Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

ject of Parliamentary Reform. The The third objection was to the reception of that evidence which regarded the training and drilling, and the assault at White-moss. The question submitted to the Jury upon this head presented two points: first, the general character of the assembly; and, second, the particular case of each individual charged, as connected with that general character. Now it was proved by the evidence, that a very considerable part of the persons assembled, and indeed all who came from a distance, came to the meeting in large bodies, in organized bodies, and with a military step and movement. The conclusion which would naturally be drawn from such appearances was a point for the consideration of the Jury; and no reasonable person will say that that point was left to the Jury in a manner more unfavourable to the defendants than was warranted by the circumstances. It is also proper to state, that at the particular place from which one of these large bodies came, persons had been formed and trained to marching and military movements; and that these same persons had violently ill-treated certain individuals, whom they called spies, and had made one of those individuals take an oath that he never would be a King's man or name the King again; and that some of the persons who composed the Manchester meeting expressed their hatred to this man, by hissing and hooting as they passed his house. There can be no doubt, I think, that this evidence formed matter for the consideration of the Jury. With respect to the last pointthe reception of evidence as to the inscription upon the flags or banners-I think it was not necessary either to produce those flags, or to give notice to the defendants to produce them. Those cases in which the actual production of writings has been required, are widely different from the present case. I

am not aware that the evidence of eyewitnesses as to flags exposed to public view was ever called in question until now. Inscriptions, under such circumstances, are public expressions of the sentiments of those persons who bear or who adopt them. If it were to be held that words so exhibited could not be proved unless by the actual production of the flags, why should the witness be allowed to state the colour of the flag, or even to say that he saw the flag at all? because, according to Mr Hunt's argument upon each of those points, the production would be the best evidence; and if parole evidence under any circumstances ought to be received, I think it was good evidence in the present case, notwithstanding the assertion that some of the banners were at the time of the trial in the custody of a constable at York; because, even taking this to be the fact, if the flags had been produced, then the prosecutors might have been called upon to prove that the flags produced were the same flags taken at the meeting; to deduce them from hand to hand; and, in case one step should fail, the evidence must be rejected altogether. To require such proof would be unreasonable, and to give it, in many cases, impossible. Having now disposed of these objections to the law laid down in the case, I shall take no notice of what has been called misdirection as to this or that particular point; I shall only say, generally, that the whole effect of the evidence appears to me to have been left most properly to the Jury: that the Jury were not directed to presume against the defendants any thing which was not well warranted by the evidence; and that they have not come to any conclusion which the nature of that evidence did not fully justify. I therefore think that this is not a case in which a rule to shew cause should be granted.

On the 15th May, the defendants

were called up to receive judgment. Affidavits were put in, and a speech of considerable length made by Mr Hunt in mitigation of punishment.

Mr Justice BAYLEY, in pronouncing the judgment of the Court, went at great length into the detail of the case. From the great number of persons who attended the meeting of the 16th August, that meeting could scarcely be considered a deliberative assembly. The probability was, that, in a meeting of such magnitude, individuals would rather be taught their grievances by the persons who presided than state the grievances which they actually endured, and that the remedies resolved up. on would be provided in the same manner. His lordship then adverted to the question as to the resolutions. If the resolutions to be passed at the Manchester meeting were the Smithfield resolutions, no one could entertain any doubt of the effect which such proposals were calculated to produce upon such an assembly. If it was intended to pass different resolutions, it had been competent to the defendants to shew, by evidence or by affidavits, what these resolutions were. The learned Judge concluded his address by observing that the Court had not been inattentive to the affidavits of the defendants, and proceeded to pass

sentence.

The sentence of the Court was, that Mr Hunt should be imprisoned in Ilchester gaol for the term of two years and six months. At the expiration of that time to find sureties for his good behaviour during a further term of five years, himself in 1000l. and two other persons in 500l. each. Johnston, Healy, and Bamford, to be imprisoned in Lincoln-goal for the period of one year, and, at the expiration of that time, each to enter into sureties for his good behaviour during five years, himself in 2007. and two other persons in 100l. each.

Mr Hunt wished to know whether his confinement was to be solitary confinement.

Mr Justice BAYLEY replied, that the Court made no such order. He had no doubt that every proper attention would be paid to the convenienee of the defendants; and, if cause of complaint should arise, that complaint would be attended to.

SIR FRANCIS Burdett, for Libel, CONTAINED IN A LETTER TO HIS CONSTITUENTS, ON THE MANCHESTER PROCEEDINGS.

Leicester, March 23d.

The Jury being impanelled, Mr BALGUY opened the proceeding. He stated, that this was an information filed by his Majesty's Attorney-General against the defendant, Sir Francis Burdett, for a libel. The first count charged, that the defendant, being an ill-disposed person, and intending to excite hatred and contempt of his Majesty's Government, and particularly among the soldiers of the King, and wishing to have it believed that certain troops of the King, on the 16th of August, 1819, wantonly and cruelly cut down certain of his Majesty's subjects, did, on the 22d of the same month of August, publish a certain libel. The count then set out the libel verbatim, which was in these words :

[blocks in formation]

these the practical blessings of our glorious boroughmonger dominationthis the use of a standing army in time of peace. It seems our fathers were not such fools as some would make us believe, in opposing the establishment of a standing army, and sending King William's Dutch Guards out of the country. Yet, would to Heaven they had been Dutchmen, or Switzers, or Hessians, or Hanoverians, or any thing rather than Englishmen, who have done such deeds. What! kill men unarmed, unresisting!—and, gracious God! women, too, disfigured, maimed, cut down, and trampled upon by dragoons! Is this England? This a Christian land? A land of freedom? Can such things be, and pass us by like a summer cloud unheeded?-Forbid it every drop of English blood, in every vein, that does not proclaim its owner bastard! Will the gentlemen of England support or wink at such proceedings? They have a great stake in their country. They hold great estates, and they are bound in duty, and in honour, to consider them as retaining fees on the part of their country for uphold. ing its rights and liberties. Surely they will at length awake, and find they have other duties to perform besides fattening bullocks and planting cabbages. They never can stand tamely by, as lookers on, while bloody Neroes rip open their mothers' wombs! They must join the general voice, loudly demanding justice and redress; and head public meetings throughout the United Kingdom, to put a stop, in its commencement, to a reign of terror and of blood,-to afford consolation, as far as it can be afforded, and legal redress, to the widows and orphans and mutilated victims of this unparalleled and barbarous outrage. For this purpose, I propose that a meeting should be called in Westminster, which the gentlemen of the committee will arrange, and whose summons I will hold my

self in readiness to attend. Whether the penalty of our meeting will be death, by military execution, I know not; but this I know, a man can die but once; and never better than in vindicating the laws and liberties of his country.

"Excuse this hasty address. I can scarcely tell what I have written. It may be a libel; or the Attorney-General may call it so-just as he pleases. When the seven bishops were tried for a libel, the army of James II., then encamped on Hounslow-heath, for supporting arbitrary power, gave three cheers on hearing of their acquittal : the King, startled at the noise, asked, • What's that ?'-' Nothing, sir,' was the answer, but the soldiers shouting at the acquittal of the seven bishops.' Do ye call that nothing?' replied the misgiving tyrant; and shortly after abdicated the government. 'Tis true, James could not inflict the torture on his soldiers!-could not tear the living flesh from their bones with a cat-ofnine-tails!- could not flay them alive! -Be this as it may, our duty is to meet! and England expects every man to do his duty!'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"I remain, Gentleman, Most truly and faithfully,

Your most obedient servant, F. BURDETT. Kirby-park, Aug. 22. 1819."

The learned Counsel said, that the information contained other counts, laying the charge in a different manner.

Mr Serjeant VAUGHAN then addressed the Jury.-Considering with whom this prosecution originated, and against whom it was levelled, he was not surprised that it had excited the curiosity and interest which appeared in the court. A great law-officer of the Crown had thought it necessary to bring before a Jury of his country a gentleman of ancient family, of great

fortune, and of splendid talents, and who was now, he believed, the favourite candidate for representing in parliament one of the principal cities in the empire. The information charged, that the defendant being an ill-disposed person, and intending to excite his Majesty's subjects, and particularly the soldiers, to sedition, and wishing and intending to have it believed that certain troops of the King killed certain subjects of the King, did publish the letter in question. They must therefore try this question whether there was this intention to excite hatred and contempt of the Government, and to excite the soldiers against it? With respect to motives, we could only judge of them by the acts or declarations of men; and taking that rule, it was not uncharitable to suppose that the writer of this letter meant that which appeared on the face of this information. If they thought it was his intention to do that which was charged against him, it was their duty to find him guilty. Every man was supposed to be acquainted with the consequences of his own act, and for his own act he must be responsible. The letter related to certain transactions at Manchester, which were now under discussion in another county. They were not now to make up their minds whether the meeting at Manchester on the 16th of August was a legal or an illegal meeting; but no reasonable man, he thought, could say that it was not an illegal meeting. But if the meeting of the 16th of August had been a legal assembly, and had been illegally dispersed, and if the soldiers had committed those excesses and cruelties that were charged against them, a person was not justified in writing such a letter as the one in question. Was this, or was it not, a libel upon the government and the soldiery? The truth of the libel was no answer to any such

charge. He came now to the letter itself.

The learned Counsel then went over the different paragraphs of the letter, and endeavoured to shew their seditious tendency. He finally observed, it was impossible that any reasonable man could read this letter, and say that it was not calculated to inflame the soldiers. He said that " James II. could not inflict the torture on his soldiers— could not tear the living flesh from their bones with a cat-of-nine-tailscould not flay them alive"-by which he meant that the soldiers of the present day lived under greater tyranny than in the reign of James the Second. Was this, or not, the language of excitement? Wat it not intended to make the soldiers believe that they were cruelly treated, and that their condition ought to be ameliorated? This was the libel. It was for the Jury to say, under the circumstances, whether the defendant was guilty or not. He had not read to them one or two passages only, upon which a greater stress might be laid-he had read the whole of the letter. Some passages were expressed in such terms, that no one would have instituted a prosecution against the writer; but others were so violent, and, taking the whole of it together, it appeared to him to be so highly seditious, that if the great law-officers of the Crown, who had instituted this prosecution, had failed to notice it, they would have been guilty of a great dereliction of duty. Indeed, the writer had thrown out a challenge to the Attorney-General to prosecute; and if he had not prosecuted the defendant for this publication, it might have been said, that, in an age like this, when, unfortunately, so many persons were brought before the tribunals of their country for libelling the Government, the humble and ignorant were visited with the penalties of

the laws, while the rich and enlightened were suffered to escape with impunity.

Evidence was called to prove that the letter in Sir Francis's hand-writing had been received in London, and sent to the newspapers for publication. It was also proved, that on the day when the letter was written, Sir Francis was at his house in Leicestershire.

Mr Denman objected that there was no proof of publication in Leicestershire. It was supposed that the letter must have been put into the post-office in that county; but there were many suppositions which might obviate such a conclusion. Mr Justice Best, however, conceived that the mere circumstance of its being written and signed in Leicestershire.

Sir Francis, in entering on his defence, made a long exposition of the hardships which he endured in being prosecuted on an ex officio information, and in not having the benefit of a Grand Jury. He then proceeded to justify himself on the particular charge. Nothing could be more vague or indefinite than the charge against him; he did not believe a precedent for it could be found upon the files of the Court. It used to be the practice in indictments to use the words vi et armis, and to allege that force had been used. In an action, he might justify by proving the truth of what he had written; but under the circumstances in which he was now placed, it was impossible for him to make any defence. He was left utterly bare and unprotected. The circumstance of his being tried by a special jury, was in itself evidence that the offence with which he was charged was not of a very heinous character. Falsehood, which was in ordinary cases the gravamen of the complaint, was omitted altogether in the information against him. How could the allegation of falsehood ever be looked upon in a criminal proceed

ing, as mere surplusage or ornament?
Supposing that the question of truth
or falsehood was in itself of no legal
importance, still it was worth inquiring
into, as affording evidence of the cri-
minal intention with which a publica-
tion was made. He should be glad to
know how an indictment would read,
if it were alleged in it that the defend-
ant had truly, instead of falsely, set
forth the matter of his complaint.
Now, the information in question was
as bare as sop's crow-it had not
upon it a single feather. It meant, if
it meant any thing, that he was de-
sirous of exciting disaffection, and had
an interest in producing disorder. He
would, however, assert, that it was
impossible to impute to him, with any
colour of probability, any motive to
commit bad acts of this kind. The
Attorney-General had stronger mo-
tives than he could have for doing
what was wrong, inasmuch as the
learned gentleman had his fortune to
make, while he (Sir F. Burdett) was
satisfied with what he was already in
possession of. As an English gentle-
man, he conceived himself bound to
assist in upholding the rights of his
countrymen; and he could shew that
this had ever been the prevailing bent
and disposition of his mind. On all
occasions he had endeavoured to im-
press on the minds of other indepen-
dent gentlemen, that the greatest dan-
ger arose from the want of union be-
tween the more powerful classes and
the people. It was absurd to suppose
that his finding fault with what had
been done at Manchester could excite
disaffection to the government amongst
the soldiers. It must excite disaffection
to himself, if it provoked any senti-
ment of that nature. But were sol-
diers, because they had served credi-
tably abroad, to be sanctioned in cut-
ting down their countrymen at home?
There was no calumny in reprobating
conduct of this kind; for nothing but

« AnteriorContinua »