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The term “ Revised Statutes ” has become so familiar to the people of New York, to laymen as well as to bench and bar, and has seemed to be so much an integral part of our constitutional and legal development, that it comes to us as a shock to be told that the “Revised Statutes" no longer exist. Yet this is true; only a fragment now remains on the statute book, and that fragment will speedily disappear with the completion of the new revision. We must now speak of the “ General Laws of New York ” where we used to quote the “Revised Statutes."
The work of the revisers of 1828 was well done. Every year that has passed since then has proved this, and the adoption of similar codes under various names in the other states also testifies to its value. But here in New York, the state where the idea of the Revised Statutes originated, the successive legislatures failed to preserve the harmony of the scheme of revision, and each year witnessed the enactment of independent statutes, containing provisions of law which should have been embodied in the Revised Statutes as amendments to the existing provisions. Thus in the period between 1828 and 1890, through this indifference and carelessness of the legislature, the original Revised Statutes were covered up and almost lost to sight by this great mass of undigested laws which were put upon our statute books each year.
Editors struggled against this tendency and they have given us nine different editions of the Revised Statutes, in which they have most skillfully tried to collate and distribute these independent acts according to the original scheme of the revision of 1828. We went on calling these unofficial compilations the “Revised Statutes" until 1889, when the legislature at last realized the pressing need of a new revision and organized the Statutory Revision Commission for this purpose. They planned a revision in 51 chapters, and beginning with 1890 have reported and the legislature has enacted 46 chapters of the 51. Of the five missing chapters, the commission at different times has reported four, and the fifth (the Civil Service Law, Chap. 370 of 1899), while not formally reported as Chapter XXIII., was drafted or approved by the Commission.
To this new revision has been given the name of GENERAL LAWS OF New YORK. This is the phrase we must now use instead of Revised Statutes.
There is this great difference to be noted between 1828 and 1889 in the attitude of the legislature towards the revision. In 1828 the revision commission reported its draft, the draft was accepted and enacted, the commission was dissolved, and the care of the revision was left to the successive legislatures, with the resulting hap-hazard legislation to which reference has been made above.
But the statutory Revision Commission has remained in 'existence since 1889, and there seems to be an intention to continue it as a permanent body, charged with the care of the new revision and the duty of advising the legislature as to the form of legislation, especially in the matter of amendment of existing statutes. Moreover, the vexed question of practice revision (i. e. the codes) has been committed to it.
The effect of the continuance of this expert law-drafting body is strikingly shown in the number of amendments already made to the 46 existing chapters of the new revision.
1890.. 1891. 1892.. 1893. : 1894. 1895 1896... 1897 1898... 1899.
Chapters of Sections added, the New Revision amended, repealed enacted.
or modified. 4 0
296 443 300
Total number of sections in the 46 Chapters as origin-
So that the tendency appears now to be firmly established that the legislature will abandon the hap-hazard method of legislation in vogue from 1828 to 1889 and will hereafter use the more orderly and logical method of making its desired changes by inserting amendments into the body or text of existing law, as found in the scientific and well arranged chapter scheme of the new revision. The gain resulting from this change, to the busy practitioner in search of the law, to the court striving to apply the law in an orderly way, to the thoughtful legislator seeking to know the existing law before adopting an amendment, and to the general public from the introduction of certainty and system, in place of uncertainty and disorder, are alike apparent and have only to be mentioned to be understood.
The index has been treated with especial care. There are two methods, and only two, of compiling statutes, the subject method, and the topical method. The subject method, i. e. the division of the whole field into subjects, each to be treated in a separate chapter, is the one employed in the revision of 1828 and the new revision. The other, the topical method, is the one commonly employed in digesting law reports. The subject method is the most logical and satisfactory, but seems to require the stamp of authority, such as the legislature alone can give. The topical method is the one most readily used in digesting a great mass of disconnected reports or statutes. The great difficulty in using this method is to guess out the topical heads under which the compiler has placed his excerpts. Now that the legislature has once more revised our statute law and shown its intention to hold to the plan of this newest revision, the bar can return to the more satisfactory subject method in its use and study of the statutes. And to assist in such use and study, the index of this work has been most fully prepared and all needed cross references have been carefully inserted.
EDWARD L. HEYDECKER. NEW YORK, December, 1899.
III. The Arms and Great Seal of the State (SS 40-46)......