The Sources of Our Laws

GUIDE TO READING

Main idea

Modern laws that help people In the United States live together peacefully can be traced back to early laws like the Code of Hammurabi, the Code of Justinian, and English common law.

Key Terms jurisprudence, common law. precedent, statute

Reading Strategy Organizing Information As you read, take notes on a web diagram like the one below of early laws upon which modern legal systems are based.

Read to Learn

♦ What are the functions of law?

■ What early laws influenced modern legal systems?

Read to Learn

♦ What are the functions of law?

■ What early laws influenced modern legal systems?

Ancient tablet depicting King Hammurabi

Functions of Law

The laws mentioned above come from the Code of Hammurabi> the first known system of written law. The early leaders of our nation knew that it was important to establish a set of laws tor the nation. In 1779 future president John Adams wrote in the original draft of the Massachusetts state constitution that the state should have "a government of laws, and not of men." He meant that government should operate according to established and dependable rules rather than the changeable and prejudiced feelings of officials. This principle, while not always fully realized, has guided the development of American society.

Taws are sets of rules that allow people to live peacefully in society, They are binding on everyone living in a particular community, state, or nation. They make it possible for all par-tics—people, organizations, and governments—to deal with one another because everyone knows which actions are permitted and which arc not.

A major purpose of laws is to keep the peace and prevent violent acts. Laws set punishments that are meant to discourage potential criminals from such acts as murder, assault, or robbery.To help accomplish this, laws include the adminis era cion of justice, in the form of law-cnforccmcnt agencies (police) and courts. Laws also set the rules for resolving civil disputes, which arc disagreements over money, property, contracts, and other noncriminal matters.

v- ^ J\rnaricans in Action

Read the following laws: "If any one is committing a robbery and is caught, then he shall be put to death." "If fire break out in a house, and some one who comes to put it out cast his eye upon the property of the owner of the house, and take the property of the master of the house, he shall be thrown into that self-same fire." These laws sound very harsh. However, they were a set of rules under which a people once lived.

To he fully effective, laws must he fair and must treat all people equally. People in similar circumstances should be treated equally under Che law. Good laws arc reasonable, setting out punishments that fit the crime. Ordinary people must be able to understand laws, and the government must be able to enforce them. If most people understand the laws and believe they are reasonable and fair, then the laws will be obeyed, and enforcement will become much easier. When the writers of the Constitution crcated our government, they based the nation^ system of laws on ideas, traditions, customs, and lawTs passed down from generation to generation.

Concluding What are the purposes of laws?

Early Law l.egal scholars believe that some kind of law existed in even the earliest human societies. They trace its beginnings to prehistoric people, who used unwritten rules of behavior to help members avoid or cope with social conflict.'l"hcsc earliest laws were probably passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Then, after people learned to write* they began to write down their laws.

Economics and You

Underground Economy

Illegal activities that produce unreported income are pari of the underground economy. It consists of people who violate tax laws hy not reporting their earnings. The underground economy costs the nation billions of dollars in losL lax revenues. Research one of history's most famous tax evasion cases the 1931 trial and conviction of Al Capone. Report your findings in die form of a mock radio report Include a summary of die charges and penalties imposed on C a pone.

Code of Hammurabi

As mentioned, the first known system of written law was the Code of Hammurabi. King Hammurabi of Babylonia, an ancient Middle Eastern empire, compiled his code in about 1760 n.C. The code was a collection of 282 laws regulating everyday behavior. By today^s standards, the Code of Hammurabi prescribed harsh penalties. If someone stole property, for example, the thief had to pay back 10 times the value of what was taken. If he could not afford to pay, he wTas put to death.

Another set of early laws is the Ten Commandments found in the Bible. Hebrews living in ancient Palestine followed these laws. The Commandments

Development of Legal Systems

Code of Hammurabi

Ten Commandments

English Common Lav/ Justinian Code

Napoleonic Code U.S. Constitution

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Analyzing Timo Lines

Although the earliest laws were based on practices in tribal societies, the Code of Hammurabi was the first known written law. On what set of laws did Napoleon base his code of laws? When was the Napoleonic Code written?

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