|From||United States of America|
|Birth||25 December 1866, Meriwether County, USA|
|Death||11 January 1955, Atlanta, USA (aged 88 years)|
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 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 Sarah 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
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 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.
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.
After his public 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.
The former governor died in Atlanta on January 11, 1955 and is interred with his wife Sarah Frances Grant Slaton (1870-1945) in the Grant family mausoleum at Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.
In 1939, he received an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws from Oglethorpe University.
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. 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."