Since I am unaware of what most people do, I didn’t know that it is popular to visit Salem around Halloween.
We took a guided tour and it was informative. The town was settled by seamen from Gloucester and engaged in typical seaman type trade until the Revolution. After winning that we were kicked out of the British Commonwealth and all nearby ports were closed to Salem’s seamen.
They decided to sail to the Far East for spices and exotic goods. That was quite successful for a long time. Many ship slips were built in town and it prospered. The guide pointed out that the people manning the ships were children, from 12 to 20 years old, on a dangerous journey half way around the world.
The guide brought us to a memorial and said three times “There were no witches in Salem”, she continued, “in 1692 twenty innocent girls were murdered.”
The guide tied the deadly mass hysteria of 17th century Salem to the current year pieties: today Salem is one of the most tolerant communities in the State she said, why there is even a witch church with members who are all welcomed and indeed celebrated in the community. She almost said that we have purged ourselves of the dangerous hatred by accepting anything people want to do.
I thought about that as a solution to witch trials for awhile. Then I thought, the people of Salem were as sure that witches and the devil were evil as we are that Nazi’s and White Supremacists are evil. Like those earlier people we do fear and hate certain people and we will not be accepting them.
The trials were in 1692, those poor girls had none of the protections of the Constitution. If you are a member of a hated group, or accused of being part of a hated group, there are significant protections in Anglo-law, unavailable to those accused of witchcraft in 1692.
If the trials were in 1792 there would have to be an indictment by an independent grand jury, no church officials could do more that accuse. There would be a jury trial before 12 of their neighbors any one of which could stop the madness.
The charges against them would have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
They would have a right to legal counsel, and if they were found not guilty it would end there but if found guilty there would be an appeal to a different higher court.
None of those protections of the accused applied to the 20 girls murdered in 1692. Maybe a great failure of justice would have still occurred, but I put more faith in due process and fair legal procedure than in expecting people to discard their hate, fears and prejudices.