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and competent to judge, he is the less determined by mere authority. But
very few persons consider themselves to be so perfectly masters of any branch of legal science, as to throw off all restraint of authority; and those who are, with good reason, the most confident of their skill and knowledge, are usually, in forming their opinions, influenced, more or less, by authority, according to the particular subject of inquiry. In most cases it is necessary to take into consideration what has been practised and decided, since the mere fact, that a thing has been decided or practised in a certain manner, is, in itself, a reason of greater or less weight, for continuing the same practice, or adhering to the established doctrine.
“In many branches of the law, precedent, as such, and indepen. dently of the reasons upon which it was formed, is entitled to great respect, and is not unfrequently conclusive of the law.
But where a decision or opinion rests upon a certain principle, the application of which, in different instances, must be consistent, and also conformable to other acknowledged principles ; precedent has less weight. Concurrent decisions, however numerous they may be, cannot establish a conclusion, which is drawn from insufficient premises ; or cause inconsistent propositions to be law. A very great part of the law of insurance consists of deductions from certain prin. ciples, which constitute a science, in regard to which, mere precedent cannot have very great influence, since deductions inaccurately made, lead to contradictions and inconsistencies, which no authority can vindicate. In some branches of this subject, precedent is of authority and weight, but the great part of the doctrines comprehended in this science, must stand exclusively upon the reasons and fixed principles, from which they are inferred. The inferences, which may be clearly drawn from those principles, are not made to be law, and cannot cease to bę law, in consequence of any number of decisions, by whatever authority they may be supported. Notwithstanding a diversity of opinions and judgments, those doctrines still remain the unvarying and unalterable law, and they need but to be presented with the reasons on which they depend, to receive the assent of a mind, which is capable of preceiving their mutual connexion and dependency. No branch of law can more properly be denominated a science, than insurance; and since this contract is substantially the same in different countries, and continues to be the same now that it was formerly, the decisions of courts, whether ancient or modern, and the opinions and reasonings of writers, whether American, English, Italian, or French, are eqnally applicable to it.'
Of a work confessedly professional, it cannot be expected, that we should enter upon a minute review, for the purpose of detecting slight faults, or contesting particular opinions.
The task would be irksome to ourselves, and so heavy and technical, as to afford very little satisfaction to our readers. It is impossible to include in a single volume the opposite qualities of brevity and copiousness, a condensed summary of principles, and an elaborate discussion of the minute details and distinctions of cases. Whoever writes a mere practical treatise, must leave much matter worthy of observation to more exhausting authors. In this age, books to be read must be succinct, and direct to their purpose. The business of commercial life will not stop, while lawyers plunge into folios of a thousand pages, to ascertain a possible shade of distinction in the construction of contracts. If, therefore, there should be any persons disposed to think, that cases and comments should have been given more at large, the true answer is, that such was not Mr Phillips's plan; and that his work is to be judged of, not by its adaptation to other purposes, but by its actual execution of his own design. In this respect it has our hearty approbation, and we sincerely recommend it to all, who are interested in commercial jurisprudence, as merchants, lawyers, and judges. We think, however, that, in a future edition, Mr Phillips will do well to enrich his work with extracts from Valin, Emerigon, and Pothier, upon points, which have not yet received any adjudication, and occasionally to introduce some of their speculative reasonings. We should be glad also to have more full practical information, upon the adjustment of averages and losses, and the items, which are to be admitted or rejected, having had occasion to know, that nothing is more various, uncertain and anomalous, than the modes of settling losses in different insurance offices. Even in the same office, a departure from the principle assumed, as to one subject of insurance, is not uncommon as to another, upon some fanciful notion of its inapplicability. The form of Mr Phillip's Index also might be advantageously changed, so as to make it more easy for consultation, by the use of a larger type, and breaking it up into more paragraphs, with short subordinate titles.
ART. III.-Notes on Merico made in the Autumn of 1822;
accompanied by a Historical Sketch of the Revolution, and Translations of Official Reports on the Present State of the Country; with a Map. By A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES. Svo. pp. 352. Philadelphia. Carey & Lea. 1824. The author of this volume is understood to be Mr Poinsett, representative in Congress from South Carolina, well known both for his services as a legislator in the national counsels, and for the generous zeal with which he bas for many years embraced and supported the cause of South American emancipation. His residence in Chile thirteen years ago, at the dawn of the revolution in that country, as accredited agent of the government of the United States, gave him an opportunity' of learning froin personal observation the innunerable evils inflicted on the people by the oppressive policy of Old Spain, the causes which roused among them the spirit of resistance, and the tone of feeling and opinion naturally growing out of their situation. His Report to the Secretary of State, which was drawn up and laid before Congress in the year 1818, affords abundant proofs of his vigilance in watching the progress of events, and his industry in collecting information; and, if rumor has told truth, he was not an idle spectator of the scenes that were passing around him.
With these advantages no man was better qualified, probably, than Mr Poinsett, for undertaking the tour of observation and inquiry, the particulars of which are recorded in the work before us. At the present crisis this book is a valuable acquisition to the slender stock of knowledge, which exists in the United States on the subject of Mexico, a country becoming every day clothed with new and increasing interest, and which promises at no distant period to hold an eminent rank among the nations of the earth. The prospects of Mexico were certainly never so good as at this moment. The internal dissensions, which have thrown perpetual and serious obstacles in the way of reform, seem of late to have been subsiding, and a fair hope may now be entertained, that the pillars of government will be erected on a basis, which no future convulsion will demolish, however it may be unsettled or weakened by temporary agitations. The fate of Iturbide, as just in itself, as it was propitious to the cause of Mexican independence, has relieved the friends of liberty from the chief grounds of alarm, which they have felt in contemplating the civil and political condition of Mexico. An act of the government itself, also, which was passed on the 28th of June last, recognising the whole amount of debts contracted by all the preceding governments, not omitting that under the Viceroys, exhibits a good indication of growing solidity and strength, at the same time it inspires confidence and respect. In short, from the day that the tyranny of the mock Emperor ceased, there has been an evident and substantial improvement in the political condition and prospects of that country.
The present federal system of government, instituted in imitation of the United States, is an experiment. Its success is quite uncertain, and on the whole it may possibly be considered as rather an unfortunate stop at so early a stage. The affairs of Venezuela, before the union, went on but very indifferently under this system. The change is probably too great, from such a despotism as has brooded over the South American colonies for three centuries, to so high a degree of freedom as must necessarily be enjoyed under a system of separate, independent confederacies, bound together only by the loose chain of common interest. The Colombians have thought so, at least, and adopted what they called the central form of government, allowing to its fullest latitude the electoral franchise, but concentrating all the legislative powers of government into the hands of a body composed of national representatives. This scheme was eloquently and strongly recommended by Bolivar, in his celebrated address to the Congress of Venezuela, the, principles of which are incorporated into the new constitution, now the basis of the Colombian Republic. He acknowledges the superior excellency of the federal plan, however, when the condition of the people will admit of its being carried sully into effect; and it is one which may at any time be engrafted into the central system of Colombia. In alluding to the former constitution of Venezuela, he considers it a miracle that its model in North America has existed with so much prosperity, a remark, which he would have been less likely to make, had he looked deeply into the history and character of the inhabitants of the United States.
It has been fortunate for Colombia, that her ablest statesmen and firmest patriots have been united in their views of the present form of government. The constitution was adopted with great unanimity, and seems to have been administered with an extraordinary degree of harmony, even in the perilous times of change, and with the burden of a heavy war resting on the nation. Mr Salazar, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Republic of Colombia to the Government of the United States, has expressed himself briefly, but with point and clearness, on this subject, in a letter contained in Mr Rocafuerte's Ensayo Politico, published within the last year in New York. Mr Salazar is decidedly of opinion, that Colombia in its present state is much better suited to the central, than the federative system, yet he hesitates not to say, that the latter as practised in the United States is in itself the best, when the circumstances of the people are such as to allow it to have its free and effectual operation. But, notwithstanding these views of distinguished Colombians, and the success of their government under its present system, no very sound reason can be urged, why experiments of a better form should not be made at the outset, and thus secure not only the existence of this better form, but also the benefits which may in the mean time be derived from it. A reformation may not be easily brought about hereafter, when it shall be desired, but if the right plan is laid down at first, no reformation will be required. So in regard to the Mexicans, if they can keep clear of civil commotions, and preserve the peace, rights, and property of the people in a tolerable state of security, during the incipi
* Si hubieramos de considerar en si mismo el sistema federativo, i tal como los Estados Unidos lo practican, nuestros votos serían en su favor. Ensayo Polit. p. 175.
Mr Rocafuerte takes the same ground, and says that “in the present state of the country of religious intolerance, and general misery, the federal hydra appears to him the most cruel enemy, which could present itself.' He looks ardently to the time, however, when this enemy may become a friend, and be made to work for the prosperity and happiness of the country.
Los legisladores de Cúcuta han sido mui liberales en sus princípios, i por consiguente mui amantes al federalismo, todos lo desean, i todos aspiran al feliz momento de verlo introducido entre nosotros. ¿ Que Americano instruido puede existir, que no sea un ardiente defensor de este complemento de perfeccion legislativa ? Pero no se llega a la perfeccion de ninguana ciencia ó arte, sin la práctica de sus princípios, que se adquiere con el tiempo i con la experiencia. Ibid. p. 171.