British Statutes in Force in the State of Florida
On November 6, A. D. 1829, the Governor and Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida enacted (See Section 2.01, Florida Statutes, 1941) :
"The common and statute laws of England which are of a general and not a local nature, with the exception hereinafter mentioned, down to the fourth day of July, 1776, are declared to be of force in this state; provided, the said statutes and common law be not inconsistent with the constitution and laws of the United States and the acts of the legislature of this state."
The utilization of this easy facility for supplying the comparatively, new government with a body of integrated law was prompted, I have no doubt, both from a necessity for acknowledged rules governing the relationships in a civilization and from a nostalgic desire on the part of the British element then ascendant in Florida to transplant their culture here. In any, event, a large body of statutory law by virtue of the above act became a part of the Florida law the same as if originally enacted by the Territorial Legislative Council.
Available printed sources for the new law must have been few. The committee to approve "Thompson's Digest" in 1847 referred to the reports of the law as "the crude, perplexed and chaotic mass through which we have now to grope our uncertain way." In order to determine what statute laws of England were made a part of our law by virtue of the Act of November 6, 1829, the General Assembly enacted and the Governor of the State of Florida approved, on December 27, 1845:
"SECTION 1. BE IT ENACTED BY THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA IN GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONVENED, That his Excellency, the Governor, is hereby authorized to appoint some suitable person, to collect and arrange, under appropriate heads, all the Statutes of Great-Britain, of force in this State; and upon the completion of said work, and its approval by the Governor, after having been first submitted to the examination of three skilful and experienced members of the bar, he, the said Governor, shall contract for the publication of such a number of volumes, not exceeding three thousand, subject to the future disposition of the General Assembly; and may issue his warrant upon the Treasury, in favor of said compiler, for such sum as he may deem reasonable and just."
Pursuant to the authority contained in this Act, the Governor commissioned Leslie A. Thompson, Esquire, to compile the British Statutes in force in Florida. Judge Thompson completed the assignment but for reasons lost in the obscurity of the past, his finished work was never officially approved by the Governor or published. The original manuscript now reposes in the Library of the Supreme Court of Florida. Although lacking technical validity under the Act of December 27, 1845, Judge Thompson's compilation is considered a magnificent work entitled to verity. His ability as a compiler was heartily acknowledged by his contemporaries. The committee appointed to approve his work, "Thompson's Digest," perceived "in its projection and execution, the operation of a logical and discriminating mind fully imbued with a knowledge of the subject." The committee cited instances to prove "the degree of accuracy with which this part of the task was executed," and concluded, "your committee is equally unanimous and decided in their approbation."
Such a work deserved a larger, circulation than its original manuscript stored in one library gave it. The late Justice Fred H. Davis while Attorney General of Florida, caused to be published a summary of the statutes found by Judge Thompson to be in force, and this was made available to the Florida Bar.
In 1937 the writer annotated this summary list of the British Statutes with all Florida decisions pertaining to such. statutes. At that time it was recognized that a great many of the statutes listed were superseded or repealed by enactments of the Legislature of Florida. These annotations were made available in 1940 to the Attorney General for possible use in the statute revision then in progress. In 1941, Attorney General Watson determined that there was a need for the compilation to be brought up to date, with annotations, and published. At his request, I undertook the task.
The project has not been without its problems. It has been difficult to determine whether a given Florida Statute, not as broad and inclusive in its terms as a British Statute covering the same subject matter, was superseded by the latter. The statute of uses is an example. Again I have found a British Statute to be not only the origin but also the current source of what is generally believed to be the settled, unwritten common law of this State. Close questions have been resolved in favor of considering the statute still in force.
The arrangement of Judge Thompson's compilation by subject has been preserved. Statutes not considered in force are listed in the same place they occupied in the original compilation. Concise reasons for the omission of a statute are given. Such of Judge Thompson's notes as were thought to be still helpful are placed at the bottom of each statute, with their 'Source in each instance noted. The annotations and other notes were supplied by this writer.
I have been fortunate in having the helpful advice and encouragement of a great many learned members of the Bar and Bench of Florida. Acknowledgement must be made to Dr. Clifford W. Crandall of the faculty of the College of Law, University of Florida, who first suggested and then supervised my work in annotating the statutes, and to the College of Law for releasing its property rights in such annotations; and for the assistance and advice of Honorable H. L. Sebring, Justice, Supreme Court; Honorable Bayard B. Shields, Circuit Judge of Duval County; Donald K. Carroll of the Jacksonville Bar; Fred H. Burns, Assistant Attorney General and John C. Wynn, Assistant Attorney General; and especially to Honorable J. Tom Watson, Attorney General of the State of Florida, not only for his assistance but also for formulating the plan under which this work has been done and will be published.
Guy W. Botts
April 2, 1943