Today in Legal History: First Continental Congress Met

The First Continental Congress met on September 5, 1774 in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.  Every colony except Georgia sent delegates.  The delegates included John Adams, Samuel Adams, George Washington, John Jay and Patrick Henry.  The First Continental Congress formulated some common goals and produced a list of grievances against Britain.  The Congress disbanded on October 26, 1774.

More information is available at:

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: Constitution Goes into Effect

The Constitutional Convention was the result of intense negotiation and compromise, although it is said that George Washington, who was president of the assembly, spent much of that time fishing. One of the central controversies was the form of government for the new country. Some delegates favored the adoption of a monarchy, but Madison, an ardent advocate for a strong central government, strongly opposed. The battle over ratification was acrimonious. Many anti-Federalists believed the new Constitution favored wealthy landowners and there were misgivings that the majority of the people did not, in fact, support the new Constitution. As a result of these battles, the Bill of Rights was created, with Madison as its greatest advocate. Somehow, in spite of the bitter divisiveness and disagreement, the framers managed to create the world’s shortest constitution and one that stood the test of time. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest, single- source derived constitution still in effect.

More information can be found here:

  • The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: Analysis of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 28, 2002, Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress (Law Library Reference Desk @ KF4527.U54 2004)
  • The Founders’ Constitution, edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Law Library Reserve @ KF4502.F68 1987)
  • The Charters of Freedom
  •  Desk-Top Guide to the Constitution: Chronology, Facts & Documents by Irving J. Sloan LAW-Reserve KF4502.D47 1987
  • A Child of Fortune: A Correspondent’s Report on the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Battle for a Bill of Rights by Jeffrey St. John (Jameson Books 1990) LAW-4th Floor KF4541.Z9S7 1990

Today in Legal History: Dawes Severalty Act Signed, Tribes Further Dispossessed

On February 8, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the Dawes Act, dividing up tribal lands into plots for individuals to farm.  The effect of the Act was to weaken tribes, break up traditional families, and put Indian lands into non-Indian hands.  Under the Act, farmers did not get ownership of the land for 25 years; if the farm failed, lands would be transferred back to the government and sold at auction.  In the meantime, the farmer could not sell any of his allotted 160 acres.  The Dawes Act was abolished in 1934 under Franklin Roosevelt.

More information is available at:

  • The Assault on Indian Tribalism: the General Allotment Law (Dawes act) of 1887 Wilcomb E. Washburn (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.W38)
  • PBS
  • History.com
  • The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian lands D.S. Otis (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.O85)

Today in Legal History: First session of first Supreme Court

The first session of the U.S. Supreme Court met on February 1st, 1790. President George Washington’s inaugural nominations were John Jay (Chief Justice), John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson. The Court got off to a faltering start. Robert Harrison refused the nomination, John Jay was abroad attending diplomatic duties during much of his tenure, John Blair’s attendance at court was sporadic because of poor health, and finally John Rutledge, managed to sabotage his nomination to succeed John Jay as Chief Justice with an importune speech that cost him the support of many in Washington’s administration. The fact that he never attended a formal day of court probably didn’t do his nomination any favors either. The inaugural session of the Court was held at the Royal Exchange Building in New York. Unfortunately only Jay, Wilson and Cushing managed to show up. The new Court was hamstrung until Blair arrived the next day, thereby establishing the quorum necessary for conducting business. No cases were heard during that first session, it primarily involved admitting attorneys to practice before it. The inaugural session of the Supreme Court ended on February 10th, 1790. The new Supreme Court continued on its wobbly trajectory until John Marshall became Chief Justice and Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803, establishing the Court’s power.

For more information, check out:

  • CQ Press’s Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court, Part I, “Origins and Development of the Court” (KF8742.W567 2004 – Reference Desk – Law Library)
  • History.com
  • The Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise, History of the Supreme Court of the United States (Macmillan Co. 1971) LAW-4th Floor KF8742.A45H55
  • Charles Warren, The Supreme Court in United States History, Vol. I (Little Brown 1922) LAW-4th Floor KF8742.W37
  • Maeva Marcus & James R. Perry, The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800 (Columbia University Press 1985) LAW-4th Floor KF8742.A45D66 1985

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.

More information is available at:

Today in Legal History: Bay of Pigs Invasion

On April 17, 1961, a CIA-backed group of Cuban refugees tried to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. As soon as the party landed, they were met with resistance from Castro’s forces, and promised US air support never materialized. Of the 1,200 exiles trying to recapture their homeland, 100 died and the rest were captured.

Not only did the plan fail, it made the situation in Cuba even less desirable to the US government. Castro was able to put pressure on his Soviet allies for more support, and denounced the US to the world. Far from displacing Castro, the actions of the CIA cemented Castro’s control on Cuba, and made new president John F. Kennedy look weak and indecisive.

More information is available at:

 

Check it Out: The Response

The Response is a 30-minute courtroom drama based on actual transcripts of the Guantánamo Bay military tribunals. This film illustrates the legal and ethical challenges of enemy detention in the war on terror as it brings the viewer inside an administrative hearing to determine whether a devout Muslim engineer from Pakistan should continue to be designated as an unlawful enemy combatant and held without trial. Watch as three judges must make that decision while they seek to balance individual liberties with national security interests. Check out The Response from the law library.

Today in Legal History: Roosevelt Signs Lend-Lease Program

The Lend-Lease program was Franklin Roosevelt’s way to circumvent US laws requiring that all sales to foreign governments be made in cash.  Roosevelt strongly believed that the Allied powers needed help.  This program was met with skepticism; some of the provisions of the bill permitted the President to shut down strikes.  However, Great Britain was grateful, as Churchill had warned Roosevelt he couldn’t come up with cash much longer.  The program was designed for Great Britain, but some 40 nations ultimately benefited.

The Lend-Lease program deferred costs of materials needed until the future.  Great Britain, for example, was given 50 years to pay off loans made by the US.  Many of the “loaned” materials were effectively gifts.  Some of the repayment could be met by leasing land to the US for military bases.

Lend-Lease included planes, trucks, food, tanks, and ships which were essential to countries that had to ration their resources and materials due to the war.  The shipments from the US allowed countries to meet important needs.  Hitler credited Lend-Lease with keeping the Allied powers going when he declared war on the US.

Lend-Lease would become the Marshall Plan after the end of the war.  The UK paid off its last installment of Lend-Lease on December 31, 2006.

More information is available at:

Today in Legal History: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Decided

2 Live Crew was a rap group who recorded a song called “Pretty Woman”. This song was based heavily on a prior work recorded and co-written by Roy Orbison. Orbison’s record label sued for copyright infringement. The Orbison version was a wistful ballad about a lovely woman walking. By contrast, the 2 Live Crew version was crude. However, copyright law does not take taste into account. The Supreme Court said that 2 Live Crew’s version of the song was legally a parody, though devoid of quality, and consequently was a fair use of the source material. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose was Decided on March 7, 1994.

More information is available at:
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994)