On the 1st August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in the United Kingdom, although it had received royal assent a year earlier. The Act outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, although there were some exceptions such as in areas controlled by the East India Company.
Although Parliament had outlawed the slave trade itself in the Slave Trade Act of 1807, that Act only served to stop the creation of new slaves. It did not address the issue of existing slaves working in the colonies. It was these existing slaves that the new Act sought to address, and although it did abolish slavery the impact took a long time to be felt.
A key problem facing the government was what to do with the former slaves. The Act addressed this issue by stating that former slaves over the age of six became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work on largely the same plantations in largely the same conditions as before. Many of them were only fully emancipated six years later in 1840.
The former slave owners themselves were also dealt with in the Slavery Abolition Act. It’s important to remember that the Act effectively stripped slave-owners of their property. The logic therefore went that the slave-owners needed to be compensated for their loss of property, so the Act established the Slave Compensation Commission who awarded the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money – funded by the taxpayer – to 46,000 slave owners. A searchable online database of every slave-owner who was awarded compensation is available to view at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
John Thomas Scopes, a substitute science teacher in Tennessee, was found guilty of teaching evolution in school.
In March 1925 Tennessee governor Austin Peay signed into law the Butler Act, which prohibited teachers in state-funded schools from teaching human evolution as it went against the Biblical account of mankind’s origins. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) soon announced that it was keen to finance a legal test case to challenge the constitutionality of the Butler Act if a teacher was willing to act as the defendant.
George Rappleyea, the manager of the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company in the small Tennessee town of Dayton, believed that a trial of this type could bring valuable publicity to the town. With the support of other local community leaders he approached 24-year-old John T. Scopes. Although Scopes couldn’t recall specifically teaching evolution he did accept that he may have gone through the state-endorsed textbook chapter and chart relating to it. His students were consequently encouraged to testify against him, which led to his indictment on 25 May and the subsequent trial that began on 10 July.
The ‘Monkey Trial’ brought enormous crowds to Dayton where their attention was split between carnival entertainments such as performing chimpanzees on the courthouse lawn, and the numerous preachers who converged on the town to address the crowds.
The trial’s bitter exchanges between the prosecution and defence generated extensive media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic for almost two weeks before Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $100, the minimum amount possible. The Tennessee Supreme Court later overruled the verdict on a technicality, but the Butler Act stayed in place until its repeal in 1967.
On the 2nd July 1964, American President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law at the White House. The Act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and is consequently viewed as a landmark piece of civil rights legislation.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act originated in the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, who had shared the statistics of racial inequality with the American people, such as the fact that life expectancy for an African-American was seven years less than that of a white American. It was also a time when Civil Rights protests were growing in size and number. In a televised speech on the 11th June 1963, Kennedy made clear his intention to introduce a law that would end segregation and increase equality for all Americans.
Kennedy’s assassination on the 22nd November 1963 led to Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as President, and he immediately took up the cause with a speech saying that the passage of the Civil Rights Act would serve as a lasting memorial to Kennedy. However opposition to the bill remained high, especially in southern and border states, whose representatives in both the Congress and the Senate did what they could to sabotage the bill. Despite such attempts to disrupt it, various behind-the-scenes deals eventually helped the bill to pass through each house with the required two-thirds majority.
The Act was referred to by Martin Luther King as a “second emancipation” and laid the foundations for later laws that expanded the legal right for all Americans to be treated equally.
Any suspect arrested in the USA must be informed of four key rights. ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you.’
Known as the Miranda warning, the requirement for the police to inform all criminal suspects of these rights came about as the result of Arizona labourer Ernesto Miranda’s 1963 conviction for kidnapping and rape. A confession made to the Phoenix Police Department was entered as evidence yet, despite the form being printed with the statement that he had ‘full knowledge of my legal rights’, it later emerged that he had not been informed of either his right to an attorney or his right to remain silent.
Although Alvin Moore, Miranda’s court-appointed lawyer for his trial, objected to the use of the confession this was overruled by Judge Yale McFate and Miranda was sentenced for 20-30 years imprisonment. Having failed to win an appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court, the case eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court where Miranda was represented by attorney John Paul Frank.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 majority that, in order for evidence from questioning to be used in court, the police must have first informed the suspect of their rights. Since Miranda’s conviction was based on a confession before which he had not been informed of his rights, his conviction was overturned. However, he was later retried and again found guilty thanks to the testimony of the woman he had been living with at the time.
On the 27th May 1199 King John was crowned at Westminster Abbey. The previous king, his brother Richard, had died after being shot in the shoulder by a crossbow. John ruled for seventeen years before contracting dysentery while in Kings Lynn, an illness from which he later died. John’s reign saw him lose control of the Angevin Empire, lose the crown jewels in the mud of East Anglia, and lose significant monarchical power under the terms of the Magna Carta.
John’s claim to the throne wasn’t entirely clear-cut since Arthur, the son of John’s older brother Geoffrey, was another possible heir. His claim was also supported by a large contingent of French nobles, and the French king Phillip II himself, who hoped to fragment the Angevin Empire. This laid the foundations for John’s ongoing struggles in mainland Europe, which gradually eroded his control over the lands of the Angevin Empire.
The fact that John succeeded in his bid to be crowned was significant. Medieval monarchs got their legal authority from their coronation, where they swore the coronation oath and were then anointed, girted, crowned, invested and enthroned. However, although the coronation gave the King the legal authority to rule the country, it was still based on him abiding by the coronation oath. Rebellious barons argued that John failed to do this since, like his predecessors, he sometimes took executive decisions on the basis that the king was above the law. This set in motion calls for a ‘law of the land’ that was to result in the Magna Carta.
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.