Page:Ruffhead - The Statutes at Large, 1763.djvu/10

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The Inconveniencies ariſing from ſuch an imperfect Syſtem, wherein Power too often took place of Right, rnuſt, in thoſe Days, have been frequently and fatally experienced, more eſpecially by the Commoners, or inferior Orders, of the State. Their Experience of theſe Inconveniencies, taught them to prize the ſuperior Advantages of civil Inſtitutions ; and as they, by Degrees, were enabled to aſſert their Independance, and to obtain that Share in the Adminiſtration of Government, to which they are by Nature intitled, we find that the Legiſlature applied their Attention to the framing of Laws with greater Preciſion and Uniformity, in order more effectually to aſcertain the Bounds of Juſtice, and compel lawleſs Force to ſubmit to the Civil Tribunal. ,

As Induſtry, however, could make but flow Advances againſt the overbearing Weight of lordly Power, the Commons were not, for a long Time, in a Condition to procure the expreſs Acknowledgment, much leſs to maintain the regular Exerciſe, of their undoubted Rights : And the frequent Struggles among the ſeveral Orders of the Conſtitution were, in Part perhaps, the Occaſion of the vague and unſettled Frame of our Statute Law, which, as different Intereſts predominated, underwent ſucceiſive Alterations, both in Form and Subſtance.

Theſe Inſtances of Diſorder and Irregularity, among other Circumſtances, have given rife to various Objections againſt the Validity of ſeveral early Acts, printed in former Collections, and continued in this. Should theſe Objections ever prevail, many antient Statutes muſt be rejected as utterly invalid ; and, to eſtabliſh their Authority, is perhaps one of the principal Ends to which an Editor ſhould direct his Attention. I ſhall therefore endeavour, in the firſt Place, to obviate theſe Objections ; which will lead me briefly to explain the Method in which our antient Acts of Parliament were paſſed.[1] I ſhall then offer ſome Obſervations on our Statute Law in general : And laſtly, ſhall preſent the Reader with the Plan of the preſent Edition.

It is affirmed in ſeveral Books [2], that, if a Record mention only that the King enacts, and the Lords aſſent, without naming the Commons, that the Omiſſion jcannot be ſupplied by any Intendment : And upon this Principle, the 8 Hen. VI. c. 29. hath, as Serjeant Hawkins obſerves, been queſtioned by Dyer [3] , and its Authority denied in 1 Inſt.[4] and the 8th Report[5] Were this Principle, however, which, as applied to the early Statutes, ſeems ill grounded, to be admitted for the preſent, yet its Force would not invalidate the Authority of the Act in Queſtion.

It is obſervable, that, in the old Statutes, there was, for the moſt Part, a general Preface, or, as ſome call it, Prologue, to the ſeveral Articles or Chapters enacted

  1. It ſems to be an indiſpenfable Duty of an Editor, to give ſome Account of the Forms in which our antient Acts were paſſed ; ſince, without this previous Knowledge, many of them will be very imperfectly underſtood ; ſuch as Articuli Cleri, and others, which do not bear the Form of Statutes. In order however to explain the antient Method of paſſing Bills, we muſt neceſſarily take ſome Notice concerning the reſpective Influence of the ſeveral Orders of the State at different Times : An Inquiry which has been greatly obſcured by the partial and Intereſted Zeal of the Writers of the laſt Century, who, by attempting to prove too much, have, on both Sides, fallen equally ſhort of Conviction. The Editor therefore has been cautious of advancing any thing on this Subject, not warranted by the Evidence of the antient Records.
  2. 4. Hen .7. 18. Pl. 11. 8 Coke 20, 21. Moor 824. Pl. 1112. Co. Litt. 159. b. Hob. 111.
  3. Dyer 144. p. 60.
  4. 1 Inſt. 159. b.
  5. 8 Co. 20. b.