A Brief History
On September 18, 1838, English businessman and politician Richard Cobden along with free trade advocate John Bright established the Anti-Corn Law League, an action taken in opposition to the “Corn Laws” that had been enacted in Britain since 1815, a series of tariffs on goods imported from outside of Britain, especially grain products, hence the name “Corn Laws.” Today we take a look at even more of the laws people love to hate, as we have previously done in our articles on this subject.
Corn Laws, Britain, 19th Century.
Tariffs are a double edged sword, on the one hand protecting local manufacturers and farmers, while on the other hand raising the prices on imported goods for the rest of the population. As Britain tried to protect their native farmers by taxing imported foods and grains, the rest of the public railed against the increased cost of food in Britain and free trade advocates spoke against the Corn Laws, just as they opposed other such tariffs and laws limiting or hindering free trade. Since 2017, tariffs have become a hotly debated topic in the United States, especially insofar as trade with China is concerned. When the Trump Administration slammed heavy tariffs on Chinese imports, the Chinese retaliated by levying tariffs on US food exports, causing widespread financial loss to American farmers. Tariffs are pretty much proof of the old adage, “You can’t make everyone happy.”
Social Distancing and Mask Laws and Orders, United States, 2020.
While the world and especially the United States flounder along during the great Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, some states and local authorities have instituted laws and “orders” mandating a limit on certain public and private gatherings and business, and the mandatory wearing of some sort of face mask for either retail employees and/or citizens out and about in public. Both sides of the debate have been vociferous in their advocacy of either wearing or not wearing face masks, and one case after another has been reported in the media where arguments over whether or not to wear a face mask have turned deadly. Mixed messages from the President and his Administration have contributed to the confusion over whether or not the Covid-19 pandemic is an actual, serious threat to the public and whether or not wearing a face mask is a necessary thing in the interest of public safety. Conspiracy theorists also contribute to the disconnect between both sides of the debate by propagating false information about the virus and the pandemic in contrast to the scientific consensus. Numerous cases of people ignoring laws and orders against large social gatherings have taken place, and in some notable case these parties and gatherings have resulted in major spikes in reported coronavirus cases, including a recent political rally held by President Trump in Tulsa, Oklahoma! As of July 17, 2020, when this article is being written, the US is experiencing a major rise in coronavirus cases and the prospect of a new round of social distancing and face mask laws and orders is sure to create even more chaos.
Women’s Suffrage, US, 1920.
Women have been voting in the United States for a century and some men still cannot get over it! Although women may not hear the anti-women’s voting talk very often publicly, rest assured men say remarkably negative things about women voters while in the exclusive company of other men. Although this author has no first hand knowledge of it, I suspect women have similar conversations about men voters when men are not around!
Voter disenfranchisement for felons, US.
A current debate in 2020 concerns the laws many states have that do not allow incarcerated prisoners or convicted felons the right to vote. Recently, some states have changed their laws to make it easier for such persons to cast a ballot, and the topic is vehemently debated by both sides of the issue. In Florida, a court decision in 2020 allowed the state to deny felons their voting rights if the felon owes money to the state for legal expenses and fines. Opponents of such laws compare this requirement to the old “poll tax,” making financial status a criterium for voting. Many opponents of barring felons from the voting booth claim the issue is one of covert racism, as African Americans are disproportionately represented (1in 13 African Americans of voting age is so disenfranchised) among those persons convicted of serious crimes. (Feel free to give us your opinion on whether or not felons or inmates should be allowed to vote.) Only Maine and Vermont have no restrictions on voting by felons at all, including those still incarcerated. A total of 15 states, plus Washington, D.C., do not allow incarcerated felons to vote, while 31 states allow convicted felons the right to vote only after they have completed all aspects of their sentence, including jail time, probation, parole, and paying of fines and fees. Too strict, or not strict enough, it seems many people are just not happy with the status quo of voting laws.
Vote by mail, US, 2020.
Especially in light of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, many advocates of voter rights have championed the idea of making voting by mail as easy and accessible as possible for the largest number of voters, both to ensure public safety by not having voters and ballot workers exposed to closely packed lines and crowds of people attempting to vote, and also to enfranchise as many voters as possible, as social distancing restrictions and other pandemic safety practices may result in incredibly long lines and waits for voters attempting to cast a ballot in person, thus, quite possibly limiting the voter participation in the 2020 elections to a historic low. Advocates point out hard statistical fact that voter fraud via mail in ballots is even less prevalent than in-person voter fraud (also an incredibly small fraction of American votes), while opponents of voting by mail claim some un-supported theoretical voter fraud on a massive scale will certainly take place if Americans are widely allowed to vote by mail. Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to disenfranchise the Democrat demographic (especially persons of “color,” such as African Americans, as well as poor people) by limiting access to voting by mail. President Trump has taken a consistent and vehement stand opposing any expansion of voting by mail and even advocates reducing the opportunities that Americans already have to cast their votes remotely. (The common perception is that President Trump will suffer at the ballot box if mass numbers of voters are allowed to vote via the mail.) As with so many other current American issues, voting by mail has turned into a racially charged topic.
Firearm Sound Suppressors, US, 1934.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 sought to control the firepower of gangsters and other criminals by regulating access to machine guns, sawed off shotguns, short barreled rifles, and firearm sound suppressors (often referred to as “silencers”) among other things. Ever since, gun enthusiasts have railed against the law that requires that silencers be treated as if they were a deadly weapon in and of themselves, with rigorous documentation of ownership and the payment of a “tax stamp” of $200 and a background check. The owner of a suppressor (or silencer, take your pick) cannot just sell or give away his property, as the next person to own the device is also required to apply for ownership, pay the tax and undergo a background check. Currently, 42 states allow the ownership and use of firearm sound suppressors, and ownership of such devices is legal in the United States within those parameters outlined in the NFA. Gun enthusiasts want the law changed so that the financial burden on a purchaser is not so extreme and universal permission to use such devices, which would make hunting and home defense a much more pleasant and safer (for your hearing) experience. Shooting ranges would also experience a significant lowering of noise pollution (except for high powered weapons that little benefit from silencers, though they do have somewhat of a sound suppressing effect even on supersonic projectiles). Gun control advocates are also dissatisfied with the laws governing firearm sound suppressors, as they would prefer absolutely no civilian ownership of such devices at all, fearing that criminals would suddenly begin wholesale use of silencers while in the commission of gun crimes. (This irrational fear is kind of ridiculous, considering criminals do not follow the law anyway, and could easily manufacture their own, illicit suppressors, but real life experience indicates such activity is exceedingly rare.)
Note: Firearm sound suppressors were invented by Hiram P. Maxim in 1902. HP Maxim was the son of Hiram S. Maxim, the inventor of the modern machine gun. HP Maxim also invented the muffler for internal combustion engines.
Question for students (and subscribers): What current law disturbs you the most? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Lewis, JA. SILLY, WACKY, CRAZY, FUNNY, TRUE LAWS!!! Independently published, 2017.
Wojna, Lisa and Winter Prosapio. Weird U.S. Laws: Strange, Bizarre, Wacky & Absurd. Folklore Pub, 2013.
The featured image in this article, a meeting of the Anti-Corn Law League in Exeter Hall in 1846, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.