Freedom to Harm: Private Violence and the American State, 1860-1895

Freedom to Harm: Private Violence and the American State, 1860-1895

History Hangout: Conversation with Hugh Wood


The Weberian definition of the state is an institution with a monopoly over legitimate violence within a defined territory. Eager to explain the genesis of European nation states, Weber’s model is a poor fit for the history and experience of American statehood. What might explain the marked failure of the United States government to monopolize violence within its territory, and the historical and contemporary prevalence of violence in American civil society? 

In his dissertation research, Hugh Wood, PhD candidate at Cambridge University seeks to find an answer. Using three case studies of private violence sanctioned by the state, expropriation and murder of indigenous people in the West, corporate policing and labor discipline in the industrial North, and the night riders and lynchings of the Jim Crow South, Wood explores the long history of bloodletting in American civil society. Wood’s project explores an essential element of American history with profound implications for the present. 

In support of his work, Wood received a grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Museum & Library.

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.