On Guilt and Innocence

“It is my duty to extend to every individual the constitutional right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But I have another duty equally constitutional, and even more important, of securing the enforcement of the law. In that duty I do not intend to fail.

“Character is the only secure foundation of the State. We know well that all plans for improving the machinery of government and all measures for social betterment fail, and the hopes of progress wither, when corruption touches administration. At the revelation of greed making its subtle approaches to public officers, of the prostitution of high place to private profit, we are filled with scorn and with indignation. We have a deep sense of humiliation at such gross betrayal of trust, and we lament the undermining of public confidence in official integrity. But we can not rest with righteous wrath; still less can we permit ourselves to give way to cynicism. The heart of the American people is sound. Their officers with rare exception are faithful and high-minded. For us, we propose to follow the clear, open path of justice. There will be immediate, adequate, unshrinking prosecution, criminal and civil, to punish the guilty and to protect every national interest. In this effort there will be no politics and no partisanship. It will be speedy, it will be just. I am a Republican, but I can not on that account shield anyone because he is a Republican. I am a Republican, but I can not on that account prosecute anyone because he is a Democrat.

“I want no hue and cry, no mingling of innocent and guilty in unthinking condemnation, no confusion of mere questions of law with questions of fraud and corruption. It is at such a time that the quality of our citizenry is tested–unrelenting toward evil, fair-minded and intent upon the requirements of due process, the shield of the innocent and the safeguard of society itself. I ask the support of our people, as Chief Magistrate, intent on the enforcement of our laws without fear and without favor, no matter who is hurt or what the consequences.”

— President Calvin Coolidge, before the National Republican Club at Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, February 12, 1924.


Photo credit: Library of Congress.

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