Legacy Of Stephen Girard


And argument is persuasive: our law is an adversary proceeding, with each adversary seeking to persuade the court that his opinion should prevail. Each lawyer is looking more for advantage than for j ustice; it is up to the j udge to arrive if not at j ustice, at least at a modus vivendi . In the Girard case, an argument for one fundamental legal principle was eventually held to be more persuasive than an argument for another, and it seems fair to suppose that if the case had come before the courts fifty years ago, its conclusion would have been quite different. As a result of the Girard case, it would now appear that a man’s prejudices are no longer a part of his liberty; a more positive construction of this might be to say that no man is free except within the context of his responsibility to others.

However long this will continue to be true remains to be seen. As the Girard case implies, a principle that seems liberating one day may be seen as restrictive tomorrow, and if a man is free only with respect to his responsibility to others, all would seem to depend upon who the others are.