The Cleveland Daily Herald
Cleveland, May 11, 1859
The Arrogance of Judicial Power.
We wish the task could be spared us of commenting, as we think the occasion demands, upon the scenes of the last two days in the United States court in this city. Our readers know that we have been slow to condemn the action of the Bench in these “Rescue Cases,” and even have been so cautious as to render ourselves, at times, obnoxious to the charge of partiality. We have ever been wont to hold in high respect our Courts and have repelled the idea that partiality or political bias, could enthrone itself on the seat where alone Justice, with bandaged eyes, sitting high above all the scales with a steady hand, measuring out to all men, of whatever politics, of whatever skin, or whatever religious creed, equal and exact right.
The doings of the last two days, under the solemn sanction of judicial power, have shaken our confidence, and have given a blow to the Federal Judiciary, at least of Northern Ohio, from which it cannot recover.
But to take up these incidents in their course, we will commence with yesterday (Tuesday’s) proceedings in the
CONVICTION OF LANGSTON.
The conviction of Mr. Langston yesterday, (Tuesday) can be characterized in no other way than rank injustice. Having heard the trial from beginning to end, we were very sanguine of a verdict of acquittal. The arguments of counsel did not change that belief, but when we listened to the charge of the Judge, that confidence gave way to doubt; even when the jury went out, we could not believe they would render a unanimous verdict of guilty. – But we were mistaken.
We were astonished at the charge of the Court, for it will be seen, by every one who reads that charge, that while all the strong points for the government were exhibited before the jury, in clear and bold relief, the strong points for the defence were barely adverted to, (many of them not even noticed) and those mentioned were accompanied with such comments as to show to the jury, the bias of the court. We did not expect any such thing. The testimony of Lowe and Jennings was treated of in the charge as if uncontradicted; and not a word was uttered calling attention to the contradictions even from their own testimony, to say nothing of the testimony by defence that directly and flatly impeached those men.
We wish to call attention to a point of law, which, if law, strikes down all State Sovereignty and makes Federal authority supreme. The Court said:
But when a fugitive from labor is captured and held in any of the modes and under the authority designated by the act of Congress of 1850, any interference by the State authorities has no justification, nor can those be justified who invoke their interference, when they know the fugitive is thus held.
By this decision a State Court has no right even to enquire into the cause of capture; it is not enough that the Federal Court should say the State Courts have no right to discharge a man from custody, when, after hearing, it is ascertained that he is regularly and legally held under United States authority, but the United States authority, but the United States Court says the enquiry, even, must not be made. How long will the people of a State remain passive under such ruling? Will not our State Courts be forced in defence of personal liberty, to assert State rights and will not the people be forced to defend those rights or yield themselves up to Federal usurpation?
We regret the necessity of making these comments. We believe that the result of the trial of Langston, conducted as it was with all courtesy and fairness on the part of the defence, would demonstrate that prejudice had no part in the proceedings. But believing as we now do, that the charge of the Court was a very unfair one – and believing that the verdict of that jury was totally unjust, that the verdict was based upon corrupt testimony, we speak boldly and plainly. We believe had that jury gone out without any charge from the Court, the result would have been different, but being educated to pay great respect to the opinion of the Bench. , Looking upon the Courts as standing entirely impartial, the opinion of that Court, leaning as it did in favor of the Government induced some of the jury to yield their own better judgment to the opinion, which from the charge, was evidently held by the Court.
We assure our readers, outside of the city, that, beside the government officials and Democratic partisans of the pure Dred Scott stripe, there are few who entertain any opinion upon the verdict, except that it is against the law, the evidence, the rights of the free citizens of Ohio and against humanity.
We understand, that on the going out of the jury, they stood ten for conviction and two for acquittal. All will regret that the two did not stand fast to their first conviction and not yield their better judgment to others. But in twenty minutes they gave into the ten.
THE SENTENCE OF BUSHNELL.
The scene in the Court this (Wednesday) morning was one that will be engraven, ever, on the memory of those who were spectators of the most glaring instance of judicial injustice that Ohio ever saw. The Court room was crowded and many were unable to get near enough to hear the proceedings. The prisoner, Bushnell, came in bringing his child of perhaps eighteen months of age, and accompanied by his wife and other female relatives and friends. – We give the sentence – I the language of its delivery – in the report of the proceedings.
The lecture read by Judge Willson to the prisoner was in as bad taste as in bad temper. A stranger, not knowing the case on trial, would have supposed a counterfeiter was standing up to receive his sentence to the Penitentiary. When we look back to the charge given by Judge Willson to the Grand Jury – of which Boynton was chief, and which found these indictments, - when the Court went clear off the Bench to dilate upon the theology of Oberlin, when we read the charge of this same Judge to the Petit Jury in the case of Langston, in which the Court gave the jury a lecture upon its duty as to the enforcement of this Fugitive Law – as if fearful there might be some Democrat on that jury who might waver – when we reflect upon the cruel sentence of Bushnell, by which a young man, just beginning life, dependent upon his daily labor to furnish food for a young wife and infant child, is doomed to sixty days incarceration in jail – in addition to the thirty already suffered – sentenced to pay a fine of Six Hundred Dollars and the costs of the prosecution – these latter reaching to perhaps fifteen hundred or two thousand dollars – we confess that Judge Willson has executed this infamous Fugitive Slave Law with a vengeance. The thing is past belief did not the hearing of the ears of five hundred people proclaim its reality.
We speak plainly, but personal considerations must be entirely laid aside rather than such a Judicial wrong go unrebuked. Justice has been stabbed in its Temple, and State Sovereignty and the rights of the citizens of Ohio not only invaded, but have been stricken down on the very steps of the Altar of what should be the Mercy Seat.