Blue Laws, strict, puritanical laws that deal with general personal conduct, and with behavior on Sundays and other religious holidays. Often included among such laws are laws that:
Prohibit or restrict work and recreational activities on Sunday.
Ban the sale of alcoholic beverages or tobacco.
Provide for censoring of books, motion pictures, and plays.
Forbid or control certain forms of personal behavior—such as dancing or card playing—that might otherwise be considered matters of individual judgment.
The term "blue laws" was first used by the Rev. Samuel A. Peters in A General History of Connecticut (1781). It referred to laws he claimed were in effect in Connecticut, including those adopted in New Haven in 1656, which were printed on blue paper. Many laws he mentioned either never existed or were less strict than he described them.
Through Peters' book, blue laws came to be identified with Puritan New England. Actually, such laws were common in many countries. In colonial America, laws requiring church attendance and forbidding sports, work, and travel on Sunday were prevalent not only in New England, but also in the South, where the Church of England was the established church.
Many colonial blue laws were never repealed, and at times officials have tried to enforce them. New laws of this type have also been enacted from time to time. The National Prohibition Act of 1919, which forbade the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, is an example.