Page images
PDF
EPUB

fices on the sons of freemen." Think of a general in any army in the present war being haled by civilians before a court martial because he had declared that it was the duty of a soldier to obey every order of a superior officer without questioning their propriety. The court martial, on any of the charges, could find him guilty only of a little imprudence and Washington's gentle reprimand showed that the great commander did not forget his comrade's bravery and had full confidence in his friend's honor. But, unlike Washington, tried by both extremes of fortune but never disturbed by either, Benedict Arnold was to sacrifice his country to revenge himself on his enemies, and to exhibit to history a career of ambition without virtue, of glory tarnished with crime and of depravity ending in infamy.

The death on the gallows of Major André (p. 464) was one of the most tragic events of the Revolutionary War; his fate was deplored by those who had condemned him, and whose cause he had sought to ruin. No American can read this portion of our history without deep regret that the sacrifice was deemed necessary; no Englishman, who reads it impartially, can assert that the whole proceedings were not conducted by the strict laws of war. That Major André was a spy, his own admissions conclusively proved; and by the martial code, then as today, a spy must suffer death in its most ignominious form.2

The real connection of Joshua H. Smith (p. 486) with Benedict Arnold and his conspiracy has never been satisfactorily explained. It is almost impossible. to believe that a man of his intelligence did not suspect something wrong, and his narrative written many

2 Chandler Am. Trials 179.

years afterwards strengthens the impression that he was not acting in good faith. His troubles, however, Idid not end with his trial. He avers in his narrative that he was not informed of the decision of the court martial until long after it was given, but was kept in constant suspense as to his fate, for many months. The papers were transmitted by Washington to the Government of New York, that Smith might be tried by a civil process under the law of the State of New York, I should such a course be deemed advisable. He was subsequently taken into custody by the civil authority of the State, but after being confined in jail several months, he found means to escape, by the assistance of his wife, and after various adventures, sometimes disguised in a woman's dress, he reached the city of New York, then in possession of the British. At the close of the war he went to England, but returned to New York City, where he died."

A grewsome tragedy was that of the Reverend George Carawan (p. 514). A murder for revenge, followed by flight, pursuit, trial and condemnation and then hari kari in open court. The cloth will not often be a central figure in these volumes, but in the Editor's Library of Criminal Law and Criminology there is a curious volume published over thirty years and entitled "The Crimes of Preachers." The author is certainly not a friend of the clergy, for he boldly states that his object is to show that preachers as a class are more criminal than any other class of people. The editor can assure the public, as well as the profession, that this is absolutely untrue, though no one has yet appeared in such a special antipathy against any other profession or calling as to give to the world a

3 Chandler Am. Tr. 265.

volume on the Crimes of Lawyers or Physicians or Grocers.1

Stephen Clark (p. 597) was certainly the youngest person ever hanged in the United States. And that his tender age made small appeal to the humane sensibilities of the people among whom he lived, is shown in the comment on his conviction made at the time in a local pamphlet where the writer says:

"When an old criminal is convicted such wretches we yield to the executioner without much more regret than when we witness the extermination of a beast of prey, because we usually find in their history little else than one unbroken continuity of crime and guilt, whole lives of felony, hands reeking with blood and familiar with murder. The sufferings of such, at the moment of their extremity may indeed prompt a tear of pity, but not one aspiration for mercy. If nature breathes a sigh it is for her own degradation by such monsters in her shape, and we consign them to a murderer's grave satisfied that justice has only done her lone protracted work; that society is made safer by the excision of diseased members, property less exposed to spoliation and human life rescued from incipient folly and flagitious crime. There are many gradations and strong restraints. There is a fear of consequences to be quelled; a moral sense to be indurated; disgrace and infamy to be defied; and the whole force of education to be overcome, before the culprit can have been disciplined to stand, unmoved, on the brink of that gulf, into which his projected crime may instantly plunge him. When, therefore, a youth of only seventeen years, with all these terrors to repel, and all these restraints to stay his hand, has leaped almost at once from the impotence of childhood, into the deep damnation of hoary iniquity, and the abyss of death, an interest is excited far more intense than what is ordinarily felt in the last retributions of justice."

Some interest here, but no sympathy! And the writer concludes:

"Long may it be ere another instance of such precocious depravity shall stain our records or so youthful a victim bleed on the altar

4 The Crimes of Preachers, in the United States and Canada. Second edition. Translated out of the original newspapers and with previous translations diligently compared and revised. By M. E. Billings, New York. D. M. Bennett, 1882.

[ocr errors]

of justice. Long may it be ere the sensibilities of our citizens shall be shocked by an appeal to their humanity which seemed for a moment almost too strong for the sense of duty, and more than half prompted the wish to unclench the grasp of justice and give impunity to guilt of the blackest dye."

Consider for a moment the crime and the criminal. He set fire to the hay in a stable and though the fire spread to several dwellings and much property was destroyed, not a single life was lost. But the Chief Justice of Massachusetts told the jury:

"By a law of this commonwealth, the facts necessary to constitute the crime of arson are the wilful and malicious burning of the dwelling house of another in the night time, or the setting fire to any other building in the night time, by means of which the dwellinghouse of another is burnt. Perhaps no one will doubt that if ever the punishment of death should be inflicted, it should be for an offense of this kind. No crime can be conceived more dangerous in its consequences or indicating greater malice. In the case of a single murder, the consequences terminate in itself. The life of one person is destroyed, but the rest of the community suffer no direct injury. But in the setting fire to a dwelling-house during the defenseless hours of the night, and especially in a populous town, there is not only danger of vast destruction of property, but of the loss of multitudes of lives; and the peace and security of the whole community is at risk. If ever it is right for the Government to take the life of a subject, it is in such a case."

And it was in these words that the Chief Justice addressed the boy in sentencing him to the gallows:

"If there be a wretch, who, more than others, deserves the appellation of "enemy of the human race," it is he who is thus described. Murder, robbery, piracy, fall, in the black catalogue of crimes, below the crime of arson. They have determinate objects, are linked in extent, and incited by passions which may be considered human. This is boundless in its consequences; property is the least of its expected victims; the malice of a demon, unassisted by supidity, by particular revenge, or by any of the frail passions which usually lead to crime, is its sole instigator. It is then the right, nay, the duty of society, to cut off from the earth, by ignominious death, him who would involve his fellow creatures in such indiscriminate destruction. Young man! it is you, whose sad picture has thus been exhibited."

There was evidently not a single person in that community to point out and nobody seemed to remember that the boy had been brought up without restraint and without advice; that he had run the streets at will; that his associates had all been evil, with none to care what became of him! Certainly Society in the year 1821 did not regard very highly its duties to the youth of the Commonwealth.

And Stephen Russell (p. 671), with his friend Crockett, went to his death a dozen years later in Boston, for a similar act. Public opinion still regarded arson as one of the highest crimes in the calendar.

The prosecution in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (p. 675) is the only instance, says Dr. Wharton, where the notorious journalist, William Cobbett, achieved anything like a triumph, though in the opinion of the Historian, McMaster, Cobbett was of all the pamphleteers of that time in America, the most sarcastic, the most entertaining and the most successful. The charge of Chief Justice McKean was so unfair and malicious that no fair-minded grand jury would be likely to have indicted him, merely to please the Court, but the verdict was a political one, the jurors voting for or against the indictment according to their political colorsall the Democrats for a true bill and all the Federalists for no bill. His escape, however, emboldened him to attack Pennsylvania's greatest and most beloved citizen, Benjamin Franklin, and to write of him in the following terms, in a venomous article on his grandson and heir, who, as a political opponent, had incurred his ill will: "Everyone will, I hope, have the goodness to believe that my grandfather was no philosopher. Indeed, he was not. He never made a big lightning-rod, nor bottled up a quart of sunshine in his life. He was no almanac maker, nor quack, nor

« PreviousContinue »