History and Background of Code Revision

When colonial Maryland declared its independence from England in 1776, the founders of the new State were faced with the challenge of deciding what body of law would exist within its borders.  Were the founders willing to abide by the body of law that had been created by or that was based on the statutes that had been enacted by the British parliament over the course of the millennia before the American colonies were established?  Were the founders willing to accept any part of that law, and, if so, what part?  Should those laws be rewritten into the new law of the State or simply incorporated by reference?  The Maryland Constitution of 1776, the State’s first constitution, answered that question by including a provision (then numbered as Section 3) in the Declaration of Rights of that document that provided that the State’s citizens were entitled “to the benefits of such of the English statutes, as existed at the time of their first emigration, and which by experience have been found applicable to their local and other circumstances, and of such others as have been since made in England, or Great Britain, and have been introduced, used, and practiced by the courts of law or equity; and also to all acts of assembly in force on the first of June [1774], except such as may have since expired, or may be altered by acts of Convention or this Declaration of Rights.”


Unfortunately, in the words of Thomas Jefferson in 1785, the British statutes, particularly the Acts of Parliament that had been more recently enacted in that era, because “[of] their verbosity, their endless tautologies, the involutions of case within case, and parenthesis within parenthesis, and their multiplied efforts at certainty, by ‘saids’ and ‘aforesaids’, by ‘ors’ and by ‘ands’, to make them more plain, [were] really rendered more perplexed and incomprehensible, not only to common readers, but to the  lawyers themselves.”


But beyond that, there was the question of where those laws were to be found so that the citizens of the new State might be informed as to what they encompassed.  Simply put, they were virtually impossible to find because there was no compilation of them in any format.  As a result, the provision in Section 3 of the Declaration of Rights that applied the British statutes to the new State was not particularly helpful because it did not provide any ability to determine, in more precise terms, just what statutes were really in force.


In 1794, the General Assembly, with some ambivalence, authorized the first effort at the creation of a code of laws for the State.  The initiative for such a code came from the House of Delegates, which had adopted a resolution complaining that the laws of the State were “from a variety of causes, confused, uncertain and contradictory,” and commenting that “[a] proper revision of [them] might greatly tend to the security and preservation of the lives, liberty and property, of the good people of this state.”  The State Senate, however, refused to go along with the House resolution, and instead agreed to a much more limited approach, namely, a report on which English statutes were in force.


Fortunately, interest in the development of something closer to a real code did not wane, and compilations of the statutes applicable to Maryland were undertaken, at legislative initiative, a couple of times very late in the 18th century and many times during the 19th century.


In 1888 a complete, bulk revision of the statutory law of the State was adopted by statute by the legislature as the actual law of Maryland.  The 1888 Code was prepared by John Prentiss Poe, a Baltimore attorney who later became the Attorney General of Maryland and was a second cousin, once removed, of author and poet Edgar Allen Poe.  John Poe began his work on the revision of the code just two years before its adoption, having been designated in 1886 by legislative act as official “Codifier.”  All subsequent revisions of the 1888 Code have merely been “legalized” by the General Assembly and declared to be evidence of the law, not the law itself.  In 1911, references or annotations citing Maryland appellate cases and U.S. Supreme Court and other federal cases, were inserted into that code, for the first time – thus it became known as the Annotated Code of Maryland.  Technically, the 1888 Code still constitutes the actual law of Maryland except to the extent it has been amended, added to, or repealed.


In 1939, Dr. Horace Flack, who was the first director of the State Department of Legislative Reference, an agency created in 1916 to assist the General Assembly during its sessions, published an updated code, followed by another update he published in 1951.  The Michie Company, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, purchased Dr. Flack’s copyright following his death, and in 1957, the company published what is still the most recently legalized version of the Annotated Code.


However, over the course of the legalization of new editions of the Annotated Code following the 1888 revision, which had been arranged by sequentially numbered articles from 1 through 101 in alphabetical order without any rational, overall topical treatment of the material, the code became more disjointed and irrational because of the creation of numbered articles with a capital A, a capital B, etc. following the article number or, in a few instances, with the fraction ½, that were inserted between the purely numbered articles.  For example, Article 64A – Merit System was created to follow an existing Article 64 – Merger; Article 2B – Alcoholic Beverages was created to follow an existing Article 2 – Agents and Factors; and Article 66 ½ – Vehicle Laws was created to follow Article 66 – Mortgages and was succeeded by Article 66A – Moving Pictures.  To make matters more troublesome, some of the articles were extremely long, while others were very short (e.g., Article 66C – Natural Resources had some 800 sections in it, while Article 3 – Aliens had only one section, which had a mere five lines.  In addition, by 1970, nineteen of the numbered articles in the 1957 Michie Code had become vacant through repeal or incorporation into other articles.


 Aside from the irrational organization of the Annotated Code, there had been no real examination of the laws themselves since 1888.  Many of the sections were very long and convoluted, with many provisions in some articles being inconsistent with provisions in other articles, while other provisions were internally inconsistent.