This essay demonstrates how Lynch Law suspended normative criminal law and undermined constitutional amendments made after the US Civil War. Focusing on the period between Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, the essay argues that “outlawry” provides the necessary juridical concept for understanding how a tradition of popular sovereignty worked together with evolving concepts of race to create the social conditions of possibility for antiblack mob violence, despite a legal system that could have prevented it. Close analysis of Ida B. Wells’s early antilynching pamphlets clarifies how the problem of democratizing citizenship and civil rights became saturated with the question of how to ensure the more radical right to life.


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