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ADDRESS OF THE PRESIDENT.
PETER W. MELDRIM,
Our last meeting in Washington, D. C., was a notable one. It was particularly interesting in the fact that the Bench and the Bar, the judge and the lawyer, were brought into closer touch with each other. The scene at the annual dinner, when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States rose to respond for that court, made a picture worthy of a master's brush. We had heard England's Chief Justice, Lord Russell, deliver the message of
that he had brought across the seas. We had heard England's Lord Chancellor, Haldane, repeat that message. These two orations will live in the memories of all who heard them; and yet, they did not thrill as did the simple words of Chief Justice White when, with eloquence sincere and unaffected, he rose to splendid heights of purest patriotism and of moral sublimity.
Speaking of the American lawyer, he said: “May I not be permitted to indulge in the heartfelt aspiration that there may be given to him a deep and reverent purpose of faithfully discharging the duties which rest upon him, to the end that our fair institutions may be preserved and may be transmitted unimpaired to those who are to come?”
The thought thus expressed makes the subject of this address. We can form no clear conception of the lawyer, his preparation for the Bar, or of his relations to client and the state, or of his powers and duties, without first knowing something of the law, whose minister he is.
And yet, what is meant by law? The acutest thinkers have failed to satisfactorily define it. Law exists in some form everywhere, even among savages of least: mental development, but the memory of the origin of law is lost in the centuries. Yet the simplest minds have a fair conception of what law is, and each mind forms its own conception for itself. Law is as old as time.
yet as young as the new-born moment; it is as certain as fate, yet as changeable as the whim or fancy of the fleeting hour; it is as high as heaven, as deep as hell, as broad as space, as infinite as infinity, as eternal as eternity, as omniscient and omnipotent as God because it is an attribute of God, and its home is the bosom of God.
Scholars have failed to define law in exact and comprehensive terms, and historians have labored in vain to locate the time and place of its birth. It is said to have originated in prehistoric custom, but even the source of the twelve tables of the Romans is involved in doubt, for it is claimed that they were taken from the laws of Solon by deputies from Rome, who visited Athens in the time of Pericles. It is certain that Pliny said to Maximus when appointed Governor of Achaia: "Revere the gods and heroes, the ancient virtue and glory of the nation. Respect even its fables and its vanity, remembering that from Greece we derived our laws." These laws became through long years of development the Roman or civil law—the basis on which rests the jurisprudence of the Latin, the Slav, the Scandinavian, and the Teuton. It was modified by Teutonic customary law and by legislation. In France, from the sixth to the tenth century, it was affected by the edicts and ordinances of the kings; but it gave to the continental system of law its principles, maxims, logic, style and form. In this country, before the common law was brought to Plymouth Rock, the civil law existed at Quebec, and coming to us through France and Spain, it extended over a vast territory along the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi. It obtained in Michigan and Wisconsin until 1810, and was to be found in theory at least from British Columbia to the Gulf of Mexico. Of this civil law Pollock and Maitland say: “It was a law that rejoiced the heart and gave wisdom unto the simple.” It entered largely into ecclesiastical and probate matters, into causes in admiralty and chancery, furnishing to them alike principles and procedure. By the adoption of certain of the principles of the civil law in this country, primogeniture in the descent of title to land was abolished and equality in estate among heirs, male and female, was established. From it we get the law of testamentary capacity, succession of title to personalty, and the law that makes children born out of wedlock legitimate on the subsequent marriage of the parents.
From the same source we get our ideas of trusts, of corporations as distinct from the corporators, of obligations arising out of quasi contracts and much of the law of torts, negligence and of imposed duties. Public and private international law is mainly of continental origin, as is also the law of alluvion and accession. The great principles of res adjudicata and habeas corpus come to us through Justinian. Our separation of judge and jury is taken from the Roman law. Under that system arguments were oral; printed or written briefs were rarely used; the judges wrote no opinions, and not many books were cited in the courts. Questions of fact were closely argued, on the theory that facts precede law, and that if one is right on the facts, it is difficult for him to get wrong on the law. In the civil law the rule of stare decisis had no place. Decisions were not precedents. They neither added anything to the law nor took anything from it. A civilian has asked, “Why should a judge who has decided one case wrongly be obliged to decide the next one wrongly also. thus making the error of yesterday the law of today?” “Why should he not utilize knowledge, continually increased by study and observation ?” The words of Portia are naturally suggested
“ It will be recorded for a precedent
Will rush into the state; it cannot be.” Justinian enacted that no judge should be bound to follow a decision he deemed erroneous, for justice should be administered according to law, not precedent. A great American lawyerjudge, U. M. Rose, was of opinion that perhaps one-half of our system of law is made up of the civil law, and as he expressed it, “Rome still rules the world from the ruins of the Forum." Rome reigns throughout the world by her reason after having ceased to reign by her authority.
The founders of the civil law are said to have been Mucius, Brutus, and Manilius, while Caius, Papinius, Paul, Ulpian, and Modestinus were its oracles. This law became too unwieldy for practical use, and it was condensed and restated. In 527 A. D. this work was done by Tribonian and nine learned associates. The Code Justinian was prepared in 14 months. The Digests or Pandects were condensed from 2000 treatises into 50 books, and