What’s Old Is New Again

In 1864, the United States was in the midst of a Civil War. The Union was at risk of being dissolved, and the outcome of the war was anything but certain.

Out west, Arizona was still a territory. It would not become a state for another forty-eight years. The Arizona Territory established a government consisting of a territory governor, a House of Representatives (made up of eighteen members) and the upper house (I’m not sure if it was then referred to as a “senate”–made up of nine members). As would be expected for the time, all positions were held by white males.

In Arizona, as in the rest of the nation, woman were not permitted to vote in state or federal elections. In fact, it would be another fifty-five years before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution would be passed, giving women the right to vote. It was a very different time.

The legislature in the Arizona Territory worked very differently than how legislatures work today. They were in session for less than two months to establish new laws for the entire territory. In addition, the legislature was in charge of granting divorces, which took up part of their time in session

Luckily for the members of the Arizona Territory legislature, Judge William T. Hall came prepared. He had written up the vast majority of the territory laws, and all the legislature had to do was vote on the proposals he had prepared.

Leading the House of Representatives was their Speaker, William Claude Jones. Jones was the man who gave Arizona its name. According to his biographer, L. Boyd Finch, he was a politician, poet, fabulist, and “pursuer of nubile females.”

Jones’ life was a combination of mystery and accomplishment. For instance, Jones listed five different places as his place of birth, including the story that he was born to a US consul in Catalonia, Spain. That appears to have been a lie. It’s much more likely that he was born near Mobile, Alabama. Jones claimed to have been a lieutenant during the Second Seminole War, but that claim also was likely untrue.

What we do know is that Jones was part of the territorial governments of Missouri and Arizona, was United States Attorney for the New Mexico Territory, was a member of the Hawaiian Privy Council, and was elected to the Missouri State Senate. We also know that Jones was married five different times during the course of his life. This is what we know about his wives:

  • He married his first wife in Missouri and had three children with her. He abandoned them all when he moved west to the New Mexico Territory.
  • He abducted his second wife from Mexico and brought her back to the New Mexico Territory when he was serving as US Attorney. She was twelve years old. When word got back to Washington, DC about what he had done, Jones resigned rather than be fired by President Buchanan, abandoning his young bride and fleeing to the Arizona Territory.
  • In 1864, at the age of forty-nine, Jones married a fifteen year old girl. A year later he abandoned her and moved to Hawaii.
  • His fourth wife was a fifteen-year-old Hawaiian native. He had four children with her. She died at the age of twenty-eight from smallpox, leaving Jones a widower.
  • It’s unclear how old his fifth wife was when they married.  However, we do know that the marriage only lasted two years. His wife filed for divorce, claiming multiple instances of adultery by Jones

By today’s standards, Jones was certainly a pedophile. However, by the standards of 1864 Arizona, where Jones successfully pushed legislation to set the age of consent to sexual intercourse for females at ten years of age, his marriages were copesetic with the law.

Another law Jones ushered through the Arizona Territory Legislature was a bill outlawing abortion, except in cases where the health of the mother was at risk. But the law isn’t exactly what you might think when you hear about abortion restrictions, In fact, the law passed in 1864 was actually designed to protect women, not control them.

At the time, it was not uncommon for men to injure or kill women in order to do away with an unwanted pregnancy. So, the legislature passed a law designed to protect women from the bad behavior of men. One such law made it illegal for a man to use poison or instruments to induce a pregnant woman to miscarry.

In her “Letters from an American” column, Boston College History Professor Heather Cox Richardson writes:

“In that context, the context of punishing those who secretly administer poison to kill someone, it says that anyone who uses poison or instruments “with the intention to procure the miscarriage of any woman then being with child” would face two to five years in jail, “Provided, that no physician shall be affected by the last clause of this section, who in the discharge of his professional duties deems it necessary to produce the miscarriage of any woman in order to save her life.” 

In other words, the law that the Arizona Supreme Court recently decided was still enforceable as a ban on abortion, was originally passed to protect women from harm caused by men, not to control a woman’s reproductive rights. Regardless, the Arizona Supreme Court said that the Arizona government can use it to restrict the reproductive rights of women throughout the state.

We can argue about who is right in the abortion debate: the pro-life or the pro-choice crowd. That’s a conversation for another day. But no matter which side of the debate you are on, you should be opposed to using these antiquated laws for purposes they were never intended to address. When we start ignoring the purpose of laws and twist them to fit situations they were never intended for, we begin to lose the protections of the laws for which our legal system was designed. Without those protections, we devolve into an authoritarian state, following the arbitrary rule of man rather than the more certain rule of law. That’s not something any of us should want.


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