27 U.S. 58
2 Pet. 58
7 L.Ed. 347
WILLIAM C. GARDNER
JOHN A. COLLINS ET AL.
January Term, 1829
CERTIFICATE of Division form the Circuit Court of Rhode Island.2
IN the circuit court of the United States for the district of Rhode Island, the plaintiff, William C. Collins, instituted an action of ejectment for the recovery of two-thirds of certain real estate in the state of Rhode Island, of which Mary C. Gardner died seised and intestate.
The facts of the case agreed upon were as follows:
'The estate in question, two-thirds of which is demanded by the plaintiff, in his said writ, was the estate in fee simple of the late John Collins, esq. deceased, the father of the defendant, and the purchaser of said estate. That the said late John Collins died in 1817, leaving lawful issue, viz. John A. Collins, Abigail Warren, and Mary Collins; and leaving a last will and testament, wherein and whereby, he devised the estate in question to his daughter, the said Mary Collins, in fee simple; who became seised and possessed thereof accordingly, and continued so seised and possessed thereof to the time of her death, viz. the 2d of October 1806, and died intestate. That the said Mary Collins intermarried with Caleb Gardner, on or about the ___ day of _____ and at her death left lawful issue, viz. John Collins Gardner, George Gardner, and Mary C. Gardner. The said John Collins Gardner died the 17th of November 1806, aged about _____, of course intestate, and without issue. The said George Gardner died the 18th of September 1811, aged about _____ years, of course intestate, and without issue. The said Mary C. Gardner died the 31st of December 1822, aged about _____, intestate and without issue. That, at the death of their mother, the said John Collins Gardner, George Gardner, and Mary C. Gardner, took from their said mother the said estate, as her heirs at law, in equal parts, and become seised and possessed of the same accordingly, in fee simple, and continued so seised and possessed till the death of the said John Collins Gardner, viz. till the 17th of November 1806. That, thereupon, his part of the said estate descended to and vested in his surviving brother and sister, viz. George Gardner and Mary C. Gardner, in fee simple, in equal moieties; and thereupon the said George Gardner and Mary C. Gardner became seised and possessed of the estate in question, in equal and undivided moieties, and fee simple, and so continued seised and possessed till the death of the said George Gardner, the 18th of September 1811. That, thereupon, his part of said estate descended to and vested in his sister the said Mary C. Gardner, in fee simple, and she became seised and possessed of the same accordingly, and thereby became seised and possessed of the whole estate in question, in fee simple; and so continued seised and possessed to the time of her death, viz. to the 31st of December 1822. That, at the death of the said Mary C. Gardner, the defendants, viz. the said John A. Collins and Abigail Warren went into possession of the estate in question, claiming to be the heirs of the said Mary C. Gardner; and the defendants have continued possessed thereof, claiming it as their inheritance without interruption or adverse claim, till the plaintiff's suit as aforesaid.
That the plaintiff, by deeds duly executed, became seised and possessed of all the right and title of the said Samuel F. Gardner, Eliza Phillips, and Mary Clarke, in and to the demanded premises. The plaintiff and Samuel F. Gardner and Eliza Phillips are children of the said Caleb Gardner by a former marriage. That the said Mary Clarke is also a child of said Caleb Gardner, by a former marriage, and are brother and sister of the half blood to the said Mary C. Gardner. That the said plaintiff and Samuel F. Gardner, Eliza Phillips and Mary Clarke, are not of kin to the said late John Collins, esq. deceased, and have not any of his blood in their veins. And if, upon the foregoing facts, the court shall be of opinion that the plaintiff, and those under whom he claims, are heirs at law of the said Mary C. Gardner, and entitled to said estate, then judgment to be given for the plaintiff; but, if not, then judgment to be rendered for the said defendant.'
The statute of Rhode Island upon which the plaintiffs in the ejectment claimed to recover, was passed in January 1822, and is entitled,
'An act directing the descent of intestate estates, and the settlement thereof, and for other purposes therein mentioned.
'SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the general assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, That henceforth when any person having title to any real estate of inheritance shall die intestate as to such estate, it shall descend and pass, in equal portions, to his or her kindred in the following course:
To his or her children, or their descendants, if any there be:
If there be no children, nor their descendants, then to the father of such intestate:
If there be no father, then to the mother, brothers and sisters of such intestate, and their descendants, or such of them as there be:
If there be no mother, nor brother, nor sister nor their descendants, the inheritance shall go in equal moieties to the paternal and maternal kindred, each in the following course:
First to the grandfather:
If there be no grandfather, then to the grandmother, uncles and aunts, on the same side, and their descendants, or such of them as there be:
If there be no grandmother, uncle nor aunt, nor their descendants, then to the great-grandfathers, or great-grandfather if there be but one:
If there be no great-grandfather, then to the great-grandmothers, or great-grandmother if there be but one, and the brothers and sisters of the grandfathers and grandmothers, and their descendants, or such of them as there be, and so on in other cases without end; passing to the nearest lineal male ancestors, and for want of them, to the lineal female ancestors, in the same degree, and the descendants of such male and female lineal ancestors, or such of them as there be.
But no right in the inheritance shall accrue to any persons whatsoever, other than to the children of the intestate, unless such persons be in being, and capable in law to take, as heirs, at the time of the intestate's death.
And when herein the inheritance is directed to go by moieties to the paternal and maternal kindred, if there be no such kindred on the one part, the whole shall go to the other part; and if there be no kindred, either on the one part or the other, the whole shall go to the husband or wife of the intestate; and if the wife or husband be dead, it shall go to his or her kindred in the like course as if such husband or wife had survived the intestate, and then died entitled to the estate
The descendants of any person deceased, shall inherit the estate which such person would have inherited, had such person survived the intestate.
When the title to any real estate of inheritance as to which the person having such title shall die intestate, came by descent, gift or devise, from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the kin next to the intestate, of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended, if any there be.'
For some time prior to the passage of this act, the law of descents of Rhode Island was regulated by an act of 1798, the first section of which nearly resembles the clause in the statute of 1822. It was as follows:
'When the title of any real estate of inheritance, as to which the person having such title, shall die intestate, came by descent, gift, or devise, from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the next of kin of the intestate of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended.'
The judges of the circuit court of Rhode Island, having divided in opinion upon the case, the decision was certified to this Court for its decision.
Mr Whipple, for the plaintiff, made the following points.
1. That at common law, the phrase 'of the blood,' includes 'the half blood.'
2. That if this is not the case at common law, the phrase 'of the blood,' as it is used in the statute of Rhode Island, necessarily includes the half blood.
3. That the person whole blood is referred to in the statute, as constituting 'the stock of descent,' is that kindred from whom the intestate derived the estate, by immediate descent; to wit, the brothers, and not the mother of the intestate, Mary C. Gardner.
He argued, that the act of the legislature of Rhode Island gives the estate 'to the next of kin of the intestate, of thee blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended;' and by the act of 1822, there is added, 'if any there be.'
The defendants contend, that 'the blood,' ex vi termini, means the whole blood; because they assert this to be the meaning at common law.
For the plaintiff, it is claimed that neither at the common law, nor by the proper construction of the statute of Rhode Island, the whole blood is intended; and that as the plaintiff claims as half blood, and as representing those who were of the half blood of Mary C. Gardner, the person last seised; the whole question in the cause, and which alone is to be decided by this Court, depends upon a proper construction of the law of Rhode Island of 1822.
In order to arrive at a sound conclusion upon the case, it may be proper to examine what is the meaning of the word blood at common law.
Under the sixth canon of descents, in reference to the intestate, the word 'whole' is added, which would not have been necessary if that was the natural import of the term. In reference to purchasers the word 'blood' simply is used; which means, when used alone, half as well as whole blood.
In a note to Chitty's Blackstone's Commentaries, Vol. II. p. 5, is the following language.
'It should here be noticed that though it is necessary that a person who would succeed, must show himself to be of the blood of the first purchaser; yet, where the persons who inherit succeed or derive title to the inheritance by virtue of remote and intermediate descents from the purchaser, it will be sufficient if they be related by half blood only to the purchaser, or to such other remote and intermediate ancestors, who were formerly and intermediately seised of the inheritance, in the regular course of descent from the purchaser; provided, according to the rule which follows, they are the worthiest legal relatives of the whole blood, to the person last seised.' Robinson on Inheritance, 45, is cited. He might have cited better authority.
In 1 Co. Litt. sec. 8, p. 14, b. it is said,
'But if there be two brothers by divers ventres, and the eldest is seised of land in fee and die without issue, and his uncle enter as next of kin to him, who also dies without issue; now the younger son may have the land as heir to the uncle, for he is of the whole blood to him, albeit he be but of the half blood of his elder brother.'
What is the meaning of the terms 'of the blood,' as used in the statute?
The object of the provision was to continue the estate in the blood of the person from whom it descended; to find a stock of inheritance, not to establish a new rule of descent.
The provision has no application, except to a case where the purchaser or preceding holder has already transmitted it to his heirs. Under the enacting clause, the half blood take from the purchaser on the first descent. An heir of the purchaser dies, will not the same blood take from the heir that took from the ancestor?
It is to go to the kin, that is the whole or half blood of the intestate, of the whole blood of the purchaser. According to the argument for the defendant, this reverses the common law; which gives to the whole blood of the intestate, of the whole or half blood of the purchaser.
After giving it to the half blood on the first descent, you can never narrow the capacity of inheritance. You may enlarge it as the common law does, but not give in the first descent and take away in the second.
The family, the blood of the purchaser, is his whole and half blood. The object is to continue the estate in the blood.
The second question is, who is 'the person' who is to constitute the stock of descent, 'the first purchaser, or the last ancestor.'
We agree that the object of the statute was to preserve estates in families. We disagree as to the extent of the object. What but the language of the act can determine that question. It is not identity but the extent of the object, about which we differ. The former might be determined by other considerations, the latter by nothing but the words of the act.
2. The acts of 1798 and 1822, admit of two readings. 'To such of the next of kin of the intestate as are of the blood of the person from whom such right, title or interest came or descended;' or 'to the nearest of such of the kin of the intestate as are of the blood,' &c. The second reading will, in most cases, give it to a more remote relation of the intestate than the first; and as the next of kin is the primary object of the statute, the former reading should be preferred.
3. Suppose we adopt the latter, however. If first purchaser had been intended, why not expressed? If the principle, why not the language of the common law? Its meaning is well settled and comprehensive. Technical words are adopted, as in other statutes. It was drawn by lawyers, who generally use technical words,—not in haste. Why use eight new words to express the meaning of three old ones?
A studious rejection of the words, proves that the principle was not intended to be adopted.
Other legislatures have made the same mistake. They intended the first purchaser if we did, for their language is similar. Not a statute in the union except that of the state of New York admits the first purchaser. A reference to the statutes of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, will maintain this position.
4. Why connect 'descent, gift and devise' together, if there is, in fact, no connecting medium between them? In the case of gift and devise, the last ancestor is agreed to be the stock. If he is not also in the other case of descent, what is there in common between them? Why use them in connection, when they express two separate principles, establish two distinct rules, and transfer the estate to two different sets of heirs. In those three cases, the same person shall be the stock of descent. This is common to them all, connects them in principle, and therefore they are connected in language. We never speak of a multitude, unless to say something applicable to a multitude. When something is intended applicable to a part, and something else applicable to another part, we separate them in our discourse.
Something then was intended, equally applicable to all the three modes of transmission; and this shows that it can be nothing else but the same stock of descent. Something was to be done, equally applicable to all; for the statute directs what shall be done in those three cases. What is it? The answer is, the same stock of descent. There is a difference between the description and the disposition of the estate. The word or, belongs to the former. It has nothing to do either distributively, or collectively, with the latter. Such estate shall go, &c. What estate? The estate which came by descent, gift or devise. There is but one estate, and one channel for it to pass.
5. To show the true meaning, and necessary construction of the words that are used.
The words, 'parent or other kindred,' embrace the brother. Parent includes father and mother. All the other kindred are included under the other terms. General words comprehending particulars, are the same as an enumeration of particulars. The order in which they stand is of no importance. 'From the brother or other kindred,' would be the same as those now used.
If a descent from all is provided for, the same as if enumerated, an immediate descent is intended. They agree that an immediate descent in the case of gift and devise is intended; and in some cases of descent, as an immediate descent from the purchaser; can both be intended? Does not an immediate, exclude an intermediate descent? Such a descent must come through those kindred who are entitled to be stocks of descent.
No other qualification is required than to be of the kindred. The words are not to such of the kindred as are first purchasers.
In the preface of Judge Swift's Treatise on Descents, p. 11, it is said in relation to our statutes; 'But in the law of descents there is an almost total change of the common law. It is radically new in each state, bearing no resemblance to the common law in most of the states, and having great and essential differences in all.'
The laws of descent in every state in the union, except New York and New Jersey, are altogether different from the common law.
The case of Hall vs. Jacobs, in 4 Harris & John. Rep. 249, was this. The father devises to his three children, A. B. and C. and dies. A. and B. die intestate, and their shares descend to C.
The court say, that the statute provides for three cases; 1. Estates descended on the part of the father. 2. Estates descended on the part of the mother. 3. Estates by purchase. This case is neither: 'but it vested in the intestate by immediate descent from his brother and sister, a course of descent expressly directed by the act of assembly in the case of a purchaser, and is known also to the common law.'
In Stewart's Lessee vs. Evans, 3 Harris & John. 287, an estate descended to John Stewart's two children, Jane and Alexander. Jane died, and her portion descended to Alexander, who also died intestate. The question was, whether this estate came to the intestate, on the part of the father, or on the part of the sister. The defendant's counsel agreed, 'that it did not come from or through the father, yet that it was on the part of the father;' and so the court decided without giving their reasons.
In the case of Shippen vs. Izard, 1 Serg. & Rawle, 225, Tilghman, chief justice, says, 'The words on the part of the father, and from the father, are so different, that I cannot conceive how the former can be restricted to the father alone without violence to their plain meaning. Not only is there a difference in common phrase, but in legal acceptation; for the phrase, on the part of the father, is familiar to the common law, and must have been borrowed from that source by the persons who drew this act of assembly. That it comprehends not only the father but all the ancestors of the father, both paternal and maternal, appears by the citation of the plaintiff's counsel from Co. Litt. 12, a.' Yater, justice, was of the same opinion.
The act of Virginia of 1793, provides, that when an infant died seised of property, which descended 'from the father,' the maternal kindred should be excluded.
In 1 Munford's Rep. 183, the case of Tomlinson vs. Dilliard, decided in 3 Call's Rep. 120, was reviewed. The case of Wyatt vs. Muse and wife, also came before the court.
The case was a descent from the father to his children, and from a deceased child to the intestate. The court decided that the mother, or her issue, were not excluded, where the property was derived, not immediately, but by intervening succession from the father. (Cited also, the opinion of Justice Tucker, 215.) In p. 197, Mr Justice Tucker cites a former decision, and says; 'In that case it was determined, that Mrs Gee, the mother of Sarah Jones, was entitled to inherit lands from the daughter, who died an infant, which she had derived from her brother John Norfleet; to whom the same were devised by his father, who was also the father of Sarah Jones. In that case, however, John Norfleet had attained his age of twenty-one years; but I was of opinion, and understood the rest of the judges who sat in the cause to concur with me in that opinion, that the mother might have inherited these lands, although John Norfleet had not attained his age of twenty-one years; for that the descent from the father to the daughter was not immediate but broken, and therefore not within the exceptions contained in the fifth and sixth sections.'
The words of the act under which the above decisions were made, are as follows: 'That where an infant shall die without issue, having title to any real estate of inheritance, derived by gift, devise or descent, from the father, and there be living at the death of such infant, his father, or any brother and sister on the part of the father, or the paternal grandfather or grandmother of such infant, or any brother or sister of the father, or any descendant of any of them; such estate shall descend and pass to the paternal kindred without regard to the mother or maternal kindred of such infant; in the same manner as if there had been no mother or maternal kindred.'
In section sixth there is a similar provision as to estates from the mother. These are the words of the act of 1819; but they do not in this respect differ from the act of 1792.
Many other decisions may be found, but not exactly to the point. The remarks of Mr Justice Roane, in 3 Call's Rep. 96, are worthy of attention.
The case of Hilliard vs. Moore, in 2 Carolina Law Depository, 590, is exactly like the case of Collins and Gardner, as to its facts. The decision was in favor of the maternal line, and would have been decisively against us, had the words of their act rendered such a decision unavoidable. The words of the act are, 'descended on the part of the mother.' This decision supports the distinction taken by Chief Justice Tilghman and Mr Justice Yates, in Serg. & Rawle, already referred to.
As to the spirit of the act, he contended:
1. The defendants take for granted that the object was to preserve the estate in the family of Mary Collins.
How do they arrive at this knowledge? The legislature have not declared their object. They have only provided certain means, and the extent of the object ought to be measured by those means. They make the means bend to the supposed object. Because the object was to preserve estates in families to a certain extent, they conclude that an estate going out of a family defeats the intention. Have the Court a right to resort to other means than those of the statute? Do they do so at common law, in order to prevent an estate's going out of a family?
2. A strong objection to the doctrine of a first purchaser, is the difficulty of ascertaining him, and the consequent uncertainty of the rule.
The proofs of descents frequently rest in parol. The defendants take for granted, that the common law means will prevent the evil of an estate going out of the family. So uncertain and impossible is the proof, that the common law has abandoned it, and substituted a rule of law in the lieu of actual proof; this is the sixth canon of descents. In cases of actual descents from a real first purchaser, the difficulties are the same.
In 2 Bl. Com. it is said: 'Yet when an estate has really descended in a course of inheritance to the person last seised, the strict rule of the feudal law is still observed; and none are admitted but the heirs of those through whom the inheritance has passed; as if lands come to John Stiles by descent from his mother Lucy Baker, no relation of his father, (as such) shall ever be his heir to these lands.
Here we may observe, that so far as the feud is really antiquum, the law traces it back; and will not suffer any to inherit but the blood of those ancestors from whom the feud was conveyed to the late proprietor.
'But when through length of time it can trace it no farther, as if it be not known whether his grandfather George Stiles inherited it from his father Walter Stiles, or his mother Christiana Smith; or if it appear that his grandfather was the first purchaser; in either of those cases, the law admits the descendants of any ancestor of George Stiles, either paternal or maternal, to be in their order the heirs to John Stiles of this estate.'
Again, to show how uncertain a rule that of the first purchaser was; 'the doctrine of the whole blood (p. 230) was calculated to supply the frequent impossibility of proving a descent from the first purchaser. And this purpose it answers for the most part effectually enough. I speak with these restrictions, because it does not, neither can any other method answer this purpose entirely.'
Suppose three or four descents with the aid of whole blood, and sole succession. What could we do towards finding the purchaser, under half blood and partible inheritances. Let Blackstone answer: 2 Bl. 201.
'Here then the supply of proof is deficient, and by no means amounts to a certainty; and the higher the common stock is removed, the more will even the probability decrease. But it must be observed, that upon the same principles of calculations, the half blood have a much less chance of being descended from an unknown, indefinite, ancestor of the deceased, than the whole blood in the same degree; as in the first degree the whole brother of John Stiles is sure to be descended from the unknown ancestor; his half brother has only an even chance, for half John's ancestors are not his.
'So in the second degree, John's uncle of the whole blood has an even chance; but the chances are three to one against his uncle of the half blood, for three-fourths of John's ancestors are not his. In like manner, in the third degree, the chances are only three to one against John's great uncle of the whole blood; but they are seven to one against his uncle of the half blood. This much less probability of the half blood's descent from the first purchaser, has occasioned their general exclusion.'
These remarks apply to the case of a real descent. Suppose it is not known from whom the grandfather George Stiles inherited, his father Walter or his mother Christiana. The whole blood would give an even chance. The half blood might give only one in four.
Partible inheritances increase the difficulty by the number of descents.
In a country increasing in population, and freed from the influence of those principles in the law of inheritance of England, which had their origin in feudal times; rules of such difficult application are impolitic and oppressive.
Another objection to the doctrine of first purchaser is, that it is inconsistent with an allodial tenure. It acknowledges a claim in some other person than the intestate. This is an objection to going back at all. But going to the first purchaser is worse, because he has no claim, either at common law or the statute; at common law it was in the lord.
If we give it to any one, give it to him who has some share of claim.
It sacrifices the main objects of regard, the kindred of the intestate, in favour of a subordinate object; the blood of the purchaser.
Among the reasons for the construction of the act of the legislature, claimed by the plaintiff, Mr Whipple urged, that
'Descent, gift, and devise,' are connected on account of blood. Whose blood? That of the devisor and devisee, not that of the purchaser. The consideration being their blood, the reward ought to be to their blood.
The three modes of transmission are the acts of the party. The person who bestowed the bounty is the only person having any claim. His claim extends only to the person upon whom he bestowed the bounty, his heir. He has no claim on any future descendant, because to him he has not been liberal.
The claim then is by the devisor or ancestor, because he is the only source of the bounty.
The estate descends upon his heir or devisee, and him alone; because he alone is indebted to the ancestor or devisor, to the extent of the bounty conferred, and to no greater extent.
The intestate, Mary C. Gardner, was her mother's heir for one-third; that was the extent of her bounty. To her brothers for two-thirds. For the same reason that Mary Collins has a claim for one-third, the brothers have for two-thirds.
She transmitted her portion of her father's estate to her children. This gives her a claim upon each. If her children transmit their portion of her estate, they have the same claim upon those to whom they transmit it.
The plaintiff's counsel denied that the construction claimed by the counsel for the defendant was the received law of Rhode Island. No case was cited on the argument in the circuit court to establish such a construction; and when the experience of the bar was appealed to upon the subject, it was not followed by any evidence that the principles of construction the defendants asserted, had ever gone into use in the state, with the sanction of a judicial decision. While he admitted that the statement of the counsel of the defendant, that the law was with him by the common understanding of those, who did not from their education or their situation know what the law was; he denied that this, which might be denominated 'street law,' could or should have any influence in this Court. The construction which this Court would give, would be adopted from other views, and from highter authorities; the principles of the common law, and the fair and legal import of the words of the statute.
Mr Robbins, for the defendants.
The common law of descent of England has two leading objects in view; one is to preserve the inheritance in the blood of that family by whom it was originally acquired: this is the dictate of nature; for it is an object that approves itself to reason, and recommends itself to the best affections of the human heart: it operates as a stimulus to exertion, by furnishing the means and the hope of building up, and perpetuating a family, and providing for its happiness: it cherishes, by gratifying the love of kindred, a natural and a noble sentiment, and one in which the sentiment of patriotism itself has its root; for the love of country is but the love of kindred expanded.
The other leading purpose is, to keep the inheritance entire, by keeping it, for the time being, in a single representative of that family by whom it was acquired: this object was the offspring of state policy; and by it the sentiments of nature are more or less controlled.
The people of Rhode Island brought with them from their mother country, a fond attachment to both views; and of this the proof is, that for more than one hundred years, the law of descent of England was their law. But at length in 1770, they were weaned from one of these objects; namely, that of keeping the inheritance entire, by keeping it in a single representative of the family: but the other object, that of keeping the descent of the inheritance in the blood of the family by whom it had been acquired, they fondly retained, and still fondly cherish.
This case comes up upon the division of the court below, as to the interpretation of the statute of descent, passed in 1822, which is the same in substance as the statute passed in 1798. One interpretation gives the estate in question to the plaintiff, the other interpretation gives the estate to the defendants; between the two interpretations lies the conflict of the cause.
The defendants claim the inheritance of this estate under a provision of the statute, which is in these words, viz.
'When the title to any real estate of inheritance, as to which the person having such title shall die intestate, come by descent, gift, or devise, from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the kin next to the intestate, of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended, if any there be.'
The question is as to the person referred to, whose blood is to inherit. Is it the person from whom the estate originally came or descended to the intestate? If so, then the estate goes to the defendants; for they are the next of kin to the intestate who are of the blood of that person; it goes to the defendants and it keeps the descent of the family inheritance in the blood of the family, by whom it was acquired, and from whom it has descended: and this is one interpretation. Or, is it the person from whom the estate last came or descended? If so, then the estate goes to the plaintiff; for though the defendants are of the blood of that person, and of kin to that person as well as the plaintiff, yet the plaintiff is nearer of kin to that person; it goes to the plaintiff, and the family inheritance goes out of the blood of that family by whom it was acquired, and from whom it has descended, into the blood of another and a foreign family; hereafter to descend in the blood of that foreign family: and this is the other interpretation.
Now, 'blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended' may mean either the person from whom it originally came or descended, or the person from whom it last came or descended: neither the word originally, nor the word last is used, but either may be understood as implied, as the case may require; and that word must be understood as implied which is necessary to express that meaning That meaning must be adopted which was the meaning of the legislature. But one way of settling what was the meaning of the legislature in this case is known, and that is, by determining what was the object of the legislature in making this provision. Doubtless, the legislature intended those words to be understood in that sense which is necessary to the accomplishment of their object. Say that the object was to preserve the family inheritance in the blood of that family by whom it had been acquired, and from whom it had descended; and our construction must be adopted, in order to effectuate that object; for if it is not, and the other construction is adopted, that object must be defeated. It would be defeated in the present instance at once; it must be in all cases sooner or later.
Even, if there were any verbal or literal difficulties in the way of our construction, and none are perceived, they must give way when opposed to the intention of the legislature; for it is a settled rule of law, 'that what is within the letter of a statute is not within the statute, if it be not within the intention of the legislature.' The construction claimed by the defendants appears the most natural of the two; and must so appear to every mind accustomed to that law of inheritance, which our construction supposes. In expressing this idea we would not think of using the word originally; we would understand that word as implied, and would suppose that every body would understand it as implied.
But it is enough that these words are susceptible of either interpretation; and that the object of the legislature in making that provision, is to determine which of them is the true interpretation.
That the object of the legislature was to preserve and perpetuate the family inheritance in the blood of the family, by whom it was originally acquired, appears as evident as if they had so said in so many words.
It is obvious in the first place from the distinction which the statute makes between estates acquired by the intestate, and estates derived to the intestate from parent or other kindred. As to all estates acquired by the intestate, or derived to him from any person, other than parent or other kindred; the statute makes the intestate the stock of inheritance, and his next of kin his heir at law. But as to all estates derived to the intestate from parent or other kindred, by descent, gift, or devise; the statute makes the person, from whom the estate came or descended, the stock of inheritance; and it makes the next of kin to the intestate, who is of the blood of that person, the heir at law. Now, it is inquired, what possible object could there have been for this distinction, but that of keeping the family inheritance in the blood of the family?But further, the same distinction is made between estates derived, and derived in the same manner too, to the intestate. If the estate is derived, to the intestate, by descent, gift or devise; but not derived from a parent, or other kindred; he is made the stock of inheritance, and his next of kin is made his heir at law. But if the estate is derived to him, from a parent or other kindred by descent or devise, then the person from whom it came or descended is made the stock of inheritance; and the next of kin, who is of the blood of that person, is made the heir at law. Providing then a different stock of descent, and a different rule of descent, for estates derived from a parent or other kindred, and for those estates only, must have been done to keep the descent of such estates in the blood of such parent or other kindred; and could have been done with no other view.
Then it is asked, if this, which had always been an object of their descent law, was not to remain a provision of their descent law, why was this provision introduced at all? If this object was to be abandoned, this provision was not necessary. If this was not the object, and their construction be the true one, the legislature made a general rule of descent; and then made an exception to it, by which exception no rational end whatever was to be answered.
It has been said, that it always had been the wish of the descent law of that people, to perpetuate the family inheritance in the blood of the family. A short review of the history of that law, will prove this a correct statement.
The common law of descent of England, was the law of descent of that people to 1718, without any alteration or intermission. This law was secured by their descent law up to that time; for it was one of its great purposes. In 1718 they made a statute of descents, which made the intestate, in all cases, the stock of inheritance, and his next of kin his heir at law. But, in the short period of ten years, this statute was repealed, and for the very reason that this object was thereby abandoned. The preamble states, 'For as much as the aforesaid act is found by experience to be very prejudicial by destroying inheritances,' 'be it therefore enacted,' &c. By destroying inheritances—that is, inheritances as they theretofore had existed, and by which family estates had been kept in the blood of the family. This repeal left the common law of descent to revive as the law of descent of that people; by which the first law was again secured to them, and remained their law of descent to 1770. In 1770 they made another statute of descent, but in making which, they were careful to preserve the object which had been abandoned by the statute of 1718. In this statute of 1770, they made the intestate, in all cases, the stock of inheritance; but in all collateral inheritances, they made the next of kin of the full blood of the intestate, the heir at law. As this statute of 1770 made the intestate in all cases the stock of inheritance, the making the next of kin of the full blood to the intestate, in all collateral inheritances, the heir at law, was necessary to the plan of keeping the descent of the estate in the blood of the family. This restriction of the descent in collateral inheritances, was adopted for this purpose.
This rule, like the common law rule of descent, would be attended with some occasional cases of apparent hardship.
This statute continued unaltered as this provision to 1798, when all the statutes were revised, and this among the rest.
The statute of 1798 proposed to accomplish the same purpose, which was accomplished by the statute of 1770, but by different means; and by a modification that would avoid those occasional cases of apparent hardship, which resulted from the application of the rules established by the statute of 1770.
The statute of 1798 made the intestate the stock of inheritance, and his next of kin the heir, but not in all cases as did the statute of 1770; it excepted cases derived to the intestate by descent, gift or devise, from the parent or other kindred; and as to those excepted cases, it made the person from whom the estate came or descended, the stock of inheritance, and made the next of kin to the intestate of the blood of that person the heir at law. By this modification, by making the blood, not the full blood only, of that person the heir at law; it obviated the hardships occasionally incident to the rule established in the statute of 1770.
This statute continued to 1822, when all the statutes were again revised, and this among the rest. The statute of 1798 is re-enacted in the statute of 1822, in substance, differing only in form. As to all the cases in which the intestate is to be the stock of inheritance, or his next of kin to be the heir; and as to all the excepted cases in which the person from whom the estate came or descended, is to be the stock of inheritance, and the blood of that person to be the heir; both statutes are the same.
From this deduction of the history of the law descent of Rhode Island, which can not be impugned in any one particular, but which will be found verified and confirmed throughout by an examination of that law, it must be admitted that it has always been the object of that law, to keep the inheritance in the blood of that family, by whom it had been acquired, and from whom it had descended.
A reference to the statutes of 1718, and of 1770, will verify this exposition of those statutes.
Again; that such was the design of the legislature, may be, and must be inferred from the understanding and the practice, which has prevailed in the state on this point. The question is practically settled, though not judicially, and settled for such a length of time, as gives to the practical settlement all the force of a final judicial determination. For it is the result of an impression, so universal and so decided, as to have precluded all doubt and all litigation up to the origin of this action.
Nor is the statute of 1798 to be considered as a new statute of descent, introducing and prescribing a course of descent for the first time: this however it is not; for it is to continue only to regulate the ancient course, not to originate a new one. It is now thirty years since that statute was made; and the rule of descent thereby established, is still the rule of descent in the state. Now all the collateral descents, in all the state during all that time, have been cast according to the defendant's construction of the statute, without a question being made, as to their being rightfully cast; and have been, and now are enjoyed accordingly. Not an instance of a descent in that state, contrary to this statement, has been, or can be cited. How numberous those descents have been, is not known; but in that length of time they must have been numerous. This fact is at once a proof of this practical construction by the whole state; extending back a full quarter of a century, prior to the origin of this action; and of the mischiefs, which a judicial reversal of this practical construction would now produce; for it must unsettle every one of those descents, which possession has not matured into a perfect title.
We need not go out of this case, to see in the descents which have occurred in the case, how settled the impression has been, that the family inheritance must descend in, and be confined to the blood of the family according to our construction of the statute.
There was, in the first place, on the death of John Gardner, in 1806, the descent of his third part of the estate to his surviving brother and sister. No stress is laid upon this; for upon both interpretations, the descent was rightly cast. But then came the death of George Gardner in 1811, and the descent of his third part, and of his half of John's third part. On whom was the descent now cast? On Mary the surviving sister; the descent of the whole, as well that part which George inherited from his brother John, as that part which George inherited from his mother. The plaintiff agrees to all this—agrees that she succeeded legally, rightfully and exclusively, to the part which George had inherited from John. If John, the person from whom it last descended was the stock of inheritance as to this part, the plaintiff was entitled to succeed equally with Mary. The plaintiff himself agrees that John was not the stock of inheritance as to this part; for he agrees that he himself was not entitled to succeed to any share of that part. The plaintiff himself agrees that the mother, from whom the estate had originally descended, was the stock of inheritance; for he agrees that Mary, her child, alone, had the right to succeed. Then how can the plaintiff claim to inherit from Mary, on a principle on which he agrees he could not claim to inherit from her brother George, as to the part which George inherited from his brother John? If the plaintiff could not make John the stock of inheritance, as to the estate which George inherited from his brother John, how can he make Mary the stock of inheritance, as to the estate which she inherited from her brother George? He has, in truth, surrendered the very principle in controversy, and left himself no ground to stand on; for he has made it a matter of record, and the Court are now called upon to give to the plaintiff an estate, to which he has agreed, and agreed on the record that he has no title.
In proof of this position, the Court are referred to the statement of facts; and especrally to that part distinguished by italics. It reads thus: 'That thereupon (that is, upon the death of George), his part of said estate, (that is one moiety of the whole estate, including his original third part who had previously deceased,) that thereupon his (George's) part, descended to and vested in, his sister the said Mary C. Gardner in fee simple; and she became seised and possessed of the same accordingly. And thereby became seised and possessed of the whole estate in question in fee simple.'
The legal effect of this statement, in this case, and upon this case, is a striking illustration of that familiar, that settled, that riveted notion, prevalent in Rhode Island in favour of the principle of descent, which we contend for. The plaintiff's counsel at the time, probably, were not aware of its palpable inconsistency, with the new principle of descent, which they had to contend for; and unreflectingly made the statement, according to their habitual notions on the subject.
And the descent itself is another striking illustration of the same fact. It took place in 1811, eighteen years ago; was acquiesced in then, has been acquiesced in ever since, and is ratified even now, so far as a recorded agreement can ratify it.
Then came the death of Mary C. Gardner, and the descent of the whole estate; or which she had one third directly from her mother, and the other two thirds, from her mother, but through her two brothers. On the death of Mary, how was the descent cast or supposed to be cast?That such has been the practical construction of the statute, must be admitted, as no instance to the contrary has been cited, or can be.
The state of Connecticut have a parallel provision in their statute of descents. Its construction there is considered as settled, though it never has been judicially settled; it is considered as settled, because long and uniform practice has settled it. The attention of the Court is invited to the descent law of Connecticut; as it has been said, that the provision in the Rhode Island law was framed by the provision in that; and there is to be found in the statute of 1798, some internal evidence of the fact. It was long in that state a vexata questio, whether the words, next of kin, in their then subsisting statute of descents, did not mean, when applied to real estate in the collateral descent, 'next of kin to the intestate of the full blood;' which was much agitated, and variously decided by their courts; but it was finally decided, that next of kin meant, next of kin in the civil law sense of the expression; which had no reference to distinction of blood. It was with a view to preclude this very controversy, that the Rhode Island statute of 1798, in providing for the descent of all that part of the intestate's estate which is made to descend to the next of kin to the intestate, adds, to the words next of kin, these seemingly unnecessary words, 'computing according to the degrees of the civil law.' The struggle in that state, about the meaning of the words next of kin, it is believed, was occasioned by the strong prevalent sentiment of that people in favour of keeping the family inheritance in the blood of the family. For they were so dissatisfied with the final judicial decision, which frustrated that object, that their legislature afterwards, in the first revision of their laws, introduced this special provision—viz.
'Provided that all the real estate of the intestate, which came to him by descent, gift or devise, from his or her parent, ancestor, or other kindred, shall belong equally to the brothers and sisters of the intestate, and those who legally represent them, of the blood of the person or ancestor from whom such estate came or descended;' going on and following out the same principle; if there be not any brother or sister.
This statute was made in 1784; therefore soon after the termination of this controversy. The practical construction of their statute ever since, has been precisely the practical construction given to that of Rhode Island; and there all the estates coming within their proviso, have uniformly descended to the blood of the person or ancestor from whom the estate originally came, whether by descent, gift or devise. And such is considered as the settled law of that state; but how settled? not by any judicial adjudication, for there has been none; but by an uniform practical execution of the statute, according to that construction. Wherein such a practical construction is inferior, in point of authority, to a judicial decision, it is difficult to comprehend.
The authority for this statement will be found in the case of William Hillhouse vs. Levi Chester, Day's Reports, Vol. III, page 166; and also in the statute laws of Connecticut, Digest of 1821, page 208.
In the statute regulating descents in New York, there is also a parallel provision. It is said that there has never been any controversy as to its construction; of course there can be found no judicial decision settling its construction.
The provision is in these words, viz.—'And in such case, every brother and sister of the half blood of the person so seised, shall inherit equally with those of the full blood; unless when such inheritance came to the person so seised, by descent, devise or gift of some one of his or her ancestors; in which case, all those who are not of the blood of such ancestor, shall be excluded from such inheritance.' See the act to regulate descents of the state of New York, Laws of New York, Vol. I. p. 46, sec. 4.
It is remarkable how exactly alike in all essential particulars, are all these provisions in both the laws. In one, it is the estate coming by descent, gift or devise; in the other, it is the estate coming by descent, gift or devise; in the Rhode Island law, it is the estate coming from parent or other kindred; in the Connecticut provision, it is the estate coming from parent, ancestor or other kindred; in the New York provision, it is the estate coming from the ancestor. But what is most remarkable is, that they all agree in designating the person whose blood is to inherit, in the same general way. In all, it is the person from whom the estate came or descended; leaving the word originally, to be understood as implied; and as what would of course be understood as implied.
As to the meaning of the word 'blood,' as used in the proviso; whether it mean blood or full blood, it is not deemed necessary to discuss in this case: for, whether it mean the one or the other, the plaintiff is not entitled to inherit upon our rule. Our rule is, that the blood of the person from whom the estate originally came, is to inherit; and the plaintiff is not of that blood.
It is said, that the rule (if ours be the rule,) could have been more technically expressed; and it is inferred that it could not be the rule, because this was not done. But does it not appear that this difficulty operates both ways? The difficulty is, that the words do not mark our rule with absolute precision; but if they did, there could be no controversy between the parties. The argument is just as good for one as for the other; and therefore is good for nothing for either.
It is said that the common law considers a gift or devise as a purchase; and the purchase as the stock of inheritance; and that we must consider descent as standing on a common foot with gift and devise.
It is true that the common law considers the donee or the devisee as the stock of inheritance. But the question is not who is made so by the common law, but whom the statute makes that stock. It is very clear that the person whom the common law makes that stock, is not the same the statute does. The common law makes it from the donee or devisee; that is, the intestate himself, if he be donee or devisee: but the statute certainly does not; it goes back of the donee or devisee to some other person; now to say that the donor or devisor is that person, is begging the question. It may go through the donor or devisor, back to the person from whom the estate originally came; and must, if that was the intention. The family inheritance may as well come down through gifts and devises, as through a course of descent; and the words gift and devise were coupled with the word descent, purposely to cover the whole inheritance.
As to the authorities cited by the counsel for the plaintiff, Mr Robbins observed, that none of them seemed to conflict with any of the grounds which had been taken for the defendant.
In all the numerous references to Reeves's Law of Descent, not one militates with these grounds; nor is it supposed that the practical construction of the parallel provision of the Connecticut statute is different from ours.
As to the two cases from Sergeant & Rawle's Reports, and from Harris & Johnson, they are cases under the statutes of Pennsylvania and Maryland, which are different from that of Rhode Island. Theirs extends only to the estate which comes by descent; not like the one under which the defendant holds to the estate, which comes by gift or devise, as well as by descent. And one of those cases only goes to say that the estate by devise was not embraced by the proviso in the Maryland statute, relating to estates by descent; and that the estate by devise descended upon other principles.
Mr. Justice STORY delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case comes before us from the circuit court of Rhode Island, upon a certified division of opinion of the judges of that court, upon the question whether the plaintiff was entitled to recover upon a statement of facts incorporated into the record. The action was an ejectment for two-third parts of certain land described in the writ; and the title of the parties being by descent, depends altogether upon the true construction of the statute of descents of Rhode Island, of 1822. Accordingly as that statute shall be construed, the land now in controversy belongs to the plaintiff or the defendants.
The material facts are, that the estate (two-thirds of which are demanded in the writ) was devised by John Collins to his daughter Mary Collins in fee. Upon her death in 1806, the same descended to her three children, viz. John C. Gardner, George Gardner, and Mary C. Gardner. The two brothers died intestate and without issue; and Mary C. Gardner, as heir to her brothers, became seised of the whole estate, and died intestate and without issue, in December 1822. The defendants are the uncle and aunt of Mary C. Gardner, the intestate, of the whole blood; being children of John Collins, the devisor, and brother and sister of her mother, Mary Collins. The plaintiff is the brother of Mary C. Gardner, the intestate of the half blood; and he holds a conveyance of their shares from her other brothers and sisters of the half blood, they being children of her father by a former marriage. The plaintiff and his brothers and sisters of the half blood claim the two-thirds of the estate now in question, as her heirs of the half blood; and the defendants claim the same as her heirs of the whole blood. It is admitted on all sides, that the one-third which Mary C. Collins took by immediate descent from her mother, belongs to the heirs of the whole blood. But the other two-thirds, being taken by immediate descent from her brothers, it is contended that by the statute of 1822, it passes to her heirs of the half blood.
If this question had been settled by any judicial decision in the states where the land lies, we should, upon the uniform principles adopted by this Court, recognise that decision as a part of the local law. But it is admitted that no such decision has ever been made. If this had been an ancient statute, and a uniform course of professional opinion and practice had long prevailed in the interpretation of it, that would be respected as almost of equal authority. But no such opinion or practice has been known to prevail; and indeed, the statute itself is but of very recent origin. Even the statute of 1798; of which, in respect to this point, that of 1822 is almost a transcript, is not of a date so remote, as to enable us to presume that many cases could have arisen in that state, on which to found a practical construction, without some unequivocal evidence.
The most that has been urged is, that there has been some general understanding among the people, that such was the meaning of the statute; but even this, though very respectably attested, is encountered by equally respectable statements on the other side. We are driven therefore to consider the question as entirely new and unsettled; and to be decided not upon the mistakes of parties relative to their rights in one or two unadjudicated cases, even if they existed, but by the true construction of the statute itself.
The statute of 1822 enacts, that 'when any person having title to any real estate of inheritance shall die intestate as to such estate, it shall descend and pass in equal portions to his or her kindred in the following course, &c.' Among other clauses is the following, 'if there be no father, then to the mother, brothers and sisters of such intestate, and their descendants, or such of them as there be.' In the present case there was no father or mother of Mary C. Gardner, the intestate, living at the time of her decease; and as her brothers and sisters of the half blood are her brothers and sisters within the meaning of the statute, they would be entitled to the estate in question beyond all controversy; if there were no other disqualifying clause. But in a subsequent clause of the statute in the nature of a proviso, it is declared, that 'when the title to any estate of inheritance, as to which the person having such title shall die intestate, came by descent, gift, or devise from the parent or other kindred of the intestate, and such intestate die without children, such estate shall go to the kin next to the intestate of the blood of the person from whom such estate came or descended, if any there be.' The most material differences between the statute of 1798 and that of 1822, so far as regards this question is, that the words 'if any there be' are omitted in the former, which also uses the words 'next of kin to,' instead of 'kin next to.' Both of these circumstances have been relied on at the bar as indicating a probable change of intention. It is said that both acts admit of two readings, viz. 'to such of the next of kin of the intestate as are of the blood, &c.' or 'to the nearest of such of the kin of the intestate as are of the blood,' &c. The latter reading will give the estate to a remote relation of the intestate of the blood, although he be not of the next of kin of the intestate. The former reading requires that the party should be of the next of kin, (that being the primary intention), as well as of the blood; and therefore, if a person be not of the next of kin of the intestate, although he be of the blood, he cannot take; and the words of the act of 1822, 'if any there be,' are relied on to fortify the construction.
We think the legislative intention in both acts was the same; and that the transposition of the words 'next of kin' to 'kin next,' was accidental, and not introductory of any new object. The true construction of the statute of 1822 is, that it gives the estate to the next of kin of the intestate who are of the blood, excluding all others though of a nearer degree who are not of the blood, &c.
In this view of the clause, two questions have been argued at the bar. 1. Whether the words 'of the blood' include the half blood; or exclusively apply to the whole blood. 2. Whether the words 'came by descent, gift, or devise from the parent and other kindred of the intestate,' are limited to a proximate and immediate descent, gift, or devise from such parent, &c. to the intestate; or include a descent, gift, or devise which can be deduced mediately from or through any ancestor, however remote, who was the first purchaser to the intestate.
The first question has not been seriously pressed in this Court by the counsel for the defendants, though it constituted in the court below a main ground of argument. We think that the phrase 'of the blood' in the statute includes the half blood. This is the natural meaning of the word 'blood' standing alone, and unexplained by any context. A half brother or sister is of the blood of the intestate, for each of them has some of the blood of a common parent in his or her veins. A person is with the most strict propriety of language affirmed to be of the blood of another who has any, however small a portion, of the same blood derived from a common ancestor. In the common law, the word 'blood' is used in the same sense. Whenever it is intended to express any qualification, the word whole or half blood, is generally used to designate it, or the qualification is implied from the context on known principles of law. Thus, Littleton in his sixth section says, that none shall inherit 'as heir to any man, unless he be his heir of the whole blood; for if a man hath issue two sons by divers ventres, and the eldest purchase lands, &c. &c. the younger brother shall not have the land, &c. because the younger brother is but of the half blood to the elder.' The same distinction is found in section eighth of the same author; and Lord Coke in his commentary on the text constantly takes it. So Robinson, in his Treatise on Inheritances, 45, after laying down the rule, that the person who is to inherit must be of the whole blood to the person from whom he proximately and immediately inherits; adds, that he must also be of the blood of the first purchaser; but that it is sufficient to satisfy this that he is of the half blood of such purchaser. The legislation of Rhode Island leads to the same result as to the meaning of the word 'blood.' That colony was governed by the English law of descents from its first settlement until the year 1718, a period of more than half a century. By an act passed in 1718 the real estate of the intestate was divided among all his children, giving the eldest son a double share, &c.; and in default of issue, the same was distributable among the next of kin of the intestate, within equal degree, &c. This act was repealed in 1728, and the common law course of descents was revived and remained in force until 1770, when an act was passed, providing substantially for the same distribution as the act of 1718. It contained, however, this remarkable proviso, 'that no distribution of any real estate in consequence of this act, shall extend or be made in the collateral line beyond the brothers and sisters of such intestate and their children, and to those only of the whole blood.' In 1772 the act of 1770 was repealed in regard to the double share to the eldest son, but in other respects it remained in force until the revision in 1798, when the proviso that none should inherit in the collateral line except the whole blood was dropped; and there is not either in the act of 1798 or of 1822 any clause referring to the blood of any person as a stock of descent, except the very clause upon which the present questions arise. When, therefore, the distinction between the whole and half blood, was well known in the colony, not only as a part of the common law, but as a part of its own legislation, and the proviso is dropped in which the words 'whole blood' were studiously used; and the words 'of the blood' only, are found in any correspondent provision; it affords a strong presumption, that the whole blood were no longer deemed to be exclusively entitled to inherit, but that the half blood should be let in. If the half blood were not permitted to inherit in cases of this sort, this anomaly might occur; that a son might inherit from his parent the moiety of an estate directly, which he could not inherit from his brother of the half blood, to whom it has passed by descent from the same parent, if such brother should die without issue. We see no reason, then, to doubt, that the words 'of the blood,' include the half as well as the whole blood. The plaintiff, then, and those from whom he claims being the next of kin of the intestate(a), and of the blood of her two brothers(b), from whom she immediately derived that part of the estate which is now in controversy; is entitled to recover, unless the statute in the other part of the clause defeats the descent.
This leads us to the second question. The estate originally came from John Collins by devise to his daughter Mary Collins, and by descent from her to her three children, and mediately as to the two thirds to the intestate, through her brothers. The counsel for the plaintiff contends, that the elause looks only to the proximate and immediate descent; the counsel for the defendants, that it looks to the origin of the title in the first purchaser, and requires that the party claiming as heir, should be of the blood of the first purchaser, through whatever intermediate devolutions by descent, gift or devise it may have passed, and however remote may be the first ancestor. If the latter be the true construction of the clause it goes far beyond the common law, for that stopped at the last purchaser in the ancestral line, (and persons taking by devise or gift are deemed purchasers,) and ascended no higher than it could trace an uninterrupted course of descents. The common law, therefore, would have considered Mary Collins as the first purchaser for all its own purposes of descents. The words are, 'when the title to any real estate, &c. as to which the person having such title shall die intestate came by descent, gift or devise from the parent, or other kindred of the intestate,' &c. Now what reason is there to suppose that the legislature, in this clause, meant in favour 'of the blood of the person, from whom such estate came or descended,' to extend its reach beyond that of the common law? No such intention is disclosed on the face of the provision; and every progressive enactment, for the last fifty years in Rhode Island, is a relaxation of the strict canons of descent of the common law. The words themselves certainly do not necessarily require such an interpretation. As to descents, as well as gifts and devises from a parent, it is plain that the act looks only to the immediate descent or title. A descent from a parent to a child cannot be construed to mean a descent through and not from a parent. So a gift or devise from a parent must be construed to mean a gift or devise by the act of that parent; and not by that of some other ancestor more remote, passing through the parent. It has been urged, in another quarter entitled to great respect, that the words may be construed distributively; that a distinction may be taken between a descent, gift or devise, from a parent, and a descent, &c. from other kindred; and so, also, that the words descent, gift and devise may be construed distributively; so that in cases of descents, the party who shall inherit is to be of the blood of the first purchaser, from whom by intermediate descents it was passed to the intestate; and that, in cases of gifts or devises, the donor or devisor shall alone be the person whose blood is to be inquired for. It may be admitted, that the clause is susceptible of such a construction without any great violation of its terms. But we do not think, that such is the natural construction of the terms, nor is any legislative intention disclosed, which would justify us in adopting it. There does not seem any sound reason, why the clause should be construed in the case of a parent, differently from what it would be in the case of any 'other kindred of the intestate.' The latter words must be construed in the same manner as if each class of kindred had been enumerated in detail; such as uncles, brothers, grand-parents, cousins, &c. &c.; and if they had been, the same rule from the specific enumeration must have been applied to them, as is now sought to be applied to the case of parents. The general expression must be deemed to include all the particulars. Then, as to the distinction between descents, and gifts and devises.
It is true, that in a sense an estate may be said to come by descent, from a remote ancestor to a person, upon whom it has devolved through many intermediate descents. But this, if not loose language, is not that sense which is ordinarily annexed to the term. When an estate is said to have descended from A. to B., the natural and obvious meaning of the words is, that it is an immediate descent from A. to B. If other words of a statute should seem to require another and more enlarged meaning, there would be no absolute impropriety in adopting it; but if the true sense is to be sought from the very terms per se, that which is the usual sense would seem most proper to be followed. It is not for courts of justice to indulge in any latitude of construction, where the words do not materially justify it; and there is no express legislative intention to guide them. But we think, that the connexion in which the words stand, justify us in adhering to the ordinary interpretation. If in cases of gifts and devises, the blood of the proximate donor or devisor is alone to be regarded, there being no distinction pointed out in the words of the act, between those cases and that of descents; the very juxta position of the words affords a strong presumption, that the legislature intended to apply the same rule as to all. If the object was to regard the blood of the party, from whom the estate was derived; what reason is there to suppose that the legislature intended less regard to the blood of a devisor or donor, than to that of an ancestor? The mischief might be as great in suffering the estate to pass into the hands of strangers, when there were next of kin of the blood in the one case, as in the other. On the other hand, there might be solid reasons for confining the preference of blood to cases of immediate descents, which could be easily known and easily traced. One of the known inconveniences of tracing back titles and relationship, is the obscurity which at a small distance of time gathers over them. It would often be difficult to ascertain, whether there were not relations of a very distant stock, of the blood of a remote ancestor; who might be entitled to the inheritance, to the exclusion of the immediate next of kin of the intestate. And even the course of descents of his own title in a country, where estates are universally partible, for two or three generations; might involve the estate of the intestate in inextricable difficulties; and disable the next of kin from ascertaining, into what fragments it was to be subdivided with any reasonable certainty. It would be no want of wisdom, therefore, in a legislature to limit its provisions in favour of the blood, to cases where the immediate title could be traced with almost absolute certainty. Certainty of title, in a country where titles so rapidly change hands, might furnish a far safer principle of legislation, than any preference for the blood of persons remotely related to the intestate through some distant, and, perhaps, unknown ancestor. We think, then, that in the case of a gift or devise, the statute stops at the immediate donor or devisor, and ascends no higher for any blood. What reason is there to suppose, that in the case of a descent there was a different legislative intention? In the case of a parent, the parent is, by the very terms of the statute, made the sole stock of descent, whether he derived it by descent, or by gift, or devise, from an ancestor or a stranger. In the case at bar, the mother of the intestate took the estate by devise from her father. She was in by purchase; and in the sense of the common law, as first purchaser, and, of course, the true stock of descent, holding the estate ut feudum antiquum.
It has been said that the object was to preserve inheritances in the same family. To a limited extent this is true; that is, as far as the legislature has provided for such cases. No general declaration is made by the legislature on the subject; and no preamble, which discloses any leading intention, exists. What the legislative intention was, can be derived only from the words they have used; and we cannot speculate beyond the reasonable import of these words. The spirit of the act must be extracted from the words of the act, and not from conjectures aliunde. The common law carries back in certain cases, the descent to the heirs of the first purchaser. But the common law cannons of descents, are overturned by the statute of descents of Rhode Island. How then can we resort to the common law, to make up the supposed defects in the language of the statute? Here, there is not a causus omissus; but a complete scheme of descents; and the only question is, how much the proviso carves out and saves from the operation of the general rule. No such words as 'the first purchaser,' are to be found in the statute, though it is sufficiently technical in other respects; and what right can this Court possess, to exchange the words in this statute for the words, 'first purchaser,' when they are not equipollent in meaning or extent? If the legislature intended to set up anew the rule of the common law, as to descents, &c. from the first purchaser, it seems scarcely credible that it should have omitted the very phrase, considering that for a century at least it was a material ingredient in the law of descents of the colony. Then, again, if the argument now urged at this bar for the defendants, is well founded, it goes (as has been already stated) far beyond, and indeed to the overthrow of the common law on the very point of first purchasers. Indeed, at the common law, a man might sometimes inherit, who was of the whole blood of the intestate, who could not have inherited from the first purchaser. As in the case of a purchase by a son, who dies without issue, and his uncle inherits the same, and dies without issue, the father may inherit the same from the uncle, although he could not inherit from his own son(c). The statute of Rhode Island imparts to parents a right to inherit the real estates of their children, in cases where the latter die without issue.
The statutes of descents of the different states in the union, are so different in their provisions, that it is not easy to apply any general rule of construction to them. The cases cited at the bar, do however demonstrate, that in those states where a similar language is used in their statutes of descents, the expression has been uniformly construed to mean immediate descents, gifts and devises, unless that construction has been overruled by the context. The statute of Connecticut, of 1784, which has been supposed to be the model of that of Rhode Island, as to this proviso, is understood to have received this construction(d). Under words nearly similar, in the Virginia statute of 1792, (the words being, 'that where an infant shall die without issue, having title to any real estate as inheritance derived by gift, devise or descent from the father, &c.') it has been held that an immediate descent from the father, and not an intermediate descent was intended(e).
Upon the whole, our opinion is, that both points are in favour of the plaintiff. We all think that the words 'of the blood' comprehend all persons of the blood, whether of the whole or half blood; and that the words, 'come by descent, gift or devise, from the parent or other kindred, &c.' mean immediate descent, gift or devise, and make the immediate ancestor, donor or devisor, the sole stock of descent.
A certificate will accordingly be sent to the circuit court of Rhode Island, in favour of the plaintiff.
This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the circuit court of the United States, for the district of Rhode Island; and on the points on which the judges of the said circuit court were divided in opinion, and which were certified to this Court for its opinion; and was argued by counsel; on consideration whereof, it is ordered and adjudged by this Court, that it be certified to the said circuit court of the United States for the district of Rhode Island, that the plaintiff and those under whom he claims the estate in controversy, are heirs at law of Mary C. Gardner the intestate, and, as such heirs, are by the statute of descents of Rhode Island of (A. D. 1822), eighteen hundred and twenty-two, entitled to the same estate upon the facts agreed in the case, and that judgment ought to be given for the plaintiff in this cause; all which is ordered to be certified to the said circuit court.
See 3 Mason 398, for a report of the case below. It does appear, upon what points the judges were divided, or how the case got into this court.
See Smith vs. Tracey, 2 Mod. 204; Crook vs. Watts, 2 Vern. Rep. 124; S. C. Shower. Parl. Cases, 108.
See Cowner vs. Cowper, 2 Pecre Will. 720. 735; Collingwood vs. Pace, 1 Vent. 424; Watkins on Descents, 227, 228. [153.] note; Reeves on Descents, 176.
See Littleton, s. 3. and Co. Litt. 10. b. Litt. s. 8. Co. Litt. 14. b.
See Reeves on Descents, 160, &c.
1 Munf. Rep. 183. 3 Call. Rep. 120.