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Human relations changes aren't necessarily improvement

April 16, 2010|By ALLAN POWELL

While researching Maryland's archives for information about Maryland's record in the French and Indian War period, I discovered a number of unusual laws passed by the legislature of the colony. The titles will be sufficient to show concerns of the times.

One law, dated June 23, 1752 (four years before England declared war on France), is about "An Act directing the Manner of punishing Fornication and Adultery before a single Justice of the Peace, out of Court."

The purpose of this law was to give relief to the regular courts from the large numbers of trials of the above stated cases that precluded the attention that should have been given to more serious criminal trials. I am not aware of any reports on the success of this early attempt to regulate sexual mores.

Another ordinance provided for "... the payment of the sum of Ten pounds Current money to any of the Inhabitants of this Province or friend Indian who have or shall Kill and Scalp or take alive any Indian Enemy for the further Securing and defending the said Frontier Inhabitants ..." It was likely that every one of the 13 colonies enacted a similar law. This law opened the door to the murder of harmless, friendly Indians to get the bounty fee.

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While the foregoing enactments show the foolish and shadowy side of human nature, the law that reveals the stark depravity of some shameless creatures was drafted in 1752. This law carried the title "An Act to prevent disabled and superannuated Slaves being set free or the Manumission of Slaves by and last will or Testament." Can you imagine that such rank insensitivity and greed could exist on this planet?

It is a sad fact that some slave owners worked their slaves until they became unable to work any longer and then discarded them to be at the mercy of the community. It is also a sad fact that many today have no interest in the well-being or health of the less fortunate who, because of circumstances or misfortune, must bear their burdens alone.

The resistance to many or all of these attempts to ameliorate the lot of those who suffer seems to originate from those who are fortunate enough to afford health insurance. They write and speak about their political view, which favors a minimal government. Could it be the case that this political philosophy is really only a thinly veiled cover-up for a lack of sensitivity and personal greed?

One rationalization that is sure to surface when there is a discussion of public assistance is that we do not want to be "enablers" of laziness or sloth on the part of citizens. In addition, they are to blame for the fix they are in. Indeed, this might be the case of many who are down and out. It is also true that many lack the wit, physical ability or guidance to get a good job enabling them to manage their affairs.

There are those who profess to having a most profound concern that every fetus should be protected with the same force of law and morality that we give to the living. Are they equally zealous to maintain the adequate interest and care to assure the proper education and quality of life for each new person?

When one looks back at the sordid record of the human race and then compares it with sordid features of the present, it is hard to find a great deal of improvement except in the fields of medicine and technology.

In 1763, during Pontiac's uprising, the commander of Fort Pitt presented a gift of some blankets and "handkerchiefs" to the hostile Indians. They had been deliberately contaminated by exposure to smallpox germs from patients in the fort hospital. The unsuspecting warriors carried these deadly germs back to their villages, where their fateful mission was complete. This might be one of the first - if not the first - case of the use of germ warfare.

Almost daily, we read about or hear news reports about a fanatic who enters a crowd or a shop and blows those present into a mass of blood and bones. This is merely a more efficient display of the same ugly nature that was present at Fort Pitt more than 200 years ago. Change is not improvement.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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