Pictures and Illustrations.
Office Holders Moral Cowards.
Judge John P. Altgeld passed his last day upon the Superior Court bench of Cook county to-day. He came down at 10:30 and found but one litigant in his court, a lawyer's clerk, who wanted some unimportant motion entered of record. The dockets were cleared up and at 11 o'clock the well-known jurist and able lawyer was ready to lay aside the honors and duties of the judgeship. To a reporter for the Evening Post, Judge Altgeld talked freely upon a number of important topics appertaining directly and indirectly to the high office which he was about to vacate.
"Do you expect to resume the practice of law?"
"After a while I expect to resume my law practice to some extent."
"Will you in future take part in politics?"
"I do not expect to take any more interest in politics than any ordinary citizen."
"Is there any truth in the statement that you are a candidate for the office of Governor?"
"No. I am not a candidate for any office."
"Suppose you were tendered the nomination, would you accept it?"
"That is an idle supposition. There is going to be a scramble next year for the nomination for Governor. I do not want to be Governor and naturally do not wish to enter a scramble for something I do not want. Understand me, I am not declining something that has not been offered and that is not within reach. I believe in the private individual. It is the successful private individual who is the important factor in American society — the man who has convictions and who dares to express them. The whole officeholding class is getting to be a cowardly hanging on class, which always is careful to see how the wind blows before daring to either have or express an opinion, and the result is it is a negative class. They do not lead in public opinion or in the formation of a public sentiment on any question. We have in this country now forty odd Governors, and it would be difficult for any man to point out wherein the whole forty had, for ten years, done anything of an enduring character for their country, or for the progress of civilization. We have several hundred Congressmen, we have legislators without number, we count even our judges by the hundred, and taking the whole officeholding class together, it is difficult to point out wherein it does anything that can be
339regarded as raising the standard of public morals, creating a healthy public sentiment, or solving in a proper manner any of the great questions both economic and social, that are calling for solution. On the contrary, the whole officeholding fraternity simply follows the public band wagon. The really influential men in America are, I repeat, the successful private individuals — positive men, earnest, conscientious, thorough-going men. Take successful business men, successful manufacturers, leading railroad men, lawyers, physicians, and even preachers, when they have sufficient independence to develop any individuality — these are the men who mold public opinion and whose favor and support is sought by the politicians, and who, in the end, secure legislation and shape the policy of the country, using the officeholding classes simply as instruments by which to carry out a purpose. While politics has a strong fascination for me, just as gambling has for some men, and I have, consequently, at different times taken part in politics, yet I have always felt that I would be a great deal better off and could do more for my country if I would let politics alone."
"Have you, then, no future policy in regard to political life?"
"What are your views on the question of the salaries paid the judges of Cook county? Several lawyers, including some judges, have said the "salary paid was not high enough to have secured the best men for the bench?"
"I have always regarded the salary paid the judges in Cook county as not only ample, but exceedingly liberal, and the truth is that there are very few men on the bench here who ever made as much practicing law as they are making as judges. High salary does not secure the highest order of judges. New York City pays almost fancy salaries to its local judges, and the bench there will not compare favorably with the bench in other cities where the salary is very low. The truth is, that when the salary is made very high the office becomes a plum which is scrambled for by the politicians, and the abler lawyers and modest men decline to enter into the contest. There are many very able lawyers at our bar who would be glad to serve the public on the bench for even a much lower salary than is now paid, provided they could get the positions without a political scramble.
"Further, outside of Chicago the judges get only one-half what is paid here; they have to work the whole year, and as a matter of fact, do much more business during the year than Chicago judges do, for they frequently open court at 8 o'clock in the morning and run
340until 9 o'clock at night, and it is claimed by lawyers who practice throughout the State, as well as in Chicago, that the bench in the country is much abler than in Chicago. Being still on the bench myself," added the Judge, with a smile, "I can talk with a little more freedom on this subject than I otherwise could.
"The people of Chicago will have no trouble in getting plenty of good men to serve them as judges, and in my opinion they will get a higher order of talent and get more painstaking and conscientious men, if the salary of judges is not increased, than if it is increased."
"Have you any ideas as to how the judgeships could be taken out of the ordinary scramble and swirl of politics?" was asked.
"I do not believe in taking the election of judges out of the hands of the people," answered Judge Altgeld, after a minute's meditation.
"The people can be trusted in the long run to discriminate in this regard and select pretty good men. I do not believe in a few committeemen sitting in a back room and determining who shall and who shall not occupy a position on the bench, and while it is desirable that the bench shall be non-partisan, I question whether the attempt to have a few men select judges and divide them between the parties, will, in the end, prove satisfactory. I would leave it in the hands of the people, as it has been, but I would not convert the office into such a fat plum that it would be sought after by any other class of men than those, who, from the very highest motives, are willing to serve the public as judges, without reference to any extraordinary moneyed compensation, and, I will repeat, there are many men, who have long been an ornament to the Chicago bar, and who would be an honor to the bench, who would serve for even a much smaller salary than is now paid, if they were not elbowed out of the way by politicians."