19th Century Judicial Precedents Regarding Domestic Discipline

In this third article in our series on domestic discipline, we will be looking at a few 19th century judicial decisions on the lawfulness of husbands practicing domestic discipline toward their wives.  We will start with two cases which upheld the right of a husband to practice corporal chastisement on his wife and then move to a decision which overturned these precedents.  

1834 – Calvin Bradley vs The State of Mississippi

In this case of a husband being charged with battery against his wife the Supreme Court of Mississippi referenced the ancient common law to affirm the right of “domestic discipline” by husbands:

“It is true, according to the old law, the husband might give his wife moderate correction, because he is answerable for her misbehaviour; hence it was thought reasonable, to intrust him, with a power, necessary to restrain the indiscretions of one, for whose conduct he was to be made responsible

I believe it was a case before Mr. Justice Raymond, when the same doctrine was recognised, with proper limitations and restrictions, well suited to the condition and feelings of those, who might think proper to use a whip or rattan, no bigger than my thumb, in order to inforce the salutary restraints of domestic discipline.

Family broils and dissentions cannot be investigated before the tribunals of the country… let the husband be permitted to exercise the right of moderate chastisement… without being subjected to vexatious prosecutions, resulting in the mutual discredit and shame of all parties concerned. Judgment affirmed.”

In the case of Calvin Bradley vs The State, the court affirmed what it called “the ancient common law” right of a husband to use “moderate chastisement” with his wife referring to this practice as “domestic discipline”.    It also respected the limits of civil government interfering in the affairs of the family and stated husbands should not be subjected to prosecutions for exercising their right to domestic discipline as long as they did so in moderation.

1864 – State Of North Carolina vs Jesse Black

In this case the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled as follows:

“A husband is responsible for the acts of his wife, and he is required to govern his household, and for that purpose the law permits him to use towards his wife such a degree of force as is necessary to control an unruly temper and make her behave herself; and unless some permanent injury be inflicted, or there be an excess of violence, or such a degree of cruelty as shows that it is inflicted to gratify his own bad passions, the law will not invade the domestic forum or go behind the curtain.”

As in previous cases, the court affirmed that the husband’s right to chastise his wife flows from his responsibility to govern all in his household and his wife is part of his household.   The court affirmed that it is improper for the civil government to “invade the domestic forum”. 

In this decision, the court did recognize limits on the husband’s power to use corporal punishment to chastise his wife.  They said that a husband’s chastisement of his wife should not cause any “permanent injury” or be excessively violent and that he should not discipline his wife for his own sadistic pleasure.  The court’s view in this case aligns with the Scriptural command to husbands in Ephesians 5:28-29 that they are to care for and protect their wife’s bodies as they would their own.  

1871 – The Year American Courts Invaded the Domestic Forum

It was in 1871, that a state court did what others had warned against decades earlier.  The court invaded the domestic forum, the sphere of authority given to men as the heads of their households.  It not only overturned decades of American court precedent, but invalidated ancient common law rights of husbands upon which those precedents were built.

In 1871 the case of Fulgham V. State, the Alabama Supreme court ruled as follows:

“Since then, however, learning, with its humanizing influences, has made great progress, and morals and religion have made some progress with it. Therefore, a rod which may be drawn through the wedding ring is not now deemed necessary to teach the wife her duty and subjection to the husband. The husband is therefore not justified or allowed by law to use such a weapon, or any other, for her moderate correction. The wife is not to be considered as the husband’s slave. And the privilege, ancient though it be, to beat her with a stick, to pull her hair, choke her, spit in her face or kick her about the floor, or to inflict upon her like indignities, is not now acknowledged by our law

Two key words stand out in the first sentence and those words are “humanizing” and “progress”. 

What does it mean to “humanize” someone? And to what “progress” were they referring? To understand these concepts, we have to compare and contrast the social classes of the post enlightenment age with those that came before it. 

When God created mankind, he ordained three core social classes and those were men, women and children.  After sin entered the world, he allowed for a fourth social class of slaves (both male and female) because of poverty and war. 

Humanists rejected these four social class structures and instead sought to bring about a new model of society that had only two social classes which we know today as “adults” and “children”.  The abolitionist humanists first targeted the slave class for elimination.  Then some female abolitionists broke off and organized the first womens rights conference in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.

When they talked about “humanizing” people, they were talking about making women and slaves equal with free men.  In other words, they were seeking to eliminate the social classes of men, women and slaves and replace those classes with one new social class, that of a “human” or “adult” while leaving the child class intact.

This is why today if any adult is seen has having less rights than another adult, it is said that the person with less rights is being “dehumanized”. 

The ultimate goal of humanists of the late 19th century was to build an “internationalist” or what we call today “globalist” society.  No men, no women, no slaves, no rich, no poor, no Christians, no Muslims, no Jews, no Americans, no Mexicans, no British.

Just humans.    

And it is this march toward a one world society with no nations, no religions, no genders, no rich and no poor that humanists refer to as “progress”.  And this is why leftists today refer to themselves as “progressives”.   

Humanists knew that their master plan would take decades and perhaps more than a century to bring about.   And they knew they had to do it in small incremental pieces.  This is why if you notice in this ruling, the court still acknowledged that a wife had a duty to be in subjection to her husband. It would have been too much for American society to accept all at once that a husband could not use corporal punishment on his wife and that a wife did not have a duty to obey her husband.

The court was simply taking away a primary means of him enforcing that subjection, his ability to use corporal chastisement on his wife.  And by reducing the ability of husbands to enforce their rule over their wives, women were given more power.

In other words, taking away a husband’s right to use corporal discipline upon his wife was one of the first steps in dismantling patriarchy. 

The court falsely equated a man using moderate correction with a rod to him having a right “to pull her hair, choke her, spit in her face or kick her about the floor”.   This is what leftists do, they use extremes and abuses of authority, or this case chastisement, to get rid of all chastisement and in essence to get rid of an authority’s ability to chastise.

While Tennessee was the first state to outlaw “wife beating” in 1850, the vast majority of states did not do so until after this ruling in the 1870s.

But even though the courts and state legislatures had invaded the domestic forum by the late 19th century, local law enforcement officials rarely enforced these laws.  In other words, most local police did not feel right about invading the domestic forum even though state laws and court decisions would allow it. 

It would not be until more than a century after the first laws denying husbands’ rights to use corporal punishment on their wives, that a new “Domestic Violence” movement would arise in the early 1970s.  It was then that new domestic violence laws were passed and edicts came down from state and local governments forcing police to invade the domestic forum.

Conclusion

We have shown here that early 19th century jurisprudence respected ancient common laws giving husbands the right to use corporal punishment as part of domestic discipline with their wives. 

The courts showed great deference to the domestic forum, recognizing it was not right for civil authorities to intervene in domestic affairs, except under the gravest of circumstances, as husbands were to have supremacy in the affairs of their homes.

Later courts, following humanist philosophies, broke this sacred rule and launched a full-scale government invasion of the domestic forum with the attack on corporal punishment of wives being only one of the first battles in this invasion.

A 19th Century Suffragette View of Domestic Discipline

In this second article in our series on domestic discipline, we will be looking at the 19th century suffragette (feminist) view of domestic discipline.  To do this we will look at two primary sources.  The first is the Declaration of Sentiments which was issued from the first woman’s rights conference in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. 

The second source we will be looking at is a book entitled “History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861”, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ‎Susan Brownell Anthony and ‎Matilda Joslyn Gage in 1881.  This book is also a valuable resource in understanding the historical view of domestic discipline.   Less than 20 years before this book was published, state courts in America were still upholding a man’s right to use corporal punishment with his wife.  It was only in the 1870s that courts began striking down this common law right and later states would begin enacting laws against it.

The Declaration of Sentiments

The Declaration of Independence was America declaring its independence from England and the Declaration of Sentiments was women declaring their independence from men.    Below is a portion of the Declaration of Sentiments issued from the first woman’s rights conference in 1848:

“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes, with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master – the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.

As Bible believing Christians, we can and should recognize the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments for what it was and still is today.  A declaration of war on God’s institution of patriarchy.   And the sad truth is, that more than 170 years later that war has been mostly won by feminists. Those who still hold to God’s design of patriarchy have been forced into hiding, with their only option to fight a spiritual guerrilla warfare against those who seek to eradicate the last pockets of resistance to the reigning humanist regimes.

“In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband”

The common laws of the land in this case were strongly aligned with the Word of God as seen in Titus 2:4-5:

“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, OBEDIENT to their own HUSBANDS, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”

In fact, we can rightly say that the Declaration of Sentiments complaint against women being compelled by common law to be obedient to their husbands was blasphemy against the Word of God.

The Husband is “to all intents and purposes, her master”

Again, the Scriptures are crystal clear on this point calling women to regard their husband’s as their earthly lords (their masters) in 1 Peter 3:5-6:

“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”

The Greek word used in 1 Peter 3:6 is “kurios” which means master.  It is used in reference to kings, governors, slave masters, husbands and to God himself in the Bible.  All of these masters were authorities instituted by God over different spheres, but God is the LORD and master of all.  The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek kurios is “baal” which means “owner, lord, master”. 

In Deuteronomy 22:22 we see the following example showing the husband’s ownership over his wife:

“If a man be found lying with a woman married [‘baal’ used as verb] to an husband [‘baal’ used as noun] , then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.”

The passage above demonstrates that under God’s law a married woman is an owned woman, and her owner is her husband.

The Husbands power “to administer chastisement”

The power to chastise is a critical element of authority. If a person can tell others what to do, but they have no means of enforcing what they have commanded then they really are not an authority.  And this is why the early woman’s rights movement targeted the common law recognition of the husband’s right to chastise his wife.  If they could remove his power to chastise her, they knew they were effectively removing his authority over her.

History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861

The women who wrote “History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861” lived in the era when wife spanking was still widely practiced and culturally accepted so their perspective is valuable in the historical sense, even with their moral position on the rights of women and husbands chastising their wives being completely unbiblical and wrong.

In pages 88-89 the History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861 states:

“In those early days a husband’s supremacy was often enforced in the rural districts by corporeal chastisement, and it was considered by most people as quite right and proper – as much so as the correction of refractory children in like manner…The laws made it his privilege – and the Bible, as interpreted, made it is his duty.”

If you go to the average Christian today in the average Christian church, even most conservative evangelical churches, and you started talking about domestic discipline they would have no clue what you are talking about.  I know if you would have mentioned it to me 7 or 8 years ago, I would have been one of those people with a blank look. And if you mentioned “wife spanking” they would look at you like you are crazy.   I know I would have. 

But I am happy to have been challenged on this subject.  Because it caused me to really have to research this out.  I already showed in my first article in this series on domestic discipline, “The Biblical Case for Domestic Discipline”, that the Bible fully supports two important concepts. 

First it supports the concept of corporal punishment for both children and adults.  Secondly, it supports husband’s chastening their wives as we see God chastening his wife Israel in the Old Testament and Christ chastening his wife, the church, in the New Testament.

But then we come to the historical side of this.  Before the 20th century, most Christians believed according the Bible that husbands had a right and duty to chasten their wives using corporal punishment.  The common laws of the land supported this right. And except for the left-wing feminists of the 19th century, Christian women fully accepted this too.

Chastisement Was Seen as Good for A Wife’s Moral Development

On page 599 the History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861 states:

“By the common law of England, the spirit of which has been but too faithfully incorporated into our statute law, a husband has a right to whip his wife with a rod not larger than his thumb, to shut her up in a room, and administer whatever moderate chastisement he may deem necessary to insure obedience to his wishes, and for her healthful moral development! He can forbid all persons harboring or trusting her on his account.  He can deprive her of all social intercourse with her nearest and dearest friends.  If by great economy she accumulates a small sum, which for future need she deposit, little by little, in a savings bank, the husband has a right to draw it out, at his option, to use it as he may see fit.”

A husband chastising his wife was seen as a healthy and moral thing for a marriage.  But his powers of chastisement were not limited just to corporal punishment.  But he could also literally ground his wife as a parent grounds their child and send her to her room.  This was the normal accepted practice under common law.

Domestic Discipline Outlawed in the Late 19th Century

On page 792 the History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861 states:

“Wife-beating is still so common, even in America, that a number of States have of late introduced bills especially directed to the punishment of the wife-beater. Great surprise is frequently shown by these men when arrested. “Is she not my wife” is cried in tones proving the brutal husband had been trained to consider this relationship a sufficient justification for any abuse.”

“Chastisement” did not have enough sting to it.  In fact, even in the late 19th century, the word “chastisement” in America was seen as a positive word.  So then feminists went from speaking about husbands chastising their wives to calling men “wife-beaters”.  That had a much better ring to it.  And they declared that a husband chastising his wife in any form was “abuse”.   

Now to be sure, there were some men who took their right to chastise their wives too far causing serious or permanent injuries to their wives.  And this of course was the case throughout the history of mankind and was by no means unique to America.   But the exact same thing could also be said for parents, whether they were fathers or mothers who chastised their children, that some abused their God given authority to administer corporal chastisement.

But that fact that some husbands abused their power to exercise corporal chastisement did not give civil governments the right to remove this God given power from husbands.   What they should have done was deal with those extreme cases on a case by case basis.

Conclusion

In this second article we have shown that the early feminists declared war on Biblical patriarchy from the very beginning of their movement in 1848.   They utterly rejected God’s design of male headship over women. 

These early feminists or “suffragettes”, knew they had to play on the emotions of the American people to win their cause.  And they did exactly that.  They found the most extreme and outlandish cases of abuse they could find to bring before courts and state legislators to prove that all men were potential abusers or “wife-beaters” and the only way to protect women from the abuses of men was to completely strip men of their power of corporal chastisement over their wives.

But we also learned something else in this article.  Something that husbands and wives of today needed to see.  This idea of a husband using corporal punishment to chastise his wife is not some recently invented behavior by some far-right Christians.  It is not just some kinky BDSM thing.  But rather, before the late 19th century it was the protected law of the land and Christians believed husbands had a Biblical right and duty to exercise corporal chastisement on their wives for the good of their wife’s moral development and the health of their marriages.

The Biblical Case for Domestic Discipline

What is the Biblical view of domestic discipline (aka wife-spanking)? What were cultural views of wife spanking in America before the modern era? These are two different questions that we will be answering in this new series.

There are many behaviors and teachings that were the norm from ancient civilizations to just before the modern age that we as Bible believing Christians would disagree with. I have written on my own disagreements with some of the teachings and practices of the early church fathers, the reformers and even traditions of my own church upbringing in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches.

In other words, I would be the first to say just because something was taught or practiced in past eras does not make it moral or right. On the other hand, just because our modern culture thinks something is moral or immoral does not make it so. The question then becomes how can we determine the morality of a given belief or practice?

Jesus Christ answered this question of how we can determine the morality of a belief or practice when he said in Matthew 4:4 “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God“.

And the Apostle Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe”.

The Word that God gave to the Prophets before Christ, the Word that Christ himself spoke and the Word of God given to the Apostles after Christ collectively form the Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”.

The Scriptures then are what we are to build our beliefs and practices upon. However, does that mean history has no value? Of course not. We can learn from past civilizations and compare their behavior to moral standards found in the Word of God. We can then see how some past cultural practices which align with the teachings of the Bible helped to keep those cultures strong. And we can also see how past cultural practices which violated Biblical principles or commands ultimately led to the weakening and downfall of those earlier civilizations.

In this first article we will demonstrate how the practice of domestic discipline aligns perfectly with Biblical principles and commands regarding marriage. And then after that we will spend several articles looking at cultural views of domestic discipline in America before the modern age.

The Biblical Case for Domestic Discipline

Throughout the Bible, God pictures his relationship with us in one of two ways.  As individuals God pictures his relationship to us as father to his children.  But he pictures his relationship to his people as a group as that of a husband and wife. 

In Isaiah 54:5 God said to Israel “For thy Maker is thine HUSBAND; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called”.  And he consistently referred to the nation of Israel as his wife.  When Israel was unfaithful to him, God stated in Jeremiah 3:20 “Surely as a WIFE treacherously departeth from her HUSBAND, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord”.

In Deuteronomy 8:3-5 God speaks of his humbling and chastening of his wife, the nation of Israel:

“And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.  Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God CHASTENETH thee.”

So, God shows us that a husband chastens his wife as he would his child.  So how does God say a child is to be chastened in the following passages:

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.”

Proverbs 23:13 (KJV)

“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”

Proverbs 19:18 (KJV)

And now let’s move from the Old Testament to New Testament.

In the Gospel of John we read the following account of Jesus Christ:

13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables”

John 2:13-15 (KJV)

Jesus Christ showed that he had absolutely no problem with the Old Testament commands and practices regarding corporal (physical) punishment, aka beating someone with a whip or rod as a form of punishment.

Later in the New Testament, in Ephesians 5:25 the Bible states “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”.  Most churches today stop at verse 25 and bastardize the Scriptural command to say God wants husbands to “give themselves up for their wife’s happiness”.  This of course plays right into the false doctrine of feminism which so infects the churches today.

It is absolutely true at times that a husband must sacrifice himself for his wife.  But his sacrifice is not for her happiness, but rather his sacrifice is for her holiness.  See the full passage from Ephesians 5:25-27 that most churches today ignore:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

The Scriptures above are clear. Husbands are to model their love for their wives by how Christ demonstrates his love for his church. That means husbands are to wash their wives spiritual spots and wrinkles with the Word of God.

In Revelation 3:19 we see that this washing involves a husband rebuking and chastening his wife:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Conclusion

In the Old Testament, we read in Deuteronomy 8:5 that God said he chastened his wife, the nation of Israel, “as a man chasteneth his son”. And God tells parents to use corporal punishment on their children in Proverbs 19:18 & Proverbs 23:13.

In the New Testament, we read in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church” and Christ says of his churches in Revelation 3:19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.

The case could not be more clear that the practice of a man using corporal punishment on his wife, also known as wife-spanking or domestic discipline, very much aligns with the teachings of the Bible. A man using corporal punishment on his wife images God’s behavior as a husband to his wife, the people of God.

WARNING

Because of the wicked post-feminist and humanist society we now live in, I must always give this warning when writing on the subject of a husband using corporal punishment to chasten his wife.

First, let me be clear that God’s law no more requires a husband to get his wife’s consent to chasten her than he does a parent to get their child’s consent to chasten to them.

But Jesus Christ also told us as Christians to be “wise as serpents” in Matthew 10:16. This means that we need to be careful in the exercise of our rights as husbands.

Applying this principle of being wise as serpents to domestic discipline means you first need to educate your wife on the Biblical command for husbands to chasten their wives as God chastens his. And only after your wife fully accepts this as part of the Christian faith, and by extension Christian marriage, and consents to you incorporating this into your marriage should you attempt to do this.

If you attempt to do this with a wife who rejects the principle of Christian domestic discipline, you could land in jail.

If you have a wife who rejects the Biblical allowance for a husband to use corporal punishment to chasten his wife, or even if she rejects all forms of chastening, I would refer you to my article “7 Ways To Discipline You Wife“. That article will teach you how to use non-physical means to fulfill your Biblical obligation as a husband to chasten your wife.