Michael Ceraolo, poet [photo by Jesus Crisis]

John Peter Altgeld
“Government must defend itself; 
life and property must be protected, 
and law and order must be maintained; 
murder must be punished, 
if the defendants are guilty of murder, 
either committed by their own hands 
or by some one else acting on their advice, 
then if they have had a fair trial, 
there should be in this case no executive interference” 
Pretty much the words one would expect 
from a tycoon who spent $100,000 
of his own money on the campaign 
that elected him Governor of Illinois; 
he would be another in the line of elected officials 
who had done and would do nothing 
for the remaining three inmates 
convicted in the Haymarket case 
(George Bernard Shaw on some of those officials: 
“If seven men must die for the Haymarket explosion, 
civilization can better afford to lose 
the seven members of the Illinois Supreme Court”) 
this official was John Peter Altgeld: 
“no man has the right to allow his ambition 
to stand in the way of the performance 
of a simple act of justice” 
never even thought by Kennedy) 
“If I decide they are innocent 
I will pardon them if I never hold office another day” 
And so: 
                “The record of the trial 
shows that the jury in this case was not drawn 
in the manner juries usually are drawn” 
that bailiff Henry Ryce had been appointed 
as a special bailiff to summon prospective jurors, 
that Ryce had successfully impaneled 
“a prejudiced jury which he believed would hang the defendants” 
and findings of fact: 
the State proves from whose hand the bomb came, 
it is impossible to show any connection 
between the man who threw it and these defendants” 
“It is further shown here  
that much of the evidence given at trial 
was a pure fabrication; 
some of the prominent police officials in their zeal, 
not only terrorized ignorant men by throwing them into prison 
and threatening them with torture 
if they refused to swear to anything desired, 
that they offered money and employment 
to those who would consent to do this” 
And thus: 
“I am convinced that it is clearly my duty 
to act in this case for the reasons already given, 
and I, 
                         grant an absolute pardon to 
Samuel Fieldin, 
                        Oscar Neebe, 
                                               and Michael Schwab 
this 26th day of June,1893″ 
then the attacks began, 
those stern guardians of right and wrong, 
                                                             the press, 
having little to do with the substance of the message: 
“an alien himself” 
“does not reason like an American, 
does not feel like one, 
sp;          and 
consequently does not behave like one” 
“has encouraged anarchy, rapine and 
the overthrow of civilizations” 
for those who think nastiness and name-calling 
are recent phenomena in politics, 
                                                 these statements 
from the re-election campaign in 1896, 
by a future President 
(who will remain deservedly nameless in this poem), 
Altgeld was: 
“one who would connive at wholesale murder” 
a man who 
                   “would substitute 
for the government of Washington and Lincoln 
a red welter of lawlessness and dishonesty 
as fantastic and vicious as the Paris Commune: 
(red-baiting never goes out of style, 
such attacks worked, 
as they usually do: 
Altgeld was defeated, 
                                 his courage  
not rewarded in the short run, 
in constant danger of being forgotten 
in the long run

* * * * *
This poem comes from Michael Ceraolo’s work-in-progress Profiles in Courage: An Alternate Array.  We also recommend these Michael Ceraolo poetry collections:
Euclid Creek – available from
Deep Cleveland Books
Cleveland Scores Early – from Kendra Steiner Editions
Cleveland Haiku – from Green Panda Press