Trivia: An important pig



I was reading Edward Rowe Snow's book, Pirates, Shipwrecks and Historic Chronicles, and came upon an interesting tale about how a dispute about a pig led, in part, to the establishment of our present legislative system. Back in 1636 a traveling salesman by the name of Story came to Boston and  found lodging in the home of Mrs. Sherman. Story represented an English firm and hoped to earn comfortable commissions  from the folks of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Story soon discovered he was not welcome, Bostonians preferred to do business among themselves, not with England.

At that time, Boston had a law against ‘undesirables’; they were prohibited from remaining in town more than three weeks. Captain Robert Keayne was not the most popular man in town, but he was a prosperous and well-connected merchant. Keayne had Story charged as an undesirable. Apparently Storey was able to remain in town, but he vowed to get even with Captain Keayne.

It seems that Story’s landlady had a pig, and pigs like to roam. One day Mrs. Sherman’s pig wandered off and was found by Captain Keayne.  He apparently did his best to find the pig’s owner and even had the town crier announce that a pig had been found and where it could be retrieved. A year passed and, when nobody claimed the pig, Keayne slaughtered it for food.

Story had known the location of Mrs. Sherman’s pig all along. He convinced her that Keayne was aware that the pig belonged to her, and spread gossip around town that Captain Keayne had defrauded Mrs. Sherman. Keayne promptly sued Mrs. Sherman and Story for slander, and the magistrates fined Mrs. Sherman 20 pounds.

Then Story convinced Mrs. Sherman to appeal to the General Court, the lawmaking and governing body of the colony. The court was composed of 9 magistrates elected by property owners, and 30 deputies elected by the different towns.  A decision required a majority vote. The decisions of the court were law and could not be vetoed by the governor.

When the case came before the General Court in 1642, 2 magistrates and 15 deputies sided with the plaintiff, while 7 magistrates and 8 deputies sided with the defendant, and 7 deputies abstained. After days of wrangling, the Court ordered Keayne to pay 3 of the pounds collected from Mrs. Sherman.

The importance of the case was the realization that elected officials would most often decide as the people who elected them wanted, and not necessarily as justice demanded. A compromise was arranged. Deputies were to sit as one group, magistrates as another group, and new acts had to be approved by both groups to become law.

Over time, the magistrates became the Senate, the deputies became the House of Representatives, and the decisions of both had to be approved in the Assembly – the bicameral system. Today, all US states, except Nebraska, have a bicameral system of government.