Precedents

156 ABA Journal Precedents articles.

Oct. 24, 1865: The ‘Demon of Andersonville’ is convicted

Capt. Heinrich Hartmann Wirz wasn’t the only Confederate soldier prosecuted for war crimes after the Civil War—there were thousands of them—but Wirz was easily the most reviled.

Sept. 5, 1969: Murder charges in My Lai massacre

“The fog of war—the uncertainty and confusion of battle—makes prosecution of war crimes difficult, at best. Dead civilians become collateral damage—the lamentable result of bad aim, poor training and faulty intelligence. But when the chain of command is complicit, it becomes all but impossible.”

July 18, 1940: Democrats nominate FDR for unprecedented 3rd term

George Washington, having retired after two terms in office, set a precedent: that serving beyond two terms might suggest the office was intended for a ruler, not a democratically elected leader.

May 14, 1969: The Spectacular Fall of Abe Fortas
March 9, 1916: Pancho Villa’s Battle of Columbus
Nov. 18, 1883: US railroads enact standard time zones

The Providence & Worcester Railroad wreck was one of 11 major railroad accidents that killed 121 people in 1853. For decades after the P&W disaster, notions of time and timetables remained local and, for the most part, chaotic. By 1883, railroads were using 56 different time standards to schedule trains nationwide. A new system, designed on a time set by the U.S. Naval Observatory, took effect Nov. 18, 1883.

Oct. 2, 1780: John Andre executed

John Andre, a British army major during the American Revolution, was held in esteem as an officer and a gentleman, though he would be sentenced to death—with great regret—as a spy.

Aug. 6, 1890: First execution by electric chair

As an opponent of capital punishment, Thomas Edison had no interest in pursuing capital electrocution. Still, Edison found a way to benefit.

June 18, 1923: Marcus Garvey convicted of mail fraud

Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was certainly a radical—but one of his own peculiar brand. Neither anarchist nor Bolshevik, Garvey was drawn to Booker T. Washington’s self-reliance philosophy, which he sought to merge with Pan-Africanism and the “Back to Africa” movement.

May 9, 1960: FDA approves first birth control pill

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was asked to approve Enovid for contraception, the “birth control pill” had already proved highly effective. But with legal and moral objections, a regulatory storm was gathering.

April 6, 1841: John Tyler inaugurates precedential succession

On the death of President William Henry Harrison, Vice President John Tyler set a precedent when he made it clear that he planned to fully assume the office.

March 28, 1978: Supreme Court weighs in on judicial immunity, reluctantly

Linda Sparkman learned years later that she had been sterilized at age 15. The U.S. Supreme Court faced a constitutional question in hearing the case against the judge that authorized the procedure.

A tale of two silver markets—and two disasters

Rivalry between gold and silver touched off the Panic of 1893. Speculation roared back in 1980, when the billionaire Hunt brothers nearly cornered the silver market.

Dec. 2, 1892: Grand jury indicts Lizzie Borden

In November 1892, Fall River, Massachusetts, was an unremarkable New England mill town with a very remarkable problem: What to do with Lizzie Borden?

Nov. 22, 1926: The first Teapot Dome criminal trial begins

Albert B. Fall, secretary of the Interior under Warren G. Harding, was acquitted on charges of conspiracy to defraud the government, along with oilman Edward Doheny and his son, Edward Doheny Jr.

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