Cultural Revolutions

Reintroduction of Chain Gangs

Alabama's reintroduction of chain gangs has provoked the predictable cries of outrage. Howell Raines (formerly of Alabama and now of the New York Times) described Governor Fob James as "Alabama's current genius of bumpkin publicity." The politest expressions used to describe Governor James' decision usually include words like "barbaric," "reactionary," and "racist." Reactionary they may be, if "reaction" means a restoration of sanity, but chain gangs are neither barbaric as a means of punishment nor racist in motivation.

Howell Raines might not approve, but the people of Alabama do not seem to care what he or anyone in the media have to say about them or their governor. There was a time in the United States when an outsider's opinion carried little weight with the people of a sovereign state, and it made little difference that the outsider was a federal judge or even a President. The punishment of crimes—unless they were, like treason, strictly federal—was left up to the states, and if some state were foolish enough to eliminate capital punishment or execute thieves, it was nobody's business but the people of the state. Governor James is one of the only governors in recent years to uphold the rights and dignities of his office, and not long ago he threatened to call out the Alabama National Guard if federal authorities attempted to arrest a...

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