“Laws are like sausages; it is better not to see the being made” Otton Von Bismarck.
We tend to think of the law as an obvious truth, the reality is that society pretty much makes things up as we go along. A brutal statement you may say. But take a look back at history, travel back in time when your parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were kids, and all kinds of crazy things were legal from meth to owning people, to be able to legally cut half of someone’s brain out for being gay?!
This blog article is not for the faint-hearted. It is historical, factual, and brutal. For the adventurous and curious souls out there, please read on. For the rest, stop reading now, and stay on standby for my next blog article where I will try to serve you something more tamed.
Crazy things you won’t believe Used to be Legal.
Smoking everywhere used to be legal.
People used to be able to smoke everywhere from conference rooms in office places to airplanes, movie theaters, and restaurants. If you smoked, you looked cool and for women, it was even considered a symbol of emancipation and equality with men. Edward James Bernays, the nephew of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, was an Austrian pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda and was known as the “Father of Public Relations”. He was named as one of the hundred most influential Americans of the 20th century by Life Magazine.
His best-known campaigns included a 1929 effort to promote female smoking by branding cigarettes as feminist “Torches of Freedom”. This phrase was used to encourage women’s smoking by exploiting the women’s liberation movement through to the 1970s. Edward Bernays’ campaign on behalf of the tobacco companies was extremely successful and achieved the desired objective of getting more people and in particular more women to smoke cigarettes in public.
In the US, pretty much all types of drugs were legal at some point or another, from the soft ones to the hard-core type. This is because most drugs were either developed originally for medical reasons, accidentally discovered in experiments, or just plants growing out of the earth that people have ingested like food since the beginning of time. In fact, drugs as a terrifying boogeyman didn’t become a thing until 1875 when the first drug laws in the U.S. were passed.
Opium, LSD, mushrooms, heroin, ecstasy, and meth used to be perfectly legal in the U.S. You used to be able to get methamphetamines from your pharmacist to treat alcoholism and depression. The drug was FDA-approved in 1944 and became known as Methedrine in the 1950s when it became wildly popular due to its unintentional addictive qualities. However, meth abuse became so common that the government passed the Controlled Substances Act to limit the sale of methedrine – although you can still get it in small doses under the name of Desoxyn.
Cocaine was originally used in the late 1800s as a way to treat addiction to morphine. In 1884, Sigmund Freud (a chronic coke user) even penned a love letter to cocaine, called “Uber Coca,” in which he praised the drug for its “exhilaration and lasting euphoria.” When Coca-Cola debuted in 1886, it had two major ingredients: caffeine and cocaine. Why else do you think it is called “Coke?”
Slavery has existed since the beginning of time and was perfectly legal around the world. Europeans enslaved other Europeans, Asians enslaved other Asians, Africans enslaved other Africans and Arabs enslaved other Arabs. The color of someone’s skin was not a key factor to determine whether that person could find himself in the unfortunate position of being a slave. Those who became slaves were chosen because of their vulnerability compared to other dominant groups and not because of the color of their skin.
A slave is a person who is the chattel or property of another. The etymology of the word “slave” finds its origin in the medieval Latin Words “Sclavus”, originally ‘Slav” because of the many Slavs sold into slavery by conquering people. In the U.S, if a slave master was to execute one of his slaves, it wasn’t seen or prosecuted as murder – because this was legally his property, and he could do with it what he liked. In the case of Native Americans, murder wasn’t just ignored; it was encouraged in many cases, with local governments offering rewards for the killing or capture of Native Americans.
The French Revolution abolished slavery throughout its empire in 1794, although it was restored in 1802 by Napoleon as part of a program to ensure sovereignty over its colonies. Denmark-Norway was the first country in Europe to outright ban the slave trade in 1803. On 25 March 1807, King George III of England signed into law the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, banning trading in enslaved people in the British Empire. Spain abolishes slavery in 1811 including in its colonies, though Cuba rejects the ban and continues to deal with slaves. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring “all persons held as slaves… shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” effective January 1, 1863. It was not until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, in 1865, that slavery was formally abolished. The U.N. declared slavery a violation of global human rights in 1948, but it hung around in Niger, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, The United Arab Emirates, and Oman until the 1960s and 70s. Mauritania was the last country to outlaw slavery in 1981.
Partial lobotomies used to be considered an appropriate way to deal with mental illness – an encouraging procedure to handle schizophrenia, depression, suicidal tendencies, and other unwanted social problems – like homosexuality. (It was even sometimes used to treat backaches.). The procedure became very popular and in 1949, the originator of the procedure, Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz, shared a Nobel Prize for its discovery and could be enforced against the individual’s will.
After a relatively short surgical lifespan (the Soviet Union was the first country to outlaw the procedure in 1950 stating that it was contrary to the principles of humanity) it was noticed that dulling the emotions produced more than a few negative side effects; namely turning the patient into a vegetable, a living creature with no sign of depression, but a creature unable to focus, unable to make decisions, and unable to operate properly. One doctor described his patient following lobotomy as a “smiling, lazy and satisfactory patient with the personality of an oyster”. According to estimates, the United States was the worldwide leader in lobotomies, performing between 40,000 and 50,000. The practice was formally banned in 1967, but reports suggest that lobotomies still occurred throughout the 1980s.
Eugenics is defined by Wikipedia as s a set of beliefs and practices that aim to improve the genetic quality of a human population historically by excluding people and groups judged to be inferior or promoting those judged to be superior. Eugenics was a popular and well-received idea in the early part of the 20th century. Its proponents claimed that the practice could create a world in which genetic disease would be a thing of the past. In 1907, the state of Indiana in the US took a bold step toward that promising future and began a policy of forcibly sterilizing the mentally ill, in the hope that they wouldn't procreate and give birth to the mentally ill babies.
By 1938, 33 states had sterilization laws that covered not only "traditional" mental illness, but also the blind and deaf, people who were crippled. Orphans and the homeless were also added to this slate of sterilization because someone with the power to draft laws for the United States of America decided that losing your parents and/or your home was a genetic disorder. By the time the last involuntary sterilization laws were on the books in 1972 (Virginia was the final holdout), it's estimated that over 63,000 people had been forcibly sterilized by the government for the crime of possessing "undesirable" traits.
History is full of examples of crazy things you won’t believe used to be legal. Going forward, I would be curious to read a blog article from one of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, highlighting the crazy things that used to be legal in 2021.
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