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martyr's crown to the faithful; and it is not known, or believed, that those who propose to abolish death as a punishment either fear it as a natural event, or shun its encounter when required by duty, more than those who think it ought to be retained. He who preserved the life of a Roman citizen was entitled to a more honorable recompense than the daring soldier who ventured his own, by first mounting the breach. The civic was preferred to the mural crown. The Romans, during the best period of their history, reduced this abolition to practice. “Far,” said their great orator, endeavoring, in a corrupted age, to restore the ancient feeling on the subject, “far from us be the punishment of death—its ministers—its instruments. Remove them, not only from their actual operation on our bodies, but banish them from our eyes, our ears, our thoughts; for, not only the executions, but the apprehension, the existence, the very mention of these things, is disgraceful to a freeman and a Roman citizen.”* Yet the Romans were not very remarkable for
* Carnifex et abductio capitis, etnomen ipsum crucis absit, non modo a corpore civium Romanorum sed etiam a cogitatione, oculis, auribus—harum etian omnium rerum non solum eventus atque perpessio, sed etiam conditio, expectatio, mentio ipsa denique, indigna cive Romano, atque homine libero est—Cicero pro Rabirio.
a pusillanimous fear of death. In the age of which I speak, they did not want the excitement of capital punishment to induce them to die for their country. On the contrary, it might, perhaps, be plausibly argued, that the servile disposition, which disgraced the latter ages of the republic, was in some measure caused by the change, which made the sacrifice of life the expiation for crime, instead of the consummation and proof of patriotic devotion. Conscious of having been guilty of much repetition, and certain that I have weakened, by my version of them, arguments much better used by others, I am yet fearful of having omitted many things that might have an effect in convincing any one of those to whom this report is addressed. The firm religious belief I have of the truth of the doctrine I advance, contrasted with the sense of my incapacity to enforce it upon others, must have produced obscurity where the interests of humanity require there should be light, and confusion where the rformance of my great duty demands order. ut the truth will appear in spite of these obstacles. From the midst of the cloud, with which human imperfections has surrounded her, her voice, like that of the Almighty from the Mount, will be heard reiterating to nations, as well as to individuals, the great command, “Thou SHALT NoT KILL.”
SAMUEL D EXTER.
SAMUEL DExTER was a native of Boston, Massachusetts, where he was born in the year 1761. His father, Samuel senior, a descendant of Richard Dexter, who emigrated from England to America, a short time after the landing at Plymouth, was an active supporter of the patriotic cause, prior to the Revolution, and for his eminent services was several times elected by the colonial House of Representatives to the Council; and for the same reasons as often rejected by the royal governor. Finally, however, he was permitted to take his scat; but, in 1774 was again negatived, in company with Bowdoin and others, by the “express commands of his Majesty.” It is recorded that he took part in the preparation of the celebrated answers to the Governor's speeches, and the various state papers of that period; which have so long been the theme of admiration for their eloquence and their firm and bold tone of remonstrance against the oppressive measures of the British ministry.* “Soon after the commencement of the revolutionary war,” says Doctor Holmes, “he removed, with his family, to Woodstock, Connecticut. He had a large library, which attracted much attention, at the time of its removal, and he was greatly devoted to the use of it, in his retirement, to the close of his life. He was a gentleman of a highly respectable character, possessed a handsome estate, and enjoyed far beyond most literary men, in our country, otium cum dignitate.t. The latter part of his life was spent in the investigation of the doctrines of theology; which resulted in the establishment, by his will, of a professorship of Sacred Literature in Harvard University. He died, at Mendon, in Massachusetts, on the 10th of June, 1810. Hannah, the wife of this excellent man, and the mother of the subject of this sketch, was the daughter Andrew and Mary Sigourney, and a descendant of André Sigourney, one of those Huguenots who fled from France to America on the revocation of the edict of Nantes. She is described as “a respectable lady, of dark complexion, with characteristic French features and pronunciation;” peculiarities which her distinguished son inherited. Of her, as well as of his honored father, that son always spoke with reverenco and affection. At the age of sixteen years Samuel Dexter, the junior, entered Harvard University, and in 1781, graduated with the highest honors of his class. During his junior year he delivered a poem on the Progress of Science, “which was at that time,” says Judge Story, “received with great applause, and is still (1816) considered as highly creditable to his taste and judgment.” $ After leaving college he studied law in the office of the Honorable Levi Lincoln, an eminent counsellor of that period, and subsequently Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. In due time
* Wheaton's Life of William Pinkney, page 141.
* Appendix to Doctor Holmes's Memoir of the French Protestants who settled at Oxford, Massachusetts, A. D. 1686, &c., in the Massachusetts Historical Collections. Third series, vol. 2, page 79.
: Mr. Dexter was, at one time, engaged in the defence of some foreign sailors, who were on trial in Rhode Island, for piracy. During the trial he had occasion to confer with then repeatedly; and a Quaker, to whom he was personally unknown, observed to a friend, when Mr. Dexter commenced his argument—“How well he speaketh our language 1" mistaking him for one of the foreigners, arguing in behalf of himself and his associates—Sketches of Samuel Dexter by Mr. Sargent.
§ Sketch of the Life and Character of Samuel Dexter, by Judge Story. Miscellaneous Writings, page 782.
he commenced practice, his reputation increased, and “he soon found himself surrounded with clients.” He now became a member of the legislature of his native State; soon after was elected to the lower House of the Congress of the United States, and from thence was elevated to a seat in the Senate. In both branches of Congress his course was honorable and distinguished. “His clear and forcible argumentation, his earnest and affecting admonitions, and his intrepid and original development of principles and measures, gave him a weight of authority, which it was difficult to resist. Perhaps no man was ever heard by his political opponents with more profound and unaffected respect."
In the spring of 1800, he was appointed by President Adams, Secretary of War, and in the following winter, on the resignation of Oliver Wolcott, was transferred to the Treasury Department. He discharged the duties of these offices with his characteristic energy and ability. Before the close of Mr. Adams' administration he was offered a foreign mission. This honor he declined.
Mr. Dexter continued at the head of the Treasury department during a greater part of the first year of Mr. Jefferson's presidency. Mr. Gallatin succeeded him on the twenty-sixth of January, 1802. Soon after retiring he resumed the duties of his profession, and was immediately engaged in causes brought before the highest courts of his native State and of the country. It was in this position that his splendid powers were fully developed. “In no situation," said Judge Story, “have the admirable talents of Mr. Dexter appeared with more unclouded lustre, than in his attendance on the Supreme Court, at Washington. For several years, he passed the winters there, under engagements in many of the most important causes. Rarely did he speak without attracting an audience composed of the taste, the beauty, the wit and the learning, that adorned the city; and never was he heard without instruction and delight. On some occasions, involuntary tears from the whole audience have testified the touching power of his eloquence and pathos. On others, a profound and breathless silence expressed, more forcibly than any human language, the riveted attention of an hundred minds :—I well remember," continues the same able authority, "with what appropriate felicity he undertook, in one cause, to analyze the sources of patriotism. *** No one who heard him describe the influence of local scenery upon the human heart, but felt his soul dissolve within him. I can recall but imperfectly a single passage; and, stript of its natural connection, it affords but a glimmering of its original brightness. We love not our country,' said the orator, “from a blind and unmeaning attachment, simply because it is the place of our birth. It is the scene of our earliest joys and sorrows. Every spot has become consecrated by some youthful sport, some tender friendship, some endearing affection, some reverential feeling. It is associated with all our moral habits, our principles, and our virtues. The very sod seems almost a part of ourselves, for there are entombed the bones of our ancestors. Even the dark valley of the shadow of death is not without its consolations, for we pass it in company with our friends.""
It is much to be regretted that the forensic efforts of Mr. Dexter have not been preserved. But one of his arguments is extant, and that is spoken of by his most recent and most competent biographer,* as “an abridgment,” and cannot, probably, however able, be classed in the very foremost rank of his efforts. His argument on the unconstitutionality of the embargo laws, is considered to be one of his greatest successes. To the profound legal knowledge, the able statesmanship, and the tremendous eloquence he displayed on this occasion, Mr. Webster, in the memorable debate on Foot's resolution, gives unqualified and honorable praise.
Mr. Dexter's style of speaking was slow and deliberate. Generally, he stood still and erect, using no gestures except, occasionally, in the extension of his right arm towards the bar, with his hand firmly clenched. “When growing earnest, he often inclined his body slightly forward, and closing the palms of his bands, moved them up and down repeatedly, as thongh he were about to dive into the jury box; and, at such times, a dignified motion of the head gave emphasis to the argument. When deeply engaged in any important cause, a slight tremulation of the fingers
• Honorable Lucius Manlius Sargent, of Massachusetts, whose sketches of Mr. Dexter, over the signature of "Siguna," appeared in the Boston Transcript in 1956–1857. These valuable papers have since been issued in a volume.
was frequently perceptible:—He was in the practice of walking much in his office, with his hands behind his back, and in perfect silence. He had a very common habit of sitting for an hour or more with his eyes closed, his chair canted backward, his feet resting against the wall, or the mantel, and while in this position, gently stroking his nose with his thumb and finger. On such occasions, no one disturbed him, without good and sufficient reasons.” Another of his peculiarities is noted by Mr. Sullivan, in his interesting Letters on Public Characters. “His precious moments were of the early morning, when in bed. He awoke oftentimes before dawn, and would remain in bed, producing a gentle motion of the body by shaking his foot, while his mind was occupied in severe contemplation.” His manhood may be considered to have been one long process of meditation, reluctantly interrupted by business and sleep. Mr. Dexter was a strenuous advocate of temperance, and was one of the originators of the first society formed for the promotion of that object, and, on its organization, its first president. This was the Massachusetts State Temperance Society, established about 1813. His was the remark: “Give me the money paid for the support of drunken paupers in the United States, and I will pay the expenses of the Federal and of every State government in the Union, and in a few years become as rich, with the surplus, as the Nabob of Arcot.” He had consented to deliver the opening address of the Massachusetts Society, but was prevented from carrying out his intentions in consequence of being detained at Washington.* In 1815, President Madison tendered him the mission to Spain, but, from an unwillingness to leave his native country, he declined the proffered honor. During the winter of this and the following year, he was, as usual, engaged in the laborious duties of his profession at Washington. He was once compelled to relinquish his labors for a time on account of illness; but before he returned to the North in the spring of 1816, he had regained his accustomed health and vigor. On the last day of April of this year, he arrived at Athens, New York, whither he had gone with his family, to attend the wedding of his oldest son. At the time of his arrival he was somewhat indisposed, and continued to fail until his death, which occurred on the morning of the fourth of May following. The best memorials of this remarkable man, are to be found in the recent sketches by Mr. Sargent, to whom the historical and literary students of America are deeply indebted for the many and valuable facts he has garnered and preserved in the several occasional products of his pen. In the various discourses delivered by eminent jurists of the United States, among whom are Justices Story and Thacher, and Mr. Bliss and Mr. Livingston, will also be found earnest tributes to the eloquence and ability of Mr. Dexter.
ARGUMENT IN SELFRIDGE'S TRIAL.
The following argument was delivered by Mr. close of the defence of this important and inter
Dexter, in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts,
TLEMEN of THE JURY: It is my duty to submit to your consideration some observations in the
esting cause. In doing it, though I feel perfectly satisfied that you are men of pure minds, yet I reflect with anxiety, that no exertion or zeal on the part of the defendant's counsel can possibly insure justice, unless you likewise perform your duty. Do not suppose that I mean to suggest the least suspicion with respect to your principles or motives. I know you to have been selected in a manner most likely to obtain impartial justice; and doubtless you have
• Familiar Letters on Public Characters by William Sullivan, page 403. *This argument was first printed in the report of this trial, in 1807, with the following note. “The Argument of Mr. Dexter is published from a report of the same as furnished by himself. Mr. D. preferred this mode of giving a
condensed statement of his defence, to the detailed draft, as prepared by one of the stenographers. It is much compressed in size from the original argument, but although a compendium, will be found to contain all the prominent and essential points, maintained by him in this important trial.”
honestly resolved, and endeavored to lay aside all opinions which you may have entertained previous to this trial. But the difficulty of doing this, is perhaps not fully estimated; a man deceives himself oftener than he misleads others; and he does injustice from his errors, when his principles are all on the side of rectitude. To exhort him to overcome his prejudices, is like telling a blind man to see. He may be disposed to overcome them, and yet be unable because they are unknown to himself. When prejudice is once known, it is no longer prejudice, it becomes corruption; but so long as it is not known, the possessor cherishes it without guilt: he feels indignation for vice, and pays homage to virtue; and yet does injustice. It is the apprehension that you may thus mistake, that you may call your prejudices principles, and believe them such, and that their effects may appear to you the fruits of virtue, which leads us so anxiously to repeat the request, that you would examine your hearts, and ascertain that you do not come here with partial minds. In ordinary cases, there is no reason for this precaution. Jurors are so appointed, by the institutions of our country, as to place them out of the reach of improper influence, on common occasions; at least as much so as frail humanity will permit. But when a cause has been a long time the subject of party discussion; when every man among us belongs to one party or the other, or at least is so considered; when the democratic presses, throughout the country, have teemed with publications, fraught with appeals to the passions, and bitter invective against the defendant; when, on one side, every thing has been done, that party rage could do, to prejudice this cause; and, on the other, little has been said in vindication of the supposed offender, though, on one occasion, I admit that too much has been said; when silence has been opposed to clamor, and patient waiting for a trial to systematic labor to prevent justice; when the friends of the accused, restrained by respect for the laws, have kept silence, because it was the exclusive right of a court of justice to speak; when no voice has been heard from the walls of the defendant's prison, but a request that he may not be condemned without a trial; the necessary consequence must be, that opinion will progress one way; that the stream of incessant exertion will wear a channel in the public mind; and the current may be strong enough to carry away those who may be jurors, though they know not how, or when, they received the impulse that hurries them forward. am fortunate enough not to know, with respect to most of you, to what political party you belong. Are you republican federalists I ask ou to forget it: leave all your political opinions hind you; for it would be more mischievous, that you should acquit the defendant from the influence of o that an innocent man, " " " i-take, should be convicted. In the latter
case, his would be the misfortune, and to him would it be confined; but in the other, you violate a principle, and the consequence may be ruin. Consider what would be the effect of an impression on the public mind, that in consequence of party opinion and feelings, the defendant was acquitted. Would there still be recourse to the laws, and to the justice of the country? Would the passions of the citizen, in a moment of frenzy, be calmed by looking forward to the decision of courts of law for justice? Rather every individual would become the avenger of imaginary transgression. Violence would be repaid with violence; havoc would produce havoc; and instead of a peaceable recurrence to the tribunals of justice, the spectre of civil discord would be seen stalking through our streets, scattering desolation, misery and crimes. Such may be the consequences of indulging political prejudice on this day; and if so, you are amenable to your country and your God. This I say to you who are federalists; and have I not as much right to speak thus to those who are democratic republicans? That liberty, which you cherish with so much ardor, depends on your preserving yourselves impartial in a court of justice. . It is proved by the history of man, at least of civil society, that the moment the judicial power becomes corrupt, liberty expires. What is liberty, but the enjoyment of your rights, free from outrage or danger? And what security have you for these, but an impartial administration of justice? Life, liberty, reputation, property, and domestic happiness, are all under its peculiar protection. It is the judicial power, uncorrupted, that brings to the i. of every citizen, all the blessings of civil society, and makes it dear to man. Little has the private citizen to do with the other branches of government. What, to him, are the great and splendid events that aggrandize a few eminent men and make a figure in history? His domestic happiness is not less real, because it will not be recorded for posterity; but this happiness is his no longer than courts of justice protect it. It is true, injuries cannot always be prevented; but while the fountains of justice are pure, the sufferer is sure of a recompense. Contemplate the intermediate horrors and final despotism, that must result from mutual deeds of vengeance, when there is no longer an impartial judiciary, to which contending parties may appeal, with full confidence that principles will be respected. Fearful must be the interval of anarchy; fierce the alternate pangs of rage and terror, till one party shall destroy the other, and a gloomy despotism terminate the struggles of conflicting factions. Again, I beseech you to abjure your prejudices. In the language once addresssed from Heaven to the Hebrew prophet, “Put off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy.” You are the professed friends, the devoted worshippers of civil liberty; will you violate her sanctuary Will you pro