ABA Journal


162 ABA Journal Precedents articles.

Nov. 30, 1920: Charlie Ponzi pleads guilty to larceny

By the time he reached his third stretch in prison, Carlo “Charlie” Ponzi was an American celebrity. In a single remarkable year, 1920, the smooth-talking Italian immigrant made money as fast as anyone, ever. In a matter of months, he took in more than $15 million ($200 million today); but by year’s end he had also been arrested, indicted and convicted for a scheme that came to bear his name.

Aug. 15, 1876: Congress passes the ‘Sell or Starve’ Act

Despite their historic victory at Little Bighorn in June 1876, the Sioux found little relief from the white onslaught. Accepting defeat, they returned to their reservations—unarmed and newly dependent on government rations. And on Aug. 15, 1876, Congress passed legislation that became known as the “Sell or Starve” Act, halting any aid to the Sioux until they relinquished both their hunting rights and their claim to the Black Hills.

June 15, 1992: Supreme Court upholds DEA’s kidnapping of Mexican doctor

May 18, 1926: The strange disappearance of Aimee Semple McPherson

March 27, 1876: Colfax massacre convictions tossed

On Easter Sunday in 1873, a heavily armed group of white men led by Christopher Columbus Nash laid siege to the Grant Parish courthouse in the Louisiana town of Colfax. The aim of the assault by 300 white Democrats, many of them former Confederate soldiers, was to dislodge an armed cadre of 150 freedmen and white Republicans who had barricaded themselves inside to protect what they believed was the integrity of their local election.

Jan. 13, 1914: Wright brothers awarded patent on flying machine

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.

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