Recent Acquisitions in the Law from The Lawbook Exchange
By Michael Stillman
The Lawbook Exchange has released its Catalogue 57 of recent acquisitions in Law and Legal History. Their catalogues mix scholarly antiquarian legal texts with accounts of trials, legal disputes, and other criminal matters. This one concludes with some recent reprints by the Lawbook Exchange of some antiquarian legal tracts. There is something here for everyone from the most learned of legal scholars to the amateur legal sleuth.
Item 86 is the story of a woman who became a crusader for women's rights based on her own unbelievable experiences with the law: Marital Power Exemplified in Mrs. Packard's Trial, And Self-Defence from the Charge of Insanity; Or Three Years' Imprisonment for religious Belief, By the Arbitrary Will of a Husband... Elizabeth Packard was a housewife and mother of six with thoughts of her own, particularly when it came to theology. Her husband, Theophilus Packard, was a reverend with strict religious views. He could tolerate no dissent. When Elizabeth disagreed with him on doctrine, and even expressed the thought of leaving his church, he concluded that she must be insane. In Illinois of 1860, as in many other states, a woman could not be placed in an insane asylum without a legal hearing with one exception: on the word of her husband. If her husband said she was insane, that was it. Off she would go. Reverend Packard had Elizabeth committed, and on nothing other than his word that she was "slightly insane," she was forced to remain there for three years. She was finally released after the doctors, with some pressure from her children, declared she was incurable.
Obviously not that pleased to have the missus back home, Theophilus had her in effect committed in their house. He put her in a room and boarded up and nailed the windows so she couldn't escape. Elizabeth responded by slipping a note through the boards, which made its way to a friend who took it to a judge. Unfortunately for Theophilus, the law did not provide for commitment in the home, and so a writ of habeas corpus was delivered. A trial was held wherein witnesses presented evidence of her insanity. One said she was unhappy that her husband would not discuss their differences in theology, but instead went around telling people she was insane. Another said she would not wish to leave her husband's church if she were sane. A third said she was displeased that her husband would not help her weed the flower garden. Okay, this third one was actually a good argument, as my wife would be crazy to try to get me to help weed the garden. Nevertheless, the jury did not buy into the argument. It took them only seven minutes of deliberation to declare her sane. Elizabeth Packard went on to crusade for the elimination of the type of laws that confined her, and saw them repealed in Illinois and three other states. She also wrote this and several other books. And, while she remained legally married to the Reverend for the remainder of her life, they not surprisingly were estranged. Priced at $150.
The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to establish bankruptcy laws, but it took over a century before a permanent code was finally established. The first bankruptcy law was approved in 1800, but it was unpopular and repealed three years later. There was too much a sense of it letting debtors get away with financial irresponsibility. While others argued that the lack of a uniform bankruptcy law was stifling economic development, they were not able to sway public opinion until the Panic of 1837 and the depression which followed. Finally, in 1841, the second bankruptcy law was approved, and it is contained in this publication of that year, General Bankruptcy Law. An Act to Establish a Uniform System of Bankruptcy Throughout the United States. This law fared no better than the first, being repealed in 1843. A third bankruptcy law was passed in 1867 and repealed in 1878, before a permanent one was adopted in 1898. Item 5. $1,250.