Few human endeavors require more endurance than writing a book, except perhaps climbing Mount Everest, trekking across Antarctica, running for public office, or living in the same household as a book’s author. I ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 1987—a feat that took over four hours—but the months spent training to do that literally pale in comparison to the time needed to write a book. After spending hundreds of hours researching, drafting, and continually revising a book-length manuscript, it becomes hard to convince oneself that a piece of writing is truly finished and should be let go into the world. For me, though, the time clearly had come to do just that.
The seed for Legacy of Violence was planted in 1991, when I stumbled across an obscure Minnesota Supreme Court case from 1907 in which the St. Paul Pioneer Press attacked the constitutionality of a Minnesota gag law passed in 1889. That law, dubbed the “midnight assassination law” by its contemporaries, required that executions be conducted “before the hour of sunrise” and within a jail or “an enclosure which shall be higher than the gallows.” It expressly forbade newspapers, on pain of criminal prosecution, from printing any details of state-sanctioned executions beyond the fact that the executions were “duly executed according to law.” The discovery of this tidbit of American legal history led to what can only be described as a fortuitous chain of events, culminating with the publication of this book.