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April 27, 2005

Research: History of Adulthood

[NOTE: This document was added to the blog on May 22, 2005]

Today I'm actually in the library doing research. I have a few lines of questioning to pursue. My premise: contemporary adulthood is an organization. Two aspects of that that I want to research further: (1) the evolution of artificial age lines, (2) the evolution of obedience [adults' entitlement to command -- which is interwoven with the history of their legal responsibilities].

With regards to age lines, in "Exploration: Outline for a Youth History of Adult Power" (12.08.04), I outlined four theses:

  1. Previously birthdays were not taken into account in separating adults from children -- only practical distinctions.
  2. Numerical legal age lines mimic lines between child / parent / grandparent.
  3. Gerontocracy, "rule of the old" and "older is better", existed previously.
  4. The power of the elderly was toppled, resulting in modern adultism -- rule by adults, not just the oldest.

These theses will have to be proven or disproven using the historical record. Let me summarize some of the historical points I've made a connection with so far...
  • "Rites of passage" probably exist in pre-historic tribes. The book "Rites of Passage" will probably be helpful here.

  • Prior to the invention of writing, Western Civilization was forming into city-states in the Middle-East.

  • The first written legal code of note appears to be the code of Hammurabi in Babylonia (http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/CODE.HTM). I have noted references to parental rights over children in the 282 rules listed therein; however, I have not read closely enough yet to discover if there's a definition of adult vs. child there yet. [Note that numbers 13, 66-99, 110 have been lost.]

    I have a suspicion that the origins of "adult" as opposed to "parent" may evolve out of the origins of marriage -- that in Babylonia, you're a child to be controlled by your parents until you're married yourself. If this is the case, then I'll need to pursue the origins of marriage further.

    Beyond the code of Hammurabi itself, there are anthropological descriptions of Babylonian society that will likely prove useful. One source I saw said that a father had control over his children until marriage.

    Question: What does the code of Hammurabi say specifically about age-lines?

    From my wikipedia search on "Hammurabi" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammurabi) [note - a photo of a sculpture of Hammurabi is included]: "Hammurabi reigned over Babylon and the Babylonian Empire from 1728BC until his death in 1686 ... The Kassites ruled for 400 years, and respected the Code of Hammurabi.

    From my wikipedia search on "Cod of Hammurabi" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi) [note - a photo of an inscription of the Code is included]: "The Code of Hammurabi, created ca. 1700 BC, also known as the Codex Hammurabi, is one of the earliest sets of laws found, and one of the best preserved examples of this type of document from ancient Mesopotamia. Other collections of laws include the codex of Ur-Nammu, king of Ur (ca. 2050 BC) the Codex of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BC) and the codex of Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (ca. 1870 BC)." ...So, while Hammurabi is important, there may be other ancient laws that need to be researched.

    Question: How do other ancient Codexes compare to that of Hammurabi?

    Question: What are the commonly recognized periods of world history?

    [Note: it looks like "History of Europe" is the relevant wikipedia search here, since it goes back to Greece and Rome...]

    More: "The code is often pointed to as the first example of the legal concept that some laws are so basic as to be beyond the ability of even a king to change. By writing the laws on stone they were immutable. This concept lives on in most modern legal systems and has given rise to the term written in stone."

    Reading through the code now, I notice the term "minor son"

    Question: Does use of the word "minor" in Hammurabi mean that a legal category for youth existed?

    ...It appears that fathers choose who their son will marry; and that a price is paid for someone else's daughter; and that that fee is for child-bearing -- you basically get your money back if you don't get children out of her. ...An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth -- and a son for a son! ...It looks like a "minor son" may be a younger son? ...The most relevant quote herein may be #195: "If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off." [There's also a bit about getting your tongue cut out if you say "you are not my father!" -- but that's perhaps not so much about defiance as lineage.]

    Also of note: #135 talks about fathers retaining custody of their children; #169 talks about depriving a child of their filial relationship -- casting them out; and #182 talks about artisans apprenticing youth -- which reminds me of the apprentice relationships in "From Father's Property to Children's Rights".

    ...Having now read through the code, it does look like an anthropological history will be more useful. The code, with regards to family, has mostly to do with inheritance and marriage contracts (which seem to be very focused on producing more children).

  • Roman law influences everything that comes thereafter. Fast-forwarding to England at the time of William Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Laws of England" , you basically have two forms of law that go into the work: common law, and civil law. Common law comes from customs of "time immemorial"; civil laws come from Rome.

  • Roman society seems to embody the height of adult supremacism, fathers having the right to murder their children. I also seem to recall that Roman adulthood was set at 25 -- which explains where number 25 comes from in the U.S. Constitution.

    Question: Where in Roman Law is the number 25 located, specifically?

  • In England, it appears that there was a period during which the country was controlled by inconsistent local laws, and Canon law (church law).

    From my search on "common law" (http://www.wikipedia.org/): "Before the institutional stability imposed on England by William the Conqueror in 1066, English citizens were governed by unwritten local customs that varied from community to community and were enforced in often arbitrary fashion. ... In 1154, Henry II became the first Plantagenet king. Among many achievements, Henry institutionalized common law by creating a unified system of law "common" to the country through incorporating and elevating local custom to the national, ending local control and peculiarities, eliminating arbitrary remedies, and reinstating a jury system of citizens sworn on oaths to investigate reliably criminal accusations and civil claims." ...The further I read in this entry, the more I complexity I see in the history of law. Uh-oh...

  • There is a debate about childhood in the Middle Ages spawned by Philipe Aries about whether or not a conception of "childhood" as distinct from "adulthood" existed. He puts forth the notion that children were merely seen as little adults. This point of view seems to have been nearly disproven by people more familiar with that time period. I found a summary of the debate in the "Handbook of Marriage & Family", which said that Aries himself had more or less conceded the point.

    Question: Did the concept of "childhood" exist in the Middle Ages?

  • The idea that "childhood" did not exist in the Middle Ages was not matching my own research, either. In "Webster's Unabridged Dictionary 2nd ed." (1940) I discovered that "Before the age of majority come military age, age of consent, and the age of discretion." (See definition of "age"). Each of these age lines originates in common law. They also tend to set different lines for boys vs. girls.

  • After Rome, I was going to make my next big stopping point William Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Laws of England" (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/blackstone/blacksto.htm).

    From my wikipedia search on "common law" again (http://www.wikipedia.org/): "The definitive historical treatise on the common law is Commentaries on the Laws of England, written by Sir William Blackstone and published in 1765-1769. ... Today it has been superseded in the English part of the United Kingdom by Halsbury's Laws of England that covers both common and statutory English Law."

    From the wikipedia link to "Commentaries on the Laws of England" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commentaries_on_the_Laws_of_England): "The commentaries are frequently quoted as the definitive pre-Revolutionary War source of Common Law by US Courts ... Blackstone's four volumes cover the Rights of Persons, the Rights of Things, Private Wrongs, and Public Wrongs. The first treatise on the Rights of Persons is by and large concerned with the relations of status in the English social structure, from the King of England and the aristocracy down to the untitled commoners. Also Dealt heare were common relationships such as that of husband and wife, "master and servant", what we would now call employer and employee, and guardian and ward."

    Within the commentaries themselves, the chapters relevant to my studies all seem to be in book 1:

    "Chapter the Fourteenth : Of Master and Servant Chapter the Fifteenth : Of Husband and Wife Chapter the Sixteenth : Of Parent and Child Chapter the Seventeenth : Of Guardian and Ward "

    Summarizing chapter 16 [for clarity, I'll translate the archaic use of f into s]... "Children are of two sorts; legitimate, and spurious, or bastards" ...No, I change my mind: I'll include the text below as an appendix.

  • Parental rights and responsibilities in Colonial America seem to be spelled out pretty explicitly, legally, according to the book "From Father's Property to Children's Rights".

  • In the U.S. constitution, the numbers 25, 30, and 35 seem to derive from Rome, where 25 seems to have been the line for adulthood. The number 21 doesn't show up until the Amendments, when the electoral college is being reworked. And 18 seems to be the most recent Amendment... Therefore probably not likely to be changed soon. I suspect that these numbers, 18 and 21, derive from English Common Law.

    Question: Where do the age lines in the Constitution come from?

  • The New Deal seems to have revolutionized age relations in the U.S. As I understand it, this is where retirement age was really cemented into place -- in a sense, overthrowing the power of the old. I believe it is also where labor laws for the young were really put into effect -- not for their protection, but to protect the earning power of adults.

    Question: Is the New Deal summed up in a single document that I can read?

Posted by Sven at April 27, 2005 12:00 PM