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John P. Altgeld.


Letter to Mr. Giles on the Pardoning of McNulta and Chapman.

(Note. — McNulta and Chapman had been sentenced to the penitentiary for obstructing and delaying voters at an election. Subsequently there was an application for a pardon, and such a strong showing of facts was made that the State's Attorney wrote to the Governor that farther imprisonment would be an outrage. After careful examination the pardon was granted. There upon Mr. William A. Giles — a prominent citizen of Chicago and a member of THE CIVIC FEDERATION, a voluntary association which had raised large sum of money to carry on certain reforms, and particularly to prosecute certain cases — addressed an open letter to the Executive, severely criticising his action in granting the pardon. The following letter was written in reply:

December 11. — William A. Giles, Esq., University Club, Chicago, Ill. — Dear Sir: — Your letter of Saturday, published in Sunday's papers, readied me on Monday. You complain of the pardoning of McNulty and Chapman. I have never yet taken any notice of personal attacks upon me on account of any official action, and I do not care to do so now, but you say that from the course pursued by me in regard to legislation, from our pleasant personal intercourse and from some of my utterances upon reform you had confidently hoped for better things from me. In a sense your letter has the air of a friend who is aggrieved, and it may be that upon this ground common civility requires me to notice it.

Let me say, first, these men were pardoned because in my judgment justice required it, and my course in this case is based upon the same principles that have guided me in everything else that I have done, and that is to do what I believe to be absolutely right, and never for a moment ask whether my act will meet with the approval or disapproval of any man or organization of men.

A moment's reflection will satisfy you that I had nothing in the world to gain by granting these pardons. If it pleased any Democrats it is sufficient to say they were already my friends. On the other hand I knew full well that the facts would be misrepresented to the public, so that many good men like yourself, who may have had a kindly feeling toward me, would be more than grieved. I knew full well that it would be used for partisan capital, for nearly everything that I do is for a time at least misrepresented.

For example, the records show that in proportion to the number of convicts in our prisons the pardons and commutations granted by me each year are only a little more than half of what they have been on an average for twenty years before the beginning of this administration. The records show that I have been more strict in this


regard than had been the practice for twenty years preceding me, yet the partisan press, by deliberate and willful misrepresentation and by dishonest insinuations, have made the impression upon the public mind that I have run riot in the matter of pardoning prisoners.

This particular application for pardon came up in the usual way. I could have shirked it, but I have thus far shirked nothing since I have been in office, and I could see no good reason for beginning at present.


Now, take the case of McNulty, charged with assault and interfering with voters. The undisputed facts as stated by all sides, and even by the judge, were that he had been induced to enter a plea of guilty on the express assurance by the attorneys for the Civic Federation, who were prosecuting the case, that he should only be fined and could then go home, but instead of being fined he was sent to the penitentiary. There were two lawyers getting $100 a day each for conducting the prosecution. They were assisted by a number of detectives to hunt up the evidence, and they were backed by ample money to supply everything needed. Had they believed that they could convict McNulty of any serious offense they would have put him on trial. The very fact that they went to him and made the offer shows that they did not believe they could convict him of any serious crime. McNulty protested his innocence and emphatically denied every charge against him, but he was poor. He had already lost many weeks time in this matter, and it was necessary for him to get to doing something, and when he was told that if he would enter a plea of guilty he would simply be fined and then he could go home, he agreed to do it, and he withdrew his plea of not guilty and put in a plea of guilty upon that express condition.

Some of the lawyers state positively that all this was done with the knowledge and consent of the judge. The judge himself says that he had heard about the agreement outside of court, and had told Mr. Miller that he (the judge) would not agree to be bound by outside arrangements. No matter where the exact blame may lie, after McNulty had been induced to put in (his plea, then the judge did sentence him to the penitentiary and refused to allow the plea to be withdrawn and to give McNulty a trial, so that we have the spectacle, in a court of justice, of a man being tricked out of a trial and being entrapped into the penitentiary. At least one of the attorneys for the Civic federation condemned this, and the State's attorney calls it an outrage.

It is easy to call McNulty hard names, but remember he was


never tried or convicted of anything. But even if he were guilty the law would still require that he must have a fair trial before he is sentenced to the penitentiary. Now, Mr. Giles, I have too much respect for you to believe that you in your heart approve of this proceeding.


As to Chapman, he was shown to be a man of good character, and he was charged with obstructing or delaying votes by means of unreasonable challenging. It appeared that nearly all of the voters in that precinct were foreigners, whose names did not appear correctly upon the register lists, and whenever a voter appeared who gave his name differently from what it appeared on the list, Chapman challenged him and required him to show his identity. Naturally this would produce some delay, yet notwithstanding that there were nearly 400 votes polled in that precinct. His offense, if there was any, consisted in carrying his challenges too far. If, for the moment, we assume that this was so, then, according to Judge Tuley, this was an offense punishable only by a fine of $50 if committed outside of Chicago, and an offense which had been committed at every election by both parties for many years, and which had never been considered a criminal offense and no one had ever been prosecuted for it. Now, let us further assume that the prosecution in this case was prompted by honest motives; then, under all the circumstances, the question would be whether he should in the first instance have been sent to the penitentiary at all or not, and, having been sent there, then whether any possible good can come to the State by his further detention. I say that would have been the question under the assumed circumstances.

Now, let us look at the facts. There were hundreds of Republican challengers over the city at the same election, all of them challenged to the full extent of their inclination, scores of them went as far as Chapman did, yet not one of them was indicted. Two policemen were indicted for interfering with voters at that election, and the evidence against them was so strong that the jury found them guilty and sentenced them to the penitentiary, but it was then discovered that they were Republicans, and the records of the court show that the verdict has been set aside and they are at large. Instead of an attempt to prosecute violators of the law, the whole proceeding seemed to take the form of a partisan prosecution, of one political party using the machinery of justice in an effort to get an advantage over the other political party.


I shall not enumerate all of the facts in the case, but allow me to quote to you what Judge Tuley, who presided over the trial, says of it: "The trial of this case has been the most disagreeable that I have been called upon to preside over. Disagreeable because of the extreme partisanship which the case has developed on both sides. It is like a private litigation or a case of slander for damages. It is the last case in which I will ever permit a special state's attorney or attorneys to appear alone in a prosecution. The speech of the opening counsel for the prosecution was certainly of a very objectionable nature, and I am not prepared to say that had it been the concluding speech I would not have felt compelled on that account to have overturned the verdict. Mr. Forrest did overstep the limit entirely, and I think he would not have done so had he been in the position of the regular state's attorney. For that reason I think hereafter I shall not permit any specially retained attorney to act as state's attorney."

This statement of the judge alone shows that instead of the trial being a public prosecution, it was in the nature of a private, partisan persecution, backed up by large funds of money, worked up by hired detectives, and conducted by specially employed lawyers. Certainly, Mr. Giles, you do not believe that this kind of proceeding is calculated to create respect in the public mind for the law and for its tribunals, and when this is considered in connection with the fact that hundreds of Republicans had done exactly what Chapman did, and that only Democrats were prosecuted, the whole proceeding becomes still more repugnant to every sense of justice.

You say that the mere fact that some Republican scoundrels were not punished is no reason for turning out Democratic scoundrels who were fairly tried and convicted. This is certainly correct. It is the want of fairness that is complained of here. The very essence of justice is fairness. Robbed of this, none will respect it, it must affect all alike, and its method must be alike toward all, and whenever this is not the case then it ceases to be justice, and I believe you will admit that when a practice is once established of indicting several hundred men of one political party and shielding those of the other party, and doing this with the regularity with which the seasons come, as has been the case in Chicago for four or five years, that then the element of fairness is wanting and the machinery of the courts is prostituted, especially when it turns out, as it has in nearly every case in the past, that the indicted men have been discharged because there is no evidence against them.

You ask sarcastically in what month of the year prosecutions of this character might be conducted in order to be free from the charge


of influencing elections. I will say that both the law and the Almighty contemplate that a wrongdoer can be punished any week or event any day of the year, but that no calendar has yet been made by many which has upon it a time in which the machinery of justice can be safely robbed of its high functions and prostituted to partisan purposes.

I do not wish in the least to reflect upon you nor upon any of the honorable men and women connected with your association who had no other ambition than to serve their country and fondly imagined they were doing so, but the outside world noticed that in the rear of these respectable people there were a few unseen hands which were directing detectives and manipulating the whole situation, and which presented such evidence only as they saw fit, to your body, to the committees, to the lawyers and to the court, and these hands would have been powerless if so respectable a body of men and women had not unconsciously lent them their influence.


You say the conditions in our great city of Chicago are deplorable, that there is rottenness, plundering, corruption everywhere. I agree with you. This is foreign to the subject, but as you have introduced it, let me ask, Who caused this rottenness and this corruption? Not the poor, not the great masses of the people. It was the corrupting hand of unscrupulous wealth which, no matter how infamous its work, always wore the glove of respectability. That is to a great extent the source of the corruption which is destroying us. In recent years we have witnessed the remarkable spectacle of seeing men who made great pretensions to respectability bribing the assessors, bribing city councils, corrupting public officers, debauching legislatures, all for personal advantage, and then turning around and contributing money for the prosecution of small offenders; and if you will look over the list of subscribers to the large sum your association raised you will find there the names of some men who are stockholders in various corporations which spent money in Chicago and at Springfield to secure legislation, to defeat legislation, which spent money to corrupt public officials in order to gain an unjust advantage, and which then paid to its stockholders the fruits that were obtained by bribery and corruption.

If your association desires to right some of the great wrongs of the age and to rescue our institutions from destruction, why do you not look occasionally toward the source of the evil?

Let me say in conclusion that it is not the small offenders, and it is


the common people who destroy the institutions of government anywhere but in all countries, in all times, and in all nations it has been the unscrupulous and dishonest rich, and the professional and semi-professional class that courts this favor, who destroyed the institutions of their country. It is the class that clothe robbery with respectability, bribery with pretense, and corruption with patriotism.

Very respectfully,