Why does Atticus go to the jail in chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Atticus goes to the Maycomb jail in chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird to protect Tom Robinson from the Old Sarum bunch, which is a group of intoxicated men who plan on lynching Tom before the trial.

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At the beginning of chapter 15, Sheriff Tate, Link Deas, and several of Atticus 's friends visit his home to warn him about the Old Sarum bunch. Sheriff Tate is worried that the Cunninghams will attempt to harm Tom Robinson before the trial when they move him to the...

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At the beginning of chapter 15, Sheriff Tate, Link Deas, and several of Atticus's friends visit his home to warn him about the Old Sarum bunch. Sheriff Tate is worried that the Cunninghams will attempt to harm Tom Robinson before the trial when they move him to the Maycomb jailhouse. Initially, Atticus dismisses their concerns and does not believe that the Old Sarum bunch will cause any trouble on a Sunday. Despite Atticus's initial feelings, he decides to take a precaution by visiting the Maycomb jailhouse the next evening. Atticus shares his friends' concerns regarding the Old Sarum bunch and is determined to protect his client.
Following Sunday dinner, Atticus takes a light attached to an extension cord with him to sit outside of the Maycomb jailhouse. Jem, Scout, and Dill are curious and follow Atticus to the jailhouse, where they find him peacefully reading his newspaper. Suddenly, a group of cars arrives from the Meridian highway, and the Old Sarum bunch quickly surrounds Atticus. Walter Cunningham and his lynch mob instruct Atticus to move out of the way, but he refuses to leave. Scout, Jem, and Dill end up coming out of their hiding spot, and their presence manages to persuade Walter and his men to leave. Fortunately, no one is hurt during the incident, and Atticus protects Tom Robinson from the lynch mob.
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Atticus goes to the jail in hopes that his presence will stop people from dragging Tom Robinson out of the jail and killing him. 

Earlier in the chapter, Jem and Scout overhear Heck Tate talking to Atticus about not wanting to keep Tom Robinson in the jail on Sunday night (the night before the trial starts).  Tate is afraid that he won't be able to keep Robinson safe.  At first, Atticus doesn't think that Tate's concerns are valid. 

“They don’t usually drink on Sunday, they go to church most of the day…” Atticus said.

However, by the time that Sunday evening arrives, it's clear that Atticus is concerned about Robinson's safety.  Atticus excuses himself from the house carrying a lamp and an extension cord and gets in his car.  Jem and Scout both find this very odd, but they do go to bed as told.  Of course Jem and Scout are way too curious about what their father is up to, so they sneak out of the house, get Dill, and begin searching the town for Atticus.  

They find him sitting in front of the jail.

A long extension cord ran between the bars of a second-floor window and down the side of the building. In the light from its bare bulb, Atticus was sitting propped against the front door. He was sitting in one of his office chairs, and he was reading, oblivious of the nightbugs dancing over his head.

The three children then watch as four cars pull up, and a bunch of men step out of the cars.  They approach Atticus and tell him to step aside.  They have come to get Robinson.  Atticus refuses to move and tells the men that they should go home.  The situation is quite tense for a moment, and then Jem, Scout, and Dill run up to Atticus.  It's at this moment that Atticus shows a bit of fear.  He's now worried for the safety of his kids.  The men threaten physical violence against Atticus and the kids; however, Scout is able to diffuse the situation by forcing Mr. Cunningham into a semi-conversation with her.  Mr. Cunningham is unable to bring himself to continue with his original intentions, and he orders the rest of the men home.  

I looked around and up at Mr. Cunningham, whose face was equally impassive. Then he did a peculiar thing. He squatted down and took me by both shoulders.

“I’ll tell him you said hey, little lady,” he said.

Then he straightened up and waved a big paw. “Let’s clear out,” he called. “Let’s get going, boys.”

Atticus definitely went to the jail in order to stop a lynching, but Scout was probably more successful than Atticus ever could have been. 

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Atticus shows his unflinching courage and determination when he goes to the jail by himself in Chapter 15 of the Harper Lee novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Earlier in the day, he had been paid a visit by a group of citizens, including Dr. Reynolds and Mr. Avery. They spoke quietly, and Scout was uncertain of their intentions. But we can infer that they had appeared to warn Atticus that there was talk about the town of taking Tom Robinson from the jail that night--a lynching in Maycomb.
So, Atticus headed to the jail to support Sheriff Tate if the need arose. Soon, the group of men arrive. Atticus tries to nonchalantly talk the men into leaving, but he is unsuccessful. Futhermore, Sheriff Tate has been called out "on a snipe hunt."

"... Heck's bunch's so deep in the woods they won't get out till mornin'."

Atticus is left alone to confront the lynch party by himself. When things appear hopeless for Tom and violence appears likely, Jem, Scout and Dill come to the rescue, and the men's deadly resolve melts before Scout's innocent and genuine amicability.
Tom remains safe, Atticus breathes a sigh of relief, and Mr. Underwood surprises them all by announcing that he had them covered--with a double-barreled shotgun--all along.

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At the beginning of chapter 15, Heck Tate comes by to warn Atticus that they are preparing to move Tom Robinson to the county jail the next day, and he is worried that there could be trouble that evening. Link Deas adds that he isn't worried about any townspeople, but the Old Sarum gang could give them some trouble. Link comments that he doesn't understand why Atticus touched the case in the first place, and Atticus responds that although Tom may be found guilty and sent to the electric chair, the truth will be told first.

And this is why Atticus goes to the jail that night. He is determined to protect Tom from the very real possibility of the Old Sarum gang showing up to lynch Tom before the trial has a chance to get off the ground, which would forever bury the truth of Bob and Mayella Ewell's lies against Tom. Atticus sees it as his absolute duty as Tom's lawyer to protect him so that he is allowed the opportunity of a fair trial—or at least as fair as is possible in Maycomb.

Atticus's instincts prove accurate. The lynch mob does show up, and there are a few tense moments before the children unexpectedly diffuse the anger of the crowd who stands against Atticus. Atticus proves to have incredible instincts in every facet of this situation. Not only did the Old Sarum gang show up to lynch Tom, but Tom is convicted at his trial as well. However, through the fearless efforts of Atticus, the truth of Tom's innocence was told for all of Maycomb to hear.

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Tom Robinson is about to be moved from the jailhouse in advance of his trial. Sheriff Heck Tate has caught wind that a mob is planning to descend upon the jailhouse to lynch Tom. Lynching was a common feature of Southern life at this time, and it was carried out primarily against African American men accused of transgressing the dominant moral code regarding sexual relations between the races.

As events prove, Heck is absolutely right to be concerned, as a mob led by Walter Cunningham Sr does turn up at the jailhouse ready to mete out summary justice to Tom Robinson. Atticus does not believe in summary justice; he wants to see justice done in a court of law. He knows full well that Tom has no chance of being acquitted, but it is a matter of principle that he should have his day in court. Atticus sits outside the jailhouse door in the hope that he will somehow persuade the mob not to take Tom away.

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In chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird, visitors arrive to warn Atticus of potential violence against his client. Mr. Link Deas says, "it’s that Old Sarum bunch I’m worried about." The next evening after dinner, Atticus tells the children goodnight and leaves with a light attached to an extension cord. Jem and Scout sneak away to find out what Atticus is doing. They pick up Dill along the way, with Scout explaining that "Jem’s got the look-arounds."

The children find Atticus sitting in a chair in front of the Maycomb County jailhouse. As he is reading a newspaper, a group of men arrives. The "Old Sarum bunch" approach Atticus and ask if Tom Robinson is inside. One of them says, "You know what we want" and then tells Atticus to move aside. The men are there to lynch Tom, and Atticus is there to protect him.

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Chapter 15 of To Kill a Mockingbird finds Atticus having a meeting with Heck Tate and other members of the community. They have come to the house to discuss the fact that Tom Robinson is being moved to the county jail. The men tell Atticus of their fears of there being some sort of violence at the jail. Atticus doesn't voice his concerns to Jem and Scout, but after church and dinner, Atticus takes the car and leaves. Jem is worried about his father, so he and Scout decide to go and see their father.

A long extension cord ran between the bars of a second-floor window and down the side of the building. In the light from its bare bulb, Atticus was sitting propped against the front door. He was sitting in one of his office chairs, and he was reading, oblivious of the nightbugs dancing over his head.

Atticus was there to prevent any fights from breaking out. He knew that Bob Ewell and his friends would come and start trouble, even try to kill Tom, so Atticus was there keeping watch. True to fashion, Bob does show up, but thanks to the innocence of Scout, nothing bad happens that night.

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Atticus is approached at home that evening by a group of men who feel uneasy about having Tom Robinson, a black man, in the Maycomb jail.  Atticus assures them that Tom will remain in the jail until the trial.

Atticus, being the intelligent man he is, knows that Tom may be in danger. So, Atticus gets a chair, a light and reading material, and positions himself in front of the jail in order to protect Tom, in the event that townspeople would come to hurt him.

It turns out that Atticus' suspicions were correct.  A group of men does show up at the jail to take Tom Robinson.  Atticus, along with Jem and Scout, save Tom's life by being there that evening.

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