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it is observed how much men of acknowledged abilities have differed from each other, as to the models most proper to be followed in similar works, it is but too easy to foresee, that my labors will form no exception to the usual difficulties of the achievement. Indeed, there are few things about which so great a diversity of tastes is likely to be indulged, as what constitutes the standard of excellence in a digest of statute laws. While some can be pleased with nothing which falls short of a strictly scientific method, and a selection confined to the spirit of the enactment, there are others who carry their veneration for the sources of the law so far, as to be willing to make a digest, not so much a receptacle of the law in force, as a history of the legislation of the country-not only a conservatory of the valuable lights which disciplined minds have shed upon the path of jurisprudence, but a servile and unprofitable memento of everything, whether of form or substance, to which inexperience, caprice, or temerity, has lent the casual impress of a legislative sanction. To the former I need scarcely say, that had their fastidiousness been consulted, it would have rendered the work unfit for general use; while it is hoped the prejudices of the latter will undergo some mitigation from the experience of the last ten years, which sufficiently proves, that laws promulgated in this form are of little more benefit to the public at large, than if they had remained undivulged in the breasts that conceived them. In the middle ground between these extremes, it has seemed to me that the maximum of utility was to be sought for : by discarding all laws not in force, unless when necessary to connect a series of dependent enactments, avoiding all repetition, pruning away, as far as practicable, the redundant verbiage, and arranging the matter thus prepared, rather according to that simple method which common sense suggested, than in subservience to technical rules, which, however they may assist the mind in grasping a subject as an entire whole, are usually productive of more embarrassment than advantage when mide auxiliary to any attempt to exhibit it in detail. That it was found much easier to conceive of such a model in theory, than to exemplify it practically, will be readily admitted. The inequality of the materials, necessarily produced corresponding variations in the texture of the work. Passages sometimes occurred which from their generality, and the diversity of subjects embraced in them, seemed to present no peculiar claims to a location under any given title. Others, again, were unintelligible, at least in their true sense, without a reference to laws now obsolete and in some instances references were made with so little care that, except on a most thorough research, they could scarcely fail to mislead the inquirer. The defects of arrangement unavoidably arising out of these causes, as well as the inherent obscurity of the text itself, I have endeavored to obviate by explanatory notes. The judicial constructions of the statutes by the supreme court, being the only interpretations which can be safely relied on, and, as far as individuals and inferior jurisdictions are concerned, as imperative as the law itself, are, on all material points, briefly adverted to. The decisions upon the attachment laws, and most of those upon the statutes of jeofails are, however, omitted, as they are too numerous even to refer to, and in many instances rendered of difficult application, if not of doubtful authority, the former by recent legislation, and the latter by the rules of proceedings and practice adopted by the supreme court. These rules will be found in an appendix ; and also extracts from the acts of congress of 1790, and 1804, directing in what manner the acts, records, and judicial proceedings of the other states shall be authenticated. The frequent demand for those acts in the courts, and the impossibility of obtaining them on the spur of the moment, in many parts of the state, will, with every member of the bar at least, be a sufficient apology for their insertion.
For the plan of the digest, the process adopted in its composition, and the means employed to bring the whole body of our public statute law into so
small a compass without any substantial omissions, those who deem the inquiry worth pursuing, are referred to the subjoined report of the commissioners who collated the manuscript with the originals from which it was compiled. And in concluding this brief notice with a reference to that report, it only remains for me to express, however inadequately, the lively sense of obligation I feel towards the commissioners, for the favorable terms in which they ushered my labors into public notice, and to the legislature, for the courteous and confiding spirit in which those expressions were received. Whether the general voice, on a more deliberate examination, will confirm that judgment, remains to be seen. If it should, I will be gratified:not because praise or censure can qualify that highest source of self approval, the conviction of having given my best abilities, and an untiring zeal to the discharge of the duties committed to me, but because it is grateful to all, even the humblest, to know they have escaped from that fatality which, too often, couples good intentions with abortive deeds.
JOHN G. AIKIN. July, 1833.
REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONERS, EXPLAINING THE PLAN
OF THE DIGEST, &c. To the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Alabama in
General Assembly convened : The undersigned, commissioners appointed by the last general assembly, to examine the compilation of laws prepared by John G. Aikin, Esquire, under the act passed for that purpose, ask leave, respectfully, to report, that, within the time prescribed by the act, they entered upon the labor, under a just sense of its responsibility, and with a zeal to perform it, in such a manner as to justify the confidence which their selection indicated.
Influenced by these considerations, they first sought to ascertain if the directions of the act had been complied with, by including in the compilation, all laws now in force, of a public and general nature, and whether they had been faithfully transcribed and arranged under proper heads. In doing this, they had necessarily to take a comprehensive survey of the whole ground which had been passed over, consisting of the voluminous and confused body of our statute laws, which presented obstacles, at every point, utterly insurmountable within the limited time allowed them, without the aid afforded by the copious notes of the digester, made in preparation for, and during the progress of the work, from which they have not only derived a signal advantage, but have received a sensible demonstration of the labor it has cost, and of the pains taken to achieve an accuracy, which no memory however retentive could ensure : these, by his leave, are submitted to the legislature, together with the digest, in order that any member who chooses, or any committee to which the work may be referred, may employ them in the collation of laws of different dates upon the same subject, and be enabled thereby to determine, at a comparatively nominal expense of time, the extent to which a law is repealed, modified, or superseded, by another subsequently passed.
This examination embraced a minute and laborious comparison of the manuscript with the printed copy of the law, so determined to be in force, and resulted in the correction of all palpable errors it contained ; and by a construction of their powers, perhaps somewhat liberal, the commissioners have in many instances, in addition to those which had attracted the attention of
the digester, corrected those redundancies which did not affect, but rather obscured the meaning and force of the law. The arrangement of the law under the head to which its subject matter would naturally refer it, being an object of primary importance and of the greatest difficulty, has received the most scrutinizing attention of the commissioners, and has, with but few exceptions, received also the sanction of their best judgment. They have also faithfully examined the former digest and the acts since passed, respectively, in order that no act or part of an act, which ought to be embraced, should be omitted.
In the index, to which their attention has also been particularly directed, the subjects are so thoroughly digested, that a reference to it will, in every instance it is believed, readily supply any deficiency, which may have become unavoidable in the arrangement of the body of the work, from the complication of the matter in its original form : and the marginal notes are so drawn as to convey a brief and sufficiently accurate outline of the subject matter of the laws to which they respectively refer.
The commissioners deem it essentially included in the duty enjoined upon them, of reporting on the correctness and fidelity with which the digester has performed his task, to state in a concise manner, the plan he has adopted; more especially as, in a work of this nature, where the materials are already furnished, the degree of judgment exercised in giving them form, and in a methodical arrangement of the several parts, is the chief consideration, to which either praise or censure can be attached. In these respects, considering the immense difficulty of the labor, and after the most thorough investigation which time would permit, their judgment approves the whole cast of the work, which seems eminently calculated to secure the two objects, upon which mainly depends its utility, as designed for popular use and general circulation, namely, a freedom from obscurity, and a compression of the materials into the smallest possible space. How far the means which the digester has employed, were adequate to the end, it is believed, will be evident upon a bare recital.
1. In the arrangement of the matter, the constitutional provisions applicable to each head, have, for the sake of more convenient reference, been included ; and also, under the title “ Alabama," such parts of the acts of congress, as relate to the political history of our state, and show the successive stages of its transition from the Mississippi Territory to a member of the Union.
2. All laws of a temporary nature, and those which have expired by their own limitation, except such parts of them as were conceived necessary, to elucidate those now in force, and to direct their application, are excluded.
3. All laws and parts of laws repealed, and the repealing clauses, are excluded.
4. When two or more laws have, through inadvertency, been enacted on the same subject, (which is frequently the case, the one which is the most full and clear, is retained, and the others either omitted entirely, or such parts only of the more imperfect ones retained, as were not re-enacted.
5. In some instances much useless and embarrassing repetition is avoided, by consolidating a number of acts into one, as in the times of holding the circuit and county courts, salaries of officers, &c. &c. where the substance of a great variety of acts is brought into the compass of a single page.
6. In setting out the law, all superfluous and inoperative expressions, such as “ from and after the passage of this act," and the suspending clauses after they are fulfilled, and the law become absolute by lapse of time, and others, are omitted, and the same license is taken with the phrases at the commencement of each act and section, which were only inserted as a constitutional compliance with legislative forms, while on its passage : the preambles are, however, uniformly retained.
7. In arranging the laws, each section has been transferred to the head, to which it was supposed to have relation, without regard to the matter with which it may have been mingled, at is original passage; and the whole are disposed, rather according to the method required by the sense, than with reference to the dates ; and to avoid the space which would be occupied by a repetition of the title to each section, a chronological list is made out at the commencement of the work, showing at one view, every act of a public nature, in force, from the organization of the Mississippi Territory, up to the close of the last session of the legislature, and the date of its passage. The acts of each year are numbered, commencing from the first; and by the number and year each section is referred to in the margin. The advantage of this arrangement is, that while it has enabled the digester to throw the whole body of the law, substantially, into new acts, according to the affinity of the matter, (for each title, excepting only the constitutional provisions, may now be regarded as a separate act, it also shows what position every section occupied at its original passage, in the act from which it was taken.
In deciding under what title any particular law, or part of a law should be placed, it is believed, that a sound judgment has been exercised—that any law desired will be found under the head at which, if not all, at least most persons would seek for it, without the aid of an index. When, however, it was difficult to decide on the propriety of arrangement, as where a particular law or section seemed referable with equal justice to two heads, its place, where omitted, is supplied by a note showing where it may be found.
To this brief outline of the plan and mode of execution, the commissioners will only add, what appears to them a practical commentary of no small importance, namely: that by these means, the whole body of our public statute law, including all embraced in the former digest, and those of nine subsequent years, are brought without confusion, into the compass of but little more than four hundred pages.
The commissioners think it unnecessary to express in more explicit terms, the sentiment of entire approbation to which a thorough investigation of the work has given rise, believing, that resting upon its own excellence for the meed of praise it may justly claim, from the enlightened approbation of the legislature and the people, it has a surer basis than any which their commendation could supply.
The work is, indeed, the best expositor of its own merits, and to that ordeal they dismiss it; convinced, that while any applause they might bestow would pass away with the moment, the work itself, as often as it serves to bring in contrast the confusion and darkness which have overhung our statute laws heretofore, and the method and harmony with which, it is believed, they are now invested, will yield a testimony to its own worth, too solid to be affected by censure, and too ample to need the augmentation of praise. All which is respectfully submitted.
JOHN BROWN, (Red)
EXPLANATION OF THE REFERENCES.
The title and date of each law, are indicated in the margin by the year and number which stand opposite to them, in the chronological list of statutes prefixed to the digest. The particular section is also given, except when it coincides in number with the section of the title which it forms. When the marginal reference is enclosed in brackets, it denotes the incorporation of a passage from some other law, usually of a few words, and in no instance extending beyond the commencement of the next section. The small letters direct to the side of the page; the figures, to the bottom ; those in parentheses, are appropriated to the decisions of the supreme court. The explanatory notes are framed with reference to the arbitrary division of each title into sections or paragraphs commencing at unity. When the note alludes to a section, without specifying the title, it will of course be understood to be that under which the note occurs.