Starting in Europe in the 14th century, the belief of the supernatural and more specifically the devilish people, known as witches, to inflict harm on others caused mass hysteria.
This fear eventually spread around the world, and throughout America, leading to some of the most notable court cases in pre-revolutionary America, the Salem Witch Trials. These consisted of a series of prosecutions against people accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. The trials caused the execution of twenty people, mostly women and mostly by hanging. The Salem Witch Trials caused the legal system to take a good hard look at the miscarriage of justice that had taken place. Witchcraft could be simplified to just any work involving the devil.
That means that anyone accused of it must have made some contact with the devil and become evil because of it. Often those accused were socially marginal people; people who do not fit in with the society they reside in. This often caused witchcraft accusations to be used as a tool in order to get rid of said socially marginal people. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were one of the most notable witchcraft trials, but many preceded them. The idea of witchcraft can be traced back as far as 560 B.
C., when the Old Testament of the bible condemned witches in its text. Witches were first mentioned in the books Exodus and Leviticus stating, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live ” (Exodus 22:18) as well as “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:27). Europe faced similar witch hysteria between the mid-1400s and mid-1600s, during this time between 50,000 and 80,000 people were executed for supposedly being a witch. Similarly, France broke out into probably the worst-yet in 1571 after a defendant accused of witchcraft, Trois-Echelles, declared that there were over 100,000 fellow witches throughout the country. This caused a huge pubic panic.
Judges responded by ridding those accused of witchcraft most of the protections that other defendants were entitled to. With witch hysteria taking over all of Europe, finally the end of witch hunts in Europe was the during the Age of Enlightenment, beginning in the late 1680s. Enlightenment brought reason, doubt, and humanitarianism. Enlightenment thinkers asserted that there was no real evidence that there were witches and thus the torture and execution of them was unethical.