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humanity of their own sovereign? Or, do you wish to prepare them for the revocation of these improvident concessions? Do you think it wise or humane, at this moment, to insult them, by sticking up in a pillory the man who dared stand forth their advocate ? I put it to your oaths, do you think that a blessing of that kind, that a victory obtained by justice over biggotry and oppression, should have a stigma cast upon it by an ignominious sentence upon men bold and honest enough to propose the measure ; to propose the redeeming of religion from the abuses of the church-the reclaiming of three mil. lions of men from bondage, and giving liberty to all who had a right to demand it-giving, I say, in the so much censured words of this paper, “UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION !” I speak in the spirit of the British law, which makes liberty commensurate with, and inseparable from, the British soil --which proclaims even to the stranger and sojourner, the moment he sets his foot apon British earth, that the ground on which he stands is holy, and consecrated by the genius of “UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION.” No matter in what language his doom may have been pronounced; no matter what complexion, incompatible with freedom, an Indian or an African sun may have burnt upon him; no matter in what disastrous battle his liberty may have been cloven down; no matter with what solemnities he may have been devoted upon the altar of slavery, the first moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain, the altar and the God sink together in the dust; his soul walks abroad in her own majesty ; his body swells beyond the measure of his chains, that burst from around him, and he stands redeemed, regenerated and disenthralled, by the irresistible genius of “UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION.”.
Extract from a Speech by GEORGE GRIFFIN, ESQUIRE,
in the trial of Livingston against Cheetham, for a libel, before Judge Spencer.
THIS libel, gentlemen, is not a solitary ebullition of passion. It is a part and parcel of a deliberate and extended system of attack. The defendant foretold that he
would wage a “terrible warfare" against the plaintiff ; and this prediction he has indeed tremendously accomplished. With a step, steady as time, and an appetite keen as death, he has been seen waging against the plaintiff a warfare, not of conquest, but of extermination. He has been seen opening on the plaintiff the batteries of the press. Yes, gentlemen, the defendant has forced the press to become the disturber of domestic quiet-the as. sassin of private reputation. Our press, gentlemen, was destined for other purposes; it was destined, not to violate, but to protect the sanctity of private rights ; it was kindly ordained by a beneficent Providence to inform, expand and dignify the public mind; it was ordained the watchful guardian, the undaunted champion of liberty : not that syren word liberty, which is sometimes used as an ignis fatuus to allure mankind through the mire, and swamps, and mountains, and precipices, of revolution ; but that liberty which spreads the banners of its protection over man in the walks of private life, and gives him the proud consciousness of security in the enjoyment of property, person and character.
It is for these high purposes, that our press was ordained, but the defendant has rendered it the degraded vehicle of foul defamation. Of this I complain, not merely as counsel for the plaintiff, but as the humble advocate of my country. This is a crime against liberty herself. It is corrupting her sentinel; it is debauching her vestal. There was a time when the press of our country had an exalted character; when at the call of the press the American pulse beat high-when the press was capable of stirring the best blood in American veins-of rousing a nation to glorious enthusiasm-of calling from the plough the ploughman, from the closet the scholar, from the haunts of conviviality the man of pleasure, to fight with a Washington and a Hamilton, the immortal battles of American independence. Why had the press this resistless influence ? Because it was then the vehicle of truth. It is publishsd in the newspaper, was a short exclamation, sufficient to silence the cavils of the casuist, and remove the doubts of the sceptic. But now our press has lost its character for veracity. The demon of party has forced it to become a prostitute in the service
of licenciousness. It requires the avenging arm of a jury to redeem it from its degradation and restore it to its pristine utility and grandeur.
In his attack on the character of the plaintiff, we are constrained to admit that the defendant has been but too successful. When so much is said, something will be believed. Constant attrition wears away the solid rock. But character, gentlemen, is not made of rock. It is at once the most valuable and delicate of all human possessions : it is tarnished even by too much handling. “The winds of heaven may not visit it too roughly.” The plaintiff has been written down. Any man in society may be written down. No man is proof against the artillery of the press. But has it come to this ? Shall the press of our country be indeed converted into a tremendous engine for writing down character? Why, gentlemen, if it is to be thus prostituted, instead of being a blessing, it would be a scourge. Instead of rendering national thanksgiving for its institution, our country ought to be on bended knees, in fervent supplication to Heaven, for its abolition. For it would be a scourge, compared with which, the inquisitorial wheel, and revo: lutionary guillotine, would be instruments of mercy. .
During this assassination of his character, it is not to be supposed, that the mind of the plaintiff has been at rest. Put yourselves in his situation, what would be your feelings, while slanders the most vile, while calumnies the most base, were circulating against you through the medium of a widely extended public newspaper ; to be read by your cotemporaries-your friends and sneering enemies ; to descend to posterity, and be read by your children and grand children; to be republished perhaps by some future libeller, when you would be slumbering in your graves, to the mortification and disgrace of your descendants, who might then be destitute of the means of detecting the calumny? Oh, gentlemen, your hearts would be tortured on the wheel of agonizing sensibility. You would find no balm in innocency-no physician there. What you would suffer, the plaintiff has suffered. I should think meanly of him did I suppose him capable of retiring from the feelings of nature and wrapping himself up in the mantle of insensibility.
He this day appeals to a jury of his country. He has a right to demand of you, and in his name gentlemen, do I solemnly demand of you full remuneration for every honest man's confidence which has been estranged from him, for every wretched hour, for every sleepless night that he or his may be presumed to have endured from the circulation of this calumny.
What damages will you give ? Look gentlemen, at the libel. It accuses the plaintiff of cheating at cards, of being detected in cheating at cards. It superadds to the imputation of dishonesty, the charge of foul dishonour. Were the plaintiff accused of treason or murder, he might arm himself with a stern denial, and appeal intrepidly before the tribunal of the public. But this loathsome charge, this rotting accusation, this “ pestilence which walketh in darkness” deprives the unfortunate accused even of the miserable comfort of a public denial. Like the imputation of want of chastity in a female, its very vindication is contaminating.
To a gentleman, this charge is the very dregs of the cup of calumny--the seventh and last vial of the wrath of defamation. Where is this offence charged to have been committed ? The original libel is silent; but the supplementary libel, which they term their notice of justification, informs us, at an assembly room—where the fascination of music and enchantment of beauty-the “pride, pomp, and circumstance” of elegant conviviality would elevate any soul not lost in debasement-the plaintiff comes. He comes, not to participate the boun. ties of the temple of festivity, but to profane its rites. With an eye darkly bent on gain he comes-leagued with his brother, not in the prosecution of some honourable enterprize, but for the polluted and polluting purpose of treacherously robbing an unsuspecting friend. Is the plaintiff guilty of this charge? With his standing in society, without the excuse of poverty, or the extenuation of sordid education, has he indeed sunk to the “deep damnation” of this offence? Why then, gentlemen, he ought to be branded with a mark as indelible as that stamped by the hand of omnipotence on the forehead of Cain. The hiss of contempt, and murmur of indignation, are the music to which he should be forced to march all the days of his life. But if the plaintiff is innocent and who doubts his inno
cency? - What shall we say of the defendant? In the sol. itude of the closet he composed the libel. Deliberately did he publish it through the extended medium of the press. He commissioned the four winds of heaven to tell the tale of infamy to a hissing world. Nor was his malice yet appeased. Knowing that newspapers might be destroyed, impressions on memory impaired by the lapse of time, he stamped his libel on the records of the court. He wrote it with a pen of iron on tablets of marble. Here it has insultingly remained for months : there it will remain forever.
With what apologies does the defendant come into court ? --He acknowledges the innocency of the plaintiff. After permitting his loathsome publication to range uncontradicted for more than two years; he now comes forward, not with a newspaper recantation coextensive with the circulation of the libel, but he insults the plaintiff with a mere oral acknowledgment of his innocency. Is this extorted acknowledgment to be forced on us as a peace offering for past sufferings? Does it eradicate impres. sions on the public mind? Can it tear the libel from the records of the court ? -This death-bed repentance will not save him. A jury can look forgivingly on the humbled defendant who approaches in the sacloth of sincere contrition ; but they frown with indignation at the penitence of the tongue, when the heart is known to be yet filled with the bitterness of gall.
But it is said that we ought to have resorted to indict. ments.---The genius of our country will not endure state prosecution for libels. And were not the avenue to our criminal courts, guarded by this spirit of popular jealousy, permit me to ask if it would have been magnanimous in the plaintiff to arm himself with the purse and sword of the state. Had we entered the criminal court with our complaint, we should have been triumphantly told, “ you have no business here. If you are injured, resort to your civil action for redress.” And had we as many tongues as fame, this must have silenced them all.
Is any extenuation to be derived from the manner of the libel, or from the manner of the defence? Who is the more reprehensible-the intrepid calumniator who slanders in the face of day, and scorning denial or eva