After the excitement over last week’s royal wedding (especially the dress) celebrating Law Day might strike one as slightly anticlimactic. But annual Law Day celebrations and events mark a vital part of American society, culture and history.
Law Day was first proclaimed in 1957 by President Eisenhower. In his proclamation President Eisenhower stated that our heritage of liberty, justice and equality was underpinned by the law. The proclamation pointed out that the guarantee of fundamental individual rights under law was the “heart and sinew of our Nation” and distinguished the United States from countries that tried to rule by “might alone.” President Eisenhower also saw that the “universal application of the rule of law in the settlement of international disputes would greatly enhance the cause of a just and enduring peace.”
Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy issued proclamations for Law Day in subsequent years and in 1961 Congress passed a joint resolution designating May 1 as Law Day. Since then every President has issued an annual Law Day proclamation extolling and celebrating our heritage, which is rooted in the rule of law, and calling on those in the legal profession to uphold this day through educational activities and events. The Law Library of Congress’ Law Day page details the legislative history of this day with links to the laws and presidential proclamations as well as books and articles on Law Day.
The American Bar Association sets a theme for Law Day each year. This year’s theme is “The Legacy of John Adams: from Boston to Guantanamo.” The theme refers to Adams’ role as counsel for the British soldiers who were tried for murder as a result of the Boston Massacre of 1770. Although already a well known leader of the American resistance to English rule, Adams defended the soldiers because he believed that the rule of law and the rights of the accused outweighed other considerations. Adams’ statements are recorded in the trial transcript wherein he refers to the importance of the rule of law throughout his defense and in his concluding statement pointed to the undeviating course which the law must follow and “not bend to the uncertain wishes, imaginations and wanton tempers of men.” As well as Adams, we are called upon to celebrate those who represented the Haymarket 8 who were accused of killing a police officer; Samuel Leibowitz who represented the Scottsboro Boys; Michael Tiger who represented Terry Nichols; and those who represent Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The Law Library has a page on John Adams and the Boston Massacre Trial of 1770 which provides a brief history of the incident and the trial as well as links to some of the rare materials in our collection associated with Adams.