Harper's Weekly—August 18, 1877

THE State and city of New York have made a most creditable appearance throughout the late troubles, and there are three persons who are to be especially commended for that fact. Undoubtedly, as we have said elsewhere, the general healthy public sentiment and the very efficient militia system of the State greatly contributed to the good result; but Governor ROBINSON, Mayor ELY, and President SMITH, of the city Police Commission, were in a position to promote or to frustrate the efficiency of those forces. Upon the whole, and without asserting any general rule, the permission for the Tompkins Square Meeting was not injudicious. It was, indeed, considered so doubtful that it instantly aroused all good citizens to be prepared for the worst. But the authorities evidently knew their men. Had the permission been granted from fear of the consequences of refusal, or from any kind of sympathy with anarchy, or from ignorance of the situation, it would have been culpable in the highest degree. But there was no political or sectarian issue involved. It was a simple question between order and chaos; and if, with its brave and admirable police and its thoroughly trained militia in perfect readiness, and its intelligent sentiment of all creeds and parties heartily united, the authorities of the city had forbidden the meeting, the prohibition, as a sign of doubt, would have increased the public alarm and disorder. It was, upon the whole, a risk wisely taken, and certainly justified by the event.

Of course, however, nothing is more false and contemptible than the assertion that "the people" have a right to hold such a meeting. A mob is not the people. A few hundreds or thousands of persons have no right whatever to hold any meeting which depends upon a discretion that the whole people have intrusted to their representatives. There is nothing more despicable in a time of public disorder than the cringing fear which in newspapers or in conversation calls a mob the people. The draft riots in New York, which were as cruel and mean an outbreak as ever took place, were called by their abettors a protest of the people, and the burning of orphan asylums and the wanton torture of innocent men and children, the mad orgies of murder and arson, were daintily described as acts of the people. It is a disposition always latent; and if at a doubtful time professional thieves and assassins should demand the, use of a public square to hold a meeting, this spirit would insist that "the people" had a right of peaceable assembly. It is not those who steal and burn and murder, it is those who, under the. law, knock thieves on the head and who summarily shoot incendiaries and murderers, who are truly the people.

Governor ROBINSON'S early summons of the Brooklyn regiment, and his prompt calling the entire National Guard of the State under arms, were the acts of a magistrate who wished to save bloodshed, to keep order, and to protect the rights of all citizens. For his own honor and for the welfare of the State, we wish that the Governor would ponder the tone of the organ of Tammany Hall during the disturbance, and consider whether it was the tone of an influence which ought to control Executive action in New York. The happy concert of the Governor, the Mayor, and the Police President is equally creditable to each. They have shown once more that harmony, courage, vigor, and promptness in opposing lawful to unlawful force is the policy of humanity and patriotism. The Metropolitan Police, also, which has never flinched in a great crisis, and the New York National Guard, the flower of American citizen soldiery, have by their attitude and conduct earned the grateful respect of all good citizens every where in the country.

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