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The Roots of Rough Justice

The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 160
  • Book Info
    The Roots of Rough Justice
    Book Description:

    In this deeply researched prequel to his 2006 study Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947, Michael J. Pfeifer analyzes the foundations of lynching in American social history. Scrutinizing the vigilante movements and lynching violence that occurred in the middle decades of the nineteenth century on the Southern, Midwestern, and far Western frontiers, The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching offers new insights into collective violence in the pre-Civil War era. _x000B__x000B_Pfeifer examines the antecedents of American lynching in an early modern Anglo-European folk and legal heritage. He addresses the transformation of ideas and practices of social ordering, law, and collective violence in the American colonies, the early American Republic, and especially the decades before and immediately after the American Civil War. His trenchant and concise analysis anchors the first book to consider the crucial emergence of the practice of lynching slaves in antebellum America. Pfeifer also leads the way in analyzing the history of American lynching in a global context, from the early modern British Atlantic to the legal status of collective violence in contemporary Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. _x000B__x000B_Seamlessly melding source material with apt historical examples, The Roots of Rough Justice tackles the emergence not only of the rhetoric surrounding lynching, but of its practice and ideology. Arguing that the origins of lynching cannot be restricted to any particular region, Pfeifer shows how the national and transatlantic context is essential for understanding how whites used mob violence to enforce the racial and class hierarchies across the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09309-8
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    On June 13, 2005, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution apologizing for its historical failure to enact antilynching legislation. The Senate’s action in 2005 culminated more than two decades of work by descendants of lynching victims and scholars that has sought to recover and illuminate the history of a practice of collective violence that claimed the lives of thousands of persons in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including several thousand African Americans and hundreds of Hispanics and whites. As a result of these efforts, we now know much more about lynching in the postbellum United...

  5. 1. Collective Violence in the British Atlantic
    (pp. 7-11)

    The legal and cultural antecedents of American lynching were carried across the Atlantic by migrants from the British Isles to colonial North America. Collective violence was a familiar aspect of the early modern Anglo-American legal landscape. Group violence in the British Atlantic was usually nonlethal in intention and consequence but it occasionally shaded, particularly in the seventeenth century in the context of political turmoil in England and unsettled social and political conditions in the American colonies, into rebellions and riots that took multiple lives. In the years before and after the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Americans transformed older British...

  6. 2. Vigilantes, Criminal Justice, and Antebellum Cultural Conflict
    (pp. 12-31)

    On January 27, 1838, in his Address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, the young lawyer Abraham Lincoln deplored the vigilante execution of gamblers and alleged slave insurrectionists in Mississippi in 1835 and the mob execution of an African American in St. Louis in 1836, asserting that the passions of mob law endangered American self-government.¹ Lincoln rejected the arguments of apologists for vigilantism who insisted that the inadequacy of laws and ineffectiveness of legal institutions in thwarting dangerous criminality justified vigilante violence. Although his specific examples of mob violence came from the Mississippi River Valley, Lincoln argued that...

  7. 3. Racial and Class Frontiers: Lynching and Social Identity in Antebellum America
    (pp. 32-53)

    During the antebellum era, practices of collective murder took root on the cotton and resource extraction frontiers as white planters, farmers, and miners stepped outside of formal law to execute slaves, free blacks, Indians, and Mexicans who challenged white authority with acts of resistance or criminality. White Americans in the developing South, Midwest, and West justified summary executions through racial and class republicanism, that is, through their notion of their superiority as virtuous, productive American citizens with a responsibility to ensure the safety of whites and the viability of recently planted and complex socioeconomic orders that included purported racial inferiors...

  8. 4. Lynchers versus Due Process: The Forging of Rough Justice
    (pp. 54-66)

    By the early 1850s, due process and rough justice sentiments had competed for cultural supremacy in American life for several decades. The cultural conflict over the direction of criminal justice took on particular intensity at midcentury, however, as a result of reformers’ success in modifying criminal law, increasing attention to and concerns about perceived threats to sectional identity, and the challenges posed by the rapid growth of a novel, multicultural social landscape with the American incorporation of California and the ensuing Gold Rush. Within these dynamic southern, midwestern, and western cultural and legal contexts, lynchers performed collective violence that protested...

  9. 5. The Civil War and Reconstruction and the Remaking of American Lynching
    (pp. 67-87)

    The remaking of the nation during and after the Civil War was a national process, not merely a southern one. Northerners and westerners, along with southerners, responded to and remade social, political, economic, and legal arrangements in the wake of emancipation, the extension of rights to African Americans, and the expansion of federal and state authority in the 1860s and ’70s. The transformation of the United States during the Civil War and Reconstruction was a complex, fitful process, with interconnected local, regional, and national dimensions.¹ Violence, including the collective violence of lynching and vigilantism, was an important aspect of this...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 88-92)

    The conflict between rough justice and due process sentiments persisted for decades after Reconstruction in the American regions beyond the Alleghenies. Vividly remembering Reconstruction as an era in which they had lost control of criminal courts and political offices, many white southerners turned once again to collective murder outside the law amid racial and political conflict shaped by the depressed cotton economy of the 1890s. In a contagion of collective murder that was less overtly political and less systematically organized but even more racial than the collective violence of Reconstruction, lynching became a prime means of punishing black resistance and...

  11. Appendix: Lists of Confirmed Lynchings
    (pp. 93-108)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 109-140)
  13. Index
    (pp. 141-144)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 145-148)