Revision of the Statutes of New Jersey, 1877: INTRODUCTION

(Note: This Introduction was originally published in the 2005 Lawbook Exchange Ltd. reprint of the Revision of 1877.)

The Revision of the Statutes of New Jersey published in 1877 was the final product of an effort called for by an 1871 act of the Legislature to "revise, simplify, arrange and consolidate" all the general and permanent public statutes of New Jersey.   Of the three commissioners appointed by the Legislature for that task, two were members of the state Supreme Court: Chief Justice Mercer Beasley and Associate Justice David A. Depue; and the third was a prominent lawyer of the time, Cortlandt Parker Sr.   The commissioners proposed fifty-eight revision acts that were enacted and published under the title Revised Statutes of the State of New-Jersey, passed 1874, and another seventeen acts that appeared as Revised Statutes of the State of New-Jersey, passed 1875.   These revision acts did not cover all areas of the law.   The Revision of 1877 includes not only the revision acts, but also all the other general public acts in force as of the end of the year 1877, and the revision acts comprise less than half of the statutory content of the 1877 publication.   Thus, despite its title, the Revision of 1877 is properly called a compilation rather than a revision.

The Revision of 1877 is important today chiefly as a tool for tracing the history of legislation.   There are nearly seven hundred current sections in New Jersey Statutes Annotated for which the oldest source cited in the historical note is the Revision of 1877.   To trace these sections back to earlier sources, the researcher must use marginal notes and enactment date information in the 1877 work.   The marginal notes in this work cite to session laws mostly from 1847 forward, using the abbreviation "P.L." (meaning "Pamphlet Laws").   For enactments earlier than 1847, the marginal references generally do not include session law citations, referring instead to one or more of three earlier compilations:

For these pre-1847 laws, as for others, the Revision of 1877 does give exact dates of approval under the titles of the acts, and these dates make it possible to find the acts in the session laws even without page citations.   Note, however, that the revision acts of 1846 were not published in the session laws; for these it is necessary to look at the earlier compilations in order to get pamphlet law references to original sources.

To trace a law enacted before 1878 forward, given sufficient information about the subject matter of the law, the researcher can use the index of the Revision of 1877 to locate the law within that compilation, and then use Table I of the New Jersey Statutes Annotated to determine the subsequent history.   However, since there is no table going from session law citations directly into the Revision of 1877, if the researcher has only the session law citation, it would be necessary to follow a more circuitous route, utilizing the General Statutes of 1895 and Edward J. Luce's Table of Statutes.   Further details on that method may be found in the introduction to the 2005 reprint of the General Statutes and Luce’s Table.

The Revision of 1877 was compiled in a period of accelerating increase in the quantity of general legislation in New Jersey.   It is about one third larger than the last general compilation of New Jersey laws which had preceded it: John T. Nixon's fourth edition of Lucius Q.C. Elmer's Digest of the Laws of New Jersey, published in 1868 (generally known as Nixon’s Digest).

Enactments of historical interest from the 1869 to 1877 period, found in the Revision of 1877, include New Jersey's first laws to regulate the practices of dentistry (1873) and pharmacy (1877), to control the manufacture and sale of fertilizers (1874), to prevent adulteration of milk (1875), to license pawnbrokers (1876), and to allow the state and county bar associations to incorporate (1877).   Of significance to judicial history is the 1877 act establishing District Courts to hear small claims in certain cities.

The index, marginal notes and footnotes in the Revision of 1877 were the work of two lawyers with experience in reporting and digesting of case law: Garret D. W. Vroom, who was the reporter of the New Jersey Law Reports from 1874 until his death in 1914, and John H. Stewart, the author of A Digest of the Decisions of the Courts of Law and Equity of the State of New Jersey from 1790 to 1876, who also became the reporter of the New Jersey Equity Reports from 1877 to 1890.

For the sake of having a compilation that was complete as of the time of its publication, the compilers of the Revision settled for an imperfect arrangement of the contents.   A lengthy appendix contains "the several acts passed by the legislature during the progress of this work and too late to be placed under their proper titles," as well as "some acts which were inadvertently omitted." Two more acts are found as addenda still later in the volume.   There are flaws in the alphabetizing of the titles, both in the main part of the volume and in the appendix.   There was no table of contents in the original work, but one has been supplied in the present reprint.

Paul Axel-Lute
Rutgers Law School Library, Newark
March 2005