Staten Island Web logo

Re the good question: "Is this the case because we are such a litigious society, or have we become a litigious society because there are so many lawyers sitting around encouraging us to sue somebody?"

In doing some research into the Salem Witchcraft Outbreak of 1692 to find out why those false accusations occurred (false unless you believe in witches (disfavored neighbor ladies) in league with the devil (God's alter ego, responsible for evil, in some faiths), I read a good deal of what was written about that time and place.

Recall that the first pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts Bay, in, I believe it was 1619. 73 years of settlement had elapsed. There were still wars with the Indians, Prince or King Phillip's war being a case in point.

The colony was governed by a British appointed governor, but the towns were governed by a council at whose head was the local minister. There were magistrates to preside over court cases and constables to haul the accused into jail (your relatives had to bring you food and blankets).

The local minister was the ruling authority in the town, along with the council of church elders. The minister was supported by a tax, it could be corn and firewood in an often noncash economy.

Typically, the congregation would dispute over who should be appointed minister. Factional fighting would break out. One side would withhold the corn, firewood, and labor assessed as dues. Labor consisted of standing watch against the Indians and people roaming at night.

Disputes were resolved in the local courts, along with other typical disputes we are familiar with, over wills, deeds, title to real and personal property, etc.

These Puritans were prickly people who were quick to condemn their fellow man.

One of the reasons we know as much about them as we do is from the church and court records of their innumerable and interminable disputes.

In fact, their disputes contributed mightily to the witchcraft accusations.

The Outbreak began in the home of The Rev. Samuel Parris, a failed businessman and a failing minister. His congregation was divided over efforts to oust him. He claimed the parish house, loaned to him, they thought, as belonging to him, he thought. They withheld corn and firewood. He railed against them with all his might. Winter was coming on. His household was upset, presumably, including his daughter, her friend or cousin, and Tituba, their West Indian slave, and her husband, Indian John. They had their adherents, and others had theirs, all in conflict.

It was in this hostile, factionalized, home, neighborhood, and congregation, that when the girls were caught doing something they weren't supposed to be doing, and were questioned, they clammed up by throwing what looked like real fits. It is questionable whether they really were fits because they could turn them on and off for onlookers, such as in court, later.

Dr. Griggs, the town doctor, pronounced them bewitched. Should have said "hysteria" and there might not have been 18 hangings.

At any rate, there was such a tremendous number of prosecutions that the governor had to set up special courts, later taken down when the girls accused his wife after she sympathized with some of the accused, who were mostly harmless older women of enough means to inspire jealousy.

After reading about Salem, I thought they were the most litigious bunch I'd ever read about, including us.

The conclusion I'm left with is that if you want to know why our population breeds so many lawyers and lawsuits, look not only to us, but in the mirror.

Suing one another has a long tradition in this country.

The alternative to providing a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes is the legal process.

Absent that, we have to meet at dawn with sabers or flintlocks, and I'm not so hot with the blade nor such a good shot.

Someone comes up with a novel legal theory and we're so quick to condemn. The law has no problem with novel theories. It's new wine in old bottles for the courts and lawyers. Sometimes the new theory flies (we call this legal progress, in many cases) and sometimes it gets shot down. But everybody who thinks its worth their time, trouble, and expense has the opportunity to get a day in court.

What could be prettier than that?

I wonder what kind of courts they have in Heaven? Hell?

All I know is that in the interests of safety, and to avoid the heat, I wanna go where the lawyers ain't. :)


Staten Island WebŪ Forums Index.