Washington Correspondence: April 11, 1863

Washington Correspondence 

Christian Recorder: April 11, 1863

Turner writes about an Israel Lyceum event

MR. EDITOR:-The Israel Lyceum, which is attracting large audiences every Monday evening has been holding a mimic lawsuit for several nights. The contest, however, closed on Monday evening last, at 11 o’clock.

Mr. Sidney W. Hubert (with a perfect understanding) filched an apple from the President of the Lyceum; the President, on missing the apple, called the sergeant- at arms to search the house, for a thief had purloined some property. The examination having been performed, the above named party stood criminated. The President then appointed four lawyers, Rev. William A. Hughes and Thos. H.C. Hinton, as prosecuting attorneys, and Mr. E.T. Crew, and Rev. McGill Pearce in the defence; twelve jurymen were selected, and Mr. J. F. N. Wilkinson acted as judge.

It was remarked, that though the case was nine hours under discussion, including the examination and cross- examination of the witnesses, the audience sat apparently entranced at the maneuverings and scheming of the lawyers every night until it closed. The last night we could not find room for the people, and several well experienced gentlemen remarked that they never had been a better conducted suit, nor heard better law in any court house in their lives. They had law books, records, &c. ,and demanded as much respect from the audience as if it were a reality, and the witnesses declared they never felt more curious when in a court house than they did there. It was certainly productive of good, and materially enlightened the minds of our people, for many had never engaged in lawsuit, nor seen one conducted. Judge Wilkinson occupied the chair with as much gravity, and looked so austere and stern that no one dared to address his honor without almost feeling a corresponding submission.

After the court closed, the officers conducted the jury to a room prepared for them, where they had to remain until they all came to one decision. There the boys began to disagree, and finally were about to come to no unanimous decision at all, but the officers locked them up, and declared they should never come out until they did agree, so, they finally determined to acquit the prisoner. But I want you to read the charge of Judge Wilkinson to the jury prior to their going out to make up their verdict.

CHARGE OF JUDGE E. N. WILKINSON TO THE JURY

Gentlemen of the Jury- On the present occasion I am about to address you on a subject, one to which I am drawn by irresistible, though painful attraction. Washington has recently been the scene of an injury which must have filled the minds of every person connected with the town, either by the ties of birth or of residence, with deep humiliation. For myself, I can say, that it is the last of a chain of events among the most unfortunate which have occurred to me in life now of no very brief duration. But I will not detain you by dwelling on the series of disappointments which unhappily overclouded our community. Gentlemen, deeply as our feelings were wounded when the “secrets of the prison house” were laid bare to our eyes, you and I have at least the consolation of reflecting that our consciences are not burdened by any participation in act or sufferance with the infirmities which have made the misgovernment of our jail the theme of reproach, assailing our ears on whichever side we bend our steps, and yet that we should stand by and allow these offenders to run their course without interruption, and, while we know them to be preying on the vitals of society, should fling around them the mantle of her protection, does indeed, seem to a state of things so fraught with contradictions, and so totally unfit for the prevention or cure of crime, that we have reason to be grateful to anyone who exposes it, and still more if he seriously turn his mind to the correction of so monstrous an evil. But although we are not responsible for the past, we should be without excuse for the future if we do not, each in his own sphere, exerts ourselves to the utmost to guard against the recurrence of these disgraceful and afflicting abuses of power. Gentleman, we approach the subject with one advantage, we are not called upon to scan these transactions with a view to the censure of the parties implicated in them, we may therefore, withdraw our attention from all mere personal questions, and regard what has occurred, as an event in the history of the treatment of criminals, from which it is our duty to extract as much of instruction as we can make it yield, and let us remember, for our encouragement, the words of our greatest poet-

“There is some of good, in things evil,
Would men observantly distil it out.”
We will, then, do our best to calm our minds, and contemplate, if we can, the revolting facts before us, because we are warned by our most solemn duties, as well as urged by our best feelings, to preclude, so far as our power extends, the possibility of its repetition, in fine, the criminal becomes an object of sympathy, as against the ministers of the law. Now, although I am the last man to rob the convict of sympathy, or to desire that he should be regarded only with scorn, yet, I cannot but feel it to be a calamity when that sympathy is given to the prisoner at the expense, either of the law itself, or those whose duty it is to carry the law into execution. Where such is the public sentiment towards criminals, either the law or its administration must be open to severe censure; or, on the other hand, public opinion itself must be in the most unwholesome state. In either case jurisprudence is grievously weakened in its competency to repress crime; for let it never be forgotten that the penal sanctions of the law are of little avail unless they have the additional sanction of public opinion. It is, in- deed, to be feared that years may elapse before the moral anarchy which the events of the last few months have introduced among us, will give way to that wholesome respect for authority, in losing which the cause of order loses its main stay and support. Let me then, again urge upon you the necessity of balancing in some degree, at least, these evils, by profiting to the utmost from the lesson which they teach. Gentlemen, let us love, and admire, and ardently cultivate, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” They are great names for great things. But they must be clearly understood. By Liberty, I understand full protection so every man who is doing right- protection in his person, in his property, and in his reputation. But I do not understand, and I am sure you do not understand by Liberty, freedom to do wrong. Never, let us hope, will Americans permit the power of doing wrong without punishment, to enter into their notions of liberty. Every man sitting under his own vine and under his own fig tree with no one to make him afraid, presents a delightful picture of civil liberty. But every man plucking his neighbor’s grapes, (or apples) and hewing down his neighbor’s fig tree, is a type of anarchy; and anarchy is the father of despotism, and should never be passed unpunished.

And now, Gentlemen, in conclusion, if you believe from the evidence given in the case, that the prisoner at the bar is guilty of the crime act forth in the indictment, then you must bring in a verdict of guilty, but if so the contrary, you believe from the evidence given in the case, that the prisoner at the bar is innocent of the crime set forth in the indictment, then you must bring in a verdict of acquittal. Gentlemen, I now leave the case with you, to which, I hope, you will give a careful, fair, and impartial consideration.

H. M. T.

Washington April 3, 1863