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Today in Legal History: President James A. Garfield Dies, Leading to Famous Insanity Defense Trial

President James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881, after serving less than half a year in office. President Garfield died at a New Jersey seaside location, where he was recovering from two bullet wounds he suffered on July 2, 1881. Garfield’s assassin was Charles Guiteau, an attorney, theologian, and rebuffed office seeker. Guiteau insisted that he was God’s messenger. He also argued that medical malpractice was the actual cause of death because the doctors’ treatments had caused the blood poisoning that eventually killed Garfield. Guiteau’s attorney (who was also his brother-in-law) argued the insanity defense. In the end, the Guiteau jury, deliberating for just over an hour, didn’t buy Guiteau’s defenses and he was hanged on June 30, 1882. Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. Guiteau’s autopsy did show evidence of syphilitic paresis as well as chronic degeneration, leading some doctors to change their opinion of his mental state.

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Today in Legal History: First Labor Day Celebrated

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City.  Two years, later, the holiday was changed to the first Monday in September.  While it is unclear who first suggested Labor Day (some sources say it was a carpenter, others a machinist), it is clear that the holiday was supported by labor organizations.

Cities were the first to officially recognize this “workingman’s” holiday and the states soon followed.  Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a legal observance in 1887.   By 1894, Congress followed suit.

The original proposals for the holiday called for a huge parade and a festival for working men and their families. “It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” – Department of Labor Website


 

Today in Legal History: 19th Amendment Ratified

On August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote. The effort to achieve this milestone involved decades of struggle and protest. Women suffrage supporters in the mid-19th century lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and protested to change the Constitution. In 1878, the amendment was first introduced to Congress, and it would take the tireless efforts of women suffrage supporters several more decades to see the amendment ratified.

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Today in Legal History: FDR Signs Social Security Act

From WikipediaOn August 15, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Responding to the widespread suffering caused by the Great Depression, President Roosevelt asked Congress for “social security” legislation on January 17, 1935. The Act would provide old-age benefits that would be financed by a payroll tax on employers and employees. The system later expanded to provide benefits for the disabled, dependents, and the unemployed. Prior to the Social Security Act, elderly people often faced the prospect of poverty upon retirement.

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Today in Legal History: Delegates Sign Declaration of Independence

On August 2, 1776, the Continental Congressional delegates signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as independent states and no longer part of the British Colonies. The American colonies formed a new nation, the United States of America. News of the Declaration of Independence arrived in London on August 10. Mary Catherine Goddard printed the first official copy of the historic document in 1777.

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Today in Legal History: President Truman Signs National Security Act

On July 26, 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, a central document in U.S. Cold War policy. The Act, which took more than a year to craft, directed a major reorganization of the foreign policy and military establishments of the U.S. Government. The Act established the National Security Council (NSC), merged the War and Navy departments into the Department of Defense headed by the secretary of defense, and recognized the Air Force as independent from the Army. The Act also established the role of the CIA by assigning the responsibility of foreign intelligence to the CIA.

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Today in Legal History: Apollo 11 Mission

President John F. Kennedy predicted in 1960 that by the end of the decade the country would put a man on the moon and return him home safely.  The triumphant Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, began an era of moon exploration that has so far gone unrivaled.  American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon. About six and a half hours after landing, Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon.

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Today in Legal History: Secretary of the Interior J. P. Usher Creates the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

On July 8, 1864, Secretary of the Interior J.P. Usher created the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. For centuries the Salish-speaking people had lived along the Chehalis River in two groups, the Upper and Lower Chehalis, until American settlers arrived. In 1855, the Chehalis groups did not sign the treaties offered by the U.S. Government, refusing to give up their traditional lands. However, American settlers continued to move into the area, filing claims on the Chehalis lands. In order to preserve a place for the Chehalis groups within their original territory, Usher authorized purchase of 4,224.63 acres of land at the confluence of the Black and Chehalis Rivers, including both prairie and timberlands.

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Today in Legal History: Independence Day

On July 4, 1776, the First Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and ordered it to be printed. The document was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and served to formally sever ties with Great Britain, declaring the colonies independent. Independence Day celebrations date back to the eighteenth century, but Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941.

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Today in Legal History: Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act

From WikipediaOn July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the historic Civil Rights Act, which outlawed segregation in businesses, public places, and banned discriminatory practices in employment.  In 1963, President John F. Kennedy proposed civil rights legislation, and after his assassination, Johnson vowed to carry out civil rights reform.  Passage of the act was not easy.  The act faced opposition in the House and a filibuster in the Senate before it was passed, providing for equal treatment of all peoples regardless of race.

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