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the injustice of bringing to trial persons who had associated to overawe the legislature; those who gravely and vehemently asserted, that it was a question of prudence, rather than a question of morality, whether an act of the legislature should be resisted ; those who were anxious to expose and aggravate every defect of the constitution; to reprobate every measure adopted for its preservation, and to obstruct every proceeding of the executive government to ensure the success
of the contest in which we are engaged in common with our allies; I say, if such a charge of deliberate and deep rooted malignity were brought against persons of this description, I should conceive that even then the rules of candid and chari. table interpretation would induce us to hesitate in admitting its reality ; much more when it is brought against individuals, whose conduct, I trust, has exhibited the reverse of the picture I have now drawn. I appeal to the justice of the house, I rely on their candour; but, to gentlemen who can suppose
ministers capable of those motives which have been imputed to them on this occasion, it must be evident that I can desire to make no such appeal.
MR. CURRAN'S SPEECH,
ON THE TRIAL OF PETER FINERTY, FOR A LIBEL. TRIED IN
THE CITY OF DUBLIN, BEFORE MR. JUSTICE DOWNS, ON THE 220 DECEMBER, 1797.
To explain some allusions in the present speech, it is necessary briefly to relate, that William Orr had, in the preceding year been convicted of trea- . son; but there appearing to the jury circumstances to mitigate his offence, he was recommended by them to mercy.
Their recommendation, however, producing no effect, sentence of death was pronounced on him. Previous to the day appointed for execution, various representations were made to the Lord Lieutenant in his favour, and one especially by the magistrate who had originally committed him, accompanied by affidavits which went to impeach the credibility of Wheatley, the principal witness on the trial.
In consequence of these representations, it is supposed, the prisoner was twice respited, and it was confidently expected that he would be ultimately pardoned. But government were inexorable.
The execution of this unfortunate man seems to have excited the deepest sense of horrour and indignation among the people of Ireland.
At a court held at the city of Dublin, Peter Finerty, editor of the paper called the Press, was tried and found guilty, on the charge of being the printer and publisher of the “ following false, scandalous, and libellous letter, addressed to earl Cambden.”
MY LORD, “I address your excellency on a subject as awful and interesting, as any that hath engaged the feelings of this suffering country. The oppression of an individual leads to the oppression of every member in the state, as his death, however speciously palliated by forms, may lead to the death of the constitution. Your lordship already anticipates me ; and your conscience has told you, that I allude to the circumstance of Mr. Orr, whose case every man has now made his own, by discovering the principle on which Mr. Pitt sent you to execute his orders in Ireland.
The death of Mr. Orr, the nation has pronounced one of the most sanguinary and savage acts that has disgraced the laws.In perjury, did you not hear, my lord, the verdict was given? perjury accompanied with terrour, as terrour has marked every step of your government. Vengeance and desolation were to fall on those who would not plunge themselves in blood. These were not strong enough; against the express law of the land, not only was drink introduced to the jury, but drunkenness itself, beastly and criminal drunkenness, was ployed to procure the murder of a better man, than any that now surrounds you. But well may juries think themselves justified in their drunken verdicts, if debauched and drunken judges, swilling spirits on the seat of justice itself, shall set the country so excellent an example.
Repentance, which is a slow virtue, hastened, however, to declare the innocence of the victim. The mischief which perjury had done, truth now stepped forward to repair; neither was she too late, had humanity formed any part of your counsels. Stung with remorse, on the return of reason, part of his jury solemniy and soberly made oath, that their verdict had been given under the unhappy influence of intimidation and drink; and in the most serious affidavit that ever was made, by acknowledging their crime, endeavoured to atone to God, and to their country, for the sin into which they had been seduced.
The informer too, a man it must be owned not much far ed for veracity, but stung with the like remorse, deposed that all he had formerly sworn was malicious and untrue, and that from compunction alone he was induced to make a full disclosure of his great and enormous guilt. In this confession the wicked man had no temptation to perjury. He was not to be paid for that. He had not in view, like another Judas, the " thirty pieces of silver.” If he was to receive a reward, he knew he must not look for it in this world.
Those testimonies were followed by the solenın declaration of the dying man himself; and the approach of death is not a moment hen men are given to deceive both themselves and the world. Good and religious men are not apt, by pero jury on their deathbeds, to close the gates of heaven against
themselves, like those who have no hope. But if these solemn declarations do not deserve regard, then there is no truth in justice; and though the innocence of the accused had even remained doubtful, it was your duty, my lord, and you had no exemption from that duty, to have interposed your arm, and saved him from the death that perjury, drunkenness, and reward had prepared him.
Let not the nation be told that you are a passive instrument in the hands of others--if passive you be, then is your office a shadow indeed-if an active instrument, as you ought to be, you did not perform the duty which the law required of you ; you did not exercise the prerogative of mercy--that mercy which the constitution bad intrusted to you for the safety of the subject, by guarding him from the oppression of wicked
Innocent it appears he was; his blood has been shed; and the precedent indeed is awsul.
Had Frazier and Ross been found guilty of the murder committed on a harmless and industrious peasant-lay your hand to your heart, my lord, and answer without advisers, would you not have pardoned those ruffians? After the proof you have given of your mercy, I must suppose your clemency unbounded. Have no Orange-men, convicted on the purest evidence, been at any time pardoned? Is not their oath of blood connived at ? was not that oath manufactured at the command of power! and does not power itself discipline those brigands? But suppose the evidence of Wheatly had been true, what was the offence of Mr. Orr? not that he had taken an oath of blood and extermination--for then he had not suffered--but that he had taken an oath of charity and of union, of humanity and of peace. He has suffered. Shall we then be told, that your government will conciliate publick opinion, or that the people will not continue to look for a better?
Was the unhappy man respited but to torture him, to insult both justice and the nation, to carry the persecution into the bosom of his wife and children? Is this the prerogative of mercy? What would your father have said unto you, had he lived to witness this falling off. “Son,” he would have said, “ I am a father; I have a daughter; I have known misfortune; the world has pitied me; and I am not ungrateful.”
Let us explore the causes of this sanguinary destruction of the people. Is it that you are determined to revenge the regret expressed by them at the recall of your predecessor; and well knowing they will not shed tears at the departure of his successour, that you are resolved to make them weep during your stay? Yes, my lord, I repeat during your stay; for it may not be necessary that a royal yacht, manned and decorated for the purpose, should waft you from the shores of an angered and insulted country. Another cause.
Is it to be wondered that a successour of lord Fitzwilliam should sign the death warrant of Mr. Orr?Mr. Pitt had learned, that a merciful lord lieutenant was un
suited to a government of violence. It was no compliment to the native clemency of a Cambden, that he sent you into Ireland ; and what has been our portion under the change, but massacre and rape, military murders, desolation and terrour?
Had you spared Mr. Orr, you thought, perhaps, the nume. rous families of those whom your administration had devoted, might accuse you of partiality; and thus to prove your consistency, you are content to be suspected of wanting the only quality this country wishes you to exercise.
But, my lord, it will not do. Though your guards and your soldiers, and your thousands, and your tens of thousands, should conduct innocence to death, it will not do." A voice has cried in the wilderness; and let the deserted streets of Carrickfergus proclaim to all the world, that good men will not be intimidated, and that they are yet more numerous than your soldiers. We are not Domitian's people; we are not lopped at a
but it looks as if some fate had doomed us to be destroy. ed one by one, as the Persian tyrant ordered the hairs to be plucked from the tail of his beast. Beasts we have been; the vile carriers of the vilest burthens, that the vilest masters could lay upon us. But the yoke is shaken ; persecution has provoked to love ; and united Ireland against foreign despotism.
Feasting in your castle, in the midst of your myrmidons and bishops, you have little concerned yourself about the expelled and miserable cottager, whose dwelling, at the moment of your mirth, was in flames; his wife and his daughter then under the violation of some commissioned ravager; his son agonizing on the bayonet, and his helpless infants crying in vain for mercy. These are lamentations that stain not the hour of carousal. Under intoxicated counsels, the constitution has reeled to its centre. Justice herself is not only blind drunk, but deaf, like Festus,“ to the words of soberness and truth."
My lord, the people of Ireland did hope, that mercy would not have been denied to a most worthy and innocent man, when they understood that one of the worst advisers, and most imperious members of your cabinet, had abandoned the kingdom. Had he been of your late counsels, the odium might have been divided ; at present you have the best claim to it. Let, however, the awful execution of Mr Orr be a lesson to all unthinking juries; and let them cease to flatter themselves that the soberest recommendation of theirs, and of the presiding judge, can stop the course of carnage, which sanguinary, and I do not fear to say, unconstitutional laws, have ordered to be loosed. Let them remember, that, like Macbeth, the servants of the crown have waded so far in blood, that they find it easier to go on than to go back.