Outlaws and Lawmen: Crime and Punishment in the 1800s (Daily Life in America in the 1800s)
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American society in the 1800s had a rough edge to it. In a nation made up of people of diverse backgrounds and heritage, social controls needed to be strict & enforceable. The extreme economic inequality of America's cities and the wide-open moral code of the frontier led to a culture of crime and violence that still plagues our country.
During the 1800s, professional police forces were established in cities, towns, and territories across the continent. On the frontier, "justice" was often swift & severe, with "hanging judges" making their reputations as representatives of the law in a lawless land. Long prison sentences in miserable conditions were the rule for criminals, and many a prisoner might have preferred the option of a quick execution. Before the reform of the legal system-which is an ongoing process-there was definitely a separate law, and a separate standard of penalties, for the rich and for the poor.
The evolution of a humane penal system and a fairer protection of all citizens under the law is an important contribution of 1800s America to the modern world.
at 2:30 p.m., when I saw the two Clantons and the two McLowrys in an earnest conversation across the street in Dunbar’s corral. I went up the street and notified Sheriff Behan and told him it was my opinion they meant trouble, and it was his duty, as sheriff, to go and disarm them. I told him they had gone to the West End Corral. I then went and saw Marshal Virgil Earp and notified him to the same effect. I then met Billy Allen and we walked through the O.K. Corral, about fifty yards behind the
Kansas-Nebraska Act stated that settlers of those territories would decide by popular vote whether or not to allow slavery, but bloody fights broke out between pro-and anti-slavery factions. Battles over slavery caused the Kansas Territory to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.” John Brown became the leader of anti-slavery settlers during the Bleeding Kansas battles. Brown didn’t care for the patient and peaceful way most abolitionists worked against slavery. He said, “These men are all talk. What we
historians to have been a psychopath who took advantage of the situation to satisfy his craving for violence. As soon as the South seceded from the Union, as the citizens of Missouri were debating their loyalties, Northern soldiers entered the state and took possession of it. Many Missourians were not slaveholders and they had been sympathetic to the North, but the Union soldiers’ heavy-handed tactics bred resentment. Those who sympathized with the South began a guerilla war, where neighbor
next couple years more than a quarter of a million fortune hunters headed west. The New Yorker magazine described the lawlessness of the gold fields in 1851: Miners were so greedy, treacherous and unreliable that no man’s life was safe. Law and order were unknown; fights occurred daily, and anyone who could not protect himself with his fists was unfortunate. Every man carried a gun, all types of weapons that could shoot, cut, or stab—plain pocket pistols, Colt revolvers, and double-barreled
received only hatred and scorn, so great was Jesse James’ popularity. Jesse James. SNAPSHOT FROM THE PAST Sammy Saves the Farm Oklahoma Territory, 1891 (Based on true events recorded in an old journal.) “Remember, stay clear of those ranchers, I know they want us off this land.” Those were the parting words Sammy Houchen’s husband gave her, just before he left to do business in the city. For the next few days, the young wife enjoyed her solitude, and immersed herself in caring for the