Tuesday, 4 August 2015

4th August 1815: Nottingham Review editorial on the Charles Sutton trial

On Friday 4th August 1815, the Nottingham Review carried an extensive editorial on the subject of the trial of its proprietor Charles Sutton, which had taken place on the 22nd July,  & the verdict delivered:

We last week promised some remarks on our recent Trial; and we now redeem our pledge.—When the NOTTINGHAM REVIEW (which has been established by its own intrinsic merits,) was first sent to seek its fortune in the wide range of human society, the world was divided into two great political parties; the one founding their creed on the indivisibility and inprescriptibility of the rights of man—principles co-eternal in duration with nature itself; and the other on the odious and insulting assumption of the divine right of kings, in contradistinction to the rights of citizenship, which was ludicrously and irrationally generated in the witchcraft regions of Scotish subserviency, a short time before England was doomed to be tyrannised over by the Stuart race. On the side of the latter were marshalled state-craft, priest-craft, corruption, insidiousness, venality, and ignorance—on the side of the former, honesty, integrity, patriotism, and unbought talent were seen arrayed. In this trusty band the PROPRIETOR of the REVIEW sentimentally enlisted himself—he pursued, undeviantingly, his onward course; and thereby gained numerous friends, and not a few enemies—the former strewing flowers, and the latter thorns in his way; but the thorns were harmless, because they were lost in the flowers. Thus things went on, till and in an evil hour the spirit of discord raised its head in this town and neighbourhood, which will be long remembered how long deplored—war was the CAUSE, and distress was the CONSEQUENCE; the latter being always the close follower of the former, though led on by different means. The REVIEW pursued it steady course—it continued to make proselytes to reason, and reason to add friends to the REVIEW. But, in this new and alarming state of things, the PROPRIETOR had a new duty to perform—he had to give a faithful record of the numerous outrages committed—the public looked up to him for a statement of facts, as far as facts could be obtained; and he spared no pains to fulfil public expectation—he did more; he gave the whole weight and intent of his paper towards supporting the empire of the laws, against violence and outrage: but, in doing this, he could not surrender the noblest quality in his nature—heaven’s chartered gift, which is sealed with the sign manual of the Deity—he could not give up the sympathies of his heart; therefore, while he supported the empire of the laws, he pitied the misguidedly-criminal objects that were goaded on by their sufferings to a commission of the daring violations. To pity, say the disciples of Draco, is half to approve—we must have no distinctions in crime—no reasoning as to the relative motives for its commission—the wretch that wilfully breaks a bobbin is equally criminal with him that breaks his neighbour’s neck; and an equal punishment ought to be inflicted. The Legislature, after a little experience, reasoned otherwise, and so did the PROPRIETOR of the REVIEW—he weighed causes and effects—by cause and effect he judged a relative guilt—he recommended a prevention of crime as, at least, a partial correction of vice—he still dared to pity and advise, while he reproved and condemned. Hence a faction of enemies arose, that were dangerous only because some of them wore the garb of sentimental attachment—they whetted the assassin’s dagger of revenge on the spotless surface of unsuspecting friendship—they wore the Judas mask till conscious shame plucked it from their brows. They watched the REVIEW with equal assiduity with which an enamoured youth watches the lovely object of his tenderest affections, when passing the precipice of danger, but with very different motives—he watches to prevent an unfortunate slip—they watched for an opportunity to plunge the REVIEW and its PROPRIETOR into the gulph of perdition.—At length an opportunity offered itself for the partial gratification of their wishes—the publication of the article, which formed the subject of the prosecution, at any other time would have excited only laughter and ridicule; but the ever to be lamented catastrophe at Basford the same evening, furnished the hunters after revenge with the means of perverting its most obvious intention. The Attorney-General was applied to; the piece was analysed, and he was pressed not to lose the favorable opportunity; nay, such was the anxiety of a certain gentleman who was deputed to wait on the Attorney-General when the Term was nearly expired, for fear that Officer would have forgotten his duty, that he repeated his request, and we have every reason to believe, had it not been for this last named application, the prosecution would have slept for ever.

Without paying much attention to the candour of these gentlemen, whom we shall designate as instigators, we will take the friendly liberty of asking them a few questions. Then, gentleman, are you Englishmen by identity of attachment to the principles of liberty, as well as by birth? or has freedom never seen a sufficient share of common honesty in your conduct to induce her to adopt you amongst her children? Then, if you are Englishmen, in the liberal sense of the word—if you are the advocates of freedom (and otherwise you cannot be real Englishmen)—if the Great Charter, exacted from a bloody tyrant at Runnimead by the [dauntless] hand of patriotism, in your estimation be of any more value than the dust on a hosier’s or a cotton-dealer’s counter, or scraps of waste paper in a lawyer's office—if you think the Bill of Rights anything better than an almanack of the same date—if you think these things, how has it happened, in instigating the persecution, or prosecution, if you please, against the proprietor of the REVIEW, that you have stabbed the liberty of Englishmenmen through his side, by depriving him of one branch of an English jury? and why did you deprive him of a jury of townsmen altogether, by removing the cause to the county? Were you afraid that fifteen or twenty of the first gentleman of the town, and twelve peaceably disposed, creditable, and rational housekeepers would have been too honest for your purpose? The town of Nottingham has been famous, during a long succession of years, for the intelligence and uprightness of its juries, as well Grand as Petit—Judges have frequently applauded, and counsel have blazoned their fame: then why were you afraid of them? were you alarmed at their sterling integrity, or at the comprehensive powers of their minds? You applied to the Attorney-General for an information ex-officio, rather than to a Grand Jury with a bill of indictment, because you were aware that one stranger’s mind was more likely to be influenced by your insidiousness, than were fifteen or twenty gentleman who would have been guided in their decision by plain facts, by the connection and bearing of circumstances, and by the honest dictates of common sense. But Mr. Clarke, when he knew he could not be contradicted, endeavoured to prove the removal of the Grand Jury a very good things Mr. Sutton, because, said he, they would have found a bill of indictment against him, which would have prejudiced the court against his interest. If this position be founded on fact why not do away with Grand Juries altogether? Grand Juries must be either a public good or a public evil. If a public good, that good can only be produced by their as a shield to innocence; and, if this shield to innocence be an evil, why not remove it by legislative enactment? But this, ye instigators, you dare not apply for, for fear of public indignation being too unruly for your pigmy consequence! and, as you feared to trust the exercise of your vengeance against Mr. SUTTON to the care of this shield to innocence, you got it removed by an appeal to an odious custom which infringes on the constitutional rights of Englishmen! thus making yourselves instrumental in the infringement of those rights! and thus proving yourselves enemies to your country’s liberty.—The instigators, having waded thus deep in dirty water, scrupled not to proceed—they had to remove a Nottingham Jury altogether, or their work was but half done. And why these anxieties, watchings, struggles, and [cares]? What were they afraid of? Did they dread the honesty, integrity, understanding, and judgment of a Nottingham Jury? If they did, what sort of compliment were they paying to the merits of the prosecution, as well as to the men of the county who are competent to act as Jurors? And if they did not dread these things, why was the cause removed at all? for Mr. SUTTON had no wish to remove it—he did not dread the opinion of his townsmen, either in the capacity of Grand, Special, or Petit Jurors—he knew them too well to doubt their honesty, integrity, understanding, or judgment, as, he doubts not, they know him too well to suspect the purity of his intentions.

But we were told from the bench, during this trial, that the Attorney-General's power of filling bills of indictment, without the intervention of a Grand Jury, is necessary to preserve the constitution. What! Is the power of the constitution, in its administration of justice, so defective as to want the aid of innovation for its protection against a loose paragraph in a provincial print? This is a strange declaration indeed! This is declaring that the constitution is inherently defective, and that it is not calculated to suit the genius, the wants, and the interests of the people: a [petition] which we most distinctly deny. We admit, [nay] more, we contend that time and a course of corrupt circumstances have so vitiated the constitution as to render emendation absolutely necessary to its existence; but we by no means admit it to be originally weak or inherently vicious, or that bad practices are necessary to preserve the few remains of its purity. Were it to be maintained, that an act of gross immorality was necessary to preserve a good man from the contaminating principles of vice, would not the person making such declaration be pitied as a maniac, or subject himself to very unpleasant suspicion? And where is the difference between such a declaration, and the stating, that it is necessary to defend the constitution by violating its most valuable precepts?

That part of this trial which aimed the most deadly blow at the liberty of the subject we have yet to name; and which may not be unfairly charged upon the heads of the instigators, for having dared to urge a suit, in the support of which it was necessary to advance such extraordinary doctrine. Mr. Denman, considering the evidence produced in court (as connected with a Juryman’s oath) not sufficiently conclusive to connect the alleged libel with the indictment, with reference to the name of “Ludd,” and the word “neighbourhood,” no violence having been proved in court to have been committed by the Luddites, any nearer than Sutton in Ashfield (not even their very clearly) which is fourteen miles distant: he therefore submitted with confidence that he had a right to demand a decision in favour of Mr. SUTTON, without the matter being left to the Jury. And if we are to consider the words “neighbourhood”" in its natural meaning, and in a manner in which all common understandings will consider it, the learned counsel was right. For instance, Arnold is in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, Papplewick is in the neighbourhood of Arnold, Blidworth is in the neighbourhood of Papplewick; and Sutton in the neighbourhood of Mansfield; but you might as well say that Castle Donington, in Leicestershire, is in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, as that Sutton-in-Ashfield is! When we talk of neighbouring nations we say, France is a neighbouring nation to England; but when speaking of Austria our words always imply a distant or foreign nation, though there is only one dividing between it and ourselves; while there are four divisions betwixt Nottingham and Sutton. Notwithstanding this clear definition in favor of Mr. Denman's position, he was overruled by the Judge under the plea, that the question should be left to the judgment of the jury; which judgment is now duly appreciated. But Mr. Clarke contended, probably for fear Mr. Denman's arguments might warp the judgment of the jury from his view of the question, that the jury had a right to take into consideration their previous knowledge of the circumstances of the case. Against this frightful innovation on the liberties of Englishmen we shall exhibit that solemn oath which every juryman takes on entering the box, in the presence of a listening multitude, and in the face and in the name of the Almighty Disposer of Events, whose vengeance he invokes if he violates such oath: – "You shall well and truly try, and true deliverance make between our Sovereign Lord the King and the Defendant in this case, and the true verdict give according to the evidence—so help you God." To attempt to heighten this contrast—this sacred and constitutional line marked out by an oath, opposed to law and chicanery, and mere barristical declamation, to say the least of it, would be imprudent; because it is unnecessary; and because an addition of words would be a subtraction of strength.

Now, ye instigators, what will you say, or rather what will the world say of you, if this sacrilegious and monstrous doctrine be pushed into practice? how much you will then have benefited your country, by instigating a suit, and pushing it into court, which even yourselves blush to be considered the authors of; and which you could not support without!! — – but we will leave you to fill up the portentous blank. Let us suppose we hereafter see a man whom three of four knaves have determined, if possible, to ruin—that a murder should chance to be committed—that this man has been out at the time, and near the place where the horrid deed was committed—that these designing knaves lay a plan in the darkness of guilt to accuse him of the murder—that he is arrested and brought to trial for the crime, with all the prejudice upon his head which a supposed murderer carries with him—that one of these knaves, by the depth of design has contrived to be one of the Jury—then nothing but circumstantial evidence is brought against the prisoner—that the Jury retire to determine upon their verdict—that eleven of them say, "we have no direct proof against this man, therefore we must acquit him—and that the twelth man should say, who was in the plot, "but, gentlemen, I have the most convincing proof in my own breast that this man is guilty: proof which I was in possession of before I came into Court." Here he might name his proof, and shape it as he pleased—his fellow Jurymen would say, "well, Sir, but with this we have nothing to do—remember our oath!” “but, (answers this guilty wretch,) remember what was advanced on the trial of Mr. SUTTON—I am borne out by precedent, and will not submit." The eleven might yield the point; the innocent man might get hanged—the oath of a Juryman, in time, might become of as little value as a Custom-house oath; and the life and liberty of Englishmen be rendered less secure!

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