This year I waited long, perhaps too long, before finally writing something about the sequence of events from election, confirmation and the attack at the Capitol to the inauguration of a new president of the United States. I will not take on the mantle of a prophet seeing the future by looking into the past to explain anything about these momentous events. By now so much words have been devoted to them, and to the foreseeable future, that I will not bother you with my personal views on this situation. Instead I will simply give here an overview of my posts concerning the United States published here in the last years. You will see a number of themes that can be easily connected with the latest events and developments in the United States.
In order to alleviate to some extent any disappointment I will add here a short paragraph on an institution that came very much into sight this month. In fact I plan to look in an upcoming post on a number of similar institutions in other countries.
(Almost) a nutshell guide to American legal history
The best thing to do is probably to give here a commented list with some of my blog posts concerning or touching upon the United States:
- Studying the American constitution (November 25, 2020) – on the ConSource and Quill projects
- Against racism, for justice (June 15, 2020)
- Deciphering letters about slavery and abolition (August 28, 2018) – a post about the crowdsourcing project Anti-Slavery Manuscripts of the Boston Public Library at Zooniverse
- A new resource on the legal histort of violence in the United States (April 12, 2018) – a post about the historic gun laws database at Duke University
- Hide and seek: Finding “hidden” collections (January 9, 2018) – a post about the CLIR project for “hidden” collections, with some attention for projects on legal history
- Picturing the law (September 20, 2017) – a post about two exhibitions concerning legal iconography
- Mapping the legal past (August 24, 2017) – with a paragraph on historical GIS maps for the United States, in particular for documenting slavery
- Preserving presidential lives and legacies (January 24, 2017) – a post written after the 2017 inauguration on the history of presidential libraries
- The legal world around American slavery (October 24, 2016) – a review of the Slavery in America and the World database in open access created by HeinOnline
- Looking far and beyond origins (January 28, 2016) – not only originalism, but also colonial history are the subjects in this post
- Claiming the streets. Legal history, riots and upheavals (December 9, 2011)
When you click on the word United States in the first paragraph of this section you will be led to all my posts with this tag, and hopefully you can be happy with my selection. For me it was rather interesting to see how often I wrote about America at my blog. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie you can pick your choice among the links for the United States on the pages for digital libraries and archives.
A brief look at a particular institution
At the very heart of the events at January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. was the United States Capitol Police (USCP). Tragically, an officer of this federal police force died in the events, but more tragically on that day the USCP did at first not succeed in protecting the Capitol. The USCP did not employ its full sworn strength of 2,000 women and men. On the history page of its website the USCP explains it came into existence in 1800, but only after a number of incidents an act was passed in 1828 for its formal establishment. Among the incidents was the attack by the British army destroying the Capitol, a fact not mentioned on this page. This part of the USCP website has not yet been updated. You will bear with me being a legal historian for noticing on that page the merger with the Library of Congress police in 2009. The website of the White House Historical Association has a section on the events in August 1814.
Is it possible a part of the USCP was actually deployed around the Library of Congress on January 6, 2021? I can understand no blog post about the events of January 6 has yet appeared at In Custodia Legis, the official blog of the Library of Congress Law Library. I cannot help noticing the USCP does not have a motto beyond Protect and Secure Congress, but the Latin motto surely has a very similar intention. Legal historians will at some point in time start writing about the events of 2020 and 2021, and in view of the mass of written and audiovisual materials an early start at preserving materials is not amiss. The digital life of materials is sometimes suprisingly brief! The Library of Congress should be one of the places to preserve the memory of these troubled times. It is reassuring to see how the services of this library and in particular the Law Library have grown in recent years. Even faithful visitors of its website can be surprised by the wealth of materials made accessible online in 2020.
I suppose as an historian you should feel an itch when writing about current events, if only to remember your own views take form within the present, influenced no doubt by the past. The present enables you to see a few things at close hand, but even so often you will have difficulties to see larger developments and to stand at the right distances for seeing vital connections, ruptures and continuities. Interpreting facts will come soon enough. As for other interesting police forces and their history they will appear here, too, in 2021.