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A VERY slight glance at the field of jurisprudence is sufficient to convince us of the extent to which written law is making inroads upon the field of unwritten, customary, or common law.
One branch after another of the great topics of our science, become subjects of legislation. Statutes, codes, and constitutions succeed each other, and in our time, with greatly-increased rapidity, threaten finally to absorb every topic of jurisprudence.
This process commenced long since, and is now going on, on the continent of Europe, in England, and this country, with equal certainty if not with equal rapidity. Here particularly, in the absence of the State machinery and the social and religious organizations of the old world, the very essence of our system may be said to be the government of Written Law.
This volume then, is an attempt to state the rules which control the interpretation and application of written law as it exists in the shape of Statutes and Constitutions; and if it succeed at all in giving more certainty and facility to the administration of this portion of the great science of justice, my object will have been attained.
It is my duty to refer to those who have preceded me in this path. There are various works on the subject of constitutional law, among which the most prominent is that of Mr. Justice Story, confined, however, to the Constitution of the United States. Mr. Smith's treatise, one of much labor and research, treats of statutory and constitutional law generally, and is the only one we have which can be properly said to treat of the same subjects as this volume. The well-known work of Sir Fortunatus Dwarris, in the second edition of which he has been assisted by Mr. Amyot, is confined to Statutes. It is a work of great soundness as well as of great originality of thought; and my frequent references show at once the extent of my obligations to it, and my profound sense of its ability and value.
In taking leave of a task which has beguiled many hours of their weariness—which has furnished a partial solace for the sadness of many others, it behooves me to say that no one can be more aware than myself of the many imperfections of this volume: just in proportion to my conviction of the importance and
magnitude of the subject, is my sense of the deficiencies in my treatment of it.
It is proper to add that I have intended carefully to avoid the discussion of topics of a political nature, or the expression of opinions having, directly or indirectly, any political bearing. To the best of my ability I have made the treatise one purely of a legal character.
I submit the work to the judgment of the learned and able body of men to whose studies it chiefly appertains,—who are most able to discern and detect its errors and defects, and who at the same time will most readily recognize any claim of merit or utility that it may possess.