One of the good things about being a volunteer transcriber of old documents at the Whaling Museum is that if you come across something that catches your interest, you are allowed and encouraged to do whatever research it takes to bring it to light. These accidental finds do not just apply to whaling history but to general history.
When something caught my eye on an early 19th-century whaling ship crew list as I was doing research on the Bristol County sheriff, I found this law from 1843 still on the Massachusetts books.
General laws: Part 1: Title XV: Section 102. Which states “(a) All persons within the commonwealth, regardless of sex, race, color, creed or national origin, shall have, except as is otherwise provided or permitted by law, the same rights enjoyed by white male citizens, to make and enforce contracts, to inherit, purchase, to lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.
Note that it says “all persons” not “all citizens.”
In objecting to such things as women voting before 1920, gay rights, and immigrants getting driver’s licenses, people ignore and choose to violate this law.
It is amazing that it is so easily ignored, and when I have brought it up at important civil justice meetings it is simply dismissed as too old to still count.
That is not a legitimate approach and the law is being actively ignored when it should be applied.
Joe Quigley is a volunteer transcriber of old documents at the New Bedford Whaling Museum and a political and social cartoonist.
Thank you to our sponsors
Founding benefactors: Joan and Irwin Jacobs fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, Mary and Jim Ottaway