The Inconveniencies arising from such an imperfect System, wherein Power too often took place of Right, must, 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. 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 , that, if a Record mention only that the King enacts, and the Lords assent, without naming the Commons, that the Omission cannot be supplied by any Intendment: And upon this Principle, the 8 Hen. VI. c. 29. hath, as Serjeant Hawkins observes, been questioned by Dyer , and its Authority denied in 1 Inst. and the 8th Report 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
- It sems to be an indispensable 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.
- 4. Hen .7. 18. Pl. 11. 8 Coke 20, 21. Moor 824. Pl. 1112. Co. Litt. 159. b. Hob. 111.
- Dyer 144. p. 60.
- 1 Inst. 159. b.
- 8 Co. 20. b.