendo [concerning the not granting talliage], supposed to have been made in 34 Edw. I, is in reality nothing more than a sort of translation into Latin of the confirmatio cartarum, 25 Edw. I, which was originally published in the Norman language.

[44] c. 29.

[45] 2 Inst. 55.

[46] c.29.

[47] Montesq. Sp. L. 12. 26.

[48] Montesq. Sp. L. 11. 5.




Of The Parliament

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 and governed, or in other words, as magistrates and people. Of magistrates also some 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 both of 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 entrust 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 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.

THE original or first institution of parliaments is one of those matters that 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 (or colloquium, as some of our historians translate it) is comparatively of modern date, derived from the French, and signifying the place where they met and conferred together. It was first applied to general assemblies of the states under Louis VII in France, about the middle of the twelfth century. [1] 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; [2] 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; [3] for what is there now called the parliament is only the supreme court of justice, composed of judges and advocates; 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 has been held immemorially, under the several names of michel-synoth, or great council, michel-gemote or great meeting, and more 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 [the common council of the kingdom, the great council of the king, the high court, the assembly of the nobles, and the general assize], and sometimes communitas regni Angliae [4] [community of the kingdom of England]. We have instances of its meeting to order the affairs of the kingdom, to make new laws, and to amend the old, or, as Fleta [5] expresses it, ” novis injuriis emersis nova constituere remedia “ [“new injuries having arisen, to appoint new remedies for them”], 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 mirrour [6] 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 form 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, ” haec sunt instituta, quae Edgarus Rex consilio sapientum suorum instituit “ [laws which King Edgar has instituted in an assembly of the wise men of his realm]; or to be enacted by those sages with the advice of the king, as, ” haec sunt judicia, qua sapientes consilio regis Ethelstani instituerunt “ [“decrees which the wise men, with the advice of King Ethelstane, have appointed”]; or lastly, to be enacted by them both together, as, ” haec sunt institutiones, quas Rex Edmundus et episcopi sui cum sapientibus suis instituerunt “ [“the institutions which King Edmund and his bishops and his wise men have decreed”].

THERE is also no doubt but these great councils were held regularly 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 yet been ascertained by the general assize, or assembly, but was left to the custom of particular counties. [7] Here the general assize is spoken of as a meeting well known, and its statutes or decisions are put in a manifest contradistinction to customs, 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 Edmund’s -bury, and judicially allowed by the court. [8]

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 leaned antiquarians; 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, A. D. 1215, in the great charter granted by that prince; wherein he promises to summon all arch-bishops, 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 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.

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 chancery by advice of the privy council, at least forty days before it begins to sit. 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. [9] 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 is to sit again for six months, unless dissolved by the successor: for this revived parliament must have been originally summoned by the crown.

IT 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 the 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 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. [10] 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 wave 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, [11] 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. And yet, out of abundant caution, it was thought necessary to confirm its acts in the next parliament, by stat. 13 Car. II. c. 7. & c. 14.

IT is likewise true, that at time of the revolution, A. D. 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 an apprehension that king James the second had abdicated the government, and that the throne was thereby vacant: which apprehension of theirs 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. & 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.

AND this by the ancient statutes of the realm, [12] 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 dispatch of business, if need de. These last words are so loose and vague, that such of our monarchs as were inclined to govern without parliaments, neglected the convoking them, sometimes for a very considerable period, under pretense 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. & 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. & 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 [13] after the determination of the former.

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. [14] And the king and these three estates, together, form the great corporation or body politic of the kingdom, of which the king is said to be caput, principium, et finis [the head, beginning, and end]. For upon their coming together the king meets them, either in person or by representation; without which there can be no beginning of a parliament; [15] and he also has alone the power of dissolving them.

IT is highly necessary for preserving the balance of the constitution, that the executive power should be a branch, though not be whole, of the legislature. 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 legislature 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 oppressions 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. [16] 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 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 every 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, which would destroy his constitutional independence; but, which is more beneficial to the public) of his evil and pernicious counselors. 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 themselves, 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.

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 a present refer.

THE next in order are the spiritual lords. These consist of two arch-bishops, and twenty-four bishops; and, at the dissolutions of monasteries by Henry VIII., consisted likewise of twenty-six mitred abbots, and two priors: [17] a very considerable body, and in those times equal in number to the temporal nobility. [18] All these hold, or are supposed to hold, 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 feudal or Norman tenure by barony; which subjected their estates to all civil charges and assessments, from which they were before exempt: [19] and, in right of succession to those baronies, the bishops obtained their seat in the house of lords. [20] But though these lords spiritual are in the eye of the law a distinct estate from the lords temporal, and are so distinguished in all 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 [21] very cogently, that the lords spiritual and temporal are now in reality only one estate: [22] 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 being effectual, though every lord spiritual should vote against it; of which Selden, [23] and Sir Edward Coke, [24] 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 this Sir Edward Coke seems to doubt of. [25]

THE lords temporal consist of all the peers of the realm (the bishops not being in strictness held to be such, but merely lords of parliament [26]) by whatever title of nobility distinguished; dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts, 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.

THE distinction of rank and honors 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 ardor, 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 destroying its existence, its excesses may be continually restrained by that superior power, from which all honor is derived. Such a spirit, when nationally diffused gives life and vigor to the community; it sets all the wheels of government in motion, 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 any property in the kingdom as have not seats in the house of lords; every one of which as 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 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 Caesar, to trample on the liberties of their country, and at last to dissolved the commonwealth. In so large a state as ours it is therefore every 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 cities 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. [27] The number of English representatives is 513, and of Scots 45; in all 558. 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 constituents, but the common wealth; to advise his majesty (as appears from the writ of summons [28]) ” de communi consilio super negotiis quibusdam arduis et urgentibus, regem, statum, et defensionem regni Angliae et ecclesiae Anglicanae concernentibus “ [concerning the common council upon certain difficult and urgent affairs relating to the king, the state, and defense of the kingdom of England and of the English church]. 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.

THESE 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, [29] “that whatever is enacted or declared for law by the commons in parliament assembled has the 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 praemunire [forewarning].

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, [30] 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 “ [“if you consider its antiquity, it is most ancient; if its dignity, it is most honorable; if its jurisdiction, it is most extensive”]. It has sovereign and uncontrollable authority in 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: the being the place where that absolute despotic power, which must in all governments reside somewhere, is entrusted by the constitution of these kingdoms. All mischiefs and 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 reigns 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 everything 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 they do, 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 apothegm of the great lord treasurer Burleigh, “that England could never be ruined but by a parliament:” and, as Sir Matthew Hale observes, [31] this being the highest and greatest court, over which none other an 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; [32] 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 that the executive.

IT must be owned that Mr. Locke, [33] 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 reposed in them: for when such trust is abused; it is thereby forfeited, and devolves to those who gave it.” But however just this conclusion may be in theory, we cannot adopt it, nor argue from it, under any dispensation of government at present actually existing. For this devolution of power, to the people at large, includes in it a dissolutions of the power, to the people at large, includes in it a dissolutions of the whole form of government established by that people, reduces all the members of their original state of equality, and by annihilating the sovereign power repeals all positive laws whatsoever before enacted. No human laws will therefore supposed 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. So long therefore as the English constitution lasts, we may venture to affirm, that the power of parliament is absolute and without control.

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 that no one shall sit or vote in either house of parliament, unless he be twenty-one years of age. This is expressly declared by statute 7 & 8 W. III. c. 25. with regard to the house of commons; though a minor was incapacitated before from sitting in either house, by the law and custom of parliament. [34] To prevent crude innovations in religion and government, it is enacted by statute 30 Car. II. St. 2. and 1 Geo. I. c. 13. that no member shall vote or sit in either house, till he has in the presence of the house taken the oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, and subscribed and repeated the declaration against transubstantiation, and invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass. To prevent dangers that may arise to the kingdom from foreign attachments, connections, or dependencies, it is enacted by the 12 & 13 W. III. c. 2. that no alien, born out of the dominions of the crown of Great Britain, even though he be naturalized, shall be capable of being a member of either house of parliament.

FARTHER: as every court of justice has 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 has also its own peculiar law, called the lex et consuetudo parliamenti [law and custom of parliament]; a law which Sir Edward Coke [35] observes, is ” ab omnibus quaerenda, a multis ignorata, a paucis cognita “ [“to be sought by all, unknown to many, known by few”]. 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, [36] 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.”

THE privileges of parliament are likewise very large and indefinite; which has occasioned an observation, that the principal privilege of parliament consisted in this, that its privileges were not certainly known to any but the parliament itself. And therefore when in 31 Hen. VI the house of lords propounded a question to the judges touching the privilege of parliament, the chief justice, in the name of his brethren, declared, “that they ought not to make answer to that question; for it has 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 his 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.” [37] Privilege of parliament 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. It 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 pretense 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. 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. As to the first, privilege of speech, it is declared by the statute 1 W. & 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. So likewise are the other privileges, of person, servants, lands and good; which are immunities as ancient as Edward the confessor, in whose laws [38] we find this precept, ” ad synodus venientibus, sive summoniti sint, sive per se quid agendum habuerint, sit summa pax “ [“Let there be perfect security to those coming to the synods; whether summoned, or coming on their own busines”]: and so too, in the old Gothic constitutions, ” extenditur haec pax et securitas ad quatuordecim dies, convocato regni senatu. “ [39] [“This freedom from molestation is extended to fourteen days from the assembling of the senate of the kingdom."] This includes not only privilege from illegal violence, but also from legal arrests, and seizures by process from the courts of law. To assault by violence a member of either house, or his menial servants, 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 Hen. IV. c. 6. and 11 Hen. VI. c. 11. Neither can any members of either house be arrested and taken into custody, nor served with any process of the courts of law; nor can his menial servants be arrested; nor can any entry be made on his lands; nor can his goods be distrained or seized; without a breach of the privilege of parliament. These privileges however, which derogate from the common law, being only indulged to prevent the member’s being diverted from the public business, endure no longer than the session of parliament, save only as to the freedom of his person: which in a peer is for ever sacred and inviolable; and in a commoner for forty days after every prorogation, and forty days before the next appointed meeting; [40] 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 cease by the statutes 12 W. III. c. 3. and 11 Geo. II. c. 24. immediately after the dissolutions or prorogation of the parliament, or adjournment of the houses for above a fortnight; and during these recesses a peer, or member of the house of commons, may be sued like an ordinary subject, and in consequence of such suits may be dispossessed of his lands and goods. In these cases the king has also his prerogative: he may sue for his debts, though not arrest the person of a member, during the sitting of parliament; and by statute 2 & 3 Ann. c. 18. a member may be sued during the sitting of parliament for any misdemeanor or breach of trust in a public office. Likewise, for the benefit of commerce, it is provided by statute 4 Geo. III. c. 33, that any trader, having privilege of parliament, may be served with legal process for any just debt, (to the amount of 100£) and unless he makes 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 [a forbearance], to deliver the party out of custody when arrested in a civil suit. [41] 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. [42] But since the statute 12 W. III. c. 3. which enacts, that no privileged person shall be subject to arrest or imprisonment, it has been held that such arrest is irregular ab initio, and that the party may be discharged upon motion. [43] 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 has been usually guarded with an exception as to the case of indictable crimes; [44] or, as it has been frequently expressed, of treason, felony, and breach (or surety) of the peace. [45] 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 [against the peace of our lord the king]. And instances have not been wanting, wherein privileged persons have been convicted of misdemeanors, and committed, or prosecuted to outlawry, even in the middle of a session; [46] which proceeding has afterwards received the sanction and approbation of parliament. [47] To which may be added, that, a few years ago, the case of writing and publishing seditious libels was resolved by both houses[48] not to be entitled to privilege, and that the reasons, upon which that case proceeded, [49] extended equally to every indictable offense. 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 accusations, preparatory to a trial by a court martial; [50] and which is recognized by the several temporary statutes for suspending the habeas corpus act, [51] 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, [52] 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 warrant; 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 sergeants at law; as likewise 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, the attorney and solicitor general, and the rest of the king’s learned counsel being sergeants, were also used to attend the house of peers, and have to this day their regular writs of summons issued out at the beginning of every parliament: [53] but, as many of them have of late years been members of the house so commons, their attendance is fallen into disuse.

ANOTHER privilege is, that every peer, by license obtained from the king, may make another lord of parliament his proxy, to vote for him in his absence. [54] 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 people. [55]

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 on the journals of the house, with the reasons for such dissent; which is usually styled his protest.

ALL bills likewise, that may in their consequences any way affect the rights 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.

THERE is also one statute peculiarly relative to the house of lords; 6 Ann. 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, etc, 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 praemunire.

V. THE peculiar laws and customs of the house of commons relate principally to the raising of taxes, and the elections 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; [56] although their grants are not effectual to all intents and purposes, until they have the assent of the other two branches of the legislature. 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 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 modeling 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 nominated by the people. It would therefore be extremely dangerous, to give them 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; on for private benefit, and collected in any particular district; as by turnpikes, parish rates, and the like. Yet Sir Matthew Hale [57] mentions one case, founded on the practice of parliament in the reign of Henry VI, [58] 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 farther 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 elections 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 be 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 guilt 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 buy by representation, the exercise of this 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.

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 than either of the methods of voting, by centuries, or by tribes, among the Romans. In the method 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 leveling principle. Our constitution steers between the two extremes. Only such as are entirely excluded, as can have no will of their own: there is hardly a free agent to be found, but what is 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 as I have here endeavored to describe it; for, if any alteration might be wished or suggested in the present frame of parliaments, it should de in favor of a more complete representation of the people.

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. The knights of the shires shall be chosen of people dwelling in the same counties; whereof 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. 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 villains, absolutely dependent upon their lord: this freehold must be of forty shillings annual value; because that sum would then, with proper industry, furnish all the necessaries of life, and render the freeholder, if he pleased, an independent man. For bishop Fleetwood, in his chronicon preciosum written about sixty years since, has fully proved forty shillings in the reign of Henry IV to have been equal to twelve pounds per annum in the reign of queen Anne; and, as the value of money is every 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; [59] 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 farther 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 rentcharge, unless registered with the clerk of the peace twelve calendar months before. 7. That in mortgaged or trust-estates, the person in possession, under the abovementioned 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. 9. That no estate shall qualify a voter, unless the estate has been assessed to some land tax aid, at least twelve months before the election. 10. That no tenant by copy of court roll shall be permitted to vote as a freeholder. Thus much for the electors in countries.

AS for the electors of citizens and burgesses, these are supposed to be that 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 [for the occasion], 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. [60] Hence the members for boroughs now bear above a quadruple proportion 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, 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. [61] 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 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 2 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. And by 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 entitled to vote therein unless he has been admitted to his freedom twelve calendar months before.

2. OUR second point is the qualification of persons to be elected members of the house of commons. This depends upon the law and custom of parliaments, [62] and the statutes referred to in the margin. [63] And from these it appears, 1. That they must not be aliens born, or minors. 2. That they must not be any of the twelve judges, because they sit in the lords house; nor of the clergy, for they sit in the convocation; nor persons attainted of treason or felony, for they are unfit to sit any where. [64] 3. That sheriffs of counties, and mayors and bailiffs of boroughs, are not eligible in their respective jurisdictions, as being returning officers; [65] but that sheriffs of one county are eligible to be knights of another. [66] 4. That, in strictness, all members ought to be inhabitants of the places for which they are chosen: but this is entirely disregarded. 5. That no persons concerned in the management of any duties or taxes created since 1692, except the commissioners of the treasury, nor any of the officers following, ( viz. commissioners of prizes, transports, sick and wounded, wine licenses, navy, and victualing; 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; clerks or deputies in the several offices of the treasury, exchequer, navy, victualing, admiralty, pay of the army or navy, secretaries of state, salt, stamps, appeals, wine licenses, hackney coaches, hawkers and peddlers) nor any persons that hold any new office under the crown created since 1705, are capable of being elected members. 6. That no person having a pension under the crown during pleasure, or for any term of years, is capable of being elected. 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. 8. That all knights of the shire shall be actual knights, or such notable esquires and gentlemen, as have states sufficient to be knights, and by no means of the degree of yeomen. This is reduced to a still greater certainty, by ordaining, 9. That every knight of a shire shall have a clear estate 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: 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 in the particulars in writing, at the time of his taking his seat. But, subject to these restrictions and disqualifications, every subject of the realm is eligible of common right. It was therefore an unconstitutional prohibition, which was inserted in the king’s writs, for the parliament held at Coventry, 6 Hen. IV, that no apprentice or other man of the law should be elected a knight of the shire therein: [67] in return for which, our law books and historians [68] have branded this parliament with the name of parliamentum indoctum, or the lack-learning parliament; and Sir Edward Coke observes with some spleen, [69] 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; [70] all which I shall endeavor to 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 parliament, the speaker, by order of the house) sends his warrant 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; 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 that shall happen after the delivery of the writ. The county 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. For Mr. Locke [71] 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 preengage 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 return till one day after the poll is ended. Riots likewise have been frequently 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, has any right to interfere in the election 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, or certain other branches of the revenue, presumes to intermeddle in elections, by persuading any voter or dissuading him, he forfeits 100£, 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 [witness]) 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. And if any money, gift, office, employment, or reward be given or promised to be given to any voter, at any time, in order to influence him to give or withhold his vote, both he that takes and he that offers such bribe forfeits 500 l, and is for ever 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 offense. [72] 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 other of the borough of Westbury four pounds to be returned member, and was for that premium elected. But for this offense the borough was amerced, the member was removed, and the officer fined and imprisoned. [73] But, as this practice has since taken much deeper and more universal root, it has 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.

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 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.

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 500£ If the sheriff does not return such knights only as are duly elected, he forfeits, by the old statutes of Henry VI, 100£; and the returning officer in borough for a like false return 40 l; and they are besides liable to an action, in which double damages shall be recovered, by the later statutes of king William: and any person bribing the returning officer shall also forfeit 300£ 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. 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.

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, beginning in the house of commons. But first I must premise, that for dispatch of business each house of parliament has its speaker. The speaker of the house of lords 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; whose office it is to preside there, and manage the formality of business. The speaker of the house of commons is chosen by the house; but must be approved by the king. And herein the usage of the two houses differs, 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 may. In each house the act of the majority 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 is impossible to be practiced 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.

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 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, which were entered upon the parliament rolls, with the king’s answer thereunto subjoined; not in any settled form of words, but as the circumstances of the case required: [74] 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 custom, 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 anything 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) perused by two of the judges, who settle all points of legal 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 farther. 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 sessions; 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 final 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, the sometimes the bill entirely new modeled. After it has gone through the committee, the chairman reports it to be house with such amendments as the committee have made; and then the house reconsider the whole bill again, and the question is repeatedly put upon every clause and amendment. When the house have agreed or disagreed to the amendments of the committee, and sometimes added new amendments of their own, the bill is then ordered to be engrossed, or written in a strong gross hand, on one or more long rolls 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. The speaker then again opens the contents; and, holding it up in his hands, pus 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 fifth year of Henry VIII distinct titles were introduced for each chapter. [75] 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 [in silence], to prevent unbecoming altercations. But if it is agreed to, the lords send a message by two masters in chancery (or sometimes 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 of the lords by one of the members, with a message to acquaint them therewith. The same forms are observed, mutates 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. [76] And when both houses have done with the bill, it always is deposited in the house of peers, to wait the royal assent. [77]

THIS 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 bills that have passed both houses are read; and the king’s answer is declared by the clerk of the parliament in Norman-French: 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 come il est desirè, be it as it is desired.” If the king refuses his assent, it is in the gentle language of ” le roy s’avisera, the king will advise upon it.” When a money bill is passed, it is carried up and presented to the king by the speaker of the house of commons; [78] and the royal assent is thus expressed, ” le roy remercie ses loyal subjects, accepte lour benevolence, et aussi le vent, 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 prelates, seigneurs, et commons, en ce present parliament assemblies, au nom de touts vous autres subjects, remercient tres humblement votre majeste, et prient a Diex vous donner en sante 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.” [79] 2. By 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.

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 emperors 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.” [“That he cause those statutes, and all articles therein contained, to be publicly proclaimed and strictly observed and kept in every place where it shall seem expedient."] 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. [80]

AN act of parliament, thus made, is the exercise of the highest authority that this kingdom acknowledges upon earth. It has 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, amended, 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 dissolved, as to create an obligation. It is true it was formerly held, that the king might in many cases dispense with penal statutes: [81] but now by statute 1 W. & 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. [82] It has also been usual, when his majesty has 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. [83] 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.

A PROROGATION is the continuance of the parliament from one session to another, as an adjournment is a continuation 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. 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: though, unless some act be passed or some judgment given in parliament, it is in truth no session at all. 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; [84] though sometimes only for a day or two: [85] 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, [86] 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 restoration of Charles II, we find a proviso tacked to the first bill then enacted, [87] 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 [88] to call them together by proclamation, with fourteen days notice of the time appointed for their reassembling.

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 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 dissolved 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 dispatch 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 the being considered in law as the head of the parliament, ( caput, principium, et finis [the head, beginning, and end]) 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 Ann. 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.

3. LASTLY, a parliament may be dissolved or expire by length of time. For if either the legislative body were perpetual; or might last 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. & 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. 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.




[1] Mod. Un. hist. xxiii. 307; The first mention of it in our statute law is in the preamble to the statute of Westm. 1. 3. Edw. I. A. D. 1272.

[2] De minoribus rebus principes consultant, de majoribus omnes. [Princes consult in small matters, in greater matters the whole nation.] Tac, de mor, Germ. c. 11.

[3] These were assembled for the last time, A. D. 1561. See Whitelocke of Parl. c. 72.

[4] Glanvil. L. 13. c. 32. l. 9. c. 10. Pref. 9 Rep. 2 Inst. 526.

[5] l. 2. c. 2.

[6] c. 1. §. 3.

[7] Quanta esse debeat per nullam assissam generalem determinatum est, sed pro consuetudire su galorum comitatuum debetum. [It had never yet been ascertained by the general assize, or assembly, but was left to the custom of particular counties.] L. 9. c. 10.

[8] Year book, 21 Edw. III. 60.

[9] By motives somewhat similar to these the republic of Venice was actuated, when towards the end of the seventh century it abolished the tribunes of the people, who were annually chosen by the several districts of the Venetian territory, and constituted a doge in their stead; in whom the executive power of the state at present resides. For which their historians have assigned these, as the principal reasons. 1. The propriety of having the executive power a part of the legislative, or senate; to which the former annual magistrates were not admitted. 2. The necessity of having a single person to convoke the great council when separated. Mod. Un. hist. xxvii. 15.

[10] Stat, 12 Car. II. C. 1.

[11] 1 Sid. 1. See Stat. 13 Car. II. c. 7.

[12] 4 Edw. III. c. 14. and 36 Edw. III. c. 10.

[13] This is same period, that is allowed in Sweden for intermitting their general diets, or parliamentary assemblies. Mod. Un. hist. xxxiii. 15.

[14] 4 Inst. 1.

[15] 4 Inst. 6.

[16] Sulla.. tribunis plebis sua lege injuriae faciendae potestatem ademit, auxilii ferendi reliquit. [Sylla, by his law, deprived the tribunes of the people of the power of doing injury, but left them that of protection.] de LL. 3. 9.

[17] Seld. tit. hon. 2. 5. 27.

[18] Co. Litt. 97.

[19] Gilb. hist. Exch 55. Spelm. W. I. 291.

[20] Glanv. 7. 1. Co. Litt. 97. Seld. tit. hon. 2. 5. 19.

[21] Whitelocke on Par. c. 72. Warburt. Alliance. b. 2. c. 3.

[22] Dyer. 60.

[23] Baronage. p. 1. c. 6. The act of uniformity, 1 Eliz. c. 2. was passed with the dissent of all the bishops; (Gibs. Cod. 268.) and therefore the style of lords spiritual is omitted throughout the whole.

[24] 2 Inst. 585, 6, 7. See Keilw. 184; where it is held by the judges, 7 Hen. VIII, that the king may hold a parliament without any spiritual lords. This was also exemplified in fact in the two first parliaments of Charles II; wherein no bishops were summoned, till after the repeal of the stat. 16 Car. I. c. 27. by stat. 13 Car. II. St. 1. c. 2.

[25] 4 Inst. 25.

[26] Staunford. P. C. 153.

[27] Mod. Un. hist. xxxiii. 18.

[28] 4 Inst. 14.

[29] 4 Jan. 1648.

[30] 4 Inst. 36.

[31] of parliaments. 49.

[32] Sp. L. 11. 6.

[33] on Gov. p. 2. §. 149, 227.

[34] 4 Inst. 47.

[35] 1 Inst. 11.

[36] 4 Inst. 50.

[37] Seld. Baronage. part. 1. c. 4.

[38] cap. 3.

[39] Stiernh. de jure Goth. l. 3. c. 3.

[40] 2 Lev. 72.

[41] Dyer. 59. 4. Pryn. Brev. Parl. 757.

[42] Latch. 48. Noy. 83.

[43] Stra. 989.

[44] Com. Journ. 17 Aug. 1641.

[45] 4 Inst. 25. Com. Journ. 20. May. 1675.

[46] Mich. 16 Edw. IV. In Soacob. ———- Lord Raym. 146.

[47] Com. Journ. 16 May. 1726.

[48] Com. Journ. 24 Nov. Lord’s Journ. 29 Nov. 1763.

[49] Lords Protest. Ibid.

[50] Com, Jour. 20 Apr. 1762.

[51] particularly 17 Geo. II. c. 6.

[52] cap. 11.

[53] Stat. 3. Hen. VIII. c. 10. Smith’s common w. b. 2. c. 3. Moor. 551. 4 Inst. 4. Hale of parl. 140.

[54] Seld. baronage. p. 1. c. 1.

[55] 4 Inst. 12.

[56] 4 Inst. 29.

[57] on parliaments, 65, 66.

[58] Year book, 33 Hen. VI. 17. See the answer to this case by Sir Heneage Finch, Com. Journ. 22 Apr. 1671.

[59] 7 & 8 W. III. c. 25. 10 Ann. c. 23. 2 Geo. II. c. 21. 18 Geo. II. c. 18. 31 Geo. II. c. 14. 3 Geo. III. c. 24.

[60] 4 Inst. 16.

[61] Prynne parl. writs. I. 345.

[62] 4 Inst. 47.

[63] 1. Hen. V. c. 1. 23 Hen. IV. c. 15. 1 W. & M. St. 2. c. 2. 5 & 6 W. & M. c. 7. 11 & 12 W. III. c. 2. 12 & 13 W. III. c. 10. 6 Ann c. 7. 7. 9 Ann. c. 5. 1 Geo. I. c. 56. 15 Geo. II. c. 22. 33. Geo. II. c. 20.

[64] 4 Inst. 47.

[65] Hale of parl. 114.

[66] 4 Inst. 48.

[67] Pryn. on 4 Inst. 13.

[68] Walfingh. A. D. 1405.

[69] 4 Inst. 48.

[70] 7 Hen. IV. c. 15. 8 Hen. VI. c. 7. 13 W. III. c. 10. 6 Ann. c. 23. 9 Ann. 23 Hen. VI. c. 15. 1 W. & M. St. 1. c. 2. c. 5. 10 Ann. c. 19. and c. 23. 2. Geo. II. 2 W. & M. St. 1. c. 7. 5 & 6 W. & M. c. 24. 8 Geo. II. c. 30. 18 Geo. II. c. 18. c. 20. 7 W. III. c. 4. 7 & 8 W. III. c. 7. 19 Geo. II. c. 28. and c. 25. 10 & 11 W. III. c. 7. 12 &

[71] on Gov. part 2. §. 222.

[72] In like manner the Julian law de ambitu inflicts fines and infamy upon all who were guilty of corruption at elections; but, if the person guilty convicted another offender, he was restored to his credit again. Ff. 48. 14. 1.

[73] 4 Inst. 23. Hale of parl. 112. Com. Journ. 10 & 11 may 1571.

[74] See, among numberless other instances, the articuli cleri, 9 Edw. II.

[75] Lord Bacon on uses. 80. 326.

[76] D’ewes journ. 20. 73. Com. journ. 17 June. 1747.

[77] Com. journ. 24 Jul. 1660.

[78] Rot. Parl. 9 Hen. IV. in Pryn. 4 Inst. 30, 31.

[79] D’ewes journ. 35.

[80] 3 Inst. 41. 4 Inst. 26.

[81] Finch L. 81. 234.

[82] 4 Inst. 28.

[83] Com. Journ. passim: e. g. 11 11 Jun. 1572. 5 Par. 1604. 4. Jun. 14 Nov. 18 Dec. 1621. 11 Jul. 1625. 13 Sept. 1660. 25 Jul. 1667. 4 Aug. 1685. 24 Febr. 1691. 21 Jun. 1712. 16 Apr. 1717. 3. 1741. 10 Dec. 1745.

[84] 4 Inst. 28. Hale of parl. 38.

[85] Com. Journ. 21 Oct. 1553.

[86] Ibid. 21 Nov. 1554.

[87] Stat. 12 Car. II. c. 1.

[88] Stat. 30 Geo. II. c. 25.




Of The King, and His Title

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.

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.

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 tranquility, and to the consciences of 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 endeavor of this chapter to trace out the constitutional doctrine of the royal succession, with that freedom 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 coronae, 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 [divine right], 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 is 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 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 though 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 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, has 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 unbiased majority would be dutifully acquiesced in by the few who were 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 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 farther than jealousies and murmurs, which time will effectually suppress; and, if true, the injustice may be remedied by legal means, by an appeal to those 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 feudal path of descents, chalked out by the common law in the succession to landed estates; yet with one or two material exceptions. Like them, the crown will descend lineally to the issue of the reigning monarch; as it did from king John to Richard II, through a regular pedigree of six lineal descents. As in them, 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 them, on failure of the male line, it descends to the issue female; according to the ancient British custom remarked by Tacitus, [1] ” solent foeminarum ductu bellare, et sexum in imperiis non discernere. “ [“They are accustomed to wage war under the conduct of women, and not to consider sex in the government of their empire."] 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 mother, or vice versa : provided only, that the one ancestor, from whom both are descended, be he from whose veins the blood royal is communicated to each. Thus Mary I inherited to Edward VI, and Elizabeth inherited to Mary; all born of the same father, king Henry VIII, but all by different mother. 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 his 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 or hereditary right, generally subsisting in the royal person; so the word, “successors,” distinctly taken, must imply that this inheritance may sometimes be broke 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 no where be so properly lodged as in the two houses of parliament, by and with the consent of the reigning king; who, it is not to be supposed, will agree to anything 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 laws 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; and the right of the crown vests, eo instanti [instantly], upon his heir; either the haeres natus [natural heir], if the course of descent remains unimpeached, or the haeres factus [appointed heir], if the inheritance be under any particular settlement. So that there can be no interregnum [interruption]; but as Sir Matthew Hale [2] 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, and lands will be hereditary in the new owner, and descend to his heirs 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 farther elucidated, and made clear 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 title 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, this 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 always 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 endeavored 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 endeavored to transmit it to their own posterity, by a king 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 or is melted down in the former, and must adopt its laws and customs. [3] And in pursuance of this maxim there has ever been, since the union of the heptarchy in king Egbert, a general 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 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, and succession; and accordingly Edwy succeeded him.

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 has a son Edward, surnamed (from his exile) the outlaw, still living. But this son was then in Hungary; and, the English 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, surnamed Atheling, (which signifies in the Saxon language the first of the blood royal) who was the son of Edward the outlaw, and grandson of Edmund Ironside; or, as Matthew Paris [4] well expresses the sense of our old constitution, ” Edmundus autem latus ferreum, rex naturalis de stirpe regum, genuit Edwardum; et Edwardus genuit Edgarum, cui de jure debebatur regnum Anglorum.” [“But Edmund Ironside, who was natural king by descent from the race of kings, begat Edward, and Edward begat Edgar, to whom of right the kingdom of England belonged."]

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, [5] ” absque generali, senatus et populi, conventu et edicto ;” [“without the general assembly and edict of the senate and people”] 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 [6] 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 dernier resort [last 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 proceeded upon a notion, which prevailed for some time in the law of descents, 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 (as earl of Blois) was already provided for. 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 he rather chose to rely on a title by election, [7] and the empress Maud did not fail to assert her right by the sword: which dispute was attended with various success, and ended at last in a compromise, 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 the undoubted heir of William the conqueror; but he had also another connection in blood, which endeared him still farther to 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: [8] that is to say, he was next of kin to the deceased king, being his surviving brother; whereas Arthur was removed one degree farther, 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 has 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, [9] 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. [10] However, on the death of Arthur and 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, [11] we find it declared in parliament, “that the law of the crown of England is, and always has 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 for ever.”

UPON Richard the second’s resignation of the crown, he having no children, the 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 or 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 Gant 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 was also confirmed in parliament. [12] But Henry duke of Lancaster, the son of John of Gant, having then a large army in the kingdom, the pretense 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, [13] 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 [14]) 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 titled: the one upon the pretense 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 rumor, first propagated by John of Gant, 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 [15] 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 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 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, [16] that at the time of 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 [by right], and a king de facto [in fact] 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 honors 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 Angliae” [“late kings of England in fact and not of right”].

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 Gant, whose title was now exploded, the claim (such at it was) was through John earl of Somerset, a bastard son, begotten by John of Gant 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 “ [17] [royal dignity excepted].

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, [18] in Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV: and his possession was established by parliament, held 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 [19] declares) by much his best title to the crown. Whereupon the act made in his favor 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 statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 12. which recites the mischiefs, which have and may ensue by disputed titles, because no perfect and substantial provision has been made by law concerning the succession; and then enacts, that the crown shall be entailed to his majesty, and the sons or heirs males 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 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 has 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 for ever. 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 Ann 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. p. 2. c. 1. queen Mary’s hereditary right to the throne is acknowledged and recognized 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, [20] 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-modeling and altering it, in case the legislature had thought proper.

ON queen Elizabeth’s accession, her right is recognized in still stronger terms than her sister’s; the parliament acknowledging, [21] 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 the body lawfully to be begotten, after her, the imperial crown and dignity of this realm does 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 during the life of the queen be guilty of high treason; and after her decease shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, 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, and of England the first, was the lineal descendant from that alliance. So that is his person, as clearly as in Henry VIII, centered all the claims of different competitors from the conquest downwards, he being indisputably the lineal heir of the conqueror. And, what is still more remarkable, in his person also centered the right of the Saxon monarchs, which had been suspended from the conquest till his accession. For, as was formerly observed, Margaret the sister of Edgar Atheling, the daughter of Edward the outlaw, and granddaughter 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 that 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 this right, and that the finger of providence was visible in its preservation. 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 “recognize 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 any where, 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. [22]

BUT, wild and absurd as the doctrine of divine right most undoubtedly is, it is still more astonishing, that when so many human hereditary rights had centered 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 favor 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, [23] they declared, “that, according to their duty and allegiance, they did heartily, joyfully, and unanimously acknowledge and proclaim, that immediately upon the decease 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 this realm: and thereunto they most humbly and faithfully did submit and oblige themselves, their heirs and posterity for ever.”

THUS I think it clearly appears, from the highest authority this nation is acquainted with, that the crown of England has 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 know, 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 has 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 common 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.

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 an apprehension that there was no king in being. For in a full assembly of the lords and commons, met in convention upon this apprehended vacancy, both houses [24] came to this resolution; “that king James the second, having endeavored 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 endeavors 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. For, whenever 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 reasons upon which they decided may be found at large in the parliamentary proceedings of the times; and may be matter of instructive amusement for us to contemplate, as a speculative point of history. But care must be taken not to carry this inquiry farther, than merely for instruction or amusement. 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 cause to consider this great political measure, upon the solid footing of authority, than to reason in its favor from its justice, moderation, and expedience: because that might imply a right of dissenting or revolting from it, in case we should think it 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.

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 [25]) 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 withed, 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 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 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 endeavor to subvert the constitution, and not to an actual subversion, or total dissolution of the government, according to the principles of Mr. Locke: [26] which would have reduced the society almost to a state of nature; would have leveled all distinctions of honor, 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 kung. And thus the constitution was kept entire; which upon every found 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 bloodroyal should said, 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. For there are no other hands in which it can so properly be entrusted; and there is a necessity of its being entrusted 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 judged the most proper. And this was done by their declaration of 12 February 1688, [27] 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 of such issue, it was limited to 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 the crown by hereditary right or descent, but by way of donation or purchase, as the lawyers 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 absolutely 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 descent.

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 farther provision was made at the revolution, than for the issue of king William, queen Mary, and queen Anne. The parliament had previously by the statute of 1 W. & 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 for ever 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 time 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 princes of her age. [28] For, upon the impending extinction of the protestant posterity of Charles the first, the old law of regal descent directed them to recur to the descendants of James the first; and the princess Sophia, being the daughter of Elizabeth queen of Bohemia, who was the youngest 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, and 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 the succession. And indeed it is now again made highly penal to dispute it: for by the statute 6 Ann. 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 praemunire [forewarning].

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.

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 found 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.




[1] in vit. Agricolae.

[2] 1 hist. P. C. 61.

[3] Puf. L. of N. and N. b. 8. c. 12. §. 6.

[4] A. D. 1066.

[5] William of Malmfb. l. 3.

[6] Hale, hist. C. L. c. 5. Seld. review of tithes, c. 8.

[7] “Ego Stephanus Dei gratia assensu cleri et populi in regem Anglorum electus, etc.” [“I, Stephen, elected King of England, by the grace of God, and the assent of the clergy and people."] (Cart. A. D. 1136. Ric. de Hagustald 314. Hearne ed guil. Neubr. 711.)

[8] “ . . . Regni Angliae; quod nobis jure competit haereditario.” [“Of the kingdom of England; which falls to us by hereditary right."] Spelm. hist. R. Foh. apud Wilkins. 354.

[9] Glanv. l. 7. c. 3.

[10] Mod. Un. hist. xxx. 512.

[11] Stat. 25. Edw. III. St. 2.

[12] Sandford’s geneal. hist. 246.

[13] hist. C. L. c. 5.

[14] Seld. tit. hon. 1. 3.

[15] soit mys et demoerge [shall be set and remain].

[16] 4 Inst. 37, 205.

[17] 4 Inst. 36.

[18] 4 Inst. 37.

[19] Ibid.

[20] 1 Mar. p. 2. c. 2.

[21] Stat. 1 Eliz. c. 3.

[22] Elizabeth of York, the mother of queen Margaret of Scotland, was heiress of the house of Mortimer. And Mr. Carte observes, that the house of Mortimer, in virtue of its descent from Gladys only sister of Lewellin ap Jorweth the great, had the true right to the principality of Wales, iii, 705.

[23] Com. Journ. 8 May, 1660.

[24] Com. Journ. 7 Feb. 1688.

[25] See chapter 7.

[26] on Gov. p. 2. c. 19.

[27] Com. Journ. 12 Feb. 1688.

[28] Sandford, in his genealogical history, published A. D. 1677, speaking (page 535) of the princesses Elizabeth, Louisa, and Sophia, daughters of the queen of Bohemia, says, the first was reputed the most learned, the second the greatest artist, and the last one of the most accomplished ladies in Europe.




Of the King’s Royal Family

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. But the queen consort is the wife of the reigning king; and she by virtue of her marriage is participant of diverse prerogatives above other women. [1]

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 others acts of ownership, without the concurrence of her lord; which no other married woman can do: [2] a privilege as old as the Saxon era. [3] 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 [the most pious Queen Consort of the sacred Emperor] of the Roman laws; who, according to Justinian, [4] was equally capable of making a grant to, and receiving one from, the emperor. The queen of England has separate courts and officers 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. [5] She may also sue and be sued alone, without joining her husband. She may also have a separate property in goods as well as lands, and has a right to dispose of them by will. 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. [6] 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 [arduous affairs of the kingdom]) 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 has also many exemptions, and minute prerogatives. For instance: the pays no toll; [7] nor is the liable to any amercement in any court. [8] But 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.” [9] [“The Queen is not exempt from the laws."]

THE queen has 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 reginae; which is a royal revenue, belonging to every queen consort during her marriage with king, and due from every person who has 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 other matter of royal favor conferred upon him by the king: and it is due in the proportion of one tenth part 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 the fine. [10] 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 reginae. [11] 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. [12]

THE 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. [13] These were frequently appropriated to particular purposes; to buy wool for her majesty’s use, [14] to purchase oil for her lamps, [15] or to furnish her attire from head to foot, [16] which was frequently very costly, as one single robe in the fifth year of Henry II stood the city of London in upwards of fourscore pounds. [17] 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. [18] And, for a farther addition to her income, this duty to queen-gold is supposed to have been originally granted; those matters of grace and favor, 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. [19] In the reign of Henry the second the manner of collecting in appears to have been well understood, and it forms a distinct head in the ancient dialogue of the exchequer [20] 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 his then chief justices and chief baron, their report of it was so very unfavorable, [21] that queen Anne (though she claimed 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 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 the 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 honor to his abilities as a painful and judicious antiquarian, endeavor to excite queen Catherine to revive this antiquated claim.

ANOTHER ancient perquisite belonging to the queen consort, mentioned by all our old writers, [22] 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 observetur, quod rex illum habebit integrum: de balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam.” [“Of the sturgeon be it known that the king shall have the whole: but with respect to a whale it is sufficient if the king have the head and the queen the tail."] The reason of this whimsical division, as assigned by our ancient records, [23] was, to furnish the queen’s wardrobe with whalebone.

BUT farther: though the queen is in all respect 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, in consenting. A law of Henry the eighth [24] 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. If however the queen be accused of any species of treason, she shall (whether consort or dowager) be tried by the house of peers, as queen Ann Boleyn was in 28 Hen. VIII.

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: but, in the instance of conjugal fidelity, he is not subjected to the same penal restrictions. 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; 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 [for the royal dignity], 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 [25] tells us was enacted in parliament in 6 Hen. VI, though the statute be not in print. But she, though an alien born, shall still be entitled to dower after the king’s demise, which no other alien is. [26] A queen dowager, when married again to a subject, does not lose her regal dignity, as peeresses dowager do their peerage when they marry commoners. For Katherine, 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 Katherine queen of England, maintained an action against the bishop of Carlisle. And so the queen of Navarre marrying with Edmond, brother to king Edward the first, maintained an action of dower by the name of queen of Navarre. [27]

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 inheritable to the crown, in failure of issue male, and therefore more respected by the laws than any of her younger sisters; insomuch that upon this, united with other (feudal) 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 crown is usually made prince of Wales and earl of Chester, by special creation, and investiture; but, being the king’s eldest son, he is by inheritance duke of Cornwall, without any new creation. [28]

THE younger sons and daughter of the king, who are not in the immediate line of succession, are little farther regarded by the laws, than to give them precedence before all peers and public officers as well ecclesiastical as temporal. This is done by the statute 31 Hen. VIII. c. 10. 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 [29] explains to signify grandson or nepos) or brother’s or sister’s son. But 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 created his grandson, 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 [30] that he ought to have place next to the duke of Cumberland, the 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, [31] he was placed on the upper end of the earl’s 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, and the care and approbation of their marriages, when grown up, did belong of right to his majesty as king of this realm, during their father’s life. [32] And this may suffice for the notice, taken by law, of his majesty’s royal family.




[1] Finch. L. 86.

[2] 4 Rep. 23.

[3] Seld. Fan. Angl. 1. 42.

[4] Cod. 5. 16. 26.

[5] Selden tit. hon. 1. 6. 7.

[6] Finch. L. 86. Co. Litt. 133.

[7] Co. Litt. 133.

[8] Finch. L. 185.

[9] Ff. 1. 3. 31.

[10] Pryn. Aur. Reg. 2.

[11] 12 Rep. 21. 4 Inst. 358.

[12] Ibid. Pryn 6. Madox. hist exch. 242.

[13] Bedefordscire. Maner. Lestone redd. per annum xxii lib. &c.; ad opus reginae ii uncias auri. Herefordscire. In Lene, &c. consuetud. ut praepositus manerii veniente domina sua (regina) in maner. praesentaret ei xviii oras denar. ut esset ipsa laeto animo. [Bedfordshire: The manor of Leighton pays twenty-two pounds per annum, &c.; two ounces of gold for the Queen’s use. Herefordshire: In Lene, &c. it is the custom for the steward of the manor, on the arrival of his lady (the Queen) at the manor to congratulate her with a present of eighteen oras denarii.] Pryn. Append. To Aur. Reg. 2, 3.

[14] Causa coadunandi ianam reginae. [To buy wool for her majesty’s use.] Domesd. ibid.

[15] Civitas Lundon. Pro oleo ad lampad. reginae. [To purchase oil for her majesty’s lamps] Mag. rot. Pip. temp. Hen. II. ibid.

[16] Vicecomes Berkescire, xvi l. pro cappa reginae. [To furnish her attire from head to foot.] (Mag. rot. pip. 19 22 Hen. II. ibid.) Civitas Lund. cordubanario reginae xx s. Mag. Rot. 2 Hen. II. Madox hist. exch. 419.

[17] Pro roba ad opus reginae, quater xx l. & vi s. viii. d. (Mag. rot. 5 Hen. II. ibid. 250.

[18] Solere aiunt barbaros reges Persarum ac Syrorum uxoribus civitates attribuere, hoc modo ; haec civitas mulieri redimiculum praebeat, haec in collum, haec in crines, etc. [They say that the barbarian kings of Persia and Syria were accustomed to assess cities for their wives in this manner; one city was to provide her head-dress, another the ornaments for her neck, and the third those for her hair, &c.] Cie. In Verrem. lib. 3. c. 33.

[19] See Madox Disceptat. epistolar. 74. Pryn. Aur. Regin. Append. 5.

[20] lib. 2. c. 26.

[21] Mr Prynne, with some appearance of reason, insinuates, that their researches were very superficial. Aur. Reg. 125.

[22] Bracton, l. 3. c. 3. Britton, c. 17. Fleta, l. 1. c. 45 & 46.

[23] Pryn. Aur. Reg. 127.

[24] Stat. 33 Hen. VIII. c. 21.

[25] 2 Inst. 18.

[26] Co. Litt. 31 b.

[27] 2 Inst. 50.

[28] 8 Rep. 1. Seld. titl. of hon. 2. 5.

[29] 4 Inst. 362.

[30] Lords journ. 24 Apr. 1760

[31] Ibid. 10 Jan. 1765.

[32] Fortesc. Al. 401 440.




Of the Councils Belonging to the King

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 has assigned him a diversity of councils to advise with.

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 counselors 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 has been their principal use, when there is no parliament in being. [1] Accordingly Bracton, [2] speaking of the nobility of his time, says they might properly be called consules, a consulendo; reges enim tales sibi associant ad consulendum.” [“Counsellors, from consulting; for kings assemble such for consultation."] And in our law books [3] it is laid down, that peers are created for two reasons; 1. Ad consulendum, 2. Ad defendendum, regem [for advising and defending the king]: for which reasons the law gives them certain great and high privileges; such as freedom from arrests, etc, even when no parliament is sitting: because the law intends, that they are always assisting the king with their counsel for the commonwealth; for keeping the realm in safety by their prowess and valor.

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 [4] 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 St 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 king 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 [5] mentions it as a new invention, not before heard of; that is, as he explains himself, so old, that it had not been practiced 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 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 the two Hugh Spencers, father and son, for which they were banished the kingdom, “that they by their evil covin [deceit] would not suffer the great men of the realm, the king’s good counselors, 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.” [6]

3. A THIRD council belonging the king, are, according to Sir Edward Coke, [7] his judges of the courts of law, for law matters. And this appears frequently in our statutes, particularly 14 Ed. 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 [according to the subject matter]; 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 statute 16 Ric. II. c. 5. it was made a high offense to import into this kingdom any papal bulls, 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 offense; here, by the expression of 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. [8]

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, [9] is a noble, honorable, and reverend assembly, of the king and such as he wills to be of his privy council, in the king’s court or place. The king’s will is the sole constituent of a privy counselor; 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 therefore king Charles the second in 1679 limited it to thirty: whereof fifteen were to be the principal officers of state, and those to be counselors, virtute officii [by virtue of office]; and the other fifteen were composed of ten lords and five commoners of the king’s choosing. [10] But since that time the number has been much augmented, and now continues indefinite. At the same time also, the ancient office of lord president of the 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.

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

THE duty of a privy counselor appears from the oath of office, [11] 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 honor and good of the public, without partiality through affection, love, need, doubt, or dread. 3. To keep the king’s counsel secret. 4. To avoid corruption. 5. To help and strengthen the execution of what shall be there resolved. 6. To withstand all persons who would attempt the contrary. And, lastly, in general, 7. To observe, keep, and do all that a good and true counselor ought to do to his sovereign lord.

THE power of the privy council is to inquire into all offenses against the government, and to commit the offenders into custody, in order to take their trial in some of the courts of law. But their jurisdiction 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 starchamber, and the court of requests, both of which consisted of privy counselors, 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 and idiocy (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 causes: or, rather, the appeal lies to the king’s majesty himself, assisted by his privy 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 feudal sovereignty. And so likewise when any person claims an island or a province, in the nature of a feudal 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 of 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 (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.

AS to the 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. But, in order to prevent any persons 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, [12] 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 privileges of privy counselors, as such, 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 counselor, it is felony, though nothing be done upon it. And the reason of making this statute, Sir Edward Coke [13] tells us, was because such servants have greater and readier means, either by night or by day, to destroy such as be of great authority, and near about the king: and 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 Ann. c. 16. goes farther, and enacts, that any persons that shall unlawfully attempt to kill, or shall unlawfully assault, and strike, or wound, any privy counselor in the execution of his office, shall be felons, and suffer death as such. 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 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 that fact] 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 Ann. c. 7. that the privy council shall continue for six months after the demise of the crown, unless sooner determined by the successor.




[1] Co. Litt. 110.

[2] l. 1. c. 8.

[3] 7 Rep. 34. 9 Rep. 49. 12 Rep. 96.

[4] 1 Inst. 110.

[5] hist. b. 2.

[6] 4 Inst. 53.

[7] 1 Inst. 110.

[8] 3 Inst. 125.

[9] 4 Inst. 53.

[10] Temple’s Mem. part 3.

[11] 4 Inst. 54.

[12] Stat. 12 & 13 W. III. c. 2.

[13] 3 Inst. 38.




Of the King’s Duties

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. [1] 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 has reigned since the year 1688.

THE principal duty of the king is, to govern his people according to law. Nec regibus infinita aut libera potestas [kingly power is neither free nor unlimited], was the constitution of our German ancestors on the continent. [2] And this is not only consonant to the principles of nature, of 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,” says Bracton, [3] who wrote under Henry III, “ought not to be subject to man, but to God, and to the law; for the law makes 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; [4] “the king also has a superior, namely God, and also the law, by which he was made a king.” Thus Bracton: and Fortescue also, [5] 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 by his majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal and commons, and by authority of the same, ratified and confirmed accordingly.”

AND, as to the terms of the original contract between king and people, there I apprehend to be now couched in the coronation oath, which by the statute 1 W. & 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 to 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.”

THIS is the form so 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, [6] and even as the time of Bracton: [7] but the wording of it was changed at the revolution, because (as the statute alleges) the oath itself had been framed in doubtful words and expressions, with relation to ancient laws and constitutions at this time unknown. [8] 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 farther remark, that by the act of union, 5 Ann. 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, Wales, and Berwick, and the territories thereunto belonging.




[1] 7 Rep. 5.

[2] Tac. de M. G. c. 7.

[3] l. 1. c. 8.

[4] l. 2. c. 16. §. 3.

[5] c. 9. & 34.

[6] cap. 1. §. 2.

[7] l. 3. tr. 1. c. 9.

[8] In the old folio abridgment of the statutes, printed by Lettou and Machlinia in the reign of Edward IV, ( penes me [in my possession]) there is preserved a copy of the old coronation oath; which, as the book is extremely scarce, I will here transcribe. Ceo est le serement que le roy jurre a soun coronement: que il gardera et meintenera lez droitez et lez franchisez de seynt esglise grauntez auncienment dez droitez roys Christiens d’Engletere, et quil gardera toutez sez terrez honoures et dignitees droiturelx et franks del coron du roialme d’Engletere en tout maner dentierte sanz null maner damenusement, et lez droitez dispergez dilapidez ou perduz de la corone a soun poiair reappeller en launcien estate, et quil gardera le peas de seynt esglise et al clergie et al people de bon accorde, et quit face faire en toutez sez jugementez owel et droit justice oue discrecion et misericorde, et quil grauntera a tenure lez leyes et custumez du roialme, et a soun poiair lez face garder et affermer que lez gentez du people avont faitez et esliez, et les malveys leyz et custumes de tout ousiera, et ferme peas et establie al people de soun roialme en ceo garde esgardera a soun poiair: come Dieu luy aide. [This is the oath which the king swears at his coronation; that he will keep and maintain the rights and franchises of holy church granted anciently by the rightful Christian kings of England, and that he will keep all the lands, honors and dignities, rights and privileges, of the crown of the kingdom of England in all respects entire, without any kind of injury, and that he will recall to their ancient state, as far as in him lies, all the scattered, injured, or lost rights of the crown, and that he will keep the peace of holy church, and concord between the clergy and people; and that he will cause equal and true justice to be administered in all his judgments with discretion and mercy, and that he will cause to be maintained the laws and customs of the kingdom, and as far as in him lies will make those be confirmed and kept which the people have made and chosen, and will abolish entirely all bad laws and customs, and will, in all respects, as far as he can, maintain a firm and established peace for the people of his kingdom: So help him God.] ( Tit. sacramentum regis. fol. m. ij.) Prynne has also given us a copy of the coronation-oaths of Richard II, (Signal Loyalty. II. 246.) Edward IV, (ibid. 251.) James I, and Charles I, ( ibid. 269.)




Of the King’s Prerogative

IT was observed in a former chapter, [1] 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 entrench any farther on our natural liberties, than is expedient for the maintenance of our civil.

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 [imperial secrets]; and, like the mysteries of the bona dea [good goddess], was not 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 rational and sober inquiry. The glorious queen Elizabeth herself made no scruple to direct her parliaments to abstain from discoursing of matters of state; [2] and it was the constant language of this favorite princess and her ministers, that even that august assembly “ought not to deal, to judge, or to meddle, with her majesty’s prerogative royal.” [3] 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.” [4]

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, 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 emphatic terms, yet qualifies it with a general restriction, in regard to the liberties of the people. “The king has 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 stretches not to the doing of any wrong,” [5] Nihil enim aliud potest rex, nisi id solum quod de jure potest. [6] [For the king can only act according to law.] 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 king is subject to the law, because law makes the king”]: the imperial law will tell us, that ” in omnibus imperatoris excipitur fortuna; cui ipsas leges Deus subjecit.” [7] [“The emperor’s interest in all things is reserved; to whom God has made the laws themselves subject."] 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.” [8] [“Nevertheless it becomes a prince to protect those laws from which he is himself exempt."] 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 has, 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 prae [before] and rogo [to ask]) 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 eccentric; 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 [9] lays it down as a maxim, that the prerogative it 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 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 favor 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 kings: 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 vigor. 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 prerogative (if left to itself, as in arbitrary government it is) spreads havoc and destruction among all the inferior movements: but, when balanced and bridled (as with us) by its proper counterpoise, timely and judiciously applied, its operations are then equable and regular, 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 character 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 know distribution of the feudal writers, who distinguish the royal prerogatives into the majora and minora regalia [greater and lesser regalia], in the latter of which classes the rights of the revenue are ranked. For, to use their own words, ” majora regalia imperii prae-eminentiam spectant; minora vero ad commodum pecuniarium immediate attinent; et haec proprie fiscalia sunt, et ad jus fisci pertinent.” [10] [“The greater royalties of the kingdom appertain to dignity of station; but the inferior immediately concern the acquisition of money; these are properly fiscal, and relate to the rights of the king’s revenue."]

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 preside 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 grown 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 that 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. [11] ” Rex est vicarius,” says Bracton, ” et minister Dei in terra: omnis quidem sub eo est, et ipse sub nullo, nisi tantum sub Deo.” [“The King is the vicegerent and minister of God on earth: all are subject to him; and he is subject to none but to God alone."] 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. [12] 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; 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 no on man, accountable to no man. Formerly there prevailed a ridiculous notion, propagated by the German and Italian civilians, than 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 meaning therefore of the legislature, when it uses these terms of empire and imperial, and applies them to the realm 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; [13] and owes no king 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, [14] 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 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 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.

ARE then, it may be asked, the subject 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. [15] And this is entirely consonant to what is laid down by the writers on natural law. “A subject, says Pufendorf, [16] so long as he continues a subject, has no way to oblige his prince to gave 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, then 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, [17] “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 endeavor to do it) — the inconvenience 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, in the person of the chief magistrate being thus set out of the reach of danger.”

NEXT, as to cases of ordinary public oppression, where the vitals of the constitution are not attacked, the law has also assigned a remedy. For, as a king cannot misuse his power, without the advice of evil counselors, 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. For, wherever the law expresses its distrust of abuse of power, it always vests of 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 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 instantly 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 remedy. For which reason all oppressions, 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 this precedent leads, and no farther, we may now be allowed to lay down the law of redress against public oppression. If therefore any future prince should endeavor 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 circumstance 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 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.

II. BESIDES the attribute of sovereignty, the law also ascribes to the king, in his political capacity, absolute perfection. The king can do no wrong. Which ancient and fundamental maxim is not to be understood, as if everything 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 do any injury: it is created for the benefit of the people, and therefore cannot be exerted to their prejudice. [18]

THE king, moreover, is not only incapable of doing wrong, but ever 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 entrusts 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.

YET still, notwithstanding this personal perfection, which the law attributes to 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, has 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 confined 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, [19] 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, [20] 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 farther 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 [No time runs against the king] is the standing maxim upon all occasions: for the law intents that the king is always busied for the public good, and therefore has not leisure to assert his right within the times limited to subjects. [21] In the king also can be no stain or corruption of blood: for if the heir to the crown were attainted of treason or felony, and afterwards the crown should descend to him, this would purge the attainder ipso facto [by that fact]. [22] And therefore when Henry VII, who as earl of Richmond stood attainted, 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, tough he has not in his natural capacity attained the legal age of twenty-one. [23] 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 has also been usually thought prudent, when the heir apparent has 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 has no legal guardian. [24]

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 [instantly], 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 coronae [demise of the king or crown]: an expression which signifies merely a transfer of property; for, as is observed in Plowden, [25] when we say the demise of the crown, we mean only that in consequence of the disunion of the king’s body natural 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. [26]

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 dispatch. Were it placed in many hands, it would be subject to may 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 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 [27] expresses it, ” in ejus unius persona veteris reipublicae vis atque majestas per cumulatas magistratuum potestates exprimebatur.” [“All the power and majesty of the old commonwealth were concentrated in the person of that one man by the united powers of the magistrates."]

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 offenses he pleases: unless where the constitution has expressly, or by evident consequence, laid down some exception or boundary; declaring, that thus far the prerogative shall go and no farther. 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 now speak of those extraordinary recourses to first principles, which are necessary when the contracts or society are in danger of dissolution, and the law proves too weak a defense 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 price and of national resistance by the people, to be much misunderstood and perverted by the advocates for 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 lawbooks, 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 pint out beforehand those eccentric 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 that 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, it 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 him, 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 dishonor of the kingdom, the parliament will call his advisers to a just and severe account. For prerogative consisting (as Mr. Locke [28] 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 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 center, all the rays of his people are united, and form by that union a consistency, splendor, and power, that make him feared and respected by foreign potentates; who would scruple to enter into any engagements, 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 has been held, [29] 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 relates to the making this offense high treason, yet still it remains a very great offense 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 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 gruffly offends, or makes an ill use of his character, he may be sent home and accused before his master; [30] who is bound either to do justice upon him, or avow himself the accomplice of his crimes. [31] But there is great dispute among the writers on the laws of nations, whether this exemption of ambassadors extends to all crimes, as well nature 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. [32] Our law seems to have formerly taken in the restriction, as well as the general exemption. For it has been held, both by our common lawyers and civilians, [33] that an ambassador is privileged by the law of nature and nations; and yet, if he commits any offense against the law of reason and nature, he shall lose his privilege: [34] 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. [35] 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 thy annex a punishment to natural crimes, are only declaratory of and auxiliary to that law; therefore to this 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. [36] But, however these principles might formerly obtain, the general practice of this country, as well as of the rest of Europe seems now to have adopted the sentiments of the learned Grotius, that the security of ambassadors is of more importance than the punishment of a particular crime. [37] And therefore few, if any, examples have happened within a century past, where an ambassador has been punished for any offense, however atrocious in its nature.

IN respect to civil suits, all the foreign jurists agree, that neither an ambassador, nor any of his train or comites [attendants], can be prosecuted for any debt or contract in the courts of the kingdom wherein he is sent to reside. Yet Sir Edward Coke maintains, that, if an ambassador make a contract which is good jure gentium [law of nations], he shall answer for it here. [38] 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 silent upon it, previous to the reign of queen Anne; when an ambassador from Peter the great, czar of Muscovy, was actually arrested, and taken out of his coach in London, [39] for a debt of 50œ 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) [40] and seventeen were committed to prison: [41] most of whom were prosecuted by information in the court of queen’s bench, at the suit of the attorney general, [42] and at their trial before the lord chief justice were convicted of the facts by the jury; [43] reserving the question of law, how far those facts were criminal, to be afterwards argued before the judges; which question was never determined. 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. [44] 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 the subjects unless warranted by the law of the land, and therefore was persuaded that he would not insist upon impossibilities.” [45] To satisfy however the clamors 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, [46] and afterwards passed into a law, [47] to prevent and to punish such outrageous insolence for the future. And with a copy of his act, elegantly engrossed and illuminated, accompanied by a letter from the queen, an ambassadors extraordinary [48] was commissioned to appear at Moscow, [49] who declared “that though her majesty could not inflict such a punishment as was required, 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 farther prosecution.

This statute [50] 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 seized, 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, [51] as observed in the most civilized countries. And, in consequence of this statute, thus enforcing the law of nations, these privileges are now held to be part of the law of the land, and are usually allowed in the court of common law. [52]

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; [53] and then it is binding upon the whole community: and in England the sovereign power, quoad hoc [as to this], 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) has here interposed a check, by the means of parliamentary impeachment, for the punishment of such ministers as advise or conclude any treaty, which shall afterwards be judged to derogate from the honor and interest of the nation.

III. UPON the same principle the king has also the sole prerogative of making war and peace. 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: [54] 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; [55] hostes hi sunt qui nobis, aut quibis nos, publice bellum decrevimus: caeteri latrones aut praedones sunt. [Those are enemies who have publicly declared war against us, or against whom we have publicly declared war; all others are thieves or robbers.] And the reason which is given by Grotius, [56] 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 that 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 respect 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 denunciation of war. These letters are grantable by the law of nations, [57] whenever the subject 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 or marque and reprisal (words in themselves synonymous and signifying a taking in return) may be obtained, in order to seize the bodies or goods of the subjects of the offending state, until satisfaction be made, wherever they happen to be found. Indeed this custom of reprisals seems dictated by nature herself; and accordingly we find in the most ancient times very notable instances of it. [58] 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. And, in pursuance of this principle, it is with us declared by the statute 4 Hen. V. c. 7. that, it any subjects of the realm are oppressed in 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 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.

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. And therefore Pufendorf very justly resolves, [59] that it is left in the power of all states, to take such measures about the admissions of strangers, as they think convenient; those being ever excepted who are driven on the coasts 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 admissions of strangers who come spontaneously. For so long as their nation continues at peace with ours, and they themselves behave peaceably, they are under the 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 and merchandise from one place to another, without danger of being seized by our subject, unless he had letters of safe-conduct; which by diverse ancient statutes [60] 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.

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 [61] 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, [62] that it was a maxim among the Goths and Swedes, ” quam legem exteri nobis posuere, eandem illis ponemus.” [“We impose the same law on foreign merchants that they impose on us."] But it is somewhat extraordinary, that it should have found a place in magna carta, a mere interior treaty between the king and his natural-born subjects; which occasions the learned Montesquieu to remark with a degree of admiration, “that the English have made the protection of foreign merchants one of the articles of their national liberty.” [63] But indeed it well justifies another observation which he has made, [64] “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 dishonorable employment, and prohibited the exercise thereof to persons of birth, or rank, or fortune: [65] and equally different from the bigotry of the canonists, who looked on trade as inconsistent with Christianity, [66] and determined at the council of Melfi, under pope Urban II, A. D. 1090, that it was impossible with a safe conscience to exercise any traffic, or follow the profession of the law. [67]

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, is he judges improper to be passed. The expediency of which constitution has before been evinced at large. [68] I shall only farther 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, etc.") affect not him in the least, if they may tend to restrain or diminish any of his rights or interests. [69] 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 or the crown, it is said to be binding as well upon the king as upon the subject: [70] and, likewise, the king may take the benefit on any particular act, though he be not especially named. [71]

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 sorts and places of strength, ever was and is the undoubted right of his majesty, and his royal predecessors, kings and queens of England; and that both or either house of parliament cannot, nor ought to, pretend to the same.

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 is his capacity of general of the kingdom: [72] 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: scopontis reparatio, arcis constructio, et expeditio contra hostem. [73] [The threefold obligation: to repair bridges, build towers, and serve against the enemy.] And this they were called upon to do so often, that, as Sir Edward Coke from M. Paris assures us, [74] there were in the time of Henry II 1115 castles subsisting in England. The inconvenience 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 Newbury remarks in the reign of king Stephen, ” erant in Anglia quodammodo tot reges vel potius tyranni quot domini castellorum “ [“there were in England, in effect, as many kings, or rather tyrants, as lords of castles”]: 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, [75] 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 prerogative 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 feudal law all navigable rivers and havens were computed among the regalia, [76] and were subject to the sovereign of the state. And in England it has always been held, that the king is lord of the whole shore, [77] and particularly is the guardian of the ports and havens, which are the inlets and gates of the realm: [78] 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. [79] These legal ports were undoubtedly at first assigned by the crown; since to each of them a court of portmore is incident, [80] 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 royal prerogative: whereof the first were 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 has the exclusive power, by commission under his great seal, [81] to cause them to be erected in fit and convenient places, [82] 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. [83] 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 100œ or, in case of inability to pay it, shall be ipso facto outlawed.

To this branch of the prerogative may 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 of 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, [84] every man may go out of the realm for whatever cause he pleases, 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 were 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 counselors of the crown; all knights, who were bound to defend the kingdom from invasions; all ecclesiastics, who were expressly confined by cap. 4. 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, [85] who wrote in the reign of Edward I: and Sir Edward Coke [86] gives us many instances to this effect in the time of Edward III. In the succeeding reign the affair of traveling were a very different aspect: as act of parliament being made, [87] 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 every body 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. [88]

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, of dispense it to whom it is due. [89] 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 lodged 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 case and expedition can hear and determine complaints; and in England this authority has immemorially been exercised by the king of his substitutes. He therefore has alone the right of erecting courts of judicature: for, though the constitution of the kingdom has entrusted 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 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 depositary of the fundamental laws of the kingdom, and have gained a known and stated jurisdiction, regulated by certain and established rules, which the crown itself cannot now alter but by act of parliament. [90] 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 [during pleasure], but) quamdiu bene se gesserint [so long as they act uprightly], and their salaries ascertained and established; but that it may be lawful to remove them on the address 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 the king himself from the throne, the judges are continued in their offices during their good behavior, notwithstanding any demise of the crown (which was formerly held [91] immediately to vacate their seats) 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 honor of the crown.” [92]

IN criminal proceedings, or prosecutions for offenses, 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 offenses 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 offenses 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 offenses against him, to whom they are so delegated by the public. He is therefore the proper person to prosecute for all public offenses and breaches of the peace, being the person injured in the eye of the law. And this notion was carried for 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 of a kind of perjury, in having violated the king’s coronation oath; dicebatur fregisse juramentum regis juratum. [93] [He was said to have broken the sworn oath of the king.] And hence also arises another branch of the prerogative, that of pardoning offenses; for it is reasonable that he only who is injured should have the power of forgiving. 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 this 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 star chamber. 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 minister of state. And indeed, that the absolute power, claimed and exercised n a neighboring 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 everything is centered in the sultan or his ministers, 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. [94] 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; [95] for a nonsuit is the desertion of the suit or action by the non-appearance of the plaintiff in court. 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 he always appears in contemplation of law in his own proper person. [96]

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 [97]) 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 an embargo upon all shipping in time of war, [98] will be equally binding as an act of parliament, because founded upon a prior law. A proclamation for disarming papists [99] 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 subject, 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.

IV. THE king is likewise the fountain of honor, 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 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 entrusted with him the sole power of conferring dignities and honors, in confidence that he will bestow them upon none, but such as deserve them. And therefore all degrees of nobility, of 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 honors and offices are in their nature convertible and synonymous. All offices under the crown carry in the eye of the law an honor 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 honors 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 honors 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. [100] 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.

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, as shall seem good to his royal wisdom: [101] 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 capacity, 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. 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, in the best and the only judge, in what capacities, with what qualified to serve, and to act 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 and appointed proper officers in the state. [102]

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 the 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 the law of England does in many cases refer itself to it, and leaves the causes of merchants to be tried by their own peculiar customs; and that often even in matters relating to inland trade, as for instance with regard to the drawing, the acceptance, and the transfer, of bills of exchange. [103]

WITH us in England, the king’s prerogative, for 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. [104] The limitation of these public resorts, to such time and such place as may be most convenient for the neighborhood, 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 disposed 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 duce 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. [105] This standard was originally kept at Winchester: and we find in the laws of king Edgar, [106] near a century before the conquest, an injunction that the one measure, which was kept at Winchester, should be observed throughout the realm. Most nations have regulated the standard of measures of length by comparison 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 dimensions in men of different proportions, our ancient historians [107] 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 year, 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 [the composition of yards and perches], five years and an 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 gains 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 [the composition of measures], to compose a penny weight, 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 held at Westminster, A. D. 1197, it was ordained that there shall be only one weight and one measure throughout the kingdom, and that the custody of the assize or standard of weights and measures shall be committed to certain persons in every city and borough; [108] 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 II & 12 W. III. c. 20. In king John’s time this ordinance of king Richard was frequently dispensed with for money; [109] which occasioned a provision to be made for enforcing it, in the great charters of king John and his son. [110] These original standards were called pondus regis [the king’s weight], [111] and mensura domini regis [the king’s measure]; [112] 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. [113] But, as Sir Edward Coke observes, [114] though this has so often by authority of parliament been enacted, yet it could never be effected; for forcible is custom with the multitude, when it has gotten an head.

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 fixed on 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. The consequence is, that more money must be given now for the same commodity than was given an hundred years ago. And, if any accident was to diminish the quantity of gold and silver, their value would proportionally 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.

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, [115] 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 six-pence, and not otherwise. But this copper coin is not upon the same footing with the other in many respects, particularly with regard to the offense of counterfeiting it. As to the impression, the stamping thereof is the unquestionable prerogative of the crown: for, though diverse bishops and monasteries had formerly the privilege of coining money, yet, as Sir Matthew Hale observes, [116] 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 instituting 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, and called sterling metal; a name for which there are various reasons given, [117] but none of them entirely satisfactory. And of this sterling metal all the coin of the kingdom must be made by the statute 25 Edw. III. c. 13. So that the king’s prerogative seems not to extend to the debasing or enhancing the value of the coin, below or above the sterling value: [118] though Sir Matthew Hale appears to be of another opinion. [119] 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. [120] 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. [121]

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 to be the supreme head of the church of England; and so had been recognized 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 titles and stile thereof, as all jurisdictions, authorities, and commodities, to the said dignity of 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. [122] 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: 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 a parliament, wherein the archbishop presides with regal state; the upper house of bishops represents the house of lords; and the lower house, composed of representative 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. [123] This constitution is said to be owing to the policy of Edward I; who thereby at one and the same time let in the inferior clergy to the privilege of forming ecclesiastical canons, (which before they had not) and also introduced a method of taxing ecclesiastical benefices, by consent of convocation. [124]

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 better 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.




[1] chap. 1. page 137.

[2] Dewes. 479.

[3] Ibid. 645.

[4] King James’s works. 557, 531.

[5] Finch. L. 84, 85.

[6] Bract. l. 3. tr. 1. c. 9.

[7] Nov. 105 §. 2.

[8] Ff. 32. 1. 23.

[9] Finch. L. 85.

[10] Peregrix. de jure fisc. l. 1. c. 1. num. 9.

[11] l. 1. c. 8.

[12] Seld. tit. of hon. 1. 2.

[13] Rex allegavit, quod ipse omnes libertates haberet in regno suo, quas imperator vindicabat in imperio. [The king alleged that he should possess the same privileges in his kingdom as an emperor claimed in his empire.] (M. Paris, A. D. 1095.)

[14] Finch. L. 83.

[15] Finch. L. 255.

[16] Law of N. and N. 1. 8. c. 10.

[17] on Gov. p. 2. §. 205.

[18] Plowd. 487.

[19] Com. Journ. 18 Nov. 1685.

[20] Com. Journ. 4 Dec. 1717.

[21] Finch. L. 82. Co. Litt. 90 b.

[22] Finch. L. 82.

[23] Co. Litt. 43.

[24] The methods of appointing this guardian or regent have been so various, and the duration of his power so uncertain, that from thence alone it may be collected that his office is unknown to the common law; and therefore (as Sir Edward Coke says, 4 Inst. 58.) the surest way is to have him made by authority of the great council in parliament. The earl of Pembroke by his own authority assumed, in very troublesome times, the regency of Henry III, who was then only nine years old; but was declared of full age by the pope at seventeen, confirmed the great charter at eighteen, and took upon him the administration of the government at twenty. A guardian and council of regency were named for Edward III, by the parliament which deposed his father; the young king being them fifteen, and not assuming the government till three years after. When Richard II succeeded at the age of eleven, the duke of Lancaster took upon him the management of the kingdom, till the parliament met, which appointed a nominal council to assist him. Henry V on his death-bed named a regent and a guardian for his infant son Henry VI, then nine months old: but the parliament altered his disposition, and appointed a protector and council, with a special limited authority. Both these princes remained in a state of pupilage till the age of twenty-three. Edward V, at the age of thirteen, was recommended by his father to the care of the duke of Gloucester; who was declared protector by the privy council. The statutes 25 Hen. VIII. c. 12. and 28 Hen. VIII. c. 7. provided, that the successor, if a male and under eighteen, or if a female and under sixteen, should be till such age in the governance of his or her natural mother, (if approved by the king) and such other counselors as his majesty should by will or otherwise appoint: and he accordingly appointed his sixteen executors to have the government of is son, Edward VI, and the kingdom; which executors elected the earl of Hertford protector. The statute 24 Geo. II. c. 24. in case the crown should descend to any of the children of Frederick late prince of Wales under the age of eighteen, appoints the princess dowager; and that of 5 Geo. III. c. 27. in case of a like descent to any of his present majesty’s children, empowers the king to name either the queen, the princess dowager, or any descendant of king George II residing in this kingdom; to be guardian and regent, till the successor attains such age, assisted by a council of regency: the powers of them all being expressly defined and set down in the several acts.

[25] Plowd. 177. 234.

[26] M. 49 Hen. VI. pl. 1 8.

[27] Orig. 1. §. 105.

[28] on Gov. 2. §. 166.

[29] 4 Inst. 152.

[30] As was done with count Gyllenberg the Swedish minister to Great Britain, A. D. 1716.

[31] Sp. L. 26. 21.

[32] Van Leeuwen in Ff. 50. 7. 17. Barbeyrac’s Puf. 1. 8. c. 9. & 17. Van Bynkershoek de foro legator. c. 17, 18, 19.

[33] 1 Roll. Rep. 175. 3 Bulstr. 27.

[34] 4 Inst. 153.

[35] 1 Roll. Rep. 185.

[36] Foster’s reports. 188.

[37] Securitas legatorum utilitati quae ex poena est praeponderat. [The security of ambassadors is of more importance than the punishment of a particular crime.] De jur. b. & p. 2. 18. 4. 4.

[38] 4 Inst, 153.

[39] 21 July. 1708. Boyer’s annals of queen Anne.

[40] 25 July. 1708. ibid.

[41] 25, 29 Jul. 1708. ibid.

[42] 23 Oct. 1708. ibid.

[43] 14 Feb. 1708. ibid.

[44] 17 Sept. 1708. ibid.

[45] 11 Jan. 1708. ibid. Mod. Un. Hist. xxxv. 454.

[46] Com. journ. 1708.

[47] 21 Apr. 1709. Boyer, ibid.

[48] Mr. Whitworth.

[49] 8 Jan. 1709. Boyer, ibid.

[50] 7 Ann. c. 12.

[51] Saepe quaesitum est an comitum numero et jure habendi sunt, qui legatum comitantur, non ut instructior fiat legatio, sed unicè ut lucro suo consulant, institores forte et mercatores. Et quamvis hos saepe defenderint et comitum loco habere voluerint legati, apparet tamen satis eo non pertinere, qui in legati legationisve officio non sunt. Quum autem ea res nonnunquam turban dederit, optimo exemplo in quibusdam aulis olim receptum fuit, ut legatus teneretur exhibere nomenclaturam comitum suorum. [It was often a question whether they who accompanied the ambassador, not that the embassy might be better appointed, but merely to consult their own advantage, perhaps as hucksters and merchants, should be reckoned in the number and enjoy the rights of his train. And although the ambassadors often protected them, and wished to reckon them in the number of their suite, yet it is evident that they who are neither in the office of ambassador, nor employed in the embassy, do not belong to it. But as this frequently caused disturbances, it was formerly adjudged in some courts the best mode of proceeding, that the ambassador should be bound to shew a list of the names of his attendants.] Van Bynkersh. c. 15. propc finem.

[52] Fitzg. 200. Stra. 797.

[53] Puf. L. of N. b. 8. c. 9. §. 6.

[54] Puf. l. 8. c. 6. §. 8. and Barbeyr. in loc.

[55] Ff. 50. 16. 118.

[56] de jur. b. & p. l. 3. c. 3. §. 11.

[57] Grot. de jur. b. & p. l. 3. c. 2. §. 4 & 5.

[58] See the account given by Nestor, in the eleventh book of the Iliad, of the reprisals made by himself on the Epeian nation; from whom he took a multitude of cattle, as a satisfaction for a prize won at the Elian games by his father Neleus, and for debts due to many private subjects of the Pylian kingdom: our of which booty the king took three hundred head of cattle for his own demand, and the rest were equitably divided among the other creditors.

[59] Law of N. and N. b. 3. c. 3. §. 9.

[60] 15 Hen. VI. c. 3. 18 Hen. VI. c. 8. 30 Hen. VI. c. 1.

[61] c. 30.

[62] de jure Suton. l. 2. c. 4.

[63] Sp. L. 20. 13.

[64] Sp. L. 20. 6.

[65] Nobiliores natalibus, et honorum luce conspicuos, et patrimonio ditiores, perniciosum urbibus mercimonium exercere prohibemus. [We forbid those who are noble by birth, conspicuous from the splendor of their honors, and wealthy in their patrimony, to exercise traffic, so pernicious to cities.] C. 4. 63. 3.

[66] Homo mercator vix aut nunquam potest Deo placere: et ideo nullus Christianus debet esse mercator; aut si voluerit esse, projiciatur de ecclesia Dei. [A trader can seldom or never please God; therefore, no Christian ought to be a trader; or, if he will be one, he should be cast out from the church of God.] Decret. 1. 88. 11.

[67] Falsa fit poenitentia [laici] cum penitus ab officio curiali vel negotiali non recedit, quae sine peccatis agi ulla ratione non praevalet. [The repentance (of a layman) becomes fallacious if he quit not entirely the professions of law and traffic, which it is impossible to exercise in any manner without sin.] Act. Concil. Apud Baron. c. 16.

[68] ch. 2. pag. 149.

[69] 11 Rep. 74 b.

[70] 11 Rep. 71.

[71] 7 Rep. 32.

[72] 2 Inst. 30.

[73] Cowel’s interpr. tit, casteilorum operatio. Seld. Fan. Angl. 1. 42.

[74] 2 Inst. 31.

[75] 1 Inst. 5.

[76] 2 Feud. t. 56. Crag. 1. 15. 15.

[77] F. N. B. 113.

[78] Dav. 9. 56.

[79] Madox hist. exch. 530.

[80] 4 Inst. 148.

[81] 3 Inst. 204. 4. Inst. 148.

[82] Rot. Clauf. 1 Ric. II. m. 42. Pryn. on. 4 Inst. 136.

[83] 1 Sid. 158. r. Inst. 149.

[84] F. N. B. 85.

[85] c. 123.

[86] 3 Inst. 175.

[87] 5 Ric. II. c. 2.

[88] 1 Hawk. P. C. 22.

[89] Ad hoc autem creatus est et electus, ut justitiam faciat universis. [But he is created and chosen for the purpose of dispensing justice to all.] Bract. l. 3. tr. 1. c. 9.

[90] 2 Hawk. P. C. 2.

[91] Ld Raym. 747.

[92] Com. Journ. 3 Mar. 1761.

[93] Stiernh. de jure Goth. l. 3. c. 3. A notion somewhat similar to this may be found in the mirrour. c. 1. §. 5.

[94] Fortesc. c. 8. 2 Inst. 186.

[95] Co. Litt. 139.

[96] Finch. L. 81.

[97] 3 Inst. 162.

[98] 4 Mod. 177, 179.

[99] Stat. 1 Edw. VI. c. 12.

[100] 2 Inst. 533.

[101] 4 Inst. 361.

[102] Disputare de principali judicio non oportet; sacrilegii enim instar est, dubitare an is dignus sit quem eligerit imperator. [It is not fit to dispute the judgment of the prince; for it is a kind of sacrilege to doubt the eligibility of him whom the emperor has chosen.] C. 9. 29. 3.

[103] Co. Litt. 172. Ld Raym. 181. 1542.

[104] 2 Inst. 220.

[105] Gr. Coustum. C. 16.

[106] cap. 8.

[107] William of Malmfb. in vita hen. I. Spelm. Hen. I. ap. Wilkins. 299.

[108] Hoved. Matth. Paris.

[109] Hoved. A. d. 1201.

[110] 9 Hen. III. c. 25.

[111] Plac. 35 Edw. I. apud Cowel’s Interpr. tit. pondus regis.

[112] Flet. 2. 12.

[113] 14 Edw. III. St. 1. c. 12. 25 Edw. III. St. 5. c. 10. 16 Rip. II. c. 3. 8 Hen. VI. c. 5. 11 Hen. VI. c. 8. 21 Hen. VII. c. 4. 33 Car. II. c. 8.

[114] 2 Inst. 41.

[115] 2 Inst. 577.

[116] 1 hist. P. C. 191.

[117] Spelm. Gloss. 203.

[118] 2 Inst. 277.

[119] 1 H. P. C. 194.

[120] Ibid. 197.

[121] Ibid.

[122] 4 Inst. 322, 323.

[123] In the diet of Sweden, where the ecclesiastics form one of the branches of the legislature, the chamber of the clergy resembles the convocation of England. It is composed of the bishops and superintendents; and also of deputies, one of which is chosen by every ten parishes or rural deanery. Mod. Un. hist. xxxiii. 18.

[124] Gilb. hist. of exch. c. 4.




Of the King’s Revenue

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 fiscal prerogatives, or such as regard his revenue; which the British constitution has 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 revenues 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 frequently look upon to be their own absolute 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 king; (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 fee. 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. [1] Another reason may also be given, why the policy of the law has vested this custody in the king; because, as the successor is not known, the lands and possessions of the fee 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 to 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. [2] 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 14 Edw. III. St. 4. c. 4 & 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 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 fee 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 [3] granted a charter at the beginning of his reign, promising neither to sell, nor let to farm, nor take anything from, the domains of the church, till the successor was installed. And it was made one of the articles of the great charter, [4] 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 first; [5] 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 then, and not sooner, he has a fee simple in his bishopric, and may maintain an action for the same. [6]

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. [7] 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. It is, I apprehend, now fallen into total disuse; though Sir Matthew Hale says, [8] that it is due of common right, and that no prescription will discharge it.

III. THE king also (as was formerly observed [9]) is entitled to all the tithes arising in extraparochial places: [10] 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 extraparochial 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, primitiae, 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 the value by commission from pope Nicholas and third, A. D. 1292, 20 Edw. I; [11] which valuation of pope Nicholas is still preserved in the exchequer. [12] The tenths, or decimae, were 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 pretense than a strange misapplication of that precept of the Levitical law, which directs, [13] “that the Levites should offer the tenth part of their tithe as a heave-offering to the Lord, and give it to Aaron the high priest.” But this claim of the pope met with 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 in 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 [value of benefices] was then made, by which the clergy are at present rated.

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 half, three quarters; and if two years, then the whole; and not otherwise. 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.

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 of queen Anne restored to the church what had been thus 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 the granted her royal charter, which was confirmed by the statute 2 Ann. c. 11. whereby all the revenue of first-fruits and tenths is vested in trustees for ever, to form a perpetual fund for the augmentation of poor livings. This is usually called queen Anne’s bounty; which has been still farther regulated by subsequent statutes, too numerous here to recite.

V. THE next branch of the king’s ordinary revenue (which, is 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, terrae dominicales regis [the king’s demesne lands], being either the share reserved to the crown at the original distribution of landed property, of such as came to it afterwards by forfeitures or other means, were anciently very large and extensive; comprising diverse manors, honors, and lordships; the tenants of which had very peculiar privileges, 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, [14] 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; and the usual rent must be reserved, or, where there has usually been no rent, one third of the clear yearly value. [15] The misfortune is, that this act was made too late, after almost every valuable possession of the crown had been granted away for ever, or else upon very long leases; but may be of benefit to posterity, when those leases come to expire.

VI. HITHER might have been referred the advantages which were uses 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 is great measure abolished them all: the explication of the nature of which tenures, must be referred to the second book of these commentaries. Hither also might have been referred the profitable prerogative of purveyance and preemption: 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 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. [16] 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 kingdom to another (as was formerly very frequently done) it was found necessary to send 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 beforementioned 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. [17] And, with us in England, having fallen into disuse during the suspension of monarchy, king Charles at his restoration consented, by the same statute, to resign entirely these branches of his revenue and power, for the case and convenience of his subjects: and the parliament, in part of recompense, settled on him, his heirs, and successors, for ever, the hereditary excise of fifteen pence per barrel on all beer and ale sold in the kingdom, and a proportional sum for certain other liquors. So that this hereditary excise, the nature of which shall be farther 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 preemption and purveyance: but this revenue was abolished by the statute 30 Geo. II. c. 19, and an annual sum of upwards £ 7000 per annum, issuing out of the new stamp duties imposed on wine licenses, was settled on the crown in its stead.

VIII. 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 officers 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 offenses against the forest-laws. But as few, if any courts of this king for levying amercements [18] have been held since 1632, 8 Car. I. and as, from the accounts given of the proceedings in that court by our histories and law books, [19] nobody would now wish to see them again revived, it is needless (at least in this place) to pursue this inquiry any farther.

IX. THE profits arisen 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 legal 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 exchequer; for a part of whose royal maintenance they were originally intended. All future grants of them however, by the statute 1 Ann. St. 2. 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 coasts, are the property of the king, on account [20] 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; [21] and from one of these it was probably derived to our princes. It is expressly claimed and allowed in the statute de praerogativa regis [22] [of the king’s prerogative]: and the most ancient treatises of law now extant make mention if it; [23] though they seem to have made distinction between whale and sturgeon, as was incidentally observed in a former chapter. [24]

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. II. and were so, long before, at the common law. It is worthy observation, how greatly the law of wrecks has been altered, and the rigor of it gradually softened, in favor 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. [25] But this was undoubtedly adding sorrow to sorrow, and was consonant neither to reason nor humanity. Wherefore it was first ordained by king Henry I, that if any person escaped alive out of the ship it should be no wreck; [26] and afterwards king Henry II, by his charter, [27] 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, [28] not only established these concessions, by ordaining that the owner, if he was shipwrecked and escaped, ” omnes res suas liberas et quietas haberet “ [“he should retain his property free and undisputed”], 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 of sister, then the goods should remain to the king. [29] And the law, so long after as the reign of Henry III, seems still to have been guided by the same equitable provisions. For then if a dog (for instance) escaped, by which the owner might be discovered, or if any certain mark were set on the goods, by which they might be known again, it was held to be no wreck. [30] 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. But afterwards, in the statute of Westminster the first, [31] the law is laid down more agreeable to the charter of king Henry the second: and upon that statute has stood the legal doctrine of wrecks to the present time. It enacts, that if any live thing escape (a man, a cat, or a dog; which, as in Bracton, are only put for examples [32]) in this case, and, as it seems, in this case only, it is clearly not a legal wreck: but the sheriff of the county is bound to keep the goods a year and a day (as in France for one year, agreeably to the maritime laws of Oleron, [33] and in Holland for a year and an half) that if any man can prove a property in them, either in his own right or by right of representation, [34] 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. [35] This revenue of wrecks is frequently granted out to lords of manors, as a royal franchise; 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. [36]

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. [37] 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: [38] 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 king’s grant to a man of wrecks, things jetsam, flotsam, and ligan will not pass. [39]

WRECKS, in their legal acceptation, are at present not very frequent: it rarely happening that every living creature on board perishes; and if any should survive, it is a very great chance, since the improvement of commerce, navigation, and correspondence, but the owner will be 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 praedam currere.” [40] [“To run like vultures to their prey, amidst the misery and calamity of shipwrecked sufferers."] For by the statute 2 Edw. III. c. 13. if any ship be lost on the shore, and the goods come to land (so as it be not legal wreck) they shall be presently delivered to the merchants, they paying only a reasonable reward to those that saved and preserved them, which is entitled salvage. Also 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. [41] And by statute 12 Ann. 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 100£ and, in case of assistance given, salvage shall be paid by the owners, to be assessed by three neighboring 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, by 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 endeavors 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 trees, steeples, or other stated seamarks, is punished by the statute 8 Eliz. c. 13. with a forfeiture of 200£ Moreover, by the statute of George II, pilfering any goods cast ashore is declared to be petty larceny; and many other salutary regulations are made, for the more effectually preserving ships of any nation in distress. [42]

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. [43] 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. [44] But now by the statutes I W, & M. St. I. c. 30. and 5 W. & 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 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 treasure-trove (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 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. [45] Also if it be found in the sea, or upon the earth, it does not belong to the king, but the finder, if no owner appears. [46] So that it seems it is the biding, not the abandoning of it, that gives the king a property: Bracton [47] defining it, in the words of the civilians, to be ” vetus depositio pecuniae “ [“prior concealment of money”]. 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 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; unless the owner appear and assert his right, which then proves that the loss was by accident, and not with an intent to renounce his property.

FORMERLY all treasure-trove belonged to the finder; [48] as was also the rule of the civil law. [49] 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, [50] ” jus commune, et quasi gentium “ [“the common law, and as it were the law of nations”]: 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, [51] 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. [52]

XIV. WAIFS, bona waviata [unclaimed goods], are goods stolen, and waived 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. [53] And therefore if 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. [54] Waived 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. [55] If the goods are hid by the thief, or last any where 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. [56] The goods of a foreign merchant, though stolen and thrown away in flight, shall never be waifs: [57] 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.

XV. ESTRAYS are such valuable animals as are found wandering in any manor or lordship, and no man knows 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; 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; [58] even though the owner were a minor, or under any other legal incapacity. [59] 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 villa vel pago, postremo coram ecclesia vel judicio [first before the inhabitants of the place and passing travelers, then in the next town or village, lastly before the church, or judgment-court.]: and the space of a year was allowed for the owner to reclaim his property. [60] If the owner claims them within the year and day, he must pay the charges of finding, keeping, and proclaiming them. [61] The king or lord has no property till the year and day passed: for if a lord keeps an estray three quarters of a year, and within the year it strays again, and another lord gets it, the first lord cannot take it again. [62] Any beast may be an estray, that is 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 [63] defines it, pecus vagans, quod nullus petit, sequitur vel advocat [wandering cattle, which no one seeks, follows, or calls to]. For animals upon which the law sets no value, as a dog or cat, and animals ferae naturae [wild by nature], as a bear or wolf, cannot be considered as estrays. So swans may be estrays, but not any other fowl; [64] whence they are said to be royal fowl. The reason of which distinction seems to be, that, cattle and swans being of a reclaimed 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 keep it from damage; [65] and may not use it by way of labor, but is liable to an action for so doing. [66] Yet he may milk a cow, or the like, for that tends to the preservation, and is for the benefit, of the animal. [67]

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 occupant or finder; and so continued under the imperial 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, [68] haec quae nullius in bonis sunt, et olim fuerunt inventoris de jure naturali jam efficiuntur principis de jure gentium. [Those things which are no man’s property and formerly belonged to the finder as by natural right, become now the property of the king by the law of nations.]

XVI. THE next branch of the king’s ordinary revenue consists in forfeitures of lands and goods for offenses; bona confiscata [confiscated goods], 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 consist 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 offense of an atrocious kind, the laws of England have exacted a total confiscation 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 misdemeanors. I therefore only mention them here, for the sake of regularity, as a part of the census regalis [royal revenue]; and shall postpone for the present the farther 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; [69] though formerly destined to 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; [70] 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 years of discretion is killed by a fall from a cart, or horse, or the like, not being in motion; [71] 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 of mischief? The true ground if this rule seems rather to be, that the child, by reason of its want of discretion, is presumed incapable of actual sin, and therefore needed no deodand to purchase propitiatory masses: but every adult, who dies 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, of is 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; [72] which is grounded upon this additional reason, that such misfortunes are in part owning to negligence of the owner, and therefore he is properly punished by such forfeiture. A like punishment is in like cases inflicted by the Mosaic law: [73] “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, [74] whatever was the cause of a man’s death, by falling upon him, was exterminated or cast out of the dominions of the republic. 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 a wheel, and is killed by falling from it, the wheel alone is a deodand: [75] but, wherever the thing is in motion, not only that part which immediately gives the wound, (as the wheel, which runs over his body) but all things which move with it and help to make the wound more dangerous (as the cart and loading, which increase the pressure of the wheel) are forfeited. [76] It matters not whether the owner were concerned in the killing or not; for if a man kills another with my sword, the sword is forfeited [77] as an accursed thing. [78] And therefore, in all indictments for homicide, the instrument of death and the value are presented and found by the grand jury (as, that the stroke was given with a certain penknife, value sixpence) that the king or his grantee may claim the deodand: for it is no deodand, unless it be presented as such by a jury of twelve men. [79] No deodands are due for accidents happening upon the high sea, that being out of the jurisdiction of the common law: but if a man falls from a boat or ship in fresh water, and is drowned, the vessel and cargo are in strictness a deodand. [80] But juries have of late very frequently taken upon themselves to mitigate these forfeitures, by finding only some trifling thing, or part of an entire thing, to have been the occasion of the death. And in such cases, although the finding of the jury be hardly warrantable by law, the court of king’s bench has generally refused to interfere on behalf of the lord of the franchise, to assist so odious a claim. [81]

DEODANDS, and forfeitures in general, as well as wrecks, treasure trove, royal fish, mines, waifs, and estrays, may be granted by the king to particular subjects, as a royal franchise: and indeed they are for the most part granted out to the lords of manors, or other liberties; to the perversion of their original design.

XVII. ANOTHER branch of the king’s ordinary revenue arises from escheats of lands, which happen upon the defect of heirs to succeed to the inheritance; whereupon they in general revert to and vest in the king, who is esteemed, in the eye of the law, the original proprietor of all the lands in the kingdom. But the discussion of this topic more properly belongs to the second book of these commentaries, wherein we shall particularly consider the manner in which lands may be acquired or lost by escheat.

XVIII. I PROCEED therefore to the eighteenth and last branch of the king’s ordinary revenue; which consists in the custody of idiots, from whence we shall be naturally led to consider also the custody of lunatics.

AN idiot, or natural fool, is one that has had no understanding from his nativity; and therefore is by law presumed never likely to attain any. For which reason the custody of him and of his lands was formerly vested in the lord of the fee; [82] (and therefore still, by special custom, in some manors the lord shall have the ordering of idiot and lunatic copyholders [83]) but, by reason of the manifold abuses of this power by subjects, it was at last provided by common consent, that it should be given to the king, as the general conservator of his people, in order to prevent the idiot from wasting his estate, and reducing himself and his heirs to poverty and distress: [84] This fiscal prerogative of the king is declared in parliament by statute 17 Edw. II. c. 9. which directs (in affirmance of the common law, [85]) that the king shall have ward of the lands of natural fools, taking the profits without waste or destruction, and shall find them necessaries; and after the death of such idiots he shall render the estate to the heirs; in order to prevent such idiots from alienating their lands, and their heirs from being disinherited.

BY the old common law there is a writ de idiota inquirendo, to inquire whether a man be an idiot or not: [86] which must be tried by a jury of twelve men; and if they find him purus idiota [an absolute idiot], the profits of his lands, and the custody of his person may be granted by the king to some subject, who has interest enough to obtain them. [87] This branch of the revenue has been long considered as a hardship upon private families; and so long ago as in the 8 Jac. I. it was under the consideration of parliament, to vest this custody in the relations of the party, and to settle an equivalent on the crown in lieu of it; it being then proposed to share the same fate with the slavery of the feudal tenures, which has been since abolished. [88] Yet few instances can be given of the oppressive exertion of it, since it seldom happens that a jury finds a man an idiot a nativitate [from birth], but only non compos mentis [of unsound mind] from some particular time; which has an operation very different in point of law.

A MAN is not an idiot, [89] if he has any glimmering of reason, so that he can tell his parents, his age, or the like common matters. But a man who is born deaf, dumb, and blind, is looked upon by the law as in the same state with an idiot; [90] he being supposed incapable of understanding, as wanting those senses which furnish the human mind with ideas.

A LUNATIC, or non compos mentis, is one who has had understanding, but by disease, grief, or other accident has lost the use of his reason. A lunatic is indeed properly one that has lucid intervals; sometimes enjoying his senses, and sometimes not, and that frequently depending upon the change of the moon. But under the general name of non compos mentis (which Sir Edward Coke says is the most legal name [91]) are comprised not only lunatics, but persons under frenzies; or who lose their intellects by disease; those that grow deaf, dumb, and blind, not being born so; or such, in short, as are by any means rendered incapable of conducting their own affairs. To these also, as well as idiots, the king is guardian, but to a very different purpose. For the law always imagines, that these accidental misfortunes may be removed; and therefore only constitutes the crown a trustee for the unfortunate persons, to protect their property, and to account to them for all profits received, if they recover, or after their decease to their representatives. And therefore it is declared by the statute 17 Edw. II. c. 10. that the king shall provide for the custody and sustentation of lunatics, and preserve their lands and the profits of them, for their use, when they come to their right mind: and the king shall take nothing to his own use; and if the parties die in such estate, the residue shall be distributed for their souls by the advice of the ordinary, and of course (by the subsequent amendments of the law of administrations) shall now go to their executors or administrators.

THE method of proving a person non compos is very similar to that of proving him an idiot. The lord chancellor, to whom, by special authority from the king, the custody of idiots and lunatics is entrusted, [92] upon petition or information, grants a commission in nature of the writ de idiota inquirendo [inquiry of idiocy], to inquire into the party’s state of mind; and if he be found non compos, he usually commits the care of his person, with a suitable allowance for his maintenance, to some friend, who is then called his committee. However, to prevent sinister practices, the next heir is never permitted to be this committee of the person; because it is his interest that the party should die. But, it has been said, there lies not the same objection against his next of kin, provided he be not his heir, for it is his interest to preserve the lunatic’s life, in order to increase the personal estate by savings, which he or his family may hereafter be entitled to enjoy. [93] The heir is generally made the manager or committee of the estate, it being clearly his interest by good management to keep it in condition; accountable however to the court of chancery, and to the non compos himself, if he recovers; or otherwise, to his administrators.

IN this care of idiots and lunatics the civil law agrees with ours; by assigning them tutors to protect their persons, and curators to manage their estates. But in another instance the Roman law goes much beyond the English. For, if a man by notorious prodigality was in danger of wasting his estate, he was looked upon as non compos and committed to the care of curators or tutors by the praetor. [94] And by the laws of Solon such prodigals were branded with perpetual infamy. [95] But with us, when a man on an inquest of idiocy has been returned an unthrift and not an idiot, [96] no farther proceedings have been had. And the propriety of the practice itself seems to be very questionable. It was doubtless an excellent method of benefitting the individual and of preserving estates in families; but it hardly seems calculated for the genius of a free nation, who claim and exercise the liberty of using their own property as they please. ” Sic utere tuo, ut alienum non laedas “ [“Use your property so as to not injure another”], is the only restriction our laws have given with regard to economical prudence. And the frequent circulation and transfer of lands and other property, which cannot be effected without extravagance somewhere, are perhaps not a little conducive towards keeping our mixed constitution in its due health and vigor.

THIS may suffice for a short view of the king’s ordinary revenue, or the proper patrimony of the crown; which was very large formerly, and capable of being increased to a magnitude truly formidable: for there are very few estates in the kingdom, that have not, at some period or other since the Norman conquest, been vested in the hands of the king by forfeiture, escheat, or otherwise. But, fortunately for the liberty of the subject, this hereditary landed revenue, by a series of improvident management, is sunk almost to nothing; and the casual profits, arising from the other branches of the census regalis, are likewise almost all of them alienated from the crown. In order to supply the deficiencies of which, we are now obliged to have recourse to new methods of raising money, unknown to our early ancestors; which methods constitute the king’s extraordinary revenue. For, the public patrimony being got into the hands of private subjects, it is but reasonable that private contributions should supply the public service. Which, though it may perhaps fall harder upon some individuals, whose ancestors have had no share in the general plunder, than upon others, yet, taking the nation throughout, it amounts to nearly the same; provided the gain by the extraordinary, should appear to be no greater than the loss by the ordinary, revenue. And perhaps, if every gentleman in the kingdom was to be stripped of such of his lands as were formerly the property of the crown; was to be again subject to the inconveniences of purveyance and preemption, the oppression of forest laws, and the slavery of feudal tenures; and was to resign into the king’s hands all his royal franchises of waifs, wrecks, estrays, treasure-trove, mines, deodands, forfeitures, and the like; he would find himself a greater loser, than by paying his quota to such taxes, as are necessary to the support of government. The thing therefore to be wished and aimed at in a land of liberty, is by no means the total abolition of taxes, which would draw after it very pernicious consequences, and the very supposition of which is the height of political absurdity. For as the true idea of government and magistracy will be found to consist in this, that some few men are deputed by many others to preside over public affairs, so that individuals may the better be enabled to attend to their private concerns; it is necessary that those individuals should be bound to contribute a portion of their private gains, in order to support that government, and reward that magistracy, which protects them in the enjoyment of their respective properties. But the things to be aimed at are wisdom and moderation, not only in granting, but also in the method of raising, the necessary supplies; by contriving to do both in such a manner as may be most conducive to the national welfare and at the same time most consistent with economy and the liberty of the subject; who, when properly taxed, economy and the liberty of the subject; who, when properly taxed, contributes only, as was before observed, [97] some part of his property, in order to enjoy the rest.

THESE extraordinary grants are usually called by the synonymous names of aids, subsidies, and supplies; and are granted, we have formerly seen, [98] by the commons of Great Britain, in parliament assembled: who, when they have voted a supply to his majesty, and settled the quantum of that supply, usually resolve themselves into what is called a committee of ways and means, to consider of the ways and means of raising the supply so voted. And in this committee every member (though it is looked upon as the peculiar province of the chancellor of the exchequer) may propose such scheme of taxation as he thinks will be least detrimental to the public. The resolutions of this committee (when approved by a vote of the house) are in general esteemed to be (as it were) final and conclusive. For, through the supply cannot be actually raised upon the subject till directed by an act of the whole parliament, yet no monied man will scruple to advance to the government any quantity of ready cash, on the credit of a bare vote of the house of commons, though no law be yet passed to establish it.

THE taxes, which are raised upon the subject, are either annual or perpetual. The usual annual taxes are those upon land and malt.

I. THE land tax, in its modern shape, has superseded all the former methods of rating either property, or persons in respect of their property, whether by tenths or fifteenths, subsidies on land, hydages, scutages, or talliages; a short explication of which will greatly assist us in understanding our ancient laws and history.

TENTHS, and fifteenths, [99] were temporary aids issuing out of personal property, and granted to the king by parliament. They were formerly the real tenth or fifteenth part of all the movables belonging to the subject; when such movables, or personal estates, were a very different and a much less considerable thing than what they usually are at this day. Tenths are said to have been first granted under Henry the second, who took advantage of the fashionable zeal for crusades to introduce this new taxation, in order to defray the expense of a pious expedition to Palestine, which he really or seemingly had projected against Saladine emperor of the Saracens; whence it was originally denominated the Saladine tenth. [100] But afterwards fifteenths were more usually granted than tenths. Originally the amount of these taxes was uncertain, being levied by assessments new made at every fresh grant of the commons, a commission for which is preserved by Matthew paris: [101] but it was at length reduced to a certainty in the eighth of Edw. III. when, by virtue of the king’s commission, new taxations were made of every township, borough, and city in the kingdom, and recorded in the exchequer; which rate was, at the time, the fifteenth part of the value of every township, the whole amounting to about 29000£ and therefore it still kept up the name of a fifteenth, when, by the alteration of the value of money and the increase of personal property, things came to be in a very different situation. So that when, of later years, the commons granted the king a fifteenth, every parish in England immediately knew their proportion of it; that is, the same identical sum that was assessed by the same aid in the eighth of Edw. III; and then raised it by a rate among themselves, and returned it into the royal exchequer.

THE other ancient levies were in the nature of a modern land tax; for we may trace up the original of that charge as high as to the introduction of our military tenures; [102] when every tenant of a knight’s fee was bound, if called upon, to attend the king in his army for forty days in every year. But this personal attendance growing troublesome in many respects, the tenants found means of compounding for it, by first sending others in their stead, and in process of time by making a pecuniary satisfaction to the crown in lieu of it. This pecuniary satisfaction at last came to be levied by assessments, at so much for every knight’s fee, under the name of scutages; which appear to have been levied for the first time in the fifth year of Henry the second, on account of his expedition to Toulouse, and were then (I apprehend) mere arbitrary compositions, as the king and the subject could agree. But this precedent being afterwards abused into a means of oppression, (by levying scutages on the landholders by the royal authority only, whenever our kings went to war, in order to hire mercenary troops and pay their contingent expenses) it became thereupon a matter of national complaint; and king John was obliged to promise in his magna carta, [103] that no scutage should be imposed without the consent of the common council of the realm. This clause was indeed omitted in the charters of Henry III, where [104] we only find it stipulated, that scutages should be taken as they were used to be in the time of king Henry the second. Yet afterwards, by a variety of statutes under Edward I and his grandson, [105] it was provided, that the king shall not take any aids or tasks, any talliage or tax, but by the common assent of the great men and commons in parliament.

OF the same nature with scutages upon knights-fees were the assessments of hydage upon all other lands, and of talliage upon cities and burghs. [106] But they all gradually fell into disuse, upon the introduction of subsidies, about the time of king Richard II and king Henry IV. These were a tax, not immediately imposed upon property, but upon persons in respect of their reputed estates, after the nominal rate of 4 s. in the pound for lands, and 2s. 6d. for goods; and for those of aliens in a double proportion. But this assessment was also made according to an ancient valuation; wherein the computation was so very moderate, and the rental of the kingdom was supposed to be so exceeding low, that one subsidy of this sort did not, according to Sir Edward coke, [107] amount to more than 70,000£ whereas a modern land tax at the same rate produces two millions. It was anciently the rule never to grant more than one subsidy, and two fifteenths at a time; but this rule was broke through for the first time on a very pressing occasion, the Spanish invasion in 1588; when the parliament gave queen Elizabeth two subsidies and four fifteenths. Afterwards, as money sunk in value, more subsidies were given; and we have an instance in the first parliament of 1640, of the king’s desiring twelve subsidies of the commons, to be levied in three years; which was looked upon as a startling proposal: though lord Clarendon tells us, [108] that the speaker, sergeant Glanvile, made it manifest to the house, how very inconsiderable a sum twelve subsidies amounted to, by telling them he had computed what he was to pay for them; and, when he named the sum, he being known to be possessed of a great estate, it seemed not worth any farther deliberation. And indeed, upon calculation, we shall find that the total amount of these twelve subsidies, to be raised in three years, is less than what is now raised in one year, by a land tax of two shillings in the pound.

THE grant of scutages, talliages, or subsidies by the commons did not extend to spiritual preferments; those being usually taxed at the same time by the clergy themselves in convocation; which grants of the clergy were confirmed in parliament, otherwise they were illegal, and not binding; as the same noble writer observes of the subsidies granted by the convocation, who continued sitting after the dissolution of the first parliament in 1640. A subsidy granted by the clergy was after the rate of 4s. in the pound according to the valuation of their livings in the king’s books; and amounted, Sir Edward Coke tells us, [109] to about 20,000£ While this custom continued, convocations were wont to sit as frequently as parliaments: but the last subsidies, thus given by the clergy, were those confirmed by statute 15 Car. II. cap. 10. since which another method of taxation has generally prevailed, which takes in the clergy as well as the laity; in recompense for which the beneficed clergy have from that period been allowed to vote at the elections of knights of the shire; [110] and thenceforward also the practice of giving ecclesiastical subsidies has fallen into total disuse.

THE lay subsidy was usually raised by commissioners appointed by the crown, or the great officers of state: and therefore in the beginning of the civil wars between Charles I and his parliament, the latter, having no other sufficient revenue to support themselves and their measures, introduced the practice of laying weekly and monthly assessments [111] of a specific sum upon the several counties of the kingdom; to be levied by a pound rate on lands and personal estates: which were occasionally continued during the whole usurpation, sometimes at the rate 120,000£ a month; sometimes at inferior rates. [112] After the restoration the ancient method of granting subsidies, instead of such monthly assessments, was twice, and twice only, renewed; viz. in 1663, when four subsidies were granted by the temporalty, and four by the clergy; and in 1670, when 800,000£ was raised by way of subsidy, which was the last time of raising supplies in that manner. For, the monthly assessments being now established by custom, being raised by commissioners named by parliament, and producing a more certain revenue; from that time forwards we hear no more of subsidies; but occasional assessments were granted as the national emergencies required. These periodical assessments, the subsidies which preceded them, and the more ancient scutage, hydage, and talliage, were to all intents and purposes a land tax; and the assessments were sometimes expressly called so. [113] Yet a popular opinion has prevailed, that the land tax was first introduced in the reign of king William III; because in the year 1692 a new assessment or valuation of estates was made throughout the kingdom; which, though by no means a perfect one, had this effect, that a supply of 500,000£ was equal to 1 s. in the pound of the value of the estates given in. And, according to this enhanced valuation, from the year 1693 to the present, a period of above seventy years, the land tax has continued an annual charge upon the subject; above half the time at 4 s. in the pound, sometimes at 3 s, sometimes at 2 s, twice [114] at 1 s, but without any total intermission. The medium has been 3 s. 3 d. in the pound, being equivalent to twenty-three ancient subsidies, and amounting annually to more than a million and an half of money. The method of raising it is by charging a particular sum upon each county, according to the valuation given in, A. D. 1692: and this sum is assessed and raised upon individuals (their personal estates, as well as real, being liable thereto) by commissioners appointed in the act, being the principal landholders of the county, and their officers.

II. THE other annual tax is the malt tax; which is a sum of 750,000£, raised every year by parliament, ever since 1697, by a duty of 6d. in the bushel on malt, and a proportional sum on certain liquors, such as cider and perry, which might otherwise prevent the consumption of malt. This is under the management of the commissioners of the excise; and is indeed itself no other than an annual excise, the nature of which species of taxation I shall presently explain: only premising at present, that in the year 1760 an additional perpetual excise of 3 d. per bushel was laid upon malt; and in 1763 a proportional excise was laid upon cider and perry.

THE perpetual taxes are,

I. THE customs; or the duties, toll, tribute, or tariff, payable upon merchandise exported and imported. The considerations upon which this revenue (or the more ancient part of it, which arose only from exports) was invested in the king, were said to be two; [115] I. Because he gave the subject leave to depart the kingdom, and to carry his goods along with him. 2. Because the king was bound of common right to maintain and keep up the ports and havens, and to protect the merchant from pirates. Some have imagined they are called with us customs, because they were the inheritance of the king by immemorial usage and the common law, and not granted him by any statute: [116] but Sir Edward Coke has clearly shown, [117] that the king’s first claim to them was by grant of parliament 3 Edw. I. though the record thereof is not now extant. And indeed this is in express words confessed by statute 25 Edw. I. c. 7. wherein the king promises to take no customs from merchants, without the common assent of the realm, “saving to us and our heirs, the customs on wools, skins, and leather, formerly granted to us by the commonalty aforesaid.” These were formerly called the hereditary customs of the crown; and were due on the exportation only of the said three commodities, and of none other: which were styled the staple commodities of the kingdom, because they were obliged to be brought to those ports where the king’s staple was established, in order to be there first rated, and then exported. [118] They were denominated in the barbarous Latin of our ancient records, custuma [119] [customs] not consuetudines [customs], which is the language of our law whenever it means merely usages. The duties on wool, sheep-skins, or woolsells, and leather, exported, were called custuma antiqua sive magna [ancient or great customs]; and were payable by every merchant, as well native as stranger; with this difference, that merchant-strangers paid an additional toll, viz. half as much again as was paid by natives. The custuma parva et nova [new and small customs] were an impost of 3d. in the pound due from merchant-strangers only, for all commodities as well imported as exported; which was usually called the alien’s duty, and was first granted in 31 Edw. I. [120] But these ancient hereditary customs, especially those on wool and woolsells, came to be of little account when the nation became sensible of the advantages of a home manufacture, and prohibited the exportation of wool by statute II Edw. III. c. I.

THERE is also another ancient hereditary duty belonging to the crown, called the prisage or butlerage of wines, which is considerably older than the customs, being taken notice of in the great roll of the exchequer, 8 Ric. I. still extant. [121] Prisage was a right of taking two tons of wine from every ship importing into England twenty tons or more; which by Edward I was exchanged into a duty of 2 s. for every ton imported by merchant-strangers; which is called butlerage, because paid to the king’s butler. [122]

OTHER customs payable upon exports and imports are distinguished into subsidies, tonnage, poundage, and other imposts. Subsidies are such as were imposed by parliament upon any of the staple commodities before mentioned, over and above the custuma antiqua et magna : tonnage was a duty upon all wines imported, over and above the prisage and butlerage aforesaid: poundage was a duty imposed ad valorem, at the rate of 12d. in the pound, on all other merchandise whatsoever: and the other imposts were such as were occasionally laid on by parliament, as circumstances and times required. [123] These distinctions are now in a manner forgotten, except by the officers immediately concerned in this department; their produce being in effect all blended together, under the one denomination of the customs.

BY these we understand, at present, a duty or subsidy paid by the merchant, at the quay, upon all imported as well as exported commodities, by authority of parliament; unless where, for particular national reasons, certain rewards, bounties, or drawbacks, are allowed for particular exports or imports. Those of tonnage and poundage, in particular, were at first granted, as the old statutes, and particularly I Eliz. c. 19. express it, for the defense of the realm, and the keeping and safeguard of the seas, and for the intercourse of merchandise safely to come into and pass out of the same. They were at first usually granted only for a stated term of years, as, for two years in 5 Ric. II; [124] but in Henry the fifth’s time, they were granted him for life by a statute in the third year of his reign; and again to Edward IV for the term of his life also: since which time they were regularly granted to all his successors, for life, sometimes at their first, sometimes at other subsequent parliaments, till the reign of Charles the first; when, as had before happened in the reign of Henry VIII [125] and other princes, they were neglected to be asked. And yet they were imprudently and unconstitutionally levied and taken without consent of parliament, (though more than one had been assembled) for fifteen years together; which was one of the causes of those unhappy discontents, justifiable at first in too many instances, but which degenerated at last into causeless rebellion and murder. For, as in every other, so in this particular case, the king (previous to the commencement of hostilities) gave the nation ample satisfaction for the errors of his former conduct, by passing an act, [126] whereby he renounced all power in the crown of levying the duty of tonnage and poundage, without the express consent of parliament; and also all power of imposition upon any merchandises whatever. Upon the restoration this duty was granted to king Charles the second for life, and so it was to his two immediate successors; but now by three several statutes, 9 Ann. c. 6. I Geo. I. c. 12. and 3 Geo. I. c. 7. it is made perpetual and mortgaged for the debt of the public. The customs, thus imposed by parliament, are chiefly contained in two books of rates, set forth by parliamentary authority; [127] one signed by Sir Harbottle Grimston, speaker of the house of commons in Charles the second’s time; and the other an additional one signed by Sir Spenser Compton, speaker in the reign of George the first; to which also subsequent additions have been made. Aliens pay a larger proportion than natural subjects, which is what is now generally understood by the aliens’ duty; to be exempted from which is one principal cause of the frequent applications to parliament for acts of naturalization.

THESE customs are then, we see, a tax immediately paid by the merchant, although ultimately by the consumer. And yet these are the duties felt least by the people; and, if prudently managed, the people hardly consider that they pay them at all. For the merchant is easy, being sensible he does not pay them for himself; and the consumer, who really pays them, confounds them with the price of the commodity: in the same manner as Tacitus observes, that the emperor Nero gained the reputation of abolishing the tax on the sale of slaves, though he only transferred it from the buyer to the seller; so that it was, as he expresses it, ” remissum magis specie, quam vi: quia, cum venditor pendere jubereter, in partem pretii emptoribus accrescebat.” [128] [“Remitted rather in appearance than reality,. for when the seller was ordered to pay it, he raised the price to buyers accordingly."] But this inconvenience attends it on the other hand, that these imposts, if too heavy, are a check and cramp upon trade; and especially when the value of the commodity bears little or no proportion to the quantity of the duty imposed. This in consequence gives rise also to smuggling, which then becomes a very lucrative employment: and its natural and most reasonable punishment, viz. confiscation of the commodity, is in such cases quite ineffectual; the intrinsic value of the goods, which is all that the smuggler has paid, and therefore all that he can lose, being very inconsiderable when compared with his prospect of advantage in evading the duty. Recourse must therefore be had to extraordinary punishments to prevent it; perhaps even to capital ones: which destroys all proportion of punishment, [129] and puts murderers upon an equal footing with such as are really guilty of no natural, but merely a positive offense.

THERE is also another ill consequence attending high imposts on merchandise, not frequently considered, but indisputably certain; that the earlier any tax is laid on a commodity, the heavier it falls upon the consumer in the end: for every trader, through whose hands it passes, must have a profit, not only upon the raw material and his own labor and time in preparing it, but also upon the very tax itself, which he advances to the government; otherwise he loses the use and interest of the money which he so advances. To instance in the article of foreign paper. The merchant pays a duty upon importation, which he does not receive again till he sells the commodity, perhaps at the end of three months. He is therefore equally entitled to a profit upon that duty which he pays at the customhouse, as to a profit upon the original price which he pays to the manufacturer abroad; and considers it accordingly in the price he demands of the stationer. When the stationer sells it again, he requires a profit of the printer or bookseller upon the whole sum advanced by him to the merchant: and the bookseller does not forget to charge the full proportion to the student or ultimate consumer; who therefore does not only pay the original duty, but the profits of these three intermediate traders, who have successively advanced it for him. This might be carried much farther in any mechanical, or more complicated, branch of trade.

II. DIRECTLY opposite in its nature to this is the excise duty; which is an inland imposition, paid sometimes upon the consumption of the commodity, or frequently upon the retail sale, which is the last stage before the consumption. This is doubtless, impartially speaking, the most economical way of taxing the subject: the charges of levying, collecting, and managing the excise duties being considerably less in proportion, than in any other branch of the revenue. It also renders the commodity cheaper to the consumer, than charging it with customs to the same amount would do; for the reason just now given, because generally paid in a much later stage of it. But, at the same time, the rigor and arbitrary proceedings of excise-laws seem hardly compatible with the temper of a free nation. For the frauds that might be committed in this branch of the revenue, unless a strict watch is kept, make it necessary, wherever it is established, to give the officers a power of entering and searching the houses of such as deal in excisable commodities, at any hour of the day, and, in many cases, of the night likewise. And the proceedings in case of transgressions are so summary and sudden, that a man may be convicted in two days time in the penalty of many thousand pounds by two commissioners or justices of the peace; to the total exclusion of the trial by jury, and disregard of the common law. For which reason, though lord Clarendon tells us, [130] that to his knowledge the earl of Bedford (who was made lord treasurer by king Charles the first, to oblige his parliament) intended to have set up the excise in England, yet it never made a part of that unfortunate prince’s revenue; being first introduced, on the model of the Dutch prototype, by the parliament itself after its rupture with the crown. Yet such was the opinion of its general unpopularity, that when in 1642 “aspersions were cast by malignant persons upon the house of commons, that they intended to introduce excises, the house for its vindication therein did declare, that these rumors were false and scandalous; and that their authors should be apprehended and brought to condign punishment.” [131] its original establishment was in 1643, and its progress was gradual; [132] being at first laid upon those persons and commodities, where it was supposed the hardship would be least perceivable, viz. the makers and venders of beer, ale, cider, and perry; [133] and the royalists at Oxford soon followed the example of their brethren at Westminster by imposing a similar duty; both sides protesting that it should be continued no longer than to the end of the war, and then be utterly abolished. [134] But the parliament at Westminster soon after imposed it on flesh, wine, tobacco, sugar, and such a multitude of other commodities that it might fairly be denominated general; in pursuance of the plan laid down by Mr. Pymme (who seems to have been the father of the excise) in his letter to Sir John Hotham, [135] signifying, “that they had proceeded in the excise to many particulars, and intended to go on farther; but that it would be necessary to use the people to it by little and little.” And afterwards, when the people had been accustomed to it for a series of years, the succeeding champions of liberty boldly and openly declared, “the impost of excise to be the most easy and indifferent levy that could be laid upon the people:” [136] and accordingly continued it during the whole usurpation. Upon king Charles’s return, it having then been long established and it 3 produce well known, some part of it was given to the crown, in the 12 Car. II, by way of purchase (as was before observed) for the feudal tenures and other oppressive parts of the hereditary revenue. But, from its first original to the present time, its very name has been odious to the people of England. It has nevertheless been imposed on abundance of other commodities in the reigns of king William III, and every succeeding prince, to support the enormous expenses occasioned by our wars on the continent. Thus brandies and other spirits are now excised at the distillery; printed silks and linens, at the printers; starch and hair powder, at the maker’s; gold and silver wire, at the wiredrawer’s; all plate whatsoever, first in the hands of the vendor, who pays yearly for a license to sell it, and afterwards in the hands of the occupier, who also pays an annual duty for having it in his custody; and coaches and other wheel carriages, for which the occupier is excised; though not with the same circumstances of arbitrary strictness with regard to plate and coaches, as in the other instances. To these we may add coffee and tea, chocolate, and cocoa paste, for which the duty is paid by the retailer; all artificial wines, commonly called sweets; paper and pasteboard, first when made, and again if stained or printed; malt as beforementioned; vinegars; and the manufacture of glass; for all which the duty is paid by the manufacturer; hops, for which the person that gathers them is answerable; candles and soap, which are paid for at the maker’s; malt liquors brewed for sale, which are excised at the brewery; cider and perry, at the mill; and leather and skins, at the tanner’s . A list, which no friend to his country would wish to see farther increased.

III. I PROCEED therefore to a third duty, namely that upon salt; which is another distinct branch of his majesty’s extraordinary revenue, and consists in an excise of 3s. 4d. per bushel imposed upon all salt, by several statutes of king William and other subsequent reigns. This is not generally called an excise, because under the management of different commissioners: but the commissioners of the salt duties have by statute I Ann. c. 21. the same powers, and must observe the same regulations, as those of other excises. This tax had usually been only temporary; but by statute 26 Geo. II. c. 3. was made perpetual.

IV. ANOTHER very considerable branch of the revenue is levied with greater cheerfulness, as, instead of being a burden, it is a manifest advantage to the public. I mean the post-office, or duty for the carriage of letters. As we have traced the original of the excise to the parliament of 1643, so it is but justice to observe that this useful invention owes its birth to the same assembly. It is true, there existed postmasters in much earlier times: but I apprehend their business was confined to the furnishing of posthorses to who were desirous to travel expeditiously, and to the dispatching extraordinary packets upon special occasions. The outline of the present plan seems to have been originally conceived by Mr. Edmond Prideful, who was appointed attorney general to the commonwealth after the murder of king Charles. He was a chairman of a committee in 1642 for considering what rates should be set upon inland letters; [137] and afterwards appointed postmaster by an ordinance of both the houses, [138] in the execution of which office he first established a weekly conveyance of letters into all parts of the nation: [139] thereby saving to the public the charge of maintaining postmasters, to the amount of 7000£ per annum. And, his own emoluments being probably considerable, the common council of London endeavored to erect another post-office in opposition to his, till checked by a resolution of the commons, [140] declaring, that the office of postmaster is and ought to be in the sole power and disposal of the parliament. This office was afterwards farmed by one Manley in 1654. [141] But, in 1657, a regular post-office was erected by the authority of the protector and his parliament, upon nearly the same model as has been ever since adopted, with the same rates of postage as were continued till the reign of queen Anne. [142] After the restoration a similar office, with some improvements, was established by statute 12 Car. II. c. 35. but the rates of letters were altered, and some farther regulations added, by the statutes 9 Ann. c. 10. 6 Geo. I. c. 21. 26 Geo. II. c. 12. and 5 Geo. III. c. 25. and penalties were enacted, in order to confine the carriage of letters to the public office only, except in some few cases: a provision, which is absolutely necessary; for nothing but an exclusive right can support an office of this sort: many rival independent offices would only serve to ruin one another. The privilege of letters coming free of postage, to and from members of parliament, was claimed by the house of commons in 1660, when the first legal settlement of the present post-office was made; [143] but afterwards dropped [144] upon a private assurance from the crown, that this privilege should be allowed the members. [145] And accordingly a warrant was constantly issued to the postmaster-general, [146] directing the allowance thereof, to the extent of two ounces in weight: till at length it was expressly confirmed by statute 4 Geo. III. c. 24; which adds many new regulations, rendered necessary by the great abuses crept into the practice of franking; whereby the annual amount of franked letters had gradually increased, from 23600£ in the year 1715, to 170700£ in the year 1763. [147] There cannot be devised a more eligible method, than this, of raising money upon the subject: for therein both the government and the people find a mutual benefit. The government acquires a large revenue; and the people do their business with greater ease, expedition, and cheapness, than they would be able to do is no such tax (and of course no such office) existed,

V. A FIFTH branch of the perpetual revenue consists in the stamp duties, which are a tax imposed upon all parchment and paper whereon any legal proceedings, or private instruments of almost any nature whatsoever, are written; and also upon licenses for retailing wines, of all denominations; upon all almanacs, newspapers, advertisements, cards, dice, and pamphlets containing less than six sheets of paper. These imposts are very various, according to the nature of the thing stamped, rising gradually from a penny to ten pounds. This is also a tax, which though in some instances it may be heavily felt, by greatly increasing the expense of all mercantile as well as legal proceedings, yet (if moderately imposed) is of service to the public in general, by authenticating instruments, and rendering it much more difficult than formerly to forge deeds of any standing; since, as the officers of this branch of the revenue vary their stamps frequently, by marks perceptible to none but themselves, a man that would forge a deed of king William’s time, must know and be able to counterfeit the stamp of that date also. In France and some other countries the duty is laid on the contract itself, not on the instrument in which it is contained: but this draws the subject into a thousand nice disquisitions and disputes concerning the nature of his contract, and whether taxable or not; in which the farmers of the revenue are sure to have the advantage. Our method answers the purposes of the state as well, and consults the ease of the subject much better. The first institution of the stamp duties was by statute 5 & 6 W. & M. c. 21. and they have since in many instances been increased to five times their original amount.

VI. A SIXTH branch is the duty upon houses and windows. As early as the conquest mention is made in domesday book of fumage or fuage, vulgarly called smoke farthings; which were paid by custom to the king for every chimney in the house. And we read that Edward the black prince (soon after his successes in France) in imitation of the English custom, imposed a tax of a florin upon every hearth in his French dominions. [148] But the first parliamentary establishment of it in England was by statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 10. whereby an hereditary revenue of 2s. for every hearth, in all houses paying to church and poor, was granted to the king for ever. And, by subsequent statutes, for the more regular assessment of this tax, the constable and two other substantial inhabitants of the parish, to be appointed yearly, were, once in every year, empowered to view the inside of every house in the parish. But, upon the revolution, by statute I W. & M. St. I. c. 10. hearth-money was declared to be “not only a great oppression to the poorer sort, but a badge of slavery upon the whole people, exposing every man’s house to be entered into, and searched at pleasure, by persons unknown to him; and therefore, to erect a lasting monument of their majesties’ goodness in every house in the kingdom, the duty of hearth-money was taken away and abolished.” This monument of goodness remains among us to this day: but the prospect of it was somewhat darkened when, in six years afterwards, by statute 7W. III. c. 18. a tax was laid upon all houses (except cottages) of 2s. now advanced to 3s. per house, and a tax also upon all windows, if they exceed nine, in such house. Which rates have been from time to time varied, (particularly by statutes 20 Geo. II. c. 3. and 31 Geo. II. c. 22.) and power is given to surveyors, appointed by the crown, to inspect the outside of houses, and also to pass through any house two days in the year, into any court or yard to inspect the windows there.

VII. THE seventh branch of the extraordinary perpetual revenue is the duty arising from licenses to hackney coaches and chairs in London, and the parts adjacent. In 1654 two hundred hackney coaches were allowed within London, Westminster, and six miles round, under the direction of the court of aldermen. [149] By statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 2. four hundred were licensed; and the money arising thereby was applied to repairing the streets. [150] This number was increased to seven hundred by statute 5 W. & M. c. 22. and the duties vested in the crown: and by the statute 9 Ann. c. 23. and other subsequent statutes, [151] there are now eight hundred licensed coaches and four hundred chairs. This revenue is governed by commissioners of its own, and is, in truth, a benefit to the subject; as the expense of it is felt by no individual, and its necessary regulations have established a competent jurisdiction, whereby a very refractory race of men may be kept in some tolerable order.

VIII. THE eighth and last branch of the king’s extraordinary perpetual revenue is the duty upon offices and pensions; consisting in a payment of I s. in the pound (over and above all other duties) out of all salaries, fees, and perquisites, of offices and pensions payable by the crown. This highly popular taxation was imposed by statute 31 Geo. II. c. 22. and is under the direction of the commissioners of the land tax.

THE clear neat produce of these several branches of the revenue, after all charges of collection and management paid, amounts annually to about seven millions and three quarters sterling; besides two millions and a quarter raised annually, at an average, by the land and malt tax. How these immense sums are appropriated, is next to be considered. And this is, first and principally, to the payment of the interest of the national debt.

IN order to take a clear and comprehensive view of the nature of this national debt, it must first be premised, that after the revolution, when our new connections with Europe introduced a new system of foreign politics, the expenses of the nation, not only in settling the new establishment, but in maintaining long wars, as principals, on the continent, for the security of the Dutch barrier, reducing the French monarchy, settling the Spanish succession, supporting the house of Austria, maintaining the liberties of the Germanic body, and other purposes, increased to an unusual degree: insomuch that it was not thought advisable to raise all the expenses of any one year by taxes to be levied within that year, lest the unaccustomed weight of them should create murmurs among the people. It was therefore the policy of the times, to anticipate the revenues of their posterity, by borrowing immense sums for the current service of the state, and to lay no more taxes upon the subject than would suffice to pay the annual interest of the sums so borrowed: by this means converting the principal debt into a new species of property, transferrable from one man to another at any time and in any quantity. A system which seems to have had its original in the state of Florence, A. D. 1344: which government then owed about 60,000£ sterling; and, being unable to pay it, formed the principal into an aggregate sum, called metaphorically a mount or bank, the shares whereof were transferrable like our stocks, with interest at 5 per cent. the prices varying according to the exigencies of the state. [152] This laid the foundation of what is called the national debt: for a few long annuities created in the reign of Charles II will hardly deserve that name. And the example then set has been so closely followed during the long wars in the reign of queen Anne, and since, that the capital of the national debt, (funded and unfunded) amounted in January 1765 to upwards of 145,000,000£ to pay the interest of which, and the charges for management, amounting to about four millions and three quarters, the revenues just enumerated are in the first place mortgaged, and made perpetual by parliament. Perpetual, I say; but still redeemable by the same authority that imposed them: which, if it at any time can pay off the capital, will abolish those taxes which are raised to discharge the interest.

BY this means the quantity of property in the kingdom is greatly increased in idea, compared with former times; yet, if we coolly consider it, not at all increased in reality. We may boast of large fortunes, and quantities of money in the funds. But where does this money exist? It exists only in name, in paper, in public faith, in parliamentary security: and that is undoubtedly sufficient for the creditors of the public to rely on. But then what is the pledge which the public faith has pawned for the security of these debts? The land, the trade, and the personal industry of the subject; from which the money must arise that supplies the several taxes. In these therefore, and these only, the property of the public creditors does really and intrinsically exist: and of course the land, the trade, and the personal industry of individuals, are diminished in their true value just so much as they are pledged to answer. If A’s income amounts to 100£ per annum; and he is so far indebted to B, that he pays him 50£ per annum for his interest; one half of the value of A’s property is transferred to B the creditor. The creditor’s property exists in the demand which he has upon the debtor, and no where else; and the debtor is only a trustee to his creditor for one half of the value of his income. In short, the property of a creditor of the public, consists in a certain portion of the national taxes: by how much therefore he is the richer, by so much the nation, which pays these taxes, is the poorer.

THE only advantage, that can result to a nation from public debts, is the increase of circulation by multiplying the cash of the kingdom, and creating a new species of money, always ready to be employed in any beneficial undertaking, by means of its transferrable quality; and yet productive of some profit, even when it lies idle and unemployed. A certain proportion of debt seems therefore to be highly useful to a trading people; but what that proportion is, it is not for me to determine. Thus much is indisputably certain, that the present magnitude of our national encumbrances very far exceeds all calculations of commercial benefit, and is productive of the greatest inconveniences. For, first, the enormous taxes, that are raised upon the necessaries of life for the payment of the interest of this debt, are a hurt both to trade and manufactures, by raising the price as well of the artificer’s subsistence, as of the raw material, and of course, in a much greater proportion, the price of the commodity itself. Secondly, if part of this debt be owing to foreigners, either they draw out of the kingdom annually a considerable quantity of specie for the interest; or else it is made an argument to grant them unreasonable privileges in order to induce them to reside here. Thirdly, if the whole be owing to subjects only, it is then charging the active and industrious subject, who pays his share of the taxes, to maintain the indolent and idle creditor who receives them

Lastly, and principally, it weakens the internal strength of a state, by anticipating those resources which should be reserved to defend it in case of necessity. The interest we now pay for our debts would be nearly sufficient to maintain any war, that any national motives could require. And if our ancestors in king William’s time had annually paid, so long as their exigencies lasted, even a less sum than we now annually raise upon their accounts, they would in the time of war have borne no greater burdens, than they have bequeathed to and settled upon their posterity in time of peace; and might have been eased the instant the exigence was over.

THE produce of the several taxes beforementioned were originally separate and distinct funds; being securities for the sums advanced on each several tax, and for them only. But at last it became necessary, in order to avoid confusion, as they multiplied yearly, to reduce the number of these separate funds, by uniting and blending them together; superadding the faith of parliament for the general security of the whole. So that there are now only three capital funds of any account, the aggregate fund, and the general fund, so called from such union and addition; and the south sea fund, being the produce of the taxes appropriated to pay the interest of such part of the national debt as was advanced by that company and its annuitants. Whereby the separate funds, which were thus united, are become mutual securities for each other; and the whole produce of them, thus aggregated, is liable to pay such interest or annuities as were formerly charged upon each distinct fund; the faith of the legislature being moreover engaged to supply any casual deficiencies.

THE customs, excises, and other taxes, which are to support these funds, depending on contingencies, upon exports, imports, and consumptions, must necessarily be of a very uncertain amount; but they have always been considerably more than was sufficient to answer the charge upon them. The surpluses therefore of the three great national funds, the aggregate, general, and south sea funds, over and above the interest and annuities charged upon them, are directed by statute 3 Geo. I. c. 7. to be carried together, and to attend the disposition of parliament; and are usually denominated the sinking fund, because originally destined to sink and lower the national debt. To this have been since added many other entire duties, granted in subsequent years; and the annual interest of the sums borrowed on their respective credits is charged on and payable out of the produce of the sinking fund. However the neat surpluses and savings, after all deductions paid, amount annually to a very considerable sum; particularly in the year ending at Christmas 1764, to about two millions and a quarter. For, as the interest on the national debt has been at several times reduced, (by the consent of the proprietors, who had their option either to lower their interest of be paid their principal) the savings from the appropriated revenues must needs be extremely large. This sinking fund is the last resort of the nation; on which alone depend all the hopes we can entertain of ever discharging or moderating our encumbrances. And therefore the prudent application of the large sums, now arising from this fund, is a point of the utmost importance, and well worthy the serious attention of parliament; which has thereby been enabled, in this present year 1765, to reduce above two millions sterling of the public debt.

BUT, before any part of the aggregate fund (the surpluses whereof are one of the chief ingredients that form the sinking fund) can be applied to diminish the principal of the public debt, it stands mortgaged by parliament to raise an annual sum for the maintenance of the king’s household and the civil list. For this purpose, in the late reigns, the produce of certain branches of the excise and customs, the post-office, the duty on wine licenses, the revenues of the remaining crown lands, the profits arising from courts of justice, (which articles include all the hereditary revenues of the crown) and also a clear annuity of 120,000£ in money, were settled on the king for life, for the support of his majesty’s household, and the honor and dignity of the crown. And, as the amount of these several branches was uncertain, (though in the last reign they were generally computed to raise almost a million) if they did not arise annually to 800,000£ the parliament engaged to make up the deficiency. But his present majesty having, soon after his accession, spontaneously signified his consent, that his own hereditary revenues might be so disposed of as might best conduce to the utility and satisfaction of the public, and having graciously accepted the limited sum of 800,000£ per annum for the support of his civil list (and that also charged with three life annuities, to the princess of Wales, the duke of Cumberland, and the princess Amalie, to the amount of 77000£) the said hereditary and other revenues are now carried into and made a part of the aggregate fund, and the aggregate fund is charged with the payment of the whole annuity to the crown of 800,000£ per annum. [153] Hereby the revenues themselves, being put under the same care and management as the other branches of the public patrimony, will produce more and be better collected than heretofore; and the public is a gainer of upwards of 100,000£ per annum by this disinterested bounty of his majesty. The civil list, thus liquidated, together with the four millions and three quarters, interest of the national debt, and the two millions and a quarter produced from the sinking fund, make up the seven millions and three quarters per annum, neat money, which were before stated to be the annual produce of our perpetual taxes; besides the immense, though uncertain, sums arising from the annual taxes on land and malt, but, which, at an average, may be calculated at more than two millions and a quarter; and, added to the preceding sum, make the clear produce of the taxes, exclusive of the charge of collecting, which are raised yearly on the people of this country, and returned into the king’s exchequer, amount to upwards of ten millions sterling.

THE expenses defrayed by the civil list are those that in any shape relate to civil government; as, the expenses of the household; all salaries to officers of state, to the judges, and every of the king’s servants; the appointments to foreign ambassadors; the maintenance of the royal family; the king’s private expenses, or privy purse; and other very numerous outgoings, as secret service money, pensions, and other bounties: which sometimes have so far exceeded the revenues appointed for that purpose, that application has been made to parliament to discharge the debts contracted on the civil list; as particularly in 1724, when one million was granted for that purpose by the statute II Geo. I. c. 17.

THE civil list is indeed properly the whole of the king’s revenue in his own distinct capacity; the rest being rather the revenue of the public, or its creditors, though collected, and distributed again, in the name and by the officers of the crown: it now standing in the same place, as the hereditary income did formerly; and, as that has gradually diminished, the parliamentary appointments have increased. The whole revenue of queen Elizabeth did not amount to more than 600,000£ a year: [154] that of king Charles II was [155] 800,000£ and the revenue voted for king Charles II was [156] 1,200,000£ though complaints were made (in the first years at least) that it did not amount to so much. [157] But it must be observed, that under these sums were included all manner of public expenses, among which lord Clarendon in his speech to the parliament computed that the charge of the navy and land forces amounted annually to 800,000£ which was ten times more than before the former troubles. [158] The same revenue, subject to the same charges, was settled in on king James II: [159] but by the increase of trade, and more frugal management, it amounted on an average to a million and half per annum, (besides other additional customs, granted by parliament, [160] which produced an annual revenue of 400,000£) out of which his fleet and army were maintained at the yearly expense of [161] 1,100,000£ After the revolution, when the parliament took into it’s own hands the annual support of the forces, both maritime and military, a civil list revenue was settled on the new king and queen, amounting, with the hereditary duties, to 700,000£ per annum; [162] and the same was continued to queen Anne and king George I. [163] That of king George II, we have seen, was nominally augmented to [164] 800,000£ and in fact was considerably more. But that of his present majesty is expressly limited to that sum; and, by reason of the charges upon it, amounts at present to little more than 700,000£ And upon the whole it is doubtless much better for the crown, and also for the people, to have the revenue settled upon the modern footing rather than the ancient. For the crown; because it is more certain, and collected with greater ease: for the people; because they are now delivered from the feudal hardships, and other odious branches of the prerogative. And though complaints have sometimes been made of the increase of the civil list, yet if we consider the sums that have been formerly granted, the limited extent under which it is now established, the revenues and prerogatives given up in lieu of it by the crown, and (above all) the diminution of the value of money compared with what it was worth in the last century, we must acknowledge these complaints to be void of any rational foundation; and that it is impossible to support that dignity, which a king of Great Britain should maintain, with an income in any degree less than what is now established by parliament.

THIS finishes our inquiries into the fiscal prerogatives of the king; or his revenue, both ordinary and extraordinary. We have therefore now chalked out all the principal outlines of this vast title of the law, the supreme executive magistrate, or the king’s majesty, considered in his several capacities and points of view. But, before we entirely dismiss this subject, it may not be improper to take a short comparative review of the power of the executive magistrate, or prerogative of the crown, as it stood in former days, and as it stands at present. And we cannot but observe, that most of the laws for ascertaining, limiting, and restraining this prerogative have been made within the compass of little more than a century past; from the petition of right in 3 Car. I. to the present time. So that the powers of the crown are now to all appearance greatly curtailed and diminished since the reign of king James the first: particularly, by the abolition of the star chamber and high commission courts in the reign of Charles the first, and by the disclaiming of martial law, and the power of levying taxes on the subject, by the same prince: by the disuse of forest laws for a century past: and by the many excellent provisions enacted under Charles the second; especially, the abolition of military tenures, purveyance, and preemption; the habeas corpus act; and the act to prevent the discontinuance of parliaments for above three years: and, since the revolution, by the strong and emphatic words in which our liberties are asserted in the bill of rights, and act of settlement; by the act for triennial, since turned into septennial, elections; by the exclusion of certain officers from the house of commons; by rendering the seats of the judges permanent, and their salaries independent; and by restraining the king’s pardon from being pleaded to parliamentary impeachments. Besides all this, if we consider how the crown is impoverished and stripped of all its ancient revenues, so that it greatly depends on the liberality of parliament for its necessary support and maintenance, we may perhaps be led to think, that the balance is inclined pretty strongly to the popular scale, and that the executive magistrate has neither independence nor power enough left, to from that check upon the lords and commons, which the founders of our constitution intended.

BUT, on the other hand, it is to be considered, that every prince, in the first parliament after his accession, has by long usage a truly royal addition to his hereditary revenue settled upon him for his life; and has never any occasion to apply to parliament for supplies, but upon some public necessity of the whole realm. This restores to him that constitutional independence, which at his first accession seems, it must be owned, to be wanting. And then, with regard to power, we may find perhaps that the hands of government are at least sufficiently strengthened; and that an English monarch is now in no danger of being overborne by either the mobility or the people. The instruments of power are not perhaps so open and avowed as they formerly were, and therefore are the less liable to jealous and invidious reflections; but they are not the weaker upon that account. In short, our national debt and taxes (besides the inconveniences before-mentioned) have also in their natural consequences thrown such a weight of power into the executive scale of government, as we cannot think was intended by our patriot ancestors; who gloriously struggled for the abolition of the then formidable parts of the prerogative, and by an unaccountable want of foresight established this system in their stead. The entire collection and management of so vast a revenue, being placed in the hands of the crown, have given rise to such a multitude of new officers, created by and removable at the royal pleasure, that they have extended the influence of government to every corner of the nation. Witness the commissioners, and the kingdom; the commissioners of excise, and their numerous subalterns, in every inland district; the postmasters, and their servants, planted in every town, and upon every public road; the commissioners of the stamps, and their distributors, which are full as scattered and full as numerous; the officers of the salt duty, which, though a species of excise and conducted in the same manner, are yet made a distinct corps from the ordinary managers of that revenue; the surveyors of houses and windows; the receivers of the land tax; the managers of lotteries; and the commissioners of hackney coaches; all which are either mediately or immediately appointed by the crown, and removable at pleasure without any reason assigned: these, it requires but little penetration to see, must give that power, on which they depend for subsistence, an influence most amazingly extensive. To this may be added the frequent opportunities of conferring particular obligations, by preference in loans, subscriptions, tickets, remittances, and other money-transactions, which will greatly increase this influence; and that over those persons whose attachment, on account of their wealth, is frequently the most desirable. All this is the natural, though perhaps the unforeseen, consequence of erecting our funds of credit, and to support them establishing our present perpetual taxes: the whole of which is entirely new since the restoration in 1660; and by far the greatest part since the revolution in 1688. And the same may be said with regard to the officers in our numerous army, and the places which the army has created. All which put together gives the executive power so persuasive an energy with respect to the persons themselves, and so prevailing an interest with their friends and families, as will amply make amends for the loss of external prerogative.

BUT, though this profusion of offices should have no effect on individuals, there is still another newly acquired branch of power; and that is, not the influence only, but the force of a disciplined army: paid indeed ultimately by the people, but immediately by the crown; raised by the crown, officered by the crown, commanded by the crown. They are kept on foot it is true only from year to year, and that by the power of parliament: but during that year they must, by the nature of our constitution, if raised at all, be at the absolute disposal of the crown. And there need but few words to demonstrate how great a trust is thereby reposed in the prince by his people. A trust, that is more than equivalent to a thousand little troublesome prerogatives.

ADD to all this, that, besides the civil list, the immense revenue of seven millions sterling, which is annually paid to the creditors of the public, or carried to the sinking fund, is first deposited in the royal exchequer, and thence issued out to the respective offices of payment. This revenue the people can never refuse to raise, because it is made perpetual by act of parliament: which also, when well considered, will appear to be a trust of great delicacy and high importance.

UPON the whole therefore I think it is clear, that, whatever may have become of the nominal, the real power of the crown has not been too far weakened by any transactions in the last century. Much is indeed given up; but much is also acquired. The stern commands of prerogative have yielded to the milder voice of influence; the slavish and exploded doctrine of non-resistance has given way to a military establishment by law; and to the disuse of parliaments has succeeded a parliamentary trust of an immense perpetual revenue. When, indeed, by the free operation of the sinking fund, our national debts shall be lessened, when the posture of foreign affairs, and the universal introduction of a well planned and national militia, will suffer our formidable army to be thinned and regulated; and when (in consequence of all) our taxes shall be gradually reduced; this adventitious power of the crown will slowly and imperceptibly diminish, as it slowly and imperceptibly rose. But, till that shall happen, it will be our especial duty, as good subjects and good Englishmen, to reverence the crown, and yet guard against corrupt and servile influence from those who are entrusted with its authority; to be loyal, yet free; obedient, and yet independent: and, above everything, to hope that we may long, very long, continue to be governed by a sovereign, who, in all those public acts that have personally proceeded from himself, has manifested the highest veneration for the free constitution of Britain; has already in more than one instance remarkably strengthened its outworks; and will therefore never harbor a thought, or adopt a persuasion, in any the remotest degree detrimental to public liberty.




[1] 2 Inst. 15.

[2] Stat. 17 Edw. II. c. 14. F. N. B. 32.

[3] Matth. Paris.

[4] 9 Hen. III. c. 5.

[5] 3 Edw. I. c. 21.

[6] Co. Litt. 67. 341.

[7] F. N. B. 230.

[8] Notes on F. N. B. above cited.

[9] page 110.

[10] 2 Inst. 647.

[11] F. N. B. 176.

[12] 3 Inst. 154.

[13] Numb. 18. 26.

[14] 1 Ann. St. 1. c. 7.

[15] In like manner, by the civil law, the inheritances or fundi patrimoniales [lands of inheritance] of the imperial crown could not be alienated, but only let to farm. Cod. l. 11. t. 61.

[16] 4 Inst. 273.

[17] Mod. Un. hist. xxxiii. 220.

[18] Roger North, in his life of lord keeper North, (43. 44) mentions an eyre, or iter, to have been held south of Trent soon after the restoration: but I have met with no report of its proceedings.

[19] 1 Jones. 267 298.

[20] Plowd. 315.

[21] Stiernh. de jure Sueonum. L. 2. c. 8. Gr. Coustum. cap. 17.

[22] 17 Edw. II. c. II.

[23] Bracton, L. 3. c. 3. Britton. c. 17. Fleta. L. I. c. 45 & 46.

[24] ch. 4. pag. 216.

[25] Dr. & St. d. 2. c. 51.

[26] Spelm. Cod. apud Wilkins. 305.

[27] 26 May, A. D. 1174. I Rym. Foed. 36.

[28] Rog. Hoved. in Ric. I.

[29] In like manner Constantine the great, finding that by the imperial law the revenue of wrecks was give to the prince’s treasury or fiscus, restrained it by an edict (Cod. II. 5. I.) and ordercd, them to remain to the owners; adding this humane expostulation, “Quod enim jus habet fiscus in aliena calamitate ut re tam luctuosa compendium sectetur?” [“For what right has the exchequer in other men’s misfortunes, that it should seek gain from so lamentable a source?."]

[30] Bract. l. 3. c. 3.

[31] 3 Edw. I. c. 4.

[32] Flet. I. c. 44. 2 Inst. 167.

[33] §. 28.

[34] 2 Inst. 168.

[35] Plowd. 166.

[36] 2 Inst. 168. Bro. Abr. tit. Wreck.

[37] 5 Rep. 106.

[38] Quae enim res in tempestate, levandae navis causa, ejiciuntur, hae dominorum permanent. Quia palam est, eas non eo animo ejici, quod quis habere noluit. [Those things which are cast overboard for the sake of lightening the ship still belong to the owners. For it is clear that they were not thrown away as relinquished on any other account.] Inst. 2. I. §. 48.

[39] 5 Rep. 108.

[40] Stiernh. de jure Sueon. l. 3. c. 5.

[41] F. N. B. 112.

[42] By the civil law, to destroy persons shipwrecked, or prevent their saving the ship, is capital. And to steal even a plank from a vessel in distress, or wrecked, makes the party liable to answer for the whole ship and cargo.(St. 47. 9. 3.) The laws also of the Visigoths, and the most early Neapolitan constitutions, punished with the utmost severity all those who neglected to assist any ship in distress, or plundered any goods cast on shore. (Lindenbrog. Cod. LL. antiq. 146. 715.)

[43] 2 Inst. 577.

[44] Plowd. 366.

[45] 3 Inst. 132. Dalt. Shatiffs. c. 16.

[46] Britt. c. 17. Finch. L. 177.

[47] l. 3. c. 3. §. 4.

[48] Bracton. l. 3.c. 3.. Inst. 133.

[49] Ff. 41. I. 31.

[50] de jur. b. & p. l. 2. c. 8. §. 7.

[51] Glanv. l. I. c. 2. Crag. I. 16. 40.

[52] 3 Inst. 133.

[53] Cro. Eliz. 694.

[54] Finch. L. 212.

[55] Ibid.

[56] 5 Rep. 109.

[57] Fitzh. Abr. tit. Estray. I. 3 Bulstr. 19.

[58] Mirr. c. 3. §. 19.

[59] 5 Rep. 108. Bro. Abr. tit. Estray. Cro. Eliz. 716.

[60] Stiernh. de jur. Gotbor. l. 3. c. 5.

[61] Dalt. Sh. 79.

[62] Finch. L. 177.

[63] l. I. c. 43.

[64] 7 Rep 17.

[65] I Roll. Abr. 889.

[66] Cro. Jac. 147.

[67] Cro. Jac. 148. Noy. 119.

[68] l. I. c. 12.

[69] I Hal. P. C. 419. Fleta. l. I. c. 25.

[70] Fitzh. Abr. tit. Enditement. Pl. 27. Stannr. P. C. 20, 21.

[71] 3 Inst. 57. I Hal. P. C. 422.

[72] Omnia, quae movent ad mortem, sunt Deo danda. [What moves to death we understand.] Bracton. l. 3. c. 5.

[73] Exed. 21. 28.

[74] Aeschin. contr. Ctrfiph.

[75] I Hal. P. C. 422.

[76] I Hawk. P. C. c. 26.

[77] A similar rule obtained among the ancient Goths. Si quis, me nesciente, quocunque meo telovel instrumento in perniciem suam abutatur; vel ex aedibus meis cadat, vel incidat in puteum meum, quantumvis tectum vel munitum, vel in cataractum,et sub molendino meo confrigatur, ipse aliqua mulcta plectar; ut in parte infelicitatis meae numeratur habuisse vel aedificasse aliquod quo homo periret. [If any one, without my knowledge, use any weapon or instrument of mine for his own destruction; or fall from my house, or into my well, however securely coveed or fenced, or into my mill-stream, or be crushed in my mill, let me suffer by some fine; as the misfortune may be reckoned in part mine, to have built or possessed anything by which a man should perish.] Stiernhook de jure Goth. l. 3. c. 4.

[78] Dr. & St. d. 2. c. 51.

[79] 3 Inst. 57.

[80] 3 Inst. 58. I Hal. P. C. 423. Molloy de jur. maritim. 2. 225.

[81] Foster of homicide, 266.

[82] Flet. l. I. c. II. §. 10.

[83] Dyer. 302. Hutt. 17. Noy 27.

[84] F. N. B. 232.

[85] 4 Rep. 126.

[86] F. N. B. 232.

[87] This power, though of late very rarely exerted, is still alluded to in common speech, by that usual expression of begging a man for a fool.

[88] 4 Inst. 203. Com. Journ. 1610.

[89] F. N. B. 233.

[90] Co. Litt. 42. Fleta. l. 6. c. 40.

[91] Inst. 246.

[92] 3 p. Wms. 108.

[93] 2 p. Wms. 638.

[94] Solent praetores, si talem hominem invenerent, qui neque tempus neque finem expensarum habet, sed bono sua dilacerando et dissipando profundit, curatorem ei dare, exemplo furiosi: et tamdiu erunt ambo in curatione, quamdiu vel furiosus sanitatem, vel ille bonos mores, receperit. [The praetors are accustomed, when they find a man who sets no bounds to his expenses, but lavishes his fortune in acts of dissipation, to appoint him a guardian as though he were a madman; and as the madman so the spendthrift shall be in wardship until the one be restored unto a sanity of mind and the other to reformed manners.] Ff. 27. 10. I.

[95] potter. Antiqu. b. I. c. 26.

[96] Bro. Abr. tit. idiot. 4.

[97] pag. 271.

[98] pag. 163.

[99] 2 Inst. 77. 4 Inst. 34.

[100] Hoved. A. D. 1188. Carte. I. 719. Hume. I. 329.

[101] A. D. 1232.

[102] See the second book of these commentaries.

[103] cap. 14.

[104] 9 Hen. III. c. 37.

[105] 25 Edw. I. c. 5. & 6. 34 Edw. I. St. 4. c. I. 14 Edw. III. St. 2. c. I.

[106] Madox. hist, exch. 480.

[107] 4 Inst. 33.

[108] hist. b. 2.

[109] 4 Inst 33.

[110] Dalt. of sheriffs, 418. Gilb. hist. of exch. c. 4.

[111] 29 Nov. 4 Mar. 1642.

[112] One of these bills of assessment, in 1656, is preserved in Scobell’s collection, 400.

[113] Com. Journ. 26 Jun. 9 Dec. 1678.

[114] in the years 1732 and 1733.

[115] Dyer. 165.

[116] Dyer. 43. pl. 24.

[117] 2 Inst. 58, 59

[118] Dav. 9.

[119] This appellation seems to be derived from the French word coustum, or coutum which signifies toll or tribute, and owes its own etymology to the word coust, which signifies price, charge, or, as we have adopted it in English, cost.

[120] 4 Inst. 29.

[121] Madox hist exch. 526, 532.

[122] Dav. 8. b. 2 Bulstr. 254.

[123] Dav. II, 12.

[124] Dav. 12.

[125] Stat. 6 Hen. VIII. c. 14.

[126] 16 Car. I. c. 8.

[127] Stat. 12 Car. II. c. 4. II Geo. I. c. 7.

[128] hist. I. 13.

[129] Montesqu. Sp.£ b. 13. c. 8.

[130] hist. b. 3.

[131] Com. Journ. 8 Oct. 1642.

[132] The translator and continuator of Petavius’s chronological history (Lond. 1659.) informs us, that it was first moved for, 28 Mar. 1643, by Mr. Prynne. And it appears from the journals of the commons that on that day the house resolved itself into a committee to consider of raising money, in consequence of which the excise was afterwards voted. But Mr. Prynne was not a member of parliament till 7 Nov. 1648; and published in 1654 “A protestation against the illegal, detestable, and oft condemned tax and extortion of excise in general.” It is probably therefore a mistake of the printer for Mr. Pymme, who was intended for chancellor of the exchequer under the earl of Bedford. (Lord Clar. b. 7.)

[133] Com. Journ. 17 May 1643.

[134] Lord Clar. b. 7.

[135] 30 May 1643. Dugdale of the troubles 120.

[136] Ord. 14 Aug. 1649. c. 50. Scobell. 72. Stat. 1656. c. 19. Scobell. 453.

[137] Com. Journ. 28 Mar. 1642.

[138] Ibid. 7. Sept. 1644.

[139] Ibid. 21 Mar. 1649.

[140] Ibid.

[141] Scobell. 358.

[142] Com. Journ. 9 Jun. 1657. Scobell. 511.

[143] Com. Journ. 17 Dec. 1660.

[144] Ibid. 22 Dec. 1660.

[145] Ibid. 16 Apr. 1735.

[146] Ibid. 26 Feb. 1734.

[147] Ibid. 28 Mar. 1764.

[148] Mod. Un. hist. xxiii. 463. Spelm. Gloss. tit. Fuage.

[149] Scobell. 313.

[150] Com. Journ. 14 Feb. 1661.

[151] 10 Ann. c. 19. §. 158. 12 Geo. I. c. 15. 33 Geo. II. c. 25.

[152] Pro tempore, pro spe, pro commodo, minuitur eorum pretium atque augescit. [Their price was lessened and increased according to time, expectation, or advantage.] Aretin. See Mod. Un. hist. xxxvi. 116.

[153] Stat. I. Geo. III. c. I.

[154] Lord Clar. continuation. 163.

[155] Com. Journ. 4 Sept. 1660.

[156] Ibid.

[157] Ibid. 4 Jun. 1663. Lord Clar. ibid.

[158] Ibid. 165.

[159] Stat. I Jac. II. c. I.

[160] Stat. I Jac. II. c. 3 & 4.

[161] Com. Journ. I Mar. 20 Mar. 1688.

[162] Ibid. 14 Mar. 1701.

[163] Ibid. 17 Mar. 1701. II Aug. 1714.

[164] Stat. I Geo. II. c. I.




Of Subordinate Magistrates

IN a former chapter of these commentaries [1] we distinguished magistrates into two kinds; supreme, or those in whom the sovereign power of the state resides; and subordinate, or those who act in an inferior secondary sphere. We have hitherto considered the former kind only, namely, the supreme legislative power or parliament, and the supreme executive power, which is the king: and are now to inquire into the rights and duties of the principal subordinate magistrates.

AND herein we are not to investigate the powers and duties of his majesty’s great officers of state, the lord treasurer, lord chamberlain, the principal secretaries, or the like; because I do not know that they are in that capacity in any considerable degree the objects of our laws, or have any very important share of magistracy conferred upon them: except that the secretaries of state are allowed the power of commitment, in order to bring offenders to trial. [2] Neither shall I here treat of the office and authority of the lord chancellor, or the other judges of the superior courts of justice; because they will find a more proper place in the third part of these commentaries. Nor shall I enter into any minute disquisitions, with regard to the rights and dignities of mayors and aldermen, or other magistrates of particular corporations; because these are mere private and strictly municipal rights, depending entirely upon the domestic constitution of their respective franchises. But the magistrates and officers, whose rights and duties it will be proper in this chapter to consider, are such as are generally in use and have a jurisdiction and authority dispersedly throughout the kingdom: which are, principally, sheriffs; coroners; justices of the peace; constables; surveyors of highways; and overseers of the poor. In treating of all which I shall inquire into, first, their antiquity and original; next, the manner in which they are appointed and may be removed; and, lastly, their rights and duties. And first of sheriffs.

I. THE sheriff is an officer of very great antiquity in this kingdom, his name being derived from two Saxon words, shire reeve, the bailiff or officer of the shire. He is called in Latin vice-comes, as being the deputy of the earl or comes; to whom the custody of the shire is said to have been committed at the first division of this kingdom into counties. But the earls in process of time, by reason of their high employments and attendance on the king’s person, not being able to transact the business of the county, were delivered of that burden; [3] reserving to themselves the honor, but the labor was laid on the sheriff. So that now the sheriff does all the king’s business in the county; and though he be still called vice-comes, yet he is entirely independent of, and not subject to the earl; the king by his letters patent committing custodiam comitatus [custody of the county] to the sheriff, and him alone.

SHERIFFS were formerly chosen by the inhabitants of the several counties. In confirmation of which it was ordained by statute 28 Edw. I. c. 8. that the people should have election of sheriffs in every shire, where the shrievalty is not of inheritance. For anciently in some counties, particularly on the borders, the sheriffs were hereditary; as I apprehend they are in Scotland, and in the county of Westmorland, to this day: and the city of London has also the inheritance of the shrievalty of Middlesex vested in their body by charter. [4] The reason of these popular elections is assigned in the same statute, c. 13. “that the commons might choose such as would not be a burden to them.” And herein appears plainly a strong trace of the democratical part of our constitution; in which form of government it is an indispensable requisite, that the people should choose their own magistrates. [5] This election was in all probability not absolutely vested in the commons, but required the royal approbation. For in the Gothic constitution, the judges of their county courts (which office is executed by our sheriff) were elected by the people, but confirmed by the king: and the form of their election was thus managed; the people, or incolae territorii [territorial inhabitants], chose twelve electors, and they nominated three persons, ex quibus rex unum confirmabat [6] [of whom the king confirmed one]. But, with us in England, these popular elections, growing tumultuous, were put an end to by the statute 9 Edw. II. St. 2. which enacted, that the sheriffs should from thenceforth be assigned by the lord chancellor, treasurer, and the judges; as being persons in whom the same trust might with confidence be reposed. By statutes 14 Edw. III. c. 7. and 23 Hen. VI. c. 8. the chancellor, treasurer, chief justices, and chief baron, are to make this election; and that on the morrow of All Souls in the exchequer; and the king’s letters patent, appointing the new sheriffs, used commonly to bear date the sixth day of November. [7] The statute of Cambridge, 12 Ric. II. c. 2. ordains, that the chancellor, Treasurer, keeper of the privy seal, steward of the king’s house, the king’s chamberlain, clerk of the rolls, the justices of the exchequer, and all other that shall be called to ordain, name, or make justices of the peace, sheriffs, and other officers of the king, shall be sworn to act indifferently, and to name no man that sues to be put in office, but such only as they shall judge to be the best and most sufficient. And the custom now is (and has been at least ever since the time of Fortescue, [8] who was chief justice and chancellor to Henry the sixth) that all the judges, and certain other great officers, meet in the exchequer chamber on the morrow of All Souls yearly, (which day is now altered to the morrow of St. Martin by the act for abbreviating Michaelmas term) and then and there nominate three persons to the king, who afterwards appoints one of them to be sheriff. This custom, of the twelve judges nominating three persons, seems borrowed form the Gothic constitution beforementioned; with this difference, that among the Goths the twelve nominors were first elected by the people themselves. And this usage of ours at its first introduction, I am apt to believe, was founded upon some statute, though not now to be found among our printed laws: first, because it is materially different from the directions of all the statutes beforementioned; which it is hard to conceive that the judges would have countenanced by their concurrence, or that Fortescue would have inserted in his book, unless by the authority of some statute: and also, because a statute is expressly referred to in the record, which Sir Edward Coke tells us [9] he transcribed from the council book of 3 Mar. 34 Hen. VI. and which is in substance as follows. The king had of his own authority appointed a man sheriff of Lincolnshire, which office he refused to take upon him: whereupon the opinions of the judges were taken, what should be done in this behalf. And the two chief justices, Sir John Fortescue and Sir John Prisot, delivered the unanimous opinion of them all; “that the king did an error when he made a person sheriff, that was not chosen and presented to him according to the statute; that the person refusing was liable to no fine for disobedience, as if he had been one of the three persons chosen according to the tenor of the statute; that they would advise the king to have recourse to the statute, or that some other thrifty man be entreated to occupy the office for this year; and that, the next year, to eschew such inconveniences, the order of the statute in this behalf made be observed.” But, notwithstanding this unanimous resolution of all the judges of England, thus entered in the council book, and the statute 34 & 35 Hen. VIII. c. 26. § 61. which expressly recognizes this to be the law of the land, some of our writers [10] have affirmed, that the king, by his prerogative, may name whom he pleases to be sheriff, whether chosen by the judges or no. This is grounded on a very particular case in the fifth year of queen Elizabeth, when, by reason of the plague, there was no Michaelmas term kept at Westminster; so that the judges could not meet there in crastino animarum [on the morrow of All Souls] to nominate the sheriffs: whereupon the queen named them herself, without such previous assembly, appointing for the most part one of the two remaining in the last year’s list. [11] And this case, thus circumstanced, is the only precedent in our books for the making these extraordinary sheriffs. It is true, the reporter adds, that it was held that the queen by her prerogative might make a sheriff without the election of the judges, non obstante aliquo statuto in contrarium [notwithstanding any statute to the contrary]: but the doctrine of non obstante ’s, which sets the prerogative above the laws, was effectually demolished by the bill of rights at the revolution, and abdicated Westminster-hall when king James abdicated the kingdom. So that sheriffs cannot now be legally appointed, otherwise than according to the known and established law. However, it must be acknowledged, that the practice of occasionally naming what are called pocket sheriffs, by the sole authority of the crown, has been uniformly continued to this day.

SHERIFFS, by virtue of several old statutes, are to continue in their office no longer than one year; and yet it has been said [12] that a sheriff may be appointed durante bene placito, or during the king’s pleasure; and so is the form of the royal writ. [13] Therefore, till a new sheriff be named, his office cannot be determined, unless by his own death, or the demise of the king; in which last case it was usual for the successor to send a new writ to the old sheriff: [14] but now by statute I Ann. St. c. 8. all officers appointed by the preceding king may hold their officers for six months after the king’s demise, unless sooner displaced by the successor. We may farther observe, that by statute I Ric. II. c. II. no man, that has served the office of sheriff for one year, can be compelled to serve the same again within three years after.

WE shall find it is of the utmost importance to have the sheriff appointed according to law, when we consider his power and duty. These are either as a judge, as the keeper of the king’s peace, as a ministerial officer of the superior courts of justice, or as the king’s bailiff.

IN his judicial capacity he is to hear and determine all causes of forty shillings value and under, in his county court, of which more in its proper place: and he has also judicial power in diverse other civil cases. [15] He is likewise to decide the elections of knights of the shire, (subject to the house of commons) of coroners, and of verderors; to judge of the qualification of voters, and to return such as he shall determine to be duly elected.

As the keeper of the king’s peace, both by common law and special commission, he is the first man in the county, and superior in rank to any nobleman therein, during his office. [16] He may apprehend, and commit to prison, all persons who break the peace, or attempt to break it: and may bind any one in a recognizance to keep the king’s peace. He may, and is bound ex officio [officially] to, pursue and take all traitors, murderers, felons, and other misdoers, and commit them to jail for safe custody. He is also to defend his county against any of the king’s enemies when they come into the land: and for this purpose, as well as for keeping the peace and pursuing felons, he may command all the people of his county to attend him; which is called the posse comitatus, or power of the county: [17] which summons every person above fifteen years old, and under the degree of a peer, is bound to attend upon warning, [18] under pain of fine and imprisonment. [19] But though the sheriff is thus the principal conservator of the peace in his county, yet, by the express directions of the great charter, [20] he, together with the constable, coroner, and certain other officers of the king, are forbidden to hold any pleas of the crown, or, in other words, to try any criminal offense. For it would be highly unbecoming, that the executioners of justice should be also the judges; should impose, as well as levy, fines and amercements; should one day condemn a man to death, and personally execute him the next. Neither may he act as an ordinary justice of the peace during the time of his office: [21] for this would be equally inconsistent; he being in many respects the servant of the justices.

IN his ministerial capacity the sheriff is bound to execute all process issuing from the king’s courts of justice. In the commencement of civil causes, he is to serve the writ, to arrest, and to take bail; when the cause comes to trial, he must summon and return the jury; when it is determined, he must see the judgment of the court carried into execution. In criminal matters, he also arrests and imprisons, he returns the jury, he has the custody of the delinquent, and he executes the sentence of the court, though it extend to death itself.

As the king’s bailiff, it is his business to preserve the rights of the king within his bailiwick; for so his county is frequently called in the writs: a word introduced by the princes of the Norman line; in imitation of the French, whose territory is divided into bailiwicks, as that of England into counties. [22] He must seize to the king’s use all lands devolved to the crown by attainder or escheat; must levy all fines and forfeitures; must seize and keep all waifs, wrecks, estrays, and the like, unless they be granted to some subject; and must also collect the king’s rents within his bailiwick, if commanded by process from the exchequer. [23]

To execute these various offices, the sheriff has under him many inferior officers; an under-sheriff, bailiffs, and jailers; who must neither buy, sell, nor farm their offices, on forfeiture of 5000£ [24]

THE under-sheriff usually performs all the duties of the office; a very few only excepted, where the personal presence of the high-sheriff is necessary. But no under-sheriff shall abide in his office above one year; [25] and if he does, by statute 23 Hen. VI. c. 8. he forfeits 200£ a very large penalty in those early days. And no under-sheriff or sheriff’s officer shall practice as an attorney, during the time he continues in such office: [26] for this would be a great inlet to partiality and oppression. But these salutary regulations are shamefully evaded, by practicing in the names of other attorneys, and putting in sham deputies by way of nominal under-sheriffs: by reason of which, says Dalton, [27] the under-sheriffs and bailiffs do grow so cunning in their several places, that they are able to deceive, and it may be well feared that many of them do deceive, both the king, the high-sheriff, and the county.

BAILIFFS, or sheriff’s officers, are either bailiffs of hundreds, or special bailiffs. Bailiffs of hundreds are officers appointed over those respective districts by the sheriffs, to collect fines therein; to summon juries; to attend the judges and justices at the assizes, and quarter sessions; and also to execute writs and process in the several hundreds. But, as these are generally plain men, and not thoroughly skillful in this latter part of their office, that of serving writs, and making arrests and executions, it is now usual to join special bailiffs with them; who are generally mean persons employed by the sheriffs on account only of their adroitness and dexterity in hunting and seizing their prey. The sheriff being answerable for the misdemeanors of these bailiffs, they are therefore usually bound in a bond for the due execution of their office, and thence are called bound-bailiffs; which the common people have corrupted into a much more homely appellation.

Jailers are also the servants of the sheriff, and he must be responsible for their conduct. Their business is to keep safely all such persons as are committed to them by lawful warrant: and, if they suffer any such to escape, the sheriff shall answer it to the king, if it be a criminal matter; or, in a civil case, to the party injured. [28] And to this end the sheriff must [29] have lands sufficient within the county to answer the king and his people. The abuses of jailers and sheriff’s officers toward the unfortunate persons in their custody are well restrained and guarded against by statute 32 Geo. II. c. 28.

THE vast expense, which custom had introduced in serving the office of high-sheriff, was grown such a burden to the subject, that it was enacted, by statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 21. that no sheriff should keep any table at the assizes, except for his own family, or give any presents to the judges or their servants, or have more than forty men in livery; yet, for the sake of safety and decence, he may not have less than twenty men in England and twelve in Wales; upon forfeiture, in any of these cases, of 200£

II. THE coroner’s is also a very ancient office at the common law. He is called coroner, coronator, because he has principally to do with pleas of the crown, or such wherein the king is more immediately concerned. [30] And in this light the lord chief justice of the king’s bench is the principal coroner in the kingdom, and may (if he pleases) exercise the jurisdiction of a coroner in any part of the realm. [31] But there are also particular coroners for every county of England; usually four, but sometimes six, and sometimes fewer. [32] This officer [33] is of equal antiquity with the sheriff; and was ordained together with him to keep the peace, when the earls gave up the wardship of the county.

HE is still chosen by all the freeholders in the county court, as by the policy of our ancient laws the sheriffs, and conservators of the peace, and all other officers were, who were concerned in matters that affected the liberty of the people; [34] and as verderors or the forests still are, whose business it is to stand between the prerogative and the subject in the execution of the forest laws. For this purpose there is a writ at common law de coronatore eligendo [35] [of choosing a coroner] in which it is expressly commanded the sheriff, ” quod talem eligi faciat, qui melius et sciat, et velit, et possit officio illi intendere.” [“To cause one to be chosen who is best informed, and most willing and able to hold office."] And, in order to effect this the more surely, it was enacted by the statute of Westm. I, [36] that none but lawful and discreet knights should be chosen. But it seems it is now sufficient if a man have lands enough to be made a knight, whether he be really knighted or not: [37] and there was an instance in the 5 Edw. III. of a man being removed from this office, because he was only a merchant. [38] The coroner ought also to have estate sufficient to maintain the dignity of his office, and answer any fines that may be set upon him for his misbehavior: [39] and if he have not enough to answer, his fine shall be levied on the county, as a punishment for electing an insufficient officer. [40] Now indeed, through the culpable neglect of gentlemen of property, this office has been suffered to fall into disrepute, and get into low and indigent hands: so that, although formerly no coroner would condescend to be paid for serving his country, and they were by the aforesaid statute of Westm. I. expressly forbidden to take a reward, under pain of great forfeiture to the king; yet for many years past they have only desired to be chosen for the sake of their perquisites; being allowed fees for their attendance by the statute 3 Hen. VII. c. I. which Sir Edward Coke complains of heavily; [41] though they have since his time been much enlarged. [42]

THE coroner is chosen for life: but may be removed, either by being made sheriff, or chosen verderor, which are offices incompatible with the other; or by the king’s writ de coronatore exonerando [discharging the coroner], for a cause to be therein assigned, as that he is engaged in other business, is incapacitated by years or sickness, has not a sufficient estate in the county, or lives in an inconvenient part of it. [43] And by the statute 25 Geo. II. c. 29. extortion, neglect, or misbehavior, are also made causes of removal.

THE office and power of a coroner are also, like those of a sheriff, either judicial or ministerial; but principally judicial. This is in great measure ascertained by statute 4 Edw. I. de officio coronatoris [the office of coroner]; and consists, first, in inquiring (when any person is slain or dies suddenly or in prison) concerning the manner of his death. And this must be ” super visum corporis “ [44] [“in view of the body”] for, if the body be not found, the coroner cannot sit. [45] He must also sit at the very place where the death happened; and his inquiry is made by a jury from four, five or six of the neighboring towns, over whom he is to preside. If any be found guilty by this inquest of murder, he is to commit to prison for further trial, and is also to inquire concerning their lands, goods and chattels, which are forfeited thereby: but, whether it be murder or not, he must inquire whether any deodand has accrued to the king, or the lord of the franchise, by this death: and must certify the whole of this inquisition to the court of king’s bench, or the next assizes. Another branch of his office is to inquire concerning shipwrecks; and certify whether wreck or not, and who is in possession of the goods. Concerning treasure trove, he is also to inquire who were the finders, and where it is, and whether any one be suspected of having found and concealed a treasure; “and that may be well perceived (says the old statute of Edw. I.) where one lives riotously, haunting taverns, and has done so of long time:” whereupon he might be attached, and held so bail, upon this suspicion only.

THE ministerial office of the coroner is only as the sheriff’s substitute. For when just exception can be taken to the sheriff, for suspicion of partiality, (as that he is interested in the suit, or of kindred to either plaintiff or defendant) the process must then be awarded to the coroner, instead of the sheriff, for execution of the king’s writs. [46]

III. THE next species of subordinate magistrates, whom I am to consider, are justices of the peace; the principal of whom is the custos rotulorum, or keeper of the records of the county. The common law has ever had a special care and regard for the conservation of the peace; for peace is the very end and foundation of civil society. And therefore, before the present constitution of justices was invented, there were peculiar officers appointed by the common law for the maintenance of the public peace. Of these some had, and still have, this power annexed to other offices which they hold; others had it merely by itself, and were thence named custodes [keepers] or conservatores pacis [keepers of the peace]. Those that were so virtute officii still continue; but the latter sort are superseded by the modern justices.

THE kings majesty [47] is, by his office and dignity royal, the principal conservator of the peace within all his dominions; and may give authority to any other to see the peace kept, and to punish such as break it: hence it is usually called the king’s peace. The lord chancellor or keeper, the lord treasurer, the lord high steward of England, the lord marshal, and lord high constable of England (when any such officers are in being) and all the justices of the court if king’s bench (by virtue of their offices) and the master of the rolls (by prescription) are general conservators of the peace throughout the whole kingdom, and may commit all breakers of it, or bind them in recognizances to keep it: [48] the other judges are only so in their own courts. The coroner is also a conservator of the peace within his own county; [49] as is also the sheriff; [50] and both of them may take a recognizance or security for the peace. Constables, tithing-men, and the like, are also conservators of the peace within their own jurisdictions; and may apprehend all breakers of the peace, and commit them till they find sureties for their keeping it. [51]

THOSE that were, without any office, simply and merely conservators of the peace, either claim that power by prescription; [52] or were bound to exercise it by the tenure of their lands; [53] or, lastly, were chosen by the freeholders in full county court before the sheriff; the writ for their election directing them to be chosen ” de probioribus et potentioribus comitatus sui in custodes pacis.” [54] [“From the most upright and powerful of their county as keepers of the peace."] But when queen Isabel, the wife of Edward II, had contrived to depose her husband by a forced resignation of the crown, and had set up his son Edward III in his place; this, being a thing then without example in England, it was feared would much alarm the people; especially as the old king was living, though hurried about from castle to castle; till at last he met with an untimely death. To prevent therefore any risings, or other disturbance of the peace, the new king sent writs to all the sheriffs in England, the form of which is preserved by Thomas Walfingham, [55] giving a plausible account of the manner of his obtaining the crown; to wit, that it was done ipsius patris beneplacito [by his father’s good pleasure]: and withal commanding each sheriff that the peace be kept throughout his bailiwick, on pain and peril of disinheritance and loss of life and limb. And in a few weeks after the date of these writs, it was ordained in parliament, [56] that, for the better maintaining and keeping of the peace in every county, good men and lawful, which were no maintainers of evil, or barretors in the country, should be assigned to keep the peace. And in this manner, and upon this occasion, was the election of the conservators of the peace taken from the people, and given to the king; [57] this assignment being construed to be by the king’s commission. [58] But still they were called only conservators, wardens, or keepers of the peace, till the statute 34 Edw. III. c. I. gave them the power of trying felonies; and then they acquired the more honorable appellation of justices. [59]

THESE justices are appointed by the king’s special commission under the great seal, the form of which was settled by all the judges, A. D. 1590. [60] This appoints them all, [61] jointly and severally, to keep the peace, and any two or more of them to inquire of and determine felonies, and other misdemeanors: in which number some particular justices, or one of them, are directed to be always included, and no business to be done without their presence; the words of the commission running thus, ” quorum aliquem vestrum, A. B. C. D. &c. unum esse volumus “ [“of whom we will that some one of you, A, B, C, D, etc, be one”]; whence the persons so named are usually called justices of the quorum. And formerly it was customary to appoint only a select number of justices, eminent for their skill and discretion, to be of the quorum; but now the practice is to advance almost all of them to that dignity, naming them all over again in the quorum clause, except perhaps only some one inconsiderable person for the sake of propriety: and no exception is now allowable, for not expressing in the form of warrants, etc, that the justice who issued them is of the quorum. [62]

TOUCHING the number and qualifications of these justices; it was ordained by statute 18 Edw. III. c. 2. that two, or these, of the best reputation in each county shall be assigned to be keepers of the peace. But these being found rather too few for that purpose, it was provided by statute 34 Edw. III. c. I. that one lord, and three, or four, of the most worthy men in the county, with some learned in the law, shall be made justices in every county. But afterwards the number of justices, though the ambition of private persons, became so large, that it was thought necessary by statute 12 Rec. II. c. 10. and 14 Rec. II. c. 11. to restrain them at first to six, and afterwards to eight only. But this rule is now disregarded, and the cause seems to be (as Lambard observed long ago [63]) that the growing number of statute laws, committed from time to time to the charge of justices of the peace, have occasioned also (and very reasonably) their increase to a larger number. And, as to their qualifications, the statutes just cited direct them to be of the best reputation, and most worthy men in the county: and the statute 13 Ric. II. c. 10. orders them to be of the most sufficient knights, esquires, and gentlemen of the law. Also by statute 2 Hen. V. St. I. c. 4. and St. 2. c. I. they must be resident in their several counties. And because, contrary to these statutes, men of small substance had crept into the commission, whose poverty made them both covetous and contemptible, it was enacted by statute 18 Hen. VI. c. 11. that no justice should be put in commission, if he had not lands to the value of 20£ per annum. And, the rate of money being greatly altered since that time, it is now enacted by statute 5 Geo. II. c. II. that every justice, except as is therein excepted, shall have 100£ per annum clear of all deductions; and, if he acts without such qualification, he shall forfeit 100£ which [64] is almost an equivalent to the 20£ per annum required in Henry the sixth’s time: and of this qualification [65] the justice must now make oath. Also it is provided by the act 5 Geo. II. that no practicing attorney, solicitor, or proctor, shall be capable of acting as a justice of the peace.

As the office of these justices is conferred by the king, so it subsists only during his pleasure; and is determinable, I. By the demise of the crown; that is, in six months after. [66] 2. By express writ under the great seal, [67] discharging any particular person from being any longer justice. 3. By superseding the commission by writ of supersedeas, which suspends the power of all the justices, but does not totally destroy it; seeing it may be revived again by another writ, called a procedendo [proceeding]. 4. By a new commission, which virtually, though silently, discharges all the former justices that are not included therein; for two commissions cannot subsist at once. 5. By accession of the office of sheriff or coroner. [68] Formerly it was thought, that if a man was named in any commission of the peace, and had afterwards a new dignity conferred upon him, that this determined his office; he no longer answering the description of the commission: but now [69] it is provided, that notwithstanding a new title of dignity, the justice on whom it is conferred shall still continue a justice.

THE power, office, and duty of a justice of the peace depend on his commission, and on the several statutes, which have created objects of his jurisdiction. His commission, first, empowers him singly to conserve the peace; and thereby gives him all the power of the ancient conservators at the common law, in suppressing riots and affrays, in taking securities for the peace, and in apprehending and committing felons and other inferior criminals. It also empowers any two or more of them to hear and determine all felonies and other offenses; which is the ground of their jurisdiction at sessions, of which more will be said in its proper place. And as to the powers given to one, two, or more justices by the several statutes, that from time to time have heaped upon them such an infinite variety of business, that few care to undertake, and fewer understand, the office; they are such and of so great importance to the public, that the country is greatly obliged to any worthy magistrate, that without sinister views of his own will engage in this troublesome service. And therefore, if a well meaning justice makes any undesigned slip in his practice, great lenity and indulgence is shown to him in the courts of law; and there are many statutes made to protect him in the upright discharge of his office: [70] which, among other privileges, prohibit such justices from being sued for any oversights without notice beforehand; and stop all suits begun, on tender made of sufficient amends. But, on the other hand, any malicious or tyrannical abuse of their office is sure to be severely punished; and all persons who recover a verdict against a justice, for any wilful or malicious injury, are entitled to double costs.

IT is impossible upon our present plan to enter minutely into the particulars of the accumulated authority, thus committed to the charge of these magistrates. I must therefore refer myself at present to such subsequent parts of these commentaries, as will in their turns comprise almost every object of the justices’ jurisdiction: and in the mean time recommend to the student the perusal of Mr. Lambard’s Eirenarcha, and Dr Burn’s Justice of the Peace; wherein he will find everything relative to this subject, both in ancient and modern practice, collected with great care and accuracy, and disposed in a most clear and judicious method.

I SHALL next consider some officers of lower rank than those which have gone before, and of more confined jurisdiction; but still such as are universally in use through every part of the kingdom.

IV. FOURTHLY, then, of the constable. The word constable is frequently said to be derived from the Saxon, koning-staple, and to signify the support of the king. But, as we borrowed the name as well as the office of constable from the french, I am rather inclined to deduce it, with Sir H. Spelman and Dr Cowel, from that language, wherein it is plainly derived from the Latin comes stabuli, an officer well known in the empire; so called because, like the great constable of France, as well as the lord high constable of England, he was to regulate all matters of chivalry, tilts, tournaments, and feats of arms, which were performed on horseback. This great office of lord high constable has been disused in England, except only upon great and solemn occasions, as the king’s coronation and the like, ever since the attainder of Stafford duke of Buckingham under king Henry VIII; as in France it was suppressed about a century after by an edict of Louis XIII: [71] but from his office, says Lambard, [72] this lower constableship was at first drawn and fetched, and is as it were a very finger of that hand. For the statute of Winchester, [73] which first appoints them, for the better keeping of the peace, two constables in every hundred and franchise shall inspect all matters relating to arms and armor.

CONSTABLES are of two sorts, high constables, and petty constables. The former were first ordained by the statute of Winchester, as before-mentioned; and are appointed at the court leets of the franchise or hundred over which they preside, or, in default of that, by the justices at their quarter sessions; and are removable by the same authority that appoints them. [74] The petty constables are inferior officers in every town and parish, subordinate to the high constable of the hundred, first instituted about the reign of Edward III. [75] These petty constables have two offices united in them; the one ancient, the other modern. Their ancient office is that of headborough, tithing-man, or borsholder; of whom we formerly spoke, [76] and who are as ancient as the time of the king Alfred: their more modern office is that of constable merely; which was appointed (as was observed) so lately as the reign of Edward III, in order to assist the high constable. [77] And in general the ancient headboroughs, tithing-men, and borsholders, were made use of to serve as petty constables; though not so generally, but that in many places they still continue distinct officers from the constable. They are all chosen by the jury at the court leet; or, if no court leet be held, are appointed by two justices of the peace. [78]

THE general duty of all constables, both high and petty, as well as of the other officers, is to keep the king’s peace in their several districts; and to that purpose they are armed with very large powers, of arresting, and imprisoning, of breaking open houses, and the like: of the extent of which powers, considering what manner of men are for the most part put upon these offices, it is perhaps very well that they are generally kept in ignorance. One of their principal duties, arising from the statute of Winchester, which appoints them, is to keep watch and ward in their respective jurisdictions. Ward, guard, or custodia, is chiefly intended of the day time, in order to apprehend rioters, and robbers on the highways; the manner of doing which is left to the discretion of the justices of the peace and the constable, [79] the hundred being however answerable for all robberies committed therein, by day light, for having kept negligent guard. Watch is properly applicable to the night only, (being called among our Teutonic ancestors wacht or wacta [80]) and it begins at the time when ward ends, and ends when that begins; for, by the statute of Winchester, in walled towns the gates shall be closed from sunsetting to sunrising, and watch shall be kept in every borough and town, especially in the summer season, to apprehend all rogues, vagabonds, and night-walkers, and make them give an account of themselves. The constable may appoint watchmen at his discretion, regulated by the custom of the place; and these, being his deputies, have for the time being the authority of their principal. But, with regard to the infinite number of other minute duties, that are laid upon constables by a diversity of statutes, I must again refer to Mr. Lambard and Dr Burn; in whose compilations may be also seen, what duties belong to the constable or tithing-man indifferently, and what to the constable only: for the constable may do whatever the tithing-man may; but it does not hold e converso ; for the tithing-man has not an equal power with the constable.

V. WE are next to consider the surveyors of the highways. Every parish is bound of common right to keep the high roads, that go through it, in good and sufficient repair; unless by reason of the tenure of lands, or otherwise, this care is consigned to some particular private person. From this burden no man was exempt by our ancient laws, whatever other immunities he might enjoy: this being part of the trinoda necessitas [the threefold obligation], to which every man’s estate was subject; viz. expeditio contra hostem, arcium constructio, et pontium reparatio [going against the enemy, construction of towers and reparation of bridges]: for, though the reparation of bridges only is expressed, yet that of roads also must be understood; as in the Roman law, ad instructiones reparationesque itinerum et pontium, nullum genus hominum, nulliusque dignitatis ac venerationis mentis, cessare oportet. [81] [With respect to the construction and repairing of ways and bridges no class of men of whatever rank or dignity should be exempted.] And indeed now, for the most part, the care of the roads only seems to be left to parishes; that of bridges being in great measure devolved upon the county at large, by statute 22 Hen. VIII. c. 5. If the parish neglected these repairs, they might formerly, as they may still, be indicted for such their neglect: but it was not then incumbent on any particular office to call the parish together, and set them upon this work; for which reason by the statute 2 & 3 ph. & M. c. 8. surveyors of the highways were ordered to be chosen in every parish. [82]

THESE surveyors were originally, according to the statute of Philip and Mary, to be appointed by the constable and churchwardens of the parish; but now [83] they are constituted by two neighboring justices, out of such substantial inhabitants as have either 10£ per annum of their own, or rent 30£ a year, or are worth in personal estate 100£.

THESE office and duty consists in putting in execution a variety of statutes for the repairs of the highways; that is, of ways leading from one town to another: by which it is enacted, 1. That they may remove all annoyances in the highways, or give notice to the owner to remove them; who is liable to penalties on noncompliance. 2. They are to call together all the inhabitants of the parish, six days in every year, to labor in repairing the highways; all persons keeping drafts, or occupying lands, being obliged to send a team for every draft, and for every 50£ a year, which they keep or occupy; and all other persons to work or find a laborer. The work must be completed before harvest; as well for providing a good road for carrying in the corn, as also because all hands are then supposed to be employed in harvest work. And every cartway must be made eight feet wide at the least; [84] and may be increased by the quarter sessions to the breadth of four and twenty feet. 3. The surveyors may lay out their own money in purchasing materials for repairs, where there is not sufficient within the parish, and shall be reimbursed by a rate, to be allowed at a special sessions. 4. In case the personal labor of the parish be not sufficient, the surveyors, with the consent of the quarter sessions, may levy a rate (not exceeding 6 d. in the pound) on the parish, in aid of the personal duty; for the due application of which they are to account upon oath. As for turnpikes, which are now universally introduced in aid of such rates, and the law relating to them, depend entirely on the particular powers granted in the several road acts, and therefore have nothing to do with this compendium of general law.

VI. I PROCEED therefore, lastly, to consider the overseers of the poor; their original, appointment, and duty.

THE poor of England, till the time of Henry VIII, subsisted entirely upon private benevolence, and the charity of well disposed Christians. For, though it appears by the mirrour, [85] that by the common law the poor were to be “sustained by parsons, rectors of the church, and the parishioners; so that none of them dye for default of sustenance;” and though by the statutes 12 Ric. II. c. 7. and 19 Hen. VII. c. 12. the poor are directed to be sustained in the cities or towns wherein they were born, or such wherein they had dwelt for three years (which seem to be the first rudiments of parish settlements) yet till the statute 27 Hen. VIII. c. 26. I find no compulsory method chalked out for this purpose: but the poor seem to have been left to such relief as the humanity of their neighbors would afford them. The monasteries were, in particular, their principal resource; and, among other bad effects which attended the monastic institutions, it was not perhaps one of the least (though frequently esteemed quite otherwise) that they supported and fed a very numerous and very idle poor, whose sustenance depended upon what was daily distributed in alms at the gates of the religious houses. But, upon the total dissolution of these, the inconvenience of thus encouraging the poor in habits of indolence and beggary was quickly felt throughout the kingdom: and abundance of statutes were made in the reign of king Henry the eighth, for providing for the poor and impotent; which, the preambles to some of them recite, had of late years strangely increased. These poor were principally of two sorts: sick and impotent, and therefore unable to work; idle and sturdy, and therefore able, but not willing, to exercise any honest employment. To provide in some measure for both of these, in and about the metropolis, his son Edward the sixth founded three royal hospitals; Christ’s, and St. Thomas’s, for the relief of the impotent through infancy or sickness; and Bridewell for the punishment and employment of the vigorous and idle. But these were far from being sufficient for the care of the poor throughout the kingdom at large; and therefore, after many other fruitless experiments, by statute 43 Eliz. c. 2. overseers of the poor were appointed in every parish.

BY virtue of the statute last mentioned, these overseers are to be nominated yearly in Easter-week, or within one month after (though a subsequent nomination will be valid), [86] by two justices dwelling near the parish. They must be substantial householders, and so expressed to be in the appointment of the justices. [87]

THEIR office and duty, according to the same statute, are principally these: first, to raise competent sums for the necessary relief of the poor, impotent, old, blind, and such other, being poor and not able to work: and, secondly, to provide work for such as are able and cannot otherwise get employment: but this latter part of their duty, which, according to the wise regulations of that salutary statute, should go hand in hand with the other, is now most shamefully neglected. However, for these joint purposes, they are empowered to make and levy rates upon the several inhabitants of the parish, by the same act of parliament; which has been farther explained and enforced by several subsequent statutes.

THE two great objects of this statute seem to have been, 1. To relieve the impotent poor, and them only. 2. To find employment for such as are able to work: and this principally by providing stocks to be worked up at home, which perhaps might be more beneficial than accumulating all the poor in one common work-house; a practice which tends to destroy all domestic connections (the only felicity of the honest and industrious laborer) and to put the sober and diligent upon a level, in point of their earnings, with those who are dissolute and idle. Whereas, if none were to be relieved but those who are incapable to get their livings, and that in proportion to their parents, but such as are brought up in rags and idleness; and if every poor man and his family were employed whenever they requested it, and were allowed the whole profits of their labor; — a spirit of cheerful industry would soon disuse itself through every cottage; work would become easy and habitual, when absolutely necessary to their daily subsistence; and the most indigent peasant would go through his task without a murmur, if assured that he and his children (when incapable of work through infancy, age, or infirmity) would then, and then only, be entitled to support form his opulent neighbors.

THIS appears to have been the plan of the statute of queen Elizabeth; in which the only defect was confining the management of the poor to small, parochial, districts; which are frequently incapable of furnishing proper work, or providing an able director. However, the laborious poor were then at liberty to seek employment wherever it was to be had; none being obliged to reside in the places of their settlement, but such as were unable or unwilling to work; and those places of settlement being only such where they were born, or had made their abode, originally for three years, [88] and afterwards (in the case of vagabonds) for one year only. [89]

AFTER the restoration, a very different plan was adopted, which has rendered the employment of the poor more difficult, by authorizing the subdivision of parishes; has greatly increased their number, by confining them all to their respective districts; has given birth to the intricacy of our poor-laws, by multiplying and rendering more easy the methods of gaining settlements; and, in consequence, has created an infinity of expensive lawsuits between contending neighborhoods, concerning those settlements and removals. By the statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 12. a legal settlement was declared to be gained by birth, inhabitancy, apprenticeship, or service for forty days; within which period all intruders were made removable from any parish by two justices of the peace, unless they settled in a tenement of the annual value of 10£. The frauds, naturally consequent upon this provision, which gave a settlement by so short a residence, produced the statute I Jac. II. c. 17. which directed notice in writing to be delivered to the parish officers, before a settlement could be gained by such residence. Subsequent provisions allowed other circumstances of notoriety to be equivalent to such notice given; and those circumstances have from time to time been altered, enlarged, or restrained, whenever the experience of new inconveniences, arising daily from new regulations, suggested the necessity of a remedy. And the doctrine of certificates was invented, by way of counterpoise, to restrain a man and his family from acquiring a new settlement by any length of residence whatever, unless in two particular excepted cases; which makes parishes very cautious of giving such certificates, and of course confines the poor at home, where frequently employment can be had.

THE law of settlements may be therefore now reduced to the following general heads; or, a settlement in a parish may be acquired, 1. By birth; which is always prima facie the place of settlement, until some other can be shown. [90] This is also always the place of settlement of a bastard child; for a bastard, having in the eye of the law no father, cannot be referred to his settlement, as other children may. [91] But, in legitimate children, though the place of birth be prima facie the settlement, yet it is not conclusively so; for there are, 2. Settlements by parentage, being the settlement of one’s father or mother: all children being really settled in the parish where their parents are settled, until they get a new settlement for themselves. [92] A new settlement may be acquired several ways; as 3. By marriage. For a woman, marrying a man that is settled in another parish, changes her own: the law not permitting the separation of husband and wife. [93] But if the man be a foreigner, and has no settlement, her’s is suspended during his life, if he remains in England, and be able to maintain her; but in his absence, or during (perhaps) his inability, or after his death she may return again to her old settlement. [94] The other methods of acquiring settlements in any parish are all reducible to this one, of forty days residence therein: but this forty days residence (which is construed to be lodging or lying there) must not be by fraud, or stealth, or in any clandestine manner; but accompanied with one or other of the following concomitant circumstances. The next method therefore of gaining a settlement, is, 4. By forty days residence, and notice. For if a stranger comes into a parish, and delivers notice in writing of his place of abode, and number of his family, to one of the overseers (which must be read in the church and registered) and resides there unmolested for forty days after such notice, he is legally settled thereby. [95] For the law presumes that such a one at the time of notice is not likely to become chargeable, else he would not venture to give it; or that, in such case, the parish would take care to remove him. But there are also other circumstances equivalent to such notice: therefore, 5. Renting for a year tenement of the yearly value of ten pounds, and residing forty days in the parish, gains a settlement without notice; [96] upon the principle of having substance enough to gain credit for such a house. 6. Being charged to and paying the public taxes and levies of the parish; and, 7. Executing any public parochial office for a whole year in the parish, as churchwarden, etc; are both of them equivalent to notice, and gain a settlement, [97] when coupled with a residence of forty days. 8. Being hired for a year, when unmarried, and childless, and serving a year in the same service; and 9. Being bound an apprentice for seven years; give the servant and apprentice a settlement, without notice, [98] in that place wherein they serve the last forty days. This is meant to encourage application to trades, and going out to reputable services. 10. Lastly, the having an estate of one’s own, and residing thereon forty days, however small the value may be, in case it be acquired by act of law or of a third person, as by descent, gift, devise, etc, is a sufficient settlement: [99] but if a man acquire it by his own act, as by purchase, (in its popular sense, in consideration of money paid) then [100] unless the consideration advanced, bona fide, be 30£ it is no settlement for any longer time, than the person shall inhabit thereon. He is in no case removable from his own property; but he shall not, by any trifling or fraudulent purchase of his own, acquire a permanent and lasting settlement.

ALL persons, not so settled, may be removed to their own parishes, on complaint of the overseers, by two justices of the peace, if they shall adjudge them likely to become chargeable to the parish, into which they have intruded: unless they are in a way of getting a legal-settlement, as by having hired a house of 10£ per annum, or living in an annual service; for then they are not removable. [101] And in all other cases, if the parish to which they belong, will grant them a certificate, acknowledging them to be their parishioners, they cannot be removed merely because likely to become chargeable, but only when they become actually chargeable. [102] But such certificated persons can gain no settlement by any of the means above-mentioned; unless by renting a tenement of 10£ per annum, or by serving an annual office in the parish, being legally placed therein: neither can an apprentice or servant to such certificated person gain a settlement by such their service. [103]

THESE are the general heads of the laws relating to the poor which, by the resolutions of the courts of justice thereon within a century past, are branched into a great variety. And yet, notwithstanding the pains that has been taken about them, they still remain very imperfect, and inadequate to the purposes they are designed for: a fate, that has generally attended most of our statute laws, where they have not the foundation of the common law to build on. When the shires, the hundreds, and the tithings, were kept in the same admirable order that they were disposed in by the great Alfred, there were no persons idle, consequently none but the impotent that needed relief: and the statute of 43 Eliz. seems entirely founded on the same principle. But when this excellent scheme was neglected and departed from, we cannot but observe with concern, what miserable shifts and lame expedients have from time to time been adopted, in order to patch up the flaws occasioned by this neglect. There is not a more necessary or more certain maxim in the frame and constitution of society, than that every individual must contribute his share, in order to the well-being of the community: and surely they must be very deficient in found policy, who suffer one half of a parish to continue idle, dissolute, and unemployed; and then form visionary schemes, and at length are amazed to find, that the industry of the other half is not able to maintain the whole.




[1] ch. 2. pag. 142.

[2] 1 I. con. 70. 2 Leon. 175. Comb. 343. 5 Mod. 84. Salk. 347.

[3] Dalton of sheriffs, c. I.

[4] 3 Rep. 72.

[5] Montesq. Sp. L. b. 2. c. 2.

[6] Stiernhook de jure Gorb. l. I. c. 3.

[7] Stat. 12. Edw. IV. c. 1.

[8] de L. L. c. 24.

[9] 2 Inst. 559.

[10] Jenkins. 229.

[11] Dyer 225.

[12] 4 Rep. 32.

[13] Dalt. of sheriffs. 8.

[14] Dalt. 7.

[15] Dalt. c. 4.

[16] I Roll. Rep. 237.

[17] Dalt. c. 95.

[18] Lamb. Eiren. 315.

[19] Stat. 2 Hen V. c. 8.

[20] cap. 17.

[21] Stat. I Mar. St. 2. c. 8.

[22] Fortesc. de L. L. c. 24.

[23] Dalt. c. 9.

[24] Stat. 3. Geo. I. c. 15.

[25] Stat. 42 Edw. III. c. 9.

[26] Stat. I Hen. V. c. 4.

[27] of sheriffs, c. 115.

[28] Dalt. c. 118. 4 Rep. 34.

[29] Stat. 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 21.

[30] 2 Inst. 31. 4 Inst. 271.

[31] 4 Rep. 57.

[32] F. N. B. 163.

[33] Mirror, c. I. §. 3.

[34] 2 Inst. 558.

[35] F. N. B. 163.

[36] 3Edw. I. c. 10.

[37] F. N. B. 163, 164.

[38] 2 Inst. 32.

[39] F. N. B. 163, 164.

[40] Mirr. c. I. §. 3. 2 Inst. 175.

[41] 2 Inst. 210.

[42] Stat. 25 Geo. II. c. 29.

[43] F. N. B. 163, 164.

[44] 4 Inst. 271.

[45] Thus, in the Gothic constitution, before any fine was payable by the neighborhood, for the slaughter of a man therein, “de corpore delicti constare oportebat; i.e. non tam fuisse aliquem in territorio isto mortuum inventum quam vulneratum et caesum: Potest enim homo etiam ex alia causa subito mori.” [“It was necessary that the crime should be evident; that is, not merely that a person was found dead in that district, but that he was wounded and slain. For a man may die suddenly from other causes."] Stiernhook de jure Gothor, l.3.c.4.

[46] 4 Inst. 271.

[47] Lambard. Eirenarch. 12.

[48] Lamb. 12.

[49] Britton. 3.

[50] F. N. B. 81.

[51] Lamb. 14.

[52] Lamb. 15.

[53] Ibid. 17.

[54] Lamb. 16.

[55] Hist. A. D. 1327.

[56] Stat. I Edw. III. c. 16.

[57] Lamb. 20.

[58] Stat. 4 Edw. III. c. 2. and 18 Edw. III. St. 2. c. 2.

[59] Lamb. 23.

[60] Lamb. 43.

[61] See the form itself, Lamb. 35. Burn. tit. Juffices, §. 2.

[62] Stat. 26 Geo. II. c. 27.

[63] Lamb. 34.

[64] See bishop Fleetwood’s calculations in his chronicon pretiosum.

[65] Stat. 18 Geo. II. c. 20.

[66] Stat. I Ann. c. 8.

[67] Lamb. 67.

[68] Stat. I Mar. St. I. c. 8.

[69] Stat. I Edw. VI. c. 7.

[70] Stat. 7 Jac. I. c. 5. 21 Jac. I. c. 12. 24 Geo. II. c. 44.

[71] philips’s life of pole. ii. III.

[72] of constables, 5.

[73] 13 Edw. I. c. 6.

[74] Salk. 150.

[75] Spelm. Gloss. 148.

[76] pag. 110.

[77] Lamb. 9.

[78] Stat. 14 & 15 Car. II. c. 12.

[79] Dalt. just. c. 104.

[80] Excubias et explorationes quas wactas vocant. [Watches and searches which they call wactas.] Capitular. Hludovic. pii. cap. I. A. D. 815.

[81] C. II. 74. 4.

[82] This office, Mr. Dalton (just. cap. 50.) says, exactly answers that of the curatores viarum [keepers of the ways] of the Romans: but, I should guess that theirs was an office of rather more dignity and authority than ours, not only from comparing the method of making and mending the Roman ways with those of our country parishes; but also because one Thermus, who was the curator of the Flaminian way, was candidate for the consulship with Julius Caesar. (Cic. ad Attic. l. I. cp. I.)

[83] Stat. 3 W. & M. c. 12.

[84] This, by the laws of the twelve tables at Rome, was the standard for roads that were straight; but, in winding ways, the breadth was directed to be sixteen feet. Ff. 8. 3. 8.

[85] c. I. §. 3.

[86] Stra. 1123.

[87] 2 Lord Raym. 1394.

[88] Stat. 19 Hen. VII. c. 12. I Edw. VI. c. 3. 3 Edw. VI. c. 16. 14 Eliz. c. 5.

[89] Stat. 39 Eliz. c. 4.

[90] I Lord Raym. 567.

[91] Salk. 427.

[92] Salk. 528. 2 Iord Raym, 1473.

[93] Stra. 544.

[94] Soley. 249.

[95] Stat. 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 12. I Jac. II. c. 17. 3 & 4 W. & M. c. II.

[96] Stat. 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 12.

[97] Stat. 3 & 4 W. & M. c. 11.

[98] Stat. 3 & 4 W. & M. c. 11. 8 & 9 W. III. c. 10. and 31 Geo. II. c. II.

[99] Salk. 524.

[100] Stat. 9 Geo. I. c. 7.

[101] Salk. 472.

[102] Stat. 8 & 9 W. III. c. 30.

[103] Stat. 12 Ann. c. 18.




Of the People, Whether Aliens, Denizens, or Natives

HAVING, in the eight preceding chapters, treated of persons as they stand in the public relations of magistrates, I now proceed to consider such persons as fall under the denomination of the people. And herein all the inferior and subordinate magistrates, treated of in the last chapter, are included.

THE first and most obvious division of the people is into aliens and natural-born subjects. Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England, that is, within the ligeance, or as it is generally called, the allegiance of the king; and aliens, such as are born out of it. Allegiance is the tie, or ligamen, which binds the subject to the king, in return for that protection which the king affords the subject. The thing itself, or substantial part of it, is founded in reason and the nature of government; the name and the form are derived to us from our Gothic ancestors. Under the feudal system, every owner of lands held them in subjection to some superior or lord, from whom or whose ancestors the tenant or vassal had received them: and there was mutual trust or confidence subsisting between the lord and vassal, that the lord should protect the vassal in the enjoyment of the territory he had granted him, and, on the other hand, that the vassal should be faithful to the lord and defend him against all his enemies. This obligation on the part of the vassal was called his fidelitas or fealty; and an oath of fealty was required, by the feudal law, to be taken by all tenants to their landlord, which is couched in almost the same terms as our ancient oath of allegiance: [1] except that in the usual oath of fealty there was frequently a saving or exception of the faith due to a superior lord by name, under whom the landlord himself was perhaps only a tenant or vassal. But when the acknowledgment was made to the absolute superior himself, who was vassal to no man, it was no longer called the oath of fealty, but the oath of allegiance; and therein the tenant swore to bear faith to his sovereign lord, in opposition to all men, without any saving or exception: “contra omnes homines fidelitatem fecit.” [2] Land held by this exalted species of fealty was called feudum ligium, a liege fee; the vassals bomines ligii, or liege men; and the sovereign their dominus ligius, or liege lord. And when sovereign princes did homage to each other, for lands held under their respective sovereignties, a distinction was always made between simple homage, which was only an acknowledgment of tenure; [3] and liege homage, which included the fealty before-mentioned, and the services consequent upon it. Thus when Edward III, in 1329, did homage to Philip VI of France, for his ducal dominions on that continent, it was warmly disputed of what species the homage was to be, whether liege or simple homage. [4]

With us in England, it becoming a settled principle of tenure, that all lands in the kingdom are held of the king as their sovereign and lord paramount, no oath but that of fealty could ever be taken to inferior lords, and the oath of allegiance was necessarily confined to the person of the king alone. By an easy analogy the term of allegiance was soon brought to signify all other engagements, which are due from subjects to their prince, as well as those duties which were simply and merely territorial. And the oath of allegiance, as administered for upwards of six hundred years, [5] contained a promise “to be true and faithful to the king and his heirs, and truth and faith to bear of life and limb and terrene honor, and not to know or hear of any ill or damage intended him, without defending him therefrom.” Upon which Sir Matthew Hale [6] makes this remark; that it was short and plain, not entangled with long or intricate clauses or declarations, and yet is comprehensive of the whole duty from the subject to his sovereign. But, at the revolution, the terms of this oath being thought perhaps to favor too much the notion of non-resistance, the present form was introduced by the convention parliament, which is more general and indeterminate than the former; the subject only promising “that he will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the king,” without mentioning “his heirs,” or specifying in the least wherein that allegiance consists. The oath of supremacy is principally calculated as a renunciation of the pope’s pretended authority: and the oath abjuration, introduced in the reign of king William, [7] very amply supplies the loose and general texture of the oath of allegiance; it recognizing the right of his majesty, derived under the act of settlement; engaging to support him to the utmost of the juror’s power; promising to disclose all traitorous conspiracies against him; and expressly renouncing any claim of the pretender, by name, in as clear and explicit terms as the English language can furnish. This oath must be taken by all persons in any office, trust, or employment; and may be tendered by two justices of the peace to any person, whom they shall suspect of disaffection. [8] But the oath of allegiance may be tendered [9] to all persons above the age of twelve years, whether natives, denizens, or aliens, either in the court-leet of the manor, or in the sheriff’s tourn, which is the court-leet of the count.

BUT, besides these express engagements, the law also holds that there is an implied, original, and virtual allegiance, owing from every subject to his sovereign, antecedently to any express promise; and although the subject never swore any faith or allegiance in form. For as the king, by the very descent of the crown, is fully invested with all the rights and bound to all the duties of sovereignty, before his coronation; so the subject is bound to his prince by an intrinsic allegiance, before the superinduction of those outward bonds of oath, homage, and fealty; which were only instituted to remind the subject of this his previous duty, and for the better securing its performance. [10] The formal profession therefore, or oath of subjection, is nothing more than a declaration in words of what was before implied in law. Which occasions Sir Edward Coke very justly to observe, [11] that “all subjects are equally bounden to their allegiance, as if they had taken the oath; because it is written by the finger of the law in their hearts, and the taking of the corporal oath is but an outward declaration of the same.” The sanction of an oath, it is true, in case of violation of duty, makes the guilt still more accumulated, by superadding perjury to treason; but it does not increase the civil obligation to loyalty; it only strengthens the social tie by uniting it with that of religion.

ALLEGIANCE, both express and implied, is however distinguished by the law into sorts or species, the one natural, the other local; the former being also perpetual, the latter temporary. Natural allegiance is such as is due from all men born within the king’s dominions immediately upon their birth. [12] For, immediately upon their birth, they are under the king’s protection; at a time too, when (during their infancy) they are incapable of protecting themselves. Natural allegiance is therefore a debt of gratitude; which cannot be forfeited, canceled, or altered, by any change of time, place, or circumstance, nor by anything but the united concurrence of the legislature. [13] An Englishman who removes to France, or to China, owes the same allegiance to the king to England there as at home, and twenty years hence as well as now. For it is a principle of universal law, [14] that the natural-born subject of one prince cannot by any act of his own, no, not by swearing allegiance to another, put off or discharge his natural allegiance to the former: for this natural allegiance was intrinsic, and primitive, and antecedent to the other; and cannot be divested without the concurrent act of that prince to whom it was first due. Indeed the natural-born subject of one prince, to whom he owes allegiance, may be entangled by subjecting himself absolutely to another; but it is his own act that brings him into these straits and difficulties, of owing service to two masters; and it is unreasonable that, by such voluntary act of his own, he should be able at pleasure to unloose those bands, by which he is connected to his natural prince.

LOCAL allegiance is such as is due from an alien, or stranger born, for so long time as he continues within the king’s dominion and protection: [15] and it ceases, the instant such stranger transfers himself from this kingdom to another. Natural allegiance is therefore perpetual, and local temporary only: and that for this reason, evidently founded upon the nature of government; that allegiance is a debt due from the subject, upon an implied contract with the prince, that so long as the one affords protection, so long the other will demean himself faithfully. As therefore the prince is always under a constant tie to protect his natural-born subjects, at all times and in all countries, for this reason their allegiance due to him is equally universal and permanent. But, on the other hand, as the prince affords his protection to an alien, only during his residence in this realm, the allegiance of an alien is confined (in point of time) to the duration of such his residence, and (in point of locality) to the dominions of the British empire. From which considerations Sir Matthew Hale [16] deduces this consequence, that, though there be an usurper of the crown, yet it is treason for any subject, while the usurper is in full possession of the sovereignty, to practice anything against his crown and dignity: wherefore, although the true prince regain the sovereignty, yet such attempts against the usurper (unless in defense or aid of the rightful king) have been afterwards punished with death; because of the breach of that temporary allegiance, which was due to him as king de facto. And upon this footing, after Edward IV recovered the crown, which had been long detained from his house by the line of Lancaster, treasons committed against Henry VI were capitally punished, though Henry had been declared an usurper by parliament.

THIS oath of allegiance, or rather the allegiance itself, is held to be applicable not only to the political capacity of the king, or regal office, but to his natural person, and blood-royal: and for the misapplication of their allegiance, viz. to the regal capacity or crown, exclusive of the person of the king, were the Spencers banished in the reign of Edward II. [17] And from hence arose that principle of personal attachment, and affectionate loyalty, which induced our forefathers (and, if occasion required, would doubtless induce their sons) to hazard all that was dear to them, life, fortune, and family, in defense and support of their liege lord and sovereign.

THIS allegiance then, both express and implied, is the duty of all the king’s subjects, under the distinctions here laid down, of local and temporary, or universal and perpetual. Their rights are also distinguishable by the same criterions of time and locality; natural-born subjects having a great variety of rights, which they acquire by being born within the king’s ligeance, and can never forfeit by any distance of place or time, but only by their own misbehavior: the explanation of which rights is the principal subject of the two first books of these commentaries. The same is also in some degree the case of aliens; though their rights are much more circumscribed, being acquired only by residence here, and lost whenever they remove. I shall however here endeavor to chalk out some of the principal lines, whereby they are distinguished from natives, descending to farther particulars when they come in course.

AN alien born may purchase lands, or other estates: but not for his own use; for the king is thereupon entitled to them. [18] If an alien could acquire a permanent property in lands, he must own an allegiance, equally permanent with that property, to the king of England; which would probably be inconsistent with that, which he owes the his own natural liege lord: besides that thereby the nation might in time be subject to foreign influence, and feel many other inconveniences. Wherefore by the civil law such contracts were also made void: [19] but the prince had no such advantage of escheat thereby, as with us in England. Among other reasons, which might be given for our constitution, it seems to be intended by way of punishment for the alien’s presumption, in attempting to acquire any landed property: for the vendor is not affected by it, he having resigned his right, and received an equivalent in exchange. Yet an alien may acquire a property in goods, money, and other personal estate, or may hire a house for his habitation: [20] for personal estate is of a transitory and movable nature; and besides, this indulgence to strangers is necessary for the advancement of trade. Aliens also may trade as freely as other people; only they are subject to certain higher duties at the custom-house: and there are also some obsolete statutes of Henry VIII, prohibiting alien artificers to work for themselves in this kingdom; but it is generally held they were virtually repealed by statute 5 Eliz. c. 7. Also an alien may bring an action concerning personal property, and may make a will, and dispose of his personal estate: [21] not as it is in France, where the king at the death of an alien is entitled to all he is worth, by the droit d’aubaine [right to inherit from an alien] or jus albinatus [alien law], [22] unless he has a peculiar exemption. When I mention these rights of an alien, I must be understood of alien friends only, or such whose countries are in peace with ours; for alien-enemies have no rights, no privileges, unless by the king’s special favor, during the time of war.

WHEN I say, that an alien is one who is born out of the king’s dominions, or allegiance, this also must be understood with some restrictions. The common law indeed stood absolutely so; with only a very few exceptions: so that a particular act of parliament became necessary after the restoration, [23] for the naturalization of children of his majesty’s English subjects, born in foreign countries during the late troubles. And this maxim of the law proceeded upon a general principle, that every man owes natural allegiance where he is born, and cannot owe two such allegiances, or serve two masters, at once. Yet the children of the king’s ambassadors born abroad were always held to be natural subjects: [24] for as the father, though in a foreign country, owes not even a local allegiance to the prince to whom he is sent; so, with regard to the son also, he was held (by a kind of postliminium [a restoration of rights upon return to one’s country]) to be born under the king of England’s allegiance, represented by his father, the ambassador. To encourage also foreign commerce, it was enacted by statute 25 Edw. III. St. 2. that all children born abroad, provided both their parents were at the time of the birth in allegiance to the king, and the mother had passed the seas by her husband’s consent, might inherit as if born in England: and accordingly it has been so adjudged in behalf of merchants. [25] But by several more modern statutes [26] these restrictions are still farther taken off: so that all children, born out of the king’s ligeance, whose fathers were natural-born subjects, are now natural-born subjects themselves, to all intents and purposes, without any exception; unless their said fathers were attainted, or banished beyond sea, for high treason; or were then in the service of a prince at enmity with Great Britain.

THE children of aliens, born here in England, are, generally speaking, natural-born subjects, and entitled to all the privileges of such. In which the constitution of France differs from ours; for there, by their jus albinatus, if a child be born of foreign parents, it is an alien. [27]

A DENIZEN is an alien born, but who has obtained ex donatione regis [by royal gift] letters patent to make him an English subject: a high and incommunicable branch of the royal prerogative. [28] A denizen is in a kind of middle state between an alien, and natural-born subject, and partakes of both of them. He may take lands by purchase or devise, which an alien may not; but cannot take by inheritance: [29] for his parent, through whom he must claim, being an alien had no inheritable blood, and therefore could convey none to the son. And, upon a like defect of hereditary blood, the issue of a denizen, born before denization, cannot inherit to him; but his issue born after, may. [30] A denizen is not excused [31] from paying the alien’s duty, and some other mercantile burdens. And no denizen can be of the privy council, or either house of parliament, or have any office of trust, civil or military, or be capable of any grant from the crown. [32]

NATURALIZATION cannot be performed but by act of parliament: for by this an alien is put in exactly the same state as if he had been born in the king’s ligeance; except only that he is incapable, as well as a denizen, of being a member of the privy council, or parliament, etc. [33] No bill for naturalization can be received in either house of parliament, without such disabling clause in it. [34] Neither can any person be naturalized or restored in blood, unless he has received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper within one month before the bringing in of the bill; and unless the also takes the oaths of allegiance and supremacy in the presence of the parliament. [35]

THESE are the principal distinctions between aliens, denizens, and natives: distinctions, which endeavors have been frequently unfed since the commencement of this century to lay almost totally aside, by one general naturalization-act for all foreign protestants. An attempt which was once carried into execution by the statute 7 Ann. c. 5. but this, after three years experience of it, was repealed by the statute 10 Ann. c. 5. except one clause, which was just now mentioned, for naturalizing the children of English parents born abroad. However, every foreign seaman who in time of war serves two years on board an English ship is ipso facto [by that fact] naturalized; [36] and all foreign protestants, and Jews, upon their residing seven years in any of the American colonies, without being absent above two months at a time, are upon taking the oaths naturalized to all intents and purposes, as if they had been born in this kingdom; [37] and therefore are admissible to all such privileges, and no other, as protestants or Jews born in this kingdom are entitled to. What those privileges are, [38] was the subject of very high debates about the time of the famous Jew-bill; [39] which enabled all Jews to prefer bills of naturalization in parliament, without receiving the sacrament, as ordained by statute 7 Jac. I. It is not my intention to revive this controversy again; for the act lived only a few months, and was then repealed: [40] therefore peace be now to its manes.




[1] 2 Feud. 5, 6, 7.

[2] 2 Feud. 99.

[3] 7 Rep. Calvin’s case. 7.

[4] 2 Carte. 401. Mod. Un. Hist. xxiii. 420.

[5] Mirror. c. 3. §. 35. Fleta. 3. 16. Britton. C. 29. 7 Rep. Calvin’s case. 6.

[6] I Hal. P. C. 63.

[7] Stat. 13 W. III. c. 6.

[8] Stat. I Geo. I. c. 13.

[9] 2 Inst. 121. I Hal. P. C. 64.

[  10] I Hal. P. C. 61.

[  11] 2 Inst. 121.

[  12] 7 Rep. 7.

[  13] 2 p. Wms. 124.

[  14] I Hal. P. C. 68.

[  15] 7 Rep. 6.

[  16] I Hal. P. C. 60.

[  17] I Hal. P. C. 67.

[  18] Co. Litt. 2.

[  19] Cod. l. II. tit. 55.

[  20] 7 Rep. 17.

[  21] Lutw. 34.

[  22] The word is derived from alibi natus ; Spelm. Cl. 24

[  23] Stat. 29 Car. II. c. 6.

[  24] 7 Rep. 18.

[  25] Cro. Car. 601. Mar. 91. Jenk. Cent. 3.

[  26] 7 Ann. c. 5. and 4 Geo. II. c. 21.

[  27] Jenk. Cent. 3. cites treasure francois, 312.

[  28] 7 Rep. Calvin’s case. 25.

[  29] II Rep 67.

[  30] Co. Litt. 8. Vaugh. 285.

[  31] Stat. 22 Hen. VIII. c. 8.

[  32] Stat. 12 W. III. c. 2.

[  33] Ibid.

[  34] Stat. I Geo. I. c. 4.

[  35] Stat. 7 Jac. I. c. 2.

[  36] Stat. 13 Geo. II. c. 3.

[  37] Stat. 13 Geo. II. c. 7. 20 Geo. II. c. 24. 2 Geo. III. c. 25.

[  38] A pretty accurate account of the Jews, till their banishment in 8 Edw. I. may be found in Molloy de jure maritime, b. 3. c. 6.

[  39] Stat. 26 Geo. II. c. 26.

[  40] Stat. 27 Geo. II. c. I.




Of the Clergy

THE people, whether aliens, denizens, or natural-born subjects, are divisible into two kinds; the clergy and laity: the clergy, comprehending all persons in holy orders, and in ecclesiastical offices, will be the subject of the following chapter.

THIS venerable body of men, being separate and set apart from the rest of the people, in order to attend the more closely to the service of almighty God, have thereupon large privileges allowed them by our municipal laws: and had formerly much greater, which were abridged at the time of the reformation, on account of the ill use which the popish clergy had endeavored to make of them. For, the laws having exempted them from almost every personal duty, they attempted a total exemption from every secular tie. But it is observed by Sir Edward Coke, [1] that, as the overslowing of waters does many times make the river to lose its proper channel, so in times past ecclesiastical persons, seeking to extend their liberties beyond their true bounds, either lost or enjoyed not those which of right belonged to them. The personal exemptions do indeed for the most part continue. A clergyman cannot be compelled to serve on a jury, nor to appear at a court-leet or view of frank pledge; which almost every other person is obliged to do: [2] but, if a layman is summoned on a jury, and before the trial takes orders, he shall notwithstanding appear and be sworn. [3] Neither can he be chosen to any temporal office; as bailiff, reeve, constable, or the like: in regard of his own continual attendance on the sacred function. [4] During his attendance on divine service he is privileged from arrests in civil suits. [5] In cases also of felony, a clerk in orders shall have the benefit of his clergy, without being branded in the hand; and may likewise have it more than once: in both which particulars he is distinguished from a layman. [6] But as they have their privileges, so also they have their disabilities, on account of their spiritual avocations. Clergymen, we have seen, [7] are incapable of sitting in the house of commons; and by statute 21 Hen. VIII. c. 13. are not allowed to take any lands or tenements to farm, upon pain of 10£ per month, and total avoidance of the lease; nor shall engage in any manner of trade, nor sell any merchandise, under forfeiture of the treble value. Which prohibition is consonant to the canon law.

IN the frame and constitution of ecclesiastical polity there are diverse ranks and degrees: which I shall consider in their respective order, merely as they are taken notice of by the secular laws of England; without intermeddling with the canons and constitutions, by which they have bound themselves. And under each division I shall consider, 1. The method of their appointment; 2. Their rights and duties; and 3. The manner wherein their character or office may cease.

I. AN arch-bishop or bishop is elected by the chapter of his cathedral church, by virtue of a license from the crown. Election was, in very early times, the usual mode of elevation to the episcopal chair throughout all Christendom; and this was promiscuously performed by the laity as well as the clergy: [8] till at length, it becoming tumultuous, the emperors and other sovereigns of the respective kingdoms of Europe took the election in some degree into their own hands; by reserving to themselves the right of confirming these elections, and of granting investiture of the temporalties, which now began almost universally to be annexed to this spiritual dignity; without which confirmation and investiture, the elected bishop could neither be consecrated, nor receive any secular profits. This right was acknowledged in the emperor Charlemagne, A. D. 773, by pope Hadrian I, and the council of Lateran, [9] and universally exercised by other Christian princes: but the policy of the court of Rome at the same time began by degrees to exclude the laity from any share in these elections, and to confine them wholly to the clergy, which at length was completely effected; the mere form of election appearing to the people to be a thing of little consequence, which the crown was in possession of an absolute negative, which was almost equivalent to a direct right of nomination. Hence the right of appointing to bishoprics is said to have been in the crown of England [10] (as well as other kingdoms in Europe) even in the Saxon times, because the rights of confirmation and investiture were in effect (though not in form) a right of complete donation. [11] But when, by length of time, the custom of making elections by the clergy only was fully established, the popes began to except to the usual method of granting these investitures, which was per annulum et baculum [by the ring and staff], by the prince’s delivering to the prelate a ring, and a pastoral staff or crosier; pretending, that this was an encroachment on the church’s authority, and an attempt by these symbols to confer a spiritual jurisdiction: and pope Gregory VII, towards the close of the eleventh century, published a bull of excommunication against all princes who should dare to confer investitures, and all prelates who should venture to receive them. [12] This was a bold step towards effecting the plan then adopted by the Roman see, of rendering the clergy entirely independent of the civil authority: and long and eager were the contests occasioned by this dispute. But at length when the emperor Henry V agreed to remove all suspicion of encroachment on the spiritual character, by conferring investitures for the future per sceptrum [by the scepter] and not per annulum et baculum ; and when the kings of England and France consented also to alter the form in their kingdoms, and receive only homage from the bishops for their temporalties, instead of investing them by the ring and crosier; the court of Rome found it prudent to suspend for a while its other pretensions. [13]

THIS concession was obtained from king Henry the first in England, by means of that obstinate and arrogant prelate, archishop Anselm: [14] but king John (about a century afterwards) in order to obtain the protection of the pope against his discontented barons, was prevailed upon to give up by a charter, to all the monasteries and cathedrals in the kingdom, the free right of electing their prelates, whether abbots or bishops: reserving only to the crown the custody of the temporalties during the vacancy; the form of granting a license to elect, (which is the original of our conge d’ eslire [permission to elect]) on refusal whereof the electors might proceed without it; and the right of approbation afterwards, which was not to be denied without a reasonable and lawful cause. [15] This grant was expressly recognized and confirmed in king John’s magna carta [16] and was again established by statute 25 Edw. III. St. 6. § 3.

BUT by statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 20. the ancient right of nomination was, in effect, restored to the crown: it being enacted that, at every future avoidance of a bishopric, the king may send the dean and chapter his usual license to proceed to election; which is always to be accompanied with a letter missive from the king, containing the name of the person whom he would have them elect: and, if the dean and chapter delay their election above twelve days, the nomination shall d evolve to the king, who may by letters patent appoint such person as he pleases. This election or nomination, if it be of a bishop, must be signified by the king’s letters patent to the arch-bishop of the province; if it be of an arch-bishop, to the other arch-bishop and two bishops, or to four bishops; requiring them to confirm, invest, and consecrate the person so elected: which they are bound to perform immediately, without any application to the see of Rome. After which the bishop elect shall sue to the king for his temporalties, shall make oath to the king and none other, and shall take restitution of his secular possessions out of the king’s hands only. And if such dean and chapter do not elect in the manner by this act appointed, or if such arch-bishop or bishop do refuse to confirm, invest, and consecrate such bishop elect, they shall incur all the penalties of a praemunire [forewarning].

AN arch-bishop is the chief of the clergy in a whole province; and has the inspection of the bishops of that province, as well as of the inferior clergy, and may deprive them on notorious cause. [17] The arch-bishop has also his own diocese, wherein he exercises episcopal jurisdiction; as in his province he exercises archiepiscopal. As arch-bishop, he, upon receipt of the king’s writ, calls the bishops and clergy of his province to meet in convocation: but without the king’s writ he cannot assemble them. [18] To him all appeals are made from inferior jurisdictions within his province; and, as an appeal lies from the bishops in person to him in person, so it also lies from the consistory courts of each diocese to his archiepiscopal court. During the vacancy of any see in his province, he is guardian of the spiritualties thereof, as the king is of the temporalties; and he executes all ecclesiastical jurisdiction therein. If an archiepiscopal see be vacant, the dean and chapter are the spiritual guardians, ever since the office of prior of Canterbury was abolished at the reformation. [19] The arch-bishop is entitled to present by lapse to all the ecclesiastical livings in the disposal of his diocesan bishops, if not filled within six months. And the arch-bishop has a customary prerogative, when a bishop is consecrated by him, to name a clerk or chaplain of his won to be provided for by such suffragan bishop; in lieu of which it is now usual for the bishop to make over by deed to the arch-bishop, his executors and assigns, the next presentation of such dignity or benefice in the bishop’s disposal within that see, as the arch-bishop himself shall choose; which is therefore called his option: [20] which options are only binding on the bishop himself who grants them, and not his successors. The prerogative itself seems to be derived from the legatine power formerly annexed by the popes to the metropolitan of Canterbury. [21] And we may add, that the papal claim itself (like most others of that encroaching see) was probably set up on imitation of the imperial prerogative called primae or primarie preces [first prayers, or suits]; whereby the emperor exercises, and has immemorially exercised, [22] a right of naming to the first prebend that becomes vacant after his accession in every church of the empire. [23] A right, that was also exercised by the crown of England in the reign of Edward I; [24] and which probably gave rise to the royal corodies, which were mentioned in a former chapter. [25] It is also the privilege, by custom, of the arch-bishop of Canterbury, to crown the kings and queens of this kingdom. And he has also by the statute 25 Hen. VIII. c. 21. the power of granting dispensations in any case, not contrary to the holy scriptures and the law of God, where the pope used formerly to grant them: which is the foundation of his granting special licenses, to marry at any place or time, to hold two livings, and the like: and on this also is founded the right he exercises of conferring degrees, in prejudice of the two universities. [26]

THE power and authority of a bishop, besides the administration of certain holy ordinances peculiar to that sacred order, consists principally in inspecting the manners of the people and clergy, and punishing them, in order to reformation, by ecclesiastical censures. To this purpose he has several courts under him, and may visit at pleasure every part of his diocese. His chancellor is appointed to hold his courts for him, and to assist him in matters of ecclesiastical law; who, as well as all other ecclesiastical officers, if lay or married, must be a doctor of the civil law, so created in some university. [27] It is also the business of a bishop to institute and to direct induction to all ecclesiastical livings in his diocese.

ARCHBISHOPRICS and bishoprics may become void by death, deprivation for any very gross and notorious crime, and also by resignation. All resignations must be made to some superior. [28] Therefore a bishop must resign to his metropolitan; but the arch-bishop can resign to none but the king himself.

II. A DEAN and chapter are the council of the bishop, to assist him with their advice in affairs of religion, and also in the temporal concerns of his see. [29] When the rest of the clergy were settled in the several parishes of each diocese (as has formerly [30] been mentioned) these were reserved for the celebration of divine service in the bishop’s own cathedral; and the chief of them, who presided over the rest, obtained the name of decanus or dean, being probably at first appointed to superintend ten canons or prebendaries.

ALL ancient deans are elected by the chapter, by conge d’eslire from the king, and letters missive of recommendation; in the same manner as bishops: but in those chapters, that were founded by Henry VIII out of the spoils of the dissolved monasteries, the deanery is donative, and the installation merely by the king’s Letters patent. [31] The chapter, consisting of canons or prebendaries, are sometimes appointed by the king, sometimes by the bishop, and sometimes elected by each other.

THE dean and chapter are, as was before observed, the nominal electors of a bishop. The bishop is their ordinary and immediate superior; and has, generally speaking, the power of visiting them, and correcting their excesses and enormities. They had also a check on the bishop at common law: for till the statute 32 Hen. VIII. C. 28. his grant or lease would not have bound his successors, unless confirmed by the dean and chapter. [32] DEANERIES and prebends may become void, like a bishopric, by death, by deprivation, or by resignation to either the king or the bishop. [33] Also I may here mention, once for all, that if a dean, prebendary, or other spiritual person be made a bishop all the preferments he was before possessed of are void; and the king may present to them in right of his prerogative royal. But they are not void by the election, but only by the consecration. [34]

III. AN arch-deacon has an ecclesiastical jurisdiction, immediately subordinate to the bishop, throughout the whole of his diocese, or in some particular part of it. He is usually appointed by the bishop himself; and has a kind of episcopal authority, originally derived from the bishop, but now independent and distinct from his. [35] He therefore visits the clergy; and has his separate court for punishment of offenders by spiritual censures, and for hearing all other causes of ecclesiastical cognizance.

IV. THE rural deans are very ancient officers of the church, [36] but almost grown out of use; though their deaneries still subsist as an ecclesiastical division of the diocese, or archdeaconry. They seem to have been deputies of the bishop, planted all round his diocese, the better to inspect the conduct of the parochial clergy, and therefore armed with an inferior degree of judicial and coercive authority. [37]

V. THE next, and indeed the most numerous order of men in the system of ecclesiastical polity, are the parsons and vicars of parishes: in treating of whom I shall first mark out the distinction between them; shall next observe the method by which one may become a parson or vicar; shall then briefly touch upon their rights and duties; and shall, lastly, show how one may cease to be either.

A PARSON, persona ecclesiae, is one that has full possession of all the rights of a parochial church. He is called parson, persona, because by his person the church, which is an invisible body, is represented; and he is in himself a body corporate, in order to protect and defend the rights of the church (which he personates) by a perpetual succession. [38] He is sometimes called the rector, or governor, of the church: but the appellation of parson, (however it may be depreciated by familia, clownish, and indiscriminate use) is the most legal, most beneficial, and most honorable title that a parish priest can enjoy; because such a one, (Sir Edward Coke observes) and he only, is said vicem seu personam ecclesiae gerere [to represent the church]. A parson has, during his life, the freehold in himself of the parsonage house, the glebe, the tithes, and other dues. But these are sometimes appropriated; that is to say, the benefice is perpetually annexed to some spiritual corporation, either sole or aggregate, being the patron of the living; whom the law esteems equally capable of providing for the service of the church, as any single private clergyman. This contrivance seems to have sprung from the policy of the monastic orders, who have never been deficient in subtle inventions for the increase of their own power and emoluments. At the first establishment of parochial clergy, the tithes of the parish were distributed in a fourfold division; one for the use of the bishop, another for maintaining the fabric of the church, a third for the poor, and the fourth to provide for the incumbent. When the sees of the bishops became otherwise amply endowed, they were prohibited from demanding their usual share of these tithes, and the division was into three parts only. And hence it was inferred by the monasteries, that a small part was sufficient for the officiating priest, and that the remainder might well be applied to the use of their own fraternities, (the endowment of which was construed to be a work of the most exalted piety) subject to the burden of repairing the church and providing for its constant supply. And therefore they begged and bought, for mastes and obits, and sometimes even for money, all the advowsons within their reach, and then appropriated the benefices to the use of their own corporation. But, in order to complete such appropriation effectually, the king’s license, and consent of the bishop, must first be obtained; because both the king and the bishop may sometime or other have an interest, by lapse, in the presentation to the benefice; which can never happen if it be appropriated to the use of a corporation, which never dies: and also because the law reposes a confidence in them, that they will not consent to anything that shall be to the prejudice of the church. The consent of the patron also is necessarily implied, because (as was before observed) the appropriation can be originally made to none, but to such spiritual corporation, as is also the patron of the church; the whole being indeed nothing else, but an allowance for the patrons to retain the tithes and glebe in their own hands, without presenting any clerk, they themselves undertaking to provide for the service of the church. [39] When the appropriation is thus made, the appropriators and their successors are perpetual parsons of the church; and must sue and be sued, in all matters concerning the rights of the church, by the name of parsons. [40]

THIS appropriation may be severed, and the church become disappropriate, two ways: as, first, if the patron or appropriator presents a clerk, who is instituted and inducted to the parsonage: for the incumbent so instituted and inducted is to all intents and purposes complete parson; and the appropriation, being once severed, can never be re-united again, unless by a repetition of the same solemnities. [41] And when the clerk so presented is distinct from the vicar, the rectory thus vested in him becomes what is called a sine-cure ; because he has no cure of souls, having a vicar under him to whom that cure is committed. [42] Also, if the corporation which has the appropriation is dissolved, the parsonage becomes disappropriate at common law; because the perpetuity of person is gone, which is necessary to support the appropriation.

IN this manner, and subject to these conditions, may appropriations be made at this day: and thus were most, if not all, of the appropriations at present existing originally made; being annexed to bishoprics, prebends, religious houses, nay, even to nunneries, and certain military orders, all of which were spiritual corporations. At the dissolution of monasteries by statutes 27 Hen. VIII. c. 28. and 31 Hen. VIII. c. 13. the appropriations of the several parsonages, which belonged to those respective religious houses, (amounting to more than one third of all the parishes in England [43]) would have been by the rules of the common law disappropriated; had not a clause in those statutes intervened, to give them to the king in as ample a manner as the abbots, etc, formerly held the same, at the time of their dissolution. This, though perhaps scarcely defensible, was not without example; for the same was done in former reigns, when the alien priories, (that is, such as were filled by foreigners only) were dissolved and given to the crown. [44] And from these two roots have sprung all the lay appropriations or secular parsonages, which we now see in the kingdom; they having been afterwards granted out from time to time by the crown. [45]

These appropriating corporations, or religious houses, were wont to depute one of their own body to perform divine service, and administer the sacraments, in those parishes of which the society was thus the parson. This officiating minister was in reality no more than a curate, deputy, or vicegerent of the appropriator, and therefore called vicarius, or vicar. His stipend was at the discretion of the appropriator, who was however bound of common right to find somebody, qui illi de temporalibus, episcopo de spiritualibus, debeat respondere [who should answer to him concerning temporal, to the bishop concerning spiritual, affairs]. [46] But this was done in so scandalous a manner, and the parishes suffered so much by the neglect of the appropriators, that the legislature was forced to interpose: and accordingly it is enacted by statute 15 Ric. II. c. 6. that in all appropriations of churches, the diocesan bishop shall ordain (in proportion to the value of the church) a competent sum to be distributed among the poor parishioners annually; and that the vicarage shall be sufficiently endowed. It seems the parish were frequently sufferers, not only by the want of divine service, but also by withholding those alms, for which, among other purposes, the payment of tithes was originally imposed: and therefore in this act a pension is directed to be distributed among the poor parochians, as well as a sufficient stipend to the vicar. But he, being liable to be removed at the pleasure of the appropriator, was not likely to insist too rigidly on the legal sufficiency of the stipend: and therefore by statute 4 Hen. IV. c. 12. it is ordained, that the vicar shall be a secular person, not a member of any religious house; that he shall be vicar perpetual, not removable at the caprice of the monastery; and that he shall be canonically instituted and inducted, and be sufficiently endowed, at the discretion of the ordinary, for these three express purposes, to do divine service, to inform the people, and to keep hospitality. The endowments in consequence of these statutes have usually been by a portion of the glebe, or land, belonging to the parsonage, and a particular share of the tithes, which the appropriators found it most troublesome to collect, and which are therefore generally called privy, small, or vicarial, tithes; the greater, or predial, tithes being still reserved to their own use. But one and the same rule was not observed in the endowment of all vicarages. Hence some are more liberally, and some more scantily, endowed; and hence many things, as wood in particular, is in some countries a rectorial, and in some a vicarial tithe.

THE distinction therefore of a parson and vicar is this; that the parson has for the most part the whole right to all the ecclesiastical dues in his parish; but a vicar has generally an appropriator over him, entitled to the best part of the profits, to whom he is in effect perpetual curate, with a standing salary. Though in some places the vicarage has been considerably augmented by a large share of the great tithes; which augmentations were greatly assisted by the statute 29 Car. II. c. 8. enacted in favor of poor vicars and curates, which rendered such temporary augmentations (when made by the appropriators) perpetual.

THE method of becoming a parson or vicar is much the same. To both there are four requisites necessary: holy orders; presentation; institution; and induction. The method of conferring the holy orders of deacon and priest, according to the liturgy and canons, [47] is foreign to the purpose of these commentaries; any farther than as they are necessary requisites to make a complete parson or vicar. By common law a deacon, of any age, might be instituted and inducted to a parsonage or vicarage: but it was ordained by statute 13 Eliz. c. 12. that no person under twenty-three years of age, and in deacon’s orders, should be presented to any benefice with cure; and if he were not ordained priest within one year after his induction, he should be ipso facto [by that fact] deprived: and now, by statute 13 & 14 Car. II. c. 4. no person is capable to be admitted to any benefic, unless he has been first ordained a priest; and then he is, in the language of the law, a clerk in orders. But if he obtains orders, or a license to preach, by money or corrupt practices (which seems to be the true, though not the common notion of simony) the person giving such orders forfeits [48] 40£ and the person receiving 10£ and is incapable of any ecclesiastical preferment for seven years afterwards.

ANY clerk may be presented [49] to a parsonage or vicarage; that is, the patron, to whom the advowson of the church belongs, may offer his clerk to the bishop of the diocese to be instituted. Of advowsons, or the right of presentation, being a species of private property, we shall find a more convenient place to treat in the second part of these commentaries. But when a clerk is presented, the bishop may refuse him upon many accounts. As, 1. If the patron is excommunicated, and remains in contempt forty days. [50] Or, 2. If the clerk be unfit: [51] which unfitness is of several kinds. First, with regard to his person; as if he be a bastard, an outlaw, an excommunicate, an alien, under age, or the like. [52] Next, with regard to his faith or morals; as for any particular heresy, or vice that is malum in se [wrong in itself]: but if the bishop alleges only in generals, as that he is schismaticus inveteratus [an inveterate schismatic], or objects a fault that is malum probibitum [wrong because prohibited] merely, as haunting taverns, playing at unlawful games, or the like; it is not good cause of refusal. [53] Or, lastly, the clerk may be unfit to discharge the pastoral office for want of learning. In any of which cases the bishop may refuse the clerk. In case the refusal is for heresy, schism, inability of learning, or other matter of ecclesiastical cognizance, there the bishop must give notice to the patron of such his cause of refusal, who, being usually a layman, is not supposed to have knowledge of it; else he cannot present by lapse: but if the cause be temporal, there he is not bound to give notice. [54]

IF an action at law be brought by the patron against the bishop, for refusing his clerk, the bishop must assign the cause. If the cause be of a temporal nature and the fact admitted, (as, for instance, outlawry) the judges of the king’s courts must determine its validity, or, whether it be sufficient cause of refusal: but if the fact be denied, it must be determined by a jury. If the cause be of a spiritual nature, (as, heresy, particularly alleged) the fact if denied shall also be determined by a jury; and if the fact be admitted or found, the court upon consultation and advice of learned divines shall decide its sufficiency. [55] If the cause be want of learning, the bishop need not specify in what points the clerk is deficient, but only allege that he is deficient: [56] for the statute 9 Edw. II. St. 1. c. 13. is express, that the examination of the fitness of a person presented to a benefice belongs to the ecclesiastical judge. But because it would be nugatory in this case to demand the reason of refusal from the ordinary, if the patron were bound to abide by his determination, who has already pronounced his clerk unfit; therefore if the bishop returns the clerk to be minus sufficiens in literatura [deficient in learning], the court shall write to the metropolitan, to reexamine him, and certify his qualifications; which certificate of the arch-bishop is final. [57]

IF the bishop has no objections, but admits the patron’s presentation, the clerk so admitted is next to be instituted by him; which is a kind of investiture of the spiritual part of the benefice: for by institution the care of the souls of the parish is committed to the charge of the clerk. When a vicar is instituted, he (beside the usual forms) takes, if required by the bishop, an oath of perpetual residence; for the maxim of law is, that vicarius non habet vicarium [a vicar has no deputy]: and as the non-residence of the appropriators was the cause of the perpetual establishment of vicarages, the law judges it very improper for them to defeat the end of their constitution, and by absence to create the very mischiefs which they were appointed to remedy: especially as, if any profits are to arise from putting in a curate and living at a distance from the parish, the appropriator, who is the real parson, has undoubtedly the elder tile to them. When the ordinary is also the patron, and confers the living, the presentation and institution are one and the same act, and are called a collation to a benefice. By institution or collation the church is full, so that there can be no fresh presentation till another vacancy, at least in the case of a common patron; but the church is not full against the king, till induction: nay, even if a clerk is instituted upon the king’s presentation, the crown may revoke it before induction, and present another clerk. [58] Upon institution also the clerk may enter on the parsonage house and glebe, and take the tithes; but he cannot grant or let them, or bring any action for them, till induction.

INDUCTION is performed by a mandate from the bishop to the arch-deacon, who usually issues out a precept to other clergymen to perform it for him. It is done by giving the clerk corporal possession of the church, as by holding the ring of the door, tolling a bell, or the like; and is a form required by law, with intent to give all the parishioners due notice, and sufficient certainty of their new minister, to whom their tithes are to be paid. This therefore is the investiture of the temporal part of the benefice, as institution is of the spiritual. And when a clerk is thus presented, instituted, and inducted into a rectory, he is then, and not before, in full and complete possession, and is called in law persona impersonata, or parson imparsonee. [59]

THE rights of a parson or vicar, in his tithes and ecclesiastical dues, fall more properly under the second book of these commentaries: and as to his duties, they are principally of ecclesiastical cognizance; those only excepted which are laid upon him by statute. And those are indeed so numerous that it is impracticable to recite them here with any tolerable conciseness or accuracy. Some of them we may remark, as they arise in the progress of our inquiries, but for the rest I must refer myself to such authors as have compiled treatises expressly upon this subject. [60] I shall only just mention the article of residence, upon the supposition of which the law does stile every parochial minister an incumbent. By statute 21 Hen. VIII. c. 13. persons wilfully absenting themselves from their benefices, for one month together, or two months. in the year, incur a penalty of 5£ to the king, and 5£ to any person that will sue for the same: except chaplains to the king, or others therein mentioned, [61] during their attendance in the household of such as retain them: and also except [62] all heads of houses magistrates, and professors in the universities, and all students under forty years of age residing there, bona fide, for study. Legal residence is not only in the parish, but also in the parsonage house: for it has been resolved, [63] that the statute intended residence, not only for serving the cure, and for hospitality; but also for maintaining the house, that the successor also may keep hospitality there.

WE have seen that there is but one way, whereby one may become a parson or vicar: there are many ways, by which one may cease to be so. 1 By death. 2. By cession, in taking another benefice. For by statute 21 Hen. VIII. c. 13. if. any one having a benefice of 8£ per annum, or upwards, in the king’s books, (according to the present valuation, [64]) accepts any other, the first shall be adjudged void; unless he obtains a dispensation; which no one is entitled to have, but the chaplains of the king and others therein mentioned, the brethren and sons of lords and knights, and doctors and bachelors of divinity and law, admitted by the universities of this realm. And a vacancy thus made, for want of a dispensation, is called cession. 3. By conferation; for, as was mentioned before, when a clerk is promoted to a bishopric, all his other preferments are void the instant that he is consecrated. But there is a method, by the favor of the crown, of holding such livings in commendam [in trust]. Commenda, or ecclesia commendata [a living in trust], is a living commended by the crown to the care of a clerk, to hold till a proper pastor is provided for it. This may be temporary, for one, two or three years, or perpetual; being a king of dispensation to avoid the vacancy of the living, and is called a commenda retinere [to retain a trust living]. There is also a commenda recipere [to receive a trust living], which is to take a benefice de novo [anew], in the bishop’s own gift, or the gift of some other patron consenting to the same; and this is the same to him as institution and induction are to another clerk. [65] 4. By resignation. But this is of no avail, till accepted by the ordinary; into whose hands the resignation must be made. [66] 5 By deprivation, either by canonical censures, of which I am not to speak; or in pursuance of diverse penal statutes, which declare the benefice void, for some nonfeasance or neglect, or else some malfeasance or crime. As, for simony; [67] for maintaining any doctrine in derogation of the king’s supremacy, or of the thirty-nine articles, or of the book of common-prayer; [68] for neglecting after institution to read the articles in the church, or make the declarations against popery, or take the abjuration oath; [69] for using any other form of prayer than the liturgy of the church of England; [70] or for absenting himself sixty days in one year from a benefice belonging to a popish patron, to which the clerk was presented by either of the universities; [71] in all which and similar cases [72] the benefice is ipso facto void, without any formal sentence of deprivation.

VI. A CURATE is the lowest degree in the church; being in the same state that a vicar was formerly, an officiating temporary minister, instead of the real incumbent. Though there are what are called perpetual curacies, where all the tithes are appropriated, and no vicarage endowed, (being for some particular reasons [73] exempted from the statute of Hen. IV) but, instead thereof, such perpetual curate is appointed by the appropriator. With regard to the other species of curates, they are the objects of some particular statutes, which ordain, that such as serve a church during its vacancy shall be paid such stipend as the ordinary thinks reasonable, out of the profits of the vacancy; or, if that be not sufficient, by the successor within fourteen days after he takes possession: [74] and that, if any rector or vicar nominates a curate to the ordinary to be licensed, the ordinary shall settle his stipend under his hand and seal, not exceeding 50£ per annum, nor less than 20£ and on failure of payment may sequester the profit of the benefice. [75]

THUS much of the clergy, properly so called. There are also certain inferior ecclesiastical officers of whom the common law takes notice; and that principally, to assist the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, where it is deficient in powers. On which officers I shall make a few cursory remarks.

VII. CHURCH WARDENS are the guardians or keepers of the church, and representatives of the body of the parish. [76] They are sometimes appointed by the minister, sometimes by the parish, sometimes by both together, as custom directs. They are taken, in favor of the church, to be for some purposes a kind of corporation at the common law; that is, they are enabled by that name to have a property in goods and chattels, and to bring actions for them, for the use and profit of the parish. Yet they may not waste the church goods, but may be removed by the parish, and then called to account by action at the common law: but there is no method of calling them to account, but by first removing them; for none can legally do it, but those who are put in their place. As to lands, or other real property, as the church, church-yard, etc, they have no sort of interest therein; but if any damage is done thereto, the parson only or vicar shall have the action. Their office also is to repair the church, and make rates and levies for that purpose: but these are recoverable only in the ecclesiastical court. They are also joined with the overseers in the care and maintenance of the poor. They are to levy [77] a shilling forfeiture on all such as do not repair to church on Sundays and holidays, and are empowered to keep all persons orderly while there; to which end it has been held that a churchwarden may justify the pulling off a man’s hat, without being guilty of either an assault or trespass. [78] There are also a multitude of other petty parochial powers committed to their charge by diverse acts of parliament. [79]

VIII. PARISH clerks and sextons are also regarded by the common law, as persons who have freeholds in their offices; and therefore though they may be punished, yet they cannot be deprived, by ecclesiastical censures. [80] The parish clerk was formerly always in holy orders; and some are so to this day. He is generally appointed by the incumbent, but by custom may be chosen by the inhabitants; and if such custom appears, the court of king’s bench will grant a mandamus to the arch-deacon to swear him in, for the establishment of the custom turns it into a temporal or civil right. [81]




[1] 2 Inst. 4.

[2] F. N. B. 160. 2 Inst. 4.

[3] 4 Leon. 190.

[4] Finch. L. 88.

[5] Stat. 50 Edw. III. c. 5. I Ric. II. c. 16.

[6] 2 Inst. 637. Stat. 4 Hen. VII. c. 13. & I Edw. VI. c. 12.

[7] page 169.

[8] Per clerum et populum. [By the clergy and people.] Palm. 25. 2 Roll. Rep. 102. M. Paris. A. D. 1095.

[9] Decret. 1. dist. 63. c. 22.

[10] Palm. 28.

[11] ” Nulla electio praelatorum (sent verba Ingulphi) erat mere libera et canonica; sed omnes dignitates, tam episcoporum quam abbatum, per annulum et baculum regis curia pro sua complacentia conferebat.” Penes clericos et monachos fuit electio, sed electum a reg