The New Student's Reference Work/Law

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Law is a term of somewhat ambiguous meaning. One may speak of a law of nature, of a moral law or of the law of a state. In each of these cases, however, it is clear that the word relates to the prescription of a certain uniform kind of conduct. The notion of a law of nature may either imply a reference to a conscious being as lawgiver, or refer merely to the fact that a certain order has been observed in the occurrence of physical events. A moral law denotes a truth which is used to control human conduct. But law means especially the injunction of a certain kind of conduct upon the citizens of a state. In this sense law seems to have originated from the felt necessity of enforcing uniform customs upon the people of a state. Laws are not generally oppressive, because they usually represent customs rather than innovations. But so far as a government becomes distinguished from the people, it becomes possible for laws to represent innovations as well as customs.

Law is generally subdivided into public law and private law. Public law includes criminal law and constitutional law. Private law covers personal and family relations and affairs of property and contract. There also is canon law, which is still employed in the regulation of the functions of clerics, but has lost the importance attached to it in the middle ages. Modern law owes much to the Romans, who organized their laws into several codes, the most complete and celebrated of which was the code of Justinian, completed in 533 A. D. The famous code of Hugo Grotius, a Dutch scholar of the sixteenth century, also is of great importance as a factor in the development of modern systems. The codes and commentaries of Puffendorf, Vattel, Coke, Blackstone and others, with the famous Code Napoleon of France (1804-1810), should also be mentioned.

The technical name for the science of law is jurisprudence. Under jurisprudence the following types of law are recognized: (1) Admiralty law, which deals with crimes and contracts in which any member or branch of the navy is concerned. (2) Bylaws, which literally are town-laws, but include the laws of societies and corporations. (3) Civil law, which is based on the whole upon Roman law and needs to be distinguished from criminal law. (4) Common law, very important in the United States and England, which is based upon judicial records and not upon statutes. (5) Constitutional law, by which the sovereign body in the state (in the United States the people, in England Parliament) regulates the government. (6) Criminal law, which relates to crime and belongs to municipal public law. (7) Law of merchants, which is a principal part of the common law, founded on mercantile usages. (8) Law of equity, under which technicalities which might interfere with the course of justice (in civil suits only) are overruled. (9) Law of nations, which regulates international relations and is based in part upon custom, in part upon reason and in part upon treaty. (10) Martial law, which refers to military discipline, a state of hostilities or exceptional public danger. (11) Municipal law, a very general term of the statutory law regarded as regulating social activities. (12) Parliamentary law, which is the body of rules and restrictions by which the proceedings of deliberative assemblies are governed. A working acquaintance with these forms of law usually requires a three years' or four years' course of the most diligent postgraduate study. The procedure and usages of the courts are to be mastered only in the courts and by practice.