The industrial revolution, combined with the first of the Enclosure Acts, had seen the earnings of poor farmers plummet. With the radicalism of the French Revolution still fresh in people’s minds, the Swing Riots of the early 1830s had seen agricultural workers turn to violent protest. Adding to tensions between land owners and workers, the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1825 effectively legalised the creation of trade unions.
By 1834 farm workers in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle were being paid just 7 shillings per week, three shillings less than the average agricultural labourer’s wage. Six men consequently formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers under the leadership of George Loveless, in protest at the reduction in pay.
Part of the society’s initiation ceremony involved swearing a secret oath, something that was illegal under the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1797. Local magistrate and landowner James Frampton was consequently able to take the six men to court, where they were convicted by a jury of 12 landowners and sentenced to seven years transportation by Judge Sir John Williams on 18 March 1834.
The sentence was greeted with uproar from the British public who collected 800,000 signatures calling for their release. 100,000 people took part in a march calling for the same and two years after their conviction the new Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, granted them pardons. The Tolpuddle Martyrs eventually returned home, but five of six soon left England and emigrated to Canada while the sixth, James Hammet, stayed in Dorset until his death in 1891.
On the 9th March 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that captive Africans who had seized control of the Amistad ship had been taken into slavery illegally and were therefore free under American law. The United States vs. The Amistad case was a landmark legal battle in the struggle against slavery and provided the abolitionist movement with huge publicity.
Early in 1839 a number of Africans, including Joseph Cinqué from Sierra Leone, had been kidnapped by Portuguese slavers and transported to Cuba. This was in clear violation of international laws that prohibited the African slave trade. However, once smuggled into Cuba – where slavery remained legal – they were sold on as slaves and transported along the coast on the Spanish-owned Amistad. It was while on this journey that Cinqué led the slaves in a revolt against the crew that resulted in the deaths of the ship’s captain and cook.
The Africans demanded the remaining crew return them to Africa, but instead they sailed north for 60 days, where the ship was taken into US custody off the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. A long legal battle then ensued, with Cuba demanding the return of the apparent ‘slaves’, Spain demanding them go on trial for piracy and murder, and abolitionists pushing for their return to Africa.
A key argument in the case was that, since the Africans had been illegally captured, they were free rather than slaves. The long case eventually went before the Supreme Court who ruled that they had been unlawfully held as slaves, and thus rebelled in a natural right to self-defense. The court set them free.
Dred Scott was a slave owned by John Emerson, an army surgeon from the slave state of Missouri. Emerson took Scott with him when he moved to the free state of Illinois in 1834, and to the free Territory of Wisconsin in 1836.
Emerson died in 1843 and his widow, Irene, inherited Scott and his wife and child. Scott later attempted to buy his family’s freedom by offering Irene $300 but she refused. In response the Scotts sued for freedom, with legal advisors arguing that their residence in a free state and a free territory meant they must have been emancipated.
Drawing on the Missouri precedent of “once free, always free” the case was not fully heard until 1850. Although the jury ruled in Scott’s favour, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the decision after Irene Emerson appealed. She then transferred the Scotts to her brother, John F. A. Sanford, in New York.
In 1853 the case went to the Federal Courts, which found in Sanford’s favour. Scott subsequently appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court, which mis-spelled Sanford’s name due to a clerical error and didn’t deliver the majority opinion until 6 March 1857.
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote the decision, which said that black people could never be citizens of the United States and so did not have right to bring a case to the Federal Courts. Furthermore, the decision stated that Congress did not have the right to regulate slavery in the territories meaning that, as private property, slaves could not be taken away from their owners. The decision increased tensions within the United States and contributed to both the election of Abraham Lincoln and the outbreak of Civil War.
Having previously served as a senator and later military governor for the state of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson was chosen by Abraham Lincoln to be his running mate in the election of 1864. Having been the only senator from a seceding state to remain loyal to the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War, he secured the support of “Union Democrats” and consequently became Vice President.
Johnson’s inauguration took place on 4 March 1865, but exactly six weeks later he became President of the United States after Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. This coincided with the end of the Civil War, leaving him to introduce a lenient Reconstruction policy towards the defeated South that was vehemently opposed by the Radical Republicans in Congress. They passed laws to protect the rights of freed slaves, but the President vetoed them. In response Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act that stopped the President removing opponents from the cabinet by stating that the Senate had to approve the dismissal of officials.
Johnson defied the act in 1867 when he sought to replace the Republican Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, with General Ulysses S. Grant. The change was not approved and Stanton returned to the post after Grant resigned. On 21 February 1868 Johnson again dismissed Stanton and this time appointed General Lorenzo Thomas in his place, but Stanton refused to go and locked himself inside his office.
Although effectively a test of the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act, Johnson’s actions saw him impeached on 24 February. He was acquitted on 16 May by just one vote.
The modern 3-point seat belt was created by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin, who was a safety engineer for car manufacturer Volvo. His creation was first fitted as a standard item to the Volvo 122 in 1959, after which the company made the patent available to other car manufacturers for free.
Australia was the first country to mandate the wearing of seat belts. While all British cars manufactured after 1967 had to have seat belts fitted, it took twelve attempts for legislation to be passed through parliament to make it a requirement to actually wear them.
Figures released at the time placed the number of road deaths in Britain at 6,000. William Rodgers, who served as the Secretary of State for Transport in the previous government, claimed that wearing seat belts could have saved upwards of 1,000 of these lives. Yet even in the face of these figures, which were not widely disputed, critics of the new law accused the government of infringing on personal freedoms and operating a nanny state.
The government, along with organisations such as the Automobile Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, invested heavily in pre-legislation advertising campaigns. These are believed to have increased the voluntary seat belt wearing rate to around 50%, while surveys conducted in the days after the law came into force showed that over 90% of people were now wearing them. The penalty for not doing so was a £50 fine.
The first year of the law also saw the number of road deaths drop by nearly 500 and, having been trialled for three years, the compulsory wearing of seat belts was made permanent in 1986.
On the 26th January 1998, United States President Bill Clinton appeared at a White House press conference and made a forceful statement that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. The woman was Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House employee, and the affair and subsequent investigation led to the President’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. A year later the Senate voted to acquit him on both articles.
In 1992 Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States. Two years after he became President, Arkansas state employee Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment case regarding an alleged incident that occurred in 1991 when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas.
Monica Lewinsky secured an unpaid summer White House internship in 1995, but moved to a paid position in December. Her affair with Clinton began a month beforehand, in November. Lewinsky later stated that over the next 18 months they had nine sexual encounters, some within the Oval Office itself.
By April 1996 Lewinsky had been moved to The Pentagon, where she confided in co-worker Linda Tripp about the affair. Tripp began recording their phone calls and in January 1998 handed the tapes to an Independent Counsel after Lewinsky submitted an affidavit denying any physical relationship with Clinton as part of the Paula Jones case. Following the appearance of the tapes, Clinton stated in the news conference that he “did not have sexual relations” with Lewinsky. Seven months elapsed before he was called before a grand jury, where he admitted they had had a relationship that was “not appropriate”.
Pietro Leopoldo, the ruler of Tuscany, came to power in 1765 after his father, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, died. Pietro Leopoldo later became Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, but in the years immediately after his father’s death his mother Maria Theresa co-ruled the empire with his elder brother Joseph II. After five years Leopold successfully obtained a free hand to rule Tuscany as he liked after he travelled to Vienna where his mother agreed to remove her appointed counsellors.
Leopold was an enlightened ruler who revitalised Tuscany’s economy through the introduction of new rates of taxation and the creation of public works projects. His habit of spending revenues on improving the state was in sharp contrast to the government of the Medici family who had preceded his father, but had a broadly positive impact on Tuscany’s financial position.
A year before Leopold came to power in Tuscany, the Italian Enlightenment writer Cesare Beccaria condemned torture and the death penalty in his famed treatise On Crimes and Punishments. The book, which proposed radical reform of the criminal system, influenced Leopold to stop signing death warrants and after 1769 no executions took place in Tuscany.
On 30 November 1786 Leopold formally abolished the death sentence as well as banning the use of torture. All instruments used for administering the death penalty were also destroyed. The day is now celebrated as Cities for Life Day on which numerous cities around the world show their commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.
Prior to the adoption of universally accepted time zones, the vast majority of settlements around the world observed local mean solar time. Because of variations in geographical longitude, this meant that different towns and cities had slightly differing time standards. Although Greenwich Mean Time had been established in 1675 to help mariners navigate at sea, no law existed to mandate its use for local time.
The arrival of the railways in the mid-19th Century increased the need for a standardised time across the network, since local time would differ in all the towns the train visited. In Great Britain, Greenwich Mean Time was first adopted by the Great Western Railway and it is estimated that by 1855 up to 98% of all public clocks in the country displayed Greenwich Mean Time.
The use of a standard time in Britain was, however, not mandated by law. It was the New Zealand government that first introduced such legislation in order to allow the easier synchronisation of railways, steam ships, and the electric telegraph. Having consulted with Scottish-born scientist and explorer James Hector, the government adopted his recommendation of a time zone based on New Zealand’s mean longitude 172° 30′ east of Greenwich. Originally established at 11½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, New Zealand Mean Time was adopted on 2 November 1868.
Britain eventually implemented a standardised national time in 1880, while the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act on 19 March 1918.
The Metropolitan Police, which is often considered to be the first modern police force, began operating in London.
Informally known as ‘the Met’, the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established the first structured system of law enforcement. Policing had previously been the responsibility of unpaid parish constables, although paid ‘thief-takers’ were sometimes employed by the victims of crime to catch criminals.
The appointment of Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary in 1822 brought about the reinvigoration of a committee tasked to investigate the current system of policing. Peel immediately acted upon the committee’s findings, distilling the key aspects of his approach into a series of ‘Peelian principles’ that involved the payment of police officers who were organised along civilian lines.
Peel’s ideas for the system of policing were approved by Parliament in the Metropolitan Police Act with Royal Assent being granted on 19 June 1829. The 895 constables of the new force, nicknamed ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’ after their founder, were responsible for law enforcement and public order within a seven-mile radius of Charing Cross. They were overseen by a progressing hierarchy of Sergeants, Inspectors, Superintendents and two Commissioners who reported directly to Peel himself.
Deliberately given blue uniforms to distinguish them from the red used by the military, the first police officers were equipped with only a wooden truncheon and a ratcheted rattle to raise the alarm. Despite these attempts to avoid the image of a totalitarian police force, some members of the public argued that the Met was a threat to civil liberties. Within a decade, however, the force had begun to prove itself and its powers were increased.
On the 18th August 1612, the trials of nine Lancashire women and two men known as the Pendle Witches began. Accused of various murders, twelve people were charged of whom was found not guilty and another died in prison before going to trial. The other ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.
The trials of the Lancashire witches are not only some of the most famous, but also some of the best recorded witch trials in British history. This is due to a published account called The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by Thomas Potts, the clerk to the Lancaster Assizes where all but one of the trials took place.
One of the most interesting things about the trial is that the majority of the defendants self-identified as witches, or at least as village healers who practised what they referred to as ‘magic’ in return for payment. A number of the accused even admitted to Roger Nowell, the justice of the peace for Pendle and chief prosecutor at the trials, that witchcraft had been practised by a number of people in the area around Pendle Hill for many years.
In historical terms, the Pendle Witch trials were significant for their scale. Despite a popular belief that witch trials were a common occurrence in the early modern period, only around 500 people were executed for witchcraft throughout the 300 year period when they were carried out. This means that the ten found guilty in Pendle represented an astounding 2% of all British witches to face trial during the period.