Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Only into the Court of King's Bench, with the intention, probably, that their legality should be questionable only there. The Commissioners, however, will depend, for the enforcement of their rules, orders, and regulations, upon the justices of peace, who are empowered to convict summarily of disobedience &c. Upon such occasions it is presumed, that the legality of the regulations disobeyed will be a question for the magistrate to entertain, especially as the control given to the Commissioners over the administration of the Poor Laws, is accompanied with these words of modification,'" according to existing laws, or such laws as shall be at the time existing." These words were introduced in the House "6f Commons, at the instance and suggestion, if we remember, of Sir James Scarlett, and they appear to have no effect or drift whatever, unless, perhaps, the above construction might be fastened on them. It would certainly be desirable (if necessary) to use express words, withdrawing the question of legality from the consideration of the magistrate, and confining his adjudication to the fact of disobedience and the amount of the penalty.

We have not space to enter into a minute examination of the details of this Bill, but many of the minor provisions appear to us likely to involve great difficulties in practice. If any important alterations occur in the Lords, we shall probably have the opportunity of noticing them very briefly before the time of our publication.

ART. VIII.—FORENSIC ELOQUENCE OF AMERICA.—WEBSTER'S

SPEECHES.

Speeches and Forensic Arguments. By Daniel Webster. Boston. 1830.

We know not how this work has escaped our attention so long, as it presents us with the very opportunity we have been anxiously watching for,—an opportunity of giving a fair specimen of the Forensic Eloquence of America. We have already laid under contribution the bar of every other country in which the mode of administering justice affords free scope to this description of oratory; and the bar of the United States will certainly not object to Mr. Webster's appearing on such an occasion as their representative. Unless both public fame and private information speak false, he has enjoyed " an extent of practice, a degree of success, in the pro? fession of the law, rarely equalled in any age or country," and (no rare occurrence in America) has amply sustained as a debater in congress, and generally as a public speaker, the high celebrity he had won for himself in the courts.

His Forensic Arguments, strictly so called,are of a comparatively dry character, and, like all chains of reasonings, incapable of being estimated by parts. We therefore pass on at once to a forensic speech replete with interest, in which almost all Mr. Webster's peculiar powers had full scope for displaying themselves. It is entitled an " Argument on the Trial of John F. Knapp for the murder of Joseph White, Esq., of Salem, in the county of Essex, Massachusetts." The following is a brief outline of the case.

Mr. White, a highly respectable and wealthy citizen of Salem, about eighty years of age, was found on the morning of the 7th of April 1830, murdered in his bed, under such circumstances as to create a strong sensation in that town and throughout the community.

Richard Crowninshield, George Crowninshield, Joseph J. Knapp, and John F. Knapp, were a few weeks after arrested on a charge of having perpetrated the murder, and committed for trial. Joseph J. Knapp soon afterwards, under the promise of favour from government, made a full confession of the crime and the, circumstances attending it. Within a few days after this disclosure was made, Richard Crowninshield, who was supposed to have been the principal assassin, committed suicide,:.. . •,. .•• ,..

A special session of the Supreme Court was ordered by the legislature for the trial of the prisoners at Salem, in July. At that time John F. Knapp was indicted as principal in the murder, and George Crowninshield and Joseph J. Knapp as accessories.

On account of the death of Chief Justice Parker, which occurred on the 26th July, the Court adjourned to Tuesday, the 3d of August, when it proceeded in the trial of John F. Knapp. Joseph J. Knapp, being called upon, refused to give evidence, and the pledge of the government was withdrawn.

At the request of the prosecuting officers of the government, Mr. Webster appeared as counsel, and assisted in the trial.

Mr. Dexter addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner, and was succeeded by Mr. Webster in the following speech

"I am little accustomed, gentlemen, to the part which I am now attempting to perform. Hardly more than once or twice has it happened to me to be concerned, on the side of the government, in any criminal prosecution whatever; and never, until the present occasion, in any case affecting life.

"But 1 very much regret that it should have been thought necessary to suggest to you that I am brought here to 1 hurry you against the law, and beyond the evidence.' I hope I have too much regard for justice, and too much respect for my own character, to attempt either; and were I to make such attempt, I am sure that, in this Court, nothing can be carried against the law, and that gentlemen, intelligent and just as you are, are not by any power to be hurried beyond the evidence. Though I could well have wished to shun this occasion, 1 have not felt at liberty to withhold my professional assistance when it is supposed that I might be in some degree useful in investigating and discussing the truth respecting this most extraordinary murder. It has seemed to be a duty incumbent on me, as on every other citizen, to do my best, and my utmost to bring to light the perpetrators of this crime. Against the prisoner at the bar, as an individual, I cannot have the slightest prejudice. I would not do him the smallest injury or injustice. But I do not affect to be indifferent to the discovery and the punishment of this deep guilt. I cheerfully share in the opprobrium, how much soever it may be, which is cast on those who feel and manifest an anxious concern that all who had a part in planning, or a hand in executing, this deed of midnight assassination, may be brought to answer for their enormous crime at the bar of public justice. Gentlemen, it is a most extraordinary case. In some respects it has hardly a precedent any where, certainly none in our New England history. This bloody drama exhibited no suddenly excited ungovernable rage. The actors in it were not surprised by any lion-like temptation springing upon their virtue, and overcoming it before resistance could begin. Nor did they do the deed to glut savage vengeance, or satiate long settled and deadly hate. It was a cool, calculating, money-making murder. It was all 'hire and salary, not revenge.' It was the weighing of money against life, the counting out of so many pieces of silver against so many ounces of blood.

"An aged man, without an enemy in the world, in his own house, and in his own bed, is made the victim of a butcherly murder, for mere pay. Truly, here is a new lesson for painters and poets. Whoever shall hereafter draw the portrait of murder, if he will show it as it has been exhibited in an example, where such example was last to have been looked for, in the very bosom of our New England society, let him not give it the grim visage of Moloch, the brow knitted by revenge, the face black with settled hate, and the blood-shot eye emitting living fires of malice. Let him draw rather a decorous, smooth-faced, bloodless demon; a picture in repose rather than in action; not so much an example of human nature in its depravity, and in its paroxysms of crime, as an infernal nature, a fiend in the ordinary display and developement of his character.

"The deed was executed with a degree of self-possession and steadiness, equal to the wickedness with which it was planned. The circumstances, now clearly in evidence, spread out the whole scene before us. Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim, and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep was sweet, the first sound slumbers of the night held him in their soft but strong embrace. The assassin enters through the window already prepared, into an unoccupied apartment. With noiseless foot he paces the lonely hall, half lighted by the moon, he winds up the ascent of the stairs, and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure, till it turns on its hinges, and he enters, and beholds his victim before

VOL. XII. I

[graphic]

Tiim. The room was uncommonly open to the admission of light. The face of the innocent sleeper was turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, showed him where to strike. The fatal blow is given! and the victim passes, without a struggle or a motion, from the repose of sleep to the repose of death! It is the assassin's purpose to make sure work; and he yet plies the dagger, though it was obvious that life had been destroyed by the blow of the bludgeon. He even raises the aged arm, that he may not fail in bis aim at the heart, and replaces it again over the wounds of the poniard,? Te finish the picture he explores the wrist for the pulse! he feels it, and ascertains that it beats no longer! It is accomplished. The deed is done. He retreats, retraces his steps to the window, passes out through it as he came in, and escapes. He has done the murder—no eye has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and it is safe!

"Ah! gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake. Such a secret can be safe nowhere. The whole creation of God has neither nook nor coiner, where the guilty can bestow it, and say it is safe. Not to speak of that eye which glances through all disguises, and beholds every thing as in the splendour of noon.^such secrets of guilt are never safe from detection, even by men. True it is, generally speaking, that 'murder will out.' True it is that Providence hath so ordained, and doth so govern things, that those who break the great law of heaven, by shedding man's blood, seldom succeed in avoiding discovery. Especially, in a case exciting so much attention as this, discovery must come, and will come sooner or later. A thousand eyes turn at once to explore every man, every thing, every circumstance connected with the time and place; a thousand ears catch every whisper; a thousand excited minds intensely dwell on the scene, shedding all their light, and ready to kindle the slightest circumstance into a blaze of discovery. Meantime the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret. It is false to itself; or rather it feels an irresistible impulse of conscience to be true to itself. It labours under its guilty possession, and knows not what to do with it. The human heart was not made for the residence of such an inhabitant. It finds itself preyed on by a torment, which it does not acknowledge to God nor man. A vulture is devouring it, and it can ask no sympathy or assistance, either from heaven or earth. The secret which the murderer posi sesses soon comes to possess him; and, like the evil spirits of which we read, it overcomes him, and leads him whithersoever it will. He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and de

« AnteriorContinuar »