Profiles In Courage: Governor John M. Slaton

Walter Matthau stars as Governor John M. Slaton.  Slaton had been Governor of Georgia for two non-consecutive terms.  His political career came to a screeching halt in 1915 when he commuted the death sentence of Leo Frank to life imprisonment.


Frank had been convicted of the murder of 13 year old Mary Phagan, a worker in the factory managed by Leo Frank.  The case became a cause celebre,  raising issues of child labor, sex, class differences, anti-Semitism, Frank being Jewish, in short, a perfect storm.  Whether Frank was guilty remains open to question, although the consensus of those who have written about the trial is that Frank was innocent..  What is not open to question is that he was convicted on the basis of insufficient evidence, although he had able counsel.  The trial produced accusations that the defense attempted to bribe jurors.  Rumors abounded that supporters of Frank had written Phagan off as just a factory girl, a rumor that enraged public opinion in Georgia.  Frank’s appeals failed, and Governor Slaton was his last hope.  Slaton was nearing the end of the term, and could have dumped this into the lap of his successor.  Instead, Slaton carefully reviewed the evidence and concluded that he had quite a bit of doubt about Frank’s guilt.  Realizing that he was signing his own political death warrant, Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment.  Ironically it was only a stay of execution, with Frank being lynched by a mob on August 17, 1915, which included prominent people, among them a past governor of Georgia.  Frank met his death with courage, continually repeating his claims of innocence.  The lynching stunned the nation.  None of the members of the lynch mob were ever prosecuted,  Governor Slaton lived until 1955.  He never held elective office again.

Published in: on September 8, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Profiles In Courage: Governor John M. Slaton  
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