Books February 2023
A review of A Man of Iron by Tory Senik.
On February 14, 1873, the sheriff of upstate New York’s Erie County—known to friends as “Big Steve”—fulfilled what he believed to be his duty to follow the criminal-justice process through to its end, notwithstanding his deputy’s offer to take his place. Years earlier, he had paid someone to substitute for him in the Civil War; he never again wanted the moral burden of having bought someone to fulfill a civic obligation in his stead. So, the sheriff personally acted as the hangman in the execution of the Buffalo saloon owner John Gaffney, a twenty-nine-year-old husband and father, who was convicted of killing a man in a drunken rage after a bad hand of cards. It did not go well; Gaffney took twenty-two minutes to die at the hand of his amateur hangman. In little more than a decade, Big Steve, better known as Steven Grover Cleveland, was the president of the United States. As with...
New to The New Criterion?
Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.Subscribe