Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota

By John D. Bessler | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The popularity of America’s death penalty has ebbed and flowed. The anti-gallows movement in the United States gathered momentum in the 1830s, but those reform efforts, continuing into the 1850s, were quashed by a concurrent push for private executions and, ultimately, by the outbreak of the Civil War. When tens of thousands of innocent lives were being lost in the bloodiest conflict in American history, anti–death penalty reformers held out little hope for their cause. The Progressive Era brought the death penalty’s abolition in Minnesota and elsewhere, but the eruption of World War I brought that penal reform movement to a standstill once more. The national anti-gallows movement lost its momentum during that war, and many American states actually reinstated death penalty laws. While the number of executions steadily declined from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s, state-sanctioned executions in America rose in the 1980s and 1990s.1

Minnesota has bucked the national trend toward more and more executions. Indeed, no death penalty law has been on the state’s statute books since 1911 when George MacKenzie led the fight to abolish capital punishment. What is remarkable about non–death penalty states like Minnesota is that they did away with lynchings and executions while achieving some of the nation’s lowest violent crime rates. A recent New York Times study examining FBI data found that during the past twenty years, the homicide rates in death penalty states have been, on a per

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