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The Roots of Rough Justice

Origins of American Lynching

Michael J. Pfeifer

Publication Year: 2011

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. His trenchant and concise analysis anchors the first book to consider the crucial emergence of the practice of lynching slaves in antebellum America, and he also leads the way in analyzing the history of American lynching in a global context. 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.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The publication of this book marks more than twenty years that I have been working on the topic of lynching, starting with an undergraduate senior thesis written in 1990–91 at Washington University in St. Louis. Many debts, intellectual and otherwise, have been incurred in those years. ...

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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 ...

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1. Collective Violence in the British Atlantic

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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. ...

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2. Vigilantes, Criminal Justice, and Antebellum Cultural Conflict

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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 ...

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3. Racial and Class Frontiers: Lyncing and Social Identity in Antebellum America

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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. ...

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4. Lynchers versus Due Process: The Forging of Rough Justice

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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, ...

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5. The Civil War and Reconstruction and the Remaking of American Lynching

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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, ...

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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 ...

Appendix: List of Confirmed Lynchings

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pp. 93-108


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pp. 109-140


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pp. 141-143

About the Author, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252093098
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252036132

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 724308353
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Roots of Rough Justice

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Lynching -- United States -- History
  • Culture conflict -- United States -- History.
  • Social control -- United States -- History.
  • Capital punishment -- Social aspects -- United States -- History.
  • Discrimination in capital punishment -- United States -- History.
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