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Feb. 16, 1882: Judge’s defense boils down to … boils

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • January 19, 2013 - 10:51 PM
 
Within three years of his appointment as a Hennepin County district judge, E. St. Julien Cox stood accused of “almost uninterrupted drunkenness” while on the bench. During his impeachment trial in the Minnesota Senate, 10 saloonkeepers and 22 lawyers took the stand in his defense. Most testified that Cox was always perfectly sober in court, that he was never seen drunk and that he drank nothing but beer. But two testified that his weary and fatigued demeanor was the result of the damned boils that were known to plague him. This "boil defense" prompted a sarcastic editorial in the Minneapolis Tribune.
 

CONCERNING JUDICIAL BOILS.

 
 
  E. St. Julien Cox in about 1873. (Photo courtesy of mnhs.org)
It was boils. Whiskey had nothing to do with it. St. Julien Cox was never drunk on the bench. He had boils on the bench. And it is boils alone that have hurt both Cox and the bench. Murphy and Lansing have said so, and, what is better, they have sworn to it. Here is the official report of the evidence:
 
H. Lansing, of St. Peter, testified that Judge Cox was sober during the trial of the Powers case. “I knew of his boils. He was subject to them. He seemed to suffer.” … Samuel Murphy, of Waseca, testified that respondent was sober all through the term; had no doubt of it. “I knew he was suffering from a boil. He seemed to suffer from it all through the term. He appeared weary, but not drunk.”
 
Here we have it. This fragment of testimony, like a flying chunk of old red sandstone, takes the managers in the abdomen, as it were, and doubles up the prosecution like a Barlow jack-knife. The case is practically ended before it is fairly begun, and the remainder of the impeachment trial will be in fact only a triumphant procession for Cox, the discomfited managers being chained to his victorious chariot wheels.
 
Juvenal somewhere remarks that the best place to have a boil is on another fellow’s nose. But Juvenal wrote in the days of the effete Roman empire, and probably referred exclusively to a Roman nose. Besides, Juvenal didn’t know Cox. He didn’t even know Lansing and Murphy. Modern civilization with Cox as its interpreter has discovered that a boil is a boon, and a boon which no one, certainly no judge, can afford to enjoy by proxy, as the ribald Juvenal suggested should be done. Cox having had two boils during every term of court, had two boons, in fact his boils were his boon companions. He slept with them –especially when he slept with his boots on. Cox has often been heard to murmur to Lansing and Murphy and [defense attorney J.W.] Arctander, that no district judge can afford to be without an assortment of healthy boils. To judges (like Cox) they are a solace in solitude, a comfort amid obloquy and – a defense under impeachment. If brutally drunk on duty the lucky judicial offender simply leers at the jury and whispers “boils,” when all is forgiven. If caught in open lewdness he winks at Murphy, Lansing and Arctander and remarks, “boils,” when criticism is disarmed and the “purity of the judiciary” is vindicated. If profane, maudlin and helpless, while nominally hearing a case, his advocates sigh “boils,” and then he looks “weary,” and all the donkeys bray their sympathy.
 
But seriously, there is something in this conical, protuberant and inflammatory ground of defense on which Cox relies for acquittal. It has philosophy and sense behind it. For example: (1.) All know that there is something exhilarating in the idea of having a regular out-and-out boil. Now if the boils are sufficiently big, sufficiently numerous and sufficiently ill-placed, that exhilaration may imperceptibly reach the stage of mild intoxication, and this gives us the analogy between boils and drunkenness. (2.) If the curious reader – Arctander, for instance, as he is every way curious – will turn to the article, “Boils as Intoxicants,” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, he will find the following pertinent passage:
 
In connection with the doctrine of the correlation of forces and the now well-established principle of the interconvertibility of energy, it has been discovered that in certain conditions of the human system, and certain states of the atmosphere, precisely identical physical and mental symptoms and phenomena may be may be produced by two agencies, apparently so dissimilar and unsympathetic as boils and alcohol. Sir Thomas Merchison has shown by an elaborate series of experiments that all the phenomena of inebriety, including the usual accompaniments of “weariness,” combativeness and profanity, can be produced by from one to three fully developed boils (carbunculosus infernalus.) And on the other hand a protuberance of portentous magnitude and volcanic aspect technically known as carbunculosus nasalus, can be produced upon the gable end of a human nose by regular and persistent imbibition of alcoholic stimulants. It is found, in fact, that a climate where ozone dominates the atmosphere, as, for example, in Southern Minnesota, in North America, is best adapted to the development of robust symptoms of inebriety (kats jammer) through the sole agency of boils.
 
In the face of such high authority, sustained by Lansing and Murphy, Col. Hicks and his Herodian band of persecutors may as well release Cox from the rack and prepare to accept the odium they deserve. Their case is rendered all the more desperate, and Cox’s all the more secure, by a fresh outbreak of boils in the judge’s favor on Saturday and Sunday last. This new eruption of boons, just at the critical moment in the trial, proving again, as it does beyond question, that boils can make a judge appear drunk, even to Arctander, will be equivalent to an acquittal, and if next Sunday can only furnish a similar episode a triumphant vindication will be assured. The august senate will ask to be relieved from listening to closing speeches, and each senator, as his name is called on the final vote, will rise with solemn mien and make answer:
 
“Boils, but don’t have ’em any more.”
 
 
On March 22, 1882, Cox was found guilty of conduct unbecoming a judge. He was removed from the bench and disqualified “for all judicial offices of honor, trust or profit” for three years. He eventually left Minnesota and died in Los Angeles in 1898.
 
The Minnesota Senate chamber in about 1885. (Photo courtesy of mnhs.org)

 

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