What lesson is in his
[i.e. Ill. Gov. John Peter Altgeld's
] career for the rest of us? The lesson, it seems to me, that any man who devotes himself to justice and common decency, under democracy, is a very foolish fellowthat the generality of men have no genuine respect for these things, and are always suspicious of the man who upholds them. Their public relations, like their private relations, are marked by the qualities that mark the inferior man at all times and everywhere: cowardice, stupidity and cruelty. They are in favor of whoever is wielding the whip, even when their own hides must bear the blows ... Dog eats dog, world without end.
Source: H. L. Mencken. "From the Files of a Book Reviewer." Prejudices: Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Series
(New York: Literary Classics, 2010). p. 255.
VFPD's Comments: Mencken's point is well-taken but I think, I hope overstated. After all, Altgeld was elected to office repeatedly and it was the mainstream press
—faithful brokers and partners of power—who fed the flames of cowardice, stupidity, and cruelty against Altgeld.
Labels: history, media, politics, United States