Early Animal Rights Legislation
Despite fundamental protection being granted to animals in The Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641, animal welfare is still a major concern today in America, 370 years later. Every day animal cruelty comes to light.
The development of animal rights across the world is patchy. Some countries literally have no animal rights legislation – laws that protect animals from abuse (China 2011). Some have animal protection legislation but it is not enforced properly (Mexico). Even the most advanced animal welfare laws are oftentimes poorly executed (England). Sweden has excellent animal protection laws. There is a lack of worldwide coordination. An article published yesterday, April 17th 2011, by Anna about a kitten tied up to a pole in Vietnam that is considered acceptable in that country would result in criminal proceedings in England under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641 is an impressive document. It is the first legal code written by the European immigrants to New England. It is based on English law. It granted fundamental rights to people and was a guidance/reference document to the courts. It is like a Bill of Rights. The fundamental concepts embodied in this document formed the basis of the Massachusetts constitution and the laws of that state.
What interests me is that at clauses 92 and 93 it also granted some of the first animal rights anywhere. Here is the relevant extract, verbatim:
Read the full text here.
It find it disappointing that there has not really been a great deal of progress in respect of animal welfare over the intervening 370 years. In some respects America has gone backwards in developing the concept of legalised animal abuse in declawing cats and debarking dogs.
As you can see The Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641 at clause 92 refers to “tyranny”. This word means: “arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power; despotic abuse of authority”.
It sought to prevent people doing as they wish to animals. It curbed the worst excesses of human nature. This mirrors what I refer to as “respect for animals”. If we respect their place in the world there would be no abuses. Cat declawing is an excellent example of a tyrannical treatment of cats. It is a breach of this code. It is a shame that it is still not in force today. Modern animal welfare legislation in Massachusetts will include an exception to declawing whereas the original code carried no qualifications or exceptions, it was absolute. We should return to that.
Clause 92 was probably the first animal rights legislation in the USA. The concept of animal rights has been hijacked by people who dislike the animal rights movement. People who like to do as they please with animals proclaim that it is their absolute right and they make derogatory remarks about “AR activists” as if they are some weird species of human who have lost their way.
People concerned with animal rights are simply responding to an obvious need in society. They want to see people behaving decently towards other animals (humans are animals in a biological sense). Common sense and decency dictates that we respect animals. Three hundred and seventy years ago the puritans recognised that simple premise.