Lynching in Alabama

Lynched man, 1925
Lynched man, 1920s

From the Tallapoosa Times (Dadeville, AL), September 6, 1860:

Threatened Insurrection.

The citizens of our Town, and vicinity have been in quite a state of excitement for some days past. Vague rumors of a contemplated insurrection, which had been floating around for some time, began to assume a more tangible form.

Evidence that something of the kind had been talked of by various negroes, having been brought before some of our most prominent citizens. A committee was organized, and the work of investigation begun. A number of facts have been developed tending to show that the rumors were by no means groundless.—Two white men and some eight or ten negroes have been arrested and are now confined in our jail.

The present movement will doubtless nip the villainous scheme in the bud in this immediate neighborhood. As our citizens are fully on their guard and are exercising the utmost watchfulness and caution. We would say to southern men everywhere adopt a more vigilant system of police and patrol regulations. Keep yourselves at home, and worthless white men off your premises.—Don’t talk politics in their [slaves’] presence and hearing.

We learn that the idea prevails to a very considerable extent among them [slaves], that a black republican is a negro; and that if a Black Republican is elected President, he will set them free. It is fortunate for our community that the germs of this fiendish plot were discovered in time to crush them before they had reached maturity. The committee who are investigating these matters will doubtless make a thorough work of it and will leave no stone unturned.

Though I’ve elided some of the article, there’s nothing more about what exactly the plot was. Were the men who were imprisoned actually fomenting a slave revolt? Or were they merely telling slaves that if the Republicans won they would be freed? As for the slaves believing that a Black Republican was actually a black man, who might be elected President — that was about 148 years early. And by that time, somehow the Democrats and Republicans had managed to swap platforms.

P.S.—The jail was entered last night and one of the white men known as Lem Payne, but whose real name is Mahan, was taken out and hung to a shade tree standing near the tanyard in full view of the jail. The coroner held an inquest this morning and the verdict of the jury was that the deceased came to his death by hanging at the hands of some party or parties unknown.

We learn that about 3 o’clock in the morning a company waked the jailor up representing that they had a negro to commit. The jailor struck a light and got the keys, the parties having a negro (or someone representing a negro) tied. As soon as the keys were produced the light was blown out, the jailor compelled to submit and the prisoner demanded. He was taken out by the parties. The jailor immediately gave the alarm, but it was too late to effect any thing they had hurried off, and no one could tell in what direction they had gone. The Jailor and Sheriff did their duty as fully as in their power.

It is rumored on the streets that the evidence adduced against the deceased though not legal, was thought to be sufficient to satisfy those who heard it that he was guilty.

We have not space to say more.—We hope that prudent councils will prevail and that those who are officiating will keep the excitement in proper bounds.

There are several issues that are unclear to me about this article. First of all, the guy was hanged “in full view of the jail,” but when the jailor “immediately gave the alarm,” it was too late to do anything about it, and nobody could tell which way they all went? You have to wonder if the jailor’s role was a bit more active than he’s claiming. Also, is the paper suggesting that one lynching would fall within the realm of “proper bounds”, but they shouldn’t lynch any more of them?

In any case, as I’ve said elsewhere, it was quite dangerous to voice anything approaching an anti-slavery view in the deep South in 1860.

The next day’s New York Times has an editorial denouncing lynch law in the South:

Among the recent news from Texas is the curious announcement of that some United. States soldiers, accused of hanging a man who had stabbed one of their comrades in, a barroom, had been liberated from custody by the civil authorities for want of sufficient evidence. We must say that we are greatly surprised at the action of the military authorities in ever allowing them to be subjected to the humiliation and inconvenience of an examination. A man does not. we believe, forfeit his rights as a citizen on becoming a soldier of the Republic, and the right to hang anybody whose personal appearance is disagreeable, or whose previous history is hot well known, seems to be just now the right of all others which the citizens of Texas cherish most fondly.

The horror, and the great horror of Slavery, in a political point of view, is, that in every community in which it prevails, public panic or excitement brings not the law of the camp, but sheer anarchy, places every man’s life and fortune at the mercy of the rabble, turns the scum of barracoons loose on the community, and familiarizes the whole population with wholesale bloodshed.

We shall probably be told that these excesses are the natural results of the Anti-Slavery assaults upon men who live in the midst of ignorant negroes, and we are willing to admit that such is probably the case; but this very fact is the strongest argument we know of against the further diffusion of the institution. As long as Slavery exists, and wherever it exists, there will be designing and indefatigable Abolitionists, and suspicious and excitable masters, and a social organization which can only be saved by fits of anarchy and bloodshed and mob-law every four years, is not worth saving.

The editorial is right on the money; keeping a whole sector of the population in a state of subjugation requires violence. Sadly, the violent legacy of slavery would last a great deal longer than slavery itself.

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