While Trump fretted because he was not thanked by Jack Johnson for his pardon it nevertheless made me smile when I heard that he had pardoned Johnson who was an interesting guy. His conviction was pretty much based upon the idea he violated the conventions of the day being a black man he consorted with and married white women. After his conviction he fled to France but returned and did his time at Leavenworth for about a year when he was 42-years-old.
His pardon is meaningless. Fair minded people reading about him will recognize his crime was his color and not hold it against him; others, will despite the pardon. Jack’s third wife is quoted as saying: “I loved him because of his courage. He faced the world unafraid. There wasn’t anybody or anything he feared.”
Being that type of guy I’m sure it made one whit of difference to Johnson whether he was pardoned or not. Johnson lived his life as he wanted, suffered the barbs and stings of racism, and the pardon changed nothing. It was done by a man who some believe thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive.
A posthumous pardon has no effect on the subject of the pardon. It may make others somewhat happy or may make it appear to remedy old wrongs in cases that are long forgotten. The problem is that for every one that is done there are thousands of others that are not done. It results in a great unfairness where it demeans all those others wrongfully convicted. It deems them not worthy of one. Not worthy because they have no celebrity to advocate for them.
Did you ever hear of “The Day of the Rope.” It was June 21, 1877. Ten Irish miners were hanged. In all twenty Irish miners would be hanged having been convicted in one trial of murders which occurred during a strike. It was one of the top three mass executions in the United States History.
One that exceeded it was on December 16, 1862, during the Civil War when 38 Sioux were hanged, shown in sketch above, even though originally 303 were sentenced to be hanged. It is said President Lincoln reduced that number reviewing each file. One other mass execution involved blacks. Those groups, blacks, Indians, and Irish were the groups that were in disfavor during 19th Century America.
I mention the Irish miners because they were supposedly members of the Molly Maguires a group that may have existed only in the imagination of the media and the prosecutors. Their trial was before a jury of Protestants, no Catholics like the miners were allowed on the jury, and the prosecutor in their case was the owner of the mines they had struck.
The president of the union Jack Kehoe was pardoned in 1979 by Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp. Why he didn’t pardon the 19 others is a mystery. Kehoe’s pardon served no purpose other than perhaps get the governor some Irish votes. Surely Jack, dead over 100 years, didn’t benefit from it.
I’m sure all remember how the guy in the tank in 1977 pardoned Nicola Sacco and Bartolomew Vanzetti fifty years after their execution. They were anarchists. History has suggested at least one was clearly involved in the murder; the other one may have been. I guess this confirmed Dukakis’s liberal credentials and perhaps was done thinking of a future attempt for the presidency but neither of the subjects who were exonerated felt any gratitude for it.
Speaking of anarchists, out in Chicago there was the Haymarket riot where seven police officers were killed and another sixty wounded when a bomb was tossed into a group of them marching in to break up a meeting of anarchists. Eight admitted anarchists were put on trial even though no one knew who threw the bomb. One committed suicide in prison, four were hanged, and three sentenced to prison. In 1893, Governor John P. Altgeld of Illinois pardoned the three who were in prison after setting forth a lengthy review of the trial showing the improprieties. He did not pardon those who had been hanged even though he believe the trial was a great miscarriage of justice. He apparently thought, like I think, that posthumous pardons make no sense.
How then explain that in 1975, President Gerald Ford granted a posthumous amnesty pardon to Confederate General Robert E. Lee restoring full citizenship rights that had been removed as a result of his military leadership of the Southern secession. I don’t suppose that had anything to do with trying to curry favor with the South.
Or, Bill Clinton’s 1999 pardoning of In 1999, Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American cadet to graduate from West Point who was dishonorably discharged from the army for mishandling $2,400 while a paymaster in 1881 other than his desire to curry favor with the black voters
Or, George Bush’s posthumous pardoning in 2008 of Charles Winter who was convicted of smuggling 3 B-17 bombers to Israel in 1948 in violation of the Neutrality Act of 1939 other than pleasing the Israeli lobby.
The thing is it doesn’t help the dead guy or gal. It doesn’t really change the facts that the person was convicted. It does please some people and point out that in the past there were injustices. The unfairness of it all is that there is no way to remedy all the injustices. Does recognizing some make the others less so? Shouldn’t we keep in mind that “the evil that men do lives after them, the good is of interred with their bones, so let it be . . . . ”