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The legality of the means employed by Commander Mackenzie, in suppressing the mutiny, may be judged by the answer to the simple question whether, under the circumstances of the case, he acted honestly, to the best of his judgment, and without any corrupt motive or wilful thought. But in giving this effect to the motives of the commander, we assume that the mutiny had acquired such foothold as to cause reasonable and well-grounded apprehensions for the safety of the ship; in other words, there must have been an apparent necessity for a resort to extraordinary means to arrest the mutiny. There must have appeared to be no other alternative equally consistent with the safety of all. In characterizing this necessity as apparent rather than real, we adopt the distinction which lies at the foundation of the right of self-defence. The consideration of this distinction will throw additional light on the rule by which the responsibility of Commander Mackenzie is to be judged.

But what is the right of self-defence? It is a right founded in the law of Nature. It springs from the character of man. It is one of the essential elements bound up in his being. It had its origin in the instincts of humanity, and is ratified by the calm judgments of reason. It is older than books, for it was born when the pulsations of the heart began. It is broader than civilization or law, for it is common to the whole human family. The language of the great Roman orator and lawyer is as true now as when it was employed in the defence of Milo.1 . . . A right so important–which, in its exercise, may override the ordinary municipal law—can only be employed under circumstances of a peculiar character. It is like the sword suspended in the temple in ancient times, which could be taken down only on a great emergency. The law, which sanctions this right, limits and guards its exercise. It is not on every occasion of anxiety, or fear of imagined danger, or impend-ing harm, that a person will be justified in taking the life of a citizen. But the law, while careful to restrain the right within its natural limits, recognizes its force on every just and proper occasion. What, then, is a just and proper occasion for its exercise? We answer: Whenever a person of ordinary firmness and courage has reasonable grounds to believe his life in danger; or, according to another form of expression, whenever it appears that he can save his own life only by the sacrifice of that of another. It is not necessary that the danger should in reality be imminent. It is sufficient if there are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a design to destroy life, although it should afterwards appear that no such design existed.. . .

In estimating the danger to which the ship was exposed, we must not close our eyes to the light derived from the history of past mutinies. With such warnings as we have introduced into our pages, no commander can properly hesitate to adopt the most prompt and energetic measures. He must be mindful that the mutiny, swift as an armed man, may spring upon the unsuspecting officers, and that, while he hesitates for a moment, the irrevocable blow will be struck. Above all things, he will make great exertions, and incur burdensome responsibilities, rather than allow the flag intrusted

1 A familiar extract from section four of the oration is omitted here.

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Alexander Slidell Mackenzie (2)
Milo (1)
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