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District Clerk's Office. BE it remembered, 'That on the twenty-third day of October, A. D. 1823, and in the forty-eighth year of the Independence of the United States of America, Nathan Dane, of the said district, has deposited in this office the title of a book, the right whereof he claims as author, in the words following, to wit:
"A General Abridgment and Digest of American Law, with occasional Notes and Comments. By Nathan Dane, LL. D. Counsellor at Law. In eight volumes."
In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, "An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;" and also to an act, entitled, "An act, supplementary to an act, entitled, An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching, historical and other prints."
From the University Press-By Hilliard & Metcalf.
JOHN W. DAVIS,
IT is the intention in this introduction, concisely to state the object and plan of the work, the manner in which it has been formed, and the reasons for now publishing it.
At the close of the American revolutionary war, when the United States being an independent nation, it was very material to inquire and to know what was law in them, collectively and individually; also to examine, trace, and ascertain, what were the political principles, on which their system was founded; and their moral character, so essential to be attended to in the support and administration of this system; especially in selecting from the English laws, in force in a monarchy, once feudal, those parts of them adopted here, and remaining in force in our republic. With such impressions the author early turned his attention to these subjects, and in good earnest engaged in collecting materials upon them; and the more readily, as such a pursuit perfectly accorded with his professional and political employments, in which he engaged in the spring of 1782. He early found there was in the United States nothing like one collected body of American Law, or one collected system of American Politics; but all was found in scattered fragments. Scarcely any native American Law was in print, but the colony statutes, charters, and some of the constitutions. No judicial decisions, made in America, of any importance, had been published, and but very few forms. The law enacted here was found separately published in many States, in Colony, Province, and State statutes. (Our law labored under another material disadvantage; most of it was found only in English books; these were written and published to be used in England, not in America; a large part of which was of no real use here. No measures had ever been taken to ascertain, with any accuracy, what part of English law our ancestors had adopted in the colonies or provinces. The result was, our ablest lawyers were often unable to decide what parts of the English laws were in use here; and our students at law, often studied as laboriously the useless, as the useful parts of those laws. No one had attempted to embody our laws or po
litical principles, dispersed in numerous local charters, constitutions, statutes, and also English books; many of which laws and principles were to be traced to the free parts of the British system, and even to the ancient Germans, in several cases, and in some to the Hebrews, several of whose laws some of our ancestors early adopted in America. In this state of things, a very important object naturally presented itself to one, who, for several years, had been in a situation highly to appreciate American principles, especially those of the American revolution, which was, a collected body of American Law, formed with a constant reference to those principles, and to our character and situation. Forty years ago the materials for such a work were but few, in comparison with what they now are; and then it was very useful, and even necessary, to collect them for the lawyer's private use; and to such purpose was the undertaking commenced and pursued many years. The title, "A General Abridgment and Digest of American Law, with occasional Notes and Comments," is intended to give a clear and concise view of the nature of the work. Formerly the word Digest, in law books, meant much more than an alphabetical arrangement of marginal notes, or of several indexes. But as this seems to be nearly its modern meaning, it applies but to an inconsiderable part of this work. the principal parts of which are described by the other words in the title, to wit., Abridgment, Notes and Comments. The first object has been to abridge and compress cases within narrow limits, but not so as to lose or obscure the law, decided or settled in the.n. Next, on proper occasions, by remarks, notes, and comments, to examine and explain a few obscure points of law, and sometimes to show the law is not, as it has been in some decisions stated to be. The work is calculated to consist of eight royal octavo volumes, of about 700 pages each, to be purely American, and among other things to supply the place generally of the English abridgments and digests, now read, especially by students, very disadvantageously, because in many respects inapplicable to our practice. As every lawyer of experience must have found a common life too short to be well read in the immense mass of law and equity, Federal, State, and Territorial, really applicable to our affairs, it must be, in some degree, a waste of time, especially for students and some others, to spend a large part of their time in reading English law as to titles, forest, game prerogatives, ancient demesne, advowsons, boroughs, English copy-hold estates, many parts of feudal tenures, most kinds of English courts and customs, modes of punishments and forfeitures, as to English religion, privileges, revenue, stamps, modes of conveying and assuring property, and a vast many other matters peculiar to England. In fact, near half the English and Irish law we buy, at a heavy expense, and read often to the exclusion of reading
our own laws, so useful, is as inapplicable to our concerns as the laws of Germany or Spain; and more so than the civil code of France, since it is adopted, in substance, by Louisiana, one of our States.
Having said thus much as to the origin and design of the work, next it is proper, in a few pages, to give an exposition of it; and one made sometime since is preferred, because gentlemen, eminent in the profession, after examining the plan, and a large part of the work, thought it was correct.
THE PLAN AND OBJECTS.
1. Though the work is large and expensive, it is not larger than the state of our laws requires; and including in it only such moral and political principles as are essential in a proper law work in this country. Though it has not been practicable to include in it local State law, on a arge scale, except as to two States, yet there is included in it enough of such State law, to shew that the several State courts proceed on the same general authorities in deciding general questions, whether federal, at common law, or in equity, or even in applying authorities in the construction of state statutes, and especially of devises, conveyances, &c., made under them.
2. It is, exclusively, calculated to be useful to American lawyers, especially to students, and those of the profession who cannot possess many law books.
3. The object is, to make our American charters and constitutions, statutes and adjudged cases, the ground work, on each subject: and therewith to incorporate that portion of the English law recognized in the United States, beginning with magna charta, and the first charters and statutes in our Colonies. The ground work has been thus viewed, because it is obvious that when constitutions and laws made in our country are not consistent with English law adopted here in practice, the former must prevail and the latter yield. In English law, adopted here, have been included and considered such English principles as have had an influence in our system.
4. Fully to examine such of our laws as are binding on all parts of the Union; to cite some, the most important, verbatim ; and to abridge the others as far as practicable, keeping the work within reasonable bounds.
5. To examine the charters, constitutions, and statutes of the several Colonies and States, of a public nature, and the judicial decisions made in the highest courts in them, and published, so far as to acquire correct ideas of such State law: but so voluminous is it, and so much of it merely local, in small portions of the nation, that it has been deem
ed not practicable, or useful, to include large portions of it in this work, except in regard to a few of the States; and it has been considered that the Judges and Lawyers of any State best understand its local laws; and will be found that the courts in one State have not often noticed the laws and decisions in other States.
6. This being the case in regard to State law, it was found best to select the State law of some one State, to be included much at large in this work. Accordingly the laws of Massachusetts, in substance including Maine, have been selected for the purpose, and for the following reasons:-1st, These laws are, in fact, the laws of two large States. 2d, With these the author has long been well acquainted. 3d. As the other New-England States were, at first, peopled from Massachusetts, her laws were the root of theirs. 4th, Her laws, as to the rights of persons, property, &c. were made the root, or germ, of nearly all our territorial law east of the Mississippi, by being made the material parts of the ordinance of Congress passed July 13, 1787, for the government of the United States' territories northwest of the Ohio, and from time to time extended to their other territories, as will appear on examining the ordinance itself. 5th, Much the largest part of the judicial decisions made in Massachusetts (and Maine) have been made on those principles of law which are common to all the States, except Louisiana. 6th, Many of the statutes of Massachusetts having been copied, or formed in substance, from English statutes; and many others of our Colonies and States having done the same, her statutes, in these respects, are substantially theirs for instance, Massachusetts, Virginia, &c. nearly copied their statutes of limitations from the statutes of limitations of the 32d Henry viii. ch. 2. and hence, so far, the statutes of one are those of all. However, there is embraced in this work much of the local law of the other States in the Union, in different ways, especially of New York, Virginia, and Kentucky. The State of Louisiana having, by statute, adopted the new French civil code, with some variations, and made it, of course, a part of our American system, many parts of this code have been taken into this work. In fact, on a careful examination, it will be found that more than four fifths of the decisions made in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia, stated in this work, have been made on principles and authorities common to twentythree States, and so practised on in all. Though in the statutes of the several States there is a sameness in principle, yet there is a vast variety in words and detail, when not formed from one source, as above; but not a tenth part of the law in a State is found in its statute books; owing to this variety, the statutes of each State must be used somewhat at large, in order to practise on them safely.
7. There are also included several hundred cases, State and Federal,