We have lots of really off-the-wall laws even today, laws that remain on the books in the different states despite the fact that they, for the most part, have been forgotten. That’s one of the most interesting things our lawmakers do.
The Congress as well as at state levels, our elected representatives spend hours, days and even months creating and putting new laws into effect. They manage to do this between vacations, trips abroad at or expense to visit their opposite number or inspect something like the public facilities in Paris. They have time to go fishing and a myriad of other activities in between slaving away over new laws, but somehow, they never seem to manage to repeal an old one. It just lies there, withering in the sun only to be forgotten, yet remain in force, should someone want to put it to good (or bad) use.
For example, it is against the law in New Jersey to wear a bullet-proof vest while committing a murder. Evidently the lawmakers feel that would be giving the murderer an unfair advantage over his/her victim. When margarine was first introduced over a hundred years ago, the butter lobby got a law passed that made it illegal to sell yellow margarine, so it had to be packaged in white cubes, thus having something of the appearance of shortening. A small envelope accompanied the margarine and the housewife had to mix the coloring into the margarine in the kitchen to give it a final appearance, if not taste, of butter. This continued well into the 1950s. In Missouri this law remains in effect today, although no one seems to remember it.
But that didn’t happen overnight, and not just here in the United States or in some other modern country.
Crazily insane laws have been enacted since the first lawmakers donned wigs and black gowns and pretended they were smarter than everyone else. Here below, is a list of some particularly goofy laws, beginning with the least insane but otherwise not following any particular order.
10. No Hats
In ancient Greece, a law (perhaps not so crazy at that) decreed that hats were forbidden in the Olympic Stadium because it might obstruct the games from someone’s view.
Today lawsuits, many of them deemed frivolous, keep the courts so busy a plaintiff may have months to have that “day in court”, but in ancient Babylon, it’s unlikely that many frivolous lawsuits were filed. If a citizen took someone to court and prevailed, great, but if the plaintiff failed to prove the case presented to the court, it meant the death penalty. Evidently, the king had grown tired of hearing about people running around filing lawsuits all the time.
8. Get Off Easy
In Samaria, even before the time of Hammurabi, rape of another citizen was punishable by death, but the rape of a slave only cost the offender a few bucks, but to avoid the death penalty, the rapist could marry the victim and in that case, all would be forgiven. Well, we’re not too sure about the victim’s feelings, but if you think women have a hard time today, you should read a little history.
7. Laws In Blood
One of the harshest laws on the books dates back to ancient Athens. The head honcho Draco was clearly a no=nonsense guy. (By the way that’s where we got the adjective “draconian”). At that time death was the order of the day and night. Draco was against any sort of behavior he considered to be a crime and be it murder or rape or something as simple as stealing some carrots from a neighbor’s vegetable garden, that all meant death. No in-between. Just death for one and for all. And the kicker is that legend has it that Draco personally wrote the law in the blood (Human blood I imagine).
7. In ancient Rome children born with a deformity had to be killed. It was the law, and as Inspector Javert used to insist, “The law’s the law”.
6. Moving forward a few year, in Merry Olde England, a law still exists which allows “lords of the manor” to revive ancient rights to land the family once owned, thus forcing the homeowners out of their homes and off the property. No one has publicly attempted to take advantage of this obviously insane law.
5. In Milan, Italy, serious-minded lawmakers once enacted a law that made it illegal for citizens to be seen in public without wearing a smile. The law is still there, but today, no one’s smiling about it. In fact, practically no one even knows it ever existed.
4. In ancient Rome, if your witness fails to appear in court, you have the legal right to go to his house every three days and stand outside shouting his name until he gets sick of the disturbance and goes to court with you.
3. In Roman times the law basically decreed that if a man was killed while trying to commit a crime, it served him right.
2. An ancient Arabian law, still in effect, allows even small children to be married to adults, sometimes middle-aged adults. It was ever thus.
1. In ancient Egypt, Ma’at was a code of ethics not unlike the Ten Commandments, but actually much more extensive. Violating Ma’at deserved more than a simple death penalty. The culprit might be impaled on a stake, burned alive, perhaps drowned or even decapitated.
Most of these bygone laws appear to carry along an overly severe form of punishment considering the seriousness of the crime, but even today in many countries, stoning to death as well as other frightening forms of punishment may await a transgressor.
Right here at home we have far more than our share of senseless laws lurking in dusty boxes in courthouse basements, but as time goes one and new laws constantly come into effect, they are, for the most part forgotten. We can thank our hard-working lawmakers for that bit of respite from unusual and probably unmerited punishment.