John M. Slaton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John M. Slaton
John Marshall Slaton.jpg
60th Governor of Georgia
In office
June 28, 1913 – June 26, 1915
Preceded byJoseph M. Brown
Succeeded byNathaniel E. Harris
In office
November 16, 1911 – January 25, 1912
Preceded byM. Hoke Smith
Succeeded byJoseph M. Brown
Member of the Georgia Senate
In office
Member of the Georgia House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
John Marshall Slaton

(1866-12-25)December 25, 1866
Meriwether County, Georgia, U.S.
DiedJanuary 11, 1955(1955-01-11) (aged 88)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Resting placeOakland Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Sarah "Sally" Frances Grant
(m. 1898; died 1945)
Alma materUniversity of Georgia (MA)

John Marshall "Jack" Slaton (December 25, 1866 – January 11, 1955) served two non-consecutive terms as the 60th Governor of Georgia. His political career was ended in 1915 after he commuted the death penalty sentence of Atlanta factory boss Leo Frank, who had been convicted for the murder of a teenage girl employee. Because of Slaton's law firm partnership with Frank's defense counsel, claims were made that Slaton's involvement raised a conflict of interest. Soon after Slaton's action, Frank was lynched. After Slaton's term as governor ended, he and his wife left the state for a decade. Slaton later served as president of the Georgia State Bar Association.

Slaton and his wife, Sarah Frances Grant

Early life[edit]

Slaton was born on December 25, 1866, near Greenville in Meriwether County, Georgia to Nancy Jane Martin and William Franklin Slaton.[1][2] His father was the Superintendent of Schools in Atlanta.[2] He graduated from Boys High School in Atlanta in 1880.[1][2]

Slaton received a Master of Arts degree with highest honors from the University of Georgia in 1886.[1][2] He was a member of the Chi Phi Fraternity and the Phi Kappa Literary Society.[citation needed] He later studied law.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Slaton married Sarah Frances Grant on July 12, 1898. She was the daughter of Captain William D. Grant.[2]


Slaton joined John T. Glenn and started the law firm Glenn & Slaton.[2] Slaton represented Fulton County in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1896 to 1909. He was the Speaker of the Georgia House from 1905 to 1909. He represented the 35th District of the Georgia Senate from 1909 to 1913. He also served as President of the senate from 1909 to 1911.[citation needed]

After Governor Hoke Smith was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1911, Slaton was appointed acting governor and served in that capacity from 1911 to 1912.[citation needed] Slaton was later elected to the governorship for a non-consecutive second term from 1913 to 1915.[1]

Leo Frank trial[edit]

In 1915, Slaton commuted the sentence for Leo Frank from death to life imprisonment. "I can endure misconstruction, abuse and condemnation,... but I cannot stand the constant companionship, of an accusing conscience which would remind me that I, as governor of Georgia, failed to do what I thought to be right.... It means that I must live in obscurity the rest of my days, but I would rather be plowing in a field than to feel that I had that blood on my hands."[3]

Because of the almost universal hostility toward Leo Frank among the general public in Georgia, Governor Slaton's decision to commute his death sentence was widely condemned as interference.[vague] Public disapproval of Slaton persisted, long afterwards. Sparing Frank's life had the effect of ending Slaton's political career, -- as he had himself predicted.

Some opined that Frank's commutation by Slaton constituted a conflict of interest, in light of Slaton having a law partner who served Frank's lead defense counsel.[4] Slaton's actions led to threats of mob violence against him, and the Georgia National Guard and local police provided him protection.[5][6][7]

Fear of violence against him, and/or his wife, led them to leave Georgia, not returning there for a decade.[8]

Later years[edit]

After his political service, Slaton served as the President of the Georgia State Bar Association (1928–1929) and as a member of the General Council of the American Bar Association.[9]


Slaton died in Atlanta on January 11, 1955, and was interred with his wife Sarah Frances Grant Slaton (1870-1945)[10] in the Grant family mausoleum at Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.[11][12]


In 1939, he received an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws from the University of Georgia and Oglethorpe University.[2][13] He was given the Legion of Honour by the government of France given his interest in French.[2]

Historical marker[edit]

Georgia Historical Society marker for Governor John M. Slaton

On June 17, 2015, the Georgia Historical Society, the Atlanta History Center and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation dedicated a Georgia Historical Society marker honoring Governor John M. Slaton at the Atlanta History Center.[14] It was the first public honoring of Governor Slaton since his controversial commutation of the Leo Frank death sentence almost 100 years ago to the day.

Participating and in attendance were senior members of the Georgia state and local governments, the judiciary, the Anti-Defamation League, Slaton family members, local and national historical societies and the public.

Georgia Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias, a speaker at the dedication said:

"In the final blot that the case placed on the history of our state, a mob kidnapped Leo Frank, drove him to Marietta, and lynched him...It is altogether right that we still celebrate what Governor Slaton did, because we need to remember those who stood tall in defense of the rule of law, to inspire all of us who need to stand tall when the rule of law is again threatened, as it is in one way or another almost every day. We need to fight for equal justice under the law, even if we do not immediately prevail. Governor Slaton is, and should be, a particular inspiration to people like me—judges on the courts of Georgia and on the federal courts—the kind of judges who were unable to protect Leo Frank from the unjust ending that the mob demanded."[15]

Letters of support for Governor Slaton were presented by Jerry Klinger, President of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal,[16] U.S. Senator David Perdue,[17] U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson,[18] and Congressman John Lewis.[19]

The marker text reads:

"John Marshall Slaton was born in Meriwether County and graduated from the University of Georgia before practicing law in Atlanta. Slaton served in both houses of the Georgia legislature and two terms as governor (1911-12 and 1913-15). While in office, he modernized Georgia's tax system and roads. Concerned by the sensationalized atmosphere and circumstantial evidence that led to the notorious 1913 conviction of Jewish businessman Leo Frank in the murder of teenager Mary Phagan, Slaton granted Frank clemency in June 1915. Slaton's commutation of Frank's death sentence drew national attention but hostile local backlash resulted in Frank's lynching in August 1915 and the end of Slaton's political career. Slaton lived on property adjacent to today's Atlanta History Center and Slaton Drive (named in his honor). He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Erected by the Georgia Historical Society, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation and the Atlanta History Center."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Man Who Governed Georgia During Leo Frank Case Dies". The Tampa Tribune. January 12, 1955. p. 2. Retrieved August 16, 2021 – via open access
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lashly, Jacob Mark (1940). "Sketches of Nominees". American Bar Association Journal. American Bar Association. 26 (2): 127–129. JSTOR 25712656 – via JSTOR.
  3. ^ "A Political Suicide". Time. January 24, 1955. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007.
  4. ^ Leonard Dinnerstein, The Leo Frank Case, 1999, page 124
  5. ^ The Outlook magazine, A Courageous Governor, June 30, 1915, pages 492 to 493
  6. ^ Catherine Cocks, Peter C. Holloran, Alan Lessoff, The A to Z of the Progressive Era, 2009, page 153
  7. ^ George C. Kohn, The , New Encyclopedia of American Scandal, 2001, page 146
  8. ^ [1], Kirby, Bill; (2010, May 15), "A lawyer you want on your side",The Augusta Chronicle
  9. ^ Matthew Bernstein, Screening a Lynching: The Leo Frank Case on Film and Television, 2009, page 143
  10. ^ "Sarah Frances Grant Slaton". Atlanta History Photograph Collection, Atlanta Historyk Center. Digital Library of Georgia. Archived from 4 the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2016. {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  11. ^ Ren Davis, Helen Davis, Timothy J. Crimmins, Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery: An Illustrated History and Guide, 2012, page 96
  12. ^ Cathy Kaemmerlen, CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22john%20m%20slaton%22%20oakland%20cemetery&f=false The Historic Oakland Cemetery, 2007, pages 107 to 108
  13. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Archived from the original on March 19, 2015. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  14. ^ "Marker honors Georgia governor who commuted Leo Frank's death sentence". Southern Jewish Life. 25 (7). July 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2016.
  15. ^ "A Lesson for Judges in Memory of the Governor Who Granted Clemency to Leo Frank".
  16. ^ To: The attendees of the Governor John Slaton Historical Marker Dedication Ceremony Greetings: I am pleased to extend my warmest regards to the Georgia Historical Society, the Atlanta History Center, and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation as you host the dedication ceremony for Governor John Slaton’s historical marker. On behalf of the State of Georgia, it is a pleasure to be part of this historically signify cant event recognizing the late Governor Slaton. Please allow me to welcome today’s distinguished guests, relatives of Govern Slaton, and other attendees. Governor Slaton played a vital role in the State of Georgia, first as a member of the Georgia General Assembly and later as the state’s 60th governor. He demonstrated a continued commitment to the wellbeing of our state, nation, and his fellow citizens. I applaud those attending today’s reception for being a part of this event which celebrates his exceptional life of service and acknowledges his countless contributions to our great state. It is my hope that the memorialization of this marker will afford future generations the opportunity to now of and appreciate govern Slaton and his place in Georgia’s history. I commend the various groups and individuals who had a hand in organizing this important event. Sandra and I send our best wishes for a successful and memorable ceremony. Sincerely, Nathan Deal
  17. ^ Mr. Jerry Klinger President, JASHP 16405 Equestrian Lane Rockville, Md. 20855 Dear Mr. Klinger It is with great privilege that I join you, the Georgia Historical Society, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, and the Atlanta History Center in honoring the life and legacy of Governor John Marshall Slaton. As our state’s sixtieth governor, Slaton served as a model of unwavering principle. Governor Slaton’s conviction for his constitutional duty is a reminder of the solemn dedication by our public officials. His devotion to these principles, over public opinion and at known personal cost, demonstrated extraordinary courage and resolve that serves as an example to all. There is no better tribute to Governor Slaton than by honoring him this month, the 100th anniversary of his courageous decision, with this historical marker. May it serve as a reminder of his significant contributions to our state and inspire future generations to imitate his commitment to the rule of law and justice for all. Kindest regards, David A. Perdue
  18. ^ Georgia Historical Society 260 14th Street, Northwest Suite A-148 Atlanta, Georgia 30318 Greetings, It is with great pleasure that I send my heartfelt thanks to the Georgia Historical Society, the Atlanta History Center, and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation for ensuring that Governor John Slaton’s courageous role in Georgia’s history is recognized with today’s historical marker dedication. I wish you well as you celebrate the placement of this marker. I am proud and grateful that there are organizations such as yours that are dedicated to preserving our state’s history and honoring those leaders from whom future generations can learn. With my warmest personal regards, Sincerely, Johnny Isakson
  19. ^ Dear Friends: I write to congratulate you on the dedication of the new Georgia Historical Society marker honoring Governor John Slaton. Governor Slaton’s role in the Leo Frank case should be an inspiration to all Georgians. Though it cost him his political career, Governor Slaton did the right thing by commuting Leo Frank’s sentence. He is one in a long line of Georgians who have stood against the forces of racial prejudice and mob violence. I am proud that he is being recognized today. I hope many visitors to the Atlanta History Center will read this historic marker and learn the importance of courage in the face of discrimination. Keep the faith, John Lewis Member of Congress

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
1911 – 1912
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Joseph M. Brown
Governor of Georgia
1913 – 1915
Succeeded by