This introductory chapter discusses how the origins of American lynching can best be understood as a national, and a transnational, process of cultural and legal formation. Diverging significantly from England and western Europe, the United States' transition to a capitalist economy was not accompanied by the emergence of a strong, centralized national state that claimed and enforced an exclusive monopoly over violence and the administration of criminal justice to secure the rule of law. Rather, American criminal justice developed along a distinctive path that emphasized local authority and opinion, self-help and ad hoc law enforcement practices, and the toleration of extralegal violence. Lynching was an important aspect of this distinctive American trajectory from the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries.
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