Lynching redux

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Aug 4 19:34:01 UTC 2005

Bravo for these cites John.


"Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Baker, John"
Subject: Re: Lynching redux

Most of the early legal citations imply that lynching did not necessarily result in the death of the lynchee:

"That Slaughter had been, some years before, taken out and lynched. That he was of infamous character, and, on that account, great and almost universal prejudice existed against him." Slaughter v. Commonwealth, 38 Va. (11 Leigh) 681 (Va. Gen. Ct. 1841). Mr. Slaughter was still alive at the time of the events in question, so his lynching some years before was apparently nonfatal.

"The charge in the declaration does not import a crime. The meaning is, that the plaintiff had been whipped on an accusation of stealing hogs. It cannot be inferred from the language employed, that the defendant meant to charge, that the plaintiff had been whipped by the sentence of a court for stealing hogs. It is nothing more than a statement, that he had been lynched on a charge of hog stealing." Holley v. Burgess, 9 Ala. 728 (1846).

"After he was arrested, some of the company suggested that he should be lynched and made to tell where Bryant was; that one or more of the company said to Morehead it would be better for him to confess; that it was Bryant they were after mainly; that he would probably be made state's evidence; and that, if he would tell all he knew, they would make it go as lightly with him as possible." Morehead v. State, 28 Tenn. (9 Hum.) 635 (1849).

"The section of the Code on which the indictment was framed, reads thus: "All persons, to the number of two or more, who abuse, whip or beat any person, upon any accusation, real or pretended, or to force such person to confess himself guilty of any offence," &c.--Code, ยง 3108. To make out the offence contemplated by the first part of this section, it is essential that the accusation should be the moving cause of the abuse or violence. The term ""accusation" must not be confounded with the act on which it is based. It means something distinct from, and independent of it. If two persons were to bring a charge against a third, and beat him upon provocation of the act complained of, that is very different from inflicting the same violence upon him, not from the provocation of the act itself, but because they believed him guilty of the accusation brought against him, for the commission of it. The one is simply an act of private vengeance, while the other implies, to some extent, the
 usurpation of legal authority--to try and punish upon a charge--what is commonly called lynching." Underwood v. State, 25 Ala. 70 (1854).

"That if the jury believe from the evidence, that the defendant, and other persons, formed the design of committing personal violence on the body of the said Wilkinson, as by lynching, or otherwise, but did not design to take his life . . . ." State v. Shelledy, 8 Iowa (8 Clarke) 477 (1859).

Following these, there are a number of cases where the term is used ambiguously. Except for one anomalous 1853 case, there are no uses that clearly mean a vigilante killing until 1878. (I only searched for "lynched" and "lynching," because a search for "lynch" is inundated with results for the common surname.)

"In a loud voice Copeland charged him with being a swindler, that he ought to have his guts lynched out. Willard bid for some article, and Copeland turned around and said to him, "have you got the money for it?" Willard replied, "I have." Copeland then said, "God damn him, if it was not for the law I would murder him;" "that he ought to be lynched to death."" State v. Jennings, 18 Mo. 435 (1853). The decedent was in fact whipped to death.

"Defendant is a white man: he killed - in the parish of St. Charles - one Joseph Johnson, who belonged to the colored class, and the application for a change of venue is founded on the facts that - in said parish - the jury is composed of exclusively individuals of the same class as the deceased - that the homicide created considerable excitement and commotion in the locality where it occurred, and that several colored men manifested the intention of lynching him and hanging him without judge or jury - that, on account of the prejudice thus existing against him, he could not obtain an impartial trial in either the parish of St. Charles or any other parish of the Fourth Judicial District." State v. Williams, 30 La.Ann. 1028 (La. 1878). The defendant, who had been found guilty of manslaughter by an African-American jury, was unsuccessful in his application for a change of venue, although a retrial was ordered on a procedural technicality.

After about this point, the term becomes more common and is more likely to refer to a mob hanging.

There is also one early citation in which lynching does not seem to refer to vigilante justice at all:

"That . . . the plaintiff . . . was then handed over to the said Routh and Harmanson who conveyed him to the house of one Peggy Philips, declaring that their object was to force him to surrender all his interest in the partnership to defendant; and that if he would not do it voluntarily he should be lynched into it; that defendant and his party finding that persuasion was of no avail, took the petitioner at some distance from the house and there told him in a tone and manner indicative of force and violence, not to be misunderstood, that they were then prepared to deal with him as he might refuse or comply with the proposition made to him for the last time to surrender to defendant all his interest in the partnership, property for $3000; that the plaintiff finding himself in the power of an armed party and conscious that resistance was useless, assented to every thing proposed . . . ." Copeland v. Mickie, 17 La. 286 (1841).

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of George Thompson
Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 10:42 AM
Subject: Re: Lynching redux

As regards the question of whether "lynching" always signified an extra- legal execution, I have 3 very early occurences -- not antedatings, however -- in which it did not. By the end of the 19th C the word may have been understood differently, of course.

After being lynched by the citizens, he was permitted to escape. New- York American, July 13, 1837, p. 2, col. 6

LYNCHING. [The headline to a brief story: Anthony Gallagher was caught stealing shoes from Anderson's shoe store, Chatham street; he's given the choice of arrest or a beating] New York Daily Express, March 27, 1838, p. 2, col. 3

1843: Dr. Wells, of Madison county, Ohio, charged with habitually
whipping his wife, was lately taken from his house at night by some of his neighbors and severely lynched. New York Daily Express, March 8, 1843, p. 2, col. 4


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

 Start your day with Yahoo! - make it your home page

More information about the Ads-l mailing list