A Terror to Evil-Doers

 “In the course of his career as marshal he has never drawn a gun on an offender, his firmness and moral courage being sufficient to subdue the most obstreperous individual and to uphold the majesty of the law.” 

Johnson, Barker and Winkler, A History of Texas and Texans (1914)

What should a policeman do when a citizen ignores his orders?  This is what we might call the burning question of out time.  If he says stop and I keep walking, or running, or struggling, what exactly should he do?  Should he shrug his shoulders and say, whatever?  Should he call for backup and try again in an hour?  Should he pull out his gun and shoot me?

If a policeman adopts the first policy, he is just pretending to be a policeman and anyone can call his bluff.  If a policeman cannot arrest a citizen—arrest means stop—he is just a dude in a blue suit.  

The second policy is sometimes possible, sometimes advisable,  and sometimes followed.  If the offending citizen can do no further harm, it may make sense let him cool down before taking him in.  

But there are a great many cases where the offending citizen can and very likely will do further harm, and so must be stopped at once.  If such a citizen does not stop on command, it seems that the policeman must arrest the citizen in a way that he, the citizen, cannot possibly ignore.  The policeman must, in other words, execute what I would call an inexorable arrest.

If we wish to reduce the frequency of inexorable arrests, I suggest we do what we can to increase citizens’ respect for what my epigram calls “the majesty of the law.”  Majesty means supremacy, and respect for the majesty of the law thus means acquiescence to the law.  

The law prevails, even when my inclinations run counter to it.  

As for those who do not acquiesce, but rather scoff and continue to do as they please, the Good Book has this to say,

“A wise king . . . bringeth the wheel over them.”*

For those more impressed by the majesty of a secular source, here is John Locke:

“The magistrate’s sword being for a terror to evil doers . . .”**

It naturally follows that a citizen who has internalized terror of the magistrate’s sword is unlikely to find himself crushed beneath the king’s chariot wheel. The likelihood of his being arrested is exceedingly small, and in the unlikely event of an arrest, his cultivated instinct is to acquiesce.

* * * * *

The subject of my epigram was Thomas Pickney Boyette, City Marshall of Bryan, Texas in the early part of the twentieth century.  There was, it seems, something about T. P. Boyett that encouraged acquiescence in even “the most obstreperous individuals.” There were plenty of toughs in the town in those days, but none were disposed to test Boyette’s willingness to make an inexorable arrest.  Presumably there was something about T. P. Boyette that suggested he was not just a dude in a blue suit.

Boyette had fought for the Confederacy and refused to take the oath of allegiance after the war.  He was for some time a fugitive from the Provost Guard of the Union Army, and through the 1870s led may cattle drives up the Chisholm Trail from the vicinity of Brazos County to Dodge City, Kansas.  He was not a violent man, just a man who it seemed best not to provoke.  

So no one provoked him and no one ever learned just exactly how peaceful he was.

*) Proverbs 20:22

**) John Locke, Two Treatises on Government (1689)

12 thoughts on “A Terror to Evil-Doers

  1. Mr. Boyette refused to take the “ironclad” oath? Good for him! I don’t believe I could have taken it either. Not in good conscience. Do you know, is he buried in Bryan, or somewhere in Brazos Co.? I’m planning a visit to Ellis Co. sometime in the near future. My great great great grandfather, Benjamin Morris, lived in Ellis Co. when the WBTS broke out. Benjamin, it seems, was a native son of (born in) Alabama. He and two of his young sons (Leonard -18 and Seborn -16) joined the 19th Alabama when the war broke out. The younger of the two died shortly thereafter. I haven’t, as yet, been able to figure out how exactly he died, but I take it his remains are interred at Ozro cemetery, Maypearl, near his father’s and older brother’s remains, although it seems he died in Huntsville AL.

    • There are still Boyettes in town, but I do not know where T.P. is buried. I have enough respect for the “majesty of the law” to stay off private property, but I’m also a walker who likes to explore the countryside. I was therefore pleased to learn that Texas law allows me to cross private property to reach any burial place that is not accessible from a road. It does’t have to be a relative who is buried there, and I don’t have to ask permission. So if you think one of your Ellis county ancestors is buried at the back of a pasture, you needn’t be shy about jumping the fence.

  2. Sadly, the Rule of Law is dead in current America. The constabulary seems more interested in citing the minor infractions of the generally law abiding than in apprehending the thieves and perpetrators of violence who prey upon the community. Fines for parking too long or failing to wear a mask fill the municipal coffers because the burghers have the inclination and wherewithal to pay; whereas incarcerating the dopers, useless eaters and unreformed felons who actually commit crimes a Texan in Boyette’s day would understand as such drains those municipal coffers. (Of course, those Texans also understood that a swift hanging mitigates those costs remarkably well.) Local pols know that the citizen’s loathe taxes; but they need that money to do the fun stuff that remains as a legacy to their brief tenure as Solons of the sticks. You know, the affordable housing project, the downtown revitalization, the public art, the free health care for illegal aliens, etc. The proles don’t want the terrible sword. They want the bread and circuses. Two wise courses of action have always been relevant to the actual workings of the majesty of the Law: Follow the money; and Cui bono (Who benefits)?

      • The people who propose “Abolish the Police” don’t know much of anything. This is not a comment about their intelligence, but rather their incapacity for reflection, being at the centre of the maelstrom of current events and behaving very much like those poor souls who, never having stood for anything substantive, rush about hither and yon outside the gate of Dante’s Inferno.

      • Their logic comes from late nineteenth-century anarchists like Kropotkin. They believe that humans are naturally good and cooperative, and that it is only the injustice of institutions that makes them behave otherwise. Most people think the police arose as a response to crime, but Kropotkin argued that crime arose in reaction to the police. Similarly, most people think that capitalism arose as a response to scarcity, but these people argue that causality runs in the opposite direction.

  3. Pingback: A Terror to Evil-Doers | Reaction Times

  4. A citizen is under no obligation to obey the orders of a police officer, except where those orders are justified by law. Such a situation may be tolerated under other systems of law, as, for instance, in the time of lettres de cachet in the 18th century in France, or in more recent days, when the Gestapo swept people off to confinement under an overriding authority which the executive in this country happily does not in ordinary times possess (Christie v Leachinsky [1947] AC 573)

    Thus, in Hooper v Lane [1847] 6 HLC 443, “The sheriff,” said Lord Cranworth, “is bound when he executes the writ, to make know the ground of the arrest, in order, among other reasons, that the person arrested may know whether he is or is not bound to submit to the arrest.”

    As Viscount Simon LC said in Christie v Leachinsky, “Blind, unquestioning obedience is the law of tyrants and of slaves: it does not yet flourish on English soil.”

    Hence, in making an arrest, the officer acts at his peril. If it transpires the arrest was unlawful and he kills the suspect, then that is murder; an honest and reasonable belief on the officer’s part that he arrest was lawful will be no defence. Likewise, if the suspect kills the officer, in resisting, it will be justifiable homicide, even if the suspect did not know at the time the arrest was unlawful (see HMA v Cowan – Arrest in Scotland on an unbacked English warrant)

    • If “an honest and reasonable belief on the officer’s part that the arrest was lawful will be no defense,” it would seem that every person found innocent in court could immediately charge the officer with false arrest and imprisonment. Your description would seem to require every police officer to have legal proof of guilt before making an arrest, and to imply that the court system is completely superfluous. Perhaps the squad car could deliver the miscreant directly to the door of the penitentiary.

      • ” Your description would seem to require every police officer to have legal proof of guilt before making an arrest…”

        Not at all. A valid warrant justifies the arrest of the person named in it (but not the arrest of the wrong person by mistake, however reasonable)

        Similarly, anyone is justified in arresting a person who commits an arrestable offence in his presence, or who is committing a breach of the peace. A constable has wider powers: he may arrest a person whom he reasonably suspects of having committed an arrestable offence. Hence, every day in the courts, we hear an officer say, “Acting on information received, I proceeded to [such an address]…”

        Besides this, many statues confer powers, in the circumstances specified, to stop and search, to detain a person to verify his or her identity, to provide a specimen of breath.

        These are very wide powers, but they are by no means unlimited. An officer is justified in arresting someone in possession of stolen goods, but not if he merely suspects the goods are stolen, unless he has other grounds of suspicion. The arrest of an apparently penniless tramp, who had tried to pawn a valuable gold pocket watch and who refused to give any account of himself was held unlawful; it would have been otherwise if, for example the watch had been recently reported stolen.


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