So, here’s what I realized–Snodgrass’s participation in the seance is incredibly important, basically because it clarifies what’s at stake. We’re used to a conflict between states rights and federal powers. How much can the states do what they want and when is the federal government allowed to set the rules for everyone.
But what I was not aware of, but which is obvious just from the participation of Snodgrass and the existence of lots of lawyers willing to protect lynchers is that there was a concurrent argument being had in Tennessee in the 1890s through to, I don’t know when. Okay, I don’t know when it started or when it ended, just that it was clearly happening from the time Snodgrass shot a dude at least through the Johnson lynching.
And that discussion was about how much power the state should have to dictate how white men acted. Should a white guy be allowed to shoot a white guy who offended him without going to jail? THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF OUR SUPREME COURT THOUGHT SO! Look at that seance–we have a bunch of guys who are judges and lawyers basically arguing that they or their clients aren’t really obliged to follow the law.
My mind is blown. I had no idea there was a third leg to the state vs. federal argument that mirrored that argument but at an individual vs. state level.
I mean, just spelling it out like that, it seems obvious. But it wasn’t clear to me just how much the “leave Tennessee alone to facilitate lynchings if it wants to; it’s not the Federal government’s job to step in” mirrors Snodgrass and them’s position which seems to be “leave me alone to carry out my own justice if I want to; it’s not the state’s job to step in.”