Deliberate Speed

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Sun Nov 23 00:24:15 UTC 2008

Did Safire not mention the usages of "deliberate speed" by Walter Scott in 1817 and Lord Byron in 1819?  Both of these were probably inspired by legal usage, although no one has found any usages in legal texts prior to the 1844 case discovered by me while compiing the Yale Book of Quotations.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Baker, John [JMB at STRADLEY.COM]
Sent: Saturday, November 22, 2008 12:19 PM
Subject: Deliberate Speed

Safire's On Language column tomorrow discusses Obama's recent statement "I want to move with all deliberate haste," an obvious reference to the "deliberate speed" of Brown v. Board of Education.  Safire says that, years ago, researching the phrase for his political dictionary, he sought the help of Justice Potter Stewart, who found it in a 1912 decision by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes drawing on English chancery law.

The case found by Potter is apparently the 1911 case of Virginia v. West Virginia, 222 U.S. 17, 19 - 20 (1911), where Holmes wrote: "A question like the present should be disposed of without undue delay. But a state cannot be expected to move with the celerity of a private business man; it is enough if it proceeds, in the language of the English chancery, with all deliberate speed."

I haven't checked the English chancery cases, but there is at least one much earlier American usage.  In an 1844 case from the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Mississippi, dealing with the much-delayed distribution of the estate of a man who died in 1831, Murdock v. Washburn, 1 Smedes & M. 546 (Miss. 1844), the court wrote:  "The statutes of this State, bearing upon the estates of decedents and the probate court, encourage a final settlement of such property with all deliberate speed.  While delay might operate advantageously in an individual instance, as a rule, it would trench seriously upon the rights of heirs and distributees."

John Baker

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