The insanity plea in early nineteenth century America

J Community Health. 1998 Jun;23(3):227-47. doi: 10.1023/a:1018772532482.


In 1846, former New York State Governor William H. Seward defended two murderers using the insanity plea in both cases. Seward contended that the accused became insane due to brutal beatings administered while they were in the Auburn penitentiary. In the William Freeman trial, nine physicians testified that the murderer was insane while eight said he was sane. Juries convicted both prisoners; one was hanged and the other died in prison awaiting a new trial. Seward's legal defense attracted much attention to the jurisprudence of insanity and to insanity in general.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Expert Testimony / legislation & jurisprudence
  • History, 19th Century
  • Homicide / history
  • Homicide / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Insanity Defense / history*
  • Jurisprudence / history*
  • New York

Personal name as subject

  • W H Seward