The dean of the University of Michigan Law School was Thomas Cooley, who died Sept. 12, 1898.
Thomas Cooley was chief justice of Michigan’s Supreme Court, president of the American Bar Association and the first chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission. His commentaries were influential in shaping American law.
He declined offers to teach at Hastings College of Law, University of Texas, Johns Hopkins University, Boston Law School, University of Pennsylvania and Cornell Law School.
In “Constitutional Limitations,” eighth Edition, Volume 2, p. 966, 974, Thomas Cooley stated: “While thus careful to establish, protect, and defend religious freedom and equality, the American constitutions contain no provisions which prohibit the authorities from such solemn recognition of a superintending Providence in public transactions and exercises as the general religious sentiment of mankind inspires, and as seems meet and proper in finite and dependent beings.”
Cooley continued: “Whatever may be the shades of religious belief, all must acknowledge the fitness of recognizing in important human affairs the superintending care and control of the great Governor of the Universe, and of acknowledging with thanksgiving His boundless favors, of bowing in contrition when visited with the penalties of His broken laws.”
In his “General Principles of Constitutional Law,” 1890, Thomas Cooley wrote: “It was never intended by the Constitution that the government should be prohibited from recognizing religion, or that religious worship should never be provided for in cases where a proper recognition of Divine Providence in the working of government might seem to require it, and where it might be done without drawing an invidious distinction between religious beliefs, organizations, or sects.”
Thomas Cooley continued: “The Christian religion was always recognized in the administration of the common law of the land, the fundamental principles of that religion must continue to be recognized in the same cases and to the same extent as formerly.”
James H. Landman, director of community programs for the American Bar Association Division for Public Education in Chicago, wrote in “Trying Beliefs: The Law of Cultural Orthodoxy and Dissent” (published in Insights on Law and Society, American Bar Association Division for Public Education, Winter 2002, Vol. 2, No. 2): “For most of our history, the majority of Americans have practiced some form of Christian Protestantism. … In 1925 … public schools … still played a significant role in inculcating Anglo-Protestant moral values.”
Signer of the Constitution Gouverneur Morris wrote: “Americans need never fear their government because of the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.”
Thomas Cooley stated of the Second Amendment: “The right is general. It may be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been explained elsewhere, consists of those persons who, under the law, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon. … If the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of the guarantee might be defeated altogether by the action or the neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check. The meaning of the provision undoubtedly is, that the people, from whom the militia must be taken, shall have the right to keep and bear arms, and they need no permission or regulation of law for that purpose.”
Thomas Cooley wrote in People v. Hurlbut (24 Mich. 44, 108 (1871): “Local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot take it away.”
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