Tar and Feathering: Mob Vengeance?

By | April 26, 2020

[April 26, 2020]  In late 1775, on a sunny afternoon in Kinderhook, New York, several young women had gathered for a quilting bee.  Suddenly, their peace was interrupted by a man who dropped in and commenced to harangue “against the Continental Congress.”1  The quiltmakers had had enough, they stripped the young man naked to the waist and commenced tar and feathering him.

This action was a new chapter in the development of what the Boston Evening-Post dubbed “the popular punishment for modern delinquents.”2  Tar and feathering is a form of public humiliation used to enforce perceived injustice or revenge.3  It was a common form of punishment in feudal Europe and its American colonies.  Today, the term tarred-and-feathered remains a metaphor for severe public criticism.

Many articles refer to tar and feathering as mob vengeance.  But is it mob vengeance?  Or, more politely, is this form of punishment more designed to shame someone for violating basic norms of civil behavior.  I wrote about shaming earlier and asked if there enough shaming (see link here)?  Or is tar and feathering a way to dole out punishment without involving civil authorities perceived as lax on the punishment process?

Public humiliation has been a part of human existence since the first human walked this Earth.  What better way to show others the limits of the tolerance of society than to shame someone?  In our modern, social-media-savvy society, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets are full of folks shaming those who they believe have transgressed the informal laws of the land.

Shaming on social media follows a similar pattern to tar and feathering.  First, the shaming lasts long enough for others to notice.  Electronic comments last forever, tar and feathering also lasts for a long time.  Second, social media outing of perceived moral misbehavior, like tar and feathering, is designed to exact justice.

Tar and feathering – like social media shaming – is a form of both bringing justice quickly and is a form of both revenge and vengeance.  Those who carry out the modern equivalent of tar and feathering do not adhere to the basic tenets of a modern, legal system or the norms of civilized behavior.  It is, of course, mob justice.

Ancient Greek political thinkers regarded government based upon mob justice as one of the three “bad” forms of government (tyranny, oligarchy, and ochlocracy) as opposed to the three “good” forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy).  The threat of “mob rule” to democracy is restrained by the rule of law that protects the individual against such behavior.

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  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1559903?seq=1
  2. Boston Evening-Post, November 6, 1769
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarring_and_feathering
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “Tar and Feathering: Mob Vengeance?

  1. Linux Man

    I found this article very funny but would not want to be on the receiving end of a tarring and feathering.

  2. Delf "Jelly" Bryce

    There is and always will be an attraction to informal means of extreme punishments. That is why public hangings and beheadings were so popular with the masses. That is why, I think, so many are fascinated to see what is happening in North Korea and the punishments dealt out to high ranking officials. The best one so far is either having a pack of hungry large dogs tear the offenders apart or using an anti-aircraft gun to rip apart the offender. Both forms are barbaric…. but it certainly delivers a message.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Glad to see you back on Gen. Satterfield’s leadership page. Please write another article for publication. I know we would all appreciate reading it. Great comment, by the way.

    2. Dennis Mathes

      Well argued. Punishments send a big message and informal punishments (associated with mob vengeance), sends an even bigger message.

      1. Kenny Foster

        This is why we need Mr. Bryce to write more guest articles. Hoping to see you these pages again soon, Mr. B.

  3. Newbie Yunger

    “Mob vengeance.” I agree that this practice is mob vengeance. But today this has been replaced by another form of mob action and we call it social media shamming. There is little difference as you stated in the article and it is just as arbitrary, undemocratic, barbaric as tar and feathering. And, political leaders actually encourage it. Sham on them.

  4. Yusaf from Texas

    Very good article today, Gen. Satterfield. I’m glad I logged in today because my nephew has a stay-at-home-school assignment on this very issue. I’m glad someone is getting an education. 😊

  5. The Kid 1945

    Gen. Satterfield, after I read your article, I went on the Internet to see if I could find photographs of some tarring and feathering incidents. There aren’t many. But I did find some interesting articles. Here is one that I wanted to share because it listed some myths associated with the punishment.
    “5 MYTHS OF TARRING AND FEATHERING”
    https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/12/5-myths-tarring-feathering/

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Thank you The Kid 1945 (interesting tag name!). 5. Myth: Tarring and feathering ended with the Revolution. My favorite. Yes, I do believe this practice may be coming back.

  6. Eva Easterbrook

    Hi Gen Satterfield, I think you’ve done us a service by re-emphasizing the effectiveness and efficacy of informal punishment. Yest the whole idea of a civilized society is to move away from such arbitrary punishments that are administered by the mob.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Yes, because vengeance is never fair and never evenly handled. Is tarring and feathering mob vengeance? I think you’ve made a good case that it is so. Thanks.

      1. Dr.Milliken

        Yes, i agree Wilson. Well said. Today, we tend to poo poo those old, out-of-fashion punishments as barbaric (he he he). I think they were, however, very effective.

      2. Georgie B.

        Agreed, Eva. But we are still a civilized society and should be discouraging this form of behavior. Just read about tar and feathering and you will see my point. It doesn’t take much thinking to show the problem of informal punishments and the lack of fairness inherent in a lawful society.

  7. Dale Paul Fox

    This reminds me of when I was a kind, long long ago, and my grandfather would tell stories about this shaming punishment. Rather be tar and feathered than lynched from the nearest tree. He said the practice of T&F continued well into the 20th Century.

    1. JT Patterson

      I think I read somewhere that the “T&F” continues TODAY in other parts of the world and that some folks in places like the deep southern part of the US are considering it to replace a failing justice system that allows big names and powerful people to avoid punishment altogether.

    2. Doc Blackshear

      It would be really scary to see this technique brought back.

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