Pegler Sees Merits in Lynch Law Because Pardon is Impossible

Westbrook Pegler

Davenport Democrat/December 13, 1933


Refuses to Get Worked Up by Storm of Right-Mindedness


New York, Dec. 13, As one member of the rabble I will admit that I said “Fine, that is swell” when papers came out that recent day, telling of the lynching that killed the young fellow in California, and that I haven’t changed my mind yet for all the storm of right-mindedness which has blown up since. I know how storms of Pegler right-mindedness are made. The city editor calls a fellow over and tells him to call up a lot of names on the office right-mindedness list and get about a column of expressions of horror and indignation. There are various standard lists in all shops. One is the list to be called up when some police captain in Boston bars some dirty book from public sale. This one includes a lot of one-book novelists who will say that the Boston police captain undoubtedly is just an ignorant cop who ought to be out shooting hoodlums. There is another group to be called up for expressions on the restlessness of modern youth when some young girl falls out the window of a penthouse. There are a feminism list, a nudist list, and is jazz-music? list and so forth. Well the city editor tells the fellow to get about a column of horror and indignation over the lynching and he goes into the phone booth and comes out half-an-hour later with a piece of copy-paper all scratched up with chicken-track notes. He has nailed the president of the university, the head of the local bar association, a couple of publicity-crazy judges, the governor, the head man of the local crime committee and several prominent ladies who go in for right-mindedness in a grim way.

Then the Cartoon

Then the editorial page cartoonist, if there is one, draws a picture of a robust female in a loose whopper with her head bowed and a broken sword in one hand and an apothecary’s scale, with the chains all tangled up, in the other, or if there isn’t a cartoonist in the house, a drawing drops in by airmail from the big syndicate. Now the storm of right-mindedness is gathered together in the forms and a little while later it begins breaking over the community. But all the time the two men who kidnapped the young fellow and took him out on a bridge where they knocked him on the head with a concrete block and threw him into the water are permanently dead. They did it and they got theirs and however hard the storm or right-mindedness may blow one certain thing is that no lawyer is ever going to get them loose on a habeas corpus or a writ of error based on the fact that some stenographer, in typing the indictment, hit a comma instead of a semicolon. Neither is any Len Small, come to the Governor’s office ten or fifteen years later, going to turn them loose in payment for some service which some hoodlum politician performed for him in the last election or might perform in the next. Not even Ma Ferguson can pardon a corpse.

A Protective Business

The fine theory of all expressions of horror and indignation is that punishment is not supposed to be vengeance but a protective business whereas the rabble which constitutes by far the greatest element of the population wants to make the murderer suffer as the victim or his family did. And, though they would be willing to let the law do it for them if the law could be relied upon, they know too what lawyers will do when they get a chance to invoke a lot of legal technicalities which were written and passed by lawyers to provide lawyers with opportunities to make money. I claim authority to speak for the rabble because I am a member of the rabble in good standing and I claim to know how lawyers work because I have worked around the courts In the newspaper business long enough to observe that there never is a criminal so vile but that his lawyer, under the pretext of obedience to his duty and by virtue of a lawyer’s law, enacted to help lawyers cheat other lawyers, will try to get him loose.

I have talked this over with several men who took part In the preparation of the recent storm of right mindedness over the California lynching and every one of them said that he, and his wife, both, said “Fine, that’s swell” or words to that effect when they first heard the news. But they distinguish between their private, personal feelings and opinions in the matter as spiritual members of the rabble, arid their public actions and utterances as members of the right-minded element. Having no public position, myself, I can be consistent.

Innocent Also Murdered

I am aware, too, that the purity of the California lynching was fouled up by the indorsement of a low-grade politician who happened to occupy the Governor’s office and who should have kept still. I am told, also, that there have been four other lynchings since those and that the statement of the Governor of California probably acted as an incitation in these cases. These lynchings will be matters of horror to the right-minded group, the more so if there happened to be an innocent man among them. But in the same period of time since the California case there will have been probably 50 murders in the country and the victims will include quite a few innocent, men and women too. I would pay more attention to storms of right-mindedness if they ever blew against the attorneys at law who argue and plead that one-to-ten years is a fair price for good man’s life and play dirty tricks on the law to cheat the rabble of even that little if they can.


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