Some legal verbiage...
Posted by The Mysterious H.C. on March 28, 1998 at 12:11:37:
In response to "Femme couvert"? - someone help me out here!, written by Carolyn B on March 28, 1998 at 06:36:35
Carolyn B -- "Femme Covert" meant that for most purposes the legal individuality (or "personality") of the wife was subsumed into that of the husband (see the definition from Blackstone's Commentaries below).
I found some definitions from an 1856 Pennsylvania law dictionary on-line ( it seems to be vey much grounded in older British law, with some then-recent new developments), and it doesn't seem this doctrine prevented married women from being legal witnesses in any case whatsoever; what it did prevent was the wife testifying on behalf of the husband, since it was assumed that she was under the husband's influence, and would be obligated by her marrriage vows etc. to say whatever the husband wanted. As for preventing wives from testifying against their husbands, or huisbands from testifying on behalf of wives, there are various rationalizations given...
"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing and is therefore called in our law-French a feme-covert." William Blackstone (1723 - 1780) Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765
WITNESS. One who, being sworn or affirmed, according to law, deposes as to his knowledge of facts in issue between the parties in a cause.
12. - 1. Husband and wife. The reason for excluding them from giving evidence, either for or against each other, is founded partly on their identity of interest, partly on a principle of public policy which deems it necessary to guard the security and confidence of private life, even at the risk of an occasional failure of justice. They cannot be witnesses for each other because their interests are absolutely the same; they are not witnesses against each other, because it is against the policy of marriage. Co. Litt. 6, b; 2 T. R. 265, 269; 6 Binn. 488. This is the rule when either is a party to a civil suit or action.
13. But where one of them, not being a party, is interested in the result, there is a distinction between the giving evidence for and against the other. It is an invariable rule that neither of them is a witness for the other who is interested in the result, and that where the husband is disqualified by his interest, the wife is also incompetent. 1 Ld. Raym. 744; 2 Str. 1095; 1 P. Wms. 610.
14. On the other hand, where the interest of the husband, consisting in a civil liability, would not have protected him from examination, it seems that the wife must also answer, although the effect may be to subject her husband to an action. This case differs very materially from those where the husband himself could not have been examined, either because he was a party or because he would criminate himself. The party to whom the testimony of the wife is essential, has a legal interest in her evidence; and as he might insist on examining the husband, it would, it seems, be straining the rule of policy too far to deprive him of the benefit of the wife's testimony. In an action for goods sold and delivered, it has been held that the wife of a third person is competent to prove that the credit was given to her husband. 1 Str. 504; B. N. P. 287. See 1 H. & M. 154; 11 Mass. 286; 1 Har. & J. 478; 1 Tayl. 9; 6 Binn. 488; 1 Yeates; 390, 534.
15. When neither of them is either a party to the suit, nor interested in the general result, the husband or wife is, it seems, competent to prove any fact, provided the evidence does not directly criminate, or tend to criminate, the other. 2 T. R. 263.
16. It has been held in Pennsylvania that the deposition of a wife on her death-bed, charging her husband with murdering her, was good evidence against him, on his trial for murder. Addis. 332. On an indictment for a conspiracy in inveigling a young girl from her mother's house, and she being intoxicated, procuring the marriage ceremony to be recited between her and one of the de- fendants, the girl is a competent witness to prove the facts. 2 Yeates, 114.
17. See, as to the competency of a wife de facto, but not de jure, Stark. Ev, pt. 4, p. 711. And on an indictment for forcible entry, the wife of the prosecutor was examined as a witness to prove the force, but only the force. 1 Dall. 68.
18. The civil effects of marriage are the following: 1. It confirms all matrimonial agreements between the parties.
19. - 2. It vests in the husband all the personal property of the wife, that which is in possession absolutely, and choses in action, upon the condition that he shall reduce them to possession; it also vests in the husband right to manage the real estate of the wife, and enjoy the profits arising from it during their joint lives, and after her death, an estate by the curtesy when a child has been born. It vests in the wife after the husband's death, an estate in dower in the husband's lands, and a right to a certain part of his personal estate, when he dies intestate. In some states, the wife now retains her separate property by statute.
20. - 3. It creates the civil affinity which each contracts towards the relations of the other.
21. - 4. It gives the husband marital authority over the person of his wife.
22. - 5. The wife acquires thereby the name of her husband, as they are considered as but one, of which he is the head: erunt duo in carne unÉ.
23. - 6. In general, the wife follows the condition of her husband.
24. - 7. The wife, on her marriage, loses her domicil and gains that of her husband.
MARITAL. That which belongs to marriage; as marital rights, marital duties.
2. Contracts made by a feme sole with a view to deprive her intended husband of his marital rights, with respect to her property, are a fraud upon him, and may be set aside in equity. By the marriage, the husband assumes the duty of paying her debts, contracted previous to the coverture, and of supporting her during its existence; and he cannot, therefore, be fraudulently deprived, by the intended wife, of those rights which enable him to perform the duties which attach to him. 2 Cha. R. 42; Newl. Contr. 424; 1 Vern. 408; 2 Vern. 17; 2 P. Wms. 357, 674; 2 Bro. C. C. 345; 1 Ves. jr. 22; 2 Cox, R. 28; 2 Beav. 528; 2 Ch. R. 81; White's. L. C. in Eq. *277; 1 Hill, Ch. R. 1, 4; 13 Maine, R. 124; 1 McMull. Eq. R. 237 3 Iredell's Eq. R. 487; 4 Wash. C. C. R. 224.
WIFE, domestic relations. A woman who has a husband.
2. A wife, as such, possesses rights and is liable to obligations. These will be considered. 1st. She may make contracts for the purchase of real estate for her own benefit, unless her husband expressly dissents. 6 Binn. R. 427. And she is entitled to a legacy directly given to her for her separate use. 6 Serg. & Rawle, R. 467. In some places, by statutory provision, she may act as a feme sole trader, and as such acquire personal property. 2 Serg. & Rawle, R. 289.
3. 2d. She may in Pennsylvania, and in most other states, convey her interest in her own or her husband's lands by deed acknowledged in a form prescribed by law. 8 Dowl. R. 630.
4. - 3d. She is under obligation to love, honor and obey her husband and is bound to follow him wherever he may desire to establish himself: 5 N. S. 60; (it is presumed not out of the boundaries of the United States,) unless the husband, by acts of injustice and such as are contrary to his marital duties, renders her life or happiness insecure.
5. - 4th. She is not liable for any obligations she enters into to pay money on any contract she makes, while she lives with her husband; she is presumed in such case to act as the agent of her husband. Chitty, Contr. 43
6. - 5th. The incapacities of femes covert, apply to their civil rights, and are intended for their protection and interest. Their political rights stand upon different grounds, they can, therefore, acquire and lose a national char- acter. These rights stand upon the general principles of the law of nations. Harp. Eq. R. 5 3 Pet. R. 242.
7. - 6th. A wife, like all other persons, when she acts with freedom, may be punished for her criminal acts. But the law presumes, when she commits in his presence a crime, not malum in se, as murder or treason, that she acts by the command and coercion of her husband, and, upon this ground, she is exempted from punishment. Rose. on Cr. Ev. 785. But this is only a presumption of law, and if it appears, upon the evidence, that she did not in fact commit the act under compulsion, but was herself a principal actor and inciter in it, she may be punished. 1 Hale, P. C. 516; 1 Russ. on Cr. 16, 20. Vide Contract; Divorce; Husband; Incapacity; Marriage; Necessaries; Parties to actions; Parties to contracts; Women and, generally, Bouv. Inst. Index,
2. This word is frequently used in law. Baron and feme, hushand and wife; feme covert, a. married woman; feme sole, a single woman.
3. A feme covert, is a married woman. A feme covert may sue and be sued at law, and will be treated as a feme sole, when the hushand is civiliter mortuus. Bac. Ab. Baron and Feme, M; see article, Parties to Actions, part 1, section l, 7, n. 3; or where, as it has been decided in England, he is an alien and has left the country, or has never been in it. 2 Esp. R. 554; 1 B. & P. 357. And courts of equity will treat a married woman as a, feme sole, so as to enable her to sue or be sued, whenever her hushand has abjured the realm, been transported for felony, or is civilly dead. And when she has a separate property, she may sue her hushand in respect of such property, with the assist ance of a next friend of her own selection. Story, Eq. Pl. 61; Story, Eq . Jur. 1368; and see article, Parties to a suit in equity, 1, n. 2; Bouv. Inst. Index, h. t.
4. Coverture subjects a woman to some duties and disabilities, and gives her some rights and immunities, to which she would not be entitled as a feme sole. These are considered under the articles, Marriage, (q. v.) and Wife. (q. v.)
5. A feme sole trader, is a married woman who trades and deals on her own account, independently of her hushand. By the custom of London, a feme covert, being a sole trader, may sue and be sued in the city courts, as a feme sole, with reference to her transactions in London. Bac. Ab. Baron and Feme, M.
6. In Pennsylvania, where any mariners or others go abroad, leaving their wives at shop-keeping, or to work for their livelihood at any other trade, all such wives are declared to be feme sole traders, with ability to sue and be sued, without naming the hushands. Act of February 22, 1718. See Poth. De la Puissance du Mari, n. 20.
7. By a more recent act, April 11, 1848, of the same state, it is provided, that in all cases where debts may be contracted for necessaries for the support and maintenance of the family of any married woman, it shall be lawful for the creditor, in such case, to institute suit against the hushand and wife for the price of such necessaries, and after obtaining a judgment, have an execution against the hushand alone and if no property of the said hushand be found, the officer executing the said writ shall so return, and thereupon an alias execution may be issued, which may be levied upon and satisfied out of the separate property of the wife, secured to her under the provisions of the first section of this act. Provided, That judgment shall not be rendered against the wife, in such joint action, unless it shall have be proved that the debt sued for in such action, was contracted by the wife, or incurred for articles necessary for the support of the family of the said hushand and wife.
WOMEN, persons. In its most enlarged sense, this word signifies all the females of the human species; but in a more restricted sense, it means all such females who have arrived at the age of puberty. Mulieris appellatione etiam virgo viri potens continetur. Dig. 50, 16, 13.
2. Women are either single or married. 1. Single or unmarried women have all the civil rights of men; they may therefore enter into contracts or engagements; sue and be sued; be trustees or guardians, they may be witnesses, and may for that purpose attest all papers; but they are generally, not possessed of any political power; hence they cannot be elected representatives of the people, nor be appointed to the offices of judge, attorney at law, sheriff, constable, or any other office, unless expressly authorized by law; instances occur of their being appointed post-mistresses nor can they vote at any election. Wooddes. Lect. 31; 4 Inst. 5; but see Callis, Sew. 252; 2 Inst 34; 4 Inst. 311, marg.
3. - 2. The existence of a married woman being merged, by a fiction of law, in the being of her husband, she is rendered incapable, during the coverture, of entering into any contract, or of suing or being sued, except she be joined with her husband; and she labors under all the incapacities above mentioned, to which single women are subject. Vide Abortion; Contract; Divorce; Feminine; Foetus; Gender; Incapacity; Man; Marriage; Masculine; Mother; Necessaries; Parties to Actions Parties to Contracts; Pregnancy; Wife.
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