On the east-facing, exterior wall of the City of St. Louis Circuit courthouse, it is written in stone, “Where law ends, Tyranny begins.” That worthy observation is attributed to William Pitt, the one-time Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1780s. His words are just one entry from a long history of musings, thoughts, warnings and opinions about the law and our legal system.
From the next isle over, the Irish philosopher, Jonathan Swift, had a differing view when he said, “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” We’re glad he lightened up when he penned, “Gulliver’s Travels.”
Back in the B.C. era, Aristotle noted, “Law is order, and good law is good order.” Greece has certainly changed a lot since his days.
Perhaps Thomas Jefferson could read into the future when in 1821 he described the U.S. Congress in this way, “That one hundred and fifty lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected.” But in that same time frame, Wendell Phillips voiced this solution, “The best use of laws is to teach men to trample bad laws under their feet.” The U.S. legal scholar, Roscoe Pound agreed about change, saying: “The law must be stable, but it must not stand still.”
Finally, also from across the pond, the great English scholar, Samuel Johnson, gave this summary, “The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public.” Well said, Sir Johnson!
Many will continue to search for the true meaning about the law and lawyers. Except, perhaps, for the ancient scholar, Origen, who identified the exact location where he thought the law could be found:
“Conscience is the chamber of justice.”