« VorigeDoorgaan »
favor of the “ peculiar institution,” they were carefully collected, and ingeniously and eloquently applied by Mr. O'Conor. At no time for the last twenty years has this course been popular in New York, or indeed in any part of the North ; but for the last seven or eight years it has been decidedly unpopular. This no one knew better than he; and instead of being discouraged by it he has not unfrequently turned it to the benefit of his client. Thus, for example, in his closing argument in the Lemmon slave case, the following passage occurs :
“I will now make a few remarks in reply to the argument on the general subject of negro slavery. On that topic, my learned friends enjoy, in this latitude, the privilege of saying as many witty things as they please, with the certainty of receiving applanse from a portion of their auditors. It requires but little firmness to speak in the midst of a friendly circle, and in conformity with its opinions. It requires but little effort of the imagination to introduce, in such a position, tropes and figures that will please those who surround us, and that will draw forth exhibitions of an adverse sentiment towards the stranger who may be present, seeking a disfavored right, or against the advocate who may venture to assert that right in his behalf. This privilegemy learned friends enjoy. They are welcome to it. I am sure I could not, here, turn the laugh upon them; and I would not wish to do it if I could. For, in my opinion, at this time, under the circumstances by which we are surrounded, the honorable citizen who can langh on this subject must first forget his moral duty. He may have an honest heart and a good understanding, but for the time he must be insensible to the just influences of either. The question before ps is not a laughing matter.---Rep.of Lemmon Slave Case, N. Y. Court of Appeals,
One of O'Conor's greatest merits as an orator is, that he addressės himself to no subject without embodying principles and inculcating precepts to which all must assent, and which, let their application in any particular instance be what it may, are undeniably instructive and suggestive in themselves; and we think it may be added that he owes much of his success as an advocate to the same characteristic. Thus all will admit that the speaker who has public opinion on his side, as intimated in the extract just quoted, can please and consequently convince his audience much more easily than one placed in the opposite position ; and the fact, when judiciously introduced, as in this case, cannot fail to influence the jury. The opponents of the pro-slavery advocate very naturally seek to avail themselves of the favorable position in which they are placed; but with the skill of a dexterous fencing-master he parries their thrusts as follows :
“So much for that argument. It is illegitimate, and unsound.
“My learned friend who last addressed the Court, has also observed that this case was presented to your consideration on my part, with soft phrases
and intricate sentences; that much had been said with a purpose to draw attention, or which had the effect of drawing attention away from the subject in hand, and that I had avoided a reference to general principles. I appeal confidently to your Honors' judgment whether my course in this argument has not been mainly a reference to general principles, and whether it has not been marked by a desire to avoid mere details. If it be true that I have fallen into the vice, or adopted the virtue-whichever it may be called—of using over-soft phrases, I ought surely to be forgiven, for it is my first offence. And as to intricate sentences, if I have offended in that way, it certainly verifies the saying, that a certain kind of communication has a certain effect upon manners. It is a new thing in my experience to be accused of uttering soft phrases, and as to the relative proportion of intricate sentences uttered in this debate, I think I can safely submit to a comparison. In that particular, at least, the learned counsel will be found to have far excelled. If the argument presented on our part in this case is remarkable for anything, it is for the simple pointblank directness with which it meets the emergency. On this head I confidently appeal to the closest scrutiny. Intricate sentences ! My learned friend has not read a sentence from our brief, or pointed out a single intricacy. Our argument may be all wrong, but it is direct. It is unmis. takable in its import; it is easily understood. Whether it can be easily refuted, your Honors, or some authoritative tribunal, will determine."'Rep. of L. S. C., p. 117.
But however much we may blame Mr. O'Conor for the powerful aid he has given the cause of slavery by his superior talents, we must admit that, after all, his most powerful efforts are those in favor of the weak against the strong. In proof of this we need only mention two of his numerous cases, namely, that of Richard G. Fowles v. Henry C. Bowen, and that of Catharine N. Forrest 0. Edwin Forrest. In the former he appears as the advocate and vindicator of a poor clerk sought to be disgraced and ruined by his employer; in the latter, as the advocate and vindicator of a woman sought to be cast off and disgraced by her husband. In neither case had he any adequate pecuniary reward to expect ; even his enemies are obliged to acquit him, however reluctantly, of all selfish motive in both cases. He believed Mr. Fowles, as well as Mre. Forrest, to be innocent; and accordingly he did his best for him as well as for her, and with a result equally successful as far as it went. Both trials are still fresh in the public memory, for each awakened a profound in terest.
It will be remembered that a wealthy merchant of this city gåve one of his clerks a good written character on parting with him, and at the next opportunity represented him in the worst possible light to his new employer. The party who acted thus was sued for defamation, a verdict for six thousand
; dollars was rendered for the plaintiff, but it was set aside by the court. The plaintiff then brought the case to the superior court and secured the services of Mr. O'Conor, who, in
spite of all the influence the wealthy defendant could command, procured a verdict of $4,500. We can only make room for a brief extract or two from his argument, but even these will show that the subject of our article did his duty fearlessly and effectually. Passing over the statement of the case and other introductory matter, we come to that part in which the counsel speaks of the value of character, and quote as follows:
“Mr. Bowen's counsel says the law does not favor actions for slander. This I deny. I have always supposed that this action was eminently favored by the law for the protection which it affords to reputation. Reputation is, of all human possessions, the most valuable. An approving conscience is the only thing in the wide circle of man's interest which should be more highly estimated. That is not a subject of human laws, for it is not a human possession; it is a thing divine ; it belongs to the world within us, and to the world to come; not to the class of mere human interests. Reputation is of this world. It is the approval of our neighbor. It is the estimation in which he holds us. It is the word which he utters in respect to us. It is indeed worldly; and of worldly treasures, you will agree in pronouncing it the most estimable. Who will deny this assertion ? Are marble palaces, or is the ownership of them are armies of clerks, or is the mastery of them—is eminence for wealth, for talent, for acuteness—is life itself, the sum of earthly things, more valuable than reputation ?"_Argument of Charles O'Conor on behalf of plaintif, Pamphlet, p. 11.
The counsel for the defendant having alleged that the law did not favor actions for slander, Mr. O'Conor proceeded to reply in the following strain of refined irony and indignant invective :
“Gentlemen, it is an action favored by the law. I grant that it is an action somewhat disfavored, as a professional pursuit, by gentlemen who, like my learned friends on the other side, are blessed with the smiles of . fortune. They seldom appear in a court of justice as the champions of a poor man's wounded reputation. I must confess as much for myself; but in making this case an exception to my usual course, I feel that I am fully justified ; in undertaking and presenting this case to you, I am quite sure that I have not departed from any principle of prudence or of honor. On the contrary, in a certain humble measure, I feel conscious of having entitled myself to the approval of all honest men.
“We have been compelled to listen to observations of the learned counsel, entirely unwarranted by evidence, about tricks, devices, and contrivances,' imputed to Mr. Fowles. And what is the foundation of all this? Why, you are told that there have been published in the newspapers certain remarks unfavorable to Mr. Bowen. The truth of this I doubt not, though I have never seen the publications alluded to. But are we responsible for these criticisms on the misconduct of the defendant? If a man will so demean himself as to outrage the general sense of the community, is he therefore not to be arraigned in a court of justice ?. Is he therefore to escape all legal responsibility, and is the injured party to be restrained by the very indignation which his wrongs have excited in the publio breast, from demanding justice before a court and jury against the transgressor ?
"Reference has also been made to something like an outburst of applause having occurred here in court. I am inclined to believe that the act was inadvertent. It is a natural impulse to give an outward mark of approbation to that which has our inward approval. We are not censurable because Mr. Fowles' course is approved, and that of Mr. Bowen is condemned by public sentiment. We are not responsible for the criticisms of the press or the indignant censures of the conuinunity. Neither have been excited by our conduct.”
Although more than the whole space originally intended for the present paper is already filled, we must make room for another passage from this speech, because it is characteristic of the adroit, telling manner in which, without any affectation of wit or humor, Mr. O'Conor quietly turns the laugh against the opposing counsel, while placing in relief, as if by accident, the worst points in the conduct of their client, and what is most favorable to his own :
“The counsel (Mr. Cutting) wishes to avail himself of the fact stated in our opening, that Mr. Fowles has here in court a brass stamp, which was used by Bowen & McNamee for the purpose of labelling their goods with the name of a foreign manufacturer of high credit, thereby to deceive and mislead their customers. He says we stated that fact, and therefore,' adds he, “ Fowles must have stolen the brass stamp, although all the rest of his story is mere fabrication.' He stole it from Bowen & McNamee, but all the rest of the story is false! That is to say, Fowles stole this stamp from Bowen & McNamee, though Bowen & McNamee never had it! (laughter). My associate says they used it. 'That,' says our opponent, I deny. As there is no proof that we ever had, ever owned, or ever used this counterfeiter's device, you must hold that part of Fowles' story to be a vile fabrication. But, on the other hand, there is the stamp itself.
a How did he come by it? He must have stolen it from Bowen & McNamee. On his own confession he is a thief.' This is what the learned gentleman calls taking a leaf from our book.'”—Ib., pp. 16, 16.
Fortunately, it is not necessary to do more than to allude to one
familiar to all as the Forrest case, for an adequate review of Mr. O'Conor's speech alone would fill the whole space we have devoted to this paper. It is certainly a great effort, although there is nothing pretentious about it; it makes no parade of learning, but it is, nevertheless, in accordance with the principles laid down by the best judges from Demosthenes and Aristotle to Quintilian and Blackstone, of what forensic oratory ought to be. Every classical student will remember what stress the Stagyrite lays on the importance of conciliating the good will of the judge and jury. We know no advocate who acts upon this precept
* with more consummate skill, or more happy effect, than Mr. O'Conor. The following passage is, indeed, not the best
@ See Aristotle's Rhetoric, Book II., c. i.
specimen we could give in proof of this, but we think it is quite sufficient to justify our estimate of his ingenuity in that respect :
“Now, sir, I conceive it to be altogether in character; and following out the probably commendable, and certainly very prudent course of my adversary, I deem it proper to impute that remark, not to him, but to his instructions—not as emanating froin himself, but as passing through him -the mere conduit, the voice, the language, the observation of his
client. Now, sir, I say this is the last impropriety as yet; I have a hope that there will be another, and I confidently hope that, as all the persons who have come within the sweep of this party's moral sabre have received a stroke, even up to your Honor-I say I have a confident hope that twelve other individuals will receive a suitable denunciation consequent upon the justice—the integrity-the righteousness of their verdict. And it is only necessary for me to add that, as to other improprieties, I fear them not. Now, sir, I observe on this for the reason I have stated. I observe on it because it has a tendency to deprive my client of a right before this jury. If your Honor please, there have stood, during some five or six long weeks, two advocates, members of the legal profession, who come in each as the champion of his party, each imbued-honestly as the counsel on the other side says, and I am bound to think-honestly imbued with confidence in the righteousness of his client's cause, but each, of course, liable to the deepest prejudices; liable to be greatly misled; each liable to use a course of argument unfounded in reason, tinctured by affection, colored by passion. How is this jury to decide between us? How, if I make a statement of evidence directly contradictory to the counsel on the other side how, if I pursue a course of argument founded on some principle of law to illustrate this case, widely different from the course of argument that I ought to adopt-how, I would ask your Honor, are these jurors to find an umpire and an arbiter between us, but in your Honor? I have expected through this case, sir, from the very commencement, that every just, honorable and upright man in the community would be deeply imbued, I may say, with violent prejudices against the case of this defendant, up to the time one or two of his own witnesses were examined. I have expected, sir, that that calm, enlightened, and intelligent judgment, which for five and twenty years has presided in this court with universal satisfaction, manifested not only under the old system by the highest authority in the state, but, more recently, by the majesty of the people itself.
“I have, I say, sir, expected that that enlightened judgment, which no man ever doubted—which rarely has a jury ever differed with--which we have all at the bar uniformly known to be so impartial, so just, so enlightened, in its views of evidence and in the law, so reasonable, so marked with that plain Saxon common sense which goes straight home to the hearts of men, and carries conviction to them; so marked with that love of justice that knows no faltering, so that it has commanded universal admiration-I did expect, sir, though I pretend to no personal claims on your consideration--though my client is a total stranger to you, sir, and a total stranger to all public men-people like yourself-I have expected from the outset, that that common justice which for five and twenty years all parties litigant in this court have received at your hands, would have been meted out to us in this case, and that, if the evidence in this case made certain impressions on the mind of your Honor, that, calmly, dispassionately, freely, and fearlessly, as heretofore, you would put the case to this jury, and whenever the learned connsel on the other side and myself are in conflict-such a conflict as would be regarded material by your