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principles, one of the most important is that which has secured the freedom of the press; and this is the earliest of the reforms which Mr. Stanton has sketched in the work before us. It belongs to the close of the last century,—a period in which the popular mind of England, especially in the middle ranks of society, was waking to new activity, in consequence of the manifold benefits which the press had already placed within its reach. The ability to read and the desire for knowlege were now so widely diffused, that the press immediately became, what it has ever since continued to be, the most potent and efficient agent of popular appeal employed among men. New questions concerning the popular part of the Constitution now began to be raised; the acts of Parliament began to be assailed; the decrees of the Cabinet were freely criticised, and the doctrines of popular freedom which had lately been successfully asserted in America, and which had more recently fired the people of France with a demoniac frenzy, were now advocated and circulated through England by the agency of the press. This was what an English Cabinet had before never seen attempted, and they now determined to suppress it by the full force of the government. The question came up in the celebrated treason trials of 1794, when Horne Tooke, Hardy, Thelwall and their associates were indicted for high treason,a crime which it was alleged they had constructively committed, in publishing papers favorable to reform, in vindicating the cause of liberty in France, and in criticising the proceedings of the government at home. As the law in England then stood, treason was made to consist in attempting the king's life, or plotting the overthrow of the government or of the Established Church. These and other similar provisions seemed to contemplate some overt act on the part of the accused in order to establish his guilt. According, however, to the constructions of the courts of law, the uttering or the publishing of words which would tend to produce either of these results, was to be regarded as constructive treason. Or, as Mr. Stanton has it, “ Any publication imputing bad motives to the king or minister; or charging any branch of government with corruption, or a wish to infringe the liberties of the people; or which cast ridicule upon the Established Church; and any writing, printing or speaking which tended to excite the people to hatred or contempt of the government, or to change the laws in an improper manner, were seditious libels, for which fine, imprisonment, the pillory, &c., might be imposed.” ...." The court withheld from the jury the question whether a writing was libellous or seditious, and permitted them only to decide whether the prisoner had pubfished it. In a word, if the jury found that he published, they must convict; and then the judge growled out the sentence." By a process like this, had the asserters of public liberty and the champions of reform in England, during the latter half of the last century, been stricken down by the government. They had been fined or imprisoned, sent into exile or executed, till it had come to pass that any one who, either in speech or in writing, criticised the proceedings of the administration, was sure to be visited with some infliction of ministerial vengeance in the form of a judicial sentence.
Such was the law, such the judicial practice in England in 1794, when John Horne Tooke, the celebrated “Parson of Brentford,” and the author of the “ Diversions of Purley," with nine others, was indicted for conspiring to subvert the monarchy, depose the king, and compass his death, while the only overt acts which could be proved against them were, that they had joined associations for the promotion of public liberty, and had made speeches and written pamphlets favorable to Parliamentary reform. It was a judicial struggle of the deepest interest and of the utmost importance, and one which called forth the noblest display of forensic oratory which the English bar had then ever witnessed. Thomas Erskine appeared as counsel for the accused, and employed in their defense that bold statement of constitutional freedom, that clear convincing logic, and that resistless eloquence of appeal, which have never been so magnificently combined in the character of any other English advocate, and which have made his name synonymous with all that is glorious and great in the character of a lawyer at the bar. His speeches at these trials are before the world, and have long been the study and the guide of all who have had occasion to investigate, in the English tongue, the principles of public liberty to which they relate. Sir John Scott, afterwards Lord Eldon, was Attorney General, and conducted the prosecution with great learning and ingenuity. The court very evidently leaned strongly towards the side of the crown, but the ground taken by Erskine could not be shaken. His success was triumphant, the prisoners were all acquitted of the charges on which they had been indicted, and the great principle for which Mr. Erskine contended, “that for British subjects to utter their sentiments in any form concerning the government of their country is not treason," was sanctioned by the verdict of a jury, and henceforth became a part of the Constitution. The great privilege of an Englishman to think and to speak as he pleasessentire quæ velit et quæ sentiat dicere—was thus settled for
VOL. XV.—NO. LIX.
ever by the intrepidity, the genius and eloquence of a single man.
Of the persons who were involved in this trial, Tooke was by far the most distingnished, and stood highest in the affections of the people. He had long been engaged in their service, and had suffered much in their cause. His house had been subjected to domiciliary visits, his private papers ransacked for proofs of treason, his family insulted, and he himself had been repeatedly consigned to prison. This trial lasted for six days, during all which time he stood unmoved amidst the clouds of ministerial vengeance that lowered around him. He conducted the cross-examination of many of the witnesses and aided Mr. Erskine in making out the points of his argument, and when the whole case went to the jury, the feelings of the people in his favor were wrought to the very highest pitch of enthusiasm. At the words “ Not guilty," pronounced by the foreman, their feelings could no longer be repressed. "The arches of the Old Bailey rang with plaudits. After addressing a few words to the court, he turned to Scott and said, 'I hope, Mr. Attorney General, that this verdict will be a warning to you not to attempt again to shed men's blood on lame suspicions and doubtful inferences.' He then thanked the jury with much emotion for the life they had spared to him. The entire panel shed tears--the very men who had been so obviously packed to convict him, that at the opening of the trial Mr. Erskine said, “Mr. Tooke, they are murdering you ! The populace bore the old patriot through the passages to the street, where they sent up shout upon shout. It was a great day for Reformers, and its anniversary is still celebrated by the Radicals of England.”.
Of the nature of this struggle, and the character of the eloquence by which it was sustained on the part of the great advocate, we quote the estimate of Mr. Stanton :
Erskine's speech for Hardy (whose case was very critical, and the first one tried,) is one of the most splendid specimens of popular juridical eloquence on record. Owing to the running contests on points of law and evidence, constantly kept up while the trial went on, he lost his voice the night before he was to address the jury. It returned to him in the morning, and he was able to crowd seven hours full of such oratory as is rarely heard in our day. He regarded Hardy's acquittal or conviction not only as the turning point in the fate of his eleven associates, but as settling the question whether constructive treason should for long years track blood through the land, or its murderous steps be now brought to a final stand. He made a superhuman effort for victory, and achieved it. Profound as was his legal learning, eminent as were his reasoning faculties, classical as was his taste, transcendent as were his oratorical powers, all conspiring to place him not only at the head of the English bar, but to rank him as
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It was Clarkson who agitated the subject in all parts of England, who organized committees, published pamphlets and books, enlisted the sympathies of Wilberforce and other philanthropic spirits in its behalf, and loaded the tables of the House of Commons with petitions relating to this nefarious traffic.
In 1787 it was first brought to the notice of Parliament, and from that time till 1807—when the slave-trade was finally abolished and declared to be piracy by the laws of England-the subject was constantly pressed upon the attention both of the legislators and the people. A powerful array of wealth and rank and colonial interest was brought up in its defense. The traffic was alleged to be in accordance with the Bible—to be essential to the continuance of property in slaves in the coloniesto be required by existing contracts and by vested rights. Its assailants were of course denounced as “meddling fanatics," as depredators upon the rights of property; but they went fearlessly on, collecting facts and arguments and spreading them before the people of England, till the eyes of the nation were opened, and the traffic was annihilated forever. During all this period of twenty-two years, Clarkson was the guiding spirit of the entire movement. He was soon able to rally in its support some of the leading spirits of the age, Wilberforce, Pitt, Fox and Burke in the House of Commons, and Granville Sharpe, James Stephen and Zachary Macaulay in the different walks of social life; but he alone of all this noble band appears to have given it his ceaseless attention. In the long list of English reformers whose names are recorded in the volume of Mr. Stanton, not one deserves to be mentioned with profounder admiration and reverence than THOMAS CLARKSON.
The principles, however, which were put forth by Clarkson and his associates had other applications than those which their advocates made to the traffic in African slaves. Eight hundred thousand human beings were in bondage in the West Indies, while Parliament had the power to confer on them the blessings of freedom. To this giant wrong, therefore, the friends of humanity now began to direct their attacks. Year after year saw their numbers multiply and their power increase, and at length, in 1823, Parliament took the initiatory step, by declaring it to be expedient to adopt measures for ameliorating the condition of the slaves in the West India Islands preparatory to their emancipation. These resolutions were comparatively inoperative. They were but little regarded by the colonists, who, placed at a distance from the parent State and the seat of Parliamentary power, deemed themselves