1878-1899: Law and Justice: Chronology

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1878-1899: Law and Justice: Chronology




  • Massachusetts authorizes a paid probation officer for Boston criminal courts.
  • Deputy Customs Inspector Isaac D. Dennis in Wrangell, Alaska, prohibits the liquor trade.
  • Congress establishes the Light Horse, a Native American police force, in Indian Territory, or what is today the state of Oklahoma.
  • The Supreme Court in Hall v. DeCuir overturned a Louisiana court decision that awarded damages to a black woman who had been refused admission to a steamships stateroom reserved for whites. Since the ship had traveled between Louisiana and Mississippi, the Supreme Court held that the state of Louisiana had no right to regulate interstate commerce.
  • In Harkness v. Hyde the Supreme Court declares that the state of Idaho cannot serve warrants on a Shoshone Indian reservation.
  • The Ku Klux Klan terrorizes Swedish immigrants in Iowa.
  • 11 Feb. Ann Restell-Lohman, a New York abortionist, is arrested at the behest of moral reformer Anthony Comstock. Arraigned on 30 March, Restell-Lohman commits suicide on 1 April.
  • 25 Mar. Three leaders of the Molly Maguires, a secret labor terrorist organization, are executed in Pennsylvania for murdering a political opponent. In the next few months two other leaders of the movement will be executed for similar crimes.
  • 18 June Congress forbids soldiers to act as posse comitatus except in cases of armed insurrection.
  • 21 Aug. The American Bar Association has its first meeting in Saratoga, New York.
  • 7 Oct. President Rutherford B. Hayes warns citizens of Lincoln County in New Mexico Territory not to prevent the execution of laws, or he will impose martial law as of 13 October.


  • The Michigan legislature defeats a prohibition bill but puts a heavy tax on liquor. The Kansas legislature endorses prohibition. Meanwhile the U.S. House of Representatives creates the Committee on Alcoholic Liquor Traffic.
  • Dr. T. V. McGillicudy, Indian agent at the Rosebud (Sioux) Reservation, creates an Indian police force.
  • The West Publishing Company publishes Northwest Reporter, the first compendium of state court decisions.
  • The Supreme Court declares that federal patent power does not cover trademarks.
  • New York City considers a proposal to regulate prostitution.
  • 5 May The Supreme Court upholds an antipolygamy statute in Reynolds v. U.S. One month later George Reynolds is convicted of polygamy.
  • 31 May The circuit court of New York upholds the conviction of Derogier M. Bennett for mailing a tract, Cupids Yokes, in violation of federal antiobscenity laws.
  • 7 July A federal circuit court in San Francisco awards $10,000 to Ho Ah Kow, whose queue was cut off while in police custody (an anti-Chinese ordinance required male prisoners to have their hair cut to within one inch of the scalp).
  • 8 Oct. Jesse James and his gang rob a Chicago & Alton Railroad train at Glendale, Missouri, making off with $6,000.
  • 9 Dec. Samuel Singleton, doorkeeper at New Yorks Grand Opera House, is indicted under the Civil Rights Act of 1875 for refusing to admit William Davis Jr. to the theater on account of Daviss color.


  • Nebraska repeals a prohibition law.
  • A New York legislative committee investigates Standard Oil Company.
  • In Strauder v. West Virginia the Supreme Court strikes down the conviction of a black man because only whites had served on the jury.
  • In Densmore v. Scofield Justice Noah Swayne asserts that a valid patent must display originality or a flash of thought.
  • 20 May San Francisco requires laundries in wooden buildings to have city permits to operate.
  • 13 Oct. Anti-Chinese rioting in Denver kills one person and destroys $50,000 in property.
  • 2 Nov. Voters in Kansas approve prohibition, 92,302 votes to 84,304.


  • Nebraska passes the first high license law, imposing a large fee on liquor licenses. Massachusetts adopts a local option, allowing towns to decide whether or not alcohol can be sold.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department permits beer and wine to be imported into Alaska.
  • Theodore Woolsey, president of Yale University, forms the New England Divorce Reform League in order to toughen divorce laws.
  • New York replaces unwritten common law with a written legal code setting penalties for criminal offenses.
  • 24 Jan. Supreme Court Justice Noah Swayne retires.
  • 22 Feb. President Hayes bans the sale of intoxicating liquors at army posts and forts.
  • 2 July Charles J. Guiteau shoots President James A. Garfield, who succumbs to his wound on 19 September.
  • 14 July At Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Sheriff Patrick F. Garrett shoots William H. Bonney, popularly known as Billy the Kid.
  • 15 July The Jesse James gang robs a Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific train near Winston, Missouri, killing the conductor and a passenger.
  • 26 July Missouri governor Thomas J. Crittenden meets with railroad leaders, who agree to give a $5,000 reward for the capture of any member of the James gang, with an additional $5,000 each for Jesse and Frank.
  • 4 Aug. A North Carolina referendum overturns the prohibition law previously adopted by the legislature, 166,325 votes to 48,370.
  • 7 Sept. Jesse James and his gang rob a Chicago & Alton train at Blue Cut, Missouri. Before leaving the scene James gives the engineer two silver dollars and says, Here is two dollars for you to drink the health of Jesse James tomorrow morning.
  • 26 Oct. In Tombstone, Arizona Territory, the famous gunfight at the O. K. Corral occurs when Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan, along with John Doc Holliday, confront the Clanton-McLaury gang. Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton are killed. In the wake of the shooting Virgil is suspended as city marshal, and public opinion turns against the Earps.
  • 14 Nov. The trial of Guiteau begins in Washington.
  • 20 Dec. The Senate confirms Horace Grays appointment to the Supreme Court.


  • A New York law prohibits cigar manufacturing in tenements.
  • The Nebraska legislature revokes prohibition.
  • California requires separate schools for Chinese children.
  • Justice Ward Hunt retires from the Supreme Court.
  • Voters in sixty-two of Arkansass seventy-four counties support prohibition.
  • 2 Jan. John D. Rockefeller reorganizes Standard Oil Company as a trust.
  • 5 Jan. Guiteau is found guilty in the murder of President Garfield.
  • 2 Mar. The Senate confirms former New York senator Roscoe Conklings nomination to the Supreme Court, thirty-nine votes to twelve. Conkling declines the appointment.
  • 22 Mar. Congress bans polygamy in federal territories.
  • 27 Mar. The Senate confirms Samuel Blatchfords nomination to the Supreme Court.
  • 3 Apr. Robert Ford, a member of the James gang, shoots and kills Jesse James at his home in Saint Joseph, Missouri.
  • 3 May President Chester Arthur threatens to impose martial law in the Arizona Territory to prevent outlaws from rustling Mexican cattle.
  • 6 May The first Exclusion Act bars further Chinese immigration for ten years.
  • 27 June Iowa passes prohibition by a vote of 155,436 to 125,677. The state supreme court will later strike down the measure.
  • 30 June Guiteau is executed.
  • 5 Oct. Frank James surrenders himself to the governor of Missouri.


  • Congress establishes the Courts of Indian Offences, consisting of judges drawn from tribal police forces, to arrest and convict Native Americans practicing polygamy and traditional religions.
  • Isaac Vincent, Alabama state treasurer, flees to Mexico with over $200,000 in state funds.
  • An investigation in Arkansas reveals that the former state treasurer and future governor Thomas J. Churchill had left a shortage of $294,876 in the state treasury.
  • 18 Jan. Tennessee state treasurer Marshall T. Polk, adopted son of former president James K. Polk, disappears with $400,000 in state funds. Polk will eventually be apprehended and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
  • 16 Apr. The Supreme Court rules that a man injured in a railroad accident was not negligent in placing his arm on an open window sill.
  • 7 May In U. S. v. 43 Gallons of Whiskey, the Supreme Court rules that paying an internal revenue tax in a collection district that includes an Indian reservation does not authorize the sale of whiskey on Indian lands.
  • 21 July Frank James is tried and acquitted in Gallatin, Missouri, for the 1881 murder of a train passenger.
  • 25 July In Fulton County, Georgia, Klansmen attack Berry Saunders, a black man who had registered to vote.
  • 12 Oct. Eight Georgia Klansmen are indicted for violating Saunderss civil rights.
  • 15 Oct. The Supreme Court strikes down the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
  • 5 Nov. In Manhattan Life Insurance Co. v. Broughton the Supreme Court maintains that a widow can collect on the insurance policy of her late husband. His death is not a suicide because he was deemed insane when he took his own life.
  • 17 Dec. The Supreme Court rules that Lakota spiritual leader Crow Dog cannot be charged in territorial court for a murder committed on the reservation where Sioux law prevails.


  • In Hurtado v. California the Supreme Court rules that due process of law does not guarantee a grand jury indictment in state prosecution for murder.
  • 3 Mar. The Supreme Court upholds the federal governments power to punish Klansmen who had tried to intimidate Berry Saunders, asserting that the United States must protect citizens voting rights.
  • 17 Mar. In Stevens v. Griffith the Supreme Court rules that a former Confederate courts judgment confiscating a claim due a U.S. citizen and payment made to a Confederate agent are not barred from recovery claims.
  • 10 May A statue of Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835) is unveiled outside the Capitol building.
  • 3 Nov. In Elk v. Wilkins the Supreme Court rules that John Elk, a Native American who has separated from his tribe and no longer lives on the reservation, is not a citizen of the United States because he has not been naturalized.


  • The National Divorce Reform League is formed to make divorce more difficult.
  • 20 Jan. In In rejacobs the New York court of appeals strikes down a ban on tenement manufacture of cigars as an infringement on an individuals liberty to make contracts.
  • 3 Mar. In response to Ex parte Crow Dog, the Major Crimes Act gives federal and territorial courts jurisdiction over serious crimes committed by Indians on Indian lands.
  • 2 Apr. Under pressure from moral reformer Josiah Leeds, Philadelphia district attorney George Graham approves the arrest of heavyweight boxer John L. Sullivan, thus prohibiting him from fighting. After further legal challenges Sullivan and his opponent will fight on 3 September in New York City.
  • 15 June The Supreme Court strikes down a New York law prohibiting the manufacture of oleomargarine.
  • 2 Sept. A white mob in Rock Springs, Wyoming, kills twenty-eight Chinese miners.
  • 24 Oct. A Seattle mob burns Chinese homes and drives Chinese residents out of the city.
  • 8 Nov. President Grover Cleveland uses federal troops to restore order in the Washington Territory as anti-Chinese violence continues.
  • 23 Nov. The Supreme Court asks that models, diagrams, and exhibits introduced as evidence in patent cases be submitted one month before the case is argued and removed one month after a verdict is rendered.
  • 7 Dec. The Supreme Court maintains that the contract between Pullman Palace Car Company and St. Louis, Iron Mountain, & Southern Railway is still valid even though the railway is bought out by Missouri Pacific Railroad.


  • The Supreme Court bars cameras from the courtroom after Justice Gray is photographed napping on the bench.
  • New York State launches an unsuccessful campaign to regulate prostitution.
  • In U. S. v. Kagama the Supreme Court upholds the Major Crimes Act of 1885.
  • Fourteenth Amendment protection of citizens is extended to corporations with Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co.
  • 4 Jan. In Storie v. Farmers Loan & Trust the Supreme Court allows courts to review the reasonableness of railroad rates set by state regulatory commissions.
  • 5 Apr. Iowa prohibits common carriers from bringing liquor into the state without a permit.
  • 4 May Striking workers hold a rally in Haymarket Square, Chicago, to demand shorter hours and to protest police brutality. A bomb is thrown into the crowd by an unidentified assailant, and in the ensuing confusion the police open fire.
  • 10 May In Yick Wo v. Hopkins the Supreme Court revokes the right of the city of San Francisco to require laundries to have operating licenses.
  • 20 Aug. Eight anarchists accused in the Haymarket bombing are convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Seven receive the death penalty while the eighth is sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
  • 25 Oct. The Supreme Court rules that an Illinois law prohibiting railroads from discriminating between long-haul and short-haul freight rates interferes with Congress power to regulate interstate commerce.
  • 24 Nov. A Missouri court admits a telephone conversation as evidence in a civil case.


  • Former Alabama treasurer Isaac Vincent is apprehended, tried, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison for embezzlement.
  • Supreme Court Justice William Woods dies.
  • 4 Feb. Congress passes the Interstate Commerce Act.
  • 7 Feb. The Supreme Court rules that a federal law against cohabiting with more than one woman forbids a continuous act of polygamy; a man, therefore, cannot be indicted for separate acts committed with the same woman.
  • 8 Feb Congress passes the General Allotment or Dawes Severalty Act to distribute reservation land among individual Indians.
  • 15 Apr. The first issue of Harvard Law Review is published.
  • 2 Nov. A writ of error is denied to the Haymarket anarchists by the Supreme Court.
  • 4 Nov. A federal judge in West Virginia dismisses the conviction of Elmina Slenker, accused of sending a manuscript, The Girl and the Dog, in the mail, contrary to antiobscenity laws.
  • 10 Nov. Louis Lingg, one of the Haymarket anarchists, commits suicide. The next day August Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer are executed for the bombing.
  • 5 Dec. Mugler v. Kansas upholds a Kansas prohibition law.


  • Kentucky state treasurer James W. Tate embezzles $229,000 in state funds.
  • 16 Jan. The Senate confirms (thirty-two votes to twenty-eight) Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamars appointment to the Supreme Court, making Lamar the first former secessionist to serve on the Court.
  • 19 Mar. The Supreme Court upholds Alexander Graham Bells patents of different parts of the telephone.
  • 20 Mar. In Bowman v. Chicago & Northwestern Railroad the Supreme Court strikes down an Iowa prohibition law.
  • 12 Apr. Iowa passes a new license law to regulate alcohol sales.
  • 18 May The Michigan Supreme Court rules that an act to regulate the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors is invalid as it actually prohibits the manufacture and sale of alcohol.
  • 13 Sept. The Scott Act bars twenty thousand Chinese who had left the United States from reentering the country.
  • 22 Oct. The Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of Iowas prohibition law.


  • New Jersey passes new laws on incorporation, giving corporations broad powers free of state regulation.
  • 1 Jan. New York replaces hanging with electrocution as the manner of execution in capital crime cases.
  • 6 Feb. Congress passes the Criminal Appeals Act, allowing the Supreme Court to hear appeals in capital cases coming from federal courts.
  • 1 Mar. Congress creates a federal judgeship and court at Muscogee with jursidiction over all the Indian Territory.
  • 22 Mar. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Matthews dies.
  • 22 Apr. Homesteaders rush into Oklahoma after Congress buys land from the Five Civilized Tribes.
  • 4 May Chicago doctor Patrick H. Cronin is murdered by opponents in Clan-na-Gael, an Irish American political organization.
  • 14 May The Supreme Court upholds the Scott Act and refuses to admit Chae Chan Ping into the United States.
  • 14 Aug. David Neagle, bodyguard to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, shoots and kills former California chief justice David S. Terry when he strikes Field in a Lathrop, California, restaurant.
  • 16 Dec. The murderers of Dr. Cronin are convicted.
  • 18 Dec. David J. Brewer, the nephew of Justice Field, joins the Supreme Court.


  • Henry B. Brown joins the Supreme Court.
  • 4 Feb. The celebration of the Supreme Court Centennial occurs at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.
  • 24 Mar. In a series of cases the Supreme Court strikes down railroad rates set by a Minnesota state legislative commission.
  • 28 Apr. In Leisy v. Hardin the Supreme Court rules that licensing power does not allow states to prohibit the sale of alcohol in original containers, thus overturning an 1847 precedent.
  • 2 May Congress incorporates unoccupied areas of Indian Territory as Oklahoma, thus allowing for white settlement.
  • 23 May The Supreme Court denies that electrocution constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
  • 10 June The McKinley Tariff, which reduces duties on steel and iron and eliminates duties on raw sugar, becomes law.
  • 2 July The Sherman Anti-Trust Act becomes law.
  • 10 July Louisiana passes a law requiring separation of races on railroad cars.
  • 6 Aug. William Kemmler, convicted of murdering his wife with a hatchet, becomes the first person in the United States to die in the electric chair. The execution occurs at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York, and is botched. George Westinghouse Jr. reports: It has been a brutal affair. They could have done better with an axe.
  • 8 Aug. Congress responds to Leisy v. Hardin with the Wilson Act, subjecting alcohol to laws of the state into which it is sent.
  • 6 Oct. The Mormon Church agrees not to sanction plural marriage and calls on all members to obey federal laws on marriage. It also removes its objection to Utahs statehood.
  • 13 Oct. Supreme Court Justice Samuel F. Miller dies.
  • 15 Oct. New Orleans police commissioner David Hennessy is murdered.


  • Massachusetts creates a statewide probation system.
  • Georgia requires separate railroad cars for whites and blacks.
  • The first issue of Yale Law Journal appears.
  • 1 Feb. Helen Neilson Potts dies of a morphine overdose. Carlyle Harris, a New York medical student, is charged and eventually convicted of her murder.
  • 3 Mar. Congress creates a new federal appellate court to relieve the Supreme Court of its overwhelming number of cases.
  • 12 Mar. A New Orleans jury acquits three defendants, but cannot agree on verdicts for three others, in the murder trial of police chief David Hennessy. Two days later a mob storms the jailhouse and lynches eleven prisoners accused in the Hennessy murder.
  • 23 Dec. Altena Davis, twenty-three, a shopkeeper from Everett, Massachusetts, drowns in the Mystic River after falling or being pushed off a bridge. James A. Trefethen is later charged with her murder.


  • Violence occurs in Johnson County, Wyoming, between cattle ranchers and rustlers. President Benjamin Harrison sends troops to restore order.
  • 22 Jan. Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley dies.
  • 14 Feb. Rev. Charles Parkhurst delivers a sermon blasting the New York City police for supporting gambling, prostitution, and saloons through selective enforcement of laws.
  • 2 Mar. The supreme court of Ohio dissolves Standard Oil Company; Rockefeller recharters it in New Jersey.
  • 9 Mar. Three black businessmen are lynched in Memphis, Tennessee, prompting Ida B. Wells, editor of Free Speech, to launch a crusade against lynching.
  • 4 May Trefethen is convicted of murdering Davis. He appeals the conviction and is granted a new trial.
  • 5 May Congress suspends Chinese immigration for another ten years and requires each Chinese resident to apply within one year to an internal revenue collector for a certificate of residence. Failure to obtain a certificate would be cause for deportation.
  • 7 June Homer Plessy is arrested on a train in New Orleans, Louisiana, for refusing to move into a car reserved for nonwhites.
  • 6 July A battle occurs in Homestead, Pennsylvania, between steelworkers striking against the Carnegie Company and nonunion workers brought in by the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Nine workers and seven Pinkerton agents are killed.
  • 18 July Seven leaders of the Homestead strike are indicted for murder but are never convicted.
  • 23 July Anarchist Alexander Berkman stabs the managing head of the Carnegie Company, Henry Clay Frick. The latter survives, and Berkman spends fourteen years in prison.
  • 26 July The Senate confirms George Shiras Jr. to the Supreme Court.
  • 4 Aug. Andrew J. and Abbie Borden are murdered in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew Bordens daughter from a previous marriage, Lizzie, is arrested.
  • 5 Oct. The Dalton gang is gunned down by the residents of Coffeyville, Kansas, when it attempts to rob two banks simultaneously. The sole survivor, Emmett Dalton, is sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • 26 Oct. Pennsylvania Chief Justice Edward Paxson unsuccessfully calls for indictments of treason against 176 leaders of the Homestead strike.
  • 4 Dec. The Pinkerton Detective Agency decides not to provide protection to businesses in industrial disputes.


  • Harvard professor James Bradley Thayer writes The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law. This was one of the first scholarly reconsiderations of judicial review, or the power of the Supreme Court to determine what the Constitution means.
  • 4 Jan. President Harrison pardons all persons accused of polygamy who have obeyed the law since 1 November 1890.
  • 23 Jan. Supreme Court Justice Lamar dies.
  • 4 Mar. Howell Jackson takes his seat on the Supreme Court.
  • 15 May In Fong Yue Ting v. U.S. the Supreme Court upholds the residency requirements for Chinese immigrants.
  • 20 June Lizzie Borden is acquitted of murdering her father and stepmother.
  • 26 June Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld pardons the three remaining Haymarket prisoners.
  • 7 July Supreme Court Justice Blatchford dies.
  • 27 Sept. In his second trial Trefethen is acquitted of murdering Davis.
  • 23 Oct. Chicago mayor Carter Harrison is shot and killed by Patrick Eugene John Prendergrast. Despite attorney Clarence Darrows effort to prove Prendergrast insane, he is convicted and later hanged on 23 March 1894.
  • 3 Nov. Congress requires Chinese residents who had previously been in the United States to have two non-Chinese witnesses swear to their legality before being allowed to reenter.


  • The Supreme Court permits a Chinese merchant to reenter the United States. Meanwhile, Congress forbids the courts from interfering with the exclusion of Chinese.
  • 12 Mar. Edward D. White joins the Supreme Court.
  • 30 Apr. A march of unemployed men led by Jacob Coxey reaches Washington, D.C., demanding that the federal government provide jobs and improve transportation by building highways.
  • 26 May The Supreme Court rules that Virginia did not violate the federal rights of Belva Lockwood, the first woman allowed to argue before that court, when it refused to admit her to the state bar.
  • 22 June A New York court dismisses an attempt by Anthony Comstock to prevent the sale of books he deems obscene, but which sellers argue have literary merit.
  • 29 June The American Railway Union calls for a boycott of trains hauling Pullman cars.
  • 2 July The United States files a complaint against Eugene V. Debs, leader of the American Railway Union. The government charges that a boycott of trains is a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because it is a conspiracy in restraint of trade.
  • 15 Aug. Congress authorizes the nations first peacetime income tax, a flat 2 percent rate on all incomes over $4,000.
  • 24 Oct. The Supreme Court hears the federal governments argument that the sugar trust has violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act through control of all the sugar refined in the United States.


  • South Carolina requires all voters to have $300 in real estate and be able to read and understand the state constitution.
  • John J. Crawford drafts the Negotiable Instruments Law, which governs promissory notes. It is one of the first and most successful uniform laws.
  • New Yorks Lexow Commission issues a report on corruption and patronage in the New York City police department.
  • 3 Jan. A Michigan court dismisses the case against Catherine Ketchum, a woman accused of hiring a photographer to take nude pictures of her.
  • 8 Jan. The trial of Debs and other leaders of the American Railway Union charged with conspiring to restrain interstate commerce opens in Chicago. After four days Judge Peter S. Grosscup discontinues the trial until May, but it never resumes.
  • 21 Jan. A decision in U.S. v. E.C. Knight Company is rendered. The Supreme Court rules that the sugar trust did not violate the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
  • 7 Mar. Arguments begin in Pollock v. Farmers Loan and Trust Co., a case concerning the income-tax law of 1894.
  • 25 Mar. Clarence Darrow and former senator Lyman Trumbull argue Eugene Debss case in the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney General Richard Olney argues against Debs.
  • 6 May Theodore Roosevelt becomes chairman of the New York City board of police commissioners.
  • 20 May In the Pollock case the Supreme Court determines that a tax on income from real property is unconstitutional because it is a direct tax. An income tax is not adopted in this country until the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913.
  • 27 May The Supreme Court upholds and injunction against Debs.
  • 7 June Roosevelt and journalist Jacob Riis take their first midnight stroll to inspect police activity in Manhattan. One of the reforms Roosevelt recommends is to arrest both prostitutes and their customers.
  • 8 Aug. Supreme Court Justice Howell Jackson dies.
  • 22 Nov. Debs is released from McHenry County Jail in Woodstock, Illinois, after serving six months for violating a court injunction.


  • Reformers press Congress to bar pictures or descriptions of prizefights from the mail or interstate commerce.
  • Louisiana imposes a grandfather clause, requiring that a prospective voter be the grandson of an eligible voter. By 1900 this will reduce the number of black voters from 127,000 to 3,300.
  • 6 Jan. Rufus Peckham takes a seat on the Supreme Court.
  • 30 Mar. Utah forbids miners to work more than eight hours a day.
  • 13 Apr. The Supreme Court hears arguments in Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • 18 May In Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court decides that states can require separation of races on railroad cars. This is a landmark decision, and the doctrine of separate but equal remains in effect in this country until 1954.
  • 8 Aug. Three Italians Salvatore Arena, Giuseppe Venturelia, and Lorenzo Salardino are lynched in Hanville, Louisiana. On 3 May 1897 President William McKinley will recommend $6,000 in indemnity to the Italian government.
  • 1 Sept. Congress removes criminal jurisdiction over the Indian Territory from a Fort Smith court.


  • Nevada licenses prizefights.
  • The Pinkerton Detective Agency and the American Bankers Association block a move to pardon Jesse James accomplices Cole and Jim Younger, convicted with their brother Bob in an 1876 Northfield, Minnesota, robbery. (Bob Younger died from tuberculosis in 1889.) The two surviving Youngers are released from prison in 1901.
  • 19 Apr. Theodore Roosevelt resigns as New York City police commissioner.
  • 10 May The Supreme Court upholds the conviction and fine of a man who gave a speech on Boston Common without a license from the mayor.
  • 7 June Congress declares that after 1 January 1898 all offenses in Indian Territory will fall under the laws of the United States and the state of Arkansas, not Indian nations.
  • 10 Sept. In Lattimer, Pennsylvania, a sheriff and some deputies kill twenty-two and injure forty-four striking miners. The sheriff and deputies will be tried and acquitted of murder.
  • 12 Oct. Justice Field retires, setting a Supreme Court tenure record (thirty-four years, eight months, and twenty days).
  • 8 Nov. The Supreme Court strikes down the Interstate Commerce Commissions prohibition on long-haul/short-haul discrimination.


  • 26 Jan. Joseph McKenna joins the Supreme Court.
  • 28 Feb. In Holden v. Hardy the Supreme Court upholds a Utah law that limits miners to eight-hour workdays.
  • 7 Mar. In Smyth v. Ames the Supreme Court strikes down railroad rates set by the Nebraska legislature because they deprive railroads of property without due process of law.
  • 28 Mar. The Supreme Court in Wong Kim Ark v. U. S. rules that a child born in the United States to Chinese parents is an American citizen.
  • 25 Apr. The Supreme Court upholds the murder conviction of Henry Williams, a black man living in Mississippi, despite the fact that the state keeps blacks from voting and thus off juries. The Court rules that the literacy test and poll tax in Mississippi are Constitutional.
  • 31 May A circuit court in Wisconsin strikes down an 1896 Milwaukee ordinance setting trolley fares at six tickets for twenty-five cents, or twenty-five tickets for one dollar, because such rates deprive Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company of property without due process of law.
  • 7 July Congress extends the exclusion of Chinese to the Hawaiian Islands.
  • 10 Nov. Race riots occur in Wilmington, North Carolina, where white mobs destroy a black-owned hospital and newspaper.
  • 17 Dec. A federal court in California refuses to allow Jew Wong Loy, born in America of Chinese parents, to reenter the country.


  • The state of Illinois instructs prison wardens to pay more attention to early social influences on convicts.
  • 6 Mar. A circuit court orders two Chinese boys, aged eleven and thirteen and the sons of a legal resident in Portland, Oregon, deported to China.
  • 15 May The Supreme Court rules that Congress had power to establish the Dawes Commission to allot lands of Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws and to sell lands deemed vacant to white settlers.
  • 2 June Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid along with the Wild Bunch rob a Union Pacific train near Wilcox, Wyoming. The outlaws detach the express car and dynamite the safe within, making off with approximately $30,000.
  • 1 July Illinois establishes the first juvenile court in the country.

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1878-1899: Law and Justice: Chronology

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1878-1899: Law and Justice: Chronology