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Proportionate maiming: The origins of Thomas Jefferson's provisions for facial disfigurement in Bill 64

Cock, Emily ORCID: 2019. Proportionate maiming: The origins of Thomas Jefferson's provisions for facial disfigurement in Bill 64. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 29 , pp. 157-151. 10.1017/S0080440119000069

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In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed the use of nose-cutting to punish women convicted of specific offenses, and the use of retaliation (lex talionis) for anyone who deliberately disfigured another person. These punishments were intended to replace the death penalty for these crimes, and as such formed part of Jefferson’s attempt to rationalise the Virginian law code in line with eighteenth-century reform principles. Jefferson drew on British laws from the Anglo Saxon period to the Coventry Act for his Bill, but his proposals contrast strikingly with British movements away from corporal marking as punishment used against their own citizens. This article examines the origins and fates of equivalent crimes and punishments in the law codes Jefferson examined, and compares the legal and wider connotations of facial appearance and disfigurement that made these proposals coherent in Virginia when they had long ceased elsewhere. Tracing examples and discussion of these intersecting cases will greatly increase our understanding of Jefferson’s proposals, and the relationships between facial difference, stigma, and disability in eighteenth-century America.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)
ISSN: 0080-4401
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 July 2019
Date of Acceptance: 4 July 2019
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2023 03:28

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