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IMPORTANCE OF A GENERAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE
LAWS OF ENGLAND.
THERE are few studies more important to Englishmen than that of the Law, and yet the science of the Laws and Constitution of our country-those legal and equitable rules of action by which the meanest individual is protected from the insults and oppression of the greatest—is a species of knowledge in which Englishmen are remarkably deficient; and the want of a general knowledge of the English Constitution, a Constitution built upon the soundest foundations, approved by the experience of ages, and now made the exemplar or model for the constitutions of most of the European nations, as well as of the newly constituted governments of our colonies, has always been a defect in the education of Englishmen.
As every subject is interested in the preservation of the laws of the realm, it is incumbent upon every man to be acquainted with those rules of conduct with which he
is immediately concerned, lest he suffer for his ignorance, and incur the censure as well as inconvenience of living in society without being aware of the obligations which the law imposes.
For example, every man possessed of landed property, of whatever extent or value, is primarily interested in a knowledge of the leading principles of the law relating to estates and conveyances, as a guard against fraud and imposition. Besides, the policy of all laws has made some forms necessary in the wording of wills as to the bequests of real and personal estates, and the manner of attesting them, an ignorance of which must always be of dangerous consequence to such as by choice or necessity compile their own testaments without any technical assistance. A knowledge of these forms may also be of considerable use to medical
called in, as they sometimes are, suddenly to a patient in a dangerous state, when they may assist in giving a right direction to a testator's intentions as to the disposition of his property. Those who attend our courts of justice are witnesses of the confusion and distress often occasioned in families, and of the difficulties that arise in discerning the true meaning of a testator, or sometimes in discovering any meaning at all in that which he has written, so that in the end, his property often passes away contrary to his intentions, because he has omitted one or two formal words which are necessary to ascertain the sense with indisputable legal precision, or has not executed his will in the presence of such witnesses as the law requires.
A very large portion of the community are liable to be called
upon to establish the rights, to estimate the injuries, to weigh the accusations, and sometimes to dispose of the lives of their fellow-subjects, by serving upon juries. In this situation they have frequently to decide, and that upon their oaths, questions of great importance, in the solution of which some legal knowledge is required, especially where the law and the fact as it often happens, are intimately blended together. In Blackstone's time the general incapacity of juries to do this with any tolerable propriety had greatly depreciated their authority, and unavoidably threw, and, indeed, does now throw, more power into the hands of the judges to direct, control, and even reverse their verdicts, than, perhaps, the Constitution intended.
It is true that all jurymen cannot be expected to be able to examine with close application the critical niceties of the Law, but one of our most eminent judges and early legal writers, Sir John Fortescue, gave it as his opinion, “that a person of ordinary capacity might attain an adequate knowledge of law, consistent with the status of a gentleman, within the brief period of one year, without neglecting his other avocations."
It is not as a juror only that an Englishman is called upon to determine questions of right and distribute justice to his fellow-subjects. A very ample field is opened for a gentleman who is in the Commission of the Peace to exert his talents by maintaining good order in his neighbourhood, by punishing the dissolute and idle, by protecting the peaceable and industrious ; and, above all, by healing petty differences and pre venting vexatious prosecutions ; but in order to attain these desirable ends it is necessary that he should not only have the will, but possess the capability of administering legal and effectual justice ; else, when he has mistaken his authority through ignorance or obtuseness, he will be the object of censure from those to whom he is accountable for his conduct.
Gentlemen of fortune, indeed others in a more humble sphere of life, may now-and the probabilities are, that this privilege and duty will be extended—be called upon to represent important constituencies as members of Parliament. When elected, they ought to consider that they are then the guardians of the English Constitution; the makers, the repealers, and interpreters of English laws, delegated to watch,