Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Law Day and English Legal History

"Law Day" was May 1st, and this recognition of law in society continues through May, 2008.

This year's national theme for "Law Day" is "The Rule of Law", as promoted by the American Bar Association, all state bar associations, including the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and local bar associations.

Pennsylvania takes a slightly different approach to observing Law Day by focusing on children.

Through classroom visits by lawyers and judges and an outstanding set of free law-related lesson plans prepared for K-College classrooms, the Pennsylvania Bar Association and county bar associations across the commonwealth work with schools to educate children about their legal rights and responsibilities in the new millennium. The free lessons and materials are designed to be informative and fun for all kids.

Law Day provides Pennsylvania lawyers and judges with a wonderful opportunity to become involved in their local communities. Law Day is funded by the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation. * * *
The ABA's resources note the History of Law Day, but say very little about the long history of American & English law. At this 50th Anniversary of Law Day, I celebrate the roots of American law in English law.

English Legal History is the subject of some seminar courses taught at law schools, such as the University of Pittsburgh School of Law:

English common law has historically served as the foundation of American jurisprudence; the record of its development is a fascinating interplay of ideas, personalities and conflicts.

This seminar will explore the history of English common law from its twelfth-century beginnings in the reigns of Henry II and Richard the Lion-Heart to its intellectual culmination in the writings of late nineteenth-century Oxford academics. * * *
That course description links to these more detailed resources:
An expansive Duke University School of Law web page entitled "English Legal History", under the heading "Legal History on the Web", compiled by Katherine Topulos (last revised 11/07), lists and explains many research & resource links related to English legal history, including: The Legal History Blog, under its heading "English legal history", reviews resources on that topic. See also: English Medieval Legal Documents Wiki, maintained by the University of Southern California as a compilation of published sources from AD 600 to AD 1535.

So the online documentation of our common English legal history is expanding, just as all posted knowledge is exploding.

But the principles involved in Last Wills trace back beyond English law, according to Wikopedia's entry (drawn from the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, in its series on "The Law of Wills, Trusts and Estate Administration") about the "Legal History of Wills", and specifically its heading "Wills in the Ancient World":
The will, if not purely Roman in origin, at least owes to Roman law its complete development, a development which in most European countries was greatly aided at a later period by ecclesiastics versed in Roman law.

In India, the will was unknown before English conquest.

In Christian tradition, Eusebius and others have related of Noah's testament, made in writing, and witnessed under his seal, by which he disposed of the whole world. Additionally, wills are spoken of in the Old Testament (in Genesis 48), where Jacob bequeaths to his son Joseph, a portion of his inheritance, double to that of his brethren.

The Ancient Greek practice concerning wills was not the same in all places; some states permitted men to dispose of their estates, others wholly deprived them of that privilege.
We are told by Plutarch, that Solon is much commended for his law concerning wills; for before his time no man was allowed to make any, but all the wealth of deceased persons belonged to their families; but he permitted them to bestow it on whom they pleased, esteeming friendship a stronger tie than kindred, and affection than necessity, and thus put every man's estate in the disposal of the possessor; yet he allowed not all sorts of wills * * *.
According to the ABA, Law Day 2008 "will explore the meaning of the rule of law, fostering public understanding of the rule of law through discussion of its role in a free society." The history of American and English law reveals how those rules have evolved.

"Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered."
-- Aristotle