Bench, and from this series the one in behalf of Stockdale has been chosen as an example of argument and eloquence specially addressed to a jury. The circumstances were these : During the slow progress of the trial of Warren Hastings, a Scotch clergyman had written, and a Mr. John Stockdale of London had published, a pamphlet defending Mr. Hastings, and criticizing severely the conduct of the prosecution. The managers brought the matter before the House, and secured an order directing the Attorney-General to prosecute Mr. Stockdale for libel. The liberty of the press was a question which had already been before the public in two separate aspects. Though direct censorship had ceased shortly after the downfall of the Stuarts, there long remained two formidable engines of coercion which the political party in power could use and did use unmercifully to prevent the publication of matters distasteful to it. One was the power of Parliament to punish by summary imprisonment anything which it deemed a breach of its ancient privileges; and such it considered the publication of any report of its proceedings, save such as itself had authorized (see note to page 22). But the battle upon this point had recently been fought out; the Commons, after a fierce struggle, had yielded ; and since that time reporters have regularly had admission to the gallery of the House. Prosecution for « seditious libel ” was the other agency employed; and it was at that time rendered far more effective for mischief than it could be now, by the following means : Instead of submitting to the jury the whole question of the guilt or innocence of the defendant in view of all the facts and motives shown, as was done in the case of every other crime and misdemeanor, the practice in libel suits was to allow the jury to consider nothing beyond the question whether the defendant had or had not published the matter as alleged. The vital question of the guilt or innocence of the publication was reserved for the decision of the judge alone; and in these political suits he was often an interested party.

“ Writers, prosecuted by an officer of the crown, without the investigation of a grand jury, and denied even a trial by their peers, were placed beyond the pale of the law.” This vicious principle had been clearly revealed by the persecutions which Wilkes endured, and in the

Letters of Junius. Mr. Erskine had attacked it with splendid force and skill in his defence of the Dean of St. Asaph's, claiming for the person accused of libel the same right which was accorded to one accused of any other crime or misdemeanor known to the law of England the right to be tried by the jury on the whole issue raised. Mr. Erskine's argument on that occasion was before judges alone, and, naturally enough, he was unceremoniously overruled. But the matter was not to be thus summarily disposed of. The public was aroused. The trial of Stockdale soon afforded an opportunity of bringing the question before the jury itself. Their answer was the verdict “ Not Guilty,” rendered in defiance of all precedent, and in spite of the fact that the publication was admitted. It was the last case of libel tried under the old régime. In 1792 Parliament was constrained to register this triumph of freedom by establishing in the Libel Act the very principle for which Mr. Erskine had contended.

Among the champions of liberty Erskine stands thus linked with Milton, whose eloquent appeal “for the liberty of unlicensed printing,” — his Areopagitica was the trumpet-call which opened the attack on this stronghold of tyranny. The history of this interesting subject may be found in May's Constitutional History of England, chapter ix.


Page 141, 5–7. The reference is to Erskine's political friends, Fox and the Whigs, and especially Burke, whom he greatly admired. See repeated references to them farther on in this speech.

PAGE 142, 10. information. The precise meaning of technical terms should be ascertained upon the student's first encounter with them. See also, innuendoes, fine, farm, rent, and others farther on.

PAGE 152, 18 ff. Compare with this Macaulay's description of the famous trial in his Essay on Warren Hastings.

PAGE 153, 8. without prospect of conclusion. The trial dragged on for seven years. One hundred and forty-eight days were actually spent in its sessiors.

PAGE 155, 24. This great hall was Westminster Hall, built by William Rufus. It still stands, and forms part of the new Houses of Parliament. The Court of the King's Bench, before which Erskine was speaking, sat under the same roof, and in a chamber directly adjoining it. See also p. 178.

PAGE 156, 27. brought home to intrusted to, undertaken by.

PAGE 159, 22. government, in the parliamentary sense explained in the next sentence.

27. I wish he would. To admit that the Tory party then in power was a faction would be to give up the political battle.

34. my friends Burke, Fox, and the Whigs now in opposition.

PAGE 160, 18. A committee which was appointed in 1781 to inquire into East Indian affairs, and which reported in 1782. The charges made by it are not to be confounded with the Articles of Impeachment presented by the House. See below, p. 161, 1. 3.

PAGE 162, 20–27. A striking proof of the dangers at that time attending free speech is found in the extreme pains Erskine thinks it necessary to take in order to guard what he says from the charge of interfering with, or anticipating, the regular process of judicial investigation the very same charge under which his client was suffering.

Page 163, 11. Verres. Consult the Classical Dictionary, s.v.

Page 166, 31. Gothic, a term formerly used with utmost looseness of signification, to designate confusedly anything Teu tonic, mediæval, or barbaric. Such was its meaning as at first applied to a style of architecture. In no other sense were our ancestors Gothic.

PAGE 170, 6. amenable to no law, with reference to the privileges of members of Parliament, and particularly to their exemption from action or indictment for any freedom of speech they may use.

Page 170, 28 ff. The keen edge which lurks under these innocent-looking remarks will be appreciated when we recall the notorious fact that Pitt carried the very same majority with him

on both sides of the impeachment question — first against, and then for it. The interval of ten days between the two votes sufficed for the Minister's change of front; but the rank and file were so well trained that, without the least warning of what was intended, they executed their mancuvre in perfect form, at the word of command given on the very evening the vote was taken.

PAGE 171, 12. assumed — exercised, brought into requisition.

22. the saving judgment the judgment which forbears to punish as crimes mere errors of the understanding.

Page 172, 8. extraordinary, since the trial is based upon “ information ” only, and not upon regular indictment by a grand jury, as explained below.

30. the law, i.e., the common law, working ugh its ordinary instruments.

Page 174, 24. commentaries, where we should say comments. There is not a little adroitness in the suggestion which follows, that the Attorney-General is, after all, only discharging perfunctorily his official duty.

Page 180, 1. The position of the word only in a sentence is a matter which used to be determined almost wholly by considerations of euphony and rhythm. The claims of clearness and of precision are now more generally recognized, and we are apt to insist that the word be placed next to that which it qualifies. The difference is sharply brought out in this particular case. Odd as the sentence now sounds, it would be difficult, unless we recast the whole, to find another place for only without destroying either sense or rhythm, or both.


DANIEL WEBSTER, statesman and orator, was born in Salisbury, N. H., Jan. 12, 1782. His father, a sturdy frontiersman, soldier, farmer, member of the legislature, and county judge, was, after the manner of his kind, always struggling with poverty, and handicapped with a sense of the deficiencies of his early education. He purposed that Daniel, his youngest son, a delicate lad and little fitted for the heavy tasks of a farmer's life, should not be so handicapped. Through struggles and self-denial by no means rare in such cases, a way was made to send him to college. After an exceedingly brief and fragmentary preparation, he entered Dartmouth College in 1797, and was graduated in 1801, at the age of nineteen. He turned at once to the study of law, supporting himself meanwhile, and assisting his elder brother in college, by copying, teaching, and other miscellaneous labors. Admitted to the bar in 1805, his remarkable abilities soon gained him recognition, and the field of political life opened before him. In 1813 he took his seat in Congress. From this time on his life is writ so large on the pages of his country's history as to need little further notice here. The greatest service he rendered his country was doubtless as champion of the national idea, and the speech before us is probably his most memorable utterance upon that subject. Honors and fame came thick upon him

- all save the honor he had come to covet most, the Presidency. After thirty-nine years of public life he died Oct. 24, 1852.



The circumstances which called forth this speech may be thus summarized : For a long time before 1830 there had been a grave divergence of conviction among American statesmen as to the

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