Study of Frank Convicts, Then It Turns and Acquits

Another in our series of new transcriptions of contemporary articles on the Leo Frank case.

Atlanta Georgian
August 10th, 1913

Readers of Human Nature See Anything They Want, but Personal Equation Is Forgotten.


Leo Frank sits in the prisoner’s dock and all men may read his face.

A great many of them do.

Here are two of the things they read:

(1) No innocent man could remain calm under such fearful charges.

(2) No guilty man could remain calm under, etc.

Leo Frank admittedly was nervous and agitated that morning the murder of Mary Phagan was discovered.

There are two inferences drawn from that fact:

(1) A guilty man naturally would be nervous.

(2) An innocent man naturally, etc.

Leo Frank sits there in the prisoner’s chair, under the scathe of the State’s testimony, apparently unmoved.

Leo Frank sits apparently unmoved as his attorneys attack the mesh of circumstance.

So far as may be foretold, Leo Frank will sit unmoved under the fire of the State’s speeches and under the justification of his own counsel.

And there will be at least two interpretations of his calm in the trial, as there were two interpretations of his agitation that April morning.

Let’s take a bit of time off from bias and prejudice and try to get a little deeper into the psychology of the thing.

Both Read Same Thing.

Here is one who insists that an innocent man, confronted with evident suspicion of a horrid crime, virtually admits guilt, or at least guilty knowledge, by nervous agitation.

“If innocent and ignorant of the crime, he should appear calm and eager to probe deeper into the mystery,” says this one. And usually he adds: “I know I should.”

And the same interpreter, speaking of Frank’s attitude in the trial says:

“His calm is the effrontery of a cold-blooded murderer. In his place, and innocent, I could not listen unmoved to the hideous charges aimed at me.”

But here is a small breach of logic.

This reader of the human mind would have innocence appear calm in its surprise and agitated in is expected ordeal, prepared for weeks in advance.

On the other hand, here is one who would reconcile agitation in April and calmness at the trial with absolute innocence.

Is not that reconciliation equally open to the charge of illogicalness?

Could not the innocent accused properly have remained calm in the first steps of an investigation, he must have been sure would lead away from himself, and yet have been shaken by the manifest danger in the terrific circumstantiality of the case the State presented against him?

Logic Seems to Double.

It would seem that cold, mechanical logic had at least two paths in which to stray from the truth when applied to Leo Frank’s attitude.

And that is two too many for the clear intent of logic.

The trouble is, the would-be logicians seem always to overlook the one great point that sets at naught all mechanical logic, applied to criminality.

And that point is the Personal Equation.

You note that the logician inevitably says:

“If I were in his place—“

Right in the premise, then, the reasoner injects his own personal equation into a consideration of Leo Frank and his actions and possible motives.

He attributes to Leo Frank certain characteristics supplied by his own personality, adds the influence of motives whose effect on any other human being he could not possibly know, and then deduces a course of action and behavior, which he sets up as the logical one for Leo Frank.

To conform to the laws of true logic, the reasoner must assume that among the 1,600,000,000 inhabitants of the earth there is one that is identical with himself in temperament, habits, disposition, environment, intellect—in fine, must have the same personal equation.

That in itself would be an assumption far outside the pale of absolute logic.

But granting that, it would still remain to identify with that particular human being the person under consideration.

The chances of failure would be 1,600,000,000 to 1.

And should the incredibly long shot win, there is yet another trap for the logician who says, “If I were in his place, I would do thus and so.”

Experience Is Needed.

Even with the suppositious advantage of being acquainted with his own personal equation, the reasoner does NOT know what he would do under the stress of circumstances, UNLESS HE HAS TRIED IT.

Eliminating then, from the list of expert readers of the human face those who do not observe strictly the laws of absolute logic, we find that those qualified to pass judgment on Leo Frank by means of his April agitation and his August calmness can be numbered quite conveniently as follows:


Which logical conclusion, however, will in no way embarrass the several hundred thousand persons now daily engaged in flying in the face of a certain admonition, set forth in a certain Good Book, to wit:

“Judge not.”

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Atlanta Georgian, August 10th 1913, “Study of Frank Convicts, Then it Turns and Acquits,” Leo Frank case newspaper article series (Original PDF)