Friday, June 6, 2014

If He's from Tennessee, It Can't Be Sodomy, Right?

I've been trying recently to keep these "old news" posts more-or-less in sync with the calendar day on which they were reported. I'm not waiting for the 17th for this one.

You want to know what the
testimony was. Admit it.
In a piece headlined "Depravity in the Capitol Building," the Evening Star of Washington, D.C. ran an article on an arrest and rapid prosecution for sodomy. There are some odd things about the article. There was clearly no delay in getting Frederick Lawrence and Charles W. Carter off to court after they were arrested at about 1:30 p.m. on June 16, 1882. It was a Friday and so business in the Capitol was probably pretty slow, but whatever they were doing was witnessed by a Mr. William Moss, who is described as an "employee at the Capitol."

Mr. Carter is described as a lawyer, and it seems he knew what to do; after being held in jail, he paid $50, was released and never charged. The article notes that Mr. Carter did not show up at the Police Court, but as he wasn't charged, maybe he wasn't obligated to.

Mr. Lawrence, whose age is given as "about twenty-five," did engage a lawyer, one C. M. Smith, who probably should have advised his client to cough up fifty bucks. Instead there was some sort of hearing. Mr. Moss's testimony
was of a character unfit for publication.
That clearly means he described some sort of sexual act between the two.

In response to Mr. Moss's testimony, Mr. Lawrence
took the stand and denied the charge and stated that he is from Tennessee.
Are those connected in some way? What's a nice young man from Tennessee doing getting nabbed for sodomy at the Capitol Building? Unlike Mr. Carter, Mr. Lawrence didn't get off easily. Apparently, it's better to pay the $50 than to be from Tennessee.
The court sentenced the prisoner to six months in jail. There was no charge made out against Carter, and his collateral will have be returned to him if he applies for it. There was a great deal of unfavorable comment on the part of persons around the courts that no effort was made to prosecute Carter or even cause him to lose his $50.
I'm going to make a guess here. I'm assuming that Mr. Moss's "unfit for publication" testimony was that Mr. Lawrence was the receptive parter (so to speak) in either oral or anal sex. Nor have I been able to find (with the resources I know of) any further information on this nineteenth-century Lawrence sodomy trial. This one did not end with the Supreme Court finding a protection for consensual sexual behavior.

I have done some quick genealogical research and have failed to turn up a Frederick Lawrence, born about 1857 in Tennessee. Further newspaper research was also fairly inconclusive. Was this the same Frederick Lawrence who was pulled overboard while shark fishing eight years later in the New Jersey waters? Was he the journalist who was exposing campaign corruption in the first decade of the twentieth century?

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