Most of us have received a speeding ticket in our years of driving, and if not, I’m sure that every one of us has exceeded the speed limit at one time or another, even if it was accidental, and only for a few seconds. It seems that most of the accidents of that era were blamed on excessive speed. In the 1900s, the Mercedes-Simplex 60HP could reach a maximum speed of 73 miles per hour. By 1920, the Duesenberg Model J could reach speeds of 119 miles per hour. Of course, we have vehicles today that can reach much higher speeds…such as the Koenigsegg Agera RS that has a maximum speed of 278. We have come a long way from the days of the Horse Carriage that had a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, but in 1900, we had no speed limit. The maximum speed of the car was the acceptable speed limit, whether the driver could control the vehicle at that speed or not. How many people do you know who have good control of a vehicle at 119 miles per hour? Most people couldn’t honestly claim to be in control at that speed.
Speed restrictions, and laws against speeding weren’t new on August 28, 1923. The first law regarding automobile speeds actually too effect on May 21, 1901 in Connecticut. The law required that vehicles limit their speed in cities to 12 miles per hour, and 15 miles per hour on country roads. In 1899, a cab driver named Jacob German had been arrested for driving his electric taxi at a speed of 12 miles per hour. It was thought that a more prudent speed would have been 8 miles per hour. Representative Robert Woodruff wanted to make a law, and he suggested 8 miles per hour on city streets and 12 on country roads. In the end the speeds were changed to 12 miles per hour on city streets and 15 miles per hour on country roads. While those speeds seem like crawling to the drivers of today, I suppose they seemed fast then.
Still, drivers were as unwilling to abide by the speed regulations of that day, as they are today. Then, it was decided to make a law that would be a true deterrent to speeders. It was a strict law…too strict, in fact, but they had to try. The law allowed the magistrates…police, to put the car in a storage lot for periods of time depending on the severity of the speeding offence and if the motorist is a repeat offender. Also, due to the increases in incidents, some offenders were sentenced to farm labor. Now, if that wouldn’t deter you from speeding I just don’t know what will. Still, such severity of punishment really would never be accepted for long, as we all know. And of course, that is not a law today…but it was once.
Registering for the draft is a requirement when a young man reaches 18 years of age. There is no draft in the United States anymore, but by registering the young men, the government could hold a draft, should a war bring such a need. During the Vietnam War, there were a lot of people who felt that the United States shouldn’t be in the war. Many young men didn’t want any part of it, and they decided to protest the war by burning their draft cards. Of course, this was forbidden by law, but they didn’t care. They were willing to take the chance, if it meant that they could avoid going to war.
By May 1965 young men were protesting by burning their draft cards with greater frequency around the United States. To limit this kind of protest…in August 1965 the United States Congress enacted a law to broaden draft card violations to punish anyone who “knowingly destroys, knowingly mutilates” his draft card. Then, on October 15, 1965, in New York, David Miller, a young Catholic pacifist, became the first US war protestor to burn his draft card at a protest rally, in direct violation of a recently passed law forbidding such acts. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation later arrested him. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to two years imprisonment, but that did not stop the protesting or the burning of draft cards. Subsequently, 46 men were indicted for burning their draft cards at various rallies, and four major court cases were heard. One of them, United States v. O’Brien, was argued before the Supreme Court. The act of draft card burning was defended as a symbolic form of free speech, a constitutional right guaranteed by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court decided against the draft card burners. It determined that the federal law was justified and that it was unrelated to the freedom of speech. This outcome was criticized by legal experts.
From 1965 to 1973, few men in the United States were convicted of burning their draft cards, and some 25,000 went unpunished. I suppose it was difficult to wrap our minds around the idea imprisonment for our young men over a protest. Still, it was illegal. And something had to be done. Before 1965, the act of burning a draft card was already prohibited by US statute and the registrant was required to carry the card at all times. Any destruction of the card was against the law. Also, it was entirely possible for a young man to destroy his draft card and still answer the call to service by appearing at an induction center and serving in the military. It also seems to me that if they had registered, that the government also had a copy of the registration, so if they were going to be drafted, having or not having the card was really a formality. And it was possible for a registrant to faithfully keep his card on his person but fail to appear when called. The draft card burning was an act of protest against the war, more than it was a way to avoid the draft. Still, the image of draft card burning was powerful, and very influential in American politics and culture. Photos appeared in magazines, newspapers and on television. It was proof of a political divide between those who backed the United States government and its military goals and those who were against any United States involvement in Vietnam. With the political upheaval, Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968 on a platform based largely on putting an end to the draft, hoping to put an end to protesters burning their cards. As president, Nixon indeed did end the draft in 1973, rendering the symbolic act of draft card burning unnecessary, and registering just a requirement.