Parker's Address to Petit Jury at close of August Term 1895
This speech was delivered to the members of the petit jury at the end of the August term of court in 1895. The significant role of the jury in the legal process was stressed by the Judge.
Gentlemen, we have been together as a court and as jurymen for over two months. I think it appropriate before discharging you from service as jurymen of this court that I should remind you that one of the greatest propositions confronting us is, whether with our institutions the men of crime can be held in check by the law enforced in the courts by the jurors thereof so the peaceable and law-abiding citizens of the land can have protection for every right, especially the right of life. Our laws are ample for this purpose, if executed. If the terror of certain punishment is held before the criminal minded they will not commit deliberate crimes. We are living in an age when from ignorance of conditions, imbecility in some cases, and in others a desire to cater to a diseased public sentiment, many people, and many courts even, have become practically useless in the enforcement of the criminal laws of the land. This we see almost everywhere. We see so often the spectacle of the people losing confidence in the courts and resorting to mob violence to punish the man of crime. This is a condition that every good man must deplore and combat until certainty of enforcing the laws of the land is secured, for this is necessary for the safety of the people.
Gentlemen, without any desire to flatter you, but speaking the words of truth and soberness, I say to you that at this term of court, by your action in the trial of these great cases of crime, you have nobly performed the great duties which rest on American citizens acting as jurors, and you have not only done your duty faithfully and well, but you have wrought much to secure civilization to the Indian country. You have taught an object lesson that may be well observed by all persons in every part of the land. I want to remind you that for twenty years and over this court, by its officers and juries, has labored to suppress crime in the Indian country by the arrest, trial and conviction of criminals. The jurors have been citizens of Arkansas. The enforcement of the law has been vigorous, impartial, just and most effective. I say it without fear of contradiction that no court in all America has done so much to uphold the laws of this land, to protect the innocent by the punishment of the guilty, as has this court. It has done more than all agencies besides to make civilization possible in the Indian country. It has done more to destroy the power of murderers and bandits in that country than all agencies combined, it has destroyed them. Gang after gang has been captured and by the juries of this court have been brought to merited punishment. No court can be found where certainty of arrest and surety of punishment exists as it does here. This has been going on for all these long years. The court and its officers and jurors should be commended for this unflagging and unfaltering course, which has brought such grand results. Yet in this great battle between law, order and civilization on one side, and dark and bloody crimes on the other, many have been found to slander and abuse the court. There are those who, without intending it, and without knowing it even, by insidious influences have been carried to the side of the men of blood, and used unwittingly to aid in the escape from justice of criminals. This is sad, but true.
To my mind the terrible mistake has been made of taking away the jurisdiction of this court over high crimes committed in the Indian country. It has been brought about, in my opinion, by a mistake of facts. This change of jurisdiction at this time, when we consider the public interests, is a grave mistake. That country until its autonomy is changed to statehood, for the safety of its innocent and unoffending people, for the protection of the Indians who have rights in that country, needs to have extended over it the strong arm of this court. These Indian people have been largely aided in their preparations for statehood by the action of this court, by its officers and jurors. They have been taught by example to rely upon that great handmaiden of civilization - law, because its mission is peace and order. The railroads and other great public interests in the Indian country need the strong arm of this court to afford them that security necessary to protect them in the transaction of their business against bandits and outlaws. They all need this court, whose jurors can act without fear, favor or affection.
Gentlemen, you have at this term of court done your duty faithfully, honestly, ably, and justly. From your body have been chosen juries devoted to duty, above all improper influences, governed alone by the law of the land and the truth as they saw it. By your work you have left a record for honor, integrity and ability which reflects upon you the greatest credit. You, by this action in the line of duty at this court, have taught an object lesson of the highest benefit to the whole country. You have shown that the highest and the lowest before you stand on the same ground.
Gentlemen, in the name of the law, and in behalf of the government and the officers of this court, I most sincerely thank you for the fearless and impartial discharge of duty by you. Give me such jurymen as you have proven yourselves to be, and such executive officers to make arrests as we have here, and the necessity of mob law must disappear, crime driven to cover and largely suppressed. I shall ever remember this jury as one of the most able, most honest and most just that has ever been in this court.
In bidding some of you goodbye, I say, may God bless and protect you and yours.
Reported in the Fort Smith Elevator, October 18, 1895
Did You Know?
The conditions at the federal jail at Fort Smith were so horrible that it received the nickname "Hell on the Border." Up to 50 men were crowded into one large cell with limited ventilation and poor sanitary conditions.