American Mobbing, 1828-1861: Toward Civil War

By David Grimsted | Go to book overview

An Introductory "Because"

What apparent cause of any riots may be, the real one is want of happiness.

-- Thomas Paine, quoted in Thomas Brothers, The United States As They Are

There is the traditional "leveling" instinct, common to all such occasions, which prompts the poor to seek a degree of elementary social justice at the expense of the rich, les grands, and those in authority, regardless of whether they are government officials, feudal lords, capitalists, or middle-class revolutionary leaders. It is the common ground.

-- George Rude, The Crowd in History

Violence is an impulse we all share. The love of violence is, to me, the ancient and symbolic gesture of man against the constraints of society. . . . It is a disaster to treat the impulse as vicious. For no society is strong which does not acknowledge the protesting man; and no man is human who does not draw strength from the natural animal. Violence is the sphinx by the fireside, and she has a human face.

-- Jacob Bronowski, The Face of Violence

Do not imagine that the spirit which has been invoked to plunder and destroy the hateful and the pestiferous will rest, and nicely discriminate before it proceeds to havock again. Never was the devil conjured and tolerated, without drenching his friends in the red-ink of slaughter before he left them. . . . Your citizens must have winked at all the diabolerie set forth in your newspapers . . . and King Mob will make them wink . . ., for this old King Mob has in all times been remarkable for his most stern impartiality. He will not even recognize the bookish distinction between the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. . . .

A hiss for those by law protected, Liberty's a glorious feast. Courts for cowards were erected, Churches built to please the priest.

With such a lullaby I shall sleep sound. Good night, again, and may God bless you with long life and a cold, tough heart.

-- Thomas Corwin (quoting Robert Burns) to William Greene January 15, 1842, William Greene Papers, CinHS

The moral and intellectual difficulties in handling social violence develop because all four writers--Paine, Rudé, Bronowski, and Corwin--are correct. We want happiness, and in all societies some people benefit more than others, and those comparatively deprived often feel anger that may manifest itself in violence. Yet society deprives not only those who are most clearly excluded from an equitable share of its

-vii-

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