The Lessons of a School Shooting—in 1853

classroom without student

From Politico Magazine by Saul Cornell author of A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America:

This weekend, thousands of people are expected to gather in cities and towns across America for the “March for Our Lives,” a national response to the horrifying school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Will it change policy? Skeptics doubt it, having watched time and again how previous shootings vanish from the headlines with no change to our national debate over guns. But there’s actually precedent, deep in American history, for school shootings to shift the gun debate.

Though little remembered now, the first high-profile school shooting in the U.S. was more than 150 years ago, in Louisville, Kentucky. The 1853 murder of William Butler by Matthews F. Ward was a news sensation, prompting national outrage over the slave South’s libertarian gun rights vision and its deadly consequences. At a time when there wasn’t yet a national media, this case prompted a legal conversation that might be worth resurrecting today.

The deadly encounter between the two men was triggered by a trivial matter: eating a bunch of chestnuts during class. William Butler was a 28-year-old teacher, a Yankee immigrant to Kentucky who had helped found the Louisville School, an institution that attracted students from some of the best families in town. One of those was William Ward, the son of a prominent cotton merchant. Butler, a stern teacher, confronted the young Ward about eating in the classroom. Ward denied it. His teacher called him a liar and administered a whipping. This was a severe form of punishment, but not unusual in the mid-19th century, an age when corporal punishment in schools was the norm in many places.

Read the rest of the article at Politico Magazine

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Categories: Legal History, United States History

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