The justice of Frederick II
Consider the case of Frederick II, an 18th-century king of Prussia. Frederick fancied himself an enlightened monarch, and in some respects he was. On one occasion, he is supposed to have interested himself in the conditions of a Berlin prison. He was escorted through it so that he might speak to the prisoners.
One after the other, the prisoners fell to their knees before him, bewailing their lot and, predictably, protesting their utter innocence of all charges that had been brought against them.
Only one prisoner remained silent, and finally Frederick’s curiosity was aroused.
“You,” he called. “You, there!”
The prisoner looked up. “Yes, your majesty?”
“Why are you here?”
“Armed robbery, your majesty.”
“And are you guilty?”
“Entirely guilty, your majesty. I richly deserve my punishment.”
At this Frederick rapped his cane sharply on the ground and said, “Warden, release this guilty wretch at once. I will not have him here in jail where by example he will corrupt all the splendid innocent people who occupy it.”
This page was last updated February 1, 2006.