Ohio History Journal

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Lynching and Law and Order:

Origin and Passage of the

Ohio Anti-Lynching Law of 1896





Americans are increasingly discovering that the United States has had a relatively

lawless and violent history and that the problem of violent social disorder has con-

tinually plagued the nation. The truth of this assertion as well as its implication for

a deeper understanding of the country's social processes have tended to elude lib-

eral scholars bent on tracing the steady progress of American society toward higher

civilization and on constrasting the glowing promises of a democratic New World

with the corruption of monarchical Europe. But the social traumas of the 1960's

have seriously undermined the possibility of continuing to accept the old synthesis

of our past, with its promise of future and inevitable glory. By heightening the con-

tradiction between what we have professed and the way we have actually lived, and

by shaking our once firm confidence in the liberal values to which traditional histo-

rians have responded, the last decade, to which the late Richard Hofstader once re-

ferred as an "historical slum," has forced us to confront the peculiar Americanness

of the Nat Turner Revolt, the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and the Homestead

Strike. The 1960's have forced us at the same time to examine the potentials within

our social order for curbing brutal, anti-social urges.1

Given the long preoccupation of American society with the problem of black-

white relations in the United States, it is not surprising that racial violence has been

one of the most persistent of all types of American social violence. The bitter, irra-

tional prejudices, the deep-seated fears, the calculated manipulation of racial antag-

onisms for personal or corporate gain, the cowardliness and evasiveness with which

we have confronted the fundamental contradiction of our social values which racism

has posed: these have not readily lent themselves to resolution within the estab-

lished social and political channels for resolving conflict. At times, therefore, black-

white relations have seemed to take on characteristics of a social war rather than to





1. For some outstanding reappraisals of violence in American history, see Hugh David Graham and

Ted Robert Gurr, eds., Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (New York, 1969);

Richard E. Rubenstein, Rebels in Eden: Mass Political Violence in the United States (Boston, 1970); Rich-

ard Hofstader and Michael Wallace, eds., American Violence: A Documentary Record (New York, 1970).


Mr. Gerber is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History, State University of New York at