History of American Civil Law

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Throughout history, there have been two ways of viewing the law.  The first way sets down rules of conduct on paper, and then judges behavior based on those abstract rules, or “codes.”  This kind of law came from Greek philosophy, which formed Roman law, and then the law of continental Europe.  This kind of law is (confusingly) called the “civil system of law.”

The second kind of law, the “common law,” is the unwritten customs of the citizens of society.  This kind of law comes from the ancient tribes of England, including the Saxons and the Welsh.  Although the Norman invasion brought with it the more codified law of the Romans, the practice of judging conduct based on local custom never died. 

The “common law” does not assume that rules of law are absolutely true everywhere in the world.  Instead, judges record what the law appears to be in different regions, based on the outcome – a jury decision – of an actual case. 

English common law developed into our modern system of civil law, which combines written codes of law (statutes) with unwritten customs of society members (judge-made law):

• Case law (judge-made law)
• Statutes (legislature-made law) 
• Executive law (agency-made law) 

Notice that the types of law above mirror the three branches of government: judicial, legislative, and executive.  It is the balance and separation of law into the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government which has made our American civil law so successful in promoting an efficient, peaceful, and happy society. 

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Last Modified: 08-06-2012 04:34 PM PDT

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