Thursday, October 1, 2009
Stephen M. White Pillories Elias ‘Lucky’ Baldwin
BY DAVID PATTERSON HATCH
As transcribed by Roger M. Grace
(The writer died in 1912. He is said to have composed letters from beyond, transcribed by an earthly scribe by means of “automatic writing.” Hatch is presently transmitting his writings for publication via “automatic keystroking.” Hatch presided over the trial discussed below as a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge, sitting here temporarily at the request of Los Angeles Superior Court judges.)
I recall as if it were only a few decades ago the closing arguments in the trial in 1886 of a civil action for breach of promise to marry maintained against entrepeneur Elias “Lucky” Baldwin by a Miss Louise Perkins. Arguments were stirring, and perhaps decisive so far as the outcome of the case.
Mr. Baldwin’s attorneys were intent upon convincing jurors of the legal incapacity of Miss Perkins to sue inasmuch as such actions are reserved to those young ladies who were, prior to acting in reliance upon a promise to marry, of unblemished virtue.
In his argument on Feb. 18, Col. James Howard, an attorney for Mr. Baldwin, made reference to Miss Perkins (then 16) coming to Mr. Baldwin’s Rancho Santa Anita on April 12, 1883, accompanying her father on a courtesy visit. (The property, vast in dimsensions, was a horse breeding ranch, a small portion of which has been, in your time, a race track opened in 1934). Mr. Howard said of the plaintiff:
“She went to the ranch already ruined. If she was innocent and pure we could disbelieve Baldwin; but she was developed into a harlot. That’s a peculiarity of the country girls here; they lose their virginity and never think anything of it.”
Miss Perkins had the advantage of representation by the Hon. Stephen M. White, a former district attorney of the County of Los Angeles and a future United States senator, a man possessed of singular oratorical skills. On Feb. 18, Mr. White told jurors:’
If I shall sometimes, in this argument, appeal to your emotions, it is merely because the very nature of this case necessarily appeals to them. They call facts cold—but there are facts, gentlemen, that will dampen the eye—facts that make the blood boil….
If you find, gentlemen of the jury, that there was a [marriage] contract, you can consider, in fixing the damages, what [Miss Perkins] has suffered in her feelings and her worldly prospects, as well as in money. When a girl is toiling in her livelihood from day to day, and a man comes along and proposes to marry her, she sees ahead comfort, a home, a hearthstone. Women have a nobler view of matrimony than most men. Women seldom marry for the gratification of a sexual passion. Even the desire of maternity influences them more than that.
It is in evidence here, and not denied, that the defendant is a man of immense wealth—worth $6,000,000….
The story of [Miss Perkins’] unchastity before she met Baldwin is a mere figment—it is worse—it is the result of coin.…I can understand how, in some great cause, a man might be allured to testify falsely. But it passes my credence that a man like E. J. Baldwin should be able to allure anyone to perjury in his behalf without pay….
I think a man who cannot be trusted with his neighbor’s child should be shot! An old man of half a century should be ashamed to take a little girl and ruin her….May heaven strike down the man who lays a lecherous hand on the little girl who passed by him!....
In some ways, [Mr. Baldwin] has been a valuable man to this section. He has built up some industries. But he has done other things that have eradicated all the good, and clouded his whole name. I shall try to treat him as fairly as possible. But the conclusion is irresistible from the evidence that he promised to marry this girl—that he robbed her of all, and cast her off.
Mr. White’s argument continued the following day. He brought tears to the eyes of the jurors as he told them:
“Women, cruel to their own sex, will not look upon her with an eye to charity. What shall she do? She might be put in a position of competency but she can do nothing. No merchant can employ her because some fine lady customer will not come to the store if he did. She must make a living. She must exist. It is for you to say whether she shall go from this courtroom with at least the vindication which your verdict will carry, that she was allured from the path of duty....You can at least say to this community that she was dishonored by the wiles of this man.”
The jury rendered swiftly its verdict.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company