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His Defence Of Archibald Hamilton Rowan

Irish Humour Home






The following extracts, commencing with a description of Mr. Rowan, will
be found interesting:

Gentlemen, let me suggest another observation or two, if still you have
any doubt as to the guilt or the innocence of the defendant. Give me
leave to suggest to you what circumstances you ought to consider, in
order to found your verdict. You should consider the character of the
person accused; and in this your task is easy. I will venture to say,
there is not a man in this nation more known than the gentleman who is
the subject of this persecution, not only by the part he has taken in
public concerns, and which he has taken in common with many, but still
more so by that extraordinary sympathy for human affliction which, I am
sorry to think, he shares with so small a number. There is not a day
that you hear the cries of your starving manufacturers in your streets,
that you do not also see the advocate of their sufferings--that you do
not see his honest and manly figure, with uncovered head soliciting for
their relief: searching the frozen heart of charity for every string
that can be touched by compassion, and urging the force of every
argument and every motive, save that which his modesty suppresses--the
authority of his own generous example. Or if you see him not there, you
may trace his steps to the abode of disease, and famine, and despair;
the messenger of Heaven--bearing with him food, and medicine, and
consolation. Are these the materials of which we suppose anarchy and
public rapine to be formed? Is this the man on whom to fasten the
abominable charge of goading on a frantic populace to mutiny and
bloodshed? Is this the man likely to apostatize from every principle
that can bind him to the State--his birth, his property, his education,
his character, and his children? Let me tell you, gentlemen of the jury,
if you agree with his prosecutors in thinking there ought to be a
sacrifice of such a man, on such an occasion, and upon the credit of
such evidence you are to convict him, never did you, never can you, give
a sentence consigning any man to public punishment with less danger to
his person or to his fame; for where could the hireling be found to
fling contumely or ingratitude at his head whose private distress he had
not labored to alleviate, or whose public condition he had not labored
to improve?

Speaking of the liberty of the press, he says--

What, then, remains? The liberty of the press only; that sacred
Palladium, which no influence, no power, no government, which nothing
but the folly or the depravity, or the folly or the corruption, of a
jury ever can destroy. And what calamities are the people saved from by
having public communication kept open to them! I will tell you,
gentlemen, what they are saved from; I will tell you also to what both
are exposed by shutting up that communication. In one case, sedition
speaks aloud and walks abroad; the demagogue goes forth; the public eye
is upon him; he frets his busy hour upon the stage; but soon either
weariness, or bribe, or punishment, or disappointment, bears him down,
or drives him off, and he appears no more. In the other case, how does
the work of sedition go forward? Night after night the muffled rebel
steals forth in the dark, and casts another brand upon the pile, to
which, when the hour of fatal maturity shall arrive, he will apply the
flame. If you doubt of the horrid consequences of suppressing the
effusion of even individual discontent, look to those enslaved countries
where the protection of despotism is supposed to be secured by such
restraints. Even the person of the despot there is never in safety.
Neither the fears of the despot, nor the machinations of the slave, have
any slumber--the one anticipating the moment of peril, the other
watching the opportunity of aggression. The fatal crisis is equally a
surprise upon both; the decisive instant is precipitated without
warning, by folly on the one side, or by frenzy on the other; and there
is no notice of the treason till the traitor acts. In those unfortunate
countries--one cannot read it without horror--there are officers whose
province it is to have the water which is to be drank by their rulers,
sealed up in bottles, lest some wretched miscreant should throw poison
into the draught. But, gentlemen, if you wish for a nearer and a more
interesting example, you have it in the history of your own Revolution;
you have it at that memorable period, when the monarch found a servile
acquiescence in the ministers of his folly--when the liberty of the
press was trodden under foot--when venal sheriff's returned packed
juries to carry into effect those fatal conspiracies of the few against
the many--when the devoted benches of public justice were filled by some
of those foundlings of fortune, who, overwhelmed in the torrent of
corruption at an early period, lay at the bottom like drowned bodies
while sanity remained in them, but at length, becoming buoyant by
putrefaction, they rose as they rotted, and floated to the surface of
the polluted stream, where they were drifted along, the objects of
terror and contagion and abomination.

In that awful moment of a nation's travail, of the last gasp of
tyranny, and the first breath of freedom, how pregnant is the example!
The press extinguished, the people enslaved, and the prince undone! As
the advocate of society therefore--of peace, of domestic liberty, and
the lasting union of the two countries, I conjure you to guard the
liberty of the press, that great sentinel of the State, that grand
detector of public imposture: guard it, because when it sinks, there
sink with it, in one common grave, the liberty of the subject and the
security of the Crown.

Gentlemen, I am glad that this question has not been brought forward
earlier. I rejoice for the sake of the court, the jury, and of the
public repose, that this question has not been brought forward till now.
In. Great Britain, analogous circumstances have taken place. At the
commencement of that unfortunate war which has deluged Europe with
blood, the spirit of the English people was tremblingly alive to the
terror of French principles; at that moment of general paroxysm, to
accuse was to convict. The danger loomed larger to the public eye from
the misty region through which it was surveyed. We measure inaccessible
heights by the shadows they project, when the lowness and the distance
of the light form the length of the shade.

There is a sort of aspiring and adventurous credulity, which disdains
assenting to obvious truths, and delights in catching at the
improbabilities of a case as its best ground of faith. To what other
cause, gentlemen, can you ascribe that, in the wise, the reflecting, and
the philosophic nation of Great Britain, a printer has been gravely
found guilty of a libel for publishing those resolutions to which the
present minister of that kingdom had already subscribed his name? To
what other cause can you ascribe, what in my mind is still more
astonishing, in such a country as Scotland--a nation, cast in the happy
medium between the spiritless acquiescence of submissive poverty, and
the sturdy credulity of pampered wealth--cool and ardent, adventurous
and persevering, winging her eagle flight against the blaze of every
science, with an eye that never winks, and a wing that never tires;
crowned, as she is, with the spoils of every art and decked with the
wreath of every muse, from the deep and scrutinizing researches of her
Hume, to the sweet and simple, but not less sublime and pathetic,
morality of her Burns--how, from the bosom of a country like that,
genius and character and talents [Muir, Margarot, &c.,] should be
banished to a distant and barbarous soil, condemned to pine under the
horrid communion of vulgar vice, and base-born profligacy, twice the
period that ordinary calculation gives to the continuance of human life!
But I will not further press any idea that is painful to me, and I am
sure must be painful to you; I will only say, you have now an example of
which neither England nor Scotland had the advantage; you have the
example of the panic, the infatuation, and the contrition of both. It is
now for you to decide whether you will profit by their experience of
idle panic and idle regret, or whether you meanly prefer to palliate a
servile imitation of their frailty by a paltry affectation of their
repentance. It is now for you to show that you are not carried away by
the same hectic delusions, to acts of which no tears can wash away the
fatal consequences or the indelible reproach.

He thus speaks of the Volunteers of Ireland:--

Gentlemen, Mr. Attorney-General has thought proper to direct your
attention to the state and circumstances of public affairs at the time
of this transaction: let me also make a few retrospective observations
on a period at which he has but slightly glanced. You know, gentlemen,
that France had espoused the cause of America, and we became thereby
involved in a war with that nation.

'Heu, nescia mens hominum futuri!'

Little did that ill-fated monarch know that he was forming the first
cause of those disastrous events that were to end in the subversion of
his throne, in the slaughter of his family, and the deluging of his
country with the blood of his people. You cannot but remember that a
time when we had scarcely a regular soldier for our defence--when the
old and young were alarmed and terrified with apprehensions of a
descent upon our coasts--that Providence seemed to have worked a sort of
miracle in our favor. You saw a band of armed men at the great call of
nature, of honor, and their country; you saw men of the greatest wealth
and rank; you saw every class of the community give up its members, and
send them armed into the field to protect the public and private
tranquility of Ireland; it is impossible for any man to turn back to
that period, without reviving those sentiments of tenderness and
gratitude which then beat in the public bosom; to recollect amidst what
applause, what tears, what prayers, what benedictions, they walked forth
amongst spectators, agitated by the mingled sensations of terror and of
reliance, of danger and of protection, imploring the blessings of Heaven
upon their heads, and its conquest upon their swords. That illustrious,
and adored and abused body of men stood forward and assumed the title,
which I trust the ingratitude of their country will never blot from its
history--the Volunteers of Ireland.

He thus speaks of the national representation of the people;

Gentlemen, the representation of our people is the vital principle of
their political existence; without it, they are dead, or they live only
to servitude; without it, there are two estates acting upon and against
the third, instead of acting in co-operation with it; without it, if the
people are oppressed by their judges, where is the tribunal to which the
offender shall be amenable?--without it, if they are trampled upon and
plundered by a minister, where is the tribunal to which the offender
shall be amenable?--without it, where is the ear to hear, or the heart
to feel, or the hand to redress their sufferings? Shall they be found,
let me ask you, in the accursed bands of imps and minions that bask in
their disgrace, and fatten upon their spoils, and flourish upon their
ruin? But let me not put this to you as a merely speculative question:
it is a plain question of fact. Rely on it, physical man is everywhere
the same: it is only the various operation of moral causes that gives
variety to the social or individual character or condition. How
otherwise happens it, that modern slavery looks quietly at the despot on
the very spot where Leonidas expired? The answer is, Sparta has not
changed her climate, but she has lost that government which her liberty
could not survive.

Speaking of universal emancipation, he says:--

This paper, gentlemen, insists on the necessity of emancipating the
Catholics of Ireland; and that is charged as part of the libel. If they
had waited another year--if they had kept this prosecution pending for
another year, how much would remain for a jury to decide upon, I should
be at a loss to discover. It seems as if the progress of public
information was eating away the ground of prosecution. Since its
commencement, this part of the libel has unluckily received the sanction
of the Legislature. In that interval our Catholic brethren have
re-obtained that admission which, it seems, it was a libel to propose.
In what way to account for this I am really at a loss. Have any alarms
been occasioned by the emancipation of our Catholic brethren? Has the
bigoted malignity of any individual been crushed? Or has the stability
of the government or that of the country been weakened? Or is one
million of subjects stronger than four millions? Do you think that the
benefit they have received, should be poisoned by the sting of
vengeance. If you think so, you must say to them: You have demanded
emancipation, and you have got it; but we abhor your persons; we are
outraged at your success, and we will stigmatize by a criminal
prosecution the adviser of that relief which you have obtained from the
voice of your country. I ask you, do you think, as honest men anxious
for the public tranquility, conscious that there are wounds not yet
completely cicatrized, that you ought to speak this language at this
time to men who are very much disposed to think that, in this very
emancipation, they have been saved from their own Parliament by the
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 to stand forth as their advocate? I put it to your oaths:
Do you think that a blessing of that kind--that a victory obtained by
justice over bigotry and oppression, should have a stigma cast upon it,
by an ignominious sentence upon men bold enough and honest enough to
propose that measure;--to propose the redeeming of religion from the
abuses of the church, the reclaiming of three millions 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--giving 'universal
emancipation.'

I speak in the spirit of the British law, which makes liberty
commensurate with, and inseparable from, British soil--which proclaims
even to the stranger and sojourner, the moment he sets his foot upon
British earth, that the ground on which he treads 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 on
him--no matter in what disastrous battle the helm of his liberty may
been cloven down--no matter with what solemnities he may have been
devoted upon the altar of slavery--the moment he touches the sacred soil
of Britain, the altar and the god sink together in the dust; his soul
walks abroad in its own majesty; his body swells beyond the measure of
his chains, which burst from around him, and he stands redeemed,
regenerated, and disenthralled by the irresistible genius of
universal emancipation.

(Mr. Curran was here interrupted with the loud and irresistible
acclamations of all within hearing. When, after a long interval, the
enthusiasm had in some degree subsided, he thus modestly alluded to the
incident).

Gentlemen, I am not such a fool as to ascribe any effusion of this sort
to any merit of mine. It is the mighty theme, and not the inconsiderable
advocate, that can excite interest in the hearer: what you hear is but
the testimony which nature bears to her own character; it is the
effusion of her gratitude to that power which stamped that character
upon her.

He concludes with this brilliant peroration:--

Upon this subject, therefore, credit me when I say I am still more
anxious for you than I can possibly be for him. Not the jury of his own
choice, which the law of England allows, but which ours refuses,
collected in that box by a person certainly no friend to Mr.
Rowan--certainly not very deeply interested in giving him a very
impartial jury. Feeling this, as I am persuaded you do, you cannot be
surprised, however you may be distressed, at the mournful presage with
which an anxious public is led to fear the worst from your possible
determination. But I will not, for the justice and honor of our common
country, suffer my mind to be borne away by such melancholy
anticipation. I will not relinquish the confidence that this day will be
the period of his sufferings; and, however mercilessly he has been
hitherto pursued, that your verdict will send him home to the arms of
his family and the wishes of his country. But if, which Heaven forbid!
it hath still been unfortunately determined, that because he has not
bent to power and authority, because he would not bow down before the
golden calf and worship it, he is to be bound and cast into the
furnace,--I do trust in God there is a redeeming spirit in the
constitution, which will be seen to walk with the sufferer through the
flames, and to preserve him unhurt by the conflagration.

After this brilliant speech, when Curran made his appearance outside the
court, he was surrounded by the populace, who had assembled to chair
him. He begged of them to desist, in a commanding tone; but a gigantic
chairman, eyeing Curran from top to toe, cried out to his
companion--Arrah, blood and turf! Pat, don't mind the little darlin';
pitch him upon my shoulder. He was, accordingly, carried to his
carriage, and drawn home by the people.





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Previous: Scene Between Fitzgibbon And Curran In The Irish Parliament



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