Page images
PDF
EPUB

place so far was he from thinking there was any danger to be apprehended: And he was justified in his opinion from the result-there was no tendency to tumult or disorder.

At that meeting, Mr Baird, no doubt, attended. He was there and heard the speeches that were delivered; some of which undoubtedly contain very indecorous and improper expressions-expressions which it may have been preposterous to utter at a meeting convened for lawful and constitutional purposes. But if persons go to such a meeting at all, they may expect that preposterous expressions will be used, on both sides perhaps of the question. But is a man to be punished for sedition, if he accidentally hear seditious language employed by another person? Not only was the measure of calling a meeting for petitioning perfectly lawful in itself, but the behaviour of those who attended seems to have been orderly, de cent and exemplary. I do not know whether your views concur with those of Mr Baird, but thinking as he did on the subject, he acted properly. It is to be taken for granted, that the petitioners were sincere in their opinion, and that in taking those measures, they thought they would be of great effect in producing good.com

At that meeting, then, Mr Baird did not speak. He heard the speeches in question,--but as that could not of course taint him with guilt, I am sure you will go along with me in think. ing, that up to this point there was nothing culpable in his conduct; and therefore the very beginning and ending of the criminality imputed to him consists in his having afterwards (I cannot say concurred, but) submitted to a resolution forced on him by the majority of those persons, with whom he was associated in an application to Parliament, for having these orations printed, in a full, true and particular account of the whole proceedings. This we stated in the outsets and it has been proved, without contradiction, by the testimony of a variety of witnesses. In the examination of the several witnesses, no indication ever appeared---no h'int, even in the most distant manner, ever presented itself, that the publication of the speeches was made with a view that seditious doctrines should be propagated, or that the contents of the work should be studied by persons at a distance. The publication is clearly proved not to have had any such ambie tious object; but to have been made in the humble view of securing a little paltry gain,--to defray the expence of nailing up a few boards for the accommodation of the orators, and provide ing a few sheets of gilt paper for three or four pet itions to be transmitted to the Prince Regent and the House of Parliament. It occurred to the petitioners, that the on ly means for defraying this heavy expence was to print an account of their proceedings,--that among their neighbours, whether those who agreed with them, or were opposed to them in political opinions, they might sell as many copies as might raise the sum which was wanted. Through the whole transaction there is not the least vestige of any desire to have the work read or admired, either for mischief or glory. The only object was to get a small number sold; and accordingly they seem all to have been sold, -- without so much as a single copy having been given away. Mr Baird, into whose hands, as one of the committee of the petitioners, a number of the copies were impressed, got rid of them, it is true, with more facility than another man who was examined to-day did of his copies. But this was merely because he keeps a well-frequented shop, not because he was in any way zealous for their circulation. The nature of Mr Baird's trast and management in the business were proved to you by his own shopman, and his own de claration ; and it has been proved, that if he got rid of every one copy he was possessed of, shopmanlike he exacted his groat for every one of them which he sold. The printer said that about 400 copies were printed. Some remained in the bands of members of the committee who did not get them sold. They were not sold to booksellers; because the petitioners could not afford to pay booksellers' commission : they were sold for a particular purpose, which I have specified, and were sold in the cheapest way. Some of them were sold in a grocer's shop, where they might be of use to wrap up goods that were purchased; other members of the committee, however, could not sell their copies, because they could not perhaps be of such immediate use to the purchasers. You see the nature of this transaction then, and you must now be aware that it is conformable to the statement which was given of it at the beginning. Me Baird took no step disconformable to his general character of a quiet, modest, honest, well-disposed, good man ; he made no speeches, but disapproved of various speeches and passages in speeches, (which fact has been fully made out), as harsh and offensive; and these are considerations which certainly are of importance in determining whether he is guilty or not of sedition, as charged against him in this indictment.

[graphic]
[graphic]

These are the whole of the facts of this case; and you will be pleased to add to these facts what is proved to you by the evidence, and which the dates and the documents themselves. instruct, viz. that all this took place publicly. It was known to His Majesty's Advocate, and all the lieges, that this was done so long back as December 1816 ; and you have seen that 400 copies of the publication were all that were printed. I don't think you will imagine it is very likely the authors and printers expected a great sale. None of the autbors were much known in the literary world, and none of them, I think, professed themselves to be politicians. The object was to sell copies to the curious country gentlemen and the gossips in the neighbourhood. It was reasonable to think too, that some people might have this curiosity, who were prevented by the weather from gratifying it, by attending at the meeting; for you will recollect, that the speeches were spoken in defiance of the angry blasts of heaven, in the midst of hail, snow and wind, and notwithstanding the opposition of the elements. Petitions in conformity with these speeches were engrossed ; and it is not denied, nor can there be any doubt of the fact, that they were presented, and that they were received with the usual civilities with which persons in those high quarters are wont to receive such communications.

[graphic]

All this was done months ago, and at a time when no alarm about sedition obtained here or in any other quarter of the kingdom ; and Mr Baird was allowed to sell his commodity of pamphlets, and to converse with his neighbours about them, without any body hinting that he was in any danger, not from what he was doing, but from what he had done weeks before. But, after that, some odious proceedings took place in another quarter of the island. Certain mobs had excited considerable alarm in the mind of the Legislature, and of the inhabitants of the metropolis, where a large as semblage of people is easily convened, and disturbance easily excited. They did commit some little outrage, and occasioned some fear for the peace of the city. This fear was propagated to the extremities of the empire,--and then the vigilance of the Public Prosecutor in this country goes back to a former meeting, in a remote quarter, which had not been attended with any tumult, and had not been followed up with any the slightest criminal consequences.

A book, consisting of foolish, ridiculous specimens of rustic oratory is on this occasion brought forward,--and this quiet, esteemed and trust-worthy man is brought to your bar, and arraigned for having wickedly and feloniously circulated sedition.

We come now to consider what is the import of the facts in this case, and what is the verdict you ought this night to pronounce on the person, whose character through life, and whose conduct upon one occasion, have been detailed to you in evidence to-day : The question is, Whether the evidence to which I have referred is such as to compel you, contrary to that general presumption of innocence which law establishes for every accused person, --contrary to that special presumption of innocence which the whole tenor of the defendant's life and conduct morally establishes in his favour, whether that evidence, I say, be such as to constrain you to say that his conduct upon this occasion originated in malignant and diabolical purposes,-purposes, from the success of which he had every thing to lose and nothing to gain, but was to be merely an inglorious stirrer up of sedition in the first instance, and a victim to its guilt and insanity in the second. The question I say is, Whether the evidence goes to shew that such is the character of his offence,--that such folly must be imputed to a man of sense and character, and that you cannot help saying, on your oaths, that he disregarded all consequences to others, to his country, and to himself, and was determined to stir up sedition and disturbance.

[graphic]

The essence of this, and all other crimes, consists in the moral defect by which they are engendered ; and therefore it is, that every criminal indictment necessarily charges that the offence for which it threatens the accused person with punishment was committed wickedly and feloniously; and I believe almost every indictment for crimes of this description contains, in more express words than occur here, an allegation that the acts set forth and described were done with an intention to excite sedition and disturbance. It is the intention, in short, in which the crime legally and morally consists. I do not find fault with the omission of that in the indictment. I rely on the candour and propriety, and wisdom of the Bench, to give you the requisite information on the subject : and I am sure you will be told that the words indispensably inserted in this indictment are in their own statement equivalent to a direct allegation of intention in the commission of the crime charged; and that a more particular charge of intention could not have served any purpose.

When I say this is a necessary part of this, and of all other charges of sedition, you will give me so much credit as to suppose that I do not mean to say that the Public Prosecutor is bound to bring direct and positive proof of a criminal intention having been actually expressed, or that it is not competent for him to argue that the nature of the acts themselves, the circumstances in which they were committed,—the situation of the party,—the temptations to which he was exposed, his whole conduct before and after the time he committed the acts,-the general and well-known complexion of the times when the acts were done, are to be taken into consideration, in forming a judgment as to the intention with which the 'acts were performed. Such considerations cannot but afford evidence of the purpose and intention; and in questions with regard to almost all other crimes, this inference'is generally so plain and necessary as to make the task of the Jury comparatively easy. If a man aim a blow at another, and knock out his brains, --if a person break in at night and rob a house, or if he forge a bill, and draw money for it from a bank, it is vain to say there is a necessity to bring evidence beyond the fact itself, to prove a malignant purpose in the one case, or a purpose of fraud in the other. But observe the character of sedition as defined, or attempted to be defined, by my learned friend, and, indeed, by all the lawyers. I am not finding fault with my Lord Advocate for not properly defining sedition, because it is one of the disadvantages attending such a case, that a sufficient and satisfac tory definition is not to be easily found ; and therefore we are constrained to go to a large and general consideration of the specific facts, from which the criminal intention is to be deduced. What, then, is sedition ? I do not object to the Prosecutor's statement on the subject. He described it. generally as any act, writing or speech, the intention and probable effect of which is to excite disaffection towards the Go. vernment, and tumult and commotion in the country. Now, you

will observe here, that, in order to constitute sedition, it is not absolutely or indispensably necessary that the Prosecutor shall bring proof of discontent or disturbance having been actually excited or having followed in consequence of the acts charged. Nor should I think it right or safe to make the fact of having excited such discontent or disturbance the criterion for the crime of sedition ; for there may be many speeches and writings by which tumults and disaffection may eventually be excited, without any such intention on the part of the speaker or writer. God knows there have been many measures a dopted by Government here and elsewhere, and probably believed by them at the time to be most expedient and proper, which have led to disaffection and disturbance, to dreadful wars and most sanguinary remedies. Here, then, we feel at once the practical difficulty of applying the definition of the crime which is here charged. Sedition is said to consist in any acts by writing, speaking, or otherwise, that indicate, with sufficient clearness, a purpose to divert the affection of the people from Government, and to excite hatred and dislike against the said Government, leading to rebellion, tumult and public confusion. We have evidence of this when a speech or writing actually produces such an effect. That is the most certain, and perhaps the only sure proof that a speech

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »