Lynching redux

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Fri Aug 5 00:56:07 UTC 2005


On Aug 4, 2005, at 6:09 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Lynching redux
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
>
> Now I wonder if the act of being seized by a mob once constituted
> "lynching," with the violent punishment requiring additional
> specification.
>
> The OED editors seem to recognize at least some of these
> considerations. They define _lynch_, v. as
>
> "To condemn and punish by lynch law. In early use, implying chiefly
> the infliction of punishment such as whipping, tarring and feathering,
> or the like; now only, to inflict sentence of death by lynch law."
>
> _Lynch law_ is defined as,
>
>  "The practice of inflicting summary punishment upon an offender, by a
> self-constituted court armed with no legal authority; it is now
> limited to the summary execution of one charged with some flagrant
> offence."
>
> There's an unusually full etymological note accompanying the entry.
> OED's first ex. of "lynch law" is from 1811.
>
> JL
>

Okay. So, is it true that the term, "lynching," is based on the surname
of the brother of the man who founded Lynchburg, VA?

-Wilson

>
> "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: "Baker, John"
> Subject: Re: Lynching redux
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> --------
>
> Thanks. A couple of additional thoughts: In the earlier decades,
> lynching apparently suggested, but did not necessarily require,
> extrajudicial punishment by whipping, just as today it suggests, but
> does not necessarily require, a mob hanging. A whipping is probably
> intended in the 1841 Louisiana cite, which does not involve vigilante
> justice.
>
> The turning point seems to come around 1877, the end of
> Reconstruction. Prior to that time, lynchings were infrequent and did
> not normally result in death. After about 1877, lynchings became much
> more frequent and normally did result in death. However, some cases
> after that time leave open the possibility that a lynching could be
> something short of a homicide. Even the 1878 Louisiana case I quote
> below refers to "lynching him and hanging him," leaving open the
> possibility that two different things may be involved. (Perhaps a
> whipping followed by a hanging?) An 1896 South Carolina statute,
> discussed in Brown v. Orangeburg County, 55 S.C. 45, 32 S.E. 764
> (1899), refers to "lynching when death ensues." Similarly, an 1896
> Ohio statute, discussed in Caldwell v. Board of County Commissioners,
> 4 Ohio N.P. 249 (Ohio Com. Pl. 1897), says that "any act of violence
> exercised by them [sc. a mob] upon the body of any person, shall
> constitute a 'lynching'"; the violence in the case was disa!
> bling,
>  but not fatal.
>
> John Baker
>
>
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
> Sent: Thursday, August 04, 2005 3:34 PM
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> Subject: Re: Lynching redux
>
> Bravo for these cites John.
>
> JL
>
> "Baker, John" wrote:
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> 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, t!
> he
>  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
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> 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
>
> GAT
>
> George A. Thompson
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.
>
>
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