Copyright
Lepel Henry Griffin.

The great republic online

. (page 9 of 11)
Online LibraryLepel Henry GriffinThe great republic → online text (page 9 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in Georgia for outrages on negroes was received with



JUSTICE. 145

general surprise, the more so when it appeared that
a majority of the jury was composed of whites, it
having been found impossible to punish such
offences which were justified by the sentiment of
the white community, and verdicts of acquittal were
always returned. The evidence in this case showed
that the prisoners had whipped, shot, and otherwise
maltreated negroes who had voted for Mr. Speer,
the independent Democratic candidate for Congress.
One negro swore to having received one hundred
and seventy -five lashes, on the ground that he was

a " d d Speer negro," besides being struck with

steel knuckles, kicked, and threatened with death.
Another had been shot in three places. The
defence was a general alibi, but the witnesses
positively identified several of the defendants ; and
the secret of the verdict probably was that the
evidence was too strong to be safely disregarded
by even a sympathising jury.

The following incident, which occurred in August
last in the same State, will show the manner in
which the negro can be treated by " a member of
a good family " :

" While Mrs. George W. Felts was shaking fruit from a
tree, Peter Broomfield, coloured, asked her to be careful that
she did not break off any branches. Mrs. Felts lost her
temper and complained to her husband of what Broomfield
had said. Yesterday, while the latter was at work roofing a

L-



145 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

house, in company with three other men, Felts appeared at
the foot of the ladder with a double-barrelled shotgun. Broom-
field comprehended the situation and pleaded for mercy.
Felts said, ' If you will come down and let me flog you, that
will be the end of it ; if you don't I will kill you.' Broomfield's
terrified companions urged him to take the flogging and save
his life. As Broomfield commenced a descent of the ladder,
Felts, without saying a word, fired both barrels of the gun
and two balls from a revolver into the coloured man's body,
and he fell to the ground a corpse. Felts then walked to
where the body lay, and with an oath fired three bullets from
his pistol into the dead man's breast. Then, turning to the
terrified spectators, Felts said, ' There, I guess that fixed
him ! ' and walked away, since which he has not been seen.
The negroes are greatly excited, and say if they can capture
Felts they will burn him alive in the woods. Felts is twenty-
seven years old and a member of a good family."

If it should be said that from an outrage such as
this, committed by a passionate man, no argument
can be drawn, I would only reply that the incident
may be taken for what it is worth, and derives its
only significance from the general surprise with
which the Ku-Klux convictions above referred to
were received.

The Echo, which is the greatest admirer of
American institutions in the London press, and
which has criticised my opinions of the Harvest of
Democracy with some asperity, lately observed in
its leading columns that it was remarkable that
American public opinion seldom mad'e a mistake
in its judgment of a criminal, whatever the courts



JUSTICE. 147

might do, and that there was no case on record of
a man having been lynched on evidence that would
not have procured his conviction in any well-
constituted and honest court. A more laughable
statement was surely never framed. It is
obviously impossible to be certain of the guilt of
*a man who has been hanged or burnt alive before
trial. It is as obviously unreasonable to insist on
the guilt of an unfortunate who has been lynched
after an acquittal in open court. Yet such cases
form a considerable proportion of these outrages.
Nor do the Americans themselves adopt the
illogical view of their English apologist. The
Century of April last writes as follows :

" It cannot be too often nor too strongly proclaimed that
these lynchings themselves are crimes ; that they are utterly
without excuse ; that they furnish a remedy which is worse
than the disease. When a score of men can find no better way
of expressing their detestation of murder than by becoming
murderers themselves, our civilisation seems to have reduced
itself to an absurdity. Moreover, lynch law is not much more
accurate in its measurement and dispensation of justice than
the lax administration against which it protests. The mob
is neither judicial nor chivalrous ; the weak and defenceless
are far more likely to suffer at its hands than the strong and
prosperous, as is shown by the fact that the victims of more
than half the lynchings reported last year were Southern
negroes.

" Nevertheless, the failure of criminal justice, which makes
room for mobs and lynching, is a greater disgrace than the
savagery of the mobs. The fact that thirteen out of fourteen

L 2



I4 8 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

murderers escape the gallows is the one damning fact that
blackens the record of our criminal jurisprudence. No
American ought to indulge in any boasting about his native
land, while the evidence remains that the laws made for the
protection of human life are thus shamelessly trampled under
foot. No occupant of the bench and no member of the bar
ought to rest until those monstrous abuses which result in the
utter defeat of justice are thoroughly corrected."



The statistics of criminal justice in the States to
which the Century refers show that, during the year
1882, twelve hundred and sixty-six murders were
reported ; and in 1883, no less than fifteen hundred
and seventeen a proportion three times as large as
in England, and nearly double that of those Euro-
pean countries where crimes of violence are most
common and least regarded. Against this black
record there stand only ninety-three legal execu-
tions ; so that the deterrent influence of the death
penalty, where only one murderer in fifteen meets
his deserts, can hardly be considered very
great. Where the law has thus grievously and
conspicuously failed, the wild and blind passion of
the mob has pretended to supply its deficiencies,
and the same year records no less than one hundred
and eighteen lynchings.

The weakness of the law and its corrupt and
inefficient administration are .the direct cause of
this state of things. But, as the Century truly



JUSTICE. 149

observes, the remedy is worse than the disease.
Justice is brought into contempt both by the
usurpation of its functions by the mob and by its
own cowardice and venality. How many persons,
it might reasonably be asked, were judicially
punished during the year 1883 for their participa-
tion in these 118 mob murders. It is notorious
that the law is ordinarily powerless to punish such
outrages ; while it is equally certain that their effect
upon the people is of the most demoralising kind.

Last September I was in Cheyenne, Wyoming,
a day or two after a lynching had occurred, and I
inquired into its circumstances from some of the
townsmen who had assisted at the ceremony. So
far as I remember, the victim was accused of having
murdered a man whom he had met camping in the
prairie, who had invited him to share his meal, and
whom, when sleeping, he killed and robbed. The
crime was an atrocious one, though whether the
accused were guilty can be never known, for, having
been arrested, he was lodged in the lockup, whence
the good citizens, fearing that he might escape
punishment, through the uncertainty of the law,
incontinently took him, without any resistance on
the part of the officials, and hanged him to a
telegraph pole in the principal street. One of my
informants was a young man employed in a large



ISO THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

dry-goods store, who assured me that, although
he took his gun, he only attended the execution in
the character of a spectator. The self-constituted
judges and executioners were, he said, the most
respectable inhabitants of the town, shopkeepers
and merchants. The hangman was a telephone
clerk, and as, mounted on a ladder, he drew the
rope, already round the victim's neck, to the top
of the pole, he put the end to his ear and shouted
" Hullo," in telephonic fashion, attracting the
attention of the person at the other end of the
line. This brutal witticism was received with great
laughter by the crowd, though it may have been
less appreciated by the condemned, who was
straightway launched into eternity. No one of
the Cheyenne people to whom I spoke seemed in
any way ashamed of the occurrence. The mur-
derer, they said, would have escaped punishment
if he had been sent for trial, and their procedure, if
less regular, was more certain and just than that
of the courts. Now we may allow, for the sake of
argument, that this hanged man was guilty, though
of this there can exist no legal proof ; and, further,
that his execution was due to the fear that, if
regularly tried, he would escape proper punish-
ment. Yet to a person who has been privileged to
live in a civilised country, where the passions of



JUSTICE. 151

the mob are held in control by the firm and
impartial administration of the law, the respectable
citizens of Cheyenne, which is a wealthy, prosperous
town, with churches, banks, hotels, and daily news-
papers, seem little removed from savages. If the
people of Wyoming or any other State desire a
pure administration of justice, they can obtain it.
The remedy is in their own hands. The judges
are not appointed by the Government, but elected
by themselves: the juries who acquit murderers
are their own friends and comrades, and the
defeat of justice is due to their own low standard
of public morality.

If an illustration, on a larger scale, of the mal-
administration of justice and the demoralisation
which results from the practice of lynching be
required, the recent riots at Cincinnati furnish it.
The details are too notorious to need lengthy
repetition. Suffice it to say that a sentence of
twenty years' imprisonment having been passed on
a young man named Berner for the murder and
robbery of his employer, general indignation was
excited in the town. The people had long com
plained that murderers were habitually acquitted,
admitted to bail, or sentenced to inadequate terms
of imprisonment, and they believed that any
criminal might escape whose friends were in a



152 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

position to fee unscrupulous lawyers to bribe
equally unscrupulous juries. A mass meeting was
held, which, speedily losing self-control, started
for the jail with the declared intention of lynching
the murderers confined there. The attack on the
building was repulsed by the police and militia,
with a loss to the mob of some sixty-five killed and
wounded. The excitement continually rose higher :
for two days the fighting lasted. Troops were
poured into the town, and a Catling gun was used
with terrible effect on the rioters. At the conclusion
of the affray, some two hundred were killed and
wounded, and the Court House, which had cost a
quarter of a million of dollars, was in ashes. Some
four thousand soldiers were encamped in the streets,
and Cincinnati resembled a city taken by assault.

I can imagine a simple German emigrant, on his
arrival in New York, reading the dark story of the
Cincinnati riots with a feeling akin to stupefaction.
Was it then for this that he had left Bismarck and
the tyranny of the Old World behind ? Was this
the America of his dreams, where the rich were
beneficent, the poor content, and where every free-
man enjoyed his own in honourable independence ?
Instead of the paradise he had imagined, he found
a pandemonium, with the people in revolt against
the law ; the troops mowing down the mob with



JUSTICE. 153

machine guns, and Liberty, her eyes alight with
unholy passions and her shining garments all be-
smirched with blood, hounding on her worshippers
to arson, pillage, and murder. How could the
simple Teuton understand that this was the result
of government of the people for the people, or that
the American judge would not only, like Pilate,
have condemned the blameless victim and released
Barabbas, but, with a deeper infamy, would have
divided with Judas the price of blood ?

If we could believe that the Cincinnati riots
signified no more than a genuine protest of respect-
able citizens against the systematic prostitution of
justice, the friends of America and of freedom
might regard them with equanimity, if not approval.
Desperate diseases need desperate remedies, and in
politics, as in war, omelettes are not to be made
without breaking eggs. But I do not believe that
this view of the case would be correct. The riots
of Cincinnati were less due to the indignation of
the people at any inadequate sentence for, in every
country, such failures of justice are common from
the tenderness of the judge or the humanitarian
sentiment of the jury, than to the general demorali-
sation of the popular conscience due to the habitual
and unpunished practice of extra-judicial murder
under the name of lynch law. To the mob a



154 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

lynching has all the savage delight and attraction
which Imperial Rome found in gladiatorial exhibi-
tions. The murder which caused this particular
outbreak was by no means an atrocious one, and
was brought home to the murderer by his voluntary
surrender and confession. It was punished by a
sentence of twenty years' imprisonment, only less
severe than death, and by many would be held to
be far worse than the death penalty. But a certain
number of citizens were determined that their
opinion of the appropriate punishment should,
according to Judge Lynch's arbitrary procedure,
over-ride the decision of the court ; and they were
surprised and indignant that the jail officials did
not fail in their duty and surrender the destined
victims after the usual and decent amount of coy
resistance. The passions of the mob were soon
aroused : the tiger had tasted blood ; and the pre-
tended purifiers of the judgment seat were speedily
reinforced by the large contingent of brutality and
crime which is to be found in the slums of every
considerable city. The contest was then between
order and anarchy ; and the troops were as justified
in firing on the rioters as was the Republican
Government of France in suppressing the Commune
in a similar manner. The character of the riot is
clearly shown in the savage attack made by the



JUSTICE. 155

mob on the men engaged in extinguishing the fire
in a shop which was being pillaged, one fireman
being killed and several wounded. What does
American Liberty . say to these poor victims,
wounded and slain by their fellow-citizens while
discharging a dangerous and honourable duty ?
This is not the blood which cements the altar of
Freedom, but rather that with which African
savages besmear their cruel idols. If there be a
page in human history which, more than another,
might give occasion for sorrow to angels and
laughter to devils, it is surely the story of the
Cincinnati riots.

Although lynch law, both in the inequity of its
procedure and in the moral lassitude which it
induces, is the most startling symptom of judicial
maladministration, there are many concurrent signs
of the decadence of the respect due to law and of
the paralysis of its healthy action. The criminal
law is as little respected as feared, and, out of the
morbid sentimentalism of judges and juries and
the love of excitement in the people, who are dis-
posed to consider every one a hero who can suffi-
ciently amuse them, has arisen a race of lawyers
and experts who can prolong a trial till a jury
acquits because it has forgotten the evidence, and
who can successfully maintain that the most cold-



156 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

blooded and deliberate murder was but the result
of a pardonable hallucination. English procedure
can show many lengthy trials, and the famous
Tichborne case was discreditable to our courts ;
but the point in dispute was obscure and of ab-
sorbing interest ; while the outrageous conduct of
the counsel for the defence was universally repro-
bated by the profession to which he belonged. But
we have nothing to compare with the scandal of the
Star Route case, the second trial of which lasted
six months, and ended in a gross miscarriage of
justice ; or the indecency of the Guiteau case, where
the assassin of the President was permitted, for
months, to browbeat and insult judges and counsel
alike, while his blasphemy and insolence were
applauded by a public as noisy and disrespectful
as the gallery of a suburban theatre. The com-
ments of the New York Herald on the Cincinnati
riots are significant enough :

" What with facile coroners and criminal authorities who
are chosen for political reasons and obey the nod of a boss,
and the plea of insanity and all the dilatory processes of the
land, the murderer who gets hanged at last is an unusually
unlucky mortal. But while we do not see any probability
that our citizens are likely to try the Cincinnati remedy
against this evil, yet if they should be disposed that way,
they may well remember the troublesome elements that
smoulder just beneath the peaceful surface of city life. We
have a society here that meets every Sunday night to hear



JUSTICE. 157

speeches in favour of universal murder with dynamite. We
have a colony of the men who tried to burn the city of Paris.
We have Most and Schwab and an army of their adherents.
We have perhaps a hundred thousand men who would con-
template the burning of this city as a noble sacrifice on the
altar of their principles."

No critic of American institutions can, with
justice or honesty, refuse to make the fullest allow-
ance for the heterogeneity of the American popu-
lation, and the enormous difficulties caused by the
swarm of immigrants who pour into New York at
the rate of a thousand a day from every part of
Europe. But in drawing from American difficulties
the lesson for English guidance, we cannot forget
that the root of the evil lies in universal suffrage,
untempered by any educational or moral checks,
and in opening the ballot to all but the Chinese
(who would probably vote far more reasonably
than a large number of more favoured citizens),
thus taking the power from those who could use
it aright, and intrusting it to those who have no
knowledge to use it wisely, even had they the wish
to do so. The law then becomes, as we have seen,
the accomplice of the criminal ; and the orderly
majority are thrust into the position so abhorrent
to a civilised community, of holding their own by
force of arms. Nothing can be more hardening to
the national conscience than this attitude. An



158 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

American friend, writing to me from New York on
the subject of the low Irish in that city, says :

"They are clamorous and noisy, and, like O'Donovan
Rossa, make a great noise to convince people of what they
call their power. When they become lawless, however, we
shoot them down, and shall continue to do so."

Drastic remedies such as these, inevitable as
they may be, are not to be prescribed with a light
heart. They seem to signify the negation of law ;
and the more prosaic procedure of the English
courts, even when administering the odious neces-
sity of a Coercion Act, is more in accord with
nineteenth-century civilisation.



CHAPTER X.

THE COST OF DEMOCRACY.

THE cheapness of democratic institutions is the
ground on which they have been most frequently
recommended to popular approval. Demagogues
have pointed the attention of the mob to the long
Civil Lists of princes, and to the pensions and fat
offices which a privileged aristocracy have divided
among their order ; and have contrasted this
system of jobbery with the chaste republican
simplicity which, instead of the imperial ermine, is
content to be clothed with virtue and public spirit.
It is then necessary to examine these high pre-
tensions. History is full of the extravagance of
Courts, and in no country more than our own has
titled incompetence drained the public purse, and
brought confusion on our policy at home and
abroad. Would the adoption of republicanism
abolish these evils, which, in a purer atmosphere,



i6o THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

and in the light of a fuller publicity, have grown
daily less conspicuous ?

In France the new Republic has cost twice as
much as the Empire ; and the expenditure shows
no sign of having reached its highest point. But
it is not possible here to examine the statistics of
the French Republic, and we will be content with
a few of those connected with military and naval
administration in the United States. First, it is
necessary to understand the duties which are
expected of the American army. Its services are
not likely to be required against a foreign enemy,
and it is thus maintained for home service in such
numbers and efficiency as may enable it to preserve
order in any exceptional emergencies, such as the
riots of Cincinnati or Pittsburg, to guard the
Mexican frontier, and to restrain the raids of
Indian tribes. The last duty is that upon which
it is mostly engaged, and a most unsatisfactory
duty it is. The world may judge of the value
which a republic sets on liberty when it studies
the treatment of the negroes before the war, and
the Indians to-day, at the hands of the people
and Government of the United States. If all the
Indian tribes men, women, and children through-
out the States and Territories be enumerated they
amount to some 66,000 souls, the population of a



THE COST OF DEMOCRACY. 161

second-rate town. Yet a long series of Indian
outrages and reprisals have and are taking place,
which a nation of 50,000,000 does not disdain to
call " Indian wars/' The true origin of the
disputes is in the weakness of the executive and
the popular contempt for the law. The squatters
and settlers of the West look upon the Indians as
" vermin," to be exterminated as speedily as
possible. The miserable savages have no refuge
save in the generosity and justice of the Govern-
ment, which has set apart for their especial use
and benefit reservations within which no white
settlements are permitted. But they are harassed
and persecuted on every side ; their undoubted
rights are disallowed or confiscated, and corrupt
place-hunters, ignorant of their language and
customs, are appointed to superintend their delicate
relations with their white neighbours. Only the
other day one of these officials, Mr. Commissioner
Price, took upon himself to abolish polygamy.
The usage was universal and immemorial in all
the tribes, but did not commend itself to the
enlightened views of Mr. Price, who not only
proposed to forbid it in the future, but to insist
upon ail those Indians who had two or more
wives summarily discarding all but the one he
considered permissible. As I have not heard of

M



162 THE GREAT REPUBLIC.

a new "Indian war" I presume that Mr. Price
has been extinguished by some superior official
possessed of more intelligence ; but the incident,
extraordinary as it may appear, is a fair illustration
of the policy of the Indian Bureau. It is im-
possible not to sympathise with the sentiment
of disgust and contempt with which the shrewd,
hard-working Yankee regards the dirty, lazy, and
irreclaimable savage whose lands and hunting-
grounds he considers his lawful spoil. The Indian
of romance, as drawn by Fenimore Cooper, who
seems in life and manners to have been as much
of a savage as his favourite models, is hardly
recognisable in the squalid and repulsive outcasts
one meets in New Mexico and other by-paths of
American civilisation. The Indian refuses to work
in any way or for any consideration, and subsists
on the chase and on the weekly dole of flour
which he is by no means too proud to accept from
the Government. If h'e cannot dig, to beg he is
by no means ashamed. It is obvious that the
sooner he dies out and makes room for more
useful persons the better ; yet this does not, from
an administrative point of view, excuse the
Government for the unworthy and dishonest policy
which they have permitted towards those who are
so few and weak that they should not look to the



THE COST OF DEMOCRACY. 163

authorities for protection in vain. In British
India there are many aboriginal races, like Bhils
and Gonds, who are of no account as a source of
revenue or strength, yet the Government takes
fully as much care of their interests as if they
were a rich and civilised community. In Canada,
where the Indians are numerous, we have no
record of constant Indian wars, and the white and
coloured races live side by side orderly and peace-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11

Online LibraryLepel Henry GriffinThe great republic → online text (page 9 of 11)