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Man’s Gust For Gore
by [?]

Hon. Chas. P. Johnson has written for the Globe-Democrat an article that will doubtless receive the careful consideration of every sociologist, for he therein assumes that man’s instincts are as brutal and bloody to-day as in those far times when, clad only in his “thick natural fell,” and armed with a stone, he struggled for food with the wild beasts of the forest–that the prevalence of lynchings is not due to incompetency of our criminal courts, but to an alarming revival of savagery in man himself. He declares that our courts are more effective than ever before, but that Judge Lynch continues active without other cause than the inability of the people to restrain their murderous proclivities. He assures us that the entire suppression of the savage instinct is impossible by any civilization whatever, and adds that “its control and regulation is as difficult to-day as it has been at any period since the historical birth of man.” Why this is so he does not directly say, but the following paragraph is significant:

“Perhaps the statesmanship which looks solely to the development of our material resources and the accumulation of wealth is overlooking the growth and development of many social vices which may yet engulf us in a vortex of anarchical passion or governmental revolution.”

Thus Mr. Johnson endorses the position of the ICONOCLAST that the getting of gain should not constitute the sole aim of man; that society cannot long exist with self- interest for “sole nexus,” as the French physiocrats would say–that the worship of Mammon is dragging us back to barbarism. It is quite true that man’s savage instincts cannot be wholly eradicated; and it is likewise true that could you drain all the Berserker out of his blood he would sink to the level of an emasculated simian. A man in whom there’s no latent savagery were equivalent to mint julep in which buttermilk were used as a succedaneum for bourbon. Life, we are told, is “a battle and a march,” and an indispensable prerequisite for such stubborn work, call it by what name you will, is but a refinement of the barbaric gust for blood. Whether he be poet or philosopher, priest or prophet, it is the combative man–the man who would find a wild fierce joy in a bayonet charge–who wins new territory from the powers of Darkness and the Devil. Man IS a savage, and civilization but a cloak with which he covers his ferocity as best he can. If the cloak be scant–as with the Turk–or frayed by time–as with the Spaniard–we may expect to catch frequent and shocking glimpses of the predacious animal. But Mr. Johnson is mistaken in supposing that the lynchings of which he complains evidence an abnormal thirst for blood on the part of the American people. He says:

“As the masses of ancient Rome enjoyed the carnage of the amphi-theater; as the populace of Paris crowded with eager avidity around the guillotine to see the blood gush from the heads and trunks of the victims of the revolutionary tribunal; as the Spaniard in holiday attire followed over the plaza the procession and rapturously looked upon the execution of the wretches of the auto da fe; as in all ages the spirit of savagery has made men to enjoy scenes of suffering, brutality and death–so does the modern mob look with frenzied delight upon like exhibitions to-day.”

For a man so erudite and earnest, Mr. Johnson comes painfully near being ridiculous. The evidence is ample that never since the first settlement of this country have the people found LESS pleasure in the effusion of blood and scenes of brutality. Instead of the savage instinct becoming dominant, we are fairly open to the charge of effeminacy, of super-estheticism. Our very sports are becoming namby pamby as those of the Bengalese, the element of danger which gave zest to them in auld lang syne being all but eliminated. Bear-baiting, cocking- mains, shin-kicking, bulldog-fighting, etc., all greatly enjoyed by the general public a generation or so ago, are now quite generally tabood. Many of us can remember when pugilism was practiced with bare-knuckles and every fight to a finish; it is practiced now with feather pillows “for points,” and under police supervision. About the only game left us that is more dangerous than playing Presbyterian billards with an old maid from Boston is college football, and even that will soon be stripped of its vigor on the plea that it is barbarous. When our fathers quarreled they took a pot-shot at each other at ten paces; now disagreements involving even family honor are carried into the courts–the bloody Code Duello has been relegated to “innocuous desuetude.” Texas is supposed by our Northern neighbors to be the “wurst ever,” the most bloodthirsty place this side the Ottoman Empire; yet the Houston Post, leading paper of Harris county, is crying its poor self sick because some peripatetic Ananias intimated to an Eastern reporter that our wildest and wooliest cowboys would even think of shooting the pigtail off a Chinaman bowling along on a bike. Our governor earned the title of “heroic young Christian” by calling a special session of the legislature to prevent Prof. Fitzsimmons giving it to Prof. Corbett “in de slats” with a buggy cushion–was re-elected on the proposition that a boxing- match is “brutal”–which proves that our people are not ahunger and athirst for gore, do not yearn for the sickening scenes of the Roman amphitheatre, where holy virgins by turning their thumbs up or down, decided questions of life and death. “Bloodthirsty?” Good Lord! The average American would grow sick at the stomach if required to slaughter a pullet with which to regale the palate of his favorite preacher. During the past two decades we have practically become Quakers, and now suffer foreign powers to vent their rheum upon us and rub it in, because to maintain our dignity might precipitate a war, and bloodshed is so very brutal. Mr. Johnson seems to imagine that the usual method of procedure in Judge Lynch’s court is for the mob to trample its victim to death, bray him in a mortar, kerosene him and set him on fire, then dance the carmagnole around his flaming carcass. This, I am pleased to remark, is simply a mid-day nightmare which should be subjected to hydropathic treatment, reinforced with cracked ice and bromo-seltzer. As a rule lynchings are conducted in quite as orderly and humane a manner as legal esecutions. It is true that cases have occurred, when the public patience had become exhausted by repeated offenses, or the crime committed was peculiarly atrocious, wherein respectable God-fearing men were seized with a murderous frenzy, and whole communities noted for their culture, united in torturing or burning at the state the object of their displeasure; but these were usually instances where failure to enforce the law was notorious, or it did not provide an adequate penalty. The courts imprison the man who steals a mule, or even a loaf of bread to feed a starving family. They hang the man who in a fit of rage of jealousy or drunken frenzy commits a homicide: they can do no more to the brutal buck negro who ravishes and murders a white babe–so Judge Lynch takes cognizance of his case and builds for him a beautiful bonfire; but the average lynching appeals no more strongly to the savage instincts of man than does a hanging by the sheriff. Then, it may be asked, why do lynchings occur. I have treated this subject at considerable length in former issues of the ICONOCLAST, hence will but recapitulate here and add a few observations suggested by Mr. Johnson’s very able but sadly mistaken article. Lynchings occur because, whatsoever be the efficiency of our courts, they are a trifle shy of public confidence; because there are some offenses for which the statutes do not provide adequate penalties; because the people insist that when a heinous crime is committed punishment follow fast upon the offense instead of being delayed by a costly circumlocution office and perhaps altogether defeated by skillful attorneys–men ready to put their eloquence and tears on tap in the interest of worse criminals. I will not take
issue with so distinguished an authority as Mr. Johnson regarding the competency of our courts to deal with criminals in accordance with the laws of the land; but the people see that despite the vigilance of officers, the erudition of judges and the industries of juries, murders multiply, rapes increase and portable property remains at the mercy of the marauder. If my memory of statistics does not mislead me, we have in the United States something like 10,000 homicides per annum, while every newspaper teems with accounts of robbery and rape. When we consider this in connection with the further fact that the courts continue to increase in cost–are already a veritable Old Man of the Sea about the neck of the Industrial Sinbad–can we wonder at the impatience of the people? But there is another feature which Mr. Johnson has quite overlooked in his vision of a brutal mob drunk with blood–like most lawyers, he stands too close to his subject to see more than one side, views it from beneath rather than from above. We set a higher value on human life than did our ancestors of the old dueling days. This may be called the Age of Woman–the era of her apothesis. She occupies a higher intellectual, social and political level than ever before in human history, and as she increases in importance crimes against her person assume more gravity. A generation ago such a thing as the criminal assault of a white woman by a negro was almost unknown, but now it is of every day occurrence; thus as womanhood becomes more sacred in our eyes it is subjected to fouler insult. Nor is this all: The American people are becoming every year more mercurial. The whole trend of our civilization–of our education, our business, even our religion–is to make us neurotic, excitable, impatient. In our cooler moments we enact laws expressive of mistaken mercy rather than of unflinching justice. Some of the states have even abolished capital punishment and in but one can a brute be tied up and whipped for the cowardly crime of wife-beating. We establish courts rather to acquit than to convict by disqualifying intelligence for jury service and enforcing the stupid unit rule. We provide convicts with comforts unknown to millions of honest working men and regard them as poor unfortunates to be “reformed rather than as malefactors to be punished. And when our misguided mercy has borne its legitimate fruit we take fire, curse the laws and the courts, seize and hang the offender, and have the satisfaction of knowing that there’s one less monster alive in the land. Mr. Johnson suggests no remedy for what he regards as the evil of the age, and is therefore like unto the doctor who volunteers the entirely superfluous information that you “have a misery in your innards,” but provides neither pill nor poultice. As Judge Lynch probably makes fewer mistakes than do the courts; as those he hangs usually deserve hemp and he renders no bill of costs to the country; and as the people are the creators and not the creatures of the courts, I am not particularly interested in his suppression, notwithstanding the fact that he seriously interferes with the material welfare of the professional juror and my lawyer friends. But were I duly ordained to perform that duty I would not begin by creating new deputies or calling out local militia companies to shoot down their neighbors and friends, to protect the miserable carcass of a rape-fiend. I would wipe out our entire penal code and frame a new one in which there would be no comfortable penitentiaries. If a man were found guilty of rape or homicide I’d promptly hang him, if of a less heinous offense I’d give him stripes proportionate to his crime and turn him loose to earn a livelihood and thus prevent his family becoming a public burden. For the second offense in crimes like forgery, perjury, theft, arson, etc., I’d resort to the rope. I would abolish fines in misdemeanor cases, thereby putting the rich and poor on a parity, and set the offenders in the stocks. I’d get rid of the costly delays which are the chief cause of lynchings, by elective jurors and the majority rule, by appointing one man well learned in the law to see that all the evidence was properly placed before the court, and advise the rest of the legal fraternity now making heaven and earth resound with their eloquence and weeping crocodile tears at so much per wope, that it were better to make two fat shoats flourish where one hazel- splitter pined in the hitherto, than to employ their talents and energies securing the conviction of the innocent and the aquittal of the guilty. By such a system almost any criminal case could be fairly tried in a couple of hours. If the defendant desired to appeal from the sentence of the court, instead of sending the case up to a higher tribunal thereby entailing heavy cost and vexatious delay, I would empanel a new jury then and there, composed of reputable citizens of the community, retry the case, and if the first verdict was confirmed, the sentence should be executed within the hour. The quicker the courts “get action” on an offender the more terror they inspire in the criminal classes and the better they please the people. If a murderer or rape-fiend captured at daylight could be fairly tried and executed by sundown Judge Lynch would speedily find himself without an occupation.