Friday, January 20, 2012

Republican Party and the South: Then-and-Now, An Addendum

In what I posted earlier today, I also intended to note Dr. Wilson Bachelor's view of the death penalty.  That detail somehow got away from me when I finalized the posting, and so here is this small addendum:

In an undated essay (but one probably written in the 1890s), he explicitly addresses the death penalty.  That's, in fact, the focus of the essay, which argues that capital punishment is a "relic of barbarianism" in civilized societies.  And he notes that, when the death penalty was abolished in Holland, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Rumania, and Michigan, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Maine, crime did not increase.  

And so he concludes that the death penalty does not deter crime, but to the contrary, it hardens the sensibilities of everyone in a society that employs capital punishment and, ironically, increases the likelihood of violent crimes:

So far from preventing crime it seems often to stimulate it by blunting the sensibilities, hardening the heart and strangely fascinating the animal propensities.

He also observes that "sometimes innocent people are executed," and notes that the legal system is set up to serve the needs of the ruling class, and the use of the death penalty is radically skewed against those on the bottom of society--making its use even more barbaric and unacceptable in civilized societies.

In this and another essay he appears to have written in the same period, he also addresses the phenomenon of lynching, which was becoming horrifically common in the American South in the 1890s, as every attempt possible was made by white citizens who had regained control of the political process once Reconstruction had ended to push black citizens back into a state of semi-servitude, and to use terroristic tactics to achieve this end.  

In his essay "Hellhounds" in the book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Santa Fe: Twin Palms, 2000), ed. James Allen, Hilton Als, John Lewis, and Leon F. Litwack, Litwack notes that in the late 19th and early 20th century, two or three black Southerners were hanged, burned at the stake, or quietly murdered every week (p. 12).  In the 1890s, Litwack indicates, an average of 139 lives were claimed each year by lynching in the U.S. (almost exclusively in the Southern states), and the vast majority of the victims of these crimes were black (ibid.).  Few who engaged in these activities were ever brought to trial (p. 20), and juries routinely concluded that those lynched had met their deaths at the hands of unknown parties even when an entire community knew who had done the lynching (p. 20).

Echoing his essay on the death penalty, Dr. Bachelor's essay on the "mob rule" that lynchings represented concludes, 

What is the leading spirit of a Mob? Answer: Revenge.  Every good citizen should say down with mob law.  Let the courts and juries do their duties fearlessly and people should be satisfied.  Appeal to mob law is to enthrone a Robespierre and inaugurate a reign of terror.  It is a relict of barbarianism, a twin sister of medieval cruelty, a stigma on the intelligence of the nineteenth century.

Again, that was then.  This is a Republican leader in the backwards state of Arkansas writing towards the end of the 19th century to challenge some of the prevailing (and, often, church-endorsed and even church-promoted) attitudes of his culture--in the name of core principles of the Republican party of which he was a local leader.

That was then.  This is decidedly not how Republicans behave today.  Certainly not in their heartland, the Southern states of the U.S.

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