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OF BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. Fellow Members of the National Conference on Uniform State
Laws: A careful examination of our by-laws fails to disclose any prescribed subject or the limitations of the subject which it is intended should be laid before you in this address. A review of the precedents set by previous Presidents of this body fails to give any additional light. The remarks of my predecessors have varied from learned, abstruse discussion of problems, either actual or supposed to be connected with the law, to those wherein the apparent intent was to give free rein to powers of oratory, rhetoric or to the conceptions of humor.
It is not my purpose this forenoon to slavishly follow any one of these, for the reason that finding myself entirely unfettered by positive regulation, I shall address myself neither to the abstruse, the rhetorical, nor the humorous aspect of our work in connection with the profession of the law. Rather let me direct your attention to some of the practical problems with which the labors of this Commission, and of the Commissioners individually, have to deal. Sometime since, it was recognized that we might formulate the law upon a given topic into an Act, but if our activity stops there, and the Commissioners do not exert to the full their power and influence to securing the adoption of an Act framed at these gatherings, each in his own state, but leave the enactment to the hazard of chance, we, as a Commission, would arrive nowhere. To perfect the form of legislation is but the first step towards fulfilling that for which this conference was created and organized. If one of the measures which has been sent out, stamped with the approval of this body, is then left to the tender mercy of the aspiring solons who form, in each State, the legislative branch of government, local or individual pride would insist upon amendment, so that the resultant work would be somewhat like an edition of the New Testament promulgated a few years since, and to recommend which, it was described by the publisher as “containing the Lord's prayer, revised, enlarged and greatly improved.” Of course it is not expected that all legislative bodies will adhere so closely as did that of Alaska some years since, which at one session adopted nine of the uniform laws, and in so doing, did not even venture to fill any of the blanks left in them as they emanated from this body. The Acts of that Session look a little peculiar in the printed volume, particularly in the closing section where it is provided that “this Act shall become effective on the day of " yet the freedom which is sometimes taken with the drafts of a uniform act results in destroying uniformity and consequently, renders the decisions of the courts of such states, construing a uniform statute, so called, valueless so far as all other States are concerned.
A good illustration of this is afforded in the Acts of the recent session of the Illinois Legislature, by which amendments were made to the Negotiable Instruments Statute. This seems to have been done to gratify the whim of certain banks or banking institutions in the City of Chicago. It was therefore legislation simply in the interests of a special class, and a narrow class at that. This Commission has heretofore frowned on any attempt to amend this Statute, and having been adopted in so large a number of States, the recent step taken in Illinois cannot but be regarded as most unfortunate. It serves to illustrate the fact that the Commissioners from each State must not only use their influence to secure the adoption of Acts, but ever be on the watch to guard against amending the same and thus destroying the value of Acts which have been passed as part of a uniform scheme, applicable in a large number of States.
It is now about a year since the volume, the work for which was begun by the late Amasa H. Eaton, and carried through to completion and published by Prof. Charles Thaddeus Terry, was given to the profession generally, and it has been an occasion of gratification to note the extent to which already this modest volume is referred to in the briefs of counsel and opinions of the courts of last resort in several of the States. This can have but one result, namely: An increasing regard for the work which is being done by this Commission.
Within the past few days, a suggestion has been made of rather a revolutionary character. The purport of it is that the name of this Conference, and the scope of its work, is too limited; that it should be in place of a Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws à Conference of Commissioners on the Uniformity of Law, and if this amendment is adopted to our Constitution, it is then further proposed that the Constitution of the United States be amended so as to put it within the power of Congress by a general act, to regulate the matter of Negotiable Instruments, Warehouse Receipts, Bills of Lading, and other subjects which have hitherto always been regarded as falling strictly within the domain of the legislative power of each state. Immediately upon the receipt of this suggestion from a member of the Commission, the subject of such an amendment of the federal constitution was referred to the Committee on Scope and Program. There are some things which can be said in favor of vesting this power in the federal government, but much more apparently in opposition to it. It would be the biggest step towards a centralization of power that has been known in this country since the adoption of the Constitution in 1789; it will take away from the states a large proportion of their power of self-government, and will render the further existence of this Conference absolutely useless. It is not proper on this occasion to enter into any elaborate discussion of the pros and cons concerning it. Those will naturally arise in case the Committee on Scope and Program should bring in a favorable recommendation, and it would be out of place to say anything from the Chair to influence the action of that Committee. It has been alluded to only for the purpose of bringing to the attention of the members of this body some of the ideas and influences which seem to be at work to undermine our system of government.
The considerations thus far alluded to all tend to a single point, that the most important work of the members of this body lies in securing the enactment of acts sent forth with our approval and recommendation for adoption. That the members of the Commission are becoming more and more aroused to their duty is shown in the fact that in various states of the country, includ
ing Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia, there have been passed in the interval since our last meeting, bills adopting our acts, or some of them, in twenty-four cases, the full details of which will be given in the report of the Secretary. Wisconsin is omitted from the list for the reason that the amendment proposed to Section 26 of the Conditional Sales Act had already been incorporated in the laws of that state, and two other Acts, those relating to Foreign Depositions and Proof of Statutes were already in substance the law of that state. This nearly equals, if it does not surpass, the record of any other single year since this Commission commenced its work. Legislatures in several of the states were not in session last winter, but as they will be during the coming one, is it too much to assume that with such an example, the work will be successfully pressed in those states?
There is one aspect of the work of this Commission which should form an occasion for serious consideration by every member of it. The subjects which have hitherto claimed the attention of this body can be classified under practically three heads:
(1) Those which relate to the carrying on of the commercial relations between man and man, or a corporation and individuals.
(2) Those which deal, or attempt to deal, with the family life or relation under the law.
(3) What may be termed idealistic legislation by which on a comparatively new subject, a model form of legal regulation is attempted to be given.
In addition to these, there have been a limited number of acts of a procedural character which have been quite generally adopted, but which have to do with the routine of the conduct of cases in the courts, and are of less general interest or importance to those not members of the profession. It is worthy of note that of the various classes, the acts which have secured the widest adoption are those of a commercial nature, such as the Law of Negotiable Instruments, Bills of Lading, Warehouse Receipts and Sales.
Acts of the second class, that is, those which attempt to deal with the family relation, such as marriage and divorce, and as affecting children, seem to have fared much worse so far as actual
adoption is concerned. There are many reasons which could be given for this condition. Thus prejudice, religious predilection, general satisfaction with a law which has, existed in any particular jurisdiction for a great number of years, are all contributing factors. It will readily be appreciated that with regard to divorce, between a state which recognizes no divorce at all, and one which provides by statute forty-six causes, for any one of which a separation may be decreed, and not content with that, fearing that it had been too niggardly in its action, the Legislature further provided that similar relief might be granted for any other cause, which, in the judgment of the chạncellor, the Legislature would have provided for if it had occurred to it, the chasm is too great to find any common ground for harmony. When there is added to this the strenuous opposition of some of the great ecclesiastical bodies of the country, it will be readily appreciated that it is by degrees, and only by degrees, that any common meeting ground can be found. This is true of all acts coming under the second head of the general classification already suggested.
It has repeatedly been said at meetings of this Commission, that it was part of our duty upon new subjects to present to a state a model upon which to form their legislation, and hours have been spent in the discussion of tentative measures. It is at least open to serious question whether much of this time could not be employed in other ways to far better advantage. Experience has shown that in only a few rare instances has the legislation actually passed been strictly along the lines recommended by this conference. In every state, local conditions and environment tend to modify any act which may emanate from this body, and thus there is produced not uniformity of legislation but merely suggestions of provisions for the benefit of the public at large, which shall be incorporated in any legislation which those states may enact. Examples of this are to be found in the Workmen's Compensation Act, the Act for Occupational Diseases, Registration of Land Titles, and a few others. It may therefore be questioned seriously whether measures of this character ought to be sent out for adoption by the several states, or should they not rather be promulgated as recommendations of points to be included in any legislation of that character