Adams Papers

1760. Novr. 14. Friday.

1760. Novr. 14. Friday.

The Title is “The History of the Common Law of England.” The Frontispiece, I cannot comprehend. It is this.

Ἰσχυρον ὁ ΝÓΜΟΣ έσ[τ]ὶν ἄρχοντὰ1
His great Distribution of the Laws of England is into Leges scriptae and Leges non scriptae. The first are Acts of Parliament which are originally reduced to writing before they are enacted, or receive any binding Power, every such Law being in the first Instance, formally drawn up in Writing, and made as it were a Tripartite Indenture, between the King, the Lords and Commons.

The Leges non scriptae, altho there may be some Monument or Memorial of them in Writing (as there is of all of them) yet all of them have not their original in Writing, but have obtained their Force by immemorial Usage or Custom.

1Transcribed by JA from the titlepage of Sir Matthew Hale’s The History and Analysis of the Common Law of England, London, 1713. JA could make no sense of it because it is garbled Greek for which the printer may have been re­sponsible. CFA subjoined the following note on the passage: “Stephanus quotes the following as a proverb,—

Ἰσχυρὸν ὁ νόμος έστ𐎯ν, ἤν ἄρχοντ᾽ ἔχῃ. which he translates,—The law is powerful if it have an executor” (JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 2:101). The Stephani, or Estiennes, were 16th-century printers and lexicographers; see Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends , p. 86. Hale’s titlepage motto is evidently a distorted version of this “proverb.”

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