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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (Aug. 21, 1903)
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AUGUST 21, 1S03.
Roosevelt on Lynching
Under date of Oyster Bay, N. Y.,
'August 9, President Roosevelt sent
a letter to Governor Durbin of Ind
inna, which letter follows:.
"Permit me to thank you as an
'American citizen for the admirable
way in which you have vindicated the'
majesty or the law by your recent ac
tion in reference to lynching. I feel,
my dear sir, that you have made all
men your debtor, who believe, as all
far-seeing men must, that the welL
teing, indeed the very existence of the
republic, depends upon that spirit of
orderly liberty under the law which
is as Incompatible with mob violence
as with any form of despotism. Of
course mob violence is simply one
form of anarchy and anatchy is now,
as it always has been, the handmaiden
and foremnnor of tyranny.
"I feel that you have not only re
flected honor upon the state, which,
for its good fortune has you as its
chief executive, but upon the whole
nation. It is incumbent upon every
man throughout this country not only
to hold up your hands in the course
you have been following, but to show
Lis realization that the matter is one
-of vital concern to us all.
'All thoughtf-1 men must feel the
gravest alarm over the growth of
lynching in this country, and especial
ly over the peculiarly hideous forms
so often taken by mob violence when
colored men are the vicjtims, on which
occasion the mob seems to lay most
weight, not on the crime, but. on the
color of the criminal. In a certain por
tion of these cases the man lynched
lias been guilty of a crime horrible be
yond description; a crime so hcirible
that as far as he himself is concerned
lie has forfeited the right to any kind
of sympathy whatsoever.
"The feeling of all good citizens that
suclr a hideous crime shall not be
hideously punished by mob violence Is
due not in the least to sympathy for
the criminal, but to a very lively sense
of the train of the dreadful" conse
quences which follow the course taken
by the mob in exacting inhuman ven-.
geance for an inhuman wrong. In such
cases, moreover, it is well to remem
ber that the criminal not merely sins
against humanity in inexpiable and un
pardonable fashion, but sins partic
ularly against his own race, and does
them a wrong far greater than any
white man can possibly do them,
therefore, in such cases the colored
people throughout the land should in
every possible way show their belief
that they, more than all others in the
community, are horrified at the com
mission of such a crime and are pe
culiarly concerned in taking every pos
sible measure to prevent its recur
rence and precaution to bring the
criminal to justice.
"The slightest lack of vigor in de
nouncing the crime or bringing the
criminal to justice is in itself unpar
oonable. Moreover, every effort
should be made under the law to ex
I edits the proceedings of justice in the
case of such an awful crime. But It
cannot bo necesaary to do this, to de-
1 J? any ciUzen of those fundamental
rights to be heard in his own defense,
which are so dear to us all and which
lie at the root of our liberty. It cer
tainly ought to be possible by the
proper administration of the laws to
secure swift vengeance upon the crim-
iH the be3t m immediate ef
forts of all legislators, judges and citi
of 2 shPuld be addressed to securing
such reforms in our legal procedure as
rfiEfT? 5 ves"se of excuse for those
S.Sded men who undertake to reap
vengeance through violent methods.
crimli7h have been TSuilty of a
ttSn? .l81?1" and certam DUnlRh-n-ent
and the Just effort mado by the
courts lo protect them in their lights
Should under no circumstances be per
verted into permitting any mere tech
nicality to avert or delay their pun
ishment The substantial right of the
prisoner to a fair trial must, of course,
bo guaranteed, as you havo so justly
insisted that they should be; but sub
ject to this guarantee, the law must
work swiftly and surely and all the
agents of the law should realize the
wrong they do when they permit jus
tice to be delayed or thwarted for
technical or insufficient reasons. Wo
must show that tho law Is aJpquatp
10 deal with crime by freeing it from
every vestige of technicality and de
lay. But the fullest recognition of the
horror of the crime and the most com
plete lack of sympathy with the crim
inal cannot in the least diminish our
horror at the way in which it has be
come customary to avenge these crimes
and at the consequences that are al
ready proceeding therefrom.
"It is, of course, inevitable that
where vengeance is taken by a mob it
should frequently light on innocent
people and the wrong dono in such a
caso to the individual is one for which
there is no remedy. But even where
the real criminal is reached the wrong
done by the mob to the community it
self is well nigh as great. Especially
is this true where the lynching is ac
companied by torture. There are cer
tain hideous sights when once seen
can never be wholly erased from tho
mental retina. The mere fact of hav
ing seen them implies degradation.
This is a thousandfold stronger when,
instead of merely seeing the deed, the
man has participated in it Whoever,
in any part of our country, has ever
taken part in lawlessly putting to
death a criminal by the dreadful tor
ture of fire must forever after have
the awful spectacle of his own handi
work seared into his brain and soul.
He can never again bo the same man.
"This matter of lynching would be a
terrible thing, even if it stopped with
the lynching of men guilty of the in
human and hideous crime of rape, but
as a matter of fact, lawlessness of this
type never -does stop and never can
stop in such fashion. Every violent
man in tjie community is encouraged
by every case of lynching in which
the lynchers go unpunished to take
the law into his own hands whenever
it suits his own convenience.
"In the same way the use of torture
by the mob in certain cases is sure to
spread until it is applied more or less
indiscriminately. The spirit of- law-
icssneFs grows with what it feeds on,
and when mobs with impunity lynch
criminals for one cause they are cer
tain to begin to lynch real or alleged
criminals for other causes. In the re
cent cases of lynchings three-fourths
were not for rape at all, but for mur
der, attempted murder and even less
"Moreover, the history of these re
cent cases shows the awful fact that
when the minds of men are habitu
ated to the torture by lawless bodies
to avenge crimes of peculiar or revolt
ing descriptions other lawless bodies
will use torture in order to punish
crimes of an ordinary type.
"Surely no patriot can fall to see
the fearful brutalization and debase
ment which tho indulgence of such a
spirit and such practices inevitably
portend. Surely all public men, all
writers for the daily press, all clergy
rveu, all teachers, all who in any way
have a right to address the public,
should with every energy unite to de
nounce such crimes and to support
those engaged in putting them down.
As a people we claim the right to
spqak with peculiar emphasis for free
dom and for fair treatment of all
men without regard to differences ofl
race, fortune, creed or color. Wo for
feit tho right, so to speak, when we
commit or condono such crimes as
these of which I speak.
"The nation, like tho Individual, can
not commit a crime with impunity. If
wo are guilty of lawlessness or "Vio
lence, whether our cuilt consists of
actlvo participation thcroln or in mere
connivance, or encouragement, we
shall assuredly suffer later on because
of what wo have done. Tho corner
stone of this republic, as of all free
governments, Is respect for, and obed
ience to, tho law. Where wo rermit
the law o bo defied or evaded, wheth
er by rich man or poor man, by black
man or whit man, we are by just bo
much weakening the bonds of our civ
ilization and increasing tho chances
of its overthrow and tho substitution
therefor of a system that shall bo vio
lent alternations of anarchy and
The Lochren Decision and Others,
Apropos of Judge Lochren's recent
decision in tho ccso of tho state of
Minneapolis against tho Northern Se
curities company excellent judicial au
thority may be cited in similar cases
which rests upon assumptions directly
opposite- to that which underlies Judge
According to Judge Lochren',; deci
sion, it is not enough that a corpora
lion may have the power to do certain
illegal things, that it may be thought
to have been organized for the purpose
oi! doing that thing, or that it would
find pecuniary profit in doing it It
must be proven to have dono tho thing
before it can be made accountable to
tho courts of justice. Proceeding upon
this assumption, Judge Lochren was
not able to find in tno Northern Secur
ities company anything more than 0
corporation which had Invested in the
shares of two previously existent cor
porations. But in the case of the state of Ohio
against the Standard Oil company the
supreme court spoke thus: "Experi
ence shows that it is not wise to trust
human cupidity where it has tho op
portunity to aggrandize itself at the
expense of others. Tho mischief of a
monopoly is not necessarily in the
fact that prices are raised, but that it
has tho power to control and raise
In. the case against the B-iamond
Match company the supreme court of
Michigan held that the object and ten.
aency of that combination was to pre
vent free competition and to control
prices, and it said: "It is no answer
10 say that this monopoly hag In fact
1 educed the price of friction matches.
That policy may have been necessary
to, crush competition. The fact re
mains that it rests in the discretion
of thig company at any time to raise
the price to an exorbitant figure."
The logic of these decisions applied
to the Northern Securities company
would be that that company was not
chartered In New Jersey for the pur
pose of holding a controlling interest
in competing railroads without ths
intention of using that control In sup
pressing competition and advancing
lates to whatever extent and in what
ever practicable way it might find
profitable. This assumption Is far
more in accord with what the average
man has observed and experienced of
the ways of corporations than the as
sumption on which Judge Lochren's
decision rests. Boston Transcript
The resentful nno-ot. .
sylvania newspapers a Governor
uujywnci aeem3 10 Know no
bounds. They are now reproducing
his early poetry. Tucson (Ariz.) CiUzen.
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