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Resources for Maine Public Officials & Dedimus Justices.

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An excerpt from:
Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society
By American Antiquarian Society
Published 1907

DEDIMUS JUSTICES
There is in the State of Maine an officer or an office which so far as I know is peculiar to this State. This Officer is called a Dedimus Justice. In the Statute book preceding 1903 the word "Dedimus" is not to be found, although the office has existed for many years, but in the Revised Statutes of Maine for 1903 page 57 Sec 39 is the following --

"The Governor, with the advice and consent of the Council may appoint in each County, persons before whom oaths required by the constitution to qualify civil officers may be taken and subscribed."
In the Index is found "Dedimus Justice" and a reference to this act; the word Dedimus nowhere appears in the text of the Statute. No one that I have found knows anything of its history. Its name clearly indicates an old law Latin writ beginning "Dedimus potestatem." Maine was a part of Massachusetts prior to 1820 but no such office is known in the jurisprudence of Massachusetts. Whether there was a Statute of this sort applicable to Maine alone before its erection into a State I have not ascertained, but one of the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court informs me that neither he nor one of his brethren whom he consulted knows anything of this office in Massachusetts. One of the Dedimus Justices has kindly allowed me to copy his commission which I give herewith.

STATE OF MAINE
To GEORGE O PLAISTED
Of York, Esquire

GREETING;

You are hereby authorized and empowered to administer and receive subscriptions to the Oaths or Affirmations prescribed by the Constitution of this State and a law of the United States of America to each and every of the Civil Officers in our County of York who have been or may be elected by the people or appointed and commissioned by our Governor with the advice and consent of our Council: and also to such persons as may be appointed to act as Deputy Sheriffs in our said County and to officers chosen by either branch of the Legislature. And you are to make return of your doings herein unto our Secretary's Office as soon as may be in all instances after you shall have executed said trust. In testimony whereof We have caused our seal to be hereunto affixed,

-- Witness Joshua L Chamberlain our said Governor by and with the advice and consent of our Council.

Given at Augusta this twenty-seventh day of February in the year of our Lord One thousand eight hundred and sixty seven and the ninety first year of the Independence of the United States of America.

By the Governor
EPHRAIM FLINT Secretary of State
Filed "Dedimus Potestatem Commission"

I do not understand that Dedimus Justices have any trial powers or even that they can take acknowledgment of deeds, or do other ministerial acts which are usually performed by Justices of the Peace. Their powers seem to be limited to administering oaths to civil officers.


The above was written several years since and laid aside but recently I have found in the Leavenworth Genealogy, page 158, that Dr. David Leavenworth of Great Barrington, took the oath of office as a Justice of the Peace before Moses Hopkins and Gen. John Whiting, thereunto empowered by a "Dedimus potestatem." This was June 18 1819 the year before Maine became a State.

Blackstone says, Vol 1 page 352--
"When any justice intends to act under this Commission (the King's commission to him as justice) he issues out a writ of dedimus potestatem from the clerk of the Crown in Chancery empowering certain persons therein named to administer the usual oaths to him, which done, he is at liberty to act."

So it appears that, in the earlier days, Massachusetts which included Maine, copied this usage from England, and that in Maine they issued the writ to persons who might at any time be applied to, to administer the oath rather than have an application necessary on each particular occasion.

So the whole question appears to be answered. Still so far as I know, Maine is the only State which retains this office or custom. In most, if not all, of the other States any magistrate or notary has the power to administer an oath of office.

FREDERICK J KINGSBURY


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