William Blackstone, 3 Commentaries on the Law of England ch 19 (1765), http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/blackstone/blacksto.htm [visited 26 August 2004]
Concerning original process
“[P]rocefs, as we are now to confider it, is the method taken by the law to compel a compliance with the original writ, of which the primary ftep is by giving the party notice to obey it. This notice is given upon all real praecipes, and alfo upon all perfonal writs for injuries in court at the return of the original writ, given to the defendant by two of the fheriff's meffengers called fummoners, either in perfon or left at his houfe or land . . . This warning on the land is given, in real actions, by erecting a white ftick or wand on the defendant's grounds; . . . and by ftatute 31 Eliz. c. 3. it muft alfo be proclaimed on fome funday before the door of the parifh church
“IF the defendant difobeys this verbal monition, the next procefs is by writ of attachment . . ..” This is a writ, not iffuing out of chancery, but out of the court of common pleas, being grounded on the non-appearance of the defendant at the return of the original writ; and thereby the fheriff is commanded to attach him . . . , that is, certain of his goods, which he fhall forfeit if he doth not appear g; or by making him find fafe pledges or fureties, who fhall be amerced in cafe of his non-appearance.
“IF, after attachment, the defendant neglects to appear, he not only forfeits this fecurity, but is moreover to be farther compelled by writ of diftringas l, or diftrefs, infinite; . . . commanding the fheriff to diftrein the defendant from time to time, and continually afterwards, by taking his goods and the profits of his lands, which he forfeits to the king if he doth not appear.
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“AND here by the common, as well as the civil, law the procefs ended in cafe of injuries without force; the defendant, if he had any fubftance, being gradually ftripped of it all by repeated diftreffes, till he rendered obedience to the king's writ; and, if he had no fubftance, the law held him incapable of making fatisfaction, and therefore looked upon all farther procefs as nugatory. . . . . But, in cafes of injury accompanied with force, the law, to punifh the breach of the peace and prevent it's difturbance for the future, provided alfo a procefs againft the defendant's perfon, in cafe he neglected to appear upon the former procefs of attachment, or had no fubftance whereby to be attached; fubjecting his body to imprifonment by the writ of capias ad refpondendum.
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“[I]t is now ufual in practice, to fue out the capias in the firft inftance, upon a fuppofed return of the fheriff; efpecially if it be fufpected that the defendant, upon notice of the action, will abfcond: and afterwards a fictitious original is drawn up, with a proper return thereupon, in order to give the proceedings a colour of regularity. When this capias is delivered to the fheriff, he by his under-fheriff grants a warrant to his inferior officers, or bailiffs, to execute it on the defendant.
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“AN arreft muft be by corporal feifing or touching the defendant's body; after which the bailiff may juftify breaking open the houfe in which he is, to take him: otherwife he has no fuch power; but muft watch his opportunity to arreft him. For every man's houfe is looked upon by the law to be his caftle of defence and afylum, wherein he fhould fuffer no violence.
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“[W]hen the fummons fell into difufe, and the capias became in fact the firft procefs, it was thought hard to imprifon a man for a contempt which was only fuppofed: and therefore in common cafes by the gradual indulgence of the courts (at length authorized by ftatute 12 Geo. I. c. 29. which was amended by ftatute 5 Geo. II. c. 27. and made perpetual by ftatute 21 Geo. II. c. 3.) the fheriff or his officer can now only perfonally ferve the defendant with a copy of the writ or procefs, and with notice in writing to appear by his attorney in court to defend this action; which in effect reduces it to a mere fummons.”