University of Massachusetts Press is publishing a new book on attitudes of courts towards drunkenness in 19th century America.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Is drunkenness a defense for
murder? In the early nineteenth century, the answer was a resounding no.
Intoxication was considered voluntary, and thus provided no defense. Yet as the
century progressed, American courts began to extend exculpatory value to heavy
drinking. The medicalization of alcohol use created new categories of mental
illness which, alongside changes in the law, formed the basis for defense
arguments that claimed unintended consequences and lack of criminal intent.
Concurrently, advocates of prohibition cast “demon rum” and the “rum-seller” as
the drunkard’s accomplices in crime, mitigating offenders’ actions. By the
postbellum period, a backlash, led by medical professionals and an influential
temperance movement, left the legacy of an unsettled legal standard.
In A Drunkard’s Defense, Michele Rotunda examines a variety of court cases to explore the attitudes of nineteenth-century physicians, legal professionals, temperance advocates, and ordinary Americans toward the relationship between drunkenness, violence, and responsibility, providing broader insights into the country’s complicated relationship with alcohol.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MICHELE ROTUNDA is assistant professor of history at Union County College.
More info here