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Modern Persecution, or Married Woman's Liabilities
During the post-Civil Wars years, Elizabeth Packard was one of the key champions of rights for women and people labeled as insane. At this time, men could declare their wives insane and have them institutionalized without a public hearing—a fate that befell Elizabeth Packard in 1860. She spent three years in the Illinois State Hospital in Jacksonville, for disagreeing with her husband’s conservative religious philosophy, views on slavery, and how to raise their children.
In 1863, the asylum doctors declared her incurable and released her to her husband. He deprived her of clothing and boarded her up inside a room, actions that were illegal. She smuggled a letter to a friend, who convinced a judge to grant a writ of habeus corpus. At the trial of Packard v. Packard, the jury decided in her favor in only seven minutes.
After gained her freedom, Packard became an activist for women’s rights and personal liberty. Her writings inspired Illinois and several other states to pass laws that prevented husbands declaring their wives insane and that required jury trials before people could be committed.
But through the discipline of my heavenly Father I now see my sins in this respect, so that henceforth I shall aim to extend to the impenitent the love message of warning and rebuke, and to the truly penitent, the love message of forgiveness and encouragement in well doing.
To extend forgiveness to the impenitent, degrades ourselves also as guilty accomplices in their iniquities.
As I understand Christ's directions the next step following unheeded warning and reproof is to withdraw fellowship while the sinner still persists in his incorrigible condition. This too I have also done. I have withdrawn all fellowship from Mr. Packard in his present attitude towards me. I do not so much as speak or write to him, and this I do from the principle of self-defense, and not from a spirit of revenge. I know all my words and actions are looked upon through a very distorted medium, and whatever I say or do, he weaves into capital with which to carry on his persecution. And I think I have Christ's example too as my defense of this course; for when he was convinced his persecutors questioned him only for the purpose of catching him in his words, "he was speechless."
I have said all I have to say to Mr. Packard in his present character. But when he repents, I will forgive him.
"Where the truth is known, and as the revelations of the court-room developed the facts exactly as they were found to exist, the popular verdict is decidedly against Mr. Packard. Indeed, the tide of popular indignation rises very high among that class, who defend religious liberty and equal rights, free thought, free speech, free press.
I state this as a fact which my own personal observation demonstrates. In canvassing for my book in many of the largest cities in the State of Illinois, I had ample opportunity to test this truth, and were I to transcribe a tithe of the expressions of this indignant feeling which I alone have heard, it would swell this book to a mammoth size. A few specimen expressions must therefore be taken as a fair representation of this popular indignation.
"Mr. Packard cannot enter our State without being in danger of being lynched," is an expression I have often heard made from the common people.
From the soldiers I have often heard these, and similar expressions:
"Mrs. Packard, if you need protection again, just let us know it and we will protect you with the bullet, if there is no other defense."
"If he ever gets you into another Asylum, our cannon shall open its walls for your deliverance."
The Bar in Illinois may be represented by the following expressions, made to me by the Judges of the Supreme Court, in Ottawa Court-House.
"Mrs. Packard, this is the foulest outrage we ever heard of in real life; we have heard of such deep laid plots in romances, but we never knew one acted out in real life before. We did not suppose such a plot could be enacted under the laws of our State. But this we will say, if ever you are molested again in our State, let us know it, and we will put Mr. Packard and his Conspiracy where they ought to be put!"
The pulpit of Illinois almost universally condemns the outrage as a crime against humanity and human rights. But the truth requires me to say that there are some exceptions.
The only open defenders I ever heard for Mr. Packard, came from the church influence, and the pulpit. Yet, among all the ministers I have conversed with on this subject, I have found only two who uphold his course.
One Presbyterian minister told me, he thought Mr. Packard had done right in treating me as he had:
"You have no right," said he, "to cherish opinions which he does not approve, and he did right in putting you in an asylum for it. I would treat my wife just so, if she did so!"
The name' and residence of this minister I could give if I chose, but I forbear to do so, lest I expose him unnecessarily.
The other clergyman was a Baptist minister.
Said he, "I uphold Mr. Packard in what he has done, and I would help him in putting you in again should he attempt it!"
The name and place of this minister I shall withhold unless self-defense requires the exposure.
When I have added one or two more church members to those two just named, it includes the whole number I ever heard defend, in my presence, Mr. Packard's course.
Still, I have no doubt but that these four represent a curiosity in Illinois, who are governed by the same popish principles of bigotry and intolerance as Mr. Packard is.
And I think it may be said of this class, as a Chicago paper did of Mr. Packard, after giving an account of the case, viz.:
"The days of bigotry and oppression are not yet past. If three-fourths of the people of the world were of the belief of Rev. Packard and his witnesses, the other fourth would be burned at the stake."
And here I will add, that this same transmutation of public sentiment took place in New England after the facts became, known, as expressed by a lawyer in Worcester, Mass., who had at first identified himself as Mr. Packard's defender, said he: