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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2


This foot note contained in document ADMS-05-02-02-0006-0009-0002
8. This reference is ambiguous, since rules of statutory construction appear on page 8 of both Thomas Wood, An Institute of the Laws of England (London, 9th edn., 1763), and of Thomas Wood, A New Institute of the Imperial or Civil Law (London, 1704). While it is possible that JA used the latter work because of the civil-law nature of the court of Admiralty (See No. 46, note 49 126 ), the rules in the former are more directly concerned with the interpretation of acts of Parliament, the problem here; moreover, the authorities cited in notes 9 17 , 10 18 , and 13 21 , below, appear in the first cited work, which is also quoted in JA 's other notes on construction. See note 5 above. Following are pertinent passages from Wood, Institute of the Laws of England 13–14:
“The Preamble or Rehearsal of a Statute is to be taken for Truth; therefore good Arguments and Proofs may be drawn from the Preamble or Rehearsal. . . .
“A Sentence, which begins and ends with specifying Persons and Things of an inferior Rank ought not to be extended by General Words to those that are Superior; as by these general Words, (viz.) And no other Person or Act whatsoever, &c. shall not include superior Persons or Things that were not particularly expressed.
“Statutes must be interpreted by reasonable Construction, according to the Meaning of the Legislators.
“It is natural to construe one part of a Statute by another.
“They may be construed according to Equity; especially where They give Remedy for Wrong; or are for Expedition of Justice, or to prevent Delays; for Law-makers cannot comprehend all Cases. . . .
“A Penal Statute regularly ought to be construed strictly. But it may be construed beneficially; for what is out of the Mischief, is out of the Meaning of a Law, though it is within the Letter. [The preceding two sentences appear in JA 's notes on construction, note 5 above.] And on the contrary, what is within the same Mischief, shall be within the same Remedy, tho' it be out of the Letter of the Law. . . .
“It [a Statute] must be construed that no innocent Man may by a literal Construction receive [i.e. sustain] Damages.
“Statutes made to prevent and suppress Fraud ought to have a favourable Interpretation. . . .
“Custom or Usage is a good Interpreter of a Law.”