(Ref: John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and the Several States of the American Union, Childs & Peterson, c1856.)
EQUITY. In the early history of the law, the sense affixed to this word was exceedingly vague and uncertain. This was owing, in part, to the fact, that the chancellors of those days were either statesmen or ecclesiastics, perhaps not very scrupulous in the exercise of power. It was then asserted that equity was bounded by no certain limits or rules, and that it was alone controlled by conscience and natural justice. 3 Bl. Com. 433, 440, 441.
In a moral sense, that is called equity which is founded, ex oequo et bono, in natural justice, in honesty, and in right. In an enlarged. legal view, "equity, in its true and genuine meaning, is the soul and spirit of the law; positive law is construed, and rational law is made by it. In this, equity is made synonymous with justice; in that, to the true and sound interpretation of the rule." 3 Bl. Com. 429. This equity is justly said to be a supplement to the laws; but it must be directed by science. The Roman law will furnish him with sure guides, and safe rules. In that code will be found, fully developed, the first principles and the most important consequences of natural right. "From the moment when principles of decision came to be acted upon in chancery," says Mr. Justice Story, "the Roman law furnished abundant materials to erect a superstructure, at once solid, convenient and lofty, adapted to human wants, and enriched by the aid of human wisdom, experience and learning." Com. on Eq. Jur. Sec. 23 Digest, 54.
But equity has a more restrained and qualified meaning. The remedies for the redress of wrongs, and for the enforcement of rights, are distinguished into two classes, first, those which are administered in courts of common law; and, secondly, those which are administered in courts of equity. Rights which are recognized and protected, and wrongs which are redressed by the former courts, are called legal rights and legal injuries. Rights which are recognized and protected, and wrongs which are redressed by the latter courts only, are called equitable rights and equitable injuries The former are said to be rights and wrongs at common law, and the remedies, therefore, are remedies at common law; the latter are said to be rights and wrongs in equity, and the remedies, therefore, are remedies in equity.
Equity jurisprudence may, therefore, properly be said to be that portion of remedial justice which is exclusively administered by a court of equity, as contradistinguished from that remedial justice, which is exclusively administered by a court of law. Story, Eq. Sec. 25. Vide Chancery, and the authorities there cited; and 3 Chit. Bl. Com. 425 n. 1. Dane's Ab. h.t.; Ayl. Pand. 37; Fonbl. Eq. b. 1, c. 1; Wooddes. Lect. 114 Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t.
EQUITY, COURT OF. A court of equity is one which administers justice, where there are no legal rights, or legal rights, but courts of law do not afford a complete, remedy, and where the complainant has also an equitable right. Vide Chancery.