Title

Vigilantism in Washington State: A Counterpoint To National Trends

Presenter Information

Aaron Miller

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Location

SURC 135

Start Date

17-5-2012

End Date

17-5-2012

Abstract

The United States of America went through a period of vigilante justice stretching from the 1760s to roughly 1900. National and local historians have studied the motivations behind this trend. In the early period, vigilantes argued that their actions were necessary because of a lack of organized law on the frontier. Later, vigilantism became a form of social and race conflict. Vigilantes often targeted African-Americans, Mexicans, and sometimes Indians. Washington State followed this trend but it is in some ways actually a special case. It had well-established systems of justice and a distinct lack of social and racial conflict yet it experienced a surge in lynching precisely when lynching declined elsewhere. This research project sought to determine the cause of the abnormal trend of Washington State's vigilantism. By looking at the different instances of lynching and the individuals involved, a pattern seemed to emerge to suggest that, in a divergence from the national trend, Washington vigilantes were the elite members of the citizenry who were attempting to maintain the stability of the burgeoning communities. Their actions created an abnormal trend in Washington that separated it from the vigilantism that plagued the rest of the nation. The elite citizens of Washington were motivated by a desire to see justice dealt swiftly and a distrust of the state’s ability to maintain the developing frontier communities' structure through due process. This is a work in progress with plans to further study the subject and expand upon the evidence already collected.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Daniel Herman

Additional Mentoring Department

History

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May 17th, 2:40 PM May 17th, 3:00 PM

Vigilantism in Washington State: A Counterpoint To National Trends

SURC 135

The United States of America went through a period of vigilante justice stretching from the 1760s to roughly 1900. National and local historians have studied the motivations behind this trend. In the early period, vigilantes argued that their actions were necessary because of a lack of organized law on the frontier. Later, vigilantism became a form of social and race conflict. Vigilantes often targeted African-Americans, Mexicans, and sometimes Indians. Washington State followed this trend but it is in some ways actually a special case. It had well-established systems of justice and a distinct lack of social and racial conflict yet it experienced a surge in lynching precisely when lynching declined elsewhere. This research project sought to determine the cause of the abnormal trend of Washington State's vigilantism. By looking at the different instances of lynching and the individuals involved, a pattern seemed to emerge to suggest that, in a divergence from the national trend, Washington vigilantes were the elite members of the citizenry who were attempting to maintain the stability of the burgeoning communities. Their actions created an abnormal trend in Washington that separated it from the vigilantism that plagued the rest of the nation. The elite citizens of Washington were motivated by a desire to see justice dealt swiftly and a distrust of the state’s ability to maintain the developing frontier communities' structure through due process. This is a work in progress with plans to further study the subject and expand upon the evidence already collected.