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few days after this disclosure was made, Richard Crowninshield, who was supposed to have been the principal assassin, committed suicide.
“A Special Session of the Supreme Court was ordered by the Legislature for the trial of the prisoners at Salem, in July. At that time, John F. Knapp was indicted as principal in the murder, and George Crowninshield and Joseph J. Knapp as accessories.
« On account of the death of Chief Justice Parker, which occurred on the 26th of July, the court adjourned to Tuesday, the 3rd of August, when it proceeded in the trial of John F. Knapp. Joseph J. Knapp being called upon refused to testify, and the pledge of the Government was withdrawn.
“At the request of the prosecuting officers of the Government, Mr. Webster appeared as counsel and assisted at the trial.
“Mr. Dexter addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner, and was succeeded by Mr. Webster in the following speech :
“I am little accustomed, gentlemen, to the part which I am now attempting to perform. Hardly more than once or twice has it happened to me to be concerned, on the side of the Government, in any criminal prosecution whatever; and never, until the present occasion, in any case affecting life.
“But I very much regret that it should have been thought necessary to suggest to you that I am
brought here to hurry you against the law and beyond the evidence. I hope I have too much regard for justice, and too much respect for my own character, to attempt either; and were I to make such attempt, I am certain that in this court nothing could be carried against the law, and that gentlemen intelligent and just as you are, are not by any power to be hurried beyond the evidence. Though I could well have wished to shun this occasion, I have not felt at liberty to withhold my professional assistance, when it is supposed that I might be in some degree useful in investigating and discovering the truth, respecting this most extraordinary murder. It has seemed to be a duty incumbent on me, as on every other citizen, to do my best and my utmost to bring to light the perpetrators of this crime. Against the prisoner at the bar I cannot have the slightest prejudice. I would not do him the smallest injury or injustice. But I do not affect to be indifferent to the discovery and the punishment of this deep guilt. I cheerfully share in the opprobrium, how much soever it may be, which is cast on those who feel and manifest an anxious concern that all who had a part in planning, or a hand in executing this deed of midnight assassination may be brought to answer for their enormous guilt at the bar of public justice. Gentlemen, it is a most extraordinary case. In
some respects it has hardly a precedent anywhere ; certainly none in our New England history. This bloody drama, exhibited no suddenly excited ungovernable rage. The actors in
The actors in it were not surprised by any lion-like temptation, springing upon their virtue and overcoming it, before resistance could begin. Nor did they do the deed to glut savage vengeance, or satiate long-settled and deadly hate. It was a cool, calculating, money-making murder. It was all ‘hire and salary, not revenge.' It was the weighing of money against life; the counting out of so many pieces of silver against so many ounces of blood.
“An aged man, without an enemy in the world, in his own house, and in his own bed, is made the victim of a butcherly murder for mere pay. Truly, here is a new lesson for painters and poets. Whoever shall hereafter draw the portrait of murder, if he will show it as it has been exhibited in an example where such example was last to have been looked for, in the very bosom of our New England Society, let him not give it the grim visage of Moloch, the brow knitted by revenge, the face black with settled hate, and the blood-shot eye emitting livid fires of malice. Let him draw rather a decorous, smooth-faced, bloodless demon; a picture in repose rather than in action; not so much an example of human nature in its depravity and in its
paroxysms of crime as an infernal nature, a fiend, in the ordinary display and development of his character.
“The deed was executed with a degree of selfpossession and steadiness equal to the wickedness with which it was planned. The circumstances now clearly in evidence spread out the whole scene before us. Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man to whom sleep was sweet, the first sound slumbers of the night held him in their soft though strong embrace. The assassin enters through the window already prepared into an unoccupied apartment. With noiseless foot he passes the lonely hall, half lighted by the moon; he winds up the ascent of the stairs, and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure,
till it turns on its hinges without noise, and he enters and beholds his victim before him. The room was uncommonly open to the admission of light. The face of the innocent sleeper was turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon resting on the grey locks of the aged temple, showed him where to strike. The fatal blow is given ! and the victim passes
without a struggle or a motion from the repose of sleep to the repose of death! It is the assassin's purpose to make sure work; and he yet plies the dagger, though it was obvious that life had been destroyed
by the blow of the bludgeon. He even raises the aged arm, that he may not fail in his aim at the heart, and replaces it again over the wounds of the poniard. To finish the picture, he explores the wrist for the pulse. He feels for it, and ascertains that it beats no longer! It is accomplished. The deed is done. He retreats, retraces his steps to the window, passes out through it as he came in, and escapes. He has done the murder-no eye has seen him, no ear has heard him. The secret is his own, and it is safe.
“Ah! gentlemen, that was a dreadful mistake. Such a secret can be safe nowhere. The whole creation of God has neither nook nor corner where the guilty can bestow it and say that it is safe. Not to speak of that Eye which glances through all disguises and beholds everything as in the splendour
Such secrets of guilt are never safe from detection, even by men. True it is, generally speaking, that murder will out." True it is that Providence hath so ordained, and doth so govern things, that those who break the great law of heaven by shedding man's blood, seldom succeed in avoiding discovery. Especially in a case exciting so much attention as this, discovery must come and will come sooner or later. A thousand eyes turn at once to explore every man, every thing, every circumstance connected with the time and place; a thousand ears catch every whisper; a thousand