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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


This foot note contained in document ADMS-05-01-02-0006-0007-0004
4. The Act of 7 July 1740 had set limitation periods for various personal actions; that for “trespass upon lands” was five years. 2 A&R 1020. A clarifying Act of 1 Feb. 1749 established a four-year limitation period for “actions of account, or upon the case, grounded on any lending or contract.” 3 A&R 444, 445. In a series of “temporary” Acts, subsequent legislatures successively extended the deadline for existing causes of action. Act of 5 June 1752, 3 A&R 609; Act of 19 April 1754 3 A&R 727; Act of 31 Oct. 1755, 3 A&R 886; Act of 31 Aug. 1757, 4 A&R 26, 27; Act of 16 Jan. 1760, 4 A&R 280. And in 1767, the limiting date was made 1 July 1770. Act of 20 March 1767, 4 A&R 920. But the legislature did not consider the problem again until the fall of 1770, at which time it passed an Act repealing every previous limitation statute and providing that “all actions of trespass quare clausum fregit; all actions of trespass [de bonis asportatis] ...; all actions of account and upon the case, other than such accounts as concern the trade of merchandize” brought after 1 Dec. 1770 should be commenced as follows: “the said actions upon the case (other than for slander), and the said actions of account, and the said actions of trespass [d.b.a.] ... and trespass [q.c.f.], within six years from [1 Dec. 1770], or within six years next after the cause of such actions or suits, and not after.” Act of 20 Nov. 1770, 5 A&R 109–110.
The “tempo[rary] law” referred to by Trowbridge in the minute was apparently the 1770 Act. According to Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson's letter transmitting the legislation of the session just concluded to England for approval, the 1770 Act was “not a Temporary Law but placed among them [i.e. in the compilation of all laws passed at the session] through inattention which must be corrected.” Hutchinson to Lords of Trade, 21 Dec. 1770, in 5 A&R 143 note. The plaintiff seems to have argued that under the 1770 Act matters arising at any time prior to 1 Dec. 1770 were not barred until 1 Dec. 1776. Trowbridge's point was probably that the 1770 Act did not repeal the 1740 Act as to causes of action on which suit had been brought before 1 Dec. 1770. Since the 1740 limitations on trespass q.c.f. had not been among those extended by later legislation, the 1762 evidence was clearly barred when this action was brought in 1770. For JA 's role in the passage of the 1770 Act, see p. lxxxvii, note 204, above.