Friday, May 11, 2012

Michael J. Pfeifer on Lynching in the U.S.

Michael J. Pfeifer’s new book, The Roots of Rough Justice:  Origins of American Lynching (Univ. of Illinois Press 2011), is reviewed by Stephen Leonard this month on H-Law.  A follow-on to Pfeifer’s seminal work, Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1847—1947 (2004), this book tackles “the foundational problem” beginning in the 1830s.  As Leonard writes, “the contest was between those who held differing views of the legacy of the American Revolution”:
Thanks to Pfeifer we now know that the lynching of the post-Civil War decades rested in part on massive pylons of popular sovereignty, white supremacy, and class preservation and advancement. Those sturdy foundations, in the eyes of lynching apologists, raised extralegal punishments from the trash heap of necessary evils to the level of positive goods. Realizing the importance of these foundations, we can better understand why the practice was so difficult to eradicate and why elements of lynching’s DNA still remain in our criminal “justice” system.
Read the full review here.