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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
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4531. LAW, Virginia's Revised Code.—
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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4531. LAW, Virginia's Revised Code.—

The [Revision] Committee was appointed in
the latter part of 1776, and reported in the
spring or summer of 1779. At the first and
only meeting of the whole committee (of five
persons), the question was discussed whether
we would attempt to reduce the whole body of
the law into a code, the text of which should become
the law of the land? We decided against
that, because every word and phrase in that text
would become a new subject of criticism and
litigation, until its sense should have been settled
by numerous decisions, and that, in the
meantime, the rights of property would be in
the air. We concluded not to meddle with the
common law, i. e., the law preceding the existence
of the Statutes, further than to accommodate
it to our new principles and circumstances;
but to take up the whole body of statutes
and Virginia laws, to leave out everything
obsolete or improper, insert what was wanting,
and reduce the whole within as moderate a
compass as it would bear, and to the plain
language of common sense, divested of the
verbiage, the barbarous tautologies and redundancies
which render the British statutes unintelligible.
From this, however, were excepted
the ancient statutes, particularly those commented
on by Lord Coke, the language of which
is simple, and the meaning of every word so
well settled by decisions, as to make it safest
not to change words where the sense was to be
retained. After setting our plan. Colonel Mason
declined undertaking the execution of any part
of it, as not being sufficiently read in the law.
Mr. Lee very soon afterwards died, and the
work was distributed between Mr. Wythe, Mr.
Pendleton and myself. To me was assigned the
common law (so far as we thought of altering
it) and the statutes down to the Reformation,
or the end of the reign of Elizabeth; to Mr.
Wythe, the subsequent body of the statutes, and
to Mr. Pendleton the Virginia laws. This distribution
threw into my part the laws concerning
crimes and punishments, the law of descents,
and the laws concerning religion. After completing
our work separately, we met (Mr. W.,
Mr. P., and myself) in Williamsburg, and held
a long session, in which we went over the first
and second parts in the order of time, weighing
and correcting every word, and reducing them
to the form in which they were afterwards reported.
When we proceeded to the third part,
we found that Mr. Pendleton had not exactly
seized the intentions of the committee, which
were to reform the language of the Virginia
laws, and reduce the matter to a simple style
and form. He had copied the acts verbatim, only omitting what was disapproved; and some
family occurrence calling him indispensably
home, he desired Mr. Wythe and myself to
make it what we thought it ought to be, and
authorized us to report him as concurring in
the work. We accordingly divided the work,
and reexecuted it entirely so as to assimilate
its plan and execution to the other parts, as well
as the shortness of the time would admit, and
we brought the whole of the British Statutes
and laws of Virginia into 127 acts, most of
them short. This is the history of that work
as to its execution. * * * Experience has convinced
me that the change in the style of the
laws was for the better, and it has sensibly
reformed the style of our laws from that time
downwards, insomuch that they have obtained,
in that respect, the approbation of men of consideration
on both sides of the Atlantic.
Whether the change in the style and form of
the criminal law, as introduced by Mr. Taylor,
was for the better, is not for me to judge. The
digest of that act employed me longer than I
believe all the rest of the work, for it rendered
it necessary for me to go with great care over
Bracton, Britton, the Saxon statutes, and the
works of authority on criminal law; and it
gave me great satisfaction to find that, in general,


Page 485
I had only to reduce the law to its ancient Saxon condition, stripping it of all the innovations
and rigorisms of subsequent times, to
make it what it should be. The substitution of
the penitentiary, instead of labor on the high
road, and of some other punishments truly objectionable,
is a just merit to be ascribed to Mr.
Taylor's law. When our report was made, the
idea of a penitentiary had never been suggested;
the happy experiment of Pennsylvania we had
not then the benefit of.—
To Skelton Jones. Washington ed. v, 459.
(M. 1809)