Mass Legal Executions in the United States, 17th-20th Centuries: An Exploratory Study

Vance McLaughlin, Savannah Police Department
Paul H. Blackman, National Rifle Association

Throughout recorded history, governments have executed their own citizens, sometimes in groups at the same time for the same offense. Fortunately, the U.S. has done less of it than most, either with or without due process; and our mass executions without due process during the past century, at least, have generally been limited to a few widely-publicized episodes. But while never numerous, this exploratory look at an unstudied aspect of both multiple homicide and capital punishment shows the occurrence of post-trial mass executions -- four or more persons at approximately the same time for the same incident -- interesting for what they tell us about the social climate of the eras in which they occurred. With some exceptions, they show changes in concerns from witches, to wartime desertion, minorities (slaves followed by Indians and "Jim Crow" era Blacks), labor unrest, and organized crime. One could argue that the demise of mass executions indicates a concern about capital punishment itself.

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Updated 05/20/2006