I must have missed this meeting. Was it a unanimous vote?


The fine structure is a shade ambiguous …

To “ride someone out of town on a rail” is a classic American locution dating back to the early 19th century. In its usual figurative use, “to ride someone out of town on a rail” means to severely punish them by means of ridicule or public condemnation and, optimally, to banish the person utterly from further serious consideration in whatever field they committed their offense …

… “Running men out of town on a rail is at least as much an American tradition as declaring unalienable rights,” according to historian Gary Wills in “Inventing America” (1978), and the punishment does seem to have been a fairly common, and uniquely American, phenomenon until the early 20th century.

While the “rail” in the phrase might conjure up images of the disgraced malefactor being dispatched out of town via the nearest railroad track, the actual “rail” involved in literally “riding someone out of town” was usually the sort of rail used to construct fences, i.e., a long, often rough-hewn, bar of wood. The victim was usually seated astride the rail as one would ride a horse (a position which was, not surprisingly, very painful).

The rail and its rider were then borne by two men, usually part of a large mob, to the town limits, where the banishee was dumped in a ditch and warned not to return. The warning was often amplified by the application of hot tar and feathers to the rider, a punishment that was extremely painful, often permanently disfiguring, and occasionally fatal.