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there are here three parties to be considered | be just; to do that which is ordered !" It is -you, Mr. Fox, and myself. As for the judge wonderful that Mr. Erskine was able to keep and the crier, they are sent here to preserve or- Tooke from being hanged, when he went on, der, and they are both well paid for their trou- throughout the whole cause, examining witness. ble.” Mr. Erskine, remembering the past, an- es, and making remarks in the same spirit. But swered Tooke's note proposing to speak, by sim- the case of Hardy had decided the principle, and ply saying, “You'll be hanged if you do;" to Tooke was acquitted. The other prisoners were which Tooke instantly replied, “I'll be hanged if thus saved. I don't,” and went on to keep his word! When Mr. Erskine's prediction proved correct when arraigned for trial, and asked, “By whom will he told the jury that indulgence to the prisoners you be tried ?" he looked round some seconds on in this case would be found the best way to check the court in a significant manner, and exclaimed, a factious spirit among the people. “The ver"I would be tried by God and my country ! dict of acquittal,” says the editor of his speeches Bur—" He then asked liberty to sit with his “instead of giving encouragement to whaterer counsel ; and the court, on consultation, granted spirit of sedition may have existed at that period,
an indulgence to his age." My Lord,” produced a universal spirit of content and confi. said he, “if I were judge, the word indulgence dence in the people. Nothing, indeed, could should never issue from any lips. My Lord, you more properly excite such sentiments than so have no indulgence to show; you are bound to memorable a proof of safety under the laws."
OF MR. ERSKINE AGAINST THOMAS WILLIAMS FOR THE PUBLICATION OF PAINE'S AGE OF REA.
SON, BEFORE LORD KENYON AND A SPECIAL JURY, ON THE 24th OF JULY, 1797
INTRODUCTION. WILLIAMS was a bookseller of infamous character in London, and was prosecuted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality, for publishing Paine's abusive attack on Christianity entitled the Age of Reason. Mr. Erskine was counsel for the prosecution, and opened the case. The plea set up by the defendant was, that such an attack was no crime against the government; and Mr. Erskine's remarks were, therefore, directed chiefly to one point, viz., that “the Christian religion is the very founda tion of the laws of the land.” He draws the line with great clearness and precision between a legit imate inquiry into the evidences of our religion, and a scurrilous and insulting attack on its institutions calculated to destroy the influence of all religious belief upon the minds of men, and to set them free from the restraints of conscience, the obligations of an oath, and all the other bonds which unite society togeth er. This speech contains a fuller exhibition than any other, of Mr. Erskine's powers of declamation ir the best sense of the term of lofty and glowing amplification on subjects calculated to awaken sublimo sentiments, and thus to enforce the argument pat of which it springs.
could take up the case.
tended on the liberty of the
SPEECH, &c. GENTLEMEN OF THE Jury,—The charge of not only be men capable, from their education, of Ulasphemy, which is put upon the record against forming an enlightened judgment, but that their the printer of this publication, is not an accusa- situations should be such as to bring them withtion of the servants of the Crown, but comes be in the full view of their enlightened country, to fore you sanctioned by the oaths of a grand jury which, in character and in estimation, they were of the country. It stood for trial upon a former in their own turns to be responsible. Reasons for de. day; but it happening, as it frequent- Not having the honor, gentlemen, to be sworn all the jury orig ly does, without any imputation on for the King, as one of his counsel, it No invasion inlaulamon the gentlemen named in the panel, has fallen much oftener to my lot to
that a sufficient number did not ap- defend indictments for libels, ihan to press. pear to constitute a full special jury, I thought it assist in the prosecution of them. But I feel no my duty to withdraw the cause from trial till I embarrassment from that recollection, since I could have the opportunity, which is now open to shall not be found to-day to express a sentiment me, of addressing myself to you, who were orig. or to utter an expression, inconsistent with those inally appointed to try it. I pursued this course, invaluable principles for which I have uniformly however, from no jealousy of the common juries contended in the defense of others. Nothing that appointed by the laws for the ordinary service of I have ever said, either professionally or person. the court, since my whole life has been one con- ally, for the liberty of the press, do I mean to tinued experience of their virtues, but because I deny, to contradict, or counteract. On the con. thought it of great importance that those who trary, I desire to preface the discourse I have to were to decide upon a carse so very momentous make to you, with reminding you that it is your in the public should have the highest possible most semn duty to take care it suffers no injury analifications for the decision. That they should I in your hands. A free and unlicensed press, in
Use and import
she just and legal sense of the expression, has led flections of my riper years and understanding. to all the blessings, both of religion and govern- It forms at this moment the great consolation of ment, which Great Britain, or any part of the a life which, as a shadow, must pass away; and world, at this moment enjoys, and is calculated without it, indeed, I should consider my long still further to advance mankind to higher de course of health and prosperity, perhaps too long grees of civilization and happiness. But this and uninterrupted to be good for any man, only freedom, like every other, must be limited to be as the dust which the wind scatters, and rather enjoyed, and, like every human advantage, may as a snare than as a blessing. Much, however, be defeated by its abuse.
as I wish to support the authority of the Scrip. Gentlemen, the defendant stands indicted for tures, from a reasoned consideration of them, I Nature of the having published this book, which I have shall repress that subject for the present. But proposed de only read from the obligations of profes- if the defense shall be as I have suspected, to
sional duty, and which I rose from the bring them at all into argument or question, I reading of with astonishment and disgust. Stand- shall then fulfill a duty which I owe not only to ing here with all the privileges belonging to the the court, as counsel for the prosecution, but to highest counsel for the Crown, I shall be entitled the public, to state what I feel and know conto reply to any defense that shall be made for the cerning the evidences of that religion which is publication. I shall wait with patience till I hear reviled without being examined, and denied withit. Indeed, if I were to anticipate the defense out being understood. which I hear and read of, it would be defaming, I am well aware that by the communications by anticipation, the learned counsel who is to of a free press, all the errors of manmake it. For if I am to collect it, even from kind, from age to age, have been dis- ance of a free a formal notice given to the prosecutors in the sipated and dispelled; and I recollect course of the proceedings, I have to expect that, that the world, under the banners of reformed instead of a desense conducted according to the Christianity, has struggled through persecution rules and principles of English law and justice, to the noble eminence on which it stands at this the foundation of all our laws, and the sanctions moment, shedding the blessings of humanity and of all our justice, are to be struck at and insult- science upon the nations of the earth. It may ed. What is the force of that jurisdiction which be asked by what means the Reformation would enables the court to sit in judgment? What but have been effected if the books of the reformers the oath which his Lordship as well as yourselves had been suppressed, and the errors of condemned have sworn upon the Gospel to fulfill. Yet in and exploded superstitions had been supported as A deninlofeline the King's Court, where his Majesty unquestionable by the state, founded upon those
is himself also sworn to administer very superstitions formerly, as it is at present, the justice of England in the King's upon the doctrines of the Established Church ? oi
Court, who receives his high author. how, upon such principles, any reformation, civil ity under a solemn oath to maintain the Christian or religious, can in future be effected? The soreligion, as it is promulgated by God in the Holy lution is easy. Let us examine what are the Scriptures, I am nevertheless called upon, as genuine principles of the liberty of the press, as counsel for the prosecution, to produce a certain they regard writings upon general subjects, un. book described in the indictment to be the Holy connected with the personal reputations of pri Bible. No man deserves to be upon the rolls of vate men, which are wholly foreign to the pres. the court who dares, as an attorney, to put his ent inquiry. They are full of simplicity, and are name to such a notice. It is an insult to the au- brought as near perfection by the law of England thority and dignity of the court of which he is an as, perhaps, is consistent with any of the frail in. officer; since it seems to call in question the very stitutions of mankind. foundations of its jurisdiction. If this is to be the Although every community must establish su. spirit and temper of the defense ; is, as I collect preme authorities, founded upon fixed Principira from that array of books which are spread upon principles, and must give high powers the freedom of the benches behind me, this publication is to be to magistrates to administer laws for the presa in vindicated by an attack on all the truths which the preservation of the government it- and religious. the Christian religion promulgates to mankind, self, and for the security of those who are to be let it be remembered that such an argument was protected by it; yet, as infallibility and perfection neither suggested nor justified by any thing said belong neither to human establishments nor to by me on the part of the prosecution. In this buman individuals, it ought to be the policy of stage of the proceedings, I shall call for reverence all free establishments, as it is most peculiarly, to the sacred Scriptures, not from their merits, the principle of our own Constitution, to permit unbounded as they are, but from their authority the most unbounded freedom of discussion, even in a Christian country; not from the obligations by detecting errors in the Constitution or admin. of conscience, but from the rules of law. For istration of the very government itself, so as that my own part, gentlemen, I have been ever deep- decorum is observed which every state must ex. ly devoted to the truths of Christianity, and my act from its subjects, and which imposes no re. firm belief in the Holy Gospel is by no means straint upon any intellectual composition, fairly: owing to the prejudices of education, though I honestly, and decently addressed to the conscien. was religiously educated by the best of parents, ces and understandings of men. Upon this prin. but arises from the fullest and most continued reciple I have an unquestionable right a rigbi
on which the whole judicial system of the kingdoin rests.
which the best subjec's have exercised to ex- to suffer, and which soon would be borne down amine the principles and structure of the Consti- by insolence and disobedience, if they did. tution, and by fair, manly reasoning, to question The same principle pervades the whole system the practice of its administrators. I have a right of the law, not merely in its abstract to consider and to point out errors in the one or theory, but in its daily and most ap- from paralle. in the other; and not merely to reason upon their plauded practice. The intercourse be. existence, but to consider the means of their reftween the sexes, and which, properly regulated, ormation. By such free, well-intentioned, mod- not only continues, but humanizes and adorns our est, and dignified communication of sentiments natures, is the foundation of all the thousand roand opinions all pations have been gradually im- mances, plays, and novels which are in the hands proved, and milder laws and purer religions have of every body. Some of them lead to the conbeen established. The same principles which firmation of every virtuous principle ; others, vindicate civil contentions, honestly directed, ex- though with the same profession, address the imtend their protection to the sharpest controversies agination in a manner to lead the passions into on religious faiths. This rational and legal course dangerous excesses. But though the law does of improvement was recognized and ratified by not nicely discriminate the various shades which Lord Kenyon as the law of England, in a late distinguish these works from one another, so as trial at Guildhall, when he looked back with grat. that it suffers many to pass, through its liberal itude to the labors of the reformers, as the fount- spirit, that upon principle might be suppressed, ains of our religious emancipation, and of the would it or does it tolerate, or does any decent civil blessings that followed in their train. The man contend that it ought to pass by unpunished, English Constitution, indeed, does not stop short libels of the most shameless obscenity, manifestin the toleration of religious opinions, but liber- ly pointed to debauch innocence, and to blast and ally extends it to practice. It permits every man, poison the morals of the rising generation? This even publicly, to worship God according to his is only another illustration to demonstrate the abown conscience, though in marked dissent from vious distinction between the works of an author the national establishment, so as he prosesses the who fairly exercises the powers of his mind in general faith, which is the sanction of all our investigating doctrinal points in the religion of any moral duties, and the only pledge of our submis- country, and him who attacks the rational existsion to the system which constitutes a state. Is ence of every religion, and brands with absurdinot this system of freedom of controversy and by and folly the state which sanctions, and the freedom of worship, sufficient for all the pur- obedient tools who cherish, the delusion. But poses of human happiness and improvement ? this publication appears to me to be as mischiev. and will it be necessary for either that the law ous and cruel in its probable effects, as it is man. should hold out indemnity to those who wholly ifestly illegal in its principles; because it strikes abjure and revile the government of their coun- at the best, sometimes, alas ! the only refuge and try, or the religion on which it rests for its foun- consolation, amid the distresses and
Importance of dation ?
afflictions of the world. The poor religious conso I expect to hear, in answer to what I am now and humble, whom it affects to pity, Distinction be saying, much that will offend me. My may be stabbed to the heart by it.
learned friend, from the difficulties of They have more occasion for firm hopes beyond and scurrilous his situation, which I know, from ex- the grave than those who have greater comforts
perience, how to feel for very sincere- to render life delightful. I can conceive a disly, may be driven to advance propositions which tressed, but virtuous man, surrounded by chilit may be my duty, with much freedom to reply to; dren, looking up to him for bread when he has and the law will sanction that freedom. But will none to give them, sinking under the last day's not the ends of justice be completely answered by labor, and unequal to the next, yet still looking the right to point out the errors of his discourse up with confidence to the hour when all tears in terms that are decent and calculated to expose shall be wiped from the eyes of affliction, bearits defects ? or will any argument suffer, or will ing the burden laid upon him by a mysterious public justice be impeded, because neither private Providence which he adores, and looking forward honor and justice, nor public decorum, would en- with exultation to the revealed promises of his dure my telling my very learned friend that he Creator, when he shall be greater than the greatwas a fool, a liar, and a scoundrel, in the face of est, and happier than the happiest of mankind. the court, because I differed from him in argu- What a change in such a mind might be wrought ment or opinion? This is just the distinction be- by such a merciless publication ? Gentlemen, tween a book of free legal controversy and the whether these remarks are the overcharged decbook which I am arraigning before you. Every lamations of an accusing counsel, or the just reman has a legal right to investigate, with modesty flections of a man anxious for the public freedom, and decency, controversiat points of the Christian which is best-secured by the morals of a nation, religion, but no man, consistently with a law will be best settled by an appeal to the passages which only exists under its sanctions, has a right in the work, that are selected in the indictment not only broadly to deny its very existence, but for your consideration and judgment. You are to pour forth a shocking and insulting invective, at liberty to connect them with every context which the lowest establishments in the grada and sequel, and to bestow upon them the mildest tions of civil authority ought not to be permitted interpretation. [Here Mr. Erskine recd and
lations to per sons in poverty and affliction.
commented upon several of the selected passa- | it was philosophy. Not those visionary and arro. ges.
gant assumptions which too often usurp its name, Gentlemen, it would be useless and disgust- but philosophy resting upon the basis of mathe. The book suo. ing to enumerate the other passages matics, which, like figures, can not lie. Newton, coordination base within the scope of the indictment. who carried the line and rule to the utmost bar.
How any man can rationally vindi- riers of creation, and explored the principles ly cate the publication of such a book, in a country which, no doubt, all created matter is held tc. where the Christian religion is the very founda- gether and exists. But this extraordinary man, tion of the law of the land, I am totally at a loss in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked, pero to conceive, and have no wish to discuss. How haps, the errors which a minuter investigation is a tribunal, whose whole jurisdiction is founded of the created things on this earth might have upon the solemn belief and practice of what is taught him of the essence of his Creator. What denied as falsehood, and reprobated as impiety, shall then be said of the great Mr. Boyle,
Bogle. to deal with such an anomalous defense ? Upon who looked into the organic structure of all what principle is it even offered to the court, matter, even to the brute inanimate substances whose authority is contemped and mocked at which the foot treads on. Such a man may be In the religion proposed to be called in question supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. is not previously adopted in beliel, and solemnly Paine, to "look through nature, up to nature's acted upon, what authority has the court to pass God." Yet the result of all his contemplation any judgment at all of acquittal or condemna- was the most confirmed and devout belief in all tion? Why am I now, or upon any other occa- which the other holds in contempt as despicable sion, to submit to your Lordship’s authority ? and driveling superstition. But this error might, Why am I now, or at any time, to address twelve perhaps, arise from a want of due attention to the of my equals, as I am now addressing you, with foundations of human judgment, and the structure reverence and submission ? Under what sanc. of that understanding which God has given us for tion are the witnesses to give their evidence, the investigation of truth. Let that question be without which there can be no trial? Under answered by Mr. Locke, who was to the what obligations can I call upon you, the jury, highest pitch of devotion and adoration a representing your country, to administer justice? Christian. Mr. Locke, whose office was to deSurely upon no other than that you are sworn to tect the errors of thinking, by going ap to the administer it under the oaths you have taken. fountains of thought, and to direct into the proper The whole judicial fabric, from the King's sov- track of reasoning the devious mind of man, by creign authority to the lowest office of magistra- showing him its whole process, from the first percy, has no other foundation. The whole is built, ceptions of sense to the last conclusions of ratio. both in form and substance, upon the same oath cination ; putting a rein, besides, upon false opinof every one of its ministers, to do justice, “as ion, by practical rules for the conduct of human God shall help them hereafter.” What God ? and judgment. what hereafter ? That God, undoubtedly, who But these men were only deep thinkers, and has commanded Kings to rule, and judges to delived in their closets, uvaccustomed to the traffic cree with justice ; who has said to witnesses, not of the world, and to the laws which practically by the voice of nature, but in revealed command regulate mankind. Gentlemen, in the place ments, “thou shalt not bear false witness against where you now sit to administer the justice of thy neighbor ;" and who has enforced obedience this great country, above a century ago the nevto them by the revelation of the unutterable er-to-be-forgotten Sir Matthew Hale preblessings which shall attend their observances, sided, whose faith in Christianity is an exand the awful punishments which shall await alted commentary upon its truth and reason, and upon their transgressions.
whose life was a glorious example of its fruits in But it seems this course of reason, and the man; administering human justice with a wis
time and the person are at last ar. dom and purity drawn from the pure fountain of Dared within the rived, that are to dissipate the errors the Christian dispensation, which has been, and Christianity. which have overspread the past gen- will be, in all ages, a subject of the highest rev. erations of ignorance! The believers in Chris- erence and admiration. tianity are many, but it belongs to the fow that But it is said by Mr. Paine that the Christian are wise to correct their credulity! Belief is an fable is but the tale of the more an- Pretenise that act of reason;
and superior reason may, there- cient superstitions of the world, and Christianity car fore, dictate to the weak. In running
the mind may be easily detected by a proper earlier times. along the numerous list of sincere and devout understanding of the mythologies of the heathens. Christians, I can not help lamenting that New- Did Milton understand those mythologies ? Was ton had not lived to this day, to have had his shal- he less versed than Mr. Paine in the superstitions lowness filled up with this new finod of light. But of the world ? No: they were the subject of his the subject is too awful for irony. I will speak immortal song; and though shut out from all re
plainly and directly. Newton was a currence to them, he poured them forth from the
Christian! Newton, whose mind burst stores of a memory rich with all that man ever forth from the fetters cast by nature upon our knew, and laid them in their order as the illus. finite conceptions; Newton, whose science was tration e that real and exalted faith, the unques truth and the foundation of whose knowledge of | tionable source of that fervid genius, which
Mr. Paine com
cast a sort of shade upon all the other works of Gentlemen, there is b.at one consideration more,
which I can not possibly omit, beHe pass'd the bounds of flaming space,
cause, I confess, it affects me very the book to do Where angels tremble while they gaze; deeply. Mr. Paine has written large- order, so that He saw, till, blasted with excess of light, ly on public liberty and government; sell would be a He clos'd his eyes in endless night!'
and this last performance has, on that refuge from ita But it was the light of the body only that was account, been more widely circulated, extinguished ; "the celestial light shone inward,” and principally among those who attached themand enabled him to "justify the ways of God to selves from principle to his former works. This man." The result of his thinking was, neverthe circumstance renders a public attack upon all re. less, not the same as Mr. Paine's. The mysteri- vealed religion, from such a writer, infinitely moro ous incarnation of our blessed Savior, which the dangerous. The religious and moral sense of "Age of Reason” blasphemes in words so whol. the people of Great Britain is the great anchor ly unfit for the mouth of a Christian, or for the which alone can hold the vessel of the state ear of a court of justice, that I dare not and will amid the storms which agitate the world. Ifi not give them utterance, Milton made the grand could believe, for a moment, that the mass of the conclusion of PARADISE Lost, the rest of his fin- people were to be debauched from the principles ished labors, and the ultimate hope, expectation, of religion, which form the true basis of that huand glory of the world :
manity, charity, and benevolence that has been A Virgin is his mother, but his sire
so long the national characteristic, instead of mix. The power of the Most High: he shall ascend ing myself, as I sometimes have done, in politic. The throne hereditary, and bound his reign
al reformations, I would rather retire to the ut. With earth's wide bounds, his glory with the heav- termost corners of the earth to avoid their agita.
tion; and would bear, not only the imperfections The immortal poet having thus put into the and abuses complained of in our own wise estab. mouth of the angel the prophecy of man's re- lishment, but even the worst government that ever demption, follows it with that solemn and beauti- existed in the world, rather than go to the work ful admonition, addressed in the poem to our great of reformation with a multitude set free from all First Parent, but intended as an address to his the charities of Christianity, who had no sense of posterity through all generations :
God's existence but from Mr. Paine's observa,
tion of nature, which the mass of mankind have This having learned, thou hast attained the sum Of wisdom : hope no higher, though all the stars
no leisure to contemplate; nor any belief of future Thou knew'st by name, and all th'ethereal powers, in the glorious pursuit of human happiness, no:
rewards and punishments to animate the gooi? All secrets of the deep, all Nature's works, Or works of God in heaven, air, earth, or sea,
to deter the wicked from destroying it even in And all the riches of this world enjoy'st,
its birth. But I know the people of England beiAnd all the rule one empire; only add
ter. They are a religious people; and, withthe Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add faith, blessing of God, as far as it is in my power, I will Add virtue, patience, temperance; add love, lend my aid to keep them so. I have no objec By nate to come call'd Charity, the soul
tions to the freest and most extended discussions Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loth To leave this Paradise, but shalt
upon doctrinal points of the Christian religion :
possess A paradise within thee, happier far.
and, though the law of England does not permit it,
I do not dread the reasoned arguments of De. Thus you find all that is great, or wise, or ists against the existence of Christianity itsell, splendid, or illustrious among created beings, because, as was said by its divine author, if it is all the minds gisted beyond ordinary nature, if not of God, it will stand. An intellectual book, how inspired by their universal Author for the ad- ever erroneous, addressed to the intellectual world vancement and dignity of the world, though di- upon so profound and complicated a subject, can vided by distant ages, and by the clashing opin- never work the mischief which this indictment is ions distinguishing them from one another, yet calculated to repress. Such works will only em. joining, as it were, in one sublime chorus to cel. ploy the minds of men enlightened by study in ebrate the truths of Christianity, and laying upon a deeper investigation of a subject well worthy its holy altars the never-fading offerings of their of their profound and continued contemplation. immortal wisdom.
The powers of the mind are given for human imAgainst all this concurring testimony, we find provement in the progress of human existence. Morality of
suddenly, from Mr. Paine, that the Bible The changes produced by such reciprocations of teaches nothing but "lies, obscenity, lights and intelligences are certain in their pro
cruelty, and injustice.” Did the author gressions, and make their way imperceptibly, as or publisher ever read the sermon of Christ upon conviction comes upon the world, by the final the Mount, in which the great principles of our and irresistible power of truth. If Christianity faith and duty are summed up? Let us all but be founded in falsehood, let us become Deists in sead and practice it, and lies, obscenity, cruelty, this manner, and I am contented. But this book and injustice, and all human wickedness, would be hath no such object and no such capacity; i: banished from the world.
presents no arguments to the wise and enlight
ened. On the contrary, it treats the faith and 1 Grey's Ode on the Progress of Poetry. opinions of the wisest with tho most shocking.