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excited minds intensely dwell on the scene, shedding all their light, and ready to kindle the slightest circumstance into a blaze of discovery. Meantime, the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret. It is false to itself; or rather it feels an irresistible impulse of conscience to be true to itself. It labours under its guilty possession, and knows not what to do with it. The human heart was not made for the residence of such an inhabitant. It finds itself preyed on by a torment which it dares not acknowledge to God or man. A vulture is devouring it, and it can ask no sympathy or assistance either from heaven or earth. The secret which the murderer possesses soon comes to possess him, and like the evil spirits of which we read, it overcomes him and leads him whithersoever it will. He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes, and almost hears its workings in the very silence of his thoughts. It has become his master. It betrays his discretion, it breaks down his courage, it conquers his prudence. When suspicions from without begin to embarrass him, and the net of circumstance to entangle him, the fatal secret struggles with still greater violence to burst forth. It must be confessed, it will be confessed, there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession.
« Much has been said on this occasion of the
excitement which has existed and still exists, and of the extraordinary measures taken to discover and punish the guilty. No doubt there has been, and is much excitement, and strange indeed were it had it been otherwise. Should not all the peaceable and well-disposed naturally feel concerned, and naturally exert themselves to bring to punishment the authors of this secret assassination ? Did you, gentlemen, sleep quite as quietly in your beds after this murder as before ? Was it not a case for rewards, for meetings, for committees, for the united efforts of all the good, to find out a band of murderous conspirators, of midnight ruffians, and to bring them to the bar of justice and law ? If this be excitement, is it an unnatural or improper excitement ?
“ It seems to me, gentlemen, that there are appearances of another feeling, 'of a very different nature and character, not very extensive I would hope, but still there is too much evidence of its existence. Such is human nature, that some persons lose their abhorrence of crime, in their admiration of its magnificent exhibitions. Ordinary vice is reprobated by them, but extraordinary guilt, exquisite wickedness, the high flights and poetry of crime, seize on the imagination, and lead them to forget the depth of the guilt in admiration of the excellence of the performance, or the unequalled atrocity of the purpose. There are those in our
day who have made great use of this infirmity of our nature; and by means of it done infinite injury to the cause of good morals. They have affected not only the taste, but, I fear, also the principles of the young, the heedless and the imaginative, by the exhibition of interesting and beautiful monsters. They render depravity attractive, sometimes by the polish of its manners, and sometimes by its very extravagance; and study to show off crime under all the advantages of cleverness and dexterity. Gentlemen, this is an extraordinary murder, but it is still a murder. We are not to lose ourselves in wonder at its origin, or in gazing on its cool and skilful execution. We are to detect and punish it; and while we proceed with caution against the prisoner, and are to be sure that we do not visit on his head the offences of others, we are yet to consider that we are dealing with a case of most atrocious crime, which has not the slightest circumstance about it to soften its enormity. It is murder, deliberate, concerted, malicious murder.
“It is said that laws are made, not for the punishment of the guilty, but for the protection of the innocent. This is not quite accurate perhaps, but if so, we hope they will be so administered as to give that protection. But who are the innocent whom the law would protect? Gentlemen, Joseph
White was innocent. They are innocent, who having lived in the fear of God through the day, wish to sleep in peace through the night in their own beds. The law is established that those who live quietly may sleep quietly, that they who do no harm may feel none. The gentleman can think of none that are innocent except the prisoner at the bar—not yet convicted. Is a proved conspirator to murder innocent ? Are the Crowninshields and the Knapps innocent ? What is innocence? How deep-stained with blood, how reckless in crime, how sunk in depravity may it be, and yet remain innocence ? The law is made, if we would speak with entire accuracy, to protect the innocent by punishing the guilty. But there are those innocent out of court as well as in; innocent citizens never suspected of crime, as well as innocent prisoners at the bar.
“ The criminal law is not founded on a principle of vengeance. It does not punish that it may inflict suffering. The humanity of the law feels and regrets every pain it causes, every hour of restraint it imposes, and more deeply still every life it forfeits. But it uses evil as the means of preventing greater evil. It seeks to deter from crime by the example of punishment. This is its true, and only true main object. It restrains the liberty of the few offenders, that the many who do not offend may enjoy their own liberty.
It forfeits the life of the offender that other murders may not be committed. The law might open the jails and at once set free all prisoners accused of offences; and it ought to do so if it could be made certain that no other offence would hereafter be committed. Because it punishes, not to satisfy any desire to inflict pain, but simply to prevent the repetition of crimes. When the guilty, therefore, are not punished, the law has so far failed of its purpose; the safety of the innocent is so far en. dangered. Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life. And whenever a jury, through whimsical and illfounded scruples, suffer the guilty to escape, they make themselves answerable for the augmented danger of the innocent."
[Then follow nearly forty closely printed octavo pages of the most minute and ablest dissection of every part of the case; the most crushing answer to the opposite counsel ; and the most searching and subtle analysis of the evidence. Every scene of the tragedy, from the first conception of the plot to the awful catastrophe, passes before us as if we had been present bodily. We are eye and ear-witnesses to every incident. Mr. Webster winds up
his speech with the following impressive peroration.]
“Gentlemen, I have gone through with the evidence in this case, and have endeavoured to