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Sumptuary Laws

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SUMPTUARY LAWS, a term often used in American political discussion with reference to laws regulating the sale of liquor. The orig inal meaning, however, was the regulation by law of eating and drinking, wearing apparel and style of living generally. The early settlers of New England adopted harsh laws of this char acter, which have been exaggerated and cari catured in the fictitious Connecticut "Blue Laws" of the Rev. Samuel A. Peters.

Sumptuary laws existed in ancient as well as modern times. One of the Roman laws or the Twelve Tables aimed at repressing extrava gance in funerals. After the establishment of the censorship those holding this office had the right of punishing those guilty of luxurious liv ing. After the Twelve Tables the first sump tuary law passed at Rome was the Let Oppia (215 s.c.), directed exclusively against the ex travagance of women in dress, jewelry, etc. This law was repealed 20 years later. The other sumptuary laws enacted at Rome were almost exclusively designed to keep down extravagance in entertainments. The Lex Julia, passed in the reign of Augustus, was the last sump tuary law passed at Rome, but a few endeavors were made under later emperors also to re press luxury by decrees of the Senate and im perial edicts. The last attempt of this nature that is known to have been made belongs to the reign of Nero. Sumptuary laws were re vived by Charlemagne. Both he and Louis the Debonnaire promulgated capitularies against luxury in dress and furniture. Various other

laws and decrees having a like object were made under many of the later kings of France, even down to Louis XV. A royal ordinance, dated 19 April 1737, forbids the common people (vilains) the use of calico, which was reserved for the nobility, and there are instances of the wives of commoners being fined in virtue of this decree. In England sumptuary laws began to be enacted in the reign of Edward III, and continued to be passed down to the time of the Reformation. Most of them were repealed by 1 James I, ch. xxv, but they were not all ex punged from the statute-book till 1856.

Sumptuary laws in the early colonial period of America were not confined to New England. Directions were sent to Virginia in 1621 not to permit any but members of the council to wear gold in their clothes, °or to wear silk till they make it themselves.° In New England the Massachusetts magistrates prohibited the wear ing of gold, silver or thread lace, all em broideries or needle-work in the form of caps, bands or rails, gold and silver girdles, and other extravagances which offended Puritan simplicity. The laws were, however, ignored or but slightly enforced, and gradually became obsolete. At present in the United States dress is solely a question of decency, and sumptuary laws are, in that sense, of the past.