A Different Sort of Justice: The Informal Courts of Public Opinion in Antebellum South Carolina
22 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2009 Last revised: 25 Feb 2009
Date Written: February 19, 2009
Studies of nineteenth century legal history assume that the antebellum South, and antebellum South Carolina in particular, had a legal culture shaped by honor culture and marked by the hierarchical assumptions and extralegal violence that honor culture engendered. In this article, I offer a modification of that well-established account. While I do not question the influence of honor on South Carolina's antebellum legal culture, I suggest that the state had a second, shame-based system of popular justice, in which women played a prominent role. As was the case with honor culture, this second form of extralegal justice, which I have dubbed the informal courts of public opinion, sometimes intersected with formal law, and other times worked independent of it.
Keywords: public opinion, legal history, gender, legal culture
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