Lynch Law from the Bench. –
The Chicago Tribune narrates the particulars of a great excitement at Oregon, Ogle county, Illinois. Several men belonging to a gang of horse thieves in the neighborhood had been arrested. During the session of the court, and, probably with a view to the rescue of the prisoners, fire was communicated to the court house near which stood the jail. The court house was consumed; the jail with some difficulty was preserved from the flames, and the prisoners were kept secure.
The town was in great excitement, rumors being circulated that the confederates of the prisoners were resolved to assail the persons and property of all concerned in prosecuting the accused felons.
Judge Ford who presided at the trial, having disposed of the case of the prisoners, took occasion to say — ‘that hitherto he had acted as a magistrate upon the bench, as impartially and justly to all, as he could, but would take that opportunity to allude to threats which had been made out of doors. It had been threatened that violence would be visited upon the persons or property of all concerned in prosecuting the prisoners, including the Judge who had presided at their trials.
If any persons concerned in uttering such threats were there present, he would take that opportunity of admonishing them, that the moral portion of the community was at least well organized to protect themselves and the laws, and that no such demonstrations of vengeance of the fate of the convicted felons should pass without condign punishment. For himself, his official station would now compel him to leave his home in order to discharge his duties on the Circuit; and he would be obliged to leave his family and his property in their midst, without the presence of their natural protector.
But he then gave notice, that — if in his absence, his family or property should be assailed in pursuance of the threats already made — he would, upon his return, place himself at the head of his friends, pursue the offenders wherever they might retreat, and — judge or no judge, law or no law — hang them summarily upon the nearest tree.’
The Tribune, with great propriety, comments upon the foregoing singular address as follows:
We should greatly lament such a declaration from any source; we can find no words to express our mortification and indignation at hearing them from the bench. We can well appreciate the excitement of feeling, which under the circumstances led so discreet a man as Judge Ford to utter a threat so sacrilegious, but excitement can, in an case, furnish only an excuse, not a justification.
The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) May 3, 1841
You can read more about Judge Ford HERE:
The Regulators and the Prairie Bandits:
Vigilante Justice in the Rock River Valley
Herbert S. Channick
And in the following book:
Papers in Illinois History and Transactions
Illinois State Historical Society, 1913
Governor Thomas Ford in Ogle County
By Mrs. Rebecca H. Kauffman, Oregon Ill. (Google book LINK)
At the beginning of the essay on page 107 (one paragraph) is a tribute to Thomas Ford by Theodore Roosevelt, given at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901.