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Prisons: History

Enlightenment Reforms

Criticism of the prisoner trade increased in America during the eighteenth century. Civil actions were brought against alleged spirits and other illegal servant traffickers; tracts decrying the slave trade appeared; and mobs in some cities violently resisted roundups by press gangs. After one of these riots resulted in the death of a military officer, Boston attorney John Adams defended some of the rioters. Another fracas over impressment resulted in the Boston Massacre.

When some American colonists (many of them slaveholders) increased their agitation to end convict transportation, London's Dr. Samuel Johnson complained: "Why, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging!" By the third quarter of the eighteenth century, some of the New England colonies especially were the scene of frequent tumults, jail breaks, and protests. This unrest eventually culminated in the out-break of the American Revolution.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawPrisons: History - Early Jails And Workhouses, The Rise Of The Prisoner Trade, A Land Of Prisoners, Enlightenment Reforms