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former illustrates the same blind and destructive energy of the popular passions, under circumstances and influences belonging to all times, and which may be repeated, perhaps will be more likely to be repeated, the more society is concentrated by the progress of civilization.
A considerable degree of ill-feeling had for some time been growing up between the white and the colored population of the city of New York. The passions of the respective parties were inflamed by frequent collisions and difficulties occurring between individuals. The public imagination, as usual, when the popular passions are excited, soon became distempered. The whole mass of accumulated fear, prejudice, hatred, and revenge, was at last kindled, as by a spark, on the utterance of the cry “Negro plot!” and the community rushed blindly into the most desperate and phrensied delusion, each individual contributing fuel to the flame. Accusations, confessions, executions, followed in quick succession. The government, the judges, the entire bar, and all classes, were swept into the excitement. No individual retained his coolness or self-possession. There was not a hand left to hold firmly aloft the scales of justice. There was not a voice to plead the cause of accused innocence. Reason was, for the time, extinguished, and every heart was perverted and hardened, by fear, and hate, and horror. Over one hundred and fifty persons were cast into prison. Four white persons were hanged. Eleven negroes were burned at the stake ; eighteen were hanged, and fifty were transported into West India slavery. This whole horrible scene was an utter delusion, commencing in malice and folly, and carried through all its terrific stages by a combination of passions, such as exist, and always will exist, in every community of men, and unless controlled, and guided, and mitigated, by reason, law, and the spirit of Christian moderation, may at any time break forth and lay waste society.
It is a singular circumstance, and completes the pārallelism between this transaction and the Salem witchcraft, that in each a clergyman was among the sufferers. While the negro-plot delusion was at its height, the public mind was still more distracted and shocked, and thrown into deeper consternation, by the cry of “ Popery " ; and the idea at once pervaded the whole community, that the Pope of Rome was at the bottom of the conspiracy. To this idea, an estimable clergyman, named John Ury, fell a victim. The following is the address he made, when arrived at the place of execution ;
“ Fellow-Christians, I am now about to suffer a death, attended with ignominy and pain ; but it is the cup that my heavenly Father has put into my hand, and I drink it with pleasure ; it is the cross of my dear Redeemer, I bear it with alacrity, knowing that all that live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution ; and we must be made in some degree partakers of his sufferings, before we can share in the glories of his resurrection ; for he went not up to glory before he ascended mouut Calvary; he did not wear the crown of glory before the crown of thorns. I am to appear before an awful and tremendous God, a being of infinite purity and unerring justice; a God who by no means will clear the guilty, that cannot be reconciled either to sin or sinners ; in the presence of that God, the possessor of heaven and earth, I lift up my hands, and solemnly protest, I am innocent of what is laid to my charge. I appeal to the great God for my non-knowledge of Hughson, his wife, or the creature that was hanged with them. I never saw them living, dying, or dead ; nor ever had I any knowledge or confederacy with white or black, as to any plot : and, upon the memorials of the body and blood of my dearest Lord, in the creatures of bread and wine, in which I have commemorated the love of my dying Lord, I protest that the witnesses are perjured ; I never knew them but at my trial. But for a removal of all scruples that may arise after my death, I shall give my thoughts on some points.
“ First, I firmly believe and attest, that it is not in the power of man to forgive sin ; that is the prerogative only of the great God to dispense pardon for sin ; and that those who dare pretend to such a power, do, in some degree, commit that great and unpardonable sin, the sin against the holy spirit ; because they pretend to that power which their own consciences proclaim to be a lie.
" Again, I solemnly attest and believe, that a person having committed crimes that have or might have proved hurtful or destructive to the peace of society, and does not discover the whole scheme, and all the persons concerned with him, cannot obtain pardon from God. And it is not the taking any oath or oaths that ought to hinder him from confessing his guilt, and all that he knows about it; for such obligations are not only sinful, but unpardonable, if not broken. Now, a person firmly believing this, and knowing that an eternal state of happiness or misery depends upon the performance or non-performance of the above mentioned things, cannot, will not, trifle with such important affairs.
“ I have no more to say by way of clearing my innocency, knowing that to a true, Christian, unprejudiced mind, I must appear guiltless ; but, however, I am not very solicitous about it. I rejoice, and it is now my comfort, (and that will support me and protect me from the crowd of evil spirits that I must meet with in my flight to the region of bliss assigned me,) that my conscience speaks peace to me. Indeed, it may be shocking to some serious Christians, that the holy God should suffer innocency to be slain by the hands of cruel and bloody persons, (I mean the witnesses who swore against me at my trial,) indeed, there may be reasons assigned for it, but as they may be liable to objections, I decline them; and shall only say, that this is one of the dark providences of the great God, in his wise, just, and good government of this lower world.
“In fine, I depart this waste, this howling wilderness, with a mind serene, free from all malice, with a forgiving spirit, so far as the Gospel of my dear and only Redeemer obliges and enjoins me to, hoping and praying that Jesus, who alone is the giver of repentance, will convince, conquer, and enlighten, my murderers' souls, that they may publicly confess their horrid wickedness before God and the world, so that their souls may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. - pp 248 – 251.
The most important trial, by far, in this collection, is that of John Peter Zenger, before the Supreme Court of New York, for two libels on the government. It took place on the 4th of August, 1735, James de Lancey, Chief Justice, presiding, assisted by Frederick Felipse, second justice. Governor Crosby, whose administration began in 1732, became involved in a violent and bitter controversy with the people of the Province of New York. The legislature and the Council were brought under his influence, and the higher courts of law also were so modelled as to be instruments in the hands of the government against the people. The only resource of the people was in the press. A newspaper, called “ The Weekly Journal," was their organ. printed by John Peter Zenger, a poor, but able and spirited individual. The chief justice endeavoured in vain to prevail upon the grand jury to indict him. The Council then pronounced four of Zenger's newspapers to be “ false, scandalous, malicious, and seditious libels," and ordered them to be burned by the common hangman. The order was read in the court of quarter sessions, but the magistrates would not suffer it to be entered. The sheriff caused the papers to be burned by his negro servant. Zenger was then arrested by
order of the Council, and thrown into jail. His friends procured a writ of habeas corpus, but the bail was put so high that he could not procure it. While he was thus lying in jail, the judges attempted again to get him indicted by the grand jury, but without success. The attorney-general then charged him by information for a misdemeanor in printing the said « false, scandalous, malicious, and seditious libels.” Two popular leaders, James Alexander and William Smith, undertook the defence of Zenger, but, taking exceptions to the jurisdiction of the court, they were summarily excluded from practising in the court, and their names stricken from the roll of attorneys. This high-handed procedure of the judges amounted to a threat of destruction to any lawyer of the New York bar, who should venture to espouse the cause of Zenger. In this extremity, his friends had recourse to a remedy which proved effectual. They went to Philadelphia and engaged the services of Andrew Hamilton, a celebrated barrister, about eighty years
age. This extraordinary man is thus described by Mr. Chandler;
“Educated in England, and in practice there before coming to this country, he had a good knowledge of law as a science, and took the highest rank in his profession. His honor, integrity, and ability secured for him the respect and admiration of many who differed from him in opinion. He was an ardent friend of free and liberal institutions, and, fearless of consequences, he denounced the encroachinents and usurpations of those in authority with a boldness that excited their fear and hatred, while his easy and graceful eloquence, his powers of sarcasm, and his powerful declamations, enraptured the people."
When the trial came on, Zenger had been in prison many months, and there seemed but little ground for hope that he could be rescued from the vengeance of the government. The charge was, that he had printed and published certain alleged libels. The first point to be judged was, that he did print and publish the papers ; and the next, that they were libellous. The junior counsel for the defendant proposed to contest the first point, but Hamilton overruled him, and, acknowledging the printing and publication, boldly threw himself on the other point, and took the ground, that he had printed and published no more than every free-born British subject had a right to print and publish.
Mr. Chandler has given the argument of Hamilton at length. We can assure every one, who reads it, of a rich intellectual repast. It is a magnificent specimen of forensic and judicial eloquence. In dignity and strength, in ingenuity and elegance, and in every attribute that can add force or weight to such an argument, it is scarcely surpassed. He was frequently interrupted by the attorney-general, and the chief justice endeavoured to cut him short, taking the ground, that ihe jury had no other duty to perform than to find the facts of the printing and publishing, which Hamilton had admitted, and that it was for the court to adjudge the libel. Upon the court's asserting this, Hamilton deliberately turned to the jury, and addressed his argument to them, showing it was their right, and privilege, and duty, to place themselves between the court and the citizen, and protect the latter against such a claim by the former. He proved that they, the jury, were the judges of the law as well as the fact, that the whole case was in their hands, and that they ought not to relinquish any part of it to the court. When we read his argument, it seems to us that, if ever the spirit of liberty was einbodied in the language of man, it was on that occasion. In that argument, the sovereign power of the people, of whom the jury were the representatives, first came forth in complete manifestation, in America, perhaps we may say, in the world. The judiciary having become degraded into the tool of the other branches, Hamilton evoked from the bosom of the people, through the peaceful and legitimate medium of a jury, that great remedial and conservative power, which, in the last resort, can only be found in the people.
He concluded in the following manner, alluding it will be perceived, to his having come from another Province, and to his great age ;
“I hope to be pardoned, Sir, for my zeal upon this occasion; it is an old and wise caution, that, when our neighbour's house is on fire, we ought to take care of our own. For, though, blessed be God, I live in a government where liberty is well understood, and freely enjoyed; yet experience has shown us all, (I am sure it has to me,) that a bad precedent in one government is soon set up for an authority in another; and therefore I cannot but think it mine, and every honest man's duty, that (while we pay all due obedience to men in authority) we ought at the same time to be upon our guard against power, wherever we apprehend that it may affect ourselves or our fellow-subjects.