A Hardened Criminal

A Hardened Criminal  (1892) 
by Samuel Williams Cooper

As it appeared in the Philadelphia Press, this version is copied from Volume IX of the New York periodical "Liberty" in 1892.


“My dear fellow,” said Mr. Convention to his friend, Mr. Law, you may talk about there being too many laws, and the science of individualism until you are tired. You know as well as I do, were it not for our laws, chaos would ensue. All this talk about pitying the poor criminal is bosh; the true remedy for the ills of society is a stricter enforcement of the laws we already have. If I were in control, I would soon show you a better state of things. I would clap everyone in jail who ventured to break the smallest law.”

“But, Con," said his friend, "in a very short time you would have the whole of society locked up. All men are criminals in some way, under the present laws. It is only by the disregard and non-enforcement of them that we are enabled to live in even comparative comfort.. If the laws were executed in all cases of breach, many very people would go to jail for the terms of their natural lives."

"Why, I have never broken any laws, and I am an average citizen. I do not pretend to be better, and I hope I am no worse, than my fellows. I try to live in peace with my neighbors, and to make people around me as happy as I can. It is true, I am not over strict in my views of life, but in that I am like most others. I do just what they do, but it is nonsense to talk about all people being criminals. You, as a lawyer, say that, I fear, as an excuse for your labors in the Court of Quarter Sessions.”

The two men were old friends, and, it being a holiday, Mr. Law had been asked by Mr. Convention to spend the day with him. The discussion had arisen over the breakfast table.

Presently the lawyer leaned over and asked his friend to let him look at the decoration which the latter wore in the buttonhole of his coat. He examined it a moment, and then passed it back.

Sorry. old fellow," he said. “It is very early in the day for a man with your views to get into trouble, you have already committed a crime. The law says that any man who wears a button or badge of the Grand Army without being a member of it commits a misdemeanor and is liable to a fine of $100.

"But this button was my father's, and I wear it as a keepsake. The poor old man was very proud of it".

"Can't help that. The law makes no exceptions".

"Oh, well, you can't call such an act as that a crime. It's nonsense to say so".

"I don't say so; it is the law".

"Well, come down the street with me, will you? I have several things I want to attend to this morning".

The two started out together. When on the street, Con threw down upon the pavement au envelope which he had crumpled up in his hands.

"Don't do that," said his friend, "that is against the laws of the city of Philadelphia. We will have to fine you $5 for that offence.”

“Oh, get out!" Con “I suppose you will tell me the next thing that I have no right to pull down this poster which some scoundrelly billboard fiend has put up on that fence" and he tore from the fence surrounding the lot next to his house a picture of a hideous monster, advertised as being for exhibition.

"Do you own that lot or rent. it? No? Well, then it. will, under the law, cost you exactly $100 to tear down than bill. There is no statute against posting bills and one against tearing them down. You will come in under the latter, which says that any one tearing down any show-bill, placard, programme, poster, or other advertisement on any rail, fence, bill-board, or other structure located on any public highway is guilty of a misdemeanor.

"But it is an outrage to put up such disgusting, morbid pictures. It is enough to corrupt the taste and morals of the whole community.

"Sorry that the law does not distinguish. My dear fellow, you are getting on fast toay. Three laws broken already, and not yet nine o'clock. Where, oh where, will you be by bedtime?"

"Oh such laws! To thunder with the State that lays down such asinine rules."

"Dear, dear! There you have done it. Two at once. You have broken the laws by swearing, and you have made an attempt to disturb the tranquillity of the State, which is sedition. We will say a fine of $200 and two years in jail for that."

At this moment Mr. Convention's large bull dog jumped the fence surrounding his cottage and attacked a setter dog quietly walking beside a young girl who was passying by. She tried to prevent the fight which was imminent, but the dog bit at her savagely, holding her dress in its teeth. Mr. Convention grasped his heavy cane, and, taking the brute by the collar, administered to him a terrible beating. The poor animal howled with pain and finally, being freed, limped away. After the affray was over, Mr. Law laughed.

The sentence of the court,” he   is that on the 

first; indictment - that of su ferocious dog - you puy zx tine of $100 and be imprisoned in the county jail for one year; on the second -that of ‘cruelly beating a domestic animal' puy zx fine of $200 and go down for zu further term of twelve months.”

“I am afraid,” said Con, that, when that lawsuit of mine comes up, the lawyer on the other side may introduce evidence to prove my bad character when I am called as a witness. By the way, there goes Jack Williams now; he is one of their principal witnesses, I understand. I am going to ask him about the case.”

He crossed over the street to speak to Jack. while his friend waited for him. Presently he returned.

guess I  him. He is an old friend of mine, and he really knows nothing about the case. I told him 

he had better tell the other lawyer so. He said he would. We parted great friends, and I asked him to come over to dinner.”

“That lime talk muy cost you $500 line and one year in jail, my dear boy. That is the penalty for ‘dil- slmding a witness from testifying “But he don't know anything!

"That is for the court to decide, not the opposite pany in `the nuit."

Well, all I can my is, you and your laws make me tired.”

“I make them. I swore, when I was adxnìtted to the bnr, that I would enforce them, but then I was mld that law was a rule of action prescribed by a supe- rior power. Now, I think 1 am zx puwur superior to the rules of days of ignorance, or those suxtmes runde by men such as usually compose our legislatures nt the present day. As am indivîdunlist, my laws for myself are the unes I think my oath really referred no. You know there ure two kinds of Onu is the conmmn law, which consists of rules, established upon given by judges centuries ago, in un nge of tion und ignorance, many of thcm uctrrl _y :md even criminal, fr.-:rules for the guidsmce of an enlightened people amid the conditions brought about by gigwntic inventions und the enormous business opemtinns of the present dany.

"While world gcxxvmlly by systmn of evolution und nu ndjustxneut to the umuditîons, our common law requires the jmlgvs, also hy their sol- emn oaths, to decide, not wlmi. fuglxt, to bc the law nnw, but wlmt was the law years ngo. lt. is truc that once in 2. long while the old law so vile :md rv- pugxmut to lnsxnkind tlmt even the judges feel t-hat something must be donc, They then ovvrrule the old vicious ideas of years gone by. Thus craft is no longer

“Thc second kind of bzw is culled statute Luv, und this might not be inappropriately ns inxcnln- mon law. It cnnsists of rules laid by body called the cumposml in vvry large part nf men familiar with the science nf log-rolling and pm- fcssors of iudiviclualîsm, :md will make zr. crime so long als it seems likely to be :L good thing for them. If you have ever had any experience

you will lauow what a very small minority give any careful attention to the question of the rights or wrongs of the subject.” 

" Well, there does seem to be some sense in what you say. Now come into the post office with me; I want to get my mail. I sent to Boston some days ago for two copies of a photograph of "The Fall of Babylon" the celebrated picture which has created such a stir. You have heard of it, no doubt? I expect the photographs by today's mail.”

Mr. Convention took his mail from his box, and went to the desk at the side of the office with his :md opened quite a large package which proved to contain the he had spoken of. The friends together admired the beauty of the work, and then Con placed one of the photos in a new wrapper and mailed it to one of his friends. He also, at the same time, sent a postal card to one of his tenants, asking him to come down and pay his rent.

"You have now," said Mr. Law, " probably committed four of the moet serious offences you will be guilty of today. You have broken the laws of both the United States and this State. The United Status authorities have lately decided that that picture is obscene, and have refused to pass it through the cuswm house. Now, taking an obscene from the mail is punishable by a fine of $500 to $10,000 and imprisonment for one to ten years, and the same penalty is annexed to mailing a copy of it. The State law says that to bit or show any obscene or indecent book, magazine, pamphlet, newspaper, awrypnper, writing, paper, pie- mre, cards, drawing, or photograph may be punished by n of $500 and one year in jail. You are also liable for having mailed the poeta! omi containing 9. dun demand. We will say for these united offences you may be fined $12,000 and put in jail for twenty-two