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express words;1 neither does lapse of time create the presumption of the payment of a debt due to the government.2 A construction given by the sages of the law when the act was passed, or soon after, carries much weight;3 and so on the like ground does a legislative exposition. And long usage by the courts, even without an express adjudication, is to be regarded. For "though," said Lord Kenyon, C. J., "where the words of an act of parliament are plain, it cannot be repealed by non-user, yet, where there has been a series of practice, without any exception, it goes a great way to explain them where there is any ambiguity." If there has been

a single decision of the question, it must be followed unless clearly wrong. And a series of erroneous decisions may

bind where a single wrong decision would not.

§ 66 d. Concerning the interpretation of our State and national constitutions, little need be said; since we are not treating specifically of them. The general doctrine is, that they are to be expounded in the same way, and according to the same rules, as the statutes; only, being popular instruments, a less technical sense is to be given to their words and phrases. There is not however much practical difference, even in this respect. Technical legal language, wherever used, has generally but one signification; and, if popular language is found in a statute, it receives its popular meaning.

§ 66 e. Various other rules will be found interspersed

1 Post, § 86 and note; United States v. Williams, 5 McLean, 133; The State v. Fleming, 19 Misso. 607; Brinsfield v. Carter, 2 Kelly, 143; McKeehan v. Commonwealth, 3 Barr, 151; United States v. Davis, 3 McLean, 483; United States v. Hoar, 2 Mason, 311.

* United States v. Williams, 5 McLean, 133.

3 Sedgw. Stat. Law, 251; ante, § 56; post, § 153.

Sedgw. Stat. Law, 252.

• Leigh v. Kent, 3 T. R. 362, 364; see post, § 153.


Ante, § 23, 24 a, 27, 27 a; Commonwealth v. Miller, 5 Dana, 320.

'Manly v. The State, 7 Md. 135; Greencastle Township v. Black, 5 Ind. 557; The State v. Mace, 5 Md. 337.

through our succeeding chapters; but the foregoing sections present a general summary of doctrines.

Let us now con

sider some

Remaining Points.


§ 67. A decent regard must be paid to the language of the legislature, though it does not convey the idea we think it should. We cannot, to make it suit our views, import into it words not used by the lawmakers; we cannot control it, when unambiguous, though it does not accord with our opinions of what should be; 2 and, in those cases in which we may bend the meaning of particular words and phrases to the general intent or the like, there is a degree beyond which this meaning will not bend. The degree differs in different circumstances; and to ascertain the circumstances and the degree is one of the leading objects of our chapters on statutory interpretation.

§ 68. The words, when not technical, are to be understood in their common, popular sense. But regard should be had to the foregoing rules; especially should be considered the connection in which the words are used, and the subject

1 Dwar. Stat. 2d ed. 579; King v. Burrell, 12 A. & E. 460, 468; Lamond v. Fiffe, 3 Q. B. 910; Rex v. Vandeleer, 1 Stra. 69; Rex v. Pereira, 2 A. & E. 375, 380; Bloxam v. Elsee, 6 B. & C. 169, 176; post, § 88.

2 Bidwell v. Whittaker, 1 Mich. 469; Bartlett v. Morris, 9 Port. 266; Sibley v. Smith, 2 Mich. 486; Green v. Cheek, 5 Ind. 105.

* Putnam v. Longley, 11 Pick. 487, 490; Pitman v. Flint, 10 Pick. 504, 506; Reg. v. Simpson, 10 Mod. 341, 344; Rex v. The Poor Law Commissioners, 6 A. & E. 1, 7; Rex v. Stoke Damerel, 7 B. & C. 563; Dwar. Stat. 2d ed. 583 et seq. 595, 598; United States v. Warner, 4 McLean, 463.

Dwar. Stat. 2d ed. 573; The State v. Blythe, 3 McCord, 363; Macy v. Raymond, 9 Pick. 285; Allen v. Harford Insurance Co. 2 Md. 111; Rex v. Wooldridge, 1 Leach, 4th ed. 307; Barker v. The State, 12 Texas, 273; The State v. Clarksville & R. T. P. Co. 2 Sneed, 88; Favers v. Glass, 22 Ala. 621.

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to which they relate.1 And the popular sense referred to must be the general one in distinction from a mere local usage.2

§ 69. Since, however, we regard the subject of the statute, if it employs a word technical to its subject, we give to the word the technical sense, not the general sense, not one technical to another subject,—unless indeed something appears indicating the contrary interpretation. Thus if the

act relates to commerce, we follow the vocabulary of merchants, not of mechanics. So words in revenue laws are to be construed according to the usages of trade; as, if "bohea tea" is mentioned, it means the article known in trade as such, not in science; and "loaf sugar" in these laws signifies sugar in loaves, not crushed sugar; such being the use of these words in trade and commerce. But this doctrine is merely a judicial recognition of the fact, that every man using human speech necessarily uses each particular word as it arises in his mind connected with the particular subject he is unfolding.

§ 70. The common application of the rule just mentioned is to words and phrases which have obtained a peculiar legal signification; for a legislator, making laws, uses legal language. And in law phrase many words have an exact technical meaning, unlike or more limited or extended than their

1 Ex parte Hall, 1 Pick. 261; Opinion of the Justices, 7 Mass. 523.

* Rex v. Hogg, 1 T. R. 721, 728.

The State v. Smith, 5 Humph. 394.

United States v. Sarchet, Gilpin, 273.

Elliott v. Swartwout, 10 Pet. 137, 151; Lee v. Lincoln, 1 Story, 610; United States v. One hundred and twelve Casks of Sugar, 8 Pet. 277; Bacon v. Bancroft, 1 Story, 341; Lawrence v. Allen, 7 How. U. S. 785; Curtis v. Martin, 3 How. U. S. 106.

• Two Hundred Chests of Tea, 9 Wheat. 430.

'United States v. Breed, 1 Sumner, 159. And see, as to the word "tenpins," The State v. Gupton, 8 Ired. 271.

popular one; in which meaning they are ordinarily to be understood in statutes. Thus an English statute having made indictable the act of sending a letter threatening to accuse the person to whom it is sent of (among other things) "any infamous crime," 2—the judges "were of opinion, that a charge of making overtures to commit sodomy was not within this act; that they were bound to take the word 'infamous' in its legal sense; and that such overtures, however they would disgrace and expose to detestation, would not subject the person making them to an infamous punishment, or prevent his being a witness."3 And an Alabama statute against concealing or carrying away a slave "charged with a capital crime," to prevent his being brought to punishment, is construed by the courts to mean a crime charged in legal form; so that the statutory offence cannot be committed until proceedings are commenced against the slave. In South Carolina on a statute similar in expression the court held, that a slave is "accused of crime" when complaint is made to a magistrate for the purpose of having a warrant issued.5 A statute authorizing a criminal prosecution to be instituted "on complaint," means complaint under oath, technically understood. Likewise the word "manslaughter," applied to the

1 United States v. Magill, 1 Wash. C. C. 463; Adams v. Turrentine, 8 Ired. 147; United States v. Wilson, Bald. 78, 95; Reg. v. Ellis, Car. & M. 564; Kitchen v. Tyson, 3 Murphy, 314; Macy v. Raymond, 9 Pick. 285; Bennac v. People, 4 Barb. 164; Eason v. The State, 6 Eng. 481; Spencer v. The State, 20 Ala. 24; United States v. Smith, 5 Wheat. 153; United States v. Pirates, 5 Wheat. 184; The State v. Mace, 5 Md. 337; Ex parte Vincent, 26 Ala. 145.

2 Stat. 4 Geo. 4, c. 54, § 3.

Rex v. Hickman, 1 Moody, 34. Substantially the same meaning has been given to the words "infamous crime," as used in the constitution of Pennsylvania. Commonwealth v. Shaver, 3 Watts & S. 338.

The State v. Duncan, 9 Port. 260. And see Willington v. Stearns, 1 Pick. 497. But a "fleeing from justice," within the proviso of the United States statute of limitations for crimes, does not necessarily import a fleeing from prosecution begun. United States v. Smith, 4 Day, 121.

The State v. South, 5 Rich. 489.

• Campbell v. Thompson, 16 Maine, 117.

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killing of a slave, has its technical signification, according to the rules of law regulating that species of homicide.1 So "negligent escape" means the same in a statute as at common law. And a word may have acquired a peculiar signification by its statutory use, equally as by its common law use, so that when it occurs in a subsequent act it will have the same meaning.3

§ 71. The like principle prevails where a statute, having received a judicial interpretation, expires or is repealed, and is afterward reenacted in the same language: here the legis lature is presumed to have adopted the meaning already given it by the courts. So if the new statute employs terms or modes of expression which had acquired a definite signification in previous enactments on the same or some analogous subject, the established interpretation will be followed.5 And where the statutes of a State are "revised," after the manner generally pursued in our States, the revised statutes receive the former interpretation, wherever a contrary intention does not affirmatively appear. Slight changes in language are not presumed to change the meaning. In like manner, a word or phrase, or statutory provision, adopted from the laws of another State, or from England, or even from the civil


1 The State v. Fleming, 2 Strob. 464. And see United States v. Magill,

1 Wash. C. C. 463; The State v. Taylor, 2 McCord, 483.


Adams v. Turrentine, 8 Ired. 147. For "rob," "jeopardy," "dangerous weapons," see United States v. Wilson, Bald. 78; for "party" see Merchants Bank v. Cook, 4 Pick. 405, 411.

The State v. Nates, 3 Hill, S. C. 200.

4 Myrick v. Hasey, 27 Maine, 9; Ruckmaboye v. Mottichurd, 32 Eng. L.. & Eq. 84.

* Whitcomb v. Rood, 20 Vt. 49; United States v. Wilson, Bald. 78, 95 ; Sheppard v. Gosnold, Vaugh. 159.

• Parramore v. Taylor, 11 Grat. 220, 242; Duramus v. Harrison, 26 Ala. 326; Mooers v. Bunker, 9 Fost. N. H. 420. And see The Magellan Pirates, 18 Jur. 13, 25 Eng. L. & Eq. 595; post, § 86.

* Rigg v. Wilton, 13 Ill. 15; The State v. Rowley, 12 Conn. 101; McKen

zie v. The State, 6 Eng. 594; Cambell v. Quinlin, 3 Scam. 288.


McCarter v. Orphan Asylum Society, 9 Cow. 487; Kennedy v. Kennedy,.

2 Ala. 571; McKenzie v. The State, 6 Eng. 594.

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