A couple of decades ago I read an allegation in a book that seemed generally not reliable, and whose title I don't remember, and I wonder whether it can be corroborated.

"Everybody knows" (but is it true?) that the states originally making up the U.S.A. inherited English common law (e.g. criminal defendants are innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt).

In 1792 the part of Virginia that is west of the mountains became the state of Kentucky. (The consent of the legislature of Virginia to that separation had actually been passed three times.)

It was alleged that a member of the legislature of Kentucky mentioned something about English common law, and a colleague who had never heard of it was appalled to learn that English laws apply in Kentucky after Americans had fought a war to get rid of the rule of Britain. He introduced a bill to repeal it, which ultimately failed to pass, after some argument.

Did that actually happen?

  • 1
    Sounds like a question for Skeptics SE.
    – Spencer
    Jan 1 at 21:14
  • That’sa pretty dubious definition given here of “common law”, to my eyes. Jan 1 at 21:18
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    @TylerDurden : It's (obviously) not a definition at all and not intended to be a definition. Look up "e.g." You need to know what "e.g." means. What was given was an example of English common law. Jan 1 at 23:25
  • Ok, fair enough. Jan 2 at 3:13

1 Answer 1


IANAL, however

Limitations. A law published December 28, 1788, 49 limited the time for commencing specified common law actions, and for prosecution of specified crimes. Referring to this act in 1833 Salmon P. Chase stated:

"This law was disapproved by congress, May 8, 1792 .... Another law on the same subject was adopted in 1795, .. , which was repealed by the territorial legislature, as unconstitutional, in 1799 .... The territorial legislature probably supposed the law of 1795, to be repugnant to the clause in the constitution and in the ordinance in relation to the obligation of contracts." 330 MICHIGAN LAW REVIEW Vol. 60

seems like it might have inspired this legend.

later in Michigan Law review,,

Need for supplanting the English common law was pointed out by Parsons and Varnum in a letter to St. Clair dated July 31, 1788:53

"Were we to be confined for any length of time to the principles of the common law, we are fearful of very precarious consequences. The common law, as adopted in the States, while colonies, entered essentially into the principles of monarchial government, and therefore can not, with propriety, be applied here."

  • 1
    A statute of limitations limiting the time for filing criminal or civil suits under common law doesn't come anywhere near being a general repeal of common law. Jan 2 at 5:40

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