From the United Irishman, April 8, 1848.
This article was unsigned, but most likely written by John Mitchel as editor.
Whether trial by Jury, that great bulwark, palladium, and guarantee of the liberties of Britons, be older than the Norman conquest of England, and was invented by Odin, as Nicolson, Blackstone, and Turner, maintain with much learning,—or whether King Regnar, of Denmark, be the true author, as Stiernhook will have it,—or whether, indeed, the twelve good and lawful men of modern courts be no other than the dicastae of Athens and judices of Rome, as the erudite Doctor Pettingall confidently maintains,—is a matter of no consequence in life.
Those to whom the thing is a bulwark, palladium, and guarantee, may curiously investigate its origin and ancient history, and refer its invention to sages, kings, or demi-gods, as they see god. Enough for us to know that the bulwark of Englishmen is a snare to Irishmen, that their palladium is to us a delusion, and their guarantee a fraud: that ‘trial by Jury’ is merely one engine or arm of foreign dominion here, as the horse artillery is another.
The real nature and uses of this engine are ill understood, which, indeed, is no wonder, since much pains are taken by men in whalebone wigs to invest it with a solemn and venerable character, so as to disguise the horrid features of the infernal machine, or even cause it to be regarded as, in some sort, a method of administering law and justice. It has, therefore, seemed to us highly needful to give a popular exposition of its true powers and uses, more especially in dealing with ‘political offences,’ as sedition, conspiracy, and treason. And first, of the nature and incidents of—
‘POLITICAL OFFENCES’ IN IRELAND.
Ireland being held by a foreign nation for its use and benefit, by means of soldiers, bribed place-men, and spies; and that nation having the making of the laws, and having in its hands the courts of what it calls justice, every word and act which displeases or disquiets that foreign nation or its place-men or spies, or which endangers the continuance of its power, or brings its method of ‘governing,’ or administering what it calls justice, into contempt, is a political offence. Their ‘laws’ have so enacted; their courts will so award; and their place-men, spies, and soldiers, will execute the decree. If that government, for instance, wants to take, and does take, the entire food and raiment of millions of the mere natives for the use of their own countrymen, and if the natives die for want of that food and raiment, it is ‘sedition’ to say or write that the ‘government’ is an enemy to the country, or that it is a plundering and murdering gang of Conspirators, and ought to be overthrown. It is ‘conspiracy’ to contrive any means of overthrowing it; and to lift a hand for this purpose is ‘Treason.’
The natives are commanded to love this government, and if you are disaffected yourself, or excite disaffection in others, you commit a political offence.
To describe all these things in plain words as they really are, and without those venerable terms of art which the men in whalebone wigs have invented to disguise them, is an abominable misdemeanour. For example, this didactic essay of ours is a political offence of the deepest die.
From all which it appears that, in Ireland, to speak the truth, to do justice and to love mercy, to plead the cause of the poor, or to withstand the oppressor to his face, is a ‘political offence.’
COMPOSITION OF THE JURY.
This is done by careful packing. In Ireland there is a large number of persons directly interested in keeping up all the oppressions and plunders aforesaid, because they are allowed a share in the spoils of the poor. This comes to them in a thousand shapes. Small pensions or offices bestowed on themselves or their friends, or even the expectation or bare possibility of the like: custom brought to their shops by those who live on the people’s earnings, eat the people’s food, and wear the people’s clothes: connexion, by family or interest, with any one who profits by the system;—in one way or another it is easy to understand how there comes to be a pretty large class with the foreign government, and against their own people. These are the men to serve as ‘jurors of our Lady the Queen.’ These are the vicinage. These are the ‘good and lawful men’ contemplated in law-books. When you find yourself arraigned before twelve of these fellows, you are to suppose yourself on a trial per pais, by the country; and if you hint a doubt of it, you are in for another misdemeanour. If the twelve have lately signed a ‘declaration of loyalty,’ or an address of confidence in the government, so much the better for their purpose.
The way the twelve sure men are brought together is thus: The Queen names the sheriff, and the sheriff names the jurors—that is to say, the ‘government’ appoints the judges, who are to decide between it and the natives, having first well and truly bribed them by places, custom, and expectations, as aforesaid. It keeps also in its Holy of Holies (called the Crown-office), an ark or ballot-box, and a ministering high-priest, who knows his duty, and does it.
The twelve lawful men being shut up in their box, and sworn to give a true verdict according to the evidence, the indictment is opened. Now, an indictment for the political offence of ‘sedition’ describes the seditious libel as ‘false, wicked, scandalous, and malicious,’ or ‘false, defamatory, and seditious,’ but always false. Well, of course it is true—every prosecuted seditious libel is true to the letter; but the gentleman on the bench, who is called a Judge, and is dressed in red cloth and whalebone, always tells them that the law says this truth is false. If the accused person offer to prove, by witnesses, that it is true, and not false, the ‘Judge’ says it is against the ‘law’ to prove any such thing. And it is so.
The prosecuted speech or writing is generally not only true in fact, but also good, virtuous, and benevolent in intention. But the man in whalebone says the ‘law’ holds it to be wicked, scandalous, and malicious, and that the jurors must, on their oath, declare it so. And they do.
DUTIES OF JURORS.
And, first, of the duties of Castle jurors. These duties follow very obviously from what has been already laid down. Their duty is to remember that they have small families to support, and that the places, pensions, and patronage, encouragement and custom, which they or their near friends have got, are getting, or expect to get, depend on the continued existence of the ‘Government’ and better classes, which ‘Government’ and better classes, they must remember, are the criminals really on trial before them. They must think of the solemn duty which they are packed to discharge. They must dismiss from their minds all extraneous and irritating topics, such as the wholesale exterminations and the myriad slaughters which this ‘Government’ and its adherents perpetrate on their fellow-countrymen; and, remembering only their own small peculium, poll boldly for the Castle without leaving their box. They are to swear that anything is false and wicked, which the man in whalebone tells them is false and wicked at law, without reference to facts. And, above all, they must keep their countenances;—they are to listen with much solemnity to the man in whalebone, who will set them an admirable example of gravity all the time. Semble that they are not to wink, put tongue in cheek or thumb on nose, but make believe that they consider the affair a solemn judicial investigation: and at last, when the issue is placed in their hands, they are to deliberate ten minutes (without laughing), and then write down Guilty—so help them God! So shall Government blessings shower down upon them and theirs, and the blessed Lion-and-Unicorn keep watch like Seraphim above their gates.
Thus far as to the duties of a regularly-organized Government-jury. But a jury may miss in the packing; there may be one or two intruders of the opposite faction, the country-party, empanelled amongst the twelve; and their duties altogether different.
In another chapter, therefore, we shall treat of the duties incident to a juror who loves his country more than British ‘law,’ and prefers the dictates of his conscience to the oracles of a whalebone wig.