Notary Powers and Duties by Law of Nations

law of nations globe flagsNotary Powers and Duties by Law of Nations

“The law of nations, which is also known as customary international law, is formed by the general assent of civilized nations.” The highest judicial authority of international law is the International Court of Justice and the administrative authority is the United Nations.

The Law of Nations is a work of political philosophy, international relations, and international law, written by Emerich de Vattel, of Switzerland, in 1758. It was used as a guide book by the founding fathers during the American Revolution.

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations.

Some states include notary acts done under the law of nations and commercial usage in the authorized powers of a notary. Others are limited to commercial usage, or as authorized by the common law or the custom of merchants (the law merchant, Lex Mercatoria, international commercial law). Many states have repealed these notary powers over the years.

Foreign notary laws may be different than domestic notary laws. For example, many countries require a notarized document to be executed before one, two or three witnesses.

Foreign language documents and speakers create an obstacle unless the notary knows the foreign language.

Listed below are some court cases and some current and past state statutes that authorize these notary powers.
Note: The list may be incomplete and may change as laws are revised.

Law of Nations Notary Powers Court Cases

People v. Travis, New York 1854

Opinion of the Superior Court, Buffalo, New York, by J. Clinton, presiding

New York notaries are authorized to exercise such other powers and duties, as by the law of nations, and according to commercial usage, or by the laws of any other State, government or country, may be performed by notaries public.

A notary public is an officer recognized by the law of nations. New York law declares New York notaries are within the purview of the law of nations. Foreign states and countries may vest powers in New York notaries regarding documents to be used or recorded in the foreign state or country.

New York notaries may perform acts according to commercial usage, such as a protest, in addition to the other authorized notary acts listed under New York law.

People v. Alfani, 37 N.Y. Crim. 395, New York Supreme Court, App. Div. (1919)

Appeal by defendant, notary Henry Alfani, on a judgment convicting him of practicing law without being a licensed attorney. The sentence was suspended. A notary does not violate Penal Law section 270 by drawing up conveyances, mortgages, bills of sale, even wills for charges customarily charged by notaries.

Notaries in England may prepare deeds, agreements, wills, charter parties, bottomry bonds, average agreements, and other mercantile documents, (Halsbury’s Laws of England, Vol 21 §817) On the European Continent, a notary may prepare mercantile papers, contracts, conveyances, and wills.

New York notary powers are not defined. The statute gives authority “to exercise such powers and duties as by the law of nations and according to commercial usage, or by the laws of any other government, State or country may be performed by notaries.” (Executive Law [Consol. Laws, ch. 18; Laws of 1909, ch. 23], § 105, subd. 1, as amd. by Laws of 1911, ch. 668.)

The Penal Law is intended to protect the bar from unlicensed attorneys appearing in courts of record, and advertising or engaging in the practice of law. Alfani’s acts and advertising are those of a notary public or a conveyancer. If the public needs protection, new laws can require special qualifications such as a legal clerkship or a certificate of competency rather than defining drawing up papers as the practice of law.

Notary Powers Statutes by Law of Nations and Commercial Usage

1. Alaska Statutes, AS 44.50.060. Duties.

A notary public shall (1) when requested, demand acceptance and payment of foreign and inland bills of exchange, or promissory notes, protest them for nonacceptance and nonpayment, and exercise the other powers and duties that by the law of nations and according to commercial usages, or by the laws of any other state, government, or country, may be performed by notaries.

2. Arizona (repealed) may do all other acts justified by commercial usage and the law merchant

3. California Government Code, Section 8205

(a) It is the duty of a notary public, when requested:
(1) To demand acceptance and payment of foreign and inland bills of exchange, or promissory notes, to protest them for nonacceptance and nonpayment, and, with regard only to the nonacceptance or nonpayment of bills and notes, to exercise any other powers and duties that by the law of nations and according to commercial usages, or by the laws of any other state, government, or country, may be performed by a notary. This paragraph applies only to a notary public employed by a financial institution, during the course and scope of the notary’s employment with the financial institution.

4. Cherokee Nation Tribal Code (Oklahoma headquarters), Title 49 Notaries Public, § 6. Authority of notary

Notaries public shall have authority within Cherokee Nation to make the proof and acknowledgment of deeds and other instruments of writing required to be proved or acknowledged; to administer oaths;
to demand acceptance or payment of foreign or inland bills of exchange and promissory notes, and protest the same for nonacceptance of nonpayment, as the same may require, and to exercise such other powers and duties as by the law of nations and commercial usage may be performed by notaries public.

5. District of Columbia, Statutes at Large, Thirty-Eighth Congress, Session I, Chapter 51, 1864

An Act concerning Notaries Public for the District of Columbia, April 8, 1864
SEC. 3. And be it further enacted, That notaries public shall have authority to demand acceptance and payment of foreign bills of exchange, and to protest the same for non-acceptance and non-payment;

and to exercise such other powers and duties as, by the law of nations, and according to commercial usages, or for use and effect beyond the jurisdiction of the said district, as, according to the law of any state or territory of the United States, or any foreign government in amity with the United States, may be performed by notaries public.

6. Federal Law, Statutes at Large, Fifty-Sixth Congress, Session II, Chapter 854, 1901

Chapter Seventeen, Commissioners of Deeds and Notaries Public.
SEC. 565. FOREIGN BILLS OF EXCHANGE.—Notaries public shall have authority to demand acceptance and payment of foreign bills of exchange and to protest the same for nonacceptance and nonpayment, and to exercise such other powers and duties as by the law of nations and according to commercial usages notaries public may do.

7. District of Columbia Code, Chapter 12. Notaries Public.

§ 1–1207. Foreign bills of exchange. Notaries public shall have authority to demand acceptance and payment of foreign bills of exchange and to protest the same for nonacceptance and nonpayment, and to exercise such other powers and duties as by the law of nations and according to commercial usages notaries public may do.

8. Georgia (repealed) may exercise all other powers incumbent upon them by commercial usage

Hawaii Kingdom Coat of Arms9. Hawaiian Kingdom, 1845 (repealed) Article III Notarial Duties

Section XV. The said principal notary (attorney general) and the respective notaries appointed by him shall for all purposes given them in charge by this act, be in this kingdom officers of the law of nations, competent to discharge the various acts capable of performance by notaries public under the laws of other nations; and their certificates under notarial seal shall have the same binding force in all respects.

10. Idaho (repealed) may do other acts justified by commercial usage and the law merchant

11. Indiana IC 33-42-2-5. Powers of notary

Sec. 5. A notary may: (1) do all acts that by common law, and the custom of merchants, notaries are authorized to do;

12. Iowa (repealed) may exercise all other powers justified by commercial usage or the law merchant
13. Kansas (repealed) may exercise all other powers justified by commercial usage and the law merchant
14. Maine (repealed) may perform all other acts justified by commercial usage or the law merchant
15. Michigan (repealed) may exercise all other powers justified by commercial usage or the law merchant
16. Montana (repealed) may perform all other acts justified by commercial usage and the law merchant

17. Nebraska (repealed 2012, Legislative Bill 398)

64-107 (4) To exercise and perform such other powers and duties as by the law of nations, and according to commercial usage, or by the laws of the United States, or of any other state or territory of the United States, or of any other government or country, may be exercised and performed by notaries public.

18. Nevada (repealed) may perform all other acts justified by commercial usage and the law merchant

19. New York, Executive Law §135.

Powers and duties; in general
Every notary public duly qualified is hereby authorized and empowered within and throughout the State to administer oaths and affirmations, to take affidavits and depositions, to receive and certify acknowledgments or proof of deeds, mortgages and powers of attorney and other instruments in writing; to demand acceptance or payment of foreign and inland bills of exchange, promissory notes and obligations in writing, and to protest the same for non-acceptance or non-payment, as the case may require, and,

for use in another jurisdiction, to exercise such other powers and duties as by the laws of nations and according to commercial usage, or by the laws of any other government or country may be exercised and performed by notaries public, provided that when exercising such powers he shall set forth the name of such other jurisdiction.

20. Oklahoma, 49 OS 6, Title 49. Notaries Public, Section 6 – Authority of Notary

A. Notaries public shall have authority within any county in this state to make the proof and acknowledgement of deeds and other instruments of writing required to be proved or acknowledged; to administer oaths; to demand acceptance or payment of foreign or inland bills of exchange and promissory notes, and protest the same for nonacceptance or nonpayment, as the same may require, and

to exercise such other powers and duties as by law of nations and commercial usage may be performed by notaries public.

21. Washington (repealed) may perform such other acts as pertain to the office of notary by the customs and law merchant

22. West Virginia (repealed) may perform such other duties as the law of nations or commercial usage may require

23. Wisconsin, 137.01 Notaries.

(5) Powers. Notaries public have power to act throughout the state. Notaries public have power to demand acceptance of foreign and inland bills of exchange and payment thereof, and payment of promissory notes, and may protest the same for nonacceptance or nonpayment, may administer oaths, take depositions and acknowledgments of deeds, and perform such other duties as by the law of nations, or according to commercial usage, may be exercised and performed by notaries public.

24. Wyoming (repealed) may perform all other acts justified by commercial usage and the law merchant

Conclusion

Notaries should seek assistance when needed with the law of nations or the law merchant and must be careful to follow correct procedures. Notarized documents going to a foreign country are likely to need an authentication certificate or apostille.

Image Credits:
Coat of Arms of the Hawaiian Kingdom, ʻIolani palace, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi,  © CC BY-SA Thomas Tunsch / Hawaii Kingdom COA.jpg (Wikimedia Commons).

Visit our website for Colorado Springs Mobile Notary services or Colorado Notary Training classes.

Notary Powers and Duties by Law of Nations
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