• Pages from Watson's Magazine, accusing Leo Frank of being a pervert. Courtesy of the University of California via HathiTrust. 

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    Leo Frank Image from Watson's Magazine
    • Date
    • 1915
    • Creator
    • Watson, Thomas E. 1856-1922
    • Description
    • Images of pages from Watson's Magazine, accusing Leo Frank of being a pervert, from Vol. XXI, no. 5, Sept. 1915; Table of Contents and p. 257.
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of the University of California via HathiTrust. Public domain only when viewed in the US. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust; University of California
    • Contributing Institution
    • University of California.

  • Portrait of Georgia Governor John Slaton. John M. Slaton (1866-1955) was an Atlanta attorney and politician. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1896 to 1909 and served as the Speaker of the House during the last four years of his tenure. He subsequently served in the Georgia State Senate until 1913. In 1911, he was appointed acting governor of Georgia after Hoke Smith was elected to the United States Senate. Slaton was later elected to his own term as governor in 1913. Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia.

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    Slaton, John
    • Date
    • 1913
    • Creator
    • Unknown
    • Description
    • Portrait of Georgia Governor John Slaton. John M. Slaton (1866-1955) was an Atlanta attorney and politician. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1896 to 1909 and served as the Speaker of the House during the last four years of his ... more
      Portrait of Georgia Governor John Slaton. John M. Slaton (1866-1955) was an Atlanta attorney and politician. He served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1896 to 1909 and served as the Speaker of the House during the last four years of his tenure. He subsequently served in the Georgia State Senate until 1913. In 1911, he was appointed acting governor of Georgia after Hoke Smith was elected to the United States Senate. Slaton was later elected to his own term as governor in 1913. While governor, Slaton famously commuted the death sentence of Leo Frank, who had been convicted of murdering one of his employees Mary Phagan; Frank was later abducted from prison by a mob and lynched. less
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia. This material is protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S Code) Permission for use must be cleared through The Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta ... more
      Courtesy of the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center via Digital Library of Georgia. This material is protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S Code) Permission for use must be cleared through The Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Licensing agreement may be required. less
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    • Digital Library of Georgia; Atlanta History Center
    • Contributing Institution
    • Atlanta History Center

  • Front page of the June 22, 1915 edition of the Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise newspaper, reporting threats on Governor John Slaton for commuting Leo Frank's sentence. Courtesy of the Georgia Newspaper Project via Digital Library of Georgia.

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    The Daily times-enterprise, Jun. 22, 1915 (afternoon Edition)
    • Date
    • 1915-06-22
    • Creator
    • Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise
    • Description
    • Front page of the June 22, 1915 edition of the Thomasville Daily Times Enterprise newspaper, reporting threats on Governor John Slaton for commuting Leo Frank's sentence
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of the Georgia Newspaper Project via Digital Library of Georgia. This item is in the public domain.
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia; Georgia Newspaper Project
    • Contributing Institution
    • Georgia Newspaper Project

  • Governor John Marshall Slaton hung in effigy as "King of Jews." Courtesy of Georgia Department of Archives and History via Digital Library of Georgia. 

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    Photograph of the governor hung in effigy, Dacula, Gwinnett County, Georgia, 1915
    • Date
    • 1905-03-29
    • Description
    • Dacula, 1915. Governor John Marshall Slaton hung in effigy as "King of Jews." He commuted Leo Frank's death sentence for the murder of Mary Phagan to life in prison. Frank was Jewish. 2003/06/19: After the Prison Commission sent the ca... more
      Dacula, 1915. Governor John Marshall Slaton hung in effigy as "King of Jews." He commuted Leo Frank's death sentence for the murder of Mary Phagan to life in prison. Frank was Jewish. 2003/06/19: After the Prison Commission sent the case to Governor John Slaton without a recommendation, the only chance remaining for Frank was with the governor. Support for Frank poured in from all over the country; over 100,000 appeals for clemency were received by Slaton. He also received numerous death threats and was offered political favors by Watson in exchange for leaving the sentence alone. The hanging was scheduled for June 22, 1915, the day after Slaton left office. Granting a reprieve was a tempting option. The new governor, Nathaniel E. Harris, was supported by Watson, and he would certainly endorse the sentence. The day before he left office, Slaton commuted Frank's sentence to life imprisonment. Slaton was correct in assuming that he had committed political suicide, but it was some time before he was allowed to live in obscurity. When his decision was announced the morning of June 21, mobs began to form immediately. Local "near-beer" saloons were closed, and the sale of firearms was stopped. An effigy of Slaton was hung in Marietta, the hometown of Mary Phagan. That afternoon about 500 people gathered at the Capitol and marched into the House of Representatives, denouncing the governor. Demonstrations were held all over the city. Slaton declared martial law and dispatched the militia to guard his home and office. less
    • Rights
    • Courtesy of Georgia Department of Archives and History via Digital Library of Georgia. Cite as: gwn150 [Photograph of the governor hung in effigy, Dacula, Gwinnett County, Georgia, 1915], Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Archives, Morrow, Georgia.
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia; Georgia. Dept. of Archives and History
    • Contributing Institution
    • Georgia Archives

Over the lengthy appeals process, the Leo Frank case became a national cause. Northern newspapers, primarily The New York Times and Collier’s Weekly, argued Frank’s innocence amid nationwide expressions of anti-Semitism.

This angered many Georgians, particularly Tom Watson, populist politician and publisher of Watson’s Jeffersonian Magazine. When national publications attacked Georgia, Watson retaliated by disseminating sensational, anti-Semitic editorials that turned public opinion against Frank, and depicted the support of Frank’s appeals process as meddling from Northern and Jewish interests.

Ultimately, Georgia governor John Slaton bore the responsibility for deciding whether Frank would hang or if his sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment. Slaton received letters urging commutation from Jim Conley’s attorney (who was convinced of his client’s guilt) and Judge Roan, who had presided over the Frank case. He also received letters against commutation, including one from a group of city leaders from Mary Phagan’s hometown of Marietta. Slaton agonized over the decision: he read trial documents, visited the crime scene, and ultimately commuted Frank’s sentence on his last day in office. Knowing the decision would be unpopular, Slaton left Georgia, and did not return for ten years.

After the commutation, Frank was moved to the state prison farm near Milledgeville, Georgia.