Ancient Law: Its Connection to the History of Early Society by Henry Sumner, Sir Maine

By Henry Sumner, Sir Maine

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The world had lain for so many centuries under the shadow of Imperial Rome as to have forgotten that distribution of the vast spaces comprised in the empire which had once parcelled them out into a number of independent commonwealths, claiming immunity from extrinsic interference, and pretending to equality of national rights. After the subsidence of the barbarian irruptions, the notion of sovereignty that prevailed seems to have been twofold. " The Franks, the Burgundians, the Vandals, the Lombards, and Visigoths were masters, of course, of the territories which they occupied, and to which some of them have given a geographical appellation; but they based no claim of right upon the fact of territorial possession, and indeed attached no importance to it whatever.

They laid down unreservedly that Natural Law is the code of states, and thus put in operation a process which has continued almost down to our own day, the process of engrafting on the international system rules which are supposed to have been evolved from the unassisted contemplation of the conception of Nature. There is too one consequence of immense practical importance to mankind which, though not unknown during the early modern history of Europe, was never clearly or universally acknowledged till the doctrines of the Grotian school had prevailed.

No durable system of jurisprudence could be produced in this way. A community which never hesitated to relax rules of written law whenever they stood in the way of an ideally perfect decision on the facts of particular cases, would only; if it bequeathed any body of judicial principles to posterity bequeath one consisting of the ideas of right and wrong which happened to be prevalent at the time. Such a jurisprudence would contain no framework to which the more advanced conceptions of subsequent ages could be fitted.

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