A supposed tale of the old West involves a captured horse thief. The crowd wants to hang him. “No, we can’t do that,” one member of the crowd says. ‘We’ll give him a fair trial, and then we’ll hang him.”
“We’ll give him a fair trial. Then we’ll hang him” was said by King Louis XV in the film Du Barry Was a Lady (1943). Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich retold the cowboy story during his 2009 trial, quoting one cowboy as saying, “Hold on. Before we hang him, let’s first give him a fair trial. Then we’ll hang him.” One 2010 headline about a terror trial was, “KSM will get a fair trial, then we’ll hang him, says White House.”
The original source of the story remains unknown. “The best way to stop banditry is when they capture a bandit red-handed is to hang him and then give him a fair trial” was cited in print in 1926. “We’ll give him a fair trial an’ hang him later” was cited in print in 1932. “We’ll give him a fair trial, and then hang him” was cited in print in 1938.
Google News Archive
27 March 1926, The Evening Independent (St. Peterrsburg, FL), “Gleanings from the Press,” pg. 2, col. 5:
An observer who seems to be endowed with efficiency, plus, says that the best way to stop banditry is when they capture a bandit red-handed is to hang him and then give him a fair trial.—Eustis Lake Region.
Marine Corps Institute
“Boys,” Sheriff Dunn declared firmly, “I’ve got evidence enough to hang him twice. There’s the four bags of stolen gold right under your feet for one thing.” One of the miners picked a buckskin bag from the floor and shook it. “Jumpin’ sandhills!” he exclaimed. “Ther sheriff’s right. It’s so blamed dark in here I couldn’t see ‘em.”
The gathering now began to grow excited. “So he’s th’ cuss what killed por ol’ Bill,” remarked one sadly. “Who’d have believed it of Blair?” from another. “Let’s string ‘im up right quick!” exclaimed an excited red-whiskered cow-puncher.
“Now hold on, boys,” Sheriff Dunn spoke firmly. “He’s my prisoner and my word’s law even if you did help catch him. We’ll lock him up and give him a fair trial. As I’ve got a wound in my leg from his gun I don’t feel much like standing here arguing. Let’s go.”
“An’ I’ll stand wit yuh, Sheriff,” Hank Day offered. “We’ll give him a fair trial an’ hang him later.”
“Yuh can bet on that,” declared a miner with emphasis.
Google News Archive
11 June 1938, Palm Beach (FL) Post, “Eighteen-Day Justice,” pg. 4, col. 1:
When the old-time pioneers in the wild and wooly West picked up a fellow even vaguely suspected of horse stealing, the common though was: “We’ll give him a fair trial, and then hang him.”
The Internet Movie Database
Memorable quotes for
Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)
King Louis XV: We’ll give him a fair trial. Then we’ll hang him.
The Pathologist as a Witness
By Joseph Beeman
Mundelein, IL: Callaghan
Hanging on the wall of a veteran prosecutor in a western state is the motto:
Give him a fair trial and hang him!
But give him a fair trial first.
Chicago (IL) Sun-Times
Blagojevich: “I’m not even getting a fair trial.” Press conference transcript
By Lynn Sweet on January 24, 2009 7:50 AM
Now, I like old movies and I like old cowboy movies, and I want to explain how these rules work in a more understandable way. There was an old saying in the Old West. There was a cowboy who was charged with stealing a horse in town. And some of the other cowboys, especially the guy whose horse was stolen, were very unhappy with that guy. And one of the cowboys said, “Let’s hang him.” Then the other cowboys said, “Hold on. Before we hang him, let’s first give him a fair trial. Then we’ll hang him.” Under these rules, I’m not even getting a fair trial. They’re just hanging me. And when they hang me under these rules, that prevent due process, they’re hanging the 12 million people of Illinois who twice have elected a governor.
KSM WILL GET FAIR TRIAL, THEN WE’LL HANG HIM, SAYS WHITE HOUSE
Posted on | February 2, 2010
President Obama claims Eric Holder made the decision, without consultation, to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in criminal court in New York City.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics • Wednesday, March 13, 2013 • Permalink