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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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4532. LAW, Virginia's Revised Code.—[continued].
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4532. LAW, Virginia's Revised Code.—[continued].

When I left Congress in
1776, it was in the persuasion that our whole
code (of Virginia) must be reviewed, adapted
to our republican form of government; and
now that we had no negatives of Councils,
Governors, and Kings to restrain us from doing
right, that it should be corrected, in all its
parts, with a single eye to reason, and the good
of those for whose government it was framed.
Early, therefore, in the session of '76, to which
I returned, I moved and presented a bill for the
revision of the laws which was passed on the
24th of October; and on the 5th of November,
Mr. Pendleton, Mr. Wythe, George Mason,
Thomas L. Lee, and myself, were appointed a
committee to execute the work. We agreed to
meet at Fredericksburg to settle the plan of
operation, and to distribute the work. We
met there accordingly on the 13th of January,
1777. The first question was, whether we
should propose to abolish the whole existing
system of laws, and prepare a new and complete
Institute, or preserve the general system, and
only modify it to the present state of things.
Mr. Pendleton, contrary to his usual disposition
in favor of ancient things, was for the
former proposition, in which he was joined by
Mr. Lee. To this it was objected, that to
abrogate our whole system would be a bold
measure, and probably far beyond the views
of the legislature; that they had been in the
practice of revising from time to time the laws
of the Colony, omitting the expired, the repealed,
and the obsolete, amending only those
retained, and probably meant we should now
do the same, only including the British statutes
as well as our own; that to compose a new Institute,
like those of Justinian and Bracton, or
that of Blackstone, which was the model proposed
by Mr. Pendleton, would be an arduous
undertaking, of vast research, of great consideration
and judgment; and when reduced to
a text, every word of that text, from the imperfections
of human language, and its incompetence
to express distinctly every shade of
idea, would become a subject of question and
chicanery, until settled by repeated adjudications;
and this would involve us for ages in litigation,
and render property uncertain until,
like the statutes of old, every word had been
tried and settled by numerous decisions, and by
new volumes of reports and commentaries; and
that no one of us, probably, would undertake
such a work which, to be systematical, must be
the work of one hand. This last was the
opinion of Mr. Wythe, Mr. Mason, and myself.
When we proceeded to the distribution of the
work, Mr. Mason excused himself, as, being no
lawyer, he felt himself unqualified for the work,
and he resigned soon after. Mr. Lee excused
himself on the same ground, and died, indeed,
in a short time. The other two gentlemen,
therefore, and myself divided the work among
us. The common law and statutes to the
4 James I. (when our separate legislature was
established) were assigned to me; the British
statutes, from that period to the present day, to
Mr. Wythe; and the Virginia laws to Mr. Pendleton.—
Autobiography. Washington ed. i, 42. Ford ed., i, 57.