Thomas Jefferson Papers

Bill to Enable Judges of the General Court to Hold Two Additional Sessions, [27 May 1778]

Bill to Enable Judges of the General Court to Hold Two Additional Sessions

[27 May 1778] Since there are only two sessions of the General Court (March and October), persons committed for criminal offenses “are obliged to undergo a long and painful confinement before they can be brought to trial, which is contrary to justice, and the principles of the constitution.” Henceforth there shall be two other sessions (June and December) to hear only “treasons, felonies, misdemeanors, and other pleas of the commonwealth cognizable” before the court at other sessions. Act also provides that judges may qualify at any of the terms of the General Court.

MS not located; Act as adopted is in Hening, description begins William W. Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia description ends ix, 460–1.

On 25 May 1778 TJ was appointed to a committee of four, of which Henry Tazewell was chairman, to bring in a bill “establishing Courts of Oyer and Terminer.” Tazewell introduced it on 27 May; the following day it was read the second time and recommitted to a new committee of five persons, of which Tazewell was also chairman and TJ a member. The Bill was reported again on 29 May, read the third time on 30 May, and approved by Senate the same day, with an amendment which the House in turn amended and which the Senate accepted (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1778, 1827 edn., p. 2, 20, 22, 26, 28, 30). There is no conclusive evidence of TJ’s authorship, but, as the chief architect of Virginia’s judiciary system under the Constitution of 1776, he must have been concerned by the problem which this Bill was intended to solve. The preamble with its emphasis upon justice and constitutional principles also has a Jeffersonian sound. But perhaps the best evidence of TJ’s authorship is to be found in an amendment that he wrote into a subsequent Bill to keep that Bill from interfering with the purpose of the Act of May 1778 (see Bill to Amend the Act Establishing a General Court, under date of 27 Oct. 1778).

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