William Lloyd Garrison.

A brief sketch of the trial of William Lloyd Garrison, for an alleged libel on Francis Todd, of Newburyport, Mass online

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Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonA brief sketch of the trial of William Lloyd Garrison, for an alleged libel on Francis Todd, of Newburyport, Mass → online text (page 1 of 3)
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18 3 1.

Goodell Anti-Slavery Collection No




William Goo-dell


In the autumn of 1829, 1 associated myself with Benjamin Lu.ndy, to
assist in the management of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, a pe-
riodical then printed in Baltimore, which he had conducted for a period of X
ten years in the midst of slavery, with a fearlessness, fidelity and zeal, that
must ever place that remarkable man in the first rank of the benefactors of

During the time of our connection, (about six months,) the editorial
responsibility principally rested upon myself, in consequence of the absence^
of Mr. Lundy. At that period, my vision as to the inexcusableness of
slavery was clear, though otherwise as to the real character and tendency
of the American Colonization Society. Since I have had the charge of the
Liberator, I have been freely branded as a madman and incendiary, and my
language has been deemed harsh and violent; but if any person will turn
to a file of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, he will discover that I
was not less denunciatory and fanatical in 1829, than I am in 1834. But
the moral sense of the nation was then so torpid, that my most impassioned
appeals and vehement rebukes excited little attention, and there was not
sufficient interest in the subject of slavery among the people, to warrant
the continuance of the weekly publication of the paper, after an experi-
ment of six months. This fact is worthy of note, at the present inflam-
mable state of the public mind. I can now rationally account for it. "TT*
was not until I began to expose the abominations of the American Coloni-
zation Society, that my life was sought, my character vilified, and my ef-
forts denounced as incendiary. That Society has been the grand instiga-
tor of all the violent acts of the southern slaveholders, and of the populace
in our principal cities, against those who dare to proclaim the truth of God
with all fidelity, and who urge the duty of immediately breaking every
yoke and letting every captive go free.

The following brief sketch of my trial for an alleged libel on Mr. Fran-
cis Todd of Newburyport, was written and published during the time of
my incarceration in Baltimore Jail. It is now republished, at the request
of many of my friends, and in order to rebut the defamation of my

While I was held ' in durance vile,' for assailing a most cruel traffic in
human flesh, my spirit was sustained, nor only by a conscience void of of-
fence, but by the sympathy and regard of wise and good men in all parts
of the country. Up to that period, no single incident, connected with the
subject of slavery, had ever excited so much attention, or elicited such a
spontaneous burst of general indignation. As the news of my imprison-
ment became extensively known, and the merits of the case understood,
not a mail rolled into the city but it brought me consolatory letters from
individuals hitherto unknown to me, and periodicals of all kinds, from ev-
ery section of the Union, (not even excepting the south,) all uniting to give
me a triumphant acquittal — all severely reprehending the conduct of Mr.
Todd — and all regarding 1 my trial as a mockery of justice. Indeed, I was
in danger of being lifted up" beyond measure, even in prison, by excessive
panegyric and extraordinary sympathy.


Various propositions were made to extricate me from my situation ; but
I was at length set at liberty by the generosity of Arthur Tappan, Esq.
(a gentleman who was then a stranger to me, with whom I had never cor-
responded, but of whom I entertained the most exalted opinion, and to
whom I am otherwise deeply indebted,) after an imprisonment of seven
weeks precisely.

/ A portion of my time in prison was occupied in writing anti-slavery ad-
dresses, to be delivered to the people, on my enfranchisement. Accord-
ingly, as soon as my chains were broken, I made a tour from Maryland to
my native place in Massachusetts ; and wherever I went, I was esteemed
and treated as a martyr in a righteous cause. Nay, (the incident may seem
trifling to some, but it deeply affected my heart, and it is a pleasing evi-
dence of the general feeling at that time,) - in consideration of my suffer-
ings, a passage from New-York to Providence, in the steam-boot Presi-
dent, Capt. Busker, was kindly offered to me, gratuitously. Among those
who were foremost in magnifying the injustice of my imprisonment, the
value of my labors, and the hardship of my case, were the best friends of
the American Colonization Society.

Now mark!— At that period, I had not publicly impeached thcr character,
nor deprecated the tendency of that Society ; but as soon as I began to do
so, and its friends to consider me a formidable antagonist, then I was at
once transformed into a blood-thirsty monster — then the most opprobrious
epithets were too weak to describe my wickedness — then the southern
men-stealers were duly notified of my incendiary proceedings, and urged
to offer bribes for my destruction — then the fury of the mob was stirred
up against me — then I became a lunatic, an incendiary, a calumniator, a
fanatic, &c. &c. ! ! — By degrees, I was cast down from the high pinnacle

/of public admiration and sympathy, to which I had been raised by my im-

( prisonment, into the lowest depths of public hatred and infamy. By de-
grees, the main supporters of the Colonization Society, finding they could
triumph over me in no other way, began to assassinate my reputation, and
rank me among the offscouring of the earth. At length. I was stigmatized
as '« convicted felon ;' and this odious charge has been constantly urged
against me in public addresses and disputations by those defamatory agents
of the Society, Messrs. Danforth, Fint.f.y, &c. and by a host of other
partisans. On my arrival in England, I found that Mr. Elliott Cresson
had every where used the same language against me, in order to destroy
the authority of my ' Thoughts on African Colonization? and that he had
succeeded, to a wide extent, in making British philanthropists believe that
I had criminally violated the laws of my country, and was nothing but 'a
convicted felon.' 1

This brief statement contains much instruction, and I therefore make it

for the benefit of all those who love the truth and abhor duplicity.

/ If there be any occurrence in my life, from which I draw sweet consola-

(tion, and of which I am truly proud, it is my imprisonment at Baltimore. I

have no reason to lament it, nor to be ashamed of it. The verdict of the

•4- nation has once been given in my favor, and I shall receive a fresh acquit-
tal and fresh applause hereafter. Most freely do I forgive those who have
sought to uphold an unrighteous institution, by endeavoring to turn to the
ruin of my character, that which I believe is eminently calculated to secure
for it the respect, sympathy and affection of all upright men.

Boston, February 20, 1634.


,V f . W


TRIAL, &c.

It is a trite remark, that whatever relates to the freedom of
the press, is intimately connected with the rights of the people.
Every new prosecution for libel, therefore, (however insignifi-
cant in itself,) may be viewed as a test, how far that freedom
has been restricted by power on the one hand, or perverted by
licentiousness on the other.

In France, the press, at various times, has been subjected to
the most despotic and malignant censorship, but it has flourish-
ed in defiance of tyranny. In a multitude of libellous cases,
the publishers of newspapers have almost invariably suffered
punishment : yet the people have as promptly reversed the judg-
ment, and given a triumphant acquittal. At the present moment,
the spirit of the French periodicals is eminently republican ; it
discourses upon the usurpation of the crown, in a style not un-
worthy of our own revolution, and breathes as freely as in any
country on the globe : yea, in the majesty of its strength, it
threatens to tread sceptre and throne in the dust.*

It is notorious, that the whole judicial power of England has
been directed against the liberty of the press, from Tresilian
and Jeffreys, down to the present day. But the struggle has
long since ceased to be doubtful. Public opinion has broken
every fetter, and prosecutions for libels are now anomalies in
law. Perhaps it would not be extravagant to say, that many an
English editor, who is suffered to print unmolested, would be
covered with indictments in this ' land of the free and home of
the brave.'

It is true, prosecutions of editors have been comparatively
few in this country, from the republican nature of our govern-
ment, the equity of our laws, and the rights secured to the press
by the constitution. Yet whoever has carefully observed the
bias given to these cases, must have seen a growing tendency in

* It was not long after this was written, before Charles the Tenth was
hurled from his throne, and banished from his kingdom.


many of the courts, to stifle free inquiry, to dishearten every
effort of reform, and to intimidate the conductors of newspa-
pers. I know not whether there be any thing inherent in the
office of judge that is hostile to liberty ; but of this I am sure,
that some of our judges do not entertain an ardent friendship for
the press. Possibly this hostility arises from a prudent selfish-
ness — at least, in numerous instances. By denying our right to
investigate public measures, or to interrogate men in their official
or private capacity, they hope to raise themselves above respon-
sibility and suspicion. Indeed, even now it is almost impossi-
ble to impeach any one of their number, though bis guilt be as
obvious as the sun in heaven.

The following remarks of Junius, addressed to Lord Mans-
field, it is to be feared are becoming more and more applicable
to our remissness as a people :

' JUcn are willing enough to take the law upon trust. They
rely on the authority of the judges, because they are too indolent
to search for information : or, conceiving that there is some
mystery in the laws of their country, which lawyers are only qual-
ified to explain, they distrust their judgment, and voluntarily re-
nounce the right of thinking for themselves.'

I would therefore invite the attention of the public, and of
editors generally, to the following case of libel, as containing
much instruction and interest, as highly illustrative of Maryland
justice, (as administered by Nicholas Brice,) and as showing
to what extent the liberty of the press is enjoyed in this State.
Whether we consider the cause of complaint, or the ground
upon which a verdict of guilty was given, the case is calculated
to excite surprise, disgust and indignation.

The Baltimore presses are celebrated for their craven spirit,
their abject servility, their cormorant selfishness, their stagnant
quiescence. The loss of an advertisement, or the withdrawal
of a subscriber, is of far greater consequence than the exposure
of corruption, or the reform of abuses. In which of the city
papers can an intelligent censor gain admittance, if his strictures
apply to any thing that exists in the city, county or state ? \ it,
since the result of my trial, I ought not to marvel that they carry
the fear of his honor judge Brice before their eyes ! or that they
think ' the better part of valor is discretion /'

I regret that I could procure no competent stenographer to
report this trial. I can only therefore give the facts appertain-
ing thereto, and some hasty comments upon the proceedings,
leaving the public to decide how far the determination of the
court comports with the creed of the American people, the lih-
erty of the press, or the strict letter of the law.

In the Genius of Universal Emancipation, for November 20,
1829, the following article was published under the head of
Black List. Its insertion, in an undivided form, is necessary,
in order that my readers may the better judge of the defective-
ness of the indictment.

This ship, as I mentioned in our last number, sailed a few weeks since
from this port with a cargo of slaves for the New Orleans market. I do
not repeat the fact because it is a rare instance of domestic piracy, or be-
cause the case was attended with extraordinary circumstances ; for the
horrible traffic is briskly carried on, and the transportation was effected in
the ordinary manner. I merely wish to illustrate New-England humanity
and morality. I am resolved to cover with thick infamy all who Avho were
concerned in this nefarious business.

I have stated that the ship Francis hails from my native place, Newbury -
port, (Massachusetts,) is commanded by ayankee captain, and owned by a
townsman named FRANCIS TODD.

Of captain Nicholas Brown I should have expected better conduct. It
is no worse to fit out piratical cruisers, or to engage in the foreign slave
trade, than to pursue a similar trade along our own coasts ; and the men
who have the wickedness to participate therein, for the purpose of heaping
up wealth, should be fj^r 3 sentenced to solitary confinement for
life ;,-£}} they are the enemies of their own species — highicay robbers and j
murderers ; and their final doom will be, unless they speedily repent, to J
occupy the lowest depths of perdition. I know that our laws make a distinc-
tion in this matter. I know that the man who is allowed to freight his
vessel with slaves at home, for a distant market, would be thought worthy
of death if he should take a similar freight on the coast of Africa ; but I
know, too, that this distinction is absurd, and at war with the common
sense of mankind, and that God and good men regard it with abhorrence.
I recollect that it was always a mystery in Newburyport, how Mr. Todd
contrived to make profitable voyages to New Orleans and other places, J
when other merchants, with as fair an opportunity to make money, and
sending at the same ports at the same time, invariably made fewer success-
ful speculations. The mystery seems to be unravelled. Any man can
gather up riches, if he does not care by what means they are obtained.

The Francis carried off seventy-five slaves, chained in a narrow space ~Y
between decks. Captain Brown originally intended to take one hundred
and fifty of these unfortunate creatures; but another hard-hearted ship-
master underbid him in the price of passage for the remaining moiety.
Captain B., I believe, is a mason. Where was his charity or brotherly
kindness ?

I respectfully request the editor of the Newburyport Herald to copy this
article, or publish a statement of the facts contained herein — not for the
purpose of giving information to Mr. Todd, for I shall send him a copy of
this number, but in order to enlighten the public mind in that quarter. — g.

The information contained in the above article, (i. e. so much
of it as relates to the transportation of the slaves,) was derived,
indirectly, from captain Brown, and the mate of the Francis —
the latter a son of Mr. Todd ; and directly, from a young gen-
tleman who went as passenger in the vessel to New-Orleans,
and who expressed some fears of an insurrection on board, but


whose testimony I could not obtain in season to produce at my
trial. I sent a copy of the paper to Mr. Todd, according to
my promise. Instead of vindicating his conduct in the columns
of the Genius, and endeavoring to show that my statement was
materially false, he entered a civil action against me for injuring
' his good name, fame and reputation,' by publishing ' wicked,
scandalous and malicious matter ' in relation to himself ; esti-
mating damages at five thousand dollars. This action remains

Next came the following presentment from the Grand Jury :

BALTIMORE CITY COURT, February Term, 1830.
The Grand Jurors of the State of Maryland, for the body of the City of
Baltimore, on their oaths do present, that Benjamin Lundy and William
Lloyd Garrison did, in a certain newspaper printed and published in the
City of Baltimore, on the 20th of November last, called the Genius of
Universal Emancipation, publish a gross and malicious libel against Francis
Todd ami Nicholas Brown. II. W. EVANS, Foreman.

Henry Thompson,
John W. Thompson.
True copy from the original Presentment.

Test, WM. MEDCALF, Clerk

Baltimore City Court.

Accordingly, an action was entered by the State of Maryland,
against the editors of the Genius of Universal Emancipation.
The indictment ran thus :

STATE OF MARYLAND— City of Baltimore, TO WIT:

The Jurors of the State of Maryland, for the body of Baltimore, do on
their oaths present, that Benjamin Lundy, late of the city aforesaid, yeo-
man, and William Lloyd Garrison, also late of the city aforesaid, yeoman,
contriving and unlawfully, wickedly, and maliciously intending to hurt,
injure and vilify one Francis Todd, and to deprive him of his good name,
fame and reputation, and to bring him into great contempt, scandal, infamy,
and disgrace, on the twentieth day of November, in the year eighteen hun-
dred and twenty-nine, with force and arms, at the city aforesaid, unlaw-
fully, wickedly and maliciously, did print and publish, and cause and pro-
cure to be printed and published, in a certain newspaper, then and there
entitled the 'Genius of Universal Emancipation,' a certain communication,
under the head of 'Black List' — 'Horrible News, Domestic and Foreign,'
and to which communication the letter ; G.' was then and there app>
as and for a signature, and which letter referred to some person to the Ju-
rors aforesaid unknown, of and concerning the said Francis Todd, and of
and concerning him the said Francis Todd (amongst others) engaged in
the Transportation of Slaves from the port of Baltimore to the port of New
Orleans, being therefore to be regarded and considered as an enemy to his
own species, a highway robber and a murderer, and which communication
then and there contained the false, scandalous, and malicious matter and
libel following, that is to say : ' The Ship Francis. This ship, as I ' (mean-
ing the said person referred to by the said letter G.) 'mentioned in our last
number, sailed a few weeks since from this port,' (meaning the port of Bal-
timore.) 'with a cargo of slaves for the New Orleans market. I' (still

meaning the said person referred to by the said letter G.) 'do not repeat
the fact because it is a rare instance of domestic piracy, or because the
case was attended with extraordinary circumstances; for the horrible traf-
fic is briskly carried on, and the transportation was effected in the ordinary
manner. I ' (still meaning the said person referred to by the said letter G.)
'merely wish to illustrate New-England humanity and morality. 1 ' (again
meaning the said person referred to by the said letter G.) 'am resolved to
cover with thick infamy all' (meaning, amongst others, the said Francis
Todd) 'who were concerned in this nefarious business.' (Thereby mean-
ing the transportation of slaves from the Port of Baltimore to the Port of
New Orleans.) 'I ' (again meaning the said person referred to by the said
letter G.) 'have stated that the ship Francis hails from my native place,
Newburyport, (Massachusetts,) is commanded by a Vankee captain, and
owned by a townsman, named Francis Todd. Of captain Nicholas Brown
I ' (still meaning the person referred to by the letter G.) 'should have ex-
pected better conduct. It is no worse to fit out piratical cruisers, or to
engage in the foreign slave trade, than to pursue a similar trade along our
own coasts; and the men who have the wickedness' (meaning that the
said Francis Todd, amongst others, had the wickedness) 'to participate
therein, for the purpose of heaping- up wealth, should be {jy sentenced
to solitary confinement for life ;^-fj} they ' (meaning the men who had the
wickedness to participate in the transportation of slaves along our own
coast, and amongst them including the said Francis Todd) 'are the ene-
mies of their own species — highway robbers and murderers ' — (meaning
that the said Francis Todd was to he regarded as a highway robber and
mnrderer) — 'and their final doom will be, unless they speedily r< pent, to
occupy the lowest depths of perdition ' — to the great scandal, damage and
disgrace of the said Francis Todd, to the evil example of all others in like
manner offending-, and against the peace, government and dignity of the
State. (Sig-npd)

Deputies of the Attorney General of Maryland, for Baltimore city.
True copy — Test,


To the foregoing; indictment, a plea of Not Guilty was made.

The Jury was then sworn. Witnesses for the State, Henry
Thompson, E. K. Deaver, James Lucas, and the Pilot of the

Counsel for the Prosecution, Jonathan Meredith, Esq. and
R. W. Gill, Esq. For the Defendant, Charles Mitche'l, Esq.

The libellous matter, (so called,) so far as contained in the
indictment, was then read, and the whole article (containing
other matter than that embraced in the indictment,) was offered
to be read to the Jury, in order to show a malicious intent.

The counsel for the Defendant objected to this course, inas-
much as no one was compelled to defend himself against charges
not set forth in an indictment ; otherwise, why so much precis-
ion and formality required in the drawing of this instrument?
Further, that the Jury might unconsciously derive their impres-
sions of guilt from other passages than those contained in the
indictment, which would unquestionably be illegal, if predicated


on any facts as stated in those other passages. Hence the cau-
tion observed by courts in permitting such extraneous matter to
go to the Jury. He cited several authorities to show, that, in
all analogous cases, the Defendant was permitted to read material
and qualifying parts of the same publication, though not embrac-
ed in the indictment ; but he challenged the court to cite a sin-
gle authority, or show a single precedent in the practices of the
English or American Courts, that gave such liberty to the Plain-
tiff. He would not say, whether or not the remaining moiety
of the article, relative to Mr. Todd, was libellous. Whenever
an indictment should be framed upon it, he was ready to argue
that point. Suppose that a man is indicted for grand larceny,
and the evidence in court failing to convict him, the plain-
tiff (in order to show that the prisoner is bad enough to commit
a theft,) undertakes to prove that on the same night he commit-
ted murder ? Would not such a course be as extraordinary as
irrelevant ? The indictment before them contained no libel upon
Francis Todd. Upon that indictment alone, the Defendant was
to receive a verdict of acquittal or condemnation. He conclud-
ed (after a long and learned argument) by protesting against the
reading of the whole article, and praying the court to pause ere
it allowed such a strange and unwarrantable procedure.

These objections were overruled by the court, who contend-
ed that the right of the plaintiff to read extraneous and corrob-
orative matter was as ample as the defendant's. The whole pa-
per (signed ' G.') was then read by the Prosecutor, to prove the
malicious intent of the writer!!!

Henry Thompson was sworn. He had acted as agent for
Mr. Todd many years, and knew him to he an estimable man.
He [Thompson] contracted lor the transportation of the slaves,
before consulting Mr. Todd, but immediately wrote to him,
stating the conditions on which the contract was made. Mr.
Todd, in reply, said he should have preferred another kind of
freight ; but as freights were dull, times hard, ami money scarce,
he was satisfied with the bargain]!!!] Articles necessary for
the comfort and convenience of the slaves were put on board
the vessel. The slaves were purchased by a planter of New-
Orleans, named Millighan, of whom Thompson (and also his
honor Judge Nicholas Brice) spoke in warm panegyrics. He
said Captain Brown was a humane man, and bad no doubt that
the slaves were kindly treated on the passage.

The Pilot of the Francis testified, that the slaves were re-
ceived on board at Annapolis — eighty-eight in number — con-
sisting of men, women, and children ; that they were not con-
fined, but suffered to peregrinate about the ship, ad libitum ;

1 3

Online LibraryWilliam Lloyd GarrisonA brief sketch of the trial of William Lloyd Garrison, for an alleged libel on Francis Todd, of Newburyport, Mass → online text (page 1 of 3)