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The administration of justice, and the description of the laws ?
The state is divided into counties. In every county are appointed magistrates, called justices of the peace, usually from eight to thirty or forty in number, in proportion to the size of the county, of the most discreet and honest inbabitants. They are nominated by their fellows, but commissioned by the governor, and act without reward. These magistrates have jurisdiction both criminal and civil. If the question before them be a question of law only, they decide on it themselves: but if it be of fact, or of fact and law combined, it must be referred to a jury. In the latter case, of a combination of law and fact, it is usual for the jurors to decide the fact, and to refer the law arising on it to the decision of the judges. But this division of the subject lies with their discretion only. And if the question relate to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias, the jury undertake to decide both law and fact. If they be mistaken, a 'decision against right, which is casual only, is less dangerous to the state, and less afflicting to the loser, than one which makes part of a regular and uniform system. In truth it is better to toss up cross and pile in a cause, than to refer it to a judge whose mind is warped by any motive whatever, in that particular
But the common sense of twelve honest men gives still a better chance of just decision, than the hazard of cross and pile. These judges execute their process by the sheriff or coroner of the county, or by constables of their own appointment. If any free person commit an offence against the commonwealth, if it be below the degree of felony, he is bound by a justice to appear before their court, to answer it on indictment or information. If it amount to felony, he is committed to jail; a court of these justices is called: if they on examination think him guilty, they send him to the jail
of the general court, before which court he is to be tried first hy a grand jury of 24, of whom 13 must concur in opinion: if they find hiin guilty, he is then tried by a jury of 12 men of the county where the offence was coinmitted, and by their verilict, which must be unanimous, he is acquitted or condernned without appeal. If the criminal be a slave, the trial by the county court is final. In every case, however, except that of high creafon, there resides in the governor a power of pardon. In high treason, the pardon can only flow from the general Assembly. In civil matters these justices have jurisdiction in all cases of whatever value, not appertaining to the department of the admiralty. This jurisdiction is twofold. If the inatter in dispute be of less value than four dollars and one-sixth, a single meinber may try it at any time and place within his county, and niay award execution on the goods of the party cast.
If it be of that or greater value, it is deterrninable before the county court, which consists of four at least of those justices, and assembles at the court-house of the county on a certain day in every month. From their deterinination, if the matter be of the value of ten pounds sterling, or concern the title or bounds of lands, an appeal lies to one of the superior
There are three superior courts, to wit, the high court of chancery, the general court, and the court of . admiralty. The first and second of these receive appeals froin the county courts, and also have original ju. risdiction, where the subject of controversy is of the value of ten pounds sterling, or where it concerns the title or bounds of land. The jurisdiction of the adıniralty is original altogether. The bigh court of chancery is composed of three judges, the general court of five, and the court of admiralty of three. The two first hold their sessions at Riclimond at stated tinies, the chancery twice in the year, and the general court twice for business civil and criminal, and twice more for cri. rninal only. The court of admiralty sits at Williamsburgh whenever controversy arises.
There is one supreme court, called the court of appeals, composed of the judges of the three superior courts, assembling twice a year at stated times at Richmond. This court receives appeals in all civil cases from each of the superior courts, and determines 'them finally. But it has no original jurisdiction.
If a controversy arise between two foreigners of a nation in alliance with the United States, it is decided by the Consul for their state, or, if both parties choose it, by the ordinary courts of justice. If one of the parties oply be such a foreigner, it is triable before the courts of justice of the country. But if it shall have been instituted in a county court, the foreigner inay remove it into the general court, or court of chancery, who are to determine it at their first sessions, as they must also do if it be originally commenced before them. In cases of life and death, such foreigners have a right to be tried by a jury, the one half fo ners, the other natives.
All public accounts are settled with a board of audi. tors, consisting of three members appointed by the general assembly, any two of whom may act. But an individual, dissatisfied with the determination of that board, may carry his case into the proper superior
A description of the laws.
The general assembly was constituted, as has been already shown, by letters patent of March the ninth, 1607, in the fourth year of the reign of James the first. The laws of England seem to have been adopted by consent of the settlers, which might easily enough be done whilst they were few and living all together. Of such adoption, however, we have no other proof than their practice till the year 1661, when they were expressly adopted by an act of the assembly, except so far as a difference of condition' rendered them inapplicable. Under this adoption, the rule, in our courts of judicature was, that the common law of England, and the general statutes previous to the 4th of James, were in force here; but that no subsequent statutes, were, un
less we were named in them, said the judges and other partisans of the crown, but named or not named, said those who reflected freely. It will be unnecessary to attempt a description of the laws of England, as that may be found in English publications. To those which were established here, by the adoption of the legislature, have been since added a number of acts of assembly passed during the monarchy, and ordinances of convention and acts of assembly enacted since the establishınent of the republic. The following variations from the British model are perhaps worthy of being specified.
Debtors unable to pay their debts, and making faithful delivery of their whole effects, are released from confinement, and their persons forever discharged from restraint for such previous debts: but any property they may afterwards acquire will be subject to their creditors.
The poor, unable to support themselves, are maintained by an assessment on the tytheable persons in their parish. This assessment is levied and administered by twelve persons in each parish, called vestrymen, originally chosen by the housekeepers of the parish, but afterwards filling vacancies in their own body by their own choice. These are usually the most discreet farmers, so distributed through their parish, that every part of it may be under the innediate eye of some one of them. They are well acquainted with the details and economy of private life, and they fiud sutticient inducements to execute their charge well, in their philanthropy, in the approbation of their neighbours, and the distinction which that gives them. The poor who have neither property, friends, nor strength to labour, are boarded in the houses of good farmers, to whom a stipulated sum is annually paid. To those who are able to help themselves a little, or have friends froin whom they derive some succours, inadequate however to their full maintenance, suppleinentary aids are given which enable them to live comfortably in their own houses, or in the houses of their friends. Vaga
bonds without visible property or vocation, are placed in work houses, where they are well clothed, fed, loilg. ed, and made to labour. Nearly the saine method of providing for the poor prevails through all our states; and from Savannah to Portsmouth you will seldom meet a beggar. In the large towns, indeed they sometimes present themselves. These are usually foreigners, who have never obtained a settlement in any pa·rish. I never yet saw a native American begging in the streets or highways. A subsistence is easily gained here: and if, by niisfortunes, they are thrown on the charities of the world, those provided by their own country are so comfortable and 'so certain, that they never think of relinquishing them to become strolling beggars. Their situation too, when sick, in the family of a good farmer, where every inember is einulous to do them. kind offices, where they are visited by all the neighbours, who bring them the little rarities which their sickly appetites may crave, and who take by rotation the nightly watch over them, when their condition requires it, is without comparisou better than in a general hospital, where the sick, the dying and the dead, are crainted together, in the same rooms, and often in the same beds. The disadvantages, inseparable from general hospitals, are such as can never be counterpoised by all the regularities of melicine and regi
Nature and kind nursing save a much greater proportion in our plain way, at a smaller expense, and with less abuse. One branch only of hospital institution is wanting with us; that is, a general establishment for those labouring under difficult cases of chirurgery. The aids of this art are not equivocal. But an able chirurgeon cannot be had in every parish. Such a receptacle should therefore be provided for those patients : but no others should be admitted.
Marriages must be solemnized either on special license, granted by the first magistrate of the county, on proof of the consent of the parent or guardian of either party under age, or after solenu publication, on three several Sundays, at some place of religious worship, in