United States Supreme Court in Debs Case, June 2, 1895.
Governor, what have you to say on the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the Debs case?
The remanding of Debs to jail is in itself a matter of small consequence compared with the principle established, which is of transcendent importance. This decision marks a turning point in our history, for it establishes a new form of government never before heard of among men, that is government by injunction. Under this procedure a federal judge sitting in a rear room can on motion of some corporation lawyer issue a ukase which he calls an injunction forbidding anything he chooses to and which the law does not forbid. Where the law forbids a thing no injunction is necessary. In other words he can legislate for himself, and having done so can then turn around and arrest and imprison as many people as he pleases; not for violating any law but on the mere pretext that they had disregarded his injunction, and, mark you, they are not tried by a jury according to the forms of law, but the same judge who issued the ukase and who claims that his dignity was offended himself tries the case, and whether anything is proven or nothing is proven he can send men to prison at pleasure and there is no remedy.
The provision of the constitution "That no man shall be deprived of his liberty without a trial by an impartial jury" is practically wiped out by this decision of the United States Supreme Court and the theory that ours was exclusively a government of law is now at an end, for every community is now subject to obey any whim or caprice which any federal judge may promulgate. And if federal judges can do this then it will not be long until State judges will follow this example. The Constitution declares that our government has three departments, the legislative, judicial and executive, and that no one shall trench on the other, but under this new order of things a federal judge becomes at once a legislator, court and executioner.
For over a century our government moved along the lines of the Constitution and we became great and powerful. Life and property were protected and the law was enforced. Now we have made a departure, the bulwark of liberty has been undermined, trial by jury has been stricken down.
You know there were two separate proceedings against Debs. One was according to the established forms of law; he was indicted by a grand jury for acts alleged to have been committed during the strike, and he was regularly tried by a jury and it turned out there was
460absolutely no case against him. Nothing was proven. It is true the jury were not allowed to bring in a verdict because near the end of the trial one of the jurors became ill and the prosecution refused to go on Debs' attorneys offered to proceed with the remaining eleven or to add a new man and proceed, but the railroad lawyer, who also represented the government, feeling that he had no case at all, would not consent, and he thereby prevented a verdict of acquittal and had the case postponed.
The other proceeding was by injunction. A federal judge on motion of some railroad attorneys issued a ukase against the people of all the States in that judicial circuit, in which he forbade nearly everything that the ingenuity of man could think of and which the law did not forbid, and having thus legislated he then turned around and had Debs and others arrested, not for violating any law but for failing to respect his ukase or injunction. And then this judge not only refused to give a jury trial but he himself proceeded to determine whether his own dignity had been offended, and he promptly sent the defendants to prison, the judge being legislator, court and executioner.
Had there been a jury trial the defendants would have been discharged, because it was not proved that they had violated any law. This would have been in harmony with the Constitution, with the law of the land and with eternal justice. But the corporations wanted the Constitution brushed aside, and the federal judge kindly obliged them, and the Supreme Court has now approved his acts.
For a number of years it has been marked that the decisions of the United States courts were nearly always in favor of corporations. Then it was noticed that no man could be appointed to a federal judgeship unless he was satisfactory to those interests. Over a year ago the New York World talked about a packed Supreme Court, and that court has within a few days rendered two decisions which unfortunately tend to confirm this charge. A week ago it did violence to the Constitution and laws of the land by holding that the government had no power to tax the rich of this country. Now it has stricken down trial by jury and has established government by injunction.
Forty years ago the slave power predominated; to-day it is capitalism.
George William Curtis described the slave power of forty years ago as follows: "Slavery sat in the White House and made laws in the capitol; courts of justice were its ministers and legislatures were its lackeys. It silenced the preacher in the pulpit; it muzzled the editor at his desk and the professor in his lecture-room. It set the price upon
461the heads of peaceful citizens; it robbed the mails and denounced the vital principles of the Declaration of Independence as treason. Even in States whose laws did not tolerate slavery it ruled the club and the drawing-room, the factory and the office. It swaggered at the dinner table and scourged with scorn a cowardly society. It tore the golden rule from school books and the pictured benignity of Christ from the prayer book."
Now substitute the word "capitalism" for the word "slavery" and the above is an exact picture of our condition to-day. The American people crushed the slave power, they washed its stain off our flag and saved our institutions. Can they rescue them again? Many say yes, but they have not reflected that the crushing force which now confronts them is greater than was ever the slave power. Besides, slavery itself was sectional and in the end it was possible to unite the rest of the country against it. But the corrupt money power has its withering finger on every pulse in the land and is destroying the rugged manhood and love of liberty which alone can carry a people through a great crisis. What, then, is the situation to-day? for over twenty years foreign and domestic capitalism has dominated. "It sits in the White House and legislates in the capitol. Courts of justice are its ministers and legislatures are its lackeys." And the whole machinery of fashionable society is its handmaid.
Just see what a brood of evils has sprung from the power of capitalism since 1870.
1. The striking down of over one-third of the money of the world, thus crushing the debtor class and paralyzing industry.
2. The growing of that corrupt use of wealth which is undermining our institutions, debauching public officials, shaping legislation and creating judges who do its bidding.
3. Exemption of the rich from taxation.
4. The substitution of government by injunction for government by the Constitution and laws.
5. The striking down of trial by jury.
Never has there been so much patriotic talk as in the last twenty five years and never were there so many influences at work strangling Republican institutions.
JOHN P. ALTGELD.