The Book of the Week is “On Trial” by Gerald Dickler, published in 1993. This book described thirteen of the most famous court cases in the history of the world. These cases show that there’s nothing new under the sun. Political and religious battles will never cease, due to human nature.
Socrates was tried in 399 B.C. in Athens, when he was seventy. A scholarly wiseass, Socrates believed that most members of Greece’s government were “…crude politicians lacking in wisdom and ill-equipped for high office … I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish, and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better.”
Sad to say, some of the personality traits that cause one to be perceived as a good leader and popular are also those that inevitably leads to unethical behavior: dishonesty (also known as public relations), greed (fundraising and pork-barrel-amassing abilities), power hunger (perhaps perceived as taking charge), and bullying (perceived as refusing to suffer fools gladly- or avenging others on the politician’s behalf). In government, people in possession of the above are handsomely rewarded.
Granted, most political candidates run with the best of intentions. However, when they get elected, they realize how fraught with conflicts of interest the job is and can’t help but be hypocrites if they want to get reelected. Excuse the cliche, but fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.
Andrew Johnson wasn’t careful with what he wished for. He was promoted from vice president to president after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. He was a Democrat from the South, post-civil war, outnumbered by Republicans from the North, whose goal was to continue rubbing salt into the wounds of the South. The Republicans were mean of spirit, petty and vengeful. They tried to get an impeachment case together first against Lincoln, and then actually voted concerning Johnson. That means that they voted to have a trial to remove the president from office.
With Johnson, the key question was, “Was the Senate sitting as a court or as a legislative body?” The trial took place in 1868.
People put on trial on political grounds also included King Charles I of England, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the Reichstag fire perpetrator (for an alleged Communist plot).
Jesus was put on trial for blasphemy. His philosophy happened to clash with that of powerful capitalists and religious leaders in his community. The fact that Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Messiah was the charge on which he was convicted, though.
Galileo was yet another figure who was seen as a heretic, in 1633. Unfortunately, he was trying to teach science in a time of extreme religious strife. The advancement of science occurred after his death, when the religious craziness had subsided and logic and reason came into vogue. More observations led scientists to adopt the heliocentric model of the solar system– that the planets revolve around the sun; not the earth, and not around Pope Urban VIII or any other pope.
Some cases were both religious and political: John T. Scopes, Nuremberg and Dreyfus.
Dreyfus was a French army captain perceived to be Jewish. He was accused to spying on behalf of the enemy Germany in the 1890’s. Upon his court-martial, he was imprisoned forthwith for more than a decade while a huge number of people jumped on the bandwagon of anti-Semitic hatred-spewing; random events also conspired against him. The case involved hundreds of phony anti-Dreyfus documents, a rumor mill, rioting, looting, etc., etc.
Many of the above trials can be summed up thusly: “As so often happens, the hysteria ground to a halt through its own excesses.”
Read the book to learn more about the court cases– that became very, very famous internationally– because they had far-reaching consequences in history.