Rejection of the patent sought for the Policeman's Club
Decision of the Commissioner of Patents.
United States Patent Office, November 14, 1857
On appeal to the Commissioner from the decision of the Examiner, rejecting the application of John McLarty for Letters Patent for an improved "policeman's club."
The model of the "club" on file is twelve inches long, is round, and about an inch and a quarter in diameter. It has a smooth and polished surface, and resembles the baton generally borne by police and other officers. In practical use it would be lengthened, and would, no doubt, in accordance with the views of the inventor, generally take the form of an ordinary walking cane. Its exterior gives no indication of its real character or capabilities. Its barrel is hollowed, and within it is an ingenious mechanism connected with four longitudinal rows of "spurs or lancets," which lie concealed in the tube. On touching a spring, these lancets leap from their hiding-places, and through them, by a single wrench of the weapon, a most fearful mutilation is inflicted on the hand of any adversary that may have grasped it. In the technics of street rencounters, it may then be "clubbed," and its lancets made to bury themselves, at will, in the head and body of the victim. Its operation must prove as instantaneous as it would be irresistible.
The professed object of the inventor, in fashioning this club, was to supply what he states has long been a desideratum, to wit: a weapon not deadly—dispensing with the necessity of a resort to pistols—which policemen might use effectively, but which could not be wrested from them by the rowdies and malefactors with whom their official duties might bring them into conflict. There are on file the depositions of the Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent for the New York City Police, fortified by the certificates of fifteen members of the corps, all of whom concur in stating that this club will accomplish the end proposed by the inventor. They also declare, most emphatically, that they regard it as an important and valuable improvement; and a part of them express the opinion that it is not only harmless, but humane. These views have been carefully examined and considered, but they have not seemed the less startling, because of the sincerity with which they are unquestionably entertained. They present a strange, if not a melancholy illustration of the power of professional prejudice over the higher convictions and gentler impulses of our nature.
The purpose sought to be attained by the inventor—the safety of the conservators of the public peace, and their triumph in contests with lawless men—is one which must command the approbation of all good citizens; but even this end may become unhallowed, from the means employed to attain it. The law, happily, enjoys a wider range of vision that that which these witnesses seem to have allowed themselves; and while it would gladly secure the protection of all, it unhesitatingly recognizes the fact that it has the charge of interest, social and political, compared with which, even the safety of policemen is but as the dust of the balance.
The government of almost every civilized people has striven, with painful anxiety, to repress the habit of wearing concealed weapons. With none of the frankness which distinguishes true courage, it is a usage whose fruits have been evil, and altogether evil, and which has written its own sad history in the blood of some of the purest and noblest men of the times. but of all concealed weapons, the concealment of this is the most cunning and complete. In its spirit it is not merely unmanly, but skulking, and shocks, by the meanness of its cowardice, not only the chivalry, but the civilization of the age. With an inoffensive form, its polished yet simple exterior seems radiant with the smile of peace—but it is a smile destined to prove but the dagger's gleam before it stabs, for all who trust it. No deceit could be more subtle or profound than the crouching of its lurking spear points, which display, in the suddenness of their spring, the mingled ferocity of the tiger and the treachery of the kiss of Judas. Whether viewed as a weapon of offense or of defense, it is adapted to the hands only of the most dissolute and the most dastardly, and evidently belongs to the same class with the slung shot of the burglar and the brazen knuckle of the political ruffian. The national honor would not be more tarnished by granting a patent for the one than for the other.
Let the application be rejected.
J. Holt, Commissioner
The Editors of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN reply,
December 5, 1857:
The aim of the laws of every civilized country is to protect the mass, the majority, who are peace-loving, honest citizens, from the attacks of the murderer, the burglar, the rowdy and the ruffian, by arresting and punishing such persons, and by the example of their punishment preventing others from committing the same crimes. Means must be adapted to the ends contemplated by the law, and if, in the attempts which are made to enforce it, deficiencies are discovered, it is the part of true wisdom and true humanity to seek out the proper remedy, and vigorously apply it.
We are not sufficiently well versed in criminality and crime to question the opinions of the Chiefs of Police in New York and Boston, who have given in their written testimony declaring their opinion that it is a useful invention; but we maintain that their opinion on this matter, deduced as it is from much practical experience, is of more value that that of the Commissioner or our own. It is more to the interests of society that a dozen ruffians should get their hands scratched in doing an unlawful act, than that one policeman should suffer the slightest injury by being deprived of his club.
It is compatible with the institutions of our country to protect the weak and preserve order, to enforce the laws, and punish evildoers; and the national honor would be burnished, not tarnished, by giving a protective right to any instrument that will aid in doing this, and no officer of public justice will ever assert otherwise than that such would be done by McLarty's policeman's club. —Eds.