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Letter from Josiah Martin to Wills Hill, Marquis of Downshire
Martin, Josiah, 1737-1786
July 11, 1772
Volume 09, Pages 315-317

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[B. P. R. O. Am. & W. Ind.: No. Carolina. Vol. 219.]
Letter from Governor Martin to Secretary Hillsborough.

North Carolina, Hillsborough,
July 11th 1772.

My Lord,

Having had the honor to inform your Lordship by former letters that the Laws by which the several Courts of Justice are established in this Colony will expire at the next Session of the General Assembly when there will be a necessity to re-enact them and seeing that those fundamental constitutions admit of essential improvement I have the honor to propose to your Lordship for his Majesty's consideration that to obviate the great mischiefs arising from the present constitution of the Inferior Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions by which all the Justices of the Peace in each County are made Judges of those Courts while it is too notorious that very few of the present Inhabitants are qualified for such important trust His Majesty may be pleased by his Royal Instruction (which is ground upon which I shall always firmly stand) to enjoin that in any Law that shall be passed for the constitution of County Courts, it be enacted that the Governor or Commander in Chief for the time being with the advice of his Majesty's Council shall select from time to time seven Magistrates out of each division [as a] Commission of the Peace in whom shall reside all the power of holding Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in their respective Counties that three thereof may be a Quorum for Pleas and common business but not less than five shall assess the County settle the public Accounts with the Sheriffs or appoint Inspectors that these Courts may be allowed as heretofore to recommend to the Governor three persons for the Office of Sheriff and that he upon the refusal of one of them shall be left at large to appoint any sufficient Freeholder of the County and not be confined to the appointment of one of the other persons named by the Court who are now frequently chosen on assurance that they will decline the office; by which means the Governor is compelled to appoint the third person to whom the Court is desirous of shewing favour which is more generally obtained by address and intrigue than by merit and ability. Such a Constitution of the County Courts My Lord would I am perswaded increase their dignity and utility and I am

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convinced it would call forth to the public service the ablest and best men who now decline the Magistratical Office in conjunction with the ignorant and vulgar people who in the present circumstances of things must be a majority in every County's commission of the peace from whom they are not segregated or distinguished in their judicial capacities and for whose malversation of which though not partakers they become equally obnoxious to reproach this arrangement in my humble opinion would render these Institutions of real advantages and it would throw weight into the scale of Government and increase its power to do public good I submit to your Lordship whether it may not be advisable to give facility to this plan to authorize the Governor to enlarge the Jurisdiction of the County Courts to the Trial of causes of £20 sterling amount that is now limited to the determination of matters not exceeding £10 sterling the judicial power consigned to such hands as might under these circumstances be selected, I do think it may be safely extended so far appeals always lying from these inferior to the superior Courts if the County Courts shall be thus moddeled the ignorant Majority of the Magistrates will become mere Conservators of the Peace when his Majesty's disallowance of the Act passed here in December 1770 shall be declared which I cannot help anticipating as it seems to invest Justices of the Peace with a power dangerous to the property of his Majesty's subjects in the present state of this Country, it is intituled “An act for the more speedy recovery of all debts and demands under five pounds proclamation money within this Province” which affords ground for perpetual solicitation to multiply an order of Magistrates that ought for the public good at this time to be much diminished.

This alteration in the Constitution of the County Courts and the measure I have before had the honor to propose to your Lordship for the Royal consideration of giving the Governor the power of appointing the Clerks thereof as well as those of the Superior Courts will I conceive much augment the dignity and utility of them. It is upon principles of duty to his Majesty that necessarily involves a strict attention to the public good that I presume to offer these crude Ideas to your Lordships consideration confiding in your Lordship's indulgence to my inexperience in civil Polity and to your construction of my intentions according to that liberality of sentiment that so eminently distinguishes your Lordship's character and I must express my hopes that your Lordship will be pleased to

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signify to me his Majesty's commands in relation to the subject of this letter before the meeting of the General Assembly appointed on the 10th of December next.

It will afford me the truest satisfaction to find that I may have suggested anything upon this important matter that shall be approved by your Lordship and found deserving the Royal Attention and it will ever make me happy to furnish your Lordship with occasions to advance the prosperity and happiness of his Majesty's subjects which I know to be the grand objects of my Royal Master's care and of your Lordships indefatigable labours.

I have the honor to be &c