Sunday, January 8, 2012

Forbidding Chewing Tobacco


     For a time (roughly spanning undergraduate years to two years ago) I thought I readily understood why we have the adjective puritanical.  If that perception hadn’t already set in from grade school history, it certainly did while writing a paper on anti-fornication laws for John Demos’ history class as an undergrad. 
     More recently, I’ve been reading the earliest decisions from a number of colonies.  The sheer number of fornication cases brought before the courts suggests to me that everyday behavior did not exactly coordinate with our ideas of the puritanical—although prosecuting the cases is another story.
     Among the strict behavior restrictions was one on chewing tobacco.  The photo, taken from an early Connecticut law book, is a lovely example.  I wonder, though, if such laws were as common (or commonly enforced) in the southern colonies, such as Virginia, where tobacco was a significant crop.  Of course, the irony is that we almost forbid chewing tobacco now through public pressure--a long way from the not too distant days when an upper level Kennedy administrator was gifted with a spittoon.  Not that I think that’s a bad thing.  Only an interesting example of an early Connecticut law that was once thought absurd and now seems much more reasonable.  Although the reasons behind the law and current social customs likely differ, it makes me wonder how fair it is to use puritanical (especially with any smugness) when we think of early legal history.

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