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date: 01 July 2022


The Oxford Companion to United States History
Jeffrey S. AdlerJeffrey S. Adler

During the mid–seventeenth century, public officials in Puritan Massachusetts expressed fears that crime and disorder were tearing apart the fabric of society. Nearly three and a half centuries later, prominent observers made similar claims, reporting that crime was surging and undermining public order. For Puritans, however, the criminality consisted not of mugging, murder, and crack-cocaine use, but of fornication, Sabbath-breaking, and tippling (excessive drinking). Although commentators in virtually every era have insisted that crime had reached epidemic proportions, the history of crime in America is not the story of ever-increasing rates of disorder. Rather, both the level and the character of crime have changed along with America society. Shifting patterns of crime, therefore, provide an important perspective on the development of American society.... ...

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