Abbildungen der Seite

with so small a number. There is not a day that you hear the cries of your starving manufacturers in your streets, that you do not also see the advocate of their sufferings, that you do not see his honest and manly figure, with uncovered head, soliciting for their relief, searching the frozen heart of charity for every string that can be touched by compassion, and urging the force of every argument and every motive, save that which his modesty suppresses, the authority of his own generous example.

Or, if you see him not there, you may trace his steps to the private abodes of disease, and famine, and despair, -- the messenger of Heaven, bringing with him food, and medicine, and consolation. Are these the materials of which you suppose anarchy and public rapine to be formed? Is this the man on whom to fasten the abominable charge of goading on a frantic populace to mutiny and bloodshed ? Is this the man likely to apostatize from every principle that can bind him to the State, — his birth, his property, his education, his character, and his children? Let me tell you, gentlemen of the jury, if you agree with his prosecutors, in thinking that there ought to be a sacrifice of such a man on such an occasion, and upon the credit of such evidence you are to convict him, never did you, never can you give a sentence, consigning any man to public punishment, with less danger to his person or to his fame; for where, to fling contumely or ingratitude at his head, could the hireling be found, whose private distresses he had not endeav. ored to alleviate, or whose public condition he had not labored to improve ?

I will not relinquish the confidence that this day will be the period of my client's sufferings ; and that, however mercilessly he has been hitherto pursued, your verdict will send him home to the arms of his family, and the wishes of his country. But if (which Heaven forbid :) it hath still been unfortunately determined, that, because he has not bent to power and authority, — because he would not bow down before the golden calf, and worship it, he is to be bound and cast into the furnace, I do trust in God that there is a redeeming spirit in the Constitution, which will be seen to walk with the sufferer through the flames, and to preserve him unhurt by the conflagration !

3. THE HABEAS CORPUS ACT. - John Philpot Curran, in the case of the King

against Mr. Justice Johnson, Feb. 4th, 1805, before Chief Baron Lord Avonmore and the other Barons, in the Court of Exchequer.

I now address you on a question the most vitally connected with the liberty and well-being of every man within the limits of the British empire ; — which being decided one way, he may be a freeman; which being decided the other, he must be a slave. I refer to the maintenance of that sacred security for the freedom of Englishmen,- so justly called the second Magna Charta of British liberty,- the Habeas Corpus Act; the spirit and letter of which is, that the party arrested shall, without a moment's delay, be bailed, if the offence be bailable. What

was the occasion of the law? The arbitrary transportation of the subject beyond the realm ; the base and malignant war which the odious and despicable minions of power are forever ready to wage against all those who are honest and bold enough to despise, to expose, and to resist them.

Such is the oscitancy of man, that he lies torpid for ages under these aggressions, until, at last, some signal abuse — the violation of Lucrece, the death of Virginia, the oppression of William Tell — shakes him from his slumber. For years had those drunken gambols of power been played in England; for years had the waters of bitterness been rising to the brim; at last, a single drop caused them to overflow, the oppression of a single individual raised the people of England from their sleep. And what does that great statute ao ? It defines and asserts the right, it points out the abuse; and it endeavors to secure the right, and to guard against the abuse, by giving redress to the sufferer, and by punishing the offender. For years had it been the practice to transport obnoxious persons out of the realm into distant parts, under the pretext of punishment, or of safe custody. Well might they have been said, to be sent “ to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns ;" for of these wretched travellers how few ever did return !

But of that flagrant abuse this statute has laid the axe to the root. It prohibits the abuse ; it declares such detention or removal illegal ; it gives an action against all persons concerned in the offence, by contriving, writing, signing, countersigning, such warrant, or advising or assisting therein. Are bulwarks like these ever constructed to repel the incursions of a contemptible enemy

? Was it a trivial and ordinary occasion which raised this storm of indignation in the Parliament of that day? Is the ocean ever lashed by the tempest, to waft a feather, or to drown a fly? By this act you have a solemn legislative declaration, “ that it is incompatible with liberty to send any subject out of the realm, under pretence of any crime supposed or alleged to be committed in a foreign jurisdiction, except that crime be capital.” Such were the bulwarks which our ancestors placed about the sacred temple of liberty, such the ramparts by which they sought to bar out the ever-toiling ocean of arbitrary power; and thought (generous credulity!) that they had barred it out from their posterity forever. Little did they foresee the future race of vermin that would work their way through those mounds, and let back the inundation !

4. CURRAN'S APPEAL TO LORD AVONMORE. - From the last-named speech. I am not ignorant, my Lords, that the extraordinary construction of law against which I contend has received the sanction of another court, nor of the surprise and dismay with which it smote upon the general heart of the bar. I am aware that I may have the mortification of being told, in another country, of that unhappy decision; and I

foresee in what confusion I shall hang down my head, when I am told it. But I cherish, too, the consolatory hope, that I shall be able to tell them that I had an old and learned friend, whom I would put above all the sweepings of their hall, who was of a different opinion; who had derived his ideas of civil liberty from the purest fountains of Athens and of Rome; who had fed the youthful vigor of his studious mind with the theoretic knowledge of their wisest philosophers and statesmen; and who had refined that theory into the quick and exquisite sensibility of moral instinct, by contemplating the practice of their most illustrious examples, – by dwelling on the sweet-souled piety of Cimon, on the anticipated Christianity of Socrates, on the gallant and pathetic patriotism of Epaminondas, on that pure austerity of Fabricius, whom to move from his integrity would have been more difficult than to have pushed the sun from his course. I would add, that, if he had seemed to hesitate, it was but for a moment; that his hesitation was like the passing cloud that floats across the morning sun, and hides it from the view, and does so for a moment hide it, by involving the spectator, without even approaching the face of the luminary. And this soothing hope I draw from the dearest and tenderest recollections of my life; from the remembrance of those attic nights and those refections of the gods which we have partaken with those admired, and respected, and beloved companions, who have gone before us, – over whose ashes the most precious tears of Ireland have been shed." Yes, my good lord, I see you do not forget them; I see their sacred forms passing in sad review before your memory; I see your pained and softened fancy recalling those happy meetings, where the innocent enjoyment of social mirth became expanded into the nobler warmth of social virtue, and the horizon of the board became enlarged into the horizon of man; where the swelling heart conceived and communicated the pure and generous purpose; where my slenderer and younger taper imbibed its borrowed light from the more matured and redundant fountain of yours. Yes, my lord, we can remember those nights, without any other regret than that they can never more return ; for,

“We spent them not in toys, or lust, or wine;
But search of deep philosophy,
Wit, eloquence, and poesy;
Arts which I loved, for they, my friend, were thine.”

* Here, according to the original report, Lord Avonmore could not refrain from bursting into tears. In the midst of Curran's legal argument, “this most beautiful episode,” says Charles Phillips, “bloomed like a green spot amid the desert. Mr. Curran told me himself, that when the court rose, the tip-staff informed him he was wanted immediately in chamber by one of the judges of the Exchequer. He, of course, obeyed the judicial mandate; and the moment he entered, poor Lord Avonmore, whose cheeks were still wet with the tears extorted by this heart-touching appeal, clasped him to his bosom.” A coolness caused by political differences, which had for some time existed between them, gave place to a renewal of friendship, which was not again interrupted.


On the 23d of June, 1803, a rebellion against the Government broke out in Dublin, in which Robert Emmett, at the time only twenty-three years of age, was a principal actor. It proved a failure. Emmett was arrested, having missed the opportunity of escape, it is said, by lingering to take leave of a daughter of Curran, the gifted orator, to whom he bore an attachment, which was reciprocated. On the 19th of September, 1803, Emmett was tried for high treason at the Sessions House, Dublin, before Lord Norbury, one of the Chief Judges of the King's Bench, and others; was found guilty, and executed the next day. Through his counsel, he had asked, at the trial, that the judgment of the Court might be postponed until the next morning. This request was not granted. The clerk of the Crown read the indictment, and announced the verdict found, in the usual form. He then concluded thus: “What have you, therefore, now to say, why judgment of death and execution should not be awarded against you, according to law 2° Standing forward in the dock, in front of the Bench, Emmett made the following impromptu address, which we give entire, dividing it only into passages of a suitable length for declamation. At his execution, Emmett displayed great fortitude. As he was passing out of his cell, on his way to the gallows, he met the turnkey, who had become much attached to him. Being fettered, Emmett could not give his hand ; so he kissed the poor fellow on the cheek, who, overcome by the mingled condescension and tenderness of the act, fell senseless at the feet of the youthful victim, and did not recover till the latter was no longer aunong the living.


WHAT have I to say, why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me, according to law I have nothing to say which can alter your predetermination, or that it would become me to say with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are here to pronounce, and which I must abide. But I have that to say which interests me more than life, and which you have labored — as was necessarily your office in the present circumstances of this oppressed country—to destroy. I have much to say, why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been heaped upon it. I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your minds can be so free from impurity as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter. I have no hope that I can anchor my character in the breast of a Court constituted and trammelled as this is. I only wish, and it is the utmost I expect, that your Lordships may suffer it to float down your memories, untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbor, to shelter it from the rude storm by which it is at present buffeted.

Were I only to suffer death, after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence, and meet the fate that awaits me, without a murmur. But the sentence of the law which delivers my body to the executioner will, through the ministry of that law, labor, in its own vindication, to consign my character to obloquy: for there must be guilt somewhere, — whether in the sentence of the Court, or in the catastrophe, posterity must determine. A man in my situation, my Lords, has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune, and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated, but the difficulties of established prejudice: — the man dies, but his memory lives: that mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countrymen, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wafted to a more friendly port, — when my shade shall have joined the bands of those martyred heroes who have shed their blood, on the scaffold and in the field, in defence of their country and of virtue, – this is my hope: I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious Government which upholds its dominion by blasphemy of the Most High, – which displays its power over man as over the beasts of the forest, — which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand, in the name of God, against the throat of his fellow, who believes or doubts a little more, or a little less, than the Government standard, – a Government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans and the tears of the widows which it has made." II.

I APPEAL to the immaculate God, - to the throne of Heaven, before which I must shortly appear, — to the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before, — that my conduct has been, through all this peril, and through all my purposes, governed only by the convictions which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of the emancipation of my country from the superinhuman oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and that I confidently and assuredly hope that, wild and chimerical as it may appear, there is still union and strength in Ireland to accomplish this noblest enterprise. Of this I speak with the confidence of intimate knowledge, and with the consolation that appertains to that confidence. Think not, my Lords, I say this for the petty gratification of giving you a transitory uneasiness; a man who never yet raised his voice to assert a lie will not hazard his character with posterity by asserting a falsehood on a subject so important to his country, and on an occasion like this. Yes, my Lords; a man who does not wish to have his epitaph written until his country is liberated will not leave a weapon in the power of envy, nor a pretence to impeach the probity which | * to preserve even in the grave to which tyranny consigns lin. Again I say, that what I have spoken was not intended for your Lordships, whose situation I commiserate rather than envy; — my expressions were for my countrymen; if there is a true Irishman present, let my last words cheer him in the hour of his affliction—# I have always understood it to be the duty of a judge, when a prisoner has been convicted, to pronounce the sentence of the law; I have also understood that judges sometimes think it their duty to hear with patience, and to speak with humanity; to exhort the victim of the laws, and to offer, with tender benignity, opinions of the motives

* Here Lord Norbury said: “The weak and wicked enthusiasts who feel as you feel are unequal to the accomplishment of their wild designs.”

+ He was here interrupted by Lord Norbury, who said : “You proceed to unwarrantable lengths, in order to exasperate and delude the unwary, and circulate opinions of the most dangerous tendency, for the purposes of mischief.”

f Lord Norbury here interrupted the speaker with, – “What you have hitherto said confirms and justifies the verdict of the jury.”

« ZurückWeiter »