« VorigeDoorgaan »
Guilty entitled him to do so. Neither can it be difputed that a warrant did in fact exist, and that its existence was known, since it appears that the officers stated in open Court that they had one: And it is not material for me to dispute, nor is it, per. haps, disputable, that Mr. O'Connor knew of their intention to arrest him; and, if he did know it, human nature is stronger than all the evidence in the world to convince every man of his disposition at least to escape from it: and I admit further, that a most honourable person, who gave his evidence with a candour which reflects high honour on his character, has added a circumstance which, though it could not be strictly received as proof, may be true, for any thing that touches the merits of the case, viz. that there had been a communication to the Court that there were disaffected persons disposed to rescue the prisoner.
Having admitted these facts, I, in my turn, have a right to bring to your recollection, that it is an indisputable fact, resting upon the whole of the Crown's evidence, that the officers, ftrongly impressed with this idea, rushed suddenly and impetuously forward, on Mr. O'Connor's stepping over the bar when the verdict of Not Guilty was delivered : and indeed Rivett, upon his cross-examination, distinctly admitted, that owing to the apprehenfion of a rescue, he rushed into Court with more precipitation than, under other circumstances, he could have justified ; and that a great bustle and confusion existed before he approached any of the Defendants, or even saw their persons. This admitted origin of the disturbance removes all difficulties from the confideration of the caufe ; and Mr. Juftice Heath declared, that there was a scene of confu. fion and violence in Court, such as he had never seen, nor could possibly have expected to fee; in a Court of Justice; and the single question, therefore, is, what share the Defendants had in it? Did the disturbance arise from any original acts of their's ? or were they, on the contrary, firit preifed upon by the officers and their affiftants, who, though they might be engaged in what they mistakenly supposed to be their duty, from an expectation of resistance, necessarily created confusion by their forcible entry into a crowded Court ? Were the Dea fendants engaged in any conspiracy or combination to deliver Mr. O'Connor ? That is the great, or rather the only question; because, if this does not appear from the evidence, all their acts, even if they were ultimately to remain as they appear at present, are perfectly confiftent with the conduct of gentlemen suddenly and rudely trampled upon in a tumult, though without, perhaps, being the particular objects of violence by those who created it.
The natural course of confidering which of these propositions ought to be adopted by reasonable men, is to set out with tracing a motive. There can be no offence, without some cor.
sponding inducement to commit it. It is not alledged that these Gentlemen ignorantly or wantonly insulted the Courtan indiscretion which can only happen amongst the lowest orders of the people : the charge upon them is a deliberate and pre-existing combination to deliver Mr. O'Connor, by confusion and force, from a warrant which they knew to be im. pending; and the acts attempted to be proved upon them can find no place in any reflecting mind, but as they are believed to be the result of such a conspiracy.
Now, I have always understood it to be the great office of a Court of Justice, when evidence is to be opposed to evi. dence, to consider the probabilities of the transaction ; indeed, a judicial decision is nothing else but the bringing up facts to the standard of reason and experience. I have already described the situations of the only two Defendants whose cases you can have occasion to consider ; --the one, as a high Peer and Magistrate of the Kingdom, with the natural consciousness of the duties inseparable from exalted stations ; the other, standing in a manner for his very existence upon the dignity and decency of his deportment in the Courts, which habit, as well as principle, had taught him to reverence and respect. Yet the charge upon such persons is, that open undisguised acts of violence were committed by them, in a place which the Attorney-General has, with great propriety, affimilated to 'the place where we now fit because nothing more forcibly assists the judgment than by bringing the scene under the immediate notice of the senses ; and I am, befides, speaking to Gentlemen of the county of Kent, who must themselves know the place without the aid of this comparifon, though you cannot know it better than I do. I have spent many laborious hours of my life in the Court at Maidstone; though the labour was always rendered delightful by the reflection that I never had to plead in vain, before Gentlemen of your description, the cause of innocence or truth. The Attorney-General, then, has affimilated the Court of Maidftone to this Court-He says, that the prisoner fat where my Learned Friends now fit behind me; that the bench of the Solicitors, where the confusion began, cannot be better defcribed than by the place occupied by the King's Counsel now sitting around me; the seat of the Counsel may be considered to be placed where these Gentlemen are now fitting before ;
and the vacancy in the middle, between the bench and me at this mo. ment, must be supplied by the table of which we have heard so much ; whilst the Judges there must be considered to be placed as they are here, elevated in situation as in rank, and command. ing the most distinct and immediate view of every part of the Court. · Under these circumstances, you are asked to believe that Lord Thanet and Mr. Ferguffon--the one possessed of a large hereditary fortune in Kent, and who could not but know
that his person was as well known to every man in Maidftone as St. Paul's Church to the inhabitants of Ludgate-Hill—the other standing upon a table within fix yards of the Judges, in the robes of his profession, close by a large chandelier, described at that time by all the witnesses to have been fully lighted ; you are desired, I say, to believe, that these two persons, with. out any motive upon earth brought home to them by any part of the evidence, engaged publicly in a scene of audacious riot and violence, in the public face of the most dignified Court; in the presence of all its numerous Officers ; of an acute and intelligent Bar; of the Sheriff and all his train; of a Jury composed of the prin. cipal Gentlemen of the county ; and of all that concourse of attendants upon an important State prosecution which either duty or curiosity had collected. I maintain that the history of the world does not furnish an example of such a total de. parture from every principle of human action, and from all common sense and prudence, in the commission of a crime. The interest of the parties to commit it appears to be nothing--the project utterly impracticable-detection absolutely certain the reproach, to men of character, fevere and inevitable—the legal punishment, not less fo ; and all those consequences noto. rious to men of the meanest and most uncultivated understandings,
Gentlemen, the mind of man cannot avoid collecting and accumulating these absurdities : but they are too important to be thus run over ; they must be viewed separately, to have their
First, then, let us search for a motive strong enough to impel honourable men to encounter such desperate difficulties, in the pursuit of a dishonourable, useless, and impracticable pur. pose. Have you any evidence, have you the suggestion, have you even the insinuation of Counsel, that the Defendants ought to be classed amongst those evil-disposed persons (if any such exifted) whom Mr. Justice Heath took notice of, but upon report only, as attendant on the trial? The Noble Earl came down, under the process of a subpæna, to give evidence for the prisoner ; not even of any fact connected with his conduct, but merely to state what he knew of Mr. O'Connor as an acquaintance, and what he had collected from others con. cerning his character in the common intercourse with the world. But why should I seek by observation to remove the imputation of a motive corresponding with the misconduct which is imputed, when it is but common justice to the At. torney-General to admit that he did not even attempt to in. sinuate any thing of the fort? Yet my Noble Friend remains as a criminal before you, charged with the violation of that which is the most facred in civil society, branded with the reGítance of aqthorities the most dignified and important, in order
that a person supposed to be an object of high suspicion by the Government of the Country, might be left at liberty to perpe. trate the treasons which the Duke of Portland's warrant had for its object to defeat-treasons which, if successfully perpe. trated, were, in their most direct and obvious consequences, to ftrip the Noble Earl of all the splendid inheritance of rank and property descended to him
from his ancestors through so many generations. Mr. Fergusson will forgive me if I say, that the principal property which he can die poffeffed of, must be the fruits of a profession which the fame treasons were pointed to destroy ; yet he, too, muft be believed, without a shadow of evidence, or even the suggestion of his accusers, to have en gaged in the desperate effort of affording shelter and opportunity for treasons which were to diffolve the Courts in which he practises, to destroy that system of Law which he has been bred to understand, and to set up, instead of it, a new order of things, by which he must descend from the eminence conferred by education and experience, and mix in the common ranks' with ignorant and undisciplined competitors.
But, it seems, they were not indifferent to the deliveranco of Mr. O'Connor ; for, upon his acquittal, they haftened to the bar, and congratulated him on the verdict. They cer, tainly did fo, in common with many others; and although the impulse of personal kindness which directed them was honourable, it may be set down, not so much to the individuals, as to the characteristic benevolence of Englishmen. The characteristics of nations depend more upon their histories and their governments, thar upon the temperaments of men arising from natural causes, The English Constitution was always, in theory, a Constitution of Freedom ; but it only became so in practice by the numerous and finally successful struggles of our free and virtuous ancestors against oppressive abuses of autho. rity. Many eminent persons to whom this Country is indebted for her Liberties, having stood upon their trials, and having obtained deliverances from the Tribunals of Justice, has gradu. ally produced a general sympathy in the minds of Englishmen, when men are standing for life or for death before their country, This is an almost universal, and peculiarly characteristic feature of the inhabitants of Great Britain. It is not confined to the vul. gar, as an ignorant and even an immoral prejudice; but per, vades all the claffes of society. It is compounded of a principle of humanity, of a spirit of national pride and dignity in the freedom of our institutions, and of a sense of security derived from them. No reasoning, therefore, can be more false, than that, when men are accused, and even upon pregnant evidence, of conspiracies against the Government, that they who seem to feel an interest in their deliverance are alienated in their af. fections to the State, Englishmen of all descriptions receive
their sense of innocence from their Country's verdict ; and they feel a sort of satisfaction which, I verily believe, exists in no other country. Irreligion and falfe liberty have been seen to delight in blood, to rejoice in revengeful sacrifices, to think it music to hear the agonizing groans of expiring sufferers, and a spectacle of triumph and pleasure to gaze upon their mutilated bodies ; but the sense of liberty in a country long humanized by the influence of a free government, shrinks back even from the consequences of the justeft prosecutions, looks with an eye of tenderness upon the accused even before the conscience is convinced of innocence, and feels an invincible impulse of pleasure in the legal deliverance from guilt. Long, long, may this remain the characteristic feature of our Country!-When Mr. O'Connor, therefore, was pronounced not guilty, was it any proof of a conspiracy to rescue him from other charges, that he was congratulated on his deliverance, which he was not only entitled to by the verdict of the Jury, but which the evidence on the trial, and the Judges' remarks on it, had previously and distinctly anticipated? The question, therefore, again recurs
S-Were the Defendants the active authors of the rescue, for the purpose charged in the Indictment ? The motive is gone already--not only as wholly unafcribable from the total absence of evidence, but because my Learned Friend who laid the cafe before you was too much a man of honour (as I have already done hiin the justice to acknowledge) to ascribe, or even to insinuate, a motive which he knew did not exist," and which he had neither evidence nor reasonable presumption to support.
If, however, a criminalact, tho'without the proof, or even the imputation of a referable principle of action, may still be believed by a Jury difpenfing the mild and rational justice of this country; the next confideration, in weighing the probabilities, is, how this purpose, supposing it still to exist, without any corresponding interest, was possibly to be accomplished ?--for men cannot be presumed to engage in the most perilous enterprises, not only without inducement, but without even a shadow of hope or prospect that their object is practicable. The situation of the Court is not only present to your own recollections from your perfect acquaintance with it, but is brought before your eyes by its just comparison with this. Mr. O'Connor food at the bar where my Learned Friends now fit, surrounded by hundreds of persons not attempted to be implicated in any design to favour his escape : on the right, and on the left, and be. hind, were the public streets of Maidstone, froin whence no paffage without observation was to be expected ; and before they could even be approached, an outlet must first have been made through groves of javelins in the hands of those numerpus officers which the exemplary attention of the Sherrifs of