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of the world, -though divided by distant ages, and by clashing opinions, distinguishing them from one another, yet joining, as it were, in one sublime chorus to celebrate the truths of Christianity, and laying upon its holy altars the never failing offerings of their immortal wisdom.
7. ATTEMPTS TO BIAS JUDGMENT IN CASE OF WILKES, 1768. - Lord Mansfield.
It is fit to take some notice of the various terrors being held out to the judges on this Bench; the numerous crowds which have attended and now attend in and about this hall, out of all reach of hearing what passes in Court; and the tumults which, in other places, have shame fully insulted all order and government. Audacious addresses in print dictate to us, from those they call the People, the judgment to be given now, and afterwards
the conviction. Reasons of policy are urged, from danger to the kingdom by commotions and general confusion. Give me leave to take the opportunity of this great and respectable audience, to let the whole world know that all such attempts are vain. Unless we have been able to find an error which will bear us out to reverse the outlawry, it must be affirmed. The Constitution does not allow reasons of state to influence our judgments. God forbid it should! We must not regard political consequences, how formidable soever they might be; if rebellion was the certain consequence, we are bound to say, “Fiat justitia, ruat cælum.” We are to say what we take the law to be; if we do not speak our real opinions, we prevaricate with God and our own consciences.
I pass over many anonymous letters I have received: those in print are public; and some of them have been brought judicially before the court. Whoever the writers are, they take the wrong way; I will do my duty unawed, What am I to fear? That mendax infamia from the Press, which daily coins false facts and false motives? The lies of calumny carry no terror to me. I trust that my temper of mind, and the color and conduct of my life, have given me a suit of armor against these arrows. If, during this King's reign, I have ever supported his Government, and assisted his measures,
I have done it without any other reward than the consciousness of doing what I thought right. If I have ever opposed, I have done it upon the points themselves, without mixing in party or faction, and without any collateral views. I honor the King, and respect the People; but, many things acquired by the favor of either are, in my account, objects not worth ambition. I wish popularity; but it is that popularity which follows, not that which is run after; it is that popularity which, sooner or later, never fails to do justice to the pursuit of noble ends by noble
I will not do that which my conscience tells me is wrong, upon this occasion, to gain the huzzas of thousands, or the daily praise of all the papers which come from the press; I will not avoid doing what I think is right, though it should draw on me the whole artillery of libels, — all that falsehood and malice can invent, or the credulity of a deluded populace can swallow. I can say, with a great magistrate,
upon an occasion and under circumstances not unlike, “ Ego hoc animo semper fui, ut invidiam virtute partam, gloriam, non invidiam, putarem."
The threats go further than abuse ; personal violence is denounced. I do not believe it; it is not the genius of the worst men of this country, in the worst of times. But I have set my mind at rest. The last end that can happen to any man never comes too soon, if he falls in support of the law and liberty of his country, — for liberty is synonymous with law and government. Such a shock, too, might be productive of public good; it might awake the better part of the kingdom out of that lethargy which seems to have benumbed them, and bring the mad back to their senses, as men intoxicated are sometimes stunned into sobriety. Once for all, let it be understood that no endeavors of this kind will influence any man who at present sits here ; no libels, no threats, nothing that has happened, nothing that can happen! 8. DEFENCE OF M. PELTIER FOR A LIBEL ON NAPOLEON. ---Sir J. Mackintosh.
GENTLEMEN, there is one point of view in which this case seems to merit your most serious attention. The real prosecutor is the master of the greatest empire the civilized world ever saw; the defendant is a defenceless, proscribed exile. I consider this case, therefore, as the first of a long series of conflicts between the greatest power in the world, and the ONLY FREE PRESS remaining in Europe. Gentlemen, this distinction of the English Press is new, it is a proud and melancholy distinction. Before the great earthquake of the French Revolution had swallowed up all the asylums of free discussion on the Continent, we enjoyed that privilege, indeed, more fully than others, but we did not enjoy it exclusively. In Holland, in Switzerland, in the imperial towns of Germany, the Press was either legally or practically free. Holland and Switzerland are no more; and, since the commencement of this prosecution, fifty imperial towns have been erased from the list of independent States, by one dash of the pen,
One asylum of free discussion is still inviolate. There is still one spot in Europe where man can freely exercise his reason on the most important concerns of society, where he can boldly publish his julgment on the acts of the proudest and most powerful tyrants. The Press of England is still free. It is guarded by the free Constitution of our forefathers. It is guarded by the hearts and arms of Englishmen; and, I trust I may venture to say, that, if it be to fall, it will fall only under the ruins of the British empire. It is an awful consideration, Gentlemen. Every other monument of European liberty has perished. That ancient fabric, which has been gradually raised by the wisdom and virtue of our fathers, still stands. It stands, thanks be to God! solid and entire, — but it stands alone, and it stands amid ruins! Believing, then, as I do, that we are on the eve of a great struggle, - that this is only the first battle between reason and power,
- that you have now in your hands, committed to your trust, the only
remains of free discussion in Europe, now confined to this kingdom ; addressing you, therefore, as the guardians of the most important interests of mankind, - convinced that the unfettered exercise of reason depends more on your present verdict than on any other that was ever delivered by a jury, - I trust I may rely with confidence on the issue; I trust that you will consider yourselves as the advanced guard of liberty; as having this day to fight the first battle of free discussion against the most formidable enemy that it ever encountered !
9. THE INSTIGATORS OF TREASON, 1807. — William Wirt. William Wirt, one of the brightest ornaments of the American bar, was born at Blattersburg, Maryland, November 8th, 1772. The most memorable case in which his talents as an asso. cate were exercised was the celebrated trial of Aaron Burr, in 1807, for treason, in which Wirt was retained as counsel for the Government. His exquisite description of the temptation of Blennerhissett by Bur is a most graceful and masterly specimen of forensic art. In 1917 Mr. Wirt was appointed Attorney General of the United States. He died February 18th, 1834.
The inquiry is, whether presence at the overt act be necessary to make a man a traitor ? The Gentlemen say that it is necessary,— that he cannot be a principal in the treason, without actual presence. The framers of the Constitution, informed by the examples of Greece and Rome, and foreseeing that the liberties of this Republic might, one day or other, be seized by the daring ambition of some domestic usurper, have given peculiar importance and solemnity to the crime of treason, by ingrafting a provision against it upon the Constitution. But they have done this in vain, if the construction contended for on the other side is to prevail. If it require actual presence at the scene of the assemblage to involve a man in the guilt of treason, how easy will it be for the principal traitor to avoid this guilt, and escape punishment forever! He may go into distant States, from one State to another. He may secretly wander, like a demon of darkness, from one end of the Continent to the other. He may enter into the confidence of the simple and unsuspecting. He may prepare the whole mechanism of the stupendous and destructive engine, put it in motion, and let the rest be done by his agents. He may then go a hundred miles from the scene of action. Let him keep himself only from the scene of the assemblage, and the immediate spot of the battle, and he is innocent in law, while those he has deluded are to suffer the death of traitors! Who is the more guilty of this treason, the poor, weak, deluded instruments, or the artful and ambitious man, who corrupted and misled them ?
There is no comparison between his guilt and theirs; and yet you secure impunity to him, while they are to suffer death! Is this reason? Is this moral right? No man, of a sound mind and heart, can doubt, for a moment, between the comparative guilt of Aaron Burr, the prime mover of the whole mischief, and of the poor men on Blennerhassett's Island, who called themselves “ Burr's men.” In the case of murder, who is the more guilty, the ignorant, deluded perpetrator, or the abominable instigator? Sir, give to the Constitution the construction contended for on the other side, and you might as well
expunge the crime of treason from your criminal code ; nay, you had better do it, for by this construction you hold out the lure of impunity to the most dangerous men in the community, men of ambition and talents, while you loose the vengeance of the law on the comparatively innocent. If treason ought to be repressed, I ask you, who is the more dangerous and the more likely to commit it, the mere instrument, who applies the force, or the daring, aspiring, elevated genius, who devises the whole plot, but acts behind the scenes ?
10. BURR AND BLENNERIIASSETT. - William Wirt. A PLAIN man, who knew nothing of the curious transmutations which the wit of man can work, would be very apt to wonder by what kind of legerdemain Aaron Burr had contrived to shuffle himself down to the bottom of the pack, as an accessory, and turn up poor Blennerhassett as principal, in this treason. Who, then, is Aaron Burr, and what the part which he has borne in this transaction ? He is its author, its projector, its active executor. Bold, ardent, restless and aspiring, his brain conceived it, his hand brought it into action.
Who is Blennerhassett ? A native of Ireland, a man of letters, who fled from the storms of his own country, to find quiet in ours. On his arrival in America, he retired, even from the population of the Atlantic States, and sought quiet and solitude in the bosom of our western forests. But he brought with him taste, and science, and wealth ; and “ lo, the desert smiled!” Possessing himself of a beautiful island in the Ohio, he rears upon it a palace, and decorates it with every romantic embellishment of fancy. A shrubbery, that Shenstone might have envied, blooms around him. Music, that might have charmed Calypso and her nymphs, is his. An extensive library spreads its treasures before him. A philosophical apparatus offers to him all the secrets and mysteries of nature. Peace, tranquillity and innocence, shed their mingled delights around him. And, to crown the enchantment of the scene, a wife, who is said to be lovely even beyond her sex, and graced with every accomplishment that can render it irresistible, had blessed him with her love, and made him the father of several children. The evidence would convince you, Sir, that this is but a faint picture of the real life. In the midst of all this peace, this innocence, and this tranquillity, — this feast of the mind, this pure banquet of the heart, the destroyer comes. He comes to turn this paradise into a hell. Yet the flowers do not wither at his approach, and no monitory shuddering through the bosom of their unfortunate possessor warns him of the ruin that is coming upon him. A stranger presents himself. It is Aaron Burr. Introduced to their civilities by the high rank which he had lately held in his country, he soon finds his way to their hearts, by the dignity and elegance of his demeanor, the light and beauty of his conversation, and the seductive and fascinating power of his address. The conquest was not difficult. Innocence is ever simple and credulous. Conscious of no designs itself, it suspects
none in others. It wears no guards before its breast. Every door and portal and avenue of the heart is thrown open, and all who choose it enter. Such was the state of Eden, when the serpent entered its bowers !
The prisoner, in a more engaging form, winding himself into the open and unpractised heart of the unfortunate Blennerhassett, found but little difficulty in changing the native character of that heart, and the objects of its affection. By degrees, he infuses into it the poison of his own ambition. He breathes into it the fire of his own courage ; a daring and desperate thirst for glory; an ardor, panting for all the storm, and bustle, and hurricane of life. In a short time, the whole man is changed, and every object of his former delight relinquished. No more he enjoys the tranquil scene: it has become flat and insipid to his taste. His books are abandoned. His retort and crucible are thrown aside. His shrubbery blooms and breathes its fragrance upon the air in vain — he likes it not. His ear no longer drinks the rich melody of music; it longs for the trumpet's clangor, and the cannon's roar. Even the prattle of his babes, once so sweet, no longer affects him; and the angel smile of his wife, which hitherto touched his bosom with ecstasy so unspeakable, is now unfelt and unseen. Greater objects have taken possession of his soul. His imagination has been dazzled by visions of diadems, and stars, and garters, and titles of nobility. He has been taught to burn with restless emulation at the names of great heroes and conquerors, of Cromwell, and Cæsar, and Bonaparte. His enchanted island is destined soon to relapse into a wilderness ; and, in a few months, we find the tender and beautiful partner of his bosom, whom he lately " permitted not the winds of" summer “ to visit too roughly,". we find her shivering, at midnight, on the wintry banks of the Ohio, and mingling her tears with the torrents that froze as they fell.
Yet this unfortunate man, thus deluded from his interest and his happiness, — thus seduced from the paths of innocence and peace, thus confounded in the toils which were deliberately spread for him, and overwhelmed by the mastering spirit and genius of another, this man, thus ruined and undone, and made to play a subordinate part in this grand drama of guilt and treason, this man is to be called the principal offender ; while he, by whom he was thus plunged in misery, is comparatively innocent, a mere accessory! Is this reason? Is it law? Is it humanity ? Sir, neither the human heart nor the human understanding will bear a perversion so monstrous and absurd; so shocking to the soul ; so revolting to reason !
11. REPLY TO MR. WICKHAM IN BURR'S TRIAL, 1807. - William Firt. In proceeding to answer the argument of the Gentleman, I will treat him with candor. If I misrepresent him, it will not be intentionally. I will not follow the example which he has set me, on a very recent occasion. I will endeavor to meet the Gentleman's prop