Wednesday, August 17, 2016

May 9, 1903: Study of Lynchings

Today's article is found in The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) dated May 9, 1903:


Scientific Investigation by a Yale Man—J. Elbert Cutler Gives Interesting Statistics.

J. Elbert Cutler, a post-graduate student of Yale, is the first person who has been known to make a scientific study of lynchings. He has prepared the most extensive table ever collected on the subject and has secured data relating to its causes and remedies. Mr. Cutler says that he has found that the newspaper accounts have been corroborated in nearly every case by personal investigation.

"There is no motive for secrecy in lynching as there is in murder and suicide," says Mr. Cutler in the New Haven Register, "and the facts are open. A table of persons lynched in the United States the past twenty-one years gives a total of 3,233 up to January 1, 1903. Of this period the years 1884 and 1892 were the largest for lynchings. In the former year the Vigilantes in Colorado and Montana were responsible for the larger number. The victims were largely white men and they were largely lynched for depredations on property. In 1892 the lynchings were in the South, the victims were largely negroes and they were lynched for crimes against the person and through race prejudice and other race causes.

"There is a relation between legal executions and lynchings. If there are many legal executions there are in general fewer lynchings. The speedy working of the law seems to create respect for it and to decrease lynchings.

"The decrease in lynchings since 1892 has been steady, each successive year showing a smaller number. This fact has given rise to the hope that lynchings may soon disappear from the country, except in isolated cases.

"In the South the fewest lynchings take place in January, February, August and November months when the colored people are most largely engaged in some diversions or work. In August the month when the number of lynchings is fewest, the negroes are all at compmeetings [sic]. In December on the other hand, the negroes feel allowed to take the greatest liberties of the year because of the Christmas season.

"In the West the number of lynchings shows practically no variation for the different months of the year.

"There have been fewer lynchings for murder in the summer than in the winter months and more persons have been lynched for rape in the summer than in the winter months. The number lynched for acts of the desperado is greatest in December, and in October the greatest number of lynchings for theft have taken place. This shows a general conformity to the law of crime, that more offenses against the person are committed in the summer and more against property are committed in the winter.

"In the twenty-one years 1,872 negroes have been lynched, an average of 89½ a year. In that period 1,256 whites have been lynched, an average of 59 a year. There have been 61 women lynched in that priod [sic], 36 colored and 23 whites, nine of them for murder. Of the 615 white men who were lynched in the twenty-one years, 106 were for rape. In the South, 1,091 negroes were lynched and 593 whites. Statistics connot [sic] be made to show more than 35 per cent negroes lynched for rape.

"In the West 623 were lynched in the twenty-one years, about 43 per cent for murder.

Passing from statistics  to general reflections on the subject of lynching, Mr. Cutler says:

"The American people are no less law-abiding than those of other countries, but they have a different attitude toward the law. In the older countries the law is regarded as a sacred authority from a superior source. Here the law lacks long practice and the growth of tradition. In a democracy the people are a law unto themselves. In a monarchy the people who enforce the law are in no way responsible to the people upon whom they enforce it. Lynching has been generally resorted to in order to terrorize the lawless instead of to wreak vengeance. The plea of the lynchers is, 'let a past crime be met with a present crime to prevent a future crime.'

"The discussion of lynching which sprang up after 1892, and the formation of anti-lynching societies has led to the gradual decline of the practice. The educational agencies in the South can do more than any other single force to check lynching.

"The laws proposed for the suppression of lynching far outnumber those enacted and those which have been enacted have generally failed of their purpose. The United States have spent half a million dollars for indemnity of foreign subjects who have been lynched within its borders."

Thank you for joining me and as always, I hope I leave you with something to ponder.  


  1. I wonder if the bad press that came with speedier communications along with the faster movement of law enforcement had a negative effect of the number of lynchings.

    1. The bad press always seemed to make people double down on the justification, but I do agree the faster movement of law enforcement seemed to help a lot. Also more laws were passed holding local law enforcement and counties responsible for not preventing lynchings. Sheriffs were held responsible and if they did not do their best to prevent the mob from getting the victim, they lost their jobs immediately. The governors seemed to be the only ones who really cared about the bad press.