I have discovered an excellent explanation as to why English common law can not be the basis of the Federal govt.
The explanation is found in the Appendix to “Correspondence between George Nicholas Esq. of Kentucky, and the Hon. Robert G. Harper of South Carolina, on the subject of the Alien and Sedition Laws, 1798”
The Appendix is titled, “Observations of Judge Addisons Charge to the Grand Jury On the Liberty-of-the-Press”
Here, heavily paraphrased, is the thrust of the argument:
Could the common law of England become part of the law of the United States by its being part of the law of each of the states, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution?
Although this would be giving efficacy to the inferior instead of the superior, let it be considered.
The law of each state prior to the adoption of the Constitution consisted of the common law of England, the state constitution, and the acts of the state legislature.
The common law of England then was only one of three pillars on which the law of each state was built. It was also the weakest of the three; because it ceased to have any efficacy as law as soon as it was clearly contradicted by either of the others.
If the common law became a part of the law of the United States, because it was part of the law of the individual state, the other two parts of the law of those states must also become a part of the law of the United States, and for the same reason.
But it may be said that these other two parts of the law of each state were dissimilar in the different states, and therefore could not become a part of the law of the United States; whereas the common law of England, in every state being the same, it might become the common law of the United States.
Is the common law of England in every state the same?
The acts of the British parliament are in force in the different states up to different periods; in some to the reign of one king, in others to that of a different king.
Thus the common law of England would be different in these two states.
But the great difference which has been made in the common law in the different states, has proceeded from the changes which have been made in it, by the acts of all the legislatures of the different states, from the time of their first settlement.
Not only is the common law of England different among the states, each state legislature has altered it in different ways; thus the common law of the various states is in no way uniform.
The common law being materially different in all the sates, how can there be any common law in the United States? How shall it be determined which of the states shall be considered as the standard, so far as to make their common law, the common law of the United States? Shall it be a majority of the states; or shall it be those states which contain a majority of the people of the United States? &c &c
Incorporation of the common law into the Federal govt is impracticable.
Has the common law of England been declared to be a part of the law of the United States by the Constitution?
The constitution declares, that “this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made or which shall be made under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.”
The common law of England has not been declared to be a part of the law of the United States by the Constitution.
Therefore, in no way can the Federal govt. be said to be based on, or to have incorporated, the common law of England.
The relevant pages of the original document, as well as a transcript from those images, is available at scribd:
Or go to the Library of Congress