Think about the court system in The Crucible.What are some of the similarities and differences of the system today and Salem in 1692?

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dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The judicial process that existed in Salem 1692 really cannot be compared to the judicial process that exists in The United States today. I guess it could be argued that in 1692 those who were charged with the task of providing a 'trial' did so, but the similiarities ended there. The trials that took place in 1692 much more resembled a 'court marshall' or for the lack of a better term, a religious inquisation, rather than the American Justice system. The cornerstone of the American Justice system rests on the premise of  'innocent until proven guilty' by a jury of your peers. Those who were charged with 'administrating justice' in those 1692 trials did nothing of the sort. The absence of attornies, an impartial jury, statutory precedent, and the fundamental idea that those charged with administrating truth and justice do so in a fair an unbias manner did not exist. What did exist was an autocratic hierarchy that detested any opposition towards its authority.   Those considered 'the elders' in 1692 were considered by most colonists to be above reproach. These men appeared to be religiously motivated, seeking truth, redemption, and salvation for the community. It did not take to long for the colony to realize it was not truth the elders sought, it was the consolidation and security of their power that their agenda stemmed from. These 'governing' men never sought the truth, but cleverly hid behind the priniciples of freedom, justice, and equality in order to secure their positions within the colony. 1692 colonial rule in Salem was mired in what we now term as theocratic and autocratic. Justice was a word in 1692 that had the capacity to promote the 'idea' of fairness and equality, but the reality was the 'court' in 1692 wasn't concerned so much about justice as it was in consolidating power among the elite elders.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As stated, there wasn't a court system; in fact, the colony at the time of the Witchcraft Hysteria barely had a government!  Because of the colonist's deposing governor Andros, the king retaliated by rerepealing the colony's charter in the 1680's, which had the unfortunate effect of invalidating land claims, which laid the cornerstone for much of the conflict between neighbors around Salem. When the hysteria broke out, the current governor established a court of "Oyer and Terminer" (to hear and decide) in the spring of 1692 to meet in Salem town to hear the cases of witchcraft. Presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton, the court was made up of magistrates and jurors. The court was disbanded by the new governor, William Phipps in October of that year, most likely because witchcraft accusations had spread to all levels of society, including the governor's wife. The Superior Court of Judicature, formed to replace the "witchcraft" court, did not allow spectral evidence, which was the key legal argument which lead to the condemnation of 19 individuals.

By the governor abolishing the Oyer and Terminer court and banning spectral evidence, the authority of the theocracy in Massachusetts was no more, the secular court succeeding it. These Witchcraft Trials led the Founders not quite 100 years later to clearly separate the secular and religious authorities.  Having studied the civil conflict between Protestant and Catholic in England, in addition to these Witch Trials, they concluded that the best way to preserve the sanctity of the individual was to keep the authority of the "church" and "state" forever apart.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only real similarities between these two court systems is the fact that the verdicts or judgements were permanent--as the twenty or so innocent people who died in the Salem trials show.  Salem was a theocracy, and the systems of law and religion were virtually the same in this theocracy.  While this play is a work of fiction, it is based generally in fact, and we see how lines were consistently crossed during these trials.  In fact, it was a regular practice for the judges to eat with the girls.  And the list goes on.  Clearly there are few points of comparison between these two judicial systems. 

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The Crucible

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