Law quotes

Law Quotes

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How great soever the variety of municipal laws, it must be confessed that their chief outlines pretty regularly concur; because the purposes to which they tend are everywhere exactly similar.

David Hume.

It is his [the legislator’s] best policy to comply with the common bent of mankind, and give it all the improvements of which it is susceptible.

David Hume.

Law is the science in which the greatest powers of the understanding are applied to the greatest number of facts.

Dr. Samuel Johnson.

He who knows not how often rigorous laws produce total impunity, and how many crimes are concealed and forgotten for fear of hurrying the offender to that state in which there is no repentance, has conversed very little with mankind. And whatever epithets of reproach or contempt this compassion may incur from those who confound cruelty with firmness, I know not whether any wise man would wish it less powerful, or less extensive…. This scheme of invigorating the laws by relaxation, and extirpating wickedness by lenity, is so remote from common practice that I might reasonably fear to expose it to the public, could I be supported only by my own observations: I shall, therefore, by ascribing it to its author, Sir Thomas More, endeavour to procure it that attention which I wish always paid to prudence, to justice, and to mercy.

Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 114.

The right of juries to return a general verdict in all cases whatsoever, is an essential part of our [the English] constitution, not to be controlled or limited by the judges, nor in any shape questioned by the legislature.


The laws are at present, both in form and essence, the greatest curse that society labours under.

Walter Savage Landor.

I do apprehend that the rules of evidence are to be considered as artificial rules, framed by men for convenience in courts of justice. This is a case that ought to be looked upon in that light; and I take it that considering evidence in this way [viz., according to natural justice] is agreeable to the genius of the law of England.

Lord Chief-Justice Lee.

There needs no more to the setting of the whole world in a flame than a quarrelsome plaintiff and defendant.

Roger L’Estrange.

There is a law of nature, as intelligible to a rational creature and studier of that law, as the positive laws of commonwealths.

John Locke.

Civil law and history are studies which a gentleman should not barely touch at, but constantly dwell upon.

John Locke.

The Roman emperors were possessed of the whole legislative as well as executive power.

Joseph Addison.

Law is a bottomless pit: John Bull was flattered by the lawyers that his suit would not last above a year; yet ten long years did Hocus steer his cause through all the meanders of the law, and all the courts.

John Arbuthnot.

The Roman laws gave particular exemptions to such as built ships or traded in corn.

John Arbuthnot.

Decent executions keep the world in awe: for that reason the majority of mankind ought to be hanged every year.

John Arbuthnot.

A just and wise magistrate is a blessing as extensive as the community to which he belongs: a blessing which includes all other blessings whatsoever that relate to this life.

Francis Atterbury.

A wise king must do less in altering his laws than he may; for new government is ever dangerous; it being true in the body politic as in the corporal, that “omnis subita immutatio est periculosa:” and though it be for the better, yet it is not without a fearful apprehension; for he that changeth the fundamental laws of a kingdom thinketh there is no good title to a crown but by conquest.

Francis Bacon: Essay XIV., Of a King.

They are the best laws by which the king hath the justest prerogative and the people the best liberty.

Francis Bacon.

The tenure in chief is the very root that doth maintain this silver stem, that by many rich and fruitful branches spreadeth itself: so if it be suffered to starve, by want of ablaqueation, and other good husbandry, this yearly fruit will much decrease.

Francis Bacon: Office of Alienations.

It is but a loose thing to speak of possibilities, without the particular designs; so is it to speak of lawfulness without the particular.

Francis Bacon.

It has been said that the law of England derived the doctrine of charitable uses from the Roman Civil Law. Lord Thurlow has said it, and there are others who have said the same thing. It is by no means clear. It may very well be doubted. It is not worth the time necessary for the investigation. One of the worst doctrines, as formerly understood in England, the doctrine of Cy-pres, has been derived from the Roman law, and perhaps little else. Constantine certainly sanctioned what are called pious uses. A successor, Valentinian, restrained donations to churches, without disturbing donations to the poor; and Justinian abolished the restraint, and confirmed and established such uses generally and forever.
Horace Binney: Argument Vidal v. the City of Philadelphia, 1844, 26.

But that a science, which distinguishes the criterions of right and wrong; which teaches to establish the one, and prevent, punish, or redress the other; which employs in its theory the noblest faculties of the soul, and exerts in its practice the cardinal virtues of the heart; a science, which is universal in its use and extent, accommodated to each individual, yet comprehending the whole community; that a science like this should ever have been deemed unnecessary to be studied in an university, is matter of astonishment and concern.

Sir William Blackstone: Introduc. to his Commentaries, Sec. I.

I think it an undeniable position, that a competent knowledge of the laws of that society in which we live, is the proper accomplishment of every gentleman and scholar; an highly useful, I had almost said essential, part of liberal and polite Education . And in this I am warranted by the example of ancient Rome; where, as Cicero informs us, the very boys were obliged to learn the twelve tables by heart, as a carmen necessarium, or indispensable lesson, to imprint on their tender minds an early knowledge of the laws and constitution of their country .

Sir William Blackstone: Commentaries: On the Study of the Law.

Law, in its must general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action; and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus, we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action which is prescribed by some superior, and which the inferior is bound to obey.

Sir William Blackstone: Commentaries: Of the Nature of Laws in General.

Considering the Creator only as a being of infinite power, he was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws he pleased to his creature, man, however unjust or severe. But, as he is also a being of infinite wisdom, he has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator himself, in all his dispensations, conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. 14
Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to every one his due; to which three general precepts Justinian has reduced the whole doctrine of law.

Sir William Blackstone: Commentaries: Of the Nature of Laws in General.

Aristotle himself has said, speaking of the laws of his own country , that jurisprudence, or the knowledge of those laws, is the principal and most perfect branch of ethics.

Sir William Blackstone.

Human legislators have, for the most part, chosen to make the sanction of their laws rather vindicatory than remuneratory, or to consist rather in punishments than in actual particular rewards.

Sir William Blackstone.

Outrageous penalties, being seldom or never inflicted, are hardly known to be law by the public; but that rather aggravates the mischief by laying a snare for the unwary.

Sir William Blackstone.

We found, or we thought we found, an inconvenience in having every man the judge of his own cause. Therefore judges were set up, at first, with discretionary powers. But it was soon found a miserable slavery to have our lives and properties precarious, and hanging upon the arbitrary determination of any one man, or set of men. We fled to laws as a remedy for this evil. By these we persuaded ourselves we might know with some certainty upon what ground we stood. But lo! differences arose upon the sense and interpretation of these laws. Thus we were brought back to our old incertitude.

Edmund Burke : Vindic. of Nat. Society, 1756.

New laws were made to expound the old; and new difficulties arose upon the new laws; as words multiplied, opportunities of cavilling upon them multiplied also. Then recourse was had to notes, comments, glosses, reports, responsa prudentum, learned readings: eagle stood against eagle: authority was set up against authority. Some were allured by the modern, others reverenced the ancient. The new were more enlightened, the old were more venerable. Some adopted the comment, others stuck to the text. The confusion increased, the mist thickened, until it could be discovered no longer what was allowed or forbidden, what things were in property, and what common. In this uncertainty (uncertain even to the professors, an Egyptian darkness to the rest of mankind) the contending parties felt themselves more effectually ruined by the delay than they could have been by the injustice of any decision. Our inheritances are become a prize for disputation; and disputes and litigations are become an inheritance.

Edmund Burke : Vindic. of Nat. Society.

The delay of the law is, your lordship will tell me, a trite topic, and which of its abuses have not been too severely felt not to be complained of? A man’s property is to serve for the purposes of his support; and therefore, to delay a determination concerning that, is the worst injustice, because it cuts off the very end and purpose for which I applied to the Judicature for relief. Quite contrary in the case of a man’s life: there the determination can hardly be too much protracted. Mistakes in this case are as often fallen into as many others; and if the judgment is sudden, the mistakes are the most irretrievable of all others. Of this the gentlemen of the robe are themselves sensible, and they have brought it into a maxim. De morte hominis nulla est cunctatio longa. But what could have induced them to reverse the rules, and to contradict that reason which dictated them, I am utterly unable to guess.

Edmund Burke: Vindic. of Nat. Society.

I remove my suit; I shift from court to court; I fly from equity to law, and from law to equity; equal uncertainty attends me everywhere; and a mistake in which I had no share decides at once upon my liberty and property, sending me from the court to a prison, and adjudging my family to beggary and famine. I am innocent, gentlemen, of the darkness and uncertainty of your science. I never darkened it with absurd and contradictory notions, nor confounded it with chicane or sophistry. You have excluded me from any share in the conduct of my own cause; “the science was too deep for me;” I acknowledged it; but it was too deep even for yourselves: you have made the way so intricate that you are yourselves lost in it; you err, and you punish me for your errors.

Edmund Burke: Vindic. of Nat. Society.

A point concerning property, which ought, for the reasons I have just mentioned, to be most speedily decided, frequently exercises the wit of successions of lawyers, for many generations. Multa virà»m volvens durando sæcula vincit. But the question concerning a man’s life, that great question in which no delay ought to be counted tedious, is commonly determined in twenty-four hours at the utmost. It is not to be wondered at that injustice and absurdity should be inseparable companions.

Edmund Burke: Vindic. of Nat. Society.

We are tenants at the will of these gentlemen for everything; and a metaphysical quibble is to decide whether the greatest villain breathing shall meet his deserts or escape with impunity, or whether the best man in the society shall not be reduced to the lowest and most despicable condition it affords. In a word, my lord, the injustice, delay, puerility, false refinement, and affected mystery of the law are such, that many who live under it come to admire and envy the expedition, simplicity, and equality of arbitrary judgments.

Edmund Burke: Vindic. of Nat. Society.

Ask of politicians the end for which laws were originally designed, and they will answer that the laws were designed as a protection for the poor and weak against the oppression of the rich and powerful. But surely no pretence can be so ridiculous: a man might as well tell me he has taken off my load, because he has changed the burden. If the poor man is not able to support his suit, according to the vexatious and expensive manner established in civilized countries, has not the rich as great an advantage over him as the strong has over the weak in a state of nature?

Edmund Burke: Vindic. of Nat. Society.

To the solid establishment of every law two things are essentially requisite: first, a proper and sufficient human power to declare and modify the matter of the law; and next, such a fit and equitable constitution as they have a right to declare and render binding. With regard to the first requisite, the human authority, it is their judgment they give up, not their right. The people, indeed, are presumed to consent to whatever the legislature ordains for their benefit; and they are to acquiesce in it, though they do not clearly see into the propriety of the means by which they are conducted to that desirable end. This they owe as an act of homage and just deference to a reason which the necessity of government has made superior to their own.

Edmund Burke: Tract on the Popery Laws.

It would be hard to point out any error more truly subversive of all the order and beauty, of all the peace and happiness of human society, than the position that any body of men have a right to make what laws they please,-or that laws can derive any authority from their institution merely, and independent of the quality of the subject-matter. No arguments of policy, reason of state, or preservation of the constitution can be pleaded in favour of such a practice.

Edmund Burke: Tract on the Popery Laws.


Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay : Speech on the Government of India , July 10, 1833.

A code is almost the only blessing, perhaps it is the only blessing, which absolute governments are better fitted to confer on a nation than popular governments. The work of digesting a vast and artificial system of unwritten jurisprudence is far more easily performed, and far better performed, by few minds than by many, by a Napoleon than by a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Peers, by a government like that of Prussia or Denmark than by a government like that of England. A quiet knot of two or three veteran jurists is an infinitely better machinery for such a purpose than a large popular assembly divided, as such assemblies almost always are, into adverse factions.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay : Speech on the Government of India , July 10, 1833.

The best codes extant, if malignantly criticised, will be found to furnish matter for censure in every page:… the most copious and precise of human languages furnish but a very imperfect machinery to the legislator.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Introductory Report upon the Indian Penal Code: Macaulay’s Works, Complete, edited by his Sister, Lady Trevelyan, 1866, 8 vols. 8vo, vii. 416.

There are two things which a legislator should always have in view while he is framing laws: the one is, that they should be as far as possible precise; the other, that they should be easily understood. To unite precision and simplicity in definitions intended to include large classes of things, and to exclude others very similar to many of those which are included, will often be utterly impossible. Under such circumstances it is not easy to say what is the best course. That a law, and especially a penal law, should be drawn in words which convey no meaning to the people who are to obey it, is an evil. On the other hand, a loosely worded law is no law, and to whatever extent a legislature uses vague expressions, to that extent it abdicates its functions, and resigns the power of making law to the courts of justice.

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Introductory Report upon the Indian Penal Code: Macaulay’s Works, Complete, edited by his Sister, Lady Trevelyan, 1866, 8 vols. 8vo, vii. 423.



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Edmund Burke, Education, Judicature, Law quotes 2, Law quotes 3, Law quotes 4, Quotes, Speech on the Government of India, Thomas Babington Macaulay, country.



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