Turning Points Of The Salem Witch Trials
Today, the impeachment of Donald Trump is one of the main topics in peoples’ minds. Unfortunately, President Trump has been feeling threatened by everybody, such as women, regular citizens, people within his party, and those who do not support him. For a while, Trump has used the term “witch hunt” within his tweets as a way to take the attention off of himself and lessen the degree of the awful things he has done to others. When I see the word witch-hunt being used, especially by our president, I make the comparison to the Salem Witch Trials and how similar the witch hunt was politically at that time. It was the use of law and order to dispute the accusations and execution of innocent people. Compared to today, this term used by Trump is now his way of feeling attacked by those who oppose his views. The question is how have powerful leaders used the term “witch hunt” to sway the minds of the people concerning the present-day conflicts and corruptions?
The years, 1692 and 1693 were tragic times in American history. This tragedy happened in Salem Massachusetts and was a year-long series of accusations and trials between the villagers. The colony religion was mainly puritan, in which the individuals believed in the devil. This religion was strict and the littlest change in behavior could make someone suspicious. It was the investigation and persecution of 19 convicted “witches” as well as many others: men, women, and even children, that were to be hanged or imprisoned if suspected of anything; the town’s minister thought or believed who was satanic.
I chose this event because back in my junior year of high school, my English teacher was required to assign the book The Crucible which surprisingly pulled my attention and made me interested. Afterwards, we ended up watching the four-act-play, and I was very intrigued after seeing what I read in the book. It is a whole other perspective, and I wanted to compare and challenge the events during that year and their political system and how it changed over time.“Execution of Mrs. Ann Hibbins.” This image presents an execution of Mrs. Ann Hibbins for being accused of witchcraft while people of the village watch. However, this picture is from the Boston Commons in 1657 and sometimes used as an illustration of the Salem Witch Trials. I used this picture, even though it is it not from the Salem Witch trials because I believe it is relevant to this time due to the “witch hunts” that were increasing everywhere and how sad these times were. Ann Hibbins was one of the 30+ individuals that were accused of witchcraft.
Continually, there are many effects from the Salem Witch Trials that have impacted the lives of many families back then and the political side of our society today. First off, during the time of the trials, it was emotionally and physically brutal for many of the villagers. It was neighbors against neighbors, children against adults, and family against one another for the accusations of witchery and black magic. During the late 1600s, many of the colonists within Salem, Massachusetts were accused, sent to trial, and their lives depended on the people of the town. It was hard to have a voice back then when no lawyer was provided; proving oneself was based on ridiculous tests that proved nothing, and no one had any rights. According to Lyonette Louis-Jacques of the University of Chicago Library News, “The law of the Salem Witch Trials is a fascinating mix of biblical and colonial statues. According to Mark Podiva, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted the following statue in 1641: ‘If any man or woman be a WITCH, that is, hath or consulted with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death. Exod. 22. 18. Levit. 20. 27. Deut. 18. 10. 11.’ The statute encompasses passages from the Bible...”… “Courts relied on three kinds of evidence: 1) confession, 2) testimony of two eyewitnesses to acts of witchcraft, or 3) spectral evidence (when the afflicted girls were having their fits, they would interact with an unseen assailant – the apparition of the witch tormenting them).” This system was unfair, unorganized, and many innocent women, men, and children suffered because of the justice system they had today.
This image is a sketch, Circa 1692, of 80-year-old Giles Corey and his trial. Corey’s trial and execution were based on his decision to refuse to enter a plea. He has been accused by the people he knew such as Ann Putnam Jr., Abigail Williams, and Mercy Lewis accused him of witchcraft. Ann supposedly said he came to visit her and asked her to write in the devil’s book. Another person said they witnessed him serving bread and wine at a witch’s sacrament. During his trial, he refused to speak and because of that the jury then decided by pressing the prisoner, it would force them to speak. Corey was the only man during this time that was pressed to death by stones and took him two days to die.
Because of this, our justice system has changed over time. Thankfully, it is now organized and pretty much fair in most opinions, but there are ways it is still corrupt. Those accused and on trial, now have the right to have a lawyer provided for them, and both sides of the courts have a right to tell their side of the story. There have to be investigations and hard proof of the accuser for them to serve time. However, recently there have been many cases of accusers, mainly toward the black community, where they have no voice in the courtroom despite if they are guilty or not, and that is if they are still alive to make it to the courtroom. According to Michigan State University College of Law, Professor Barbara O’Brien, “African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration.” In North Carolina in the year of 1998, a Native American woman, Christina Walters, and three African American men, Marcus Robinson, Quintel Augustine, and Tilmon Golphin were four inmates facing execution, due to racial discrimination against an all-white jury. “The evidence Stubbs referred to was uncovered by a commission set up under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act (RJA), an exceptional measure introduced in 2009 following a spate of exonerations of innocent people held in some cases for decades on death row. That so many innocent people, most of them African American had come close to being killed by the state alarmed local politicians to the extent that the then Democratic-controlled assembly decided to root out racial discrimination from the death penalty once and for all.” (Pilkington). Although the Salem Witch Trials were not racially discriminatory, the system then compared to our system now is the fact that no one hardly gets justice. The system was corrupt back then, and it still is now, just in its own different way. There are many more case studies today that can be compared to the research of the Salem Witch Trials and how powerful people then and now have not improved the corruption they have caused.
There are many ways things could have played out differently during the Salem Witch Hunt. I understand during the 1600s people did not have much to live off of and that they were very religious, so it was very easy to get people frightened. I feel like if the leaders during that time made effort to watch their people, and established a fair justice system, this dark time in American history would not have effected innocent family members that were only scared. Even though our courtroom and justice system has changed over time, I believe the power of the jury would not be as cruel to certain races as it is today.
In conclusion, to answer the question of how have powerful leaders used the term “witch hunt” to sway the minds of the people concerning the present-day conflicts and corruptions, even though the court and legal system has changed over time to allow people to get justice, unfortunately, the same system is still flawed with false accusations and unfair charges or sentences to different races.
Bloom, Harold. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996.
Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice, and Rebecca Beatrice Brooks. “Salem Witch Trials: Primary Sources.” History of Massachusetts Blog, May 22, 2019. https://historyofmassachusetts.org/salem-witch-trials-primary-sources/.
Louis-Jacques, Lyonette. “The Salem Witch Trials: A Legal Bibliography.” The University of Chicago Library News - The University of Chicago Library. Accessed November 25, 2019. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/about/news/the-salem-witch-trials-a-legal-bibliography-for-halloween/.
Pilkington, Ed. “Landmark US Case to Expose Rampant Racial Bias behind the Death Penalty.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, August 25, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/24/landmark-us-case-to-expose-rampant-racial-bias-behind-the-death-penalty.
Ray, Benjamin. 'Salem Witch Trials.' Magazine of History 17, no. 4 (07, 2003): 32. http://dcccd.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/213731809?accountid=4874.