tv Discussion on Public Execution in the Victorian South CSPAN June 6, 2015 1:32pm-1:50pm EDT
just very shortly after the inauguration of the successor franklin pierce. we have got a number of people tweeting about the earlier call and that it was actually pierced. and so, we will try to answer that question next week when we deal with the peers administration. our thanks to the white house historical suits should -- association for their continuing help. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015]
>> this sunday night at 8:00 eastern, we will look into the personal lives of two first ladies from 1850's. jane pierce and harriet lane. jane pierce loses her son and a tragic train accident. grieving, she does not attend her husband's inauguration and spent much of her time in the white house writing heartbreaking notes to her son. orphaned at a young ancient harriet lived with her uncle and later became's hostess at the white house when her uncle becomes president.
8 p.m. eastern on c-span's original series "first ladies, examining the public and private lives of the first ladies and their influence on society from martha washington to michelle obama." also, you can see c-span's book, "first ladies." it is available online and where books are available. >> recently, american history tv was at the annual meeting in st. louis. we spoke with professors offers, and graduate students about the research. this interview is about 15 minutes. >> you are a lecturer in history in american studies at the university of tennessee in knoxville. your panel at the organization of the on capital punishment in the 19th century south.
how common were executions? bob hutton: executions nationwide were common. in certain rural areas, they were relatively seldom because people did not like to convict their friends and neighbors. juries were often afraid to convict someone who had been convicted of a violent crime. after people were convicted, if they were sentenced to the death penalty it would not always be carried out. they could get clemency. the particular execution i covered in my paper was such a rare event that 5000 people gathered to see this man hanged in 1895.
it was a familiar occurrence in the 19th century, but perhaps not a common one. >> what was the cultural thinking at the time about executions? were they considered a moral type of punishment? bob hutton: in the 1890's, the death penalty had been around for a long time in human history. it is right around that more americans are starting to wonder if this is how justice should be carried out. as early as the 1700's, you do see people in europe and the united states begin to question whether the death penalty is moral or just. nevertheless, it remains very popular in the united states up until the present. as early as the 1880's, many european countries are doing away with the death penalty around 1900.
it is one of the biggest controversies in the western world as to whether or not this is a viable form of justice. i think the 1890's, the end of the 19th century, americans found themselves in the middle of that question. >> is that the period your research deals with, the late 19th century? bob hutton: it sure is. it is a particularly violent time in american history. >> why did you choose that? bob hutton: because of the disorder. the civil war remains a popular subject for historians and the public. i have tried to get people thinking about what happened after the civil war. as the sesquicentennial continues, i would like to start publicizing what goes on immediately after the war is over, after reconstruction is over, and how long it takes for many americans to find themselves in conditions where they can forget the war. i suggest it takes more than a generation. >> what kind of disorder are you talking about? how does that relate to executions? bob hutton: the book i published in 2013 deals with a variety of different sorts of violence. most carried out by vigilantes criminals, crooked politicians or by militia members. the death penalty happened to be
one i included ordained by the states and mandated by legal authorities. my question is, isn't it also a form of violence? if i am looking at this one violent space of america, why shouldn't also be included? >> did religion play a role? bob hutton: the united states was a very religious country. i was somewhat struck by how little the subject of religion comes up in most of the discourse on violence in appalachia. there was a certain amount of religious homogeneity. most people went to similar churches. protestant, white, anglo-saxon americans are most of who is involved here. although you can see religion based on religious persecution in the 19th century, it was
mostly in the cities. >> what forms of execution were practiced? bob hutton: almost exclusively hanging in the 19th century. american states don't start to diversify technologically until the 20th century. very soon after 1900, you have the use of the electric chair. later on in the 20th century states would start to use firing squads. more recently, lethal injection has become the standard. >> was there any particular reason hanging was popular at the time you are studying? bob hutton: for my purposes, it was popular because it could be used as a public pageant. it became a sort of ritual. lots of people could take part in it as bystanders and see for themselves this person meet their maker or perhaps witnessing it think whether or not this was a just form of punishment.
>> it was considered almost like a community activity? bob hutton: absolutely. >> what roles did members of the community play in the pageantry? bob hutton: in the hanging i wrote about, they are participants in his personal performance of asking for forgiveness on the gallows. at one point, he asks the boys and girls in the audience, he says please promise me you will obey your mothers. he said all of the men in the audience, please promise you will refrain from whiskey and not do like i did. all the men raised their hands. it was a ritual that did have a certain religious element, but it was not technically speaking carried out for religious reasons. but it gave him an opportunity to express himself in terms of his beliefs about the afterlife.
and it gave the rest of the audience an opportunity to take part in it as well. >> it was a form of penance for him? bob hutton: it absolutely was. so many reporters reported on this because his performance lasted longer than most condemned people's did supposedly. he was given a chance to sing to the audience. he was given the chance to be baptized in front of everybody. he tried to put off the execution as much as possible by continuing to exhort them and pace around. in many cases, becoming hysterical for understandable reasons.
>> how did you find his story? bob hutton: my research used a case study in kentucky. even though tom smith was not a native of that county, he was from eastern kentucky. it just happened to be that place where he was convicted and sentenced. more importantly, the county itself had a general civic reputation for violence leading back to just after the civil war. even though he was not a native of the county, his execution was looked at as a sort of -- some sources think of it as if it was a sort of blood sacrifice for the good, the morality, of the community that was killing him. i found it somewhat accidentally. >> how did you go about your research? what kinds of documents did you find, where did you find them? bob hutton: i found them in criminal court records. perhaps like two dozen newspapers, mostly in kentucky but as far away as missouri that reported on his death.
>> were these newspapers on microfiche? what state were they in? bob hutton: most were but some have been put in digital form, which is very handy. >> have these resources been used by other historians? were there new discoveries you made along the way? bob hutton: i don't believe any other historian in the academy has written about this particular man. he has been the subject of pop culture. there is a microbrewery in cincinnati named after bad tom smith today. >> tell us more about the book you wrote. what was the idea behind it and what kinds of questions did your research raise? bob hutton: there were a lot of questions to be included. you say a place is violent, we often discuss places being violent. for instance, ferguson is talked about as a violent place. what does that mean? it happens to contain violent actions. the county in kentucky was called violent, but it contained a series of violent actions over the course of the 1860's through the 19-teens analogous to things happening elsewhere in the country.
when there was guerrilla warfare there, there was guerrilla warfare elsewhere. when there was lynching there, there was lynching elsewhere. when there was assassination at the turn-of-the-century, that was going on globally as well. i'm trying to ask the question is it fair to say a place is violent? how does that disguise the actual human events as opposed to the geographical ones? >> how is it you became interested in this topic in the first place? bob hutton: it has been so many years it is hard to remember. i am an historian of appalachia and was interested in some of these questions of white male violence that have been stirred up by things like the miniseries on the hatfields and mccoys in
the way americans decide to take certain forms of violence seriously while thinking others are basically a matter of humor. i was curious as to why things that happen in kentucky are not taken seriously by americans or the historical record. >> can you give us examples? bob hutton: we could use the entire pop culture industry surrounding the so-called mountain feudists and all the images that conjures. >> the hatfields and mccoys? bob hutton: that and it has been referenced in everything from sitcoms to bugs bunny cartoons. most of the violence in the 1880's in america would not have been material for a bugs bunny cartoon. however, this becomes that. my question is, how do we look at this differently? >> what kind of violence are you talking about? bob hutton: particularly deadly violence between males, mostly white although not exclusively.
this particular part of the country was overwhelmingly caucasian. a variety. >> what would be the instigators of violence? bob hutton: very often political elites who would be able to take certain people under their thumb based on pay or reputation and find out their own private wars. bad tom smith was a hard mercenary for a wealthy man and possibly killed up to half a dozen people under his direction. it just happened that the person he was sentenced for killing was a personal matter and that he had no protection from his boss. >> tell us about the details of
that murder. bob hutton: bad tom smith, in the media, he is referred to as a feudist. one could also say he was a guy down on his luck, very few prospects, probably illiterate who found himself in a love triangle with a physician named dr. john rader. the two of them are fighting over a woman who had supposedly colluded with smith to steal from rader and later kill him. she was eventually given clemency, even though she was implicated in the same crime. this seemed to be more or less a crime of passion. if you asked tom smith, he would say it was a crime based on his own falling as a sinner. he especially landed on whiskey and "bad women." >> the term feudist is interesting. was it used at the time? bob hutton: it was. in the 1890's, the idea that reciprocal white on white blood feuds were common in appalachia, that was a popular idea. in fact, there was plenty of violence but very little could be construed as the montagues and capulets back and forth style blood feud. >> how do you see your research illuminating the larger discussions over capital
punishment? bob hutton: 10 years after smith was killed, they were questioning whether capital punishment was a viable form of punishment. there is a newspaper editor who asks, what about all the women who were pregnant in the audience witnessing this? has this caused the violence in the early 20th century? that is the same question we see today. many people who advocate for the
death penalty say it is a deterrent to crime. other people say it is violence trying to answer violence and creating reciprocity between nonstate and state-mandated violence. there are a lot of similar debates. recently, states have attempted to make and keep secret what drugs are used in lethal injection. that mirrors the decision a lot of states were making during the progressive era to put the death penalty behind closed doors. >> how does the history of executions in the south in the period you are studying different or like that in the north at the same time? bob hutton: a lot of states retained the death penalty up until the present. a lot of states that decide to do away with execution circa