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seats in the House, assumes a severity revolting to humanity, and is carried into execution by the bayonet; wherefore the petitioners feel it to be their duty to protest against that corrupt and factious usurpation of seats in the House, by which all freedom is destroyed, and our unhappy country is threatened with convulsion, slavery, or subjugation ; for in a usurpation which inflicts on the whole community taxation without representation, nought but despotism can be discovered.”
- A petition of the there-undersigned inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Halifax, in Yorkshire, was also presented and read; containing the same allegations and prayer as the last preceding petition.And the said petitions were ordered to lie upon the table.”
There are many other petitions which I may read couched in equally strong language.
Mr CLERK.--I think enough has been read, and we need not fatigue the Court and the Jury.
Mr GRANT.--Particularly on the 12th of March I see there are several petitions received in the same terms with the petition from Halifax.
· Mr CLERK. This is but a specimen of the petitions which have been sent to and received by Parliament. Such are not indeed petitions which the House of Commons is disposed to grant. But the privilege to think and talk on these matters, to take advice about them, to hold meetings about them, and to make them the subjects of speeches, resolutions, and petitions, unquestionably belongs to the people of this country. The right of petitioning is so sacred, that the most over, bearing and arbitrary administrations have never proposed to restrict it altogether. You will pause, then, Gentlemen, before you pronounce a verdict, which, as the Public Prosecutor demands it, would, in terms almost direct, be a verdict against the right of petitioning : For the same argument that has been urged against the pannel would apply against speeches relative to petitions complaining of any other public abuses, if the distresses of the people should be never so great mabuses against which no remedy could be looked for but by petitioning the Legislature, and stating the grievances in the language of truth. Were such a pestilence to be intro: duced in this part of the island, as prosecutions to subvert the right of petitioning, the consequences would indeed be calamitous. The right of petition, so tenaciously held by our ancestors, may be still more necessary to our posterity. The
It has no
present case ought not to have been prosecuted, even if the words had been more inflammatory than they are. resemblance to a case of sedition. In the case of Muir, and a variety of others, in which men were tried and punished for sedition, a wicked purpose was always clearly established, and the accused had no pretence for saying that they looked toward the Legislature for the accomplishment of their objects. The moment that such a bona fide purpose is in view, the subject has a right to express his opinion, and he cannot be subjected to punishment for it. If he could be punished, the right of petition would be at an end.
Gentlemen, the pannel is a person of irreproachable character, and his former history, and in particular the loyalty and public spirit of his conduct on all occasions, leave no room for any presumption that he would be inclined to seditions practices.
Mr Clerk then read the following Certificates :
Kilmarnock, 2d April 1817. This is to certify, that Alexander M‘Laren has resided in my house as a lodger for the space of seven years against May next, behaving himself soberly and honestly, free from wrangling or quarrelling, and as a loyal subject, speaking respectfully of Government, and all other rulers in their different stations, so far as is known to me. JOHN STRATHERN, Wright.
Kilmarnock, 2d April 1817. This is to certify, that Mr Alexander M Laren has resided in Kilmarnock for upwards of eight years, and has been several years in habits of intimacy with the undersigners; and during that time, to the utmost of our knowledge, has behaved in a sober and peaceable manner ; at all times has been a loyal subject, a firm friend of order, and a habitual respecter of authority John STRATHERN, Wright. Geo. SMITH, Grocer. JAMES ALEXANDER sen. Weaver. John Paxton, Brewer. John BUNTIN, Weaver.
JAMES CRAIG, Weaver. Wm. Howie, Builder.
JAMES BUNTIN, Shoemaker.
Mr JEFFREY, Counsel for Mr Baird, addressed the Jury in the following terms:
You are aware, Gentlemen, that it is now my duty to address you on the part of the other pannel; and, after what you have already heard, and the ample opportunity you have had to consider the whole of the evidence during the trial, I flatter myself I shall be able to discharge this duty without encroaching much longer on your time. I wish, first, to address a word or two to you on the facts of the case, and to lay before you, in a detached form, those that relate to this pannel, THOMAS BAIRD, -after which I must trouble you with a few words on what I conceive to be their reasonable and legal import.
It is one comfort in this case, surrounded as it is with discomforts and anxieties, that with regard to the facts, there can be no reasonable doubt in your minds; nor am I aware indeed, that upon this part of the subject there is any great. contradiction between the opposite sides of the bar. And, therefore, I shall give but a slight abridgment of the facts, separating those which apply to this individual, the truth and import of which I do not conceive liable to any question.
You will remember, it has been put in evidence before you, that he is a man in a good condition in life, which is denoted indeed by his appearance. He is in reality a most respectable person, who had long resided in the town, among whose citizens he had taken an active part on this occasion; and, even in the judgment of those who differed from him in opinion on political subjects, and who, from their official situation, had the power and the duty to prevent him from committing any wrong, he was universally esteemed incapable of harbouring evil intentions against the Constitution. He was entrusted with military and civil offices, which are only committed to known and tried hands. He is a person past the early period of youth, when great imprudence may take place, notwithstanding principles generally. correct. He has a young family dependent on him for their subsistence; and earns his livelihood by a trade which depends for its success on his good character and conduct. It has been proved that his general conduct is not only correct but exemplary, and that he has been in the habit of communicating and discussing his opinions on politics with a variety of persons who did not concur in those opinions; and therefore, while the other pannel, from being less known in the town, could not have his character so generally spoken to, we who have been entrusted with the defence of Baird, and who being less circumscribed in this respect, could afford to make a selection of our witnesses, have purposely abstained from taking the evidence of those who concurred in his political sentiments, or bringing one reformer to testify in favour of another, and have thought it better to take the evidence of those only who were naturally influenced by opposite motives and principles. You heard from them that this person has always been remarkable for the frank.
ness with which he delivered his opinions; and that, even when expressing them with the heat and exaggeration inseparable from such discussions among parties who do not agree, they always appeared to them perfectly innocent and fair. Brown, Wyllie, and Miller, from profession and situation the most figuring men in the town, and the most notoriously adverse to any change in the establislied order of things, all say he uniformly maintained such language'as impressed their minds with a conviction that he was strongly and decidedly attached to the constitution of this empire, though he wished for a reform in the Commons House of Parliament: That he was a mild person, and of a character incapable of exciting, in any way, any degree of disorder or discontent against Government.
I am aware that a good moral character is not in general an answer to a charge of crime, if there is distinct proof of its having been committed on any particular occasion ; and that an allegation by the prosecutor of a wrong committed by a person whose moral character previously stood untainted, will, if supported by positive evidence, lead to the punishment of that person, notwithstanding such previous good character. But I submit to you, that in a trial like this, depending mainly on the question, whether the pannel harboured a wicked, felonious, and seditious purpose, or, if he did not harbour such purpose in its obvious and naked form, whether he was chargeable with that disregard of the safety of his neighbour, or that recklessness as to consequences, which, in the eye of law, is considered a moral wrong, and punished as wicked and felonious : I say, in a case in which every thing depends on this; where the matter is intrinsically of a doubtful nature; where it is a question whether a person has gone beyond a pardonable vivacity of discussion, and ventured to use language which the law holds to be demonstrative evidence of improper purpose,-if
, in these circumstances, you find a nian standing in such a situation as the pannel,
--not tempted to expose himself to public view,-not gifted with powers of eloquence,__no way accustomed or inclined to try his talents in that way,-carrying on a thriving trade, which he has no disposition to leave,--and standing comparatively uninjured, while others around him were on the verge of ruin,--of peaceable habits,--of moderate political principles; under such circumstances, I say, you are bound to presume for his innocence, unless criminal intention be clearly and unanswerably established against him. The legal presumption of innocence, in such a case, amounts almost to a moral certainty
In this situation, Mr Baird, placed as he was in the heart of a manufacturing district, could not fail to be a spectator of very general and very deplorable misery. A sharer in it he. must also have been in some degree, as all persons must be who are connected with the sale of commodities from which purchasers are gradually withdrawing. Although the causes of the general distress did not so immediately or directly affect him, yet he heard and witnessed those clamours and complaints, which certainly, in this part of the island, have not hitherto broken out into those rather compassionable than criminal excesses, to which the infirmity of human nature, rather than the malignity of individuals, or of any class of the people, may be hurried in seasons of such unprecedented calamity. He could not help hearing those complaints, and listening to the remedies which were proposed for those evils; and it appears, that he concurred in the opinion which some persons have held-and he confessed it to all with whom he had occasion to conversethat a great part of the evils arose from a defect in one of the great bodies of the Legislature, --from want of due communication of sentiment between the body of the people, and those whose function it is to express their sentiments, and watch over their interests. That he entertained such an opinion, there is no doubt. Not going so far perhaps as thinking that a reform in the representation of the people would remove the evils then existing, he, in common with many persons, was of opinion, that it might tend at least to prevent their recurrence. He certainly did favour the professed object of the meeting, and in this, if his guilt began, it also ended. He undisguisedly gave his countenance to a general meeting for petitioning the three branches of the Legislature, for redress of grievances, and reform of the Commons House of Parliament. His conduct in this particular was worthy of the sincerity with which it was dictated. Associated with some others whom you have seen, they agreed as to the propriety or expediency of encouraging this method of proceeding; and at the same time, they determined not to take this step of calling a meeting for petitioning the Legislature, if it was opposed, or likely to produce any opposition, in an official form, on the part of the local magistrates. Accordingly Mr BAIRD, as one of the most respectable of the Committee, (all of whom seem to have been cool persons enough when the heat of the action was over, and the field deserted), waited on the Provost; and the Provost told you, that though he disapproved of the meeting, he did not think he had power to prevent it. He seems actually to have gone out of town when it took