“The Burglar’s Friend”

January 30, 1858

Frank Bellew

“The Burglar’s Friend”

Business Scandals; Crime and Punishment; Gubernatorial Administration, John A. King (NY); New York State, Government/Politics;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

The Burglar's Friend. "This here, Sir, is a Petition to the Governor for the pardon of Jim Cutthroat - one of the best Fellows in the World - who had the Misfortune to knock his Wife's Brains out, set Fire to his House, and burn up his two Babies. All done, Sir, in a moment of ungovernable Passion, for which a Poor Fellow oughtn't to be held responsible. I hope you'll sign it, Sir. We've got the names of Eight eminent Merchants, Sixteen leading Lawyers, and Ten Wall Street Operators. See here!"

Moral Merchant. "Ah! I see. Poor Fellow dashed his Wife's Brains out, eh? Burnt up his two babies! Poor Fellow! Well, I suppose I must Sign it." [Signs his name.

This Harper’s Weekly cartoon by Frank Bellew ridicules businessmen who naïvely support gubernatorial pardons of criminals.

During 1858, Harper’s Weekly joined other New York City newspapers in denouncing Governor John A. King’s pardon of convicted felons accused of rape and murder. The journal declared that there was a crime wave in the city, which in recent days had produced an average of one murder per day. They pinpointed the causes to be inadequate criminal laws, inept police enforcement, lenient judges, juries sympathetic to the accused, and the governor’s indiscreet use of his pardoning power.

Harper’s Weekly opined that, “if, after all, the criminal should be convicted, a weak or ignorant Governor is sure to commute his sentence, or to pardon him altogether.” It further observed that “hardly any of the sentences pronounced are faithfully executed.” Sentences of 10 years, see three years served; sentences of five, bring one or two years in jail; and, a sentence of a year, means that the convict will barely have time to make the acquaintance of the guards. Governor King, the journal concluded, “defeats the ends of justice.”

What Harper’s Weekly found particularly troubling were Governor King’s pardon of men convicted of rape and murder: in one case, the gang rape and murder of an elderly woman; in another, the rape and murder of an immigrant girl. In the face of intense criticism, the governor apologized, through his private secretary, for commuting the sentence of the main perpetrator of the gang rape-murder. He justified his original action partly on the convict’s young age of sixteen. Harper’s Weekly dismissed the apology as an act of cowardice in the wake of an injustice, and criticized the governor’s sentimentality. “The boys of this century are not by any means like the boys of 1758.”

This cartoon tones down the crime to burglary, but reflects the paper’s editorial condemnation of the gubernatorial pardons, the alleged leniency of the criminal justice system, and the mawkish gullibility which they believe bolsters it.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Burglar’s Friend”
June 17, 2024

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