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Chicago-Kent Law Review




Attempting to survey the entire sweep of the nineteenth-century American codification debate is well beyond the scope of this article. Here, I will concentrate on what I view to be the most interesting portion—the debate provoked by draft codes prepared by David Dudley Field for New York during the 1860s. Field's drafts formed the basis for the codes ultimately adopted in Dakota Territory, California, and Montana as well as sparking years of often heated debate in New York.

I concentrate on the debate over the Field Codes, to the exclusion of the successful codifications in Georgia and Louisiana and unsuccessful debates elsewhere, for four reasons in addition to the obvious space limitations. First, Field himself was by far the most persuasive and articulate advocate of codification in nineteenth-century America. Not only did his drafts and his views shape much of the debate, but Field tirelessly traveled New York, the country, and even the world promoting his views on codification of domestic and international law. He lobbied the New York legislature annually through the 1880s, pushed the issue at American Bar Association conventions, and kept up a ceaseless correspondence with lawyers around the country. His vision of codification and his proposals therefore dominated the debate during the last half of the century. Second, Field's primary opponent in the debate, James C. Carter, was the most eloquent and thorough of the anti-code writers. As the procode New York Times phrased it, "Mr. James C. Carter discusses the Field Code with a fullness of knowledge, a power of logical statement, and an unfailing candor which make him at once the most feared and the most respected of the code's opponents." Third, the debate over Field's codes engaged many more than Field and Carter—it divided the New York bar "into two hostile camps" and produced a seemingly unending stream of speeches and pamphlets and so provides a rich source of material. Fourth, the codification movements unrelated to Field, most importantly the successful ones in Georgia and Louisiana, possessed significant idiosyncrasies that make them difficult from which to generalize. Georgia's codification was mingled with secession and Reconstruction, and Louisiana's mixed legal heritage and early adoption of a code made it unique.

In this article I examine the views of code proponents and opponents about how to find right answers to legal questions. In Part I, I discuss why the codification debate remains important. I briefly outline the debate itself in Part II and present the code proponents' and opponents' arguments in Part III. In Part IV, I examine how both sides of the debate viewed the issue of whether right answers exist to legal questions. Finally, in the Conclusion, I summarize what I argue are the significant lessons from the codification debate that remain relevant today.

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Chicago-Kent College of Law

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