The First Chapter Of Children’s Rights

In the quiet New York courtroom, the little girl began to speak. “My name is Mary Ellen McCormack. I don’t know how old I am. … I have never had but one pair of shoes, but can’t recollect when that was. I have had no shoes or stockings on this winter.… I have never had on a particle of flannel. My bed at night is only a piece of carpet, stretched on the floor underneath a window, and I sleep in my little undergarment, with a quilt over me. I am never allowed to play with any children or have any company whatever.Read more »

The Slave Who Sued For Freedom

While the Revolution was still being fought, Mum Bett declared that the new nation’s principle of liberty must extend to her too. It took eighty years and a far more terrible war to confirm the rights she demanded.

Early during the year 1781, having heard a lot of talk about the “rights of man,” a black slave woman named Mum Bett walked out of her master’s house in western Massachusetts to tell a lawyer that she wanted to sue for her freedom. After asking her what had put such an extraordinary idea into her head and being satisfied by her reply, the lawyer agreed to represent her. The case is a reminder of the fact that slavery existed even in the cradle of abolitionism, and it is a testament to the hopes inspired by revolutionary rhetoric.Read more »

The Example Of Private Slovik

Of the thousands of American soldiers court-martialed for desertion in World War II, Eddie Slovik was the only one put to death. One of the judges who convicted him looks back with regret.

When Private Eddie Slovik was executed on January 31,1945, he became the only American put to death for desertion since Lincoln was President. After his death he became the subject of a book that sold in the millions, numerous magazine articles, a television special, a play or two, and several public campaigns that made his case an issue and still keep it alive.Read more »

Ordeal By Touch

Up until the last century in some parts of the country, a murderer’s guilt could legally be determined by what happened when he or she touched the victim’s corpse

In 1646 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Mary Martin was pregnant and unmarried. Her paramour was a married man, but it was her status as a single woman that determined the nature of her crime. She faced punishment, if her misdeed was discovered, only for fornication; had she been married, her crime would have been adultery, punishable by death. Read more »

The Case Of The Chambermaid And The Nine Old Men

When Elsie Parrish was fired, her fight for justice led to dramatic changes in the nation’s highest court.

When, on a spring day in 1935, Elsie Parrish walked into the office of an obscure lawyer in Wenatchee, Washington, to ask him to sue the town’s leading hotel for back pay, she had no idea she was linking her fate to that of exploited women in a Brooklyn laundry a whole continent away. Still less did she think that she was setting off a series of events that would deeply affect President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plans for his second term.Read more »

101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

This is not a test. It’s the real thing.

How precise is the educated American’s understanding of the history of our country? I don’t mean exact knowledge of minor dates, or small details about the terms of laws, or questions like “Who was secretary of war in 1851?” ( Answer: Charles M. Conrad.) But just how well does the average person remember the important facts—the laws, treaties, people, and events that should be familiar to everyone? Read more »

A Letter To Hon. Earl Warren, Chief Justice Of The United States (retired And Deceased)

Dear Chief: It is coming up on twenty-five years since, fresh out of law school, I reported for duty as your clerk on the Supreme Court. It would seem timely that, with a quarter-century of law practice under my belt, I report in—that I give you an accounting of the record since I finished my postgraduate education under your stewardship, that I reflect what, if anything, I’ve learned in the interim about the practice of law and its place as an astonishingly powerful institution in our society. Read more »

Five Classic Cases

Packages that explode when dropped, cows that unexpectedly turn fertile, hands that sprout hair, and little boys who pull chairs out from under old ladies are the foundation of the American legal profession. Every student in every law school in the land learns his or her trade by studying a body of true cases that often seem the stuff of Rube Goldberg drawings but that are invaluable for vividly illustrating basic elements of the law. Read more »

Susan B. Anthony Cast Her Ballot For Ulysses S. Grant

For this crime, she was arrested, held, indicted, and put on trial. Judge Hunt presided.

Shortly before the Republicans convened in Philadelphia in 1872 to renominate Ulysses S. Grant for President, Susan Brownell Anthony visited him at the White House. She told the President that her National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) wanted him to make votes for women a plank in his platform. Grant replied that he had “already done more for women than any other president.” He recognized the “right of women to be postmasters,” he said, and had named five thousand to the post, but he would make no promises about the party platform. Read more »

My Ancestor, The Wizard

Eight generations back, the author discovered a forebear hanging on the family tree

WHEN A PUBLICATION wants to illustrate the story of Salem witchcraft, it often runs the painting The Trial of George Jacobs for Witchcraft , which hangs in the Essex Institute, Salem’s historical archive. The central figure, an old man with long, white hair, is kneeling before the court, with arms outstretched, asking mercy. A few feet away a girl of sixteen is pointing an accusing finger at him; she is his grand-daughter, Margaret.Read more »