The Program in Law and History is holding the Legal History Workshop on Monday, November 18 from 2:00-3:25pm in room 15 of Mondale Hall. Danny LaChance will be presenting "The Old West and the New American Death Penalty: Capital Punishment in Harris and Oklahoma Counties, 1980-2000".
Abstract: At the end of the twentieth century, advocates for capital punishment often spoke of law and executive bureaucracies as "systems" that were making good citizens vulnerable to crime. In two of the communities that used capital punishment the most, the pursuit of the death penalty against folk devils was imagined as a way for heroic individuals to reassert personal control over these emasculating systems, recuperating, in the process, a sense of freedom that had been lost in modern life. The sources I use to make this case are local newspaper portrayals of the district attorneys in two of the three counties that have executed the most offenders since 1977: Harris County, Texas and Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. In the local press, these men regularly embodied the possibility that feudal or state-of-nature virtues--masculine honor, radical independence, patriarchal clannishness, raw physical strength--could still flourish in a modern, rationalized, civilized world. The resulting vision of freedom these men embodied was not new. It echoed, in important respects, early twentieth century constructions of white manhood.