A blupete Essay

The Origins of Legislation, Part 3 to blupete's Essay
"Legislation: Robbers' Rules"

The word legislation is derived from the Latin words standing for "law" and "bringing." A quick check of the OED reveals that originally the word had more of a religious meaning than anything else, in that an act of legislation was an act of a high priest revealing a Divine Law. Today we understand that legislation consists of sets of rules which a majority of legislators, sitting in their legislature, declare to be laws; which, as such, become enforceable through the coercive power of the state. Today, and for some time now, these rules have been printed up and bound into books, statute books. Before the days of solemn legislatures it was not thought necessary to write laws down in any one place; indeed, legislation, as I have just explained, did not much exist before the creation of the first legislatures; it never did fill any prominent place among the duties of a king.

Originally the principal function of legislatures was to control the power of the king. They did this by controlling the supply of money for the needs of the crown; thus, in its earlier day the legislature was an overseer of the power of the crown. It pretty well restricted its law making activities to that of making rules for itself; and, of course, rules as to what trading commodities were to be taxed, so to raise for the crown the money it needed for its various and ever growing needs. Prior to the passing of The Great Reform Bill of 1832 by the British parliament, little thought was given to improve the state of society by the use of legislation. Indeed, it would be difficult to point to much positive social legislation passed, prior to the arrival of the 20th century.

In the late 19th century we see examples of legislative efforts to codify the existing law. The Infant's Relief Act of 1874 was but a declaration or publication of the common law development that an infant's contract is voidable at the infant's option. Same can be said of the Sale of Goods Act of 1893, and the Law of Property Act of 1925 (in most of its aspects). These were legislative attempts to sort out the apparent higgledy-piggledy status of the common law. This was an innocent start; but all lamentable situations which lodge themselves, inextricably it seems, usually make their appearance with an innocent start. In the western democracies the social engineers were given a full head, particularly after WWII, and the quantity of meddlesome legislation picked up in an exponential manner and continued over a forty year period, or so; and only in the last decade, have we seen, as the huge social bills began rolling in, some reversal of a process which was tapping out the two essentials ingredients of social activity (no matter the kind): incentive and liberty.

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