What are the Lessons from the Salem Witch Trials: False Accusations and Mass Hysteria
What are the Lessons from the Salem Witch Trials – False Accusations and Mass Hysteria
Contrary to popular belief, no witches were burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials, and men, and even dogs, were not immune from punishment.
Blame It On Tituba. in the eyes of the 17th century colonists in Salem, Massachusetts, Satan was constantly seeking to tempt God-fearing locals into witchcraft. In 1692, the town Pastor owned a slave from Barbados named Tituba, who entertained the local children with fortune and storytelling. No one knows the actual reason, but the girls among the group soon began to claim that they were being spiritually tormented. They also began to exhibit such strange behaviors as hysteria, seizures, and apparent hallucinations. Some researchers have theorized the illnesses may have been a toxic condition known as ergotism, which is caused by a rye fungus. But the more likely explanation is much simpler. These were just children being children, eager for attention, imitating one another, and aware that the attention ends once the charade does.
Nonetheless, Tituba was quickly identified as the source of the beguiling “spells” and she ultimately confessed under pressure. But rather than being burned at the stake, her punishment was that she was indentured for life to pay the costs of her jailing. Her arrest was the snowball behind an avalanche of accusations. Those subsequently charged with being witches were either “proven guilty” or “soon to be proven guilty”.
Approximately 150 people, and two dogs, were arrested during the Salem witch trials. Nineteen people, including six men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was subjected to “pressing”, a form of torture in which rocks are slowly placed atop a person’s body until he or she finally suffocates. This horrible process can take as long as three days.
The witches disappeared, but witch hunting in America did not. Each generation must learn the lessons of history or risk repeating its mistakes. Salem should warn us to think hard about how to best safeguard and improve our system of justice. False accusations are made, and hysteria runs rampant.
What are the lessons?
1). Hysteria happens.
2). Children (especially) can be influenced by suggestion and peer pressure to say things that are not true.
3). We should be skeptical of confessions when the confessions are the result of torture or when the person has a self-interest in confessing.
4). A “cooling off period” can sometimes prevent injustices.
5). Trials should be fair: evidence introduced should be reliable, witnesses should be subject to cross-examination, defendants should have legal assistance and be allowed to testify on their own behalf, and judges should be unbiased.
Have we had “modern-day witch hunts”? Discuss this is the comments section below.