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“It is often difficult, in examining New England’s earliest historical and legislative records, to perceive the bond between the immigrants and the land of their ancestors. We find them regularly exercising sovereign powers: they appoint magistrates, make peace and war, establish rules of order, and adopt laws as if answerable to God alone. Nothing is more curious and at the same time more instructive than the legislation of this period. Here above all lies the key to the great social enigma with which the United States confronts the world today. As a characteristic example of that legislation, we may choose the code of laws adopted in 1650 by the small state of Connecticut. Connecticut’s lawmakers first took up the question of penal laws. In drafting those laws, they on the strange idea of drawing upon sacred texts: ‘Whosoever shall worship any deity other than the Lord God,’ they began, ‘shall be put to death.’ This was followed by ten or twelve similar provisions taken literally from Deuteronomy, Exodus, and Leviticus. Blasphemy, witchcraft, adultery, and rape were punishable by death. A son who failed to honor his father and mother was subject to the same penalty.” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (trans. Arthur Goldhammer)

Published inPolitics & Law

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