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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2


This note contained in document ADMS-05-02-02-0008-0002-0007
15. Justinian, Codex, bk. 9, tit. 16, “§2. Of those who defend their own safety. He who, when in danger of his life, kills his aggressor or anyone else, should have no fear of prosecution on this account. “§3. When anyone kills another who attacks him with a sword, he should not be considered a homicide, for the reason that the defender of his own life is not held to have committed an offense. “§4. If (as you state) you have killed a robber, there is no doubt that it will be decided that you have lawfully killed him who had the intention of depriving you of life.” See 15 Scott, Civil Law 29–30.
The editors have translated the material following “Liceat” as follows:
“It is lawful (46) to kill with impunity one who attacks by night in the fields, or blockades the highways, and lies in ambush for passersby, even if he be a soldier. For indeed it is doubly better to attack, than for an injury suffered to be healed, and to seek vengeance.
“Note 46. He is not a murderer who, in peril of his life, kills an attacker, nor ought anyone to wait for the first blow, because it might be irreparable.”
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/