Monday, April 2, 2012

Thomas Jefferson, on the Common Law

It may not yet be clear to you why I am posting this, but it concerns the source of the authority of the common law. Most states have a reception "statute" (often a constitutional provision) that adopts the common law within their jurisdiction, but it was once believed that it attached to English emigrants and was carried with them to America, in the state that it was in at the time of their departure, and planted in American soil to the extent that it was consistent with local conditions. Jefferson, in his Summary View, expressed a different theory:

“To remind him that our ancestors, before their emigration to America, were the free inhabitants of the British dominions in Europe, and possessed a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to promote public happiness.”

“That settlements having been thus effected in the wilds of America, the emigrants thought proper to adopt that system of laws under which they had hitherto lived in the mother country, and to continue their union with her by submitting themselves to the same common sovereign, who was thereby made the central link connecting the several parts of the empire thus newly multiplied.”

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