The execution of the anarchists in Chicago, in November, 1887, was a disgusting exhibition of the gallows. It took ten minutes for some of them to die by strangulation. Nothing could have been more barbaric than this method of hanging human life. I was among the first to publicly propose execution by electricity. Mr. Edison, upon a request from the government, could easily have arranged it. I was particularly horrified with the blunders of the hangman’s methods, because I was in a friend’s office in New York, when the telegraph wires gave instantaneous reports of the executions in Chicago. I made notes of these flashes of death.
“Now the prisoners leave the cells,” said the wire; “now they are ascending the stairs”; “now the rope is being adjusted”; “now the cap is being drawn”; “now they fall.” Had I been there I would probably have felt thankful that I was brought up to obey the law, and could understand the majesty of restraining powers. One of these men was naturally kind and generous, I was told, but was embittered by one who had robbed him of everything; and so he became an enemy to all mankind. One of them got his antipathy for all prosperous people from the fact that his father was a profligate nobleman, and his mother a poor, maltreated, peasant woman. The impulse of anarchy starts high up in society. Chief among our blessings was an American instinct for lawfulness in the midst of lawless temptation. We were often reminded of this supreme advantage as we saw passing into shadowland the robed figure of an upright man.
The death of Judge Greenwood of Brooklyn, in November, 1887, was a reminder of such matters. He had seen the nineteenth century in its youth and in its old age. From first to last, he had been on the right side of all its questions of public welfare. We could, appropriately, hang his portrait in our court rooms and city halls. The artist’s brush would be tame indeed compared with the living, glowing, beaming face of dear old Judge Greenwood in the portrait gallery of my recollections.
The national event of this autumn was President Cleveland’s message to Congress, which put squarely before us the matter of our having a protective tariff. It was the great question of our national problem, and called for oratory and statesmanship to answer it. The whole of Europe was interested in the subject. I advocated free trade as the best understanding of international trading, because I had talked with the leaders of political thought in Europe, and I understood both sides, as far as my capacity could compass them. In America we were frequently compared to the citizens of the French Republic because of our nervous force, our restlessness, but we were more patient. In 1887, the resignation of President Grevy in France re-established this fact. Though an American President becomes offensive to the people, we wait patiently till his four years are out, even if we are not very quiet about it. We are safest when we keep our hands off the Constitution. The demonstration in Paris emphasised our Republican wisdom. Public service is an altar of sacrifice for all who worship there.