The Salem witch trials of 1692 constitute a formative event in the evolution of American civil society. They expressed a theocratic mind-set supported by civil power over life and death. The significance of the Salem witch trials can be seen chiefly in the fact that they serve as an object lesson in governance. History has thoroughly discredited them as state murder. The key issue of importance in the Salem witch trials has to do with the proper role of government and religion in civil society and the power ratios between and among individuals and between individuals and the social structure they inhabit. To see how these elements come together, a recital of the facts is in order. Between May and October of 1692, 20 women and men in Salem, Massachusetts, were executed for witchcraft.
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