Lorenzo Dow.

The dealings of God, man, and the devil : as exemplified in the life, experience, and travels of Lorenzo Dow, in a period of over half a century: together with his polemic and miscellaneous writings, complete online

. (page 101 of 126)
Online LibraryLorenzo DowThe dealings of God, man, and the devil : as exemplified in the life, experience, and travels of Lorenzo Dow, in a period of over half a century: together with his polemic and miscellaneous writings, complete → online text (page 101 of 126)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the defendant was not permitted to go gener-
ally into the truth of his charges in justifica-
tion of the libel. But at the earnest request
of the prosecutor, the defendant was permitted
by the State to prove, if he could, the truth of
the allegation that Mr. Hammet had died drunk,
and as to the incorporation of the Church and
the division of the Methodists, the Report of
the trial in the Court of Equity of this State,
involving the merits of those proceedings, was
suffered to be read, and has been fully submit-
ted to you. The privilege sought for by de-
fendant of going into a full history of the
whole of Mr. Hammet's life, and of all the
proceedings touching the division of the
Church, was denied to him, because it could
avail him nothing — was calculated to involve
us in an interminable inquiry, and was cer-
tainly irrelevant to the issue before us. In-
deed if every part of the libel could have been
shown to be true, neither in law nor reason
would Mr. Dow have been justified. And
here permit me, Gentlemen of the Jury, to call
your attention for a moment lo the evidence in
this case, and I do so merely for the purpose
of vindicating the memory of Mr. Hammet



j from the charges contained in the libel. I
never saw the man, yet I feel that I am tread-
| ing upon holy ground, and am engaged in a
pious office, when I approach the monument
' which covers his remains, to erase the record
of crimes lie never committed. It is said that
! he was guilty of a breach of confidence con-
cerning the incorporation of the Church. Look
into the decision of the Court of Appeals in
Equity; you there find that the incorporation
was granted to the congregation and not to
Mr. Hammet — you find the property was vest-
ed in Trustees, and Mr. Hammet was only Pas-
tor of the Church — you find that the pretended
sale of the church, so much and so justly com-
plained of did not take place till' after Mr.
Hammet's death, and that up lo that period he
continued to officiate as Pastor of tin; Church
without complaint and without reproach.
Again — you are told that he died drunk ! !

What say the witnesses 1 Can you ever
forget, Gentlemen, the touching scene described
with so much simplicity and feeling by young
Mr. Hammet ] He tells you that at the death
of his father he was about ten years of age,
that it is still fresh in his memory, that a few
minutes before his father breathed his last. lie
was called to his bedside with his sister and
mother to receive his last adieu and his part-
ing benediction. The dying man was calm
and serene, and having bestowed on these ob-
jects of his dearest affections the Christian's
blessing and the burning kiss, "he gave his
honors to the world again, his blessed part to
Heaven, and slept in peace."' But this you
are told is the tale of a child who was too
young to remember, what, it appear; lie can
never forget. All the witnesses however, now
alive, who were present at the death, or du-
ring the last illness of Mr. Hammet, have been
examined before you. And what is the re-
sult 1 They tell you he was calm and com-
posed, and when he felt the immediate ap-
proach of the King of Terrors — he joined in
prayer — and calling for his wife and children
— kissed them affectionately, and expressing
a Christian confidence " that he was going to
God and to glory" — closed his eyes forever.

Every good man must rejoice that such was
the end of Mr. Hammet, and I greatly mistake
the feelings of the defendant if it has not af-
forded him a real satisfaction to discover that
he was mistaken in alleging that Mr. Ham-
met died drunk. Here, however, I am met by
the observation that the remarks of Mr. Dow
are qualified by the expression of "it appears,"
and that it is evident throughout that he is
speaking on the authority of others. This is
in law no excuse for libel. The publisher of
a libel is as guilty as the printer or the com-
poser, and he who assists to circulate a libel-
lous report must abide by the consequences.



220



LORENZO S TRIAL AND CONDEMNATION.



It is further to be observed, that the expres-
sion "it appears,' 1 seems to imply that the
thing hail appeared or become manifest, and
that the narrator having satisfied himself of
the truth of the charge, undertook to assert the
fact so to be. Yet it now appears that the de-
fendant never made an inquiry of any person
who was present when Mr. Hammet died.
The eloquent counsel for the defendant has
very ingeniously attempted to shield his client,
by alleging that though malice may be, prima
facie, a legal inference from the defamatory
words, yet that is a legal presumption merely,
which may be rebutted, and he argues that
this presumption may be rebutted by showing
that the libel was innocently published, or
that the charge was true, or that the defendant
was unacquainted with the contents — or pub-
lished as an historian, or had no intention to
libel the dead, or injure the living. I freely
admit that the legal inference of malice is ca-
pable of being rebutted — but the truth cannot
be received for that purpose, as it could not
prove the publication to be innocent, the law
forbids the publication even of truth which is
libellous, nor can the defendant be permitted
to show that he had no animosity against the
deceased or his family — for any particular
malice towards them is no part of the legal of-
fence. He may show however that he is an
innocent publisher, as that he sold the book
without knowing or having any means of be-
coming acquainted with the contents, or he
may show that he has published an impartial
history. This last ground is the only one
which can possibly avail the defendant in this
case, and I will proceed briefly to examine it.
The interests of mankind require that a faith-
ful record should be kept and published of
those important events which tend to elucidate
truth. History indeed gives to posterity the
experience of the ages which are past, and by
means of the press, the wise and good of all
ages and countries are brought together, and
men are enlightened by their wisdom and im-
proved by their virtues. Biography is a spe-
cies of history which gives us a closer view
of human nature than we could obtain from
any other source. This also is worthy of pro-
tection. But some limitation must certainly
be put on the liberty of mankind with regard
to this last species of history. Surely the
peace and harmony of society would be des-
troyed if every man possessed the right of pub-
lishing the biography of any citizen the mo-
ment his body was deposited in the tomb. It
may be difficult to draw the exact line which
separates legitimate biography from a libel on
the dead; but some rules can be laid down
: that cannot mislead us— and Istly, greater lat-
I itude would be allowed in treating of the char-
acter of a political or military chief, than of a



private citizen ; 2ndly, public acts ought to be
more freely commented on than private char-
acter or conduct; 3dly, the comment ought to
be confined to such matters only as concern
the public to know, and it ought not to be
used merely to expose frailties, with which
the public can have no concern ; 4thly, before
the private character or conduct of any man is
made the subject of free and injurious reflec-
tions, he ought to have reposed long enough
in his grave to cause unfounded slanders to
be forgotten, and the feelings of his family
and friends to have subsided. To appl)» these
rules, I should say that it would be a iibel to
publish within a year after any man's death,
any thing reflecting on his private character;
and I should also say, that after the lapse of
one hundred years, the same publication might
be innocent. I do not pretend to lay down
these as rules of law, but of reason ; I suggest
them merely as helps to the mind in drawing
the distinction between a history and a libel.
The law merely says that a work published
in the genuine spirit of history is not a libel,
but it declares at the same time, that a book
reflecting on an individual is a libel, whether
it be true or false. In order to judge of the
historical character of any passage charged as
libellous, we have a right to look into the
whole book. Now let us take up the journal
of Mr. Dow, and candidly inquire whether the
remarks on Mr. Hammet are made in the gen-
uine spirit of candid and impartial history 1
Mr. Hammet was no statesman or warrior —
he was a humble preacher of a very small and
humble sect of Christians — the comments do
not relate to the religious opinions, and doc-
trines he espoused, but they treat of the secret
motives of his actions ; they do not charge him
with spiritual errors, but with a breach of con-
fidence — the attack is not made on his head,
but his heart — and he is followed into his do-
mestic retirement : his private habits are held
up to reproach, and the trying scene of his
death-bed is painted in the mosl glowing colors
that could be used to discredit and disgrace
him. Now as to the time when these charges
were made,, six months had not elapsed as
appears from the date of the journal, and
the sod which covered his body was scarce-
ly green when this libel was composed,
and was, I believe, shortly afterwards pub-
lished to the world.* If Mr. Hammet had
friends, surely their feelings could not have
been yet prepared for such an attack. If,
then, we consider the time of publication, the



" In this it has since appeared the Attorney General ,
was mistaken. Though the entr] concerning Mr. 11.
was made in the journal six months after liisdealh.it I

was not published till the year , and years after j

nil, and it was tin mi published in Europe, and was
not issued from the American press till .




character of Mr. Hammet, or the nature of the
charges — I think we must arrive at the con-
clusion that this libel cannot be sheltered
under the protection afforded to history. You
will take the book out with you, gentlemen,
and judging from the words and the context,
will say whether you deem this a fair and im-
partial history, or a libel on the memory of
Mr. Hammet, and with your decision I shall
be well content. One remark only will I here
add on this point: if the charge that Mr.
Hammet " died drunk'' had been strictly true,
I am entirely at a loss to conceive how the
publication of that fact could possibly pro-
mote the cause of religion or morality, or in-
deed to promote any other end than to bring
contempt and disgrace upon his memory, and
inflict an incurable wound in the feelings of
his friends.

There is but one other argument urged by
my friend, which now occurs to my mind as
necessary to be answered. He says that the
defendant is a Methodist, and he has painted
in colors as true as they are glowing, the
great services rendered to mankind by the
zealous and devoted sect to which his client
belongs. He tells you further, this circum-
stance, connected with Mr. Dow's peculiar
habits and mode of life, entitle him " to find
favor in your eyes." I most cordially and
sincerely unite with my friend in the enco-
miums he has bestowed on the Methodists as
a sect, and though I cannot bring my-
self to approve of all their opinions, and
modes of worship, I do believe they ren-
der more service to the people at large
than any sect of Christians with which I am
acquainted, and I am inclined to think, than
all of them put together. The strict economy
which pervades all of their establishments —
their practice of providing at a very small ex-
pense preachers who constantly traverse the
country in all directions, carrying " the glad
tidings of the Gospel" to every door — and
their plain and earnest appeals to the hearts
and consciences of their hearers, have cer-
tainly produced a wonderful effect in every
part of our country. There are portions of
this state in which vice formerly abounded,
and in which, since the Methodist went among
them, virtue " still more abounds" — the profli-
gate has been reclaimed — the daring infidel
converted, and the souls of multitudes have
been saved. Whatever may be the opinion
of any man as to their errors, while we apply
the Christian rule, " by their fruits ye shall
know them," the character and services of
the Methodists must be entitled to the high-
est praise. My official duty calls me oc-
casionally to a district in this State where
there exists no regular established Church,
and no established clergyman of any de-



nomination. The Methodists took up the
work which all others had abandoned, and are
daily producing " the fruits of good living and
a holy conversation." That Mr. Dow be-
longs to such a sect, can excite no feelings
against him in my bosom, and certainly none
in this community, where the services of the
Methodists are so universally prized. His
mode of life, too, has excited popular feeling
in his behalf, in a very high degree, and in
the progress of this trial we have received
plain indications of the public sympathy being
with him. But are we prepared to say that
the member of any religious sect shall have law
and justice measured out to him by a different
rule from others ? Shall Mr. Dow be suffered
to violate our laws with impunity 1 I do not
ask you to find him guilty, unless you are
fully satisfied of his legal guilt. But if you
are satisfied, you cannot hesitate how to act.
You must support the authority of the laws,
and teach all men by this example, that the
laws are supreme. — The measure of punish-
ment will be for the Court, and that it will be
mild and humane, is not only my sincere wish,
but from the high character of the Judge, may
be confidently expected.

The counsel for the defendant has argued
that there is no distinction in reason, between
spoken and written slander, and he has stated
that charges of the most atrocious nature may
be made verbally without being actionable, and
he therefore concludes that the same words
ought not to be actionable, if written or print-
ed. I dissent from both branches of this pro-
position. There is a wide difference between
verbal and printed slander, and the cases put
where the former would not be actionable, so
far from proving that they ought not to be ac-
tionable when printed, demonstrate that they
ought to be actionable even when spoken. In
support of this opinion, I shall urge but one
or two plain and obvious arguments. Verbal
slander is often the result of excited passions,
and from this cause loses much of its influ-
ence on the opinions of the hearer — it is con-
fined to the small circle who may chance to
surround the speaker — it is soon forgotten by
those to whom it is addressed, and in general
produces no permanent injury to the person
whose reputation is assailed Printed slander,
on the contrary, is the result of cool delibera-
tion, and the solemnity of the charge gives it
greater weight — it is not confined to a small
circle, but is disseminated through the com-
munity (and in the language of the defendant,
in relation to his book) "it traverses every
part of our own country, visits all the coun-
tries of Europe, penetrates into Asia, and finds
its way even into Africa." Its form is per-
manent, it may not only outlive the present
generation, but may live to the end of the



222



LORENZO S TRIAL AND CONDEMNATION.



world, and not only destroys the reputation of
the person attacked, but may entail disgrace
on his posterity, to the remotest generations.
If slander in any form has been supposed to
imply malice, surely printed slander more
strongly admits of that implication. The
libel is composed deliberately in the retire-
ment of the closet; — it is corrected at leisure
— a contract is made with the printer — the
proof sheets are examined, and not till then is
the work issued from the press. It would
seem to follow, from these considerations, that
there is some reason in holding printed slander
to be more reprehensible than verbal slander.
Now let us advert to the case put by my
friend. He says that by the English law, an
amiable female may, in the presence of a mul-
titude, be accused of the want of virtue, and
may be branded with the most odious epithets,
and this is not actionable. But will he, or
any man of feeling, say that such an offence
ought not to be punished. The objection,
then, it appears, is not that such slanders
ought not to be punished when printed, but
on the contrary, that they ought to be severe-
ly punished even when spoken. I am satis-
fled that all intelligent men, whether lawyers
or citizens, at this day concur, that it is re-
proach to the law that it affords no redress for
words spoken derogatory to character. Shall
we magnify the evil by taking away the
remedy wisely provided for a still greater of-
fence, to wit : printed defamation.

Having now, Gentlemen of the Jury, gone
through the law and the facts of this case, I
must request you to bear with me for a few
moments longer, while I attempt to impress
on your minds and hearts the inestimable va-
lue of reputation ; and the absolute necessity
of maintaining the law of libel, in order to
render reputation secure. If we consider the
intrinsic value of "a good name," or its utility
as an incentive to virtue, we cannot fail to
acknowledge its immense importance. Man
is a social being: he can never make himself
independent of the world, and the good opin-
ion of mankind must therefore be of greater
importance to his welfare (ban either wealth
or power. "A good name (says the inspired
writer) is better than riches." If it be true as
Lord Bacon has decared, " that knowledge is
power," surely reputation is entitled to the
same praise. Without it no man can maintain
a commanding influence over the minds and
opinions of others. Without it knowledge is
comparatively useless — courage is nerveless
— wealth despicable, and even virtue itself
loses half its excellence. To be useful is the
highest praise, and ought to be the chief ob-
ject of every good man. But what can so
enlarge the sphere of influence and add such
vast powers to human exertion as a spotless



fame ? This not only makes us eminently
useful, but it secures our happiness. If wealth
enables us to promote the arts and sciences,
to build churches and establish schools ; if
ambition points out the road to power, and
thus enables its votary to confer important be-
nefits on mankind, it is reputation only that
crowns the efforts of the one and sanctifies the
triumphs of the other. In all ages men have
acknowleged the value of a virtuous fame.
The great father of the drama, the immortal
Shakespeare, has caused one of his heroes to
exclaim,

" Set honor in one eye and death in t'other
"And I will look on"death indifferently."

To this sentiment every bosom of refined sen-
sibility must respond. We have all witnessed,
Gentlemen, melancholy wrecks of noble minds.
I have seen a man rich in earthly goods, sur-
rounded by an amiable family, and a brilliant
circle of devoted friends. I have seen such a
man, the pride of the state, " observed of all
observers," admired for his talents, and belov-
ed for his virtues. To him could with truth
be applied the beautiful language of the book
of Job. "The candle of the Lord shined upon
his heal — the Almighty was yet with him,
and his children were about him. He washed
his steps with butter and the rock poured him
out rivers of oil. The young men saw him
and hid themselves, and the a<red arose and
stood up. When the ear heard him it blessed
him, and when the eye saw him it gave wit-
ness to him. Then (he said) I shall die in
my nest and shall multiply my days as the
sand." His reputation was unspotted — But I
I have seen the same man without hi* fame —
calumny had blasted, or misconduct had de-
stroyed it. You have seen the stately edifice
towering in the pride of majesty and beauty,
struck by the bolt of heaven, ami in an instant
levelled with the earth and reduced to a heap
of black and smoking ruins. Such was the
change produced on the character of him who
had been despoiled of his reputation. He
moved along like a pale and melancholy
ghost — a stranger among hi* friends, without
a smile to greet him, or a hand to bid him
welcome. Then it was that I felt the full
force of the declaration that " the spirit of a
man may bear his infirmities but a wounded
spirit who can bear."

It has been urged by the defendant that in
this counrty a greater latitude ought to be al-
lowed in relation to publications affecting re-
putation, and we are told that "the freedom
of the press," which is secured by the consti-
tution requires this liberty. But it seems to
me that in this free and happy country pecu-
liar guards are required for the preservation
of reputation. Among what people is the



LORENZO S TRIAL AND CONDEMNATION.



223



sense of honor so delicate and refined'? In
what country is the spirit of the people so
likely to overleap the bounds of the law, and
to expiate by blood every attack on private
character % In other countries wealth and
rank give character, influence and power, even
to the vicious and corrupt. In America we
have no nobility but that of wisdom and of
virtue. It seems to follow, therefore, that as
character with us creates the only distinction
between men, that it has peculiar value, and
ought to be protected by peculiar sanctions ;
and assuredly the peace and harmony of so-
ciety must be in an extraordinary degree dis-
turbed by every attack on reputation. In
America it is " the very jewel of our souls,"
of which we cannot be rifled with impunity.
If such be the value of reputation to the liv-
ing, ought it to perish with us, and be buried
with our bodies in the grave 1 Who is there
that would wish to die and be forgotten 1 to
have no tear of affection shed upon his tomb ]
to leave no record of his virtues ? to have his
very name forgotten, and " to pass away as
the beasts that perish and are no more seen
forever V No, Gentlemen, we all wish to
live beyond the grave, in our children who in-
herit our fortunes and our names, and in the
memory of our friends. But if it be desirable
not to be forgotten, what shall we say of having
our names remembered only to be despised —
and our history told only to bring our memory
into public hatred and contempt — that our
very names should bring disgrace on our in-
nocent offspring, and never be mentioned in
their presence without mantling the youthful
cheek with the burning blush of shame 1
Who can contemplate such a fate as his own
without being tempted to curse the hour that
gave him birth — and to wish that a mill-stone
had rather been put about his neck and he
had been cast into the sea. Shall it be said
that the reputation of the dead ought not to
be protected by the laws 1 If men were not
punished for libels on the dead, whose fame
would be secure beyond the period of his life ?
And here permit me to remark that the dead
are defenceless, and if posthumous fame be an
incentive to virtue, society only can afford it
protection. The sentiment of reverence for
the dead is deeply imprinted on the human
heart, It is a delighful incident in history,
that when a certain nation was subdued and
driven out from their country, the only request
they made of their conquerors was to be per-
mitted to carry with them the bones of their
fathers. " De mortuis nil nisi bonum," is a
proverb in every country. I will illustrate
the feeling of abhorrence with which men re-
gard all attacks on the dead, by but one other
remark. There is an animal odious in its
character and form, and of so ferocious a dis-



position that though taken young, no assiduity
or kindness (however long continued) can
subdue ils fierceness, or calm its fury — It is
called "the hyena — fellest of the fell." And
it is to this animal that poetry and fable have
assigned the appropriate employment of prow-
ling about the grave and feasting on the dead.
But the hyena feeds only on the mortal part
of man ; he but destroys the loathsome, and
corrupted body. Surely to assail the immor-
tal fame of man and to strip the tomb of the
flowers with which the hand of affection has
decked it, is a more odious office. Never,
Gentlemen, no, never can our laws permit any
violation of the sanctity of the grave. God for-
bid, Gentlemen, that I should impute to the de-
fendant such feelings or such motives; I know
he is incapable of them. But he has not duly
regarded the sacred character of the dead — he
has published a libel on the memory of Mr.



Online LibraryLorenzo DowThe dealings of God, man, and the devil : as exemplified in the life, experience, and travels of Lorenzo Dow, in a period of over half a century: together with his polemic and miscellaneous writings, complete → online text (page 101 of 126)