James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Jeremy Bentham, May 1816

Washington, May, 1816.

With respect to the UNWRITTEN LAW, it may not be improper to observe, that the extent of it has been not a little abridged in this country by successive events. A certain portion of it was dropped by our Emigrant forefathers as contrary to their principles or inapplicable to their new situation. The Colonial statutes, had a further effect in amending and diminishing the mass. The revolution from Colonies to Independent States lopped off other portions. And the changes which have been constantly going on since this last event, have every where made and are daily making further reductions.

To these remarks I may be permitted to add, that with the best execution of the best plan for converting the common law into a written law, the evil can not be more than partially cured; the complex technical terms to be employed in the text, necessarily requiring a resort for definition and explanation to the volumes containing that description of law.


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