This Month in U.S. Legal History – February

Each month of the year is packed with legal events of historical significance. Here are some memorable and significant legal events that have taken place regarding U.S. law in the month of February.

  • 2/1/1790. The Supreme Court meets for the first time at the Old Royal Exchange building in New York City. Chief Justice John Jay was joined by Justices James Wilson, John Blair, James Iredell, William Cushing and John Rutledge (who would succeed Jay as Chief Justice).
  • 2/2/1653. The City of New Amsterdam is incorporated by the Dutch on the southern tip of Manhattan. After the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the city is reincorporated by the English as New York City, in honor of the Duke of York.
  • 2/3/1690. The Massachusetts Bay Colony issues the first paper money in America.
  • 2/4/1861. On the eve of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America are formed when South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas secede from the United States.
  • 2/5/1917. The Immigration Act is passed over Woodrow Wilson’s veto, prohibiting immigration to the U.S. by residents of many Asian countries.
  • 2/6/1933. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution is passed, moving the start of presidential, vice-presidential and congressional terms from March to January. The change was made to shorten the duration of “lame-duck” periods in which it was known that elected officials would soon be replaced by successors, thus lessening parties’ willingness to work productively with such officials.
  • 2/7/1795. The 11th Amendment to the Constitution is passed, limiting the power of federal courts to hear cases brought against a state by citizens of another state.
  • 2/8/1924. The first execution by lethal gas occurs in Nevada. The final such execution occurred in 1979.
  • 2/9/1909. The first federal narcotics law is passed, pertaining to opium. The drug could not be imported except at certain ports, and it could only be used for medicinal purposes.
  • 2/10/1967. The 25th Amendment to the Constitution is adopted, pertaining to matters of presidential succession (e.g. clarifying that when the president dies, the vice president immediately becomes the new president).
  • 2/11/1812. The first “gerrymander” is drawn on an electoral map of Massachusetts by then Governor Elbridge Gerry. The practice of gerrymandering is the creation of electoral districts designed to favor a particular political party, as opposed to respecting ordinary or practical territorial groupings.
  • 2/12/1793. The Fugitive Slave Law is passed, preventing people from providing assistance to runaway slaves.
  • 2/14/1899. Congress approves the use of voting machines in elections.
  • 2/17/1964. The Supreme Court rules in Wesberry v. Sanders that congressional districts within states must be roughly equal in population.
  • 2/21/1975. Following the Watergate scandal, General John N. Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman are sentenced to prison for their roles in the crimes committed.
  • 2/25/1919. Oregon levies the first U.S. state gas tax. The tax was set at $0.01 per gallon sold.
  • 2/26/1863. President Lincoln signs the National Banking Act into law. The Act created the banking charter system and established the Office of the Comptroller of Currency.
  • 2/28/1991. President Bush declares a ceasefire, ending the first Gulf War.

Take a look back at our other legal history posts:

This Month in Legal History – January
This Month in Legal History – December