Virginia had a government of dual legislative authorities in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Under the transatlantic const itution- an evolving framework of legal relations within England's empire- both the Crown and the General Assembly had jurisdiction to prescribe laws for the colony. The Crown occasionally required Virginians to enforce acts of Parliament, but for the most part the imperial government allowed colonists to deviate from the metropolitan model and enact legislation tailored to their own needs, provided they refrained from passing statutes contrary or repugnant to English law. Instead of delineating separate spheres of imperial and provincial legislative power, the transatlantic constitution struck a workable balance between local autonomy and central control. "If modern American law has longed for theoretical, logical, and conceptual consistency over doctrines and institutions," Mary Sarah Bilder has observed, "transatlantic legal culture valued a certain pragmatism and flexibility."
This essay explores the principal ways in which the pragmatic makers of transatlantic legal culture introduced English statutes into Virginia's legal system during the later Stuart period (1660-1714). The first section discusses the extension of English statutes to Virginia, an exercise of the royal prerogative that projected particular acts of Parliament beyond the realm of England and imposed them on the king's subjects overseas. The second section examines the accretion of English statutes to Virginia's corpus juris, a voluntary process of adoption, incorporation, and application that gradually added a variety of parliamentary acts to the body of laws that Virginians willingly enforced. The third section describes Virginians' efforts to acquire up-to-date parliamentary statute books to help them keep abreast of legal developments at "home" in England and govern their colonial communities in conformity with current English law.
John Ruston Pagan, English Statutes in Virginia, 1660-1714, in "Esteemed Bookes of Lawe" and the Legal Culture of Early Virginia (Warren M. Billings & Brent Tarter eds., 2017).