Voltairine de Cleyre, “Justice is Blind” (1891)



Aye, and deaf and dumb in Kansas! For what, save utter deafness to all justice, could lead a judge to so far forget the dignity of authority as to sentence any living being without first asking the question: “Have you anything to say which sentence should not be pronounced against you?” True, the question is often a farce. I venture to say that not once in five hundred times is the sentence altered thereby; but true also we are treading upon dangerous times when judges no longer respect even the form of justice.

You all know, comrades, what a mockery was the trial of the Eight in Chicago. You know that before Capt. Black had opened his lips in their defense they were already hung. But you know that Gary, shameless as he was, did not dare sentence them, before they had spoken. Though he was cruel enough to deny Parsons a brief rest of fifteen minutes, yet he did not shorten his address. That task was left to the hangman. Their speeches went “before the higher court” and ere the grass was green upon their graves, thousands who had cried “crucify” were silent, reading the indictment of Society in the printed words that stood, an everlasting echo of the voices which might never speak again. But this man Phillips has sunk his self-respect to be guilty of the sin of the executioner: To damn his victim to silence while protest yet lay warm behind his lips, unspoken. And upon this man Moses Harman, has again fallen the command, “Hush! Nay, stones shall make you hush.” True, the sentence is not as inhuman as that of Foster; probably on that account the indignation will be less. Yet if it were but for a day, there deserves to be such indignation as would depose from the bench a man who could thus shamelessly disregard the right of the accused to be heard in his own defense.

Oh, the irony of it! To imprison a man to whom the U. S. Marshal can say, “Go about your business! I shall know where to find you when I want you.” As they crucified Christ, who said: “Whom seek ye?” The answered Jesus of Nazareth. And he said I am he. The he asked again “Whom seek ye?” And again they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered: “I am he. If, therefore, ye seek me let these go their way.” “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? Daily I say with you teaching in the temple and ye laid no hold on me.” They crucified this gentle man. Humanity is wont to do so with its saviors.

As they hung Parsons, who of his own free will, walked into court one morning, saying “I am here.” They hung this gentle man. Humanity is wont to do so with its saviors.

So now they imprison Moses Harman, who says “At the appointed hour I shall go back to the felon garb.” And taking the word of this criminal (?) as more than the bonds of a thousand other men, they say: “When I want you I shall know where to find you.”

Ah! Humanity is wont to do so with its saviors!

Justice is dumb. But some day her gagged mouth will be unbound.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Justice is Blind,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 26 (January 31, 1890): 2.


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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.