The Founders' Attraction to People's Law
In direct contrast to the harsh oppression of Ruler's Law, the Founders, particularly Jefferson, admired the institutes of freedom under People's Law as originally practiced among the Anglo-Saxons. As one authority on Jefferson points out:
Jefferson's great ambition at that time  was to promote a renaissance of Anglo-Saxon primitive institutions on the new continent. Thus presented, the American Revolution was nothing but the recla¬mation of the Anglo-Saxon birthright of which the colonists had been deprived by a "long trend of abuses." Nor does it appear that there was anything in this theory which surprised or shocked his con¬temporaries; Adams apparently did not disapprove of it, and it would be easy to bring in many similar expressions of the same idea in documents of the time. (Gilbert Chinard, Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism, 2nd ed. rev. [Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1975], pp. 86-87.)
Characteristics of Anglo-Saxon Common Law or People's Law
Here are the principal points of People's Law as practiced by the Anglo-Saxons (see Colin Rhys Lovell, English Constitu-
tional and Legal History [New York: Oxford University Press, 1962], pp. 3-50):
1. They considered themselves a commonwealth of
2. All decisions and the selection of leaders had to be with
the consent of the people, preferably by full consensus,
not just a majority.
3. The laws by which they were governed were consid¬
ered natural laws given by divine dispensation, and
were so well known by the people they did not have to
be written down.
4. Power was dispersed among the people and never
allowed to concentrate in any one person or group.
Even in time of war, the authority granted to the lead¬
ers was temporary and the power of the people to
remove them was direct and simple.
5. Primary responsibility for resolving problems rested
first of all with the individual, then the family, then the
tribe or community, then the region, and finally, the
6. They were organized into small, manageable groups
where every adult had a voice and a vote. They divided
the people into units of ten families who elected a
leader; then fifty families who elected a leader; then a
hundred families who elected a leader; and then a thou¬
sand families who elected a leader.
7. They believed the rights of the individual were consid¬
ered unalienable and could not be violated without risk¬
ing the wrath of divine justice as well as civil
retribution by the people's judges.
8. The system of justice was structured on the basis of
severe punishment unless there was complete repara¬
tion to the person who had been wronged. There were
only four "crimes" or offenses against the whole peo¬
ple. These were treason, by betraying their own people;
cowardice, by refusing to fight or failing to fight cou¬
rageously; desertion; and homosexuality. These were
considered capital offenses. All other offenses required
reparation to the person who had been wronged.
9. They always attempted to solve problems on the level
where the problem originated. If this was impossible
they went no higher than was absolutely necessary to
get a remedy. Usually only the most complex problems
involving the welfare of the whole people, or a large
segment of the people, ever went to the leaders for