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The Connection between Roman principles and American principles

Updated on August 20, 2011

Many of us have seen movies about Roman society but none of them touched on the subject of the basic principles upon which Roman society was based. It basically had four principles upon which Roman citizens lived and expected. Several of these principles have a connection to principles upon which our society is based. Some have a direct connect and others have an indirect connection.

One of the principles involved the rights of their citizens to receive equal treatment under the law. This is something we expect from our judicial system and in fact the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution has within the content an equal protection clause. This clause requires each state to provide equal protection to all citizens within its jurisdiction. This clause has another connection to our principles in that it is a professed commitment to the proposition that “all men are created equal”. It empowered the judiciary to enforce this principle against the states.

Another principle of Roman society included the right that a person was considered innocent until proven guilty. This principle is one upon which our judicial system has operated for years and is something we expect as a citizen of the United States. This principle is not directly included in our Constitution but the intent seems to be covered in the Fifth Amendment. The language basically requires that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law”. The language in this amendment has come to mean that the prosecution in a criminal case must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The decision makers in these trials can be a jury or a judge. In either case they must evaluate the evidence presented and determine if the prosecution has proven its case to bring a judgment of guilty. In addition the principle of innocent until proven guilty is also engrained in our judicial system for civil trials and small claims cases. In both of the burden of proof rest with the accuser or the person who has brought the suit.

The last basic principle of Roman law involved the fact that any law that seemed unreasonable or grossly unfair could be set aside. While this principle is something that is not part of our legal system laws that are unpopular often get repealed through petitions by citizens to place the issue on an election ballot. In terms of Congressional legislation laws which did not have the intent as written are often reversed. This is accomplished by either revoking the legislation or revising it in another to address the unintended consequences. In both these instances the principles of setting aside laws that are unreasonable or unfair implement this principle of Roman law.

The laws we have today and the principles of Roman law have a direct relation to the manner in which our legal system was created. We as a society developed our legal system as a result of the influence of laws of an empire which is no more. The impact of the principles presented is not restricted to our society but can be visibly seen in other countries such as England. Those who came to this country when it began learned from the laws in place from where they came not realizing the impact the Roman Empire had on them. Our society is often impacted by events which have long past and we may never know from where the impact began. We can learn much from other countries when there are good examples and we can also learn from bad examples to ensure the mistakes made are not repeated. History is a great teacher we only must listen and understand how history has shaped countries all over the world including ours.


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