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Should Judges Wear Gowns?

(Published in Chicago Globe, March 16, 1891, in answer to questions by the Editor.)

No man ever added a cubit to his stature by dress. No robe ever enlarged a man's brain, ripened his wisdom, cleared his judgment, strengthened his purpose, or fortified his honesty. If he is a little man without a robe, he is contemptible in a robe. If a man is large without a robe; he is simply ludicrous in one.


A robe used as an insignia of office is a relic of barbarism, a relic of the age when tinsel, glitter and flummery were thought to be necessary to overawe the common people. And the robe can now perform no other function than that of humbugging the people. A court which is worthy of the name, needs no such flimsy and ridiculous assistance in order to command the confidence and the respect of the community, and a court which cannot command the respect and the confidence of the people without resorting to shams of this kind, is incapable of doing any good, is incapable of protecting the weak from being trampled down by the strong, and should be wiped out of existence.

This age and the American people do not want mediaeval shams. They want light; daylight, electric light, sunlight. They want realities; they want character; they want learning; they want good judgment; they want independence, and they want these free from both barbaric and aristocratic subterfuges. It is only weak minds that lean upon this kind of bolstering.

Our age is superior to the middle ages only in so far as it has progressed beyond sham and formalism, lofty pomp and hollow and dull dignity, and asks now to be shown things just as they are.

"You may say," said the Judge, with very decided emphasis, "that I am opposed to pretense and humbug, no matter whether found in high stations or in low, and in my opinion, if the American people ever reach a point where they must put robes upon their judges or any other officers in order to have the highest respect for them, then republican institutions will be at an end in this country; for men who can be inspired by a gown are but little removed from those who can draw inspiration from a wooden god, and neither are fit to either enjoy or defend true political liberty."

The strong, masculine and liberty-loving element of the bar does not favor these handmaids of fraud in a temple of justice. It is the fawning and the hanging-on element, the element which flatters and seeks a rear door entrance to the judge, that favors them. Instead of adding dignity to a court it shows a weakness; for every time a judge puts on a gown he confesses that he needs this extraneous help; he confesses that he must resort to humbug in order to make an impression. In the past gowns have not prevented judicial murders," wrongs and outrages, the infamy of which reaches to hell. So long as we tolerate in this country any tribunals that find it necessary to wear this insignia of mediaeval conditions, just so long must we confess that we have not reached a high state of development.