Page images
PDF
EPUB

nine, and Palmer's subsequent conduct — his attempt to bribe the post-boy, his presents to the coroner, his tampering with the postmaster, and numerous other circumstances, many of them trivial, but all pointing in one direction, and leading us inevitably to the conclusion, that William Palmer was guilty of the murder of John Parsons Cook.

Note. — Palmer has now been executed, but made no confession,

RECENT LEGISLATION IN MASSACHUSETTS.

The session of the legislature of Massachusetts, which ended on the sixth day of June last, was longer by some thirteen days than the longest of its predecessors. Yet its record, in the form of public laws, is unusually small; they occupy, in the valuable edition of Mr. Dutton, considerably less than one half of the number of pages taken up by those of the year immediately preceding. We do not state this as a reproach upon the legislature. We do not happen to recollect what the precise causes of the great length of the session were ; but we do not grudge any time that was spent in thorough and exhaustive discussions of such subjects and acts as the law-making power was called upon to consider. On the contrary, whatever is given to wisdom or deliberation, in the manufacture of that wisest and most important fabric, the laws of the commonwealth, is well worth the time spent in council.

The next most obvious remark upon the session is, that a great number of the laws of last year, no less than fifteen, are expressly altered, modified, or repealed, to say nothing of those more numerous probably, which are more or less varied without express reference in the body of the new law. This change of laws is not owing to any change of public policy; the same political party has governed the councils of the State, and the measures which can be called political, though not very numerous, are of the same general character with those of the year 1855. The changes we have referred to are alınost entirely owing to the cause which we annually lament, the crude and hasty manner in which laws are made, both as to substance and manner. The fault of substance is only to be cured by sending to the legislature the most competent men who are willing to go, and making it incumbent on all who do go to attend to their duties thoroughly and patiently. The fault of manner is akin to that of substance. New laws are passed without due and careful study of the laws to be altered or amended, without a sufficient appreciation of the true effect of the words employed, and of their bearing upon those of former acts. We alluded last year to a remedy which had been proposed by a distinguished reformer in England, namely, that a commission of suitable and skilful persons should be appointed by the executive, and not removable yearly, to form a sort of permanent committee of bills in the third reading, whose duty it should be to advise the legislature how best to express the meaning they intend to embody in a law, and what will be the bearing of that law on existing laws. We do not intend to discuss this proposition again at present, nor to propose a substitute, but merely to remind our readers once more of this practical evil, trusting that they will do what they can, in their several vocations, towards its remedy.

Passing to the results of the session, we find four political measures, which it is not in our province to discuss, but only to indicate. We mean the proposed amendments to the constitution of Massachusetts, which have passed the legislature by the requisite majority at this session, but .which will require to be similarly passed next year, and to be ratified by the people, before becoming a part of the fundamental law. They are :

1. Every voter shall be able to read the English language, and write his own name.

2. Divides the State into districts for the election of two hundred and forty representatives.

3. Divides the State into forty single districts for election of senators.

4. No person of foreign birth shall have a right to vote or be eligible to any office unless resident in the State for fourteen years.

Turning next to the laws strictly so called, one of the earliest raises the salary of the justices of the Supreme Court, from three thousand dollars a year, at which sum it was fixed long since, when money was comparatively much more valuable than now, to four thousand, which is certainly not too large for the best legal ability of the commonwealth, and is less than some of the States give to the judges of their highest courts.

Chapter 308 enlarges the jurisdiction of the Superior Court of Suffolk county, so as to give it exclusive cog.

VOL. IX. —NO. III. — NEW SERIES.

nizance of personal actions to the value of three thousand dollars. • The equity jurisdiction of the Supreme Court which was last year extended to all cases of fraud, is now (ch. 38) to include also cases of accident or mistake, thus giving at ļast, and apparently without much discussion, what has been so perseveringly sought for many years — full equity jurisdiction in this commonwealth. We have all of a court of equity now but the chancellor, and perhaps he is the only really objectionable part of the court. But to inake the resemblance more perfect, it is provided by sect. 2 of the same chapter, what indeed had already been enacted in 1855, that suits in equity may be brought by bill as well as by writ.

Then there is a very considerable modification of the Insolvent Laws (ch. 284.) The jurisdiction is vested in courts of record, instead of commissioners, and the judges, one for each county, are to be appointed by the governor, to have liberal salaries, and to hold office during good .behavior; with registers, also well paid, and required to keep all proper and useful dockets, indices, and records. The most obvious remark upon this arrangement is, that a recent amendinent of the constitution having provided that commissioners of insolvency should be chosen by the people, it appears an evasion of that instrument to abolish the office by creating a new one with the same powers, and different tenure. If this were:so, we should not favor it, for such action, though it cannot be shown to be technically unconstitutional, and there is precedent for it, we have ever considered of dangerous tendency, as all evasion is and must be. But in the present instance we believe that no evasion was intended, and we are not sure that any has been committed. The article of amendment was probably based upon the notion that commissioners of insolvency were not judicial officers; a supposition not to be entertained, on principle, but which seems to have been tacitly admitted by making the tenure one for years only, whereas all judicial officers must, by the constitution, hold during good behavior, and by suffering the executive to exercise, without question, the right of removal. The constitutional amendment, at any rate, adopted this view, by making the office elective, for that mode does not obtain in any judicial office in this commonwealth, and is not likely to at present, for we hope and believe it to be the firm and settled conviction of our people that the judicial tenure and

mode of appointment which we have always enjoyed are the best.

If then the constitution supposes that commissioners are ministerial and not judicial officers, we see no good reason why the legislature should not provide for judicial officers, upon whom to devolve the duties hitherto performed by commissioners, but which are, in their own nature, properly judicial. In other words, we believe the constitution may be fairly understood to apply to the persons who shall perform these duties so long as those persons shall be of a certain lesser and unjudicial dignity, and no longer.

We believe the alteration a very good one, if this objection is removed. Much, of course, will depend upon the appointments, and our present chief magistrate, who has had many more such appointments to make than any governor since the foundation of the commonwealth, appears to have chosen very well thus far. The Superior Court, for instance, is conceded to be composed of able and upright judges. We hope it will receive gradual accessions of jurisdiction. Why should it not take cognizance of pleas of land, and, to some extent, of equity ? ;

The names of the judges recently appointed under the insolvent act will be found in another part of this journal. We are not, however, prepared to pass upon their merits, except to say that the gentleman nominated for Suffolk county has been a commissioner for some time, and given much satisfaction to the profession and the suitors. We believe this to be true of Norfolk and some other counties. Some of the gentlemen appointed cannot be said to have a wide reputation, but we dare to say they will gain one. Certain it is, that the salaries, which, upon the scale used in this State, are quite liberal for the duties required, would command a tolerably high order of talent and learning.

There are other provisions of this law which we can only glance at. They systematize and extend the prohibitions upon preferences; they render a creditor who has accepted a preference ineligible as assignee, and make it a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment, for the debtor to secrete or waste his books or estate after notice of the petition. They also forfeit the discharge of a debtor, who, being a merchant or tradesman, shall not have kept proper books of account, or who shall not have disclosed to his assignees, within one month after ascertaining it, the fact of a false debt having been proved against his estate ($ 31.) The first of these two clauses appears to us unnecessarily harsh. We have known many an honest and deserving tradesman who did not keep what an accountant would consider proper books, and some who kept none at all; and every one who has had an extensive mercantile acquaintance must be able to recall readily similar instances. Some of the most successful and honorable merchants of this country have trusted to their memory and to loose memoranda for the record of their transactions. The act in general appears to have been drawn with care by some one not unrnindful of the sacred rights of creditors.

There are a few more acts of general interest. Ch. 18 extends usefully the scope of the Statute of Frauds, by enacting that the evidence of a new or continuing promise to bind a debtor, who has received his discharge under any bankrupt or insolvent laws, must be in writing. Ch. 47, repealing an act of last year, gives the Supreme, Superior, and Common Pleas Courts jurisdiction of naturalization by proceedings in open court, to be made matter of record. Ch. 188 allows parties to be witnesses in their own favor, and to be called by the adverse parties, - a great change in the law, but one which we believe will work justice; it has been tried for several years, and generally approved, in England. We shall return to this subject at some future time, when we have more space to devote to it.

We have often expressed our regret that so much of the valuable time of the legislature should be given to matters of entirely private concern, and have suggested that for most of these, especially concerning private corporations, provision might be made by general laws. And this has been done to some extent. Another step in this direction has been taken this year, by permitting (ch. 215) persons to associate themselves, without a special act, and to become a body politic for educational, charitable, or relig. ious purposes, by a mere agreement in writing. We think there should be some provision for a public record of the corporate name and objects, as is enjoined in the case of banks by St. 1851, ch. 133, sect. 4.

We observe but one other law of general interest. Ch. 252 is a revision of the laws on the subject of insurance companies. This subject was thoroughly and elaborately revised in 1854, and a law was then passed which it was supposed would prevent the necessity of such legislation on this subject for a few years at least. We have not

« PreviousContinue »