Lynching was named for Colonel Charles Lynch who used the practice during the American Revolutionary War to deal with Tories and criminal elements. Unfortunately, after the war, as the nation expanded so did the practice of lynching. The rule of lynching as a method to maintain the social order was referred to as lynch law.
Before the American Civil War, lynching was used primarily on civil rights supporters, horse thieves, gamblers and various rogues. However by the 1880s, lynching expanded to low-status groups such as blacks, Jews, Native Americans, and Asian immigrants.
There were often two components to motivation for lynchings in the southern United States. The first was the social aspect--righting some social wrong or perceived social wrong (such as a violation of Jim Crow etiquette). The second was the economic aspect. For example, upon successful lynching of a black farmer or immigrant merchant, the land would be available and the market opened for white farmers.
Lynchings, like other public executions throughout history, were sometimes treated as a spectacle--even a form of family entertainment.
A notorious lynching in the United States was that of Leo Frank, a Jewish-American factory manager in 1915. It turned the spotlight on anti-semitism in the United States and marked a revival in the Ku Klux Klan, with a pronounced anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant stance.
While lynching may be most strongly associated with the American South in the first part of the 20th century, it is also seen in other parts of the world. In 1944, Wolfgang Rosterg, a German POW known to be unsympathetic to the Nazi regime in Germany, was lynched by Nazi fanatics in a prison camp in Comrie, Scotland. The perpetrators were hanged after the end of the war.
Lynching has recently cropped up in the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Its main victims are Jews and people suspected to be collaborating with Israel. Executions without trial of collaborators with Israel were common even before the Al-Aqsa Intifada but the first violent murder which cited as "lynching" was the manslaughter of two Israeli reservist in Ramallah on October 13th, 2000 . Wadim Norzich and Asi Avraami were slaughtered by Palestinian officers who threw them out of the window of the Rammallah police station into the hands of a furious Palestinian mob who mutilated their bodies. Since then, nineteen Jews and dozens of Palestinians have been lynched by Palestinian gangs and militias.
The Billie Holiday song "Strange Fruit" refers to lynching.