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What that book really contains

So The Legal Genealogist continues the task of poking around in old Arizona statutes in anticipation of Saturday’s 2019 Seminar of the West Valley Genealogical Society.

I know, I know… it’s a tough job leaving the east coast ice and snow behind to head off to spring-like temperatures, but somebody has to do it.

And there online, at Internet Archive, is the very first set of session laws ever passed by the very first Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Arizona.1

The inside cover page of the volume says the session began on 26 September 1864, and ended on 10 November, and was held at Prescott,2 the second territorial capital.3

Arizona session laws

And I was about to turn the page when it hit me.

Acts. Resolutions. Memorials.

What exactly is the difference between and among those three?

Turning to my friend and yours Henry Campbell Black, we find that an act is defined, in legislation, as “a written law, formally ordained or passed by the legislative power of a state, called in England an ‘act of parliament,’ and in the United States an ‘act of congress,’ or of the ‘legislature;’ a statute.”4

The definition also explains that: “Acts are either public or private. Public acts (also called general acts, or general statutes, or statutes at large) are those which relate to the community generally, or establish a universal rule for the governance of the whole body politic. Private acts … are those which relate either to particular persons (personal acts) or to particular places, (local acts,) or which operate only upon specified individuals or their private concerns.”5

So when that First Legislative Assembly decided to require all grants and deeds for lands within the Territory to be recorded in the office of the recorder of the county in which they were located6 — for which genealogists can be eternally grateful — that was a public act. And when it granted Elliott Coues a divorce from his wife Sarah Richardson because “there is no law of divorce existing in this Territory,”7 that was a private act.

A resolution is a determination of the “opinion or intention, of a deliberative or legislative body” and, in legislative practice, the term is “usually employed to denote the adoption of a motion, the subject-matter of which would not properly constitute a statute; such as a mere expression of opinion; an alteration of the rules; a vote of thanks or of censure, etc.”8

So it was a resolution when the Legislative Assembly tendered its thanks to John N. Goodwin, Governor of the Territory, “for the valuable service he has rendered the various committees of both Houses, in the preparation of the laws, for his uniform and generous courtesy to the members, and for his active interest in all that pertains to the prosperity of the Territory.”9

And a memorial is a “document presented to a legislative body, or to the executive, by one or more individuals, containing a petition or a representation of facts.”10

So when that First Legislative Assembly wanted Congress to pass an act taking land from the State of California and annexing it to the Territory of Arizona — and asking California to go along with the idea — to provide the territory with a commercial landing-place on the lower Colorado River,11 that was a memorial.

Acts. Resolutions. Memorials.

There you have it.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The difference in the laws,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 13 Feb 2019).


  1. Acts, Resolutions and Memorials, Adopted by the First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Arizona (Prescott : Arizona Miner, official paper, 1865); digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 12 Feb 2019). It’s online at Google Books, too, but I found it first on Internet Archive.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Fort Whipple was the first. See “Capitals of the Arizona Territory,” Pima Blogs, posted 9 Dec 2014, Pima Public Library ( : accessed 13 Feb 2019).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 21, “act.”
  5. Ibid.
  6. “An Act Concerning Grants and Deeds for Lands,” 7 Nov 1864, in Acts, Resolutions and Memorials, Adopted by the First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Arizona, 39.
  7. “An Act for the Benefit of Elliott Coues,” 24 Oct 1864, ibid. at 20.
  8. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 1033, “resolution.”
  9. “Concurrent Resolution Tendering Thanks to His Excellency John N. Goodwin, Governor of the Territory,” in Acts, Resolutions and Memorials, Adopted by the First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Arizona, 69.
  10. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 766, “memorial.”
  11. Memorial Asking that the Tract of Land in the Bend of the Colorado River opposite Fort Yuma be attached to the Territory of Arizona, 3 Nov 1864, in Acts, Resolutions and Memorials, Adopted by the First Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Arizona, 75-76.
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