United States v. Hartwell

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United States v. Hartwell, 6 Wall. 385 (1868), was an early decision by the U.S. Supreme Court emphasizing that statutory interpretation should rely on the text of a law before attempting to construe and underlying meaning. In other words, this is an early authority for textualism.

The Court declared the basic principle of what later became modern textualism as follows:[1]

If the language be clear it is conclusive. There can be no construction where there is nothing to construe.

Note, however, that this opinion did also repeatedly invoke the concept of legislative intent, which does suggest going beyond the text of the law.


  1. 6 Wall. at 396.