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American 'Lynch Law' Murders - in Support of Slavery


An 1835 editorial in the British reform newspaper Morning Herald, from an 1837 volume opposed to capital punishment. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.



The antislavery movement and movements opposing capital punishment historically accompanied each other. Many—although not all—US abolitionists opposed the death penalty. This political association long preceded anti-lynching campaigns after the US Civil War. 

This 1835 editorial from the British reform newspaper, the Morning Herald, appeared in reprint in an 1836 volume published by the Society for the Diffusion of Information on Capital Punishments. The Punishment of Death: A Selection of Articles from the Morning Herald, vol. 2 (London: Hatchard & Son—Smith, Elder & Co., 1837) is a 416-page volume dedicated almost entirely to essays and reports in opposition to capital punishment. 

The editorial here presents a savagely ironic British reaction to reports of the Madison County, Mississippi lynches of July 1835. These lynches occurred after rumors of a slave revolt swept through the region. A large public meeting of some 160 whites appointed a 13-member ‘Committee of Safety’ that seized free white and enslaved black suspects, gave them brief hearings, and hung them almost immediately. The seven men lynched included Lundsford Barnes, Ruel Blake, Dr. Joshua Cotton, Albe Dean, A.L. Donovan (described as “an emissary of those deluded fanatics at the north—the Abolitionists”), William Saunders, and Lee Smith. 

For further, see Thomas Shackelford, Proceedings of the Citizens of Madison County, Mississippi at Livingston, in July 1835, in Relation to the Trial and Punishment of Several Individuals Implicated in a Contemplated Insurrection in This State (Jackson, Mayson, & Smoot, 1836). See also Slavery in America (December 1836) 6:140-141.


- Joe Lockard