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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2


This foot note contained in document ADMS-05-02-02-0006-0002-0001
9. The language of 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 11, §5(2) (1662), standing alone seems to envision a general warrant, if the term “writ of assistance” is not held to incorporate the ancient process. See note 12 below. The statute, 12 Car. 2, c. 19 (1660), was continued and confirmed long after 1662, however, leading to the conclusion that the Act of 1662 included only the special warrant of the 1660 Act. Frese, “Legislation on Writs of Assistance,” 38 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 335; compare Quincy, Reports (Appendix) 531–532. It could nevertheless be argued that the Act of 1660, which provided for the issuance of warrants by officers other than the Barons of the Exchequer (who had the sole power under the 1662 Act), was retained as an additional weapon in the battle against illicit trade. The other Acts chiefly relied upon to support the special warrant theory are 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 3, §14 (1662), a provision of the Militia Act that general warrants might issue to search for illegal arms; and 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 33, §§15, 19 (1662), which provided such warrants for searches for unlicensed printed matter. See Frese, “Legislation on Writs of Assistance,” 38 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 336–351. Father Frese points to the contrast between the battle required to pass even these measures, which were limited by numerous exclusions, and the ease with which the less limited writs of assistance provision was passed, as evidence that the latter embodied only special warrants. Id. at 351–352. This difference might also be accounted for by a difference in the nature of the evils sought to be remedied by the various acts. Insurrection and sedition are political crimes; measures designed to control them may affect the liberties of the entire populace. Smuggling is a crime with a financial motive; its suppression is more likely to be localized in effect, harming only those who habitually live close to or beyond a rule of law accepted by the majority. Other legislation of the same Parliament provided for search without special warrant. See 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 7, §§7, 14 (Search of London leather workers' shops for prohibited leather); 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 5, §8 (Search of Norfolk and Norwich shops and other locations for defective yarns); 13 & 14 Car. 2, c. 32, §9 (Search of WestRiding shops and other locations for illegally imported cloth). Father Frese argues that the matters involved in these acts are too minor and local to be analogous to the Customs Act; moreover, they do not authorize use of force. Frese, Writs of Assistance (dissertation) 99–104. Although the latter objection has some merit, it could be argued that a customs measure bears greater resemblance to this last class of statutes than to the Militia and Printing Acts, thus accounting for a uniform silence as to the general search powers. In any event, it is clear that the 1662 Parliament did not hesitate to convey such powers when the occasion required.