Violent Mobs: The Same Yesterday and Today

Jen Kuznicki
By Jen Kuznicki | August 22, 2014 | 3:50 PM EDT

A man entered St. Louis and went to try to meet with a woman who worked nearby.  As he was minding his own business, two police officers stopped him and told him to help them find a sailor they were after.  He refused, and they arrested him.

After being charged with breach of the peace, the man asked how long he may be detained.  The police said he would serve five years in prison.  The man then fatally stabbed one policeman and wounded another.

The man was Francis McIntosh, and he was a free man of color.  He was caught after the stabbing and put in jail.  Shortly thereafter, an angry pro-slavery mob broke into the jail, tied him to a tree, and burnt him alive.  No one was charged with a crime in his torture and death.

An abolitionist and newspaper editor named Elijah Parish Lovejoy reported on the incident, and criticized the Judge in the case, aptly named Lawless, and soon thereafter the pro-slavery mob assembled to destroy his printing press.  They attempted to light his business on fire, and while fighting back, Lovejoy was shot to death.  The mob then destroyed his printing press.

The incidents have little to do with the facts of the case in Ferguson, Missouri, except that the happenings were geographically close.  As is typical with mobs, the facts don't matter, and justice does not prevail.

Nobody, now, could justify the burning death of McIntosh.  Part of the reason for that is because it was one of many incidents that led to a bloody Civil War that forever decided that no man shall be the slave of another anywhere in the United States.  But, at the time, the Judge in the case chalked it up to the scourge of the colored man upon the whites, instigated by abolitionists.  There is no way a judge would get away with such rhetoric today, because chattel slavery in this nation is viewed as immoral. And though McIntosh did kill the policeman, the mob ignored the justice system and wanted to kill him in the most tortuous manner imaginable to make a political statement.

These events happened in the 1830's, and in our high-minded and detached quest to make sense of things, we forget that mob rule is not new in America.  It will always be prevalent among those who would use violent force to achieve their ends.  It is the loss of rationality, the loss of a belief system, the redefinition of morality, and it can sweep an otherwise peaceful people into committing atrocities once commonplace in the darkest periods of history.  The mob of the 1830’s carried out its own style of justice then, and the mob of today does so as well.

The advent of technology that allows each person, on a global scale, to watch events unfold in real time, causes us to be spectators in a world seemingly gone mad. With inaccurate hearsay published as truth in our nation's failed media, and lack of strength in leadership it is only made worse.  To what end are we marching?

History tells us that, without leadership strongly and loudly opposed to such acts of violence to achieve ends, this kind of thing will continue and grow worse.  Without moral leaders within the community of the perpetually aggrieved arguing against this societal breakdown, it will get stronger.  Surely, the involvement of the Attorney General of the United States, a man whose history is rife with racial bias, will make this worse and embolden more riots.

There is no question that, when mob rule seems to work, we are headed for some very bad times.

Abraham Lincoln was the only politician to speak out against what happened to McIntosh and Lovejoy.  The nation at the time was split on the subject of slavery.  Those clearly against slavery worked peacefully and within their rights, while those clearly for slavery worked in organized anarchy, conflating it with justice and ruining any hope of peace.

Isn't that what we see with the current mobs?  Their cry of, "No justice, no peace!" ensures neither will be achieved, as long as they ignore that we have a system set up for the carriage of justice.

Violent mobs are always on the same side of history.  The mobs who lynched the blacks are no different than the mobs looking to "kill the police."  They both thwart the justice system because the end result of pursuing justice isn't as fun to an immoral mentality as the instant gratification of revenge.

The thirst for violence is once again whetted in this nation. God help us all.