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Chapter 6: lawyers' pleas.

The Court reassembled early on Monday morning, October 31. John Brown was brought from prison between files of armed men, as the practice was, and laid down on his bed within the bar. “He looked better,” we are told, “than on the previous day; his health is evidently improving, and he seemed to be at the most perfect ease of mind.” The Court room and every approach to it were densely crowded.

From the opening of the Court until the afternoon session, the counsel for the defence--Messrs. Griswold and Chilton--and for the prosecution--Messrs. Hunter and Harding--occupied the attention of the jury in arguing for and against the prisoner. I do not intend to pollute my pages with any sketch of the lawyers' pleas. They were able, without doubt, and erudite, and ingenious; but they were founded, nevertheless, on an atrocious assumption. For they assumed (as all lawyers' speeches must) that the statutes of the State were just; and, therefore, if the prisoner should be proven guilty of offending against them, that it was right that he should suffer the penalty they inflict. This doctrine every Christian heart must scorn; John [335] Brown, at least, despised it; and so also, to be faithful to his memory, and my own instincts, must I. Mr. Griswold proved conclusively that, even according to the laws of Virginia, John Brown had not been guilty either of treason, of inciting to insurrection, or of murder with malice prepense; although, undoubtedly, he had committed other offences against the peace and dignity of that ancient Commonwealth. In any civilized State--in Europe, England, or our North--these facts would have resulted in the acquittal of the prisoner; for, although a person may be proven guilty of murder, if he be arraigned for theft, that indictment -in every free country- must at once be abandoned. Mr. Chilton's speech is unworthy of further notice than that it began in falsehood and ended in cant. Two quotations will sustain my statement:

He desired, and the whole State desired, and the whole South desired, that the trial should be fair: and it had been fair! . He charged the jury to look on this case, as far as the law would allow, with an eye favorable to the prisoner, and when their verdict should be returned — no matter what it might be--he trusted that every man in the country would acquiesce in it. Unless the majesty of the law were supported, dissolution of the Union must soon ensue,

with all the evils that must necessarily follow in its train.

Mr. Hunter was true to his barbaric instincts to the last; eulogizing Wise to begin with, filling up his speech with the infamous maxims of iniquitous laws, and closing it with anathemas on godly John Brown. The peroration of his speech is noteworthy from its audacity of assertion:
We therefore ask his conviction to vindicate the majesty of the law. While we have patiently borne delays, as well here as outside in the community, in preservation of the character of Virginia, that [336] plumes itself on its moral character, as well as physical, and on its loyal and its devotion to truth and right, we ask you to discard any thing else, and render your verdict as you are sworn to do. . . . Justice is the centre upon which Deity sits. There is another column which represents its mercy. You have nothing to do with that.

Mr. Hunter closed his speech at half past 1 o'clock.

During most of the arguments to-day, Brown lay on his back, with his eyes closed.

Mr. Chilton asked the Court to instruct the Jury, if they believed the prisoner was not a citizen of Virginia, but of another State, they cannot convict on a count of treason.

The Court declined, saying the Constitution did not give rights and immunities alone, but also imposed responsibilities.

Mr. Chilton asked another instruction, that the Jury must be satisfied that the place where the offence was committed was within the boundaries of Jefferson County, which the Court granted.

The Jury then retired to consider their verdict, and the Court adjourned for half an hour.

The verdict.

Thus far, for our record of the trial, we have been obliged to rely on pro-slavery authority. It was not till the following day that a truthful and impartial reporter succeeded in eluding the cowardly and inquisitorial vigilance of the Virginians, who, in their anxiety to prevent a fair trial or a true report, excluded all Northern men from their City — as had been done, a thousand times before, in each of the despotic Commonwealths south of the Potomac, by men who are ever, and in various ways, committing daily violence on the Federal Constitution, and accusing, in the same breath, the Northern men who submit to these infractions as guilty of assailing the rights of the South.

Thus far, then, they have been convicted out of their [337] own mouths; and, in order to complete their self-condemnation, I will conclude this report with an extract from one of their own journals:

After an absence of three quarters of an hour, the Jury returned into Court with a verdict. At this moment the crowd filled all the space from the couch inside the bar, around the prisoner, beyond the railing in the body of the Court, out through the wide hall, and beyond the doors. There stood the anxious but perfectly silent and attentive populace, stretching head and neck to witness the closing scene of Old Brown's trial. It was terrible to look upon such a crowd of human faces, moved and agitated with but one dreadful expectancy — to let the eyes rest for a moment upon the only calm and unruffled countenance there, and to think that he alone of all present was the doomed one, above whose head hung the sword of fate. But there he stood, a man of indomitable will and iron nerve, all collected and unmoved, even while the verdict that consigned him to an ignominious doom was pronounced upon him. After recapitulating his offences set forth in the indictment, the Clerk of the Court said:

Gentlemen of the Jury, what say you? Is the prisoner at the bar, John Brown, guilty, or not guilty?

Foreman. Guilty.

Clerk. Guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree?

Foreman. Yes.

Not the slightest sound was heard in the vast crowd as this verdict was thus returned and read. Not the slightest expression of elation or triumph was uttered from the hundreds present, who, a moment before, outside the Court, joined in heaping threats and imprecations on his head; nor was this strange silence interrupted during the whole of the time occupied by the forms of the Court. Old Brown himself said not even a word, but, as on any previous day, turned to adjust his pallet, and then composedly stretched himself upon it.

Mr. Chilton moved an arrest of judgment, both on account of errors in the indictment and errors in the verdict. The objection in regard to the indictment has already been stated. The prisoner has been tried for an offence not appearing on the record of the Grand Jury. The verdict was not on each count separately, but was a general verdict on the whole indictment.

Counsel on both sides being too much exhausted to go on, the motion was ordered to stand over till to-morrow, and Brown was again removed unsentenced to prison.

“There he stood!” Alas! for the honor of the [338] Union, whom Virginia thus disgraced in the eyes of the world, the brave old man was too feeble to stand. “He sat up in his bed when the Jury entered,” writes another and more vindictive Virginia journalist, “and, after listening to the rendition of the verdict, lay down very composedly, without saying a word.” The writer adds, intending thereby to eulogize the Virginians, “There was no demonstration of any kind whatever.” Thus thoroughly does Slavery corrupt the heart, that the spectacle of an heroic old man, feeble from the loss of blood poured out in behalf of God's despised poor, unable to stand unsupported on his feet, and yet condemned to die on the scaffold, shocked no one Southern conscience — excited “no demonstration of any kind whatever.”

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