April 06, 2005

An quaint formulation

I am not a generalist as a lawyer. I am a specialist, practicing in the field of complex corporate litigation, often dealing with complicated and expensive financial matters, sometimes frauds. There is a lot of law I don't know diddly about. In fact, there is more work that I don't do, way more, than work that I am qualified to do. For instance, the list of things I have no experience in would include, but is not limited to, family law, matrimonial, personal injury, medical malpractice, tax, entertainment, patent, trusts and estates, criminal law (except for white collar), and, construction law. I could go on, but you get the idea, right?

That long preamble was intended to explain why I have never seen a "Citation", as the document is called, from NY State Surrogate's Court. The Surrogate's Court is the Court which deals with the probate of wills and the administration of estates. As an aside, the building in NY City is flat out gorgeous and if you have the chance, you should stick your head in. Anyway, one of my colleagues is working on a contested will case. Bitterly contested and I won't go into the details here because, inter alia, I don't really know them. But my colleague came in to show me this Citation because it starts with the following language:

By the Grace of God Free and Independent,

And then it continues by telling the reader what the Court is ordering you to show up and argue about. But I was struck by this lovely opening language in the caption. By the Grace of God Free and Independent. Isn't that lovely and quaint and maybe even antiquated as a formulation? Even if we are free and independent, although maybe less so since the feds aggregated all sorts of powers to themselves and expanded the role and power of administrative agencies and delegated all these quasi-legislative powers with little oversight to them and then created all of these unfunded mandates. . . Well, you get the idea. I'm going to stop here.

Still, I like it. By the Grace of God Free and Independent. That has quite a ring to it, doesn't it? I wonder when they started using this style.

Posted by Random Penseur at April 6, 2005 09:31 AM

I've long thought New York was the only other State in the Union with the arrogant sense of self-pride to match Texas. I have to agree that that is a very nice bit of ceremonial Deism and patriotism there.

Posted by: JohnL at April 7, 2005 01:19 PM

I was struck by those same words many many years ago, which I read on a replica of parchment at a City Hall exhibit. It was on a document signed by John Jay, in the late 1790's, appointing our city's first mayor (can't remember his name).

Having temporarily lived in countries where military rule and dictatorships were the form of government, has made me cherish and highly value all our freedoms which are daily taken for granted.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Posted by: michele at April 8, 2005 08:04 AM

The mayoral appointment michele is recalling was to Richard Varick, but he was not the first mayor.

The first mayors were appointees of the Royal Governors-General, and it is from the form used by these royal appointments that we get "The People of the State of New York, by the grace of God free and independent..." formula. It used to be (as it still is in Canada) that the sovereign was the monarch, who needed to be evoked when certain common law forms were used. When our revolutionaries deposed the king but kept the English common law system, we had to replace the traditional “"George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France (yes, he claimed to be King of France too!) and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc." with something more in line with the revolutionary ideology of “popular sovereignty.” We quickly (by at least 1777, when I’ve seen militia officers’ commissions so styled) came up with the “The People of the State of New York, by the grace of God free and independent..." form. I dig it too!

The original of the appointment michele recalls is now on the market for $25,000 (see http://www.raabcollection.com/detail.aspx?cat=0&subcat=155&man=318)

Posted by: new_yorker at July 29, 2005 02:49 PM
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