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title:“Plan for the Committee to Revise the Laws”
authors:George Mason
date written:1777-1-13

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:01 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 1, 2023, 11:43 p.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to Revise the Laws." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 1. Ed. Bernard Bailyn and James Morton Smith. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 327-31. Print.
Manuscript, Virginia State Library, Richmond, Va.

Plan for the Committee to Revise the Laws (January 13, 1777)

[13 January 1777]
The Common Law not to be medled with, except where Alterations are necessary.
The Statutes to be revised & digested, alterations proper for us to be made; the Diction, where obsolete or redundant, to be reformed; but otherwise to undergo as few Changes as possible.
The Acts of the English Commonwealth to be examined. The Statutes to be divided into Periods: the Acts of Assembly, made on the same Subject, to be incorporated into them.
The Laws of the other Colonies to be examined, & any good ones to be adopted.
General Rules in Drawing Provisoes &c. which wou'd do only what the Law wou'd do without them, to be omitted. Bills to be short; not to include Matters of different Natures; not to insert an unnesessary Word, not omit a useful one.
Laws to be made on the Spur of the present Occasion, and all innovating Laws, to be limited in their Duration Criminal Law.
Treason & Murder (& no other Crime) to be punished with Death, by hanging, and Forfeiture; saving Dower.
Petty-treason, Parricide, Saticide; the Body to be delivered over to Surgeons to be anatomized.
Manslaughter to be punished by Forfeiture & Labour.
Suicide not to incur Forfeiture, but considered as a Disease.
Justifiable Homicide not to be punished at all. Rape, Sodomy, Bestiality to be punished by Castration.
Other Crimes punishable by Forfeiture, Fine, Labour in public works, such as Mines, Gallies, Saltworks, Dock- Yards, Founderies, and public Manufactories.
The Benefit of Clergy & the actual Cautery to be abolished.
Protection, Comfort &c. by a Parent, Child, or Wife not to be deemed Misprision of Treason.
Corruption of Blood to be abolished in all Cases.
Standing mute on Trial to amount to plea of not guilty, & the Court to proceed to Trial, and punishment (if guilty) or Acquittal (if innocent) in same Manner as if the Criminal had pleaded not guilty.
The Act which makes Concealment by the Mother of the Death of her bastard Child amount to Evidence of her having murdered it to be repealed.
New Trials to be allowed in Criminal Cases (in favour of the Criminal) during the Term or Session, for good cause shewn to the Judges. Whether Pardons shall be allowed or not, in any Instance, the Committee, having not yet determined, defer to be consider'd at the next Meeting.
The Lands to which an Intestate had Title in fee to descend in Parcernary to Males & Females, in equal portions.
The Course of Descent to be as follows.
First to the Children or their Descendants.
If there be no Children or their Descendts. to the Father. If no father, then to the Mother, Brothers & Sisters equally, or the Descendants of Brothers & Sisters.
If neither Father nor Mother, then to Brothers & Sisters, & their Descendants.
If there be neither Father, Mother, Brothers nor Sisters, then to divide the Lands into Moieties, one of them for the Paternal, the other for the Maternal Relations, to go to each in the following order.
First__to the Grandfather If no Grandfather then to Gr: mother, Uncles & Aunts, & Descendants of Uncles & Aunts.
If neither Gr: father nor Gr: mother then to Uncles and Aunts, & their Descendants.
If no Uncles nor Aunts, nor their Dests., then to Great Grandfather.
If no Great Grand Father, then—to Gr: Grd.. Mother, wth Gr: Uncles & Aunts & their Descendants.
If neither Gr: Grd fathers nor mother to Gr: Uncles & Aunts & their Descendants.
And so of the Rest.
Relations of the half Blood to have half a Share with those in equal Degree of the whole Blood; but to take the whole, when nearest in Degree to the Deceased.
Representation to be admitted to any Degree of Descendants. The Person last entitled (i.e. the Decedent) to be considered as if he had been the Purchaser, without Regard to Seisin, or the Rule "Paterna paternis, materna maternis."
To share per Stirpes, in every Instance, and not per Capita.
Advancement from the same Ancestor, in his Life-time, to be brought into Hotchpot. Conveyance by Deed or Will to a Person, without Words of Limitation shewing a less Estate intended, to carry a fee simple. Dower. Widows to have Dower as heretofore. Distri- The Distribution of personal Estate to be made conformable bution. to the Division of Lands, except the Widow's Part; which is to be as heretofore.
Executions to be first levied on personal Chattels; if the Sherif can find none, then on Slaves; if he can find no Slaves, then on Lands; if the Sherif levies on Lands or Slaves, for want of personal Chattels, & the Party before Sale produces to him such Chattels sufficient, he shall release the Lands or Slaves: so also where Slaves alone are seised &c.
Debt Execution not to be against the Body, unless Estate concealed; & agst. Estate made more easy.
In Suit for the Debt of a Testator or Intestate, the Heir & Execr. or Admr. shall be join'd.
Sureties Sureties (except for Guardians Exrs. or Admrs.) if not sued within seven years, to be discharged of the Suretyship.
Land Law.
The Tenure of Lands to be of the Common Wealth by Fealty.
Quit-rents to be abolished.
Survivorship among Joint tenants not to take Place.
New Grants.
Unappropriated Lands to be entered for with Surveyor. No man allowed to enter for more than 400 Acres in any one County.
The Breadth of Surveys to be at least one third its length, unless hindered by adjacent Lines, Watercourses or impassable Swamps. Entries to be surveyed as formerly, & works return'd to Land-Office.
No orders of Governor & Council for Land.
Grants to be signed by Governor, to express the Conditions of Fedelity, & Improvement. No Right Money for Lands to be required.
Lands irregularly obtained to be liable to Caveat.
Caveats to be Entered in Land-Office, but tried before Genl Court: the Facts by a Jury.
Improvements to be the same as by Acts of 1713. C.3. & 172o. C.3.
Lands not improved to be lapsed on Petition.
Petitions for lapsed Lands triable before Gen'l. Court by Jury.
Real Actions.
Lands to be recovered by one uniform rational Action.
New Trial to be allowed, at Discretion of Judges.
As many Coparceners as will may join in Action: so the Demandant man join as many as he will Defendants.
The first Period in the Division of the Statutes, to end with 25th. H. 8th.
The Second to end at the Revolution.
The third to come down to the present Day.
A fourth Part to consist of the residuary Part of the Virginia Laws, not taken up in either of the three first Parts; to which is added the criminal Law, and Land-Law.
The fifth Part to be the Regulation of Property in Slaves, & their Condition, and also the Examination of the Laws of the other Colonies. Alotment of the Parts, to each Member, on the other Side.
T. Jefferson to undertake the first Part, with the Law of Descents.
E. Pendleton the second.
G. Wythe the third.
G Mason the fourth; but if he finds it too much, the other Gentlemen will take off his Hands any part he pleases.
T. Lee the fifth Part.

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