John M. Slaton
|John M. Slaton|
|60th Governor of Georgia|
June 28, 1913 – June 26, 1915
|Preceded by||Joseph M. Brown|
|Succeeded by||Nathaniel E. Harris|
November 16, 1911 – January 25, 1912
|Preceded by||M. Hoke Smith|
|Succeeded by||Joseph M. Brown|
|Born||John Marshall Slaton
December 25, 1866
Meriwether County, Georgia
|Died||January 11, 1955
|Alma mater||University of Georgia|
John Marshall Slaton, or 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 because of public outrage at his commuting the death penalty sentence of his law firm's client, Atlanta factory boss Leo Frank, who was convicted for the murder of a teenage girl employee. Slaton believed Leo Frank's guilt had not been proven with absolute certainty, only beyond a reasonable doubt. Slaton's lawfirm partnership with Frank’s defense counsel, Luther Rosser, was believed to be a gross conflict of interest by the public.
Slaton was born in Meriwether County, Georgia.
Slaton received a master of arts degree with highest honors from the University of Georgia in 1886 where he joined Chi Phi Fraternity and the Phi Kappa Literary Society. Slaton married Sally Frances Grant in 1898.
Slaton's additional political service includes:
- Georgia House of Representatives, representing Fulton County (1896–1909)
- Speaker of the Georgia House (1905–1909)
- Georgia Senate, representing the 35th District (1909–1913)
- President of State Senate (1909–1911)
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. Slaton was later elected to the governorship for a non-consecutive second term (1913 to 1915).
Leo Frank trial and the end of Slaton's political career
In 1915, Slaton commuted the sentence for Leo Frank from death to life imprisonment. "I can endure misconstruction, abuse and condemnation," Slaton said, "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."
Because of the almost universal hostility towards Leo Frank by the general public in Georgia, Governor Slaton's decision to commute his death sentence was widely viewed as perverse interference. Public disapproval of Slaton persisted for a long time afterwards. Sparing Frank's life had the effect of permanently ending Slaton's political career, just as Slaton himself had predicted.
Controversy and conflict of interest in commutation of Leo Frank
Some viewed the commutation by Slaton as a conflict of interest, as Slaton was a law partner of Frank's lead defense counsel. Slaton's actions led to threats of mob violence against the governor, and the Georgia National Guard and local police were enlisted for protection.
Fear of retaliation prompted Slaton and his wife to move out of Georgia after his term as governor ended. They did not return to the state for a decade.
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. 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."
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, U.S. Senator David Perdue, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson and Congressman John Lewis
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."
- "A Political Suicide". Time. January 24, 1955.
- Leonard Dinnerstein, The Leo Frank Case, 1999, page 124
- The Outlook magazine, A Courageous Governor, June 30, 1915, pages 492 to 493
- Catherine Cocks, Peter C. Holloran, Alan Lessoff, The A to Z of the Progressive Era, 2009, page 153
- George C. Kohn, The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal, 2001, page 146
- Kirby, Bill. (2010, May 15). A lawyer you want on your side. The Augusta Chronicle
- Matthew Bernstein, Screening a Lynching: The Leo Frank Case on Film and Television, 2009, page 143
- Ren Davis, Helen Davis, Timothy J. Crimmins, Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery: An Illustrated History and Guide, 2012, page 96
- Cathy Kaemmerlen, The Historic Oakland Cemetery, 2007, pages 107 to 108
- "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Portrait of John Marshall Slaton
- The official and personal papers of John Marshall Slaton are housed at the Georgia Archives.
- Executive Clemency Decision for Leo Frank, June 21, 1915 
- John M. Slaton at Find a Grave
|Governor of Georgia
1911 – 1912
Joseph M. Brown
Joseph M. Brown
|Governor of Georgia
1913 – 1915
Nathaniel E. Harris