Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, January 1948


Notes of the Month

Truman’s Christmas Gift
and Altgeld’s Anniversary


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. :1, January 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Altgeld and Amnesty. There were two events in December which were outwardly unconnected but deserve to be mentioned together. One was the centenary of the birth of John Peter Altgeld on December 30, 1847. At a memorial meeting in Chicago his name was lauded by men who, a half century earlier, would have been among the mob hanging him in effigy (we mean Republican Governor Dwight Green, for example).

For Altgeld was the Illinois governor who in 1893 brought the hell-fire of the bourgeois world down on his head by pardoning three men – three anarchists. These were the victims of the famous Haymarket Affair of 1886; or rather, those three of the frame-up victims who were not hanged like Parsons and August Spies in the lynching spree that followed the explosion of the bomb during the demonstration for the eight-hour day. A year later Altgeld refused to use the National Guard to break the “Debs Rebellion,” the great Pullman strike; President Cleveland had to send in federal troops to do the dirty job. The bourgeoisie has taken forty-six years to forgive him, now that he is quiet and dead.

We are well aware that Altgeld was not the knight in shining armor he has sometimes been depicted, that he knew also how to be a conniving politician and an opportunist. He was, after all, only a liberal bogged down in the sticky business of being a “practical” operator in capitalist politics. But in the light of the second December event we want to mention, his name is a rather honorable one.

President Truman also faced a problem of pardoning men in jail, or men who had been under arrest during the war, for no crime committed: the conscientious objectors of World War II. Just before Christmas, he made known his glad cheer: an amnesty (full pardon) for only 1,523 out of 15,805 cases reviewed. Clemency was extended to religious COs, but the political and non-religious COs were explicitly excluded from the benefaction and their appeal rejected.

On what ground was the distinction made? The President’s committee said: these men have dared to put their own political or social views above the wisdom of the state – impermissible, a bad example. But did not the religious variety also put their own views and interpretations above not only the state but also their own church, which in most cases did not tell them to refuse arms?

As is well known, we do not agree with the futile policy of individual conscientious objection as a means of opposing war, but we are obliged to denounce Truman’s Christmas gift as a piece of detestable hypocrisy and spiteful vengeance (more than two years after the war is safely won for Wall Street, too!). Thanks for nothing, Mr. President!

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 25 June 2017