Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Life Cycles of American Legal History through Bob Dylan's Eyes

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Life Cycles of American Legal History through Bob Dylan's Eyes

Article excerpt


   I. First Crucifixion: The Pre-Civil War Period
  II. First Death: The Civil War and the Birth of the Modern
 III. Reconstruction I: The Resurrection of America During the
      Post-Civil War Period
  IV. America's Second Crucifixion: The Post-Reconstruction
      A. Jim Crow
      B. The Growth of Corporate Influence
   V. America's Second Death: The Immigrants, Workers, and
      Joe Hill
  VI. Second Reconstruction: The Early 1960s
 VII.        Third Crucifixion: The Riots
VIII.        Third Death: Corporate Influence in the Debate
      About the New Immigrants and the Anti-Union
      A. Corporate Grip on Politicians
      B. Corporate Participation in the Battle over Illegal
      C. Corporate Muscle in the Public Sector Union Battle
      D. Public Sector Union Disputes in Wisconsin Show
         Corporate Involvement in Government


"[T]hey try to turn a man into a mouse." (1)

"Lessons of life can't be learned in a day." (2)

Bob Dylan believes that America passes through cycles of change that correlate to patterns of discrimination and revolution.

The time surrounding the Civil War is an example of a cycle of revolution in Dylan's eyes. In his autobiography, Chronicles, Dylan states that, during the Civil War, "America was put on the cross, died and was resurrected.... The god-awful truth of that would be the all-encompassing template behind everything that I would write." (3) Dylan continues:

   As for what time it was, it was always just beginning to be
   daylight .... It was always the same pattern. Some early archaic
   period where society grows and develops and thrives, then some
   classical period where the society reaches its maturation point and
   then a slacking off period where decadence makes things fall apart.
   I had no idea which one of these stages America was in. There was
   nobody to check with. (4)

This quote reveals Dylan's disheartenment as patterns in history affirm to him that real, substantive change cannot be maintained. He refrains from stating what "stage[] America [is] in" (5) because he knows that society will end up back at the beginning, albeit, perhaps with some improvement.

This Article will examine, from a legal perspective, Dylan's ideas on social policy and change. I have identified periods in American history during which our nation "was put on the cross, died and was resurrected." (6) I chose to discuss these specific periods because of Dylan's intense interest in them.

Despite his frustration with America's inability to sustain lasting change, Dylan has a particular admiration for some of the leaders whom he believes improved America because they were honorable and fair, stood up for the underdog, and fought hard against their enemies. This Article examines Dylan's views on American legal history with an emphasis on those key players.

This Article begins with an in-depth look at the treatment of African Americans before, during, and after the Civil War by looking at relevant legal statutes and Supreme Court cases. From this period, I examine Dylan's particular interest in abolitionist and human rights activist Thaddeus Stevens.

The second cycle of revolution to gain Dylan's attention is the struggle of the worker and immigrant during the twentieth century. Here, Dylan is impressed with Joe Hill, an immigrant leader of the labor movement. The story of Joe Hill illustrates the trampling of the traditional worker in America, from after the Civil War up until the mid-twentieth century. With the rise of unions and improved working conditions came the formation of a middle class. This altered social structure resulted in greater intolerance for discrimination toward African Americans, leading the United States into the Second Reconstruction during the 1960s--the civil rights movement. …

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