The Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692

The Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692

The Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692
The Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692 – This 1892 lithograph by Joseph E. Baker (1837–1914) dramatically depicts one of the witchcraft trials held in Salem, Massachusetts

William Phips (1651–1695), Cotton Mather (1663–1728)

The law isn’t always up to the task. The Salem witchcraft trials are one of the most severe examples of the rule of law being overwhelmed by public hysteria, culminating in a complete failure of impartial justice.

More than two hundred persons were accused of practicing witchcraft in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, and were subjected to court-ordered torture, long jail sentences, or execution.

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The Black Code of Louis XIV 1685

The Black Code of Louis XIV 1685

The Black Code of Louis XIV
The Black Code of Louis XIV – Louis XIV ruled France for more than seventy years.

Louis X (1289–1316), Louis XIV (1638–1715), Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794), and Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821) are some of the most famous French monarchs. Slavery was outlawed in France by Louis X in 1315, but his proclamation did not extend to French colonies created centuries later. Columbus and those who followed him enslaved indigenous Americans, initially as translators, but eventually as slaves in the West Indies alongside African slaves. Slavery’s immense economic worth became increasingly important to many European governments as the decades passed. In 1625, the French built their first permanent Caribbean settlement on St. Kitts, and African slaves began to arrive two years later. Slavery had spread across the French colonies by 1685, including Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Domingue (Haiti), and other islands. In the same year, Louis XIV signed the Code Noir, or Black Code, which is considered one of the most important documents in the heinous history of slavery.

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The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679

The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679

The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 – King Charles II of England, shown in this c. 1683 portrait by John Reilly (1646–1691), presided over the passage of the Habeas Corpus Act.

The common-law writ of habeas corpus, sometimes known as the “Great Writ,” was first used in England in the Assize of Clarendon in the eleventh century to surrender a prisoner to court.

“Habeas corpus” literally translates to “you may have the body.” Originally, only the monarch could give a high prerogative writ, which was known as a high prerogative writ. Although first ineffectual, the writ eventually evolved into a tool that allowed a prisoner to contest the legality of his or her detention.

“Delays and evasions almost negated the effect of the writ,” historian Helen Nutting explains, because “courts had no means of forcing obedience to the first writ” and penalties “only accompanied the third… so that a jailer was perfectly within the limits of accepted procedure in not bringing the prisoner to court until he received the third writ.” The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 was enacted in the hopes of resolving that tangled issue.

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Bushel’s Case 1670 – Landmark Ruling on the Role of Jurors

Bushel’s Case 1670 – Landmark Ruling on the Role of Jurors

Bushel’s Case 1670 - Landmark Ruling on the Role of Jurors - The Birth of Pennsylvania 1680 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) shows King Charles II giving a land charter to William Penn in the Palace of Whitehall.
Bushel’s Case 1670 – Landmark Ruling on the Role of Jurors – The Birth of Pennsylvania 1680 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) shows King Charles II giving a land charter to William Penn in the Palace of Whitehall.

King v. Penn and Mead, William Penn (1644–1718), John Vaughan (1603–1674)

A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up.

—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

In August 1670, William Penn and William Mead were charged with “unlawfully and tumultuously” assembling to preach and speak during a Quaker worship session on London’s Gracechurch Street. William Penn, who later founded the Colony and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and William Mead were charged with “unlawfully and tumultuously” assembling to preach and speak during a Quaker worship session on London’s Gracechurch Street. The jury found Mead not guilty and Penn convicted at the conclusion of King V. Penn and Mead at the Old Bailey (the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales).

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Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan 1651 – Modern Constitutionalism

Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan 1651 – Modern Constitutionalism

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)

Thomas Hobbes - Leviathan 1651 - Modern Constitutionalism
Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan 1651 – Modern Constitutionalism

What makes a book revolutionary is often the context from which that content emerges, rather than the substance itself. This was the circumstance when Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was published in 1651. At the time, England was on the verge of ending a nine-year civil war.

Unrest had become the social and political norm, and the law had devolved into a jumble of notions with little structure. Despite the disarray, one overriding framework stood out, according to political analyst Gary McDowell: “the tremendous and pervasive influence of Christianity.”Leviathan caused a stir by challenging traditional Christian concepts of man, law, and government, signaling a dramatic shift in legal thought and setting a crucial foundation for the next century’s development of law.

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Peace of Westphalia – 1648 – Peace of Münster

Peace of Westphalia – 1648 – Peace of Münster

Peace of Westphalia - 1648 - Peace of Münster
Peace of Westphalia – 1648 – Peace of Münster

The Peace of Westphalia is made up of three treaties signed in 1648 in Münster and Osnabrück, both in Westphalia. The Peace of Münster brought an end to the Eighty Years’ War between Spain and the Netherlands, as well as the independence of the Dutch Republic. The Treaties of Münster and Osnabrück put an end to the Thirty Years’ War between the Holy Roman Empire, France, Sweden, and their allies, which was fought mostly in what is now Germany and sparked by religious strife and a mutual desire for territorial expansion.

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The First Blue Laws 1629 – Sunday Closing Law

The First Blue Laws 1629 Sunday Closing Law

The First Blue Laws 1629 - Sunday Closing Law - This 1895 political cartoon illustrates the restrictions imposed by Blue Laws.
The First Blue Laws 1629 – Sunday Closing Law – This 1895 political cartoon illustrates the restrictions imposed by Blue Laws.

Constantine the Great (c. 272–337), Samuel Peters (1735–1826), J. Hammond Trumbull (1821–1897)

Laws prohibiting certain secular activities on days of religion existed in antiquity, although their colorful name only appeared recently. Commentators credit the first Sunday Closing Law to Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who issued an edict in 321 ordering city citizens to rest “on the hallowed day of the sun.”

In 1629, the House of Burgesses of Virginia passed the first Sunday Closing Law in the United States, stating that “the Sabbath day be not customarily profaned by working in any imployments or by going from place to place.”

However, according to etymologists, the word “blue laws” was first used in a satire of Connecticut Congregationalists in the New-York Mercury on March 3, 1755: “Since… the Revival of our old Blue Laws, we have the Pleasure to see the Lord’s Work carry on with Success.”

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