Lynching: a thread

Since several of my most recent blog posts have touched on lynching on United States soil, I’ve discovered some interested threads between my Wikipedia research and some course concepts I’ve been wanting to unpack since we first started reading Roach. One of my favorite things is when themes overlap between my classes and as it happens, I had just learned about the Exclusion Crisis with Dr. Paku a few days prior to reading about it in Roach’s “Echoes in the Bone” (44). That very day I wrote a big, underlined “BLOG POST” next to the passage, highlighted with three ginormous starts. I guess what you could say is that this post has been a long time coming.

First, I want to start with the origin and etymology of American lynching despite its expected ambiguity. The practice of lynching seems to take shape during the American revolution and is thought to come from either William or Charles Lynch, both of whom lived in Virginia during the eighteenth century ( However, Charles Lynch is said to be the more notable source of the word for his use of “Lynch’s law” against Tories, a title for British loyalists and a remnant of the Exclusion Crisis from almost 100 years before.

After scouring through Wikipedia pages (I’m sorry but I love Wikipedia) about the Exclusion Crisis, lynching, Whigs, Tories, and most importantly,the Habeas corpus act, I’ve come to a somewhat incomplete conclusion. For one, Charles Lynch was said to administer lynchings and incarcerate Tories with zero jurisdiction and chalked it up as a “wartime necessity,” earning a spot on the good side of the Congress of the Confederation. This appropriately reminds me of Prospero, while his power is derived from an unseen and therefore unproven library of books, Lynch’s was derived from a mere claim based on personal bias. Furthermore, the origin surrounding Lynch’s supposed power kind of echoes some characteristics of the Habeas Corpus, the only long lasting achievement to come out of the Exclusion Crisis. I think a big question between these two phenomenons lie in the origin of power; Lynch’s wrongdoings are protected only a larger, ambiguous figure that just so happens to agree with his cultural bias. Habeas Corpus claims that people have to right to protest what they perceive to be an unjust detention or imprisonment of another person only if they have proof of authority. I think the development of this act is interesting because its likelihood to be abused. It seems like the acceptance of “legitimate proof” of authority is placed in the hands of another set of Big People in Charge who have yet another set of imaginary books. If they don’t agree with your bias, political position, the color of your skin, etc, they have the freedom to render your position of authority as invalid. I think Lynch just got lucky to have been cut from the same American cloth that rendered his actions valid in the eyes of the Congress of the Confederacy despite his lack of jurisdiction.

Disclaimer: someone please, please correct me if my interpretation of this act is incorrect in any way.

I guess this connection shouldn’t be surprising; as Roach points out, past events like the Exclusion Crisis tend to haunt visions for the future, and all we can do is sit back as an audience and watch the past and present succession of performances of power through surrogation unravel (44-45).

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