Riding the rail

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An example of this practice in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Riding the rail (also called running out of town on a rail) was a punishment in Colonial America in which a man (rarely a woman) was made to straddle a fence rail (usually the triangular split-rail rather than the modern machine-milled) held on the shoulders of at least two men, with other men on either side to keep him upright. The victim was then paraded around town or taken to the city limits and dumped by the roadside.[citation needed] Intense pain came from the weight of the body resting on the sharp, narrow edge and injuries from the ride could, if the victim were stripped, cut the crotch and make walking painful. Alternatively, the term also refers to tying a person's hands and feet around a rail so the person dangles under the rail.[citation needed]

The punishment was usually a form of mob extrajudicial punishment, sometimes imposed in connection with tarring and feathering.[1] It was intended to show community displeasure with the victim so he either conformed his behavior to the mob's demands or left the community.[citation needed]

A story attributed to Abraham Lincoln was that he quoted someone as having said, "If it weren't for the honor of the thing [being ridden out of town on a rail], I would just as soon walk."[2]

The film O Brother, Where Art Thou? used a visual example when the Stokes character denounces the Soggy Bottom Boys as hostile to the social order but the crowd is unimpressed and runs him out of town on a rail.

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  1. ^ John S Farmer (1889). Farmer's Dictionary of Americanisms – Old and New. London: Reeves and Turner. p. 448. Retrieved 21 September 2010. 
  2. ^ Cuomo, Governor Mario M. (1986). "Abraham Lincoln and Our "Unfinished Work"". Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 8 (1). Retrieved July 28, 2012. 

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