The Roots of Justice: Crime and Punishment in Alameda County, California, 1870-1910

By Lawrence M. Friedman; Robert V. Percival | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
A County and Its Crime

In the opening chapter, we introduced ourselves to the criminal justice system. This chapter will try to anchor our study a bit more firmly in time and place; we will also take a first look at the county's harvest of crime.

First, a word about the times. Most of our data fall within the period 1880-1910. The Superior Court was organized in 1880. The earlier criminal records seem to be lost, but we do have arrest records from the city of Oakland from 1872; and we have scattered facts about crime and punishment in the 1870s, largely scraped up from the newspapers. In one way or another, we deal with a period of about forty years. For California, for the United States, and for the world, these were years of enormous change. In 1870 the Civil War was a very recent memory. Federal troops still occupied the Deep South; Ulysses Grant sat in the White House. California was a baby among states, some twenty years old. The first railroad to the Pacific has just been finished. Abroad, Queen Victoria was on the throne of England, mourning her Albert. The Franco-Prussian War was about to break out. Across the Pacific, Japan was stirring; the Meiji restoration had occurred in 1867.

Between 1870 and 1920, some forty turns of the wheel, a great deal happened here and abroad. Presidents came and went: Rutherford B. Hayes, who won a disputed election; Garfield, shot down by the lunatic Guiteau, and replaced by Chester Alan Arthur; Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison; McKinley, who fell to another bullet; Theodore Roosevelt; and finally William Howard Taft. Reconstruction ended; the population grew from under 40 million to over 90 million; in 1876, the telephone was patented; later, electricity began to light up the world; the Wright Brothers made their first, fluttering flight in 1903; by 1910 automobiles were no longer a novelty. This was the age of the Robber Barons, the Haymarket riots, the Pullman strike, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Sherman Act. It was an age of social upheaval: cities began to dominate the farms; industry expanded and exploded; crowds of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were washed ashore. Colorado became a state in 1876, and later on so did Utah, Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, and

-19-

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