The trial of Abner Baker, Jr., MD: monomania and McNaughtan rules in antebellum
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
18(3): 223-34, 1990.
On the third of October 1845, in a small mountain community in Kentucky, Abner Baker, Jr., MD,
was executed for the murder of his brother-in-law Daniel Bates. At the trial Baker's attorney argued
unsuccessfully that at the time of the crime the accused suffered from monomania, a form of mental
disease, and therefore should not be held responsible for the act. The trial bears historical
significance by the fact that it took place only a year after the formation of the Association of
Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, the first professional organization
of psychiatrists in the United States, and two years after the McNaughtan ruling in British
jurisprudence which molded the insanity plea around the concept of "knowing right from wrong."
Because it took place at this particular juncture in the history of both law and medicine, it provides
a revealing portrait of how medical and legal concepts on insanity interacted with the indigenous
social and political circumstances of antebellum America.