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monarchs, found it necessary to proclaim by the following ordinance that he would hear none but the causes that legitimately might be brought before the throne : "Now this is the secular ordinance which I will that it be held. This then is just what I will; that every man be worthy of folk-right, as well poor as rich; and that righteous dooms be judged to him; and let there be that remission in the bot as may be becoming before God and tolerable before the world. And let no man apply to the king in any suit unless he at home may not be law worthy or cannot obtain law. If the law itself be too heavy, let him seek a mitigation of it from the king; and for any bot-worthy crime let no man forfeit more han his wer.” Bot, in the glossary, signifies amends, atonement, compensation, and emancipation. A man's wer is the estimated value of his life-every man's life, among the Saxons, being estimated at a certain money value, according to his rank.
Such was the judicial system of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, and the character of local sovereignty which attached to the assemblies of the people in their various organizations. Evidently courts like these must often have been forced, from ignorance of law, to make the law in a particular case : and it is also to be kept in mind that they were courts of voluntary jurisdiction. “All transactions by which property might be acquired or lost, the purchase and sale of land, and the payment of money, were effected in the assemblies of the hundred. Here charters and deeds were produced and read, or, if they had been lost, they were established and confirmed.” The shire court possessed the same jurisdiction as that of the hundred, and (perhaps) an appellate power in addition. The precedents of each court would be remembered afterward on like occasions, and hence local customs would grow up at variance with established customs in the neighboring shires. Many such customs survive the Conquest, and continue to the present day, an irrefutable proof of local sovereignty among the Saxon people.'
The general legislation of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom after the union of the crowns was done by the Witena-gemote, or council of the wise. It was composed of the archbishops, bishops, abbots, subject kings, carls, and thanes; and, as Prof. Lappenberg declares, “there is no reason extant for doubting that every thane had the right of appearing and voting in the witena-gemote, not only of his shire, but of the kingdom.” The powers of this imperial council, according to Kemble, were as follows:
1. They had a right to consider every public act which could be authorized or done by the king.
2. They deliberated upon new laws which were to be added to the existing folk-right, and which were then promulgated by the joint authority of the king and the gemote.
3. They made alliances and treaties of peace.
5. They had the right to depose a king whose government was not for the benefit of the people.
6. They, conjointly with the king, appointed prelates to vacant
7. They regulated ecclesiastical affairs. 8. They levied taxes for the public service. 9. They provided for defence, by raising forces for land and sea.
10. They had the power of recommending and assenting to grants of land.
11. They were empowered to pronounce the lands of criminale and intestates forfeit to the crown.
12. They were in certain cases a supreme court of judicature, both in criminal and civil matters.
Yet, with all these weighty powers, the witena-gemote was limited in its authority, says Sir Francis Palgrave, “by the privileges of the different states composing the Anglo-Saxon empire ; and which dominions, as I have often remarked, had never amalgamated into one kingdom. Kent, for instance, under the victorious Athelstane, had lost all the appearance of an independent state. But when he had made a law, by the asgent of the Witan of Wessex, which, according to Lappenberg, was the great council of the united Saxon states), he could not impose it upon the men of Kent without their concurrence. He transmitted the enactment to them, and they then accepted the proposition by an address which they returned to their sovereign. I can quote the very words of such a document:
“Beloved lord, thy bishops of Kent, and all Kentshire alder. men, thanes, and churls, return thanks to thee for the directions which thou hast given us concerning the conservancy of the peace, for great is the benefit which results to all of us, both poor and rich, thereby.
" They then state the several articles or chapters of the statute, being ten in number, seriatim, and signify the manner in which they have received and modified the same. Grateful for the legislation thus bestowed upon them, the Kentishmen speak with thankfulness and humility; yet the form of the proceeding implies that their assent, so asked, might have been refused. In proportion as the sovereign gained in prerogative, the powers of the witena-gemote of Wessex, the predominant kingdom, would gradually gain strength also. The minor states annexed to Wessex would tacitly submit to be bound by its legislation, and, from the reign of Edgar, the lesser authorities seem in most cases to have been merged in the three leading states or territories of Wessex, Mercia, and Danelaghe. Mercia clearly maintained its independence; Northumbria equally so. East Anglia seems to have been sometimes considered as annexed to Mercia, sometimes as constituting a separate state, and sometimes as classing with Danish Northumbria. The laws which Edgar enacted at the request or with the assent of the Witan of Wessex were to be implicitly observed by his own immediate subjects. As to the others, they were to be adopted according to the model enacted by the assembly. The laws were transmitted to the earls by writ: it is most probable that they were usually received without hesitation, yet there was no absolute coercive power in the crown of Wessex; and it was not until the reign of Canute that the Mercians received King Edgar's laws."
Thus we have traced the political organization of the Saxon empire, and from the hundred to the witena-gemote, we have discovered everywhere the principle of local self-control, while in the constitution of the united Saxon states, state sovereignty is manifestly seen to be the basis of their union. Though under one king, elected from the royal family by the joint suffrages of the freemen of all the kingdom, yet the witena-gemotes of the respective kingdoms had an absolute power of rejecting the decrees of the great national witena.gemote of Wessex, and no power of coercing states was claimed for the crown.
But even before the conquest by the Norman, it is evident from the quotation given above from Palgrave, that the genuine spirit of the Saxon system had already fallen into decay. Of the original eight kingdoms, only three retained the vigorous vitality of independence. One still maintained a sickly struggle, which could hardly be deemed successful, and the remaining four had either voluntarily united with the more powerful states, or at best presented but a caput mortuum of their original defiant independence. It is also to be observed that the centralizing influences of the stationary monarchy were sapping the foundations of the Saxon insti. tutions. As the royal prerogative gained in power, the king's original dominion of Wessex gained a preponderating influence, to the disparagement of her coequal sister states. The king was known as the king of Wessex, and the witena-gemote of the united Saxon states came to be called the Witan of Wessex. Hence, though their local liberties were still untouched by king or witan, the great body of the Saxons had become accustomed to forget the primitive idea of the sovereign independence of their several states, and to the conception of a royal central power, of which the states were merely subjects and dependants. In other words, the Saxon principle of local sovereignty had been insidiously undermined, and the imperial principle of absolute and centralized authority was gradually but surely gaining ground. The notion of imperial centralism once entertained, it mattered little who should be the tyrant. Two claimants, one a Norman, one a Saxon, had a contest for the crown, and when the sun set on the bloody field of Hastings, casting his last rays on the victorious banners of the Norman conqueror, the crumbling fabric of the Anglo-Saxon system fell before his feet. The men who had already sacrificed their independence to a Saxon, made no long defence against the Norman. One fierce, bloody battle, and the sun of Anglo-Saxon freedom set, to be succeeded by the Egyptian darkness of the feudal system. Thus a strife of centuries was laid up for the English people; and instead of working out their own free system through continuous and glorious spontaneous developments, by the assistance of enlight
ened Christianity and increased knowledge, they were forced to rise by slow steps, from a state of bondage, through a din of never-ceasing battle, to their ancient heritage of freedom.
1. PROBABLY the best illustration of the local character of the subordinate Anglo-Saxon institutions is to be found in the United States.
I have thus given a very general outline of the more important Anglo-Saxon institutions. To notice the minuter variations, special provisions, and occasional changes, would lead me into too wide a discussion, and would not aid the purposes of so elementary a work as this : enough has been said, however, to indicate those of our own legal ideas and forms which have a Saxon origin.
Prominent among these is that most important, and to us sacred principle of local self-government. This element lay at the foundation of the whole Saxon polity. It has been preserved in the English shires and ancient municipal corporations or boroughs, with their immemorial privileges. In many of the American States it is guarded with even more jealousy than in the mother country. The New England and New York divisions of towns, each with its own officers and stated convocations of citizens, and of counties, each with a local representative assembly legislating for much that concerns the welfare of the district, and a court possessing a jurisdiction co-extensive with the territorial limits, embody with much simplicity and purity the essential idea of the Saxon commonwealth.”—Pomeroy's Municipal Law, p. 240, 241.
2. Few persons have an adequate conception of the degree to which the principle of local self-government is carried in England at the present day. The following extract, therefore, will be useful:
“ The principle of local self-government which exists in England has doubtless exercised very great influence in the production of the freedom enjoyed under the Constitution. It is not intended to make an attempt to trace that in. fluence through the gradual advance of the institutions, but only to suggest some facts without which the full extent of the liberty and power possessed by the people cannot be fully appreciated. The nature of the Anglo-Saxon courts and motes was favorable to self-exertion and self-reliance on the part of the people; but at a later period the chartered boroughs stand out conspicuously as institutions imbued with the spirit of freedom, and at the same time furnished with power to advance and defend it. These fought out their own independence from their feudal lords, and became the seats of self-government, on principles opposed to arbitrary or centralized power. The burgesses, with the mayor or