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of sedition; by the penal law of Scotland, it estploy all our force tɔ get rid of that foreign is a crime very different from the law of Eng- enemy, upon which the safety and the happiland; for it is not necessary to have any act ness of the country does in a great measure of parliament for it. But gentlemen, although depend. there is no special act of parliament for it, it Gentlemen, any person who had never heard is very well known that it is a crime of a high of the name of Great Britain, and knew nothing nature, and of a dangerous tendency. I take of its constitution; if the proceedings of these the crime of sedition to be violating the peace Friends of the People and this convention and and order of society; and it is attended with their publications were put into his hands, I different degress of aggravation, according to think the conclusion that would be naturally what is the object of it. When sedition has drawn by such a person would be, that it was a tendency to overturn the constitution of a nation, the most wretched under the sun; this country, it borders upon high treason; that we were living under the most despotic and if it goes that length, it loses the name government upon the face of the earth, and of sedition, and is buried under the greater were the most unhappy of mankind; that I crime of high treason; and a very little more think would be the idea of a man who krew than is contained in this indictment, would nothing of this country, upon reading the have made it the crime of high treason. The publications of this convention. But, gentlecrime charged is that of sedition, and the men, I appeal to your own feelings and your public prosecutor has, in the minor proposi- own knowledge, how much it is the reverse tion, enumerated a variety of circumstances of that. I believe every one must admit, from which he infers this crime of sedition, that of all the nations under the sun, Great and the conclusion of the libel is, that these Britain is the happiest ; and that under all facts or parts thereof, being found proved by the imperfections that may attend their conthe verdict of an assize, he shall be punished stitution, it is the most complete system of with the pains of law.
government that ever existed upon the face Gentlemen, although the public prosecutor of this earth, --with all its imperfections. I in justice to the party, that he might see his am sure, gentlemen, you must all be sensible way clear, to make his defence, has enume- that you enjoy your lives and your properties, rated a variety of circumstances from which and every thing that is dear to you in perhe infers, that this panel was guilty of the fect security, every man is certain that he will crime of sedition; in order to procure a ver- not be deprived of any thing that belongs to dict, finding him guilty of these crimes, him, and there is no man, let him be as great it is not necessary that all these facts should a grumbletonian as he will, if he is asked be proved, but the question you are to try is, where he is hurt by the imperfections of the whether he has been guilty, art or part, whe- constitution, he cannot tell you, but on the ther such facts and circumstances as are stated contrary that he is living happily under it. are not sufficient to convince you, that the Gentlemen, when that is the case, what conpanel has been guilty of the crime of se-struction must you put upon the proceedings dition; if you upon the whole are satisfied, of a society, who represent this country as on that what is proved against him docs not the very brink of destruction; I submit to amount to the crime of sedition, or is not you whether that is the work of the people, sufficient to establish his guilt, you will find who have a real regard for society, and if you him not guilty, or the libel not proved; but are of opinion that these meetings are of a if you think it is sufficient, then you will find seditious nature and of a sedițious tenthe opposite verdict that he is guilty, or that dency, when the question comes home the libel is proved.
to the panel at the bar, you must find him Gentlemen, in considering this case, one guilty; for, gentlemen, I must observe to thing occurs to me, and that is the conjunc- you, that it is a rule in law, and a rule in ture under which these facts are alleged; good sense, that if a meeting is illegal, all the it was during the time when this nation is members of that meeting are liable for every engaged in a bloody war with a neighbouring thing illegal that is done at that mecting, the pation, consisting of millions of the most pro- whole meeting are understood to be guilty, fligate monsters that ever disgraced hu- art and part in the crime that is committed, manity, justice will never enter into their and they are all and each of them amenable ideas, but they swallow up all before them; to the laws of their country for what they and I say, gentlemen, that the greatest have done. And at common law, even in union in this nation is nécessary in these cir- the commission of the crime of murder, and cumstances, to support us under this war; robbery, some persons may be more active and therefore, gentlemen, supposing that in than others, but they are all guilty art and short this nation has been feeling some griev- part, and all equally liable to the punishment ances from any imperfection attending the of the law; and those who have been more constitution, I say under these circumstances cruel than the rest may have a greater sting this is not the time to apply for relief, and I in their own minds, but in the eye of the appeal to your own feelings, and your good law, they are all guilty art and part
. Then, sense, if it would not be brought forward gentlemen, you are to consider how far you better at any other time, and that we should can think Mr. Skirving innocent, when it is
proved to you, by a number of witnesses,- | rity, and a happy understanding amongst oursome of their own convention, and what is selves as brethren: and now, if they will not best of all, is his own declaration, – that he manfully retract that very impolitic step, and himself was not only present at all their immediately join their influence to the only meetings, but was secretary of the society, measure which can prevent further calamity, entrusted with every thing done by them, if not anarchy and ruin, their pledge may be and according to the proof this day laid before forfeited, and the Friends of the People will you, when the officers of the law went, they be blameless.” What is the construction of seized all the papers and minutes of their that language? Why certainly that the people proceedings. If you are of opinion that those would be bound to rise, and that they were at meeting are of a seditious nature, how is it liberty to destroy such tyrants; and that their possible to find this man innocent the whole lives and property would be forfeited, and meeting being guilty art and part, and he, these Friends of the People would do no harm being secretary, is the most active man, if in the cause of liberty, by cutting their one man can be more guilty than another, it throats :-that is the plain English of that is that man now standing at your bar. paragraph, I can see no other.
Gentlemen, that is the general nature of Gentlemen, the other particulars are all the cause I shall not go over the particulars, clearly proved, that they held farther meetbut there is one thing I must take notice of ings in defiance of the orders of the magisjust at the very first. -Fyshe Palmer's publi- trates. Gentlemen, they assumed that they cation, of all that ever I read, is of the most wanted merely to obtain a reform in parliaseditious tendency, and a more wicked publi- ment. It is certainly a very lawful thing to cation it was not possible for human inven- apply to parliament, and God forbid it should tion to devise, and accordingly Palmer was ever be thought unconstitutional; but it was very justly indicted for that composition, and not a reform in parliament that was their obhe was found guilty at the last circuit at Perth, ject, but a reform to be brought about by by a most respectable jury, in consequence of force of arms of their own procuring; for which he is condemned to banishment, by they could not mean to obtain any redress transportation. Gentlemen, it is clearly from parliament, when they called themselves proved and acknowledged by Skirving him the British convention of the delegates of the self, that he was active in circulating that people, associated to obtain universal suflibel, and there cannot be a doubt that if a frage and annual parliaments. It was imman circulates seditious libels, he is equally possible they could ever obtain from parliaguilty with the man who composes it; if a ment universal suffrage, and for a very good man composes a seditious libel, and it goes reason, it is a thing that cannot exist ; à no farther, society is not hurt by it, but the nation could not subsist under such a governman who publishes it, does more mischief ment. And therefore, it was very plain what than the man who composes it. To be sure they meant, they could not mean to get rePalmer was justly found guilty of sedition, dress from parliament, because they described because he allowed it to go out to the world parliament as corrupted, and the nation upon and I say Skirving is equally guilty of the the brink of ruin.“ Ís not every new day pains of law with Palmer; and it would be adding a new link to your chains? Is not the very difficult for me to conceive it possible, executive branch daily seizing new, unprecethat this man, now at the bar, can be found dented, and unwarrantable powers? Has not not guilty.
the House of Commons (your only security Gentlemen, I will not run through all the from the evils of tyranny and aristocracy) other evidence, for indeed almost every article joined the coalition against you? Is the elecof this libel is proved; but the next article is tion of its members either fair, free, or frethe hand-bill; it is true he does not seem to quent? Is not its independence gone, while it be the author of that hand-bill, but his name is made up of pensioners and placemen." is at it, many thousands were printed and Now here I appeal to yourselves, whether you circulated, sent to the convention, and he do not see that it was not a reform in parliadoes not find fault with it; that is acquiescing ment that was their object; but that they in the thing, and by not opposing his name might rouse the common people, whose inte at that writing, he renders himself art and rest it was to join them to overturn the gopart in that publication, which publication vernment. And indeed, gentlemen, the name contains matter in itself, I think, of a very of citizen and the honours of the sitting, and criminal nature. I own there is one part of all the rest of it shows, that in short, they it, the last paragraph that appeared to me to went upon the model of France, adopting it be of a very criminal nature indeed, and it is as their pattern; and they thought, that now, set forth in the indictment. “ Had certain as the French had got into their hands the gentlemen countenanced this association last very dregs of the people, say they, why may year, instead of pledging their lives and for- we not by the same means get into our hands tunes to prompt a corrupt and ambitious the same description of people in this coumministry to engage in a war, which could only try; and you see they had a committee of bring guilt and ruin on the nation, we might secrecy, and also a convention of emergency. have been still enjoying uncommon prospe- Gentlemen, can you not apply to parliament for a redress of the grievances that you may well governed realm, sedition is a crime of a labour under? It is an absurdity in itself, that heinous nature and severely punishable.” The there should be any secrecy in that. They observation of the counsel at London, is “ it were about to establish a committee of secrecy, will be necessary to ascertain, correctly, the and a convention of emergency, which had a definition of the crime of sedition.” Erskine, tendency to raise the people in arms. Inst. 8vo. Edit. p. 488, says“ sedition consists
Gentlemen, I have laid before you what in the raising of commotions or disturbances occurs to me, and I leave it to yourselves; if in a state.” He indeed adds that it is either you think that the commentary I have given real or verbal, but sedition can only be that is the proper one, and that the panel is guilty offence whereby an actual breach of the peace of the crime charged, which is sedition, you is committed in order to prevent the due will find the libel proved. If you are of the course of law, and though words of a seditious contrary opinion you will find the libel not tendency may be furnished, yet where actual proved. I believe there is no crime known sedition is charged, as in this case, words or amongst men that has a worse tendency, libels alone, will not without a real act of especially when it goes to overturn the esta sedition, be sufficient to maintain the indicte blished constitution of the country.
ment. Gentlemen, you will attend here to-morrow The crime charged is sedition, and the averat two o'clock, to give in your verdict. ment is, that the said William Skirving is
Mr. Skirding, my lord, may I not be ad- guilty actor or art and part,* that is, in the mitted to bail.
phraseology of the Scots laws, that he is Lord Justice Clerk. No, you cannot; it is either principal or accessory. But as this is contrary to a rule of court.
stated in the disjunctive, it does not appear Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1794, 2 o'clock.
with certainty, whether he is charged as the principal or as accessory.
He cannot be The names of the Jury called over. both principal and accessory, nor can he
Lord Justice Clerk. Gentlemen, who is your be indicted for both offences—therefore the chancellor.
whole is void. One of the Jury. Alexander M-Kenzie; and This is an objection which will apply in David Anderson, clerk.
arrest of judgment, therefore reserve it till VERDICT.
after the verdict. Edinburgh, January 7, 1794.
Now, my lord, if there is any thing in that The above assize having inclosed,' made opinion, I plead it in an arrest of judgment, choice of the said Alexander M-Kenzie to be and as it is a thing not common in this court, their chancellor, and the said David Ander- 1 appeal to your lordships' candour, that if son to be their clerk; and having considered there is any justice to be obtained upon that the criminal libel, raised and pursued at the point, I may obtain it. instance of his majesty's advocate, for his sedition, it was fully discussed in argument
Mr. Solicitor General.--As to the nature of majesty's interest, against William Skirvins, before your lordships yesterday. With repanel, the interlocutor of relevancy pronounced thereon by the Court, the evidence adduced spect to this learned opinion of counsel, he in proof of the libel, and the evidence in ex
may be a very good English lawyer, and culpation; they are all
, in one voice, finding very eminent in his profession, but is perthe panel William Skirving GUILTY of the fectly ignorant of the law of Scotland; becrimes libelled : in witness thereof their said
cause as that is stated, it would be impossible chancellor and clerk have subscribed these for any person to be convicted of any crime, presents, consisting of this and the preceding charged a defendant with being guilty actor,
because I never saw an indictment but what page, in their names and by their appointment, place and date aforesaid.
or art and part thereof. (Signed) ALEXANDER M'KENZIE, Chan.
Lord Justice Clerk.--If there had been any DAVID ANDERSON, Clerk.
thing wrong in the proceedings, the Court
would have taken it into consideration. Lord Justice Clerk. Gentlemen, you have Mr. Skirving.- After all that was stated returned a very proper verdict, and I am sure yesterday as to sedition, I could get no satisyou are entitled to the thanks of your country faction upon it. for the attention you have paid to this trial. Lord Eskgrove.-My lords, the panel is
Mr. Skirving. My lords, owing to an acci- charged in this indictment with sedition, dent, I have been deprived of very considera- which has been proved in a very distinct ble assistance, namely, the advice of counsel manner; and, my lords, I am always very from London voluntarily transmitted to me. sorry to pronounce sentence upon any of my However, there is no help for it now; but fellow subjects for sedition, of the heinousthere is one part of the advice of counsel, ness of which I had flattered myself, from which may merit the attention, though not two late instances, every man was so thoperhaps very orderly as to time, but if your roughly sensible that I should not have oclordship will allow me, I will state it. Upon casion again to sit upon a trial of that kind. the first page of the indictinent it is said, “Whereas by the law of this, and every other * See Vol. 10, p.307 of this Collection. VOL. XXIII.
My lords, I still less expected to sit again part of the libel, to wit, the advertisement upon the offence here charged. I mean that which is styled a seditious and inflammatory of attempting to imitate the example of the hand-bill, bearing date, Masons Lodge, Blacklate revolution in a neighbouring country, in Friars Wynd, 4th October, 1793, and bearing which country now exists every thing that is the subscription of William Skirving, as the horrible in nature-blood-shed-massacre- author, by order of the committee. murder; the throwing off the belief of a God, My lord, this is a second paper, in which and abolishing the Christian religion. Í he is concerned; the purpose of which is should have thought all this a reasonable charged in this indictment, as tending to cause, why people that meant well, and were rouse the people to unite together, to incite only wishing to amend our government, them to acis of violence, and the words of it would have abhorred the idea of coinciding calling upon the rabble to remember their with them, in what has happened there. But patriotic ancestors, who shed their blood in my lords, from this libel, which is now found the cause of freedom. I do not know what proved by the jury of this country, and a most knowledge this panel has of the pedigree of respectable one; it seems that there have the ancestors of the rabble, who shed their been unfortunately persons so disposed, so blood. I think it is very plain that if the misguided, from motives, I hope good, as to rabble are to assist in the reformation of this adopt the innovation of the forms of proce- country, the shedding of blood should have dure of that country, in their meetings, and been omitted, unless it was to tell them that which must strike every dispassionate mind that was the way of reform, by shedding of with horror.
blood. “ Had certain gentlemen counteMy lords, it matters not what my opinion, nanced this association last year, instead of or that of any of us, is on the nature of this pledging their lives and fortunes to prompt a offence; or what is the nature of his guilt, corrupt and ambitious ministry to engage in independent of what has passed in this court; a war, which could only bring guilt and ruin for suppose, if I had been able to have at- on the nation, we might have been still entended all the trial, which my state of health joying uncommon prosperity, and a happy could not permit; but if i had, and it had understanding amongst ourselves as brethbeen my private opinion, that this man acted ren: and now if they will not manfully refrom the best of motives, that the evidence tract that very impolitic step, and immediagainst him was not complete, and that he ately join their influence to the only measure ought to have been acquitted; all would which can prevent further calamity, if not have been unavoidable, in the situation in anarchy and ruin, their pledge may be forfeitwhich I stand now; because, my lords, this ed, and the Friends of the People will be libel has been found proven, and this panel has blameless.”—Telling them that their lives been found guilty in general by a respectable and fortunes would be forfeited, unless they jury of his country, and therefore I am bound did as that advertisement required them. In to believe that he is guilty of the crime of the next page it goes on, as to the British sedition as laid in the major proposition, and convention, the tendency of it, the maxims of one and all the facts charged against him they held, and the purposes they had in view; in the minor proposition; he is found guilty in all of which this is found, that Mr. Skirva therefore, art and part in the circulating and ing was an active member, making motions, publishing of that shocking paper, which was and concurring in the resolutions that were the subject of the trial of Palmer at Perth, there made. and which is engrossed in this indictment. A farther part of the charge is, for refusing The gentleman has been advised, he says, to comply with the authority of the civil that a charge of being guilty art and part is magistrates, when they were about to dismiss an irrelevant charge. My, lord it was well these meetings, which no person wishing said by the counsel for the crown, that that well to the country could approve of. And counsel, however great and eminent he might then he is found guilty of this last advertisebe in his profession of the laws of England, ment, in which he speaks of the delegates, is totally ignorant of the laws of Scoiland. he says, “ your delegates having a permanent And if he had been a wise man, he would existence, your several societies will be mulnot have meddled in what he did not under- tiplied greatly, and means will be used to lay stand. The gentleman spoke of acts of par- the business before each society individually, liament; he does not know that there is a by printed bulletins.” positive act of parliament that the charge of My lord, these are the chief of the charges, art and part 'shall be deemed sufficient. stated in this indictment, and whatever my However, this panel, and I am very sorry for private opinion of the evidence may be, I it, is found guilty art and part of the crime of dare say it was perfectly sufficient; but even sedition as stated in this indictment, and the if it was defective, I am bound by the verdict court have recorded the verdict. My lords, of this jury, which alone is now before me, he is found guilty art and part of the first and they have found unanimously, with one branch of it, which is for circulating the sedi yoice, that this man is guilty in general, that tious paper of Palmer. My lords, he is far, he is guilty of the whole indictment. ther found guilty art and part of the second My lords, that being the case, as a judge of
this court, I cannot take into consideration any | My lord, is it to be done by numbers and by feelings of compassion for this panel. I am force? In that case it is war; and if a petibound to follow up this verdict of the country tion is suffered to be offered in that manner, with the sentence which the law requires the King may leave his throne, the Peers their of me.
benches, and the House of Commons their My lords, I need not say any thing with seats, for they exist no more. My lord, if regard to the pernicious consequences of the any violence is offered, it ceases to be a peticrime of sedition, which certainly the dif- tion.-If a poor person comes and asks chaferent acts charged in the indictment amounts rity, it is a petition; but if he uses a pistol lo to; it effects every thing that is dear to a enforce it, it is no longer a petition; it is a man, his life, his property, his liberty; but robbery. The crime of sedition may be comwere I doubtful about it in my own mind, mitted by illegal associations making use of I should be satisfied with the judgment pro French modes and terms. nounced by this supreme court, upon another My lord, the question then comes to be, unfortunate gentleman, Mr. Muir. My si. what punishment the crime deserves. I contuation of health did not permit me to be ceive nothing less than that which was inpresent at any part of it; but your lordship, flicted upon Mr. Muir. I do not know but upon his being found guilty, did pronounce a the crime deserves more, but we cannot do sentence of banishment to the plantations, less than punish the same crime by inflicting by transportation for fourteen years against the same punishment. I have heard that that gentleman; and I cannot, from the whole this panel has a great family, and sorry I am tenor of this indictment, find that the crime for it; but the cases of Messrs. Muir and of which this man is convicted, is one whit Fyshe Palmier should have led him to be inless, and therefore I think the Court is called dustrious for his family, followed an honest upon to place him under the same circum- occupation, and not have meddled with illestances.
gal associations. I think the crime deserves Lord Swinton.- My lords, in this case the more; but taking every thing into considerajury have found the panel guilty, not only of tion, with the circumstances of his family, I sedition in general, but of all the particular prefer the opinion your lordship has given. charges that are contained in that indictment. Lord Dunsinnan.-My lords, this panel has It now.comes to us to declare, and to inflict been found guilty, by a verdict of his country, the punishment of the law upon him. Your of a crime of a very different nature, and of a lordship has heard an opinion upon that more dangerous tendency, than those compoint very full and very solemn, which ren- mon crimes which occur, and which are the ders it perfectly unnecessary for me to take daily subjects of trials in this court. My up much of your lordships time. I am afraid, lord, it is the crime of sedition. It has been my lords, that this unfortunate man, and proved, that these persons met for the purmany others, do mistake the nature of sedi-pose of subverting and altering the estation, and he called upon the Court just now blished constitution of this country, under the to explain what it is. My lord, I did yester- pretence, indeed, of reform; but I say, really day, and shall again give my opinion of what to subvert the constitution of the country. it is: it does not consist merely in actual com- And, my lord, from some other circumstances, motions and rebellion against the laws of the which came out yesterday in the evening, country, but it consists in every attempt to and upon which the jury found him guilty, I excite, by inflammatory discourses and illegal confess I shudder to think of the horror that, associations, I say, by these means to ex- in certain events, might have arisen from the cite, the people to outrage and violence train which this man and his accomplices against the constitution, to hurt the public laid, in different parts of this country.peace.
Thank God they are disappointed. Thank My lord, the offence of the crime lies in en- God we are still in possession of laws to prodeavouring to excite to violence. My lord, if tect the constitution, and to establish the sta there is no intention to excite the people to curity of the subjects of it. violence, many of these meetings may be in. My lord, it is our duty,-called upon as we nocent, many of them ridiculous. In this are, it is our duty to execute the laws; and case they wished for universal suffrage and whatever our feelings may be for this unannual parliaments. One of these is a most happy man, we are not at liberty to indulge ridiculous and absurd doctrine, -universal suf- them at the expense of all that is sacred and frage, nothing can be so absurd ;--annual dear to us. My lord, I said that this was an parliaments, or a shorter duration of parlia- unhappy man, and I think I can say so, bements, may be matter of argument; but what cause no man ever had stronger examples beI mean is, by inflammatory discourses and fore his eyes of the danger he was in; but in illegal meetings, endeavouring to excite the place of having the effect it should have had, people to force and violence. Say they, we it has had no effect at all. only meant to petition lawfully: petitioning My lords, it is always painful to inflict parliament is most lawful, and I should be punishment; but, my lords, it is also painful sorry that any person should think it unlaw- that men will commit crimes; and they must ful; but in what manner is it to be done? be punished, or society would never be safe.