The Cleveland Daily Herald

Cleveland, May 10, 1859

The Rescue Case – Trial of Langston.


      Mr. Backus reviewed the conduct of the agents of Bacon, in their capture of John at Oberlin, from which conduct the people there had every reason to suppose it was a case of kidnapping: counsel also argued that the arrest was made by Lowe, as Marshal, with his warrant, and that the negro was so held in custody, the Marshal following JenningsŐ directions relative to John, as is usual for an officer to follow directions of the plaintiff in any other process. Counsel then proceeded to argue the fact as to the alleged change of possession at Wellington, immediately on JenningsŐ arrival; analyzing very closely the testimony bearing upon this point. Mr. Backus took the ground that it is not true that the custody of the negro was changed, but that the custody of John, during the entire affair at Wellington, was in Lowe as Deputy Marshal under and by virtue of the warrant. If therefore a rescue took place, it was from Lowe, and if that be the case the prosecution has not proved the allegation as averred in the indictment, which is that the rescue was from Jennings, the agent of Bacon.

      Mr. Backus then took up the testimony as connecting the defendant with the rescue, and argued that there is no testimony to show that the defendant was there engaged in the rescue; on the other hand, the testimony shows that if the crowd had followed the advice of Langston there would have been no forcible rescue. – There are two hypotheses in this case, as connected with the defendant. One is that he was there for the purpose of forcible rescue: the other hypothesis is, that he was there as others were, drawn by the report that a man had been stolen by these stealthy Kentuckians; that he was there from curiosity. He also may have been drawn by a sympathy, perhaps, towards the unfortunate man whose rights it was supposed had been outraged, and from a determination that if the negro had been spirited away he should be delivered; there is no proof of the latter supposition, but counsel would be ashamed of the defendant, and the jury would be ashamed of him, if such was not the case. – Counsel asked the jury to follow Langston through the whole exciting day and they will find him constantly advising legal measures, and seeking for light as to the authority for the capture of John. The jury is to pass upon these two hypotheses and to say which is the correct one, and if they shall find the one against him to true it must be so found beyond a reasonable doubt.

      Mr. Backus then argued the question of combination or concert of action under which the prosecution claimed that defendant is chargeable with whatever the crowd said; he averred that no such proof of concert or combination had been shown as should charge Langston with anything save for his own words and acts. The presumption is that Langston was in that crowd for a legal purpose, unless that presumption is destroyed by proof that he was engaged in illegal acts; and there is no such proof.

      Mr. Backus then took up the contradictions, which appear in the testimony of the witnesses for the government, as going to show that the testimony is not to be believed.

      Counsel reviewed the position assumed by the District Attorney that any interference even by the legal process is an illegal interference, and showed that such was not law, even by the terms of the Fugitive Act. Counsel utterly repudiated the doctrine that a man could be chargeable with crime when his motives were good, and did not believe that the Court would charge the Jury that such was law and he knew the Jury in absence of such charge never would thus hold a man guilty of a crime whose motives for his acts were pure.

      Mr. Backus occupied the entire day (Monday) in his argument, laying down his premises like mathematical propositions and proving them to be true with a conviction that follows a mathematical demonstration.

      He concluded his argument by recapitulating 1st, that if the Court should charge that the acknowledgment of the power of attorney was not valid, the jury would need to go no farther; 2d, that if the Court should hold the power of attorney valid, and the jury should find, as he verily believed was the truth and clearly proved, that the boy John was in the custody of Lowe by virtue of the warrant, then they should acquit, and 3d, if the jury did not agree with counsel on this last point, but should find that Langston was there at Wellington not assisting in the rescue, they must acquit. Mr. Backus expressed very confident anticipation of an acquittal.

      The argument was a powerful one, a candid one, and deeply interested the jury and auditory.