His Defence Of Archibald Hamilton Rowan

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
ask 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


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


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.