"To Mess. Purdie and Dixon, 29 August 1766"
Article text, 25 April 1766
To Mess. Purdie and Dixon, 29 August 1766
WHEN I published some time ago an account of Col. Chiswell's killing Mr. Routlidge, I little apprehended giving offence to any one, or injuring Col. Chiswell. I thought I had reason to expect that important truths would be acceptable to every honest and sensible native of British dominions. that bad men would be ashamed to avow their dislike, and that fools would have no influence.
I am but little solicitous about applause us a writer, or indeed any other account; but as I study to avoid doing wrong, I would willingly escape censure, at least from men worthy of esteem.
Whatever may be the motives of the spirited writer of a late publication addressed to the President, or of the facetious Metriotes, for disapproving the narration which was published on the 18th of last month, I shall not pretend to determine; but I hope that there are few candid unprejudiced persons who would condemn a publication of truth, on such occasions. Who in Britain would have desired a suppression of such truths? By what possible means could the truth have been concealed, while so many creditable witnesses are alive?
Did that narration do injury to the colony, or to Col. Chiswell? I humbly apprehend it was of no disservice to either. Is not a number of persons who were extremely alarmed, and cautiously determined to have taken steps which might have been attended with dismal consequences, are they not now quiet, without the least grumbling? They seem to think that since the truth has been known some Gentlemen must of course be sensible of their errour, and that Mr. Routlidge's character will be no more traduced as it was before: I wrote that piece without the solicitation, and even without the knowledge, of any person; and no one concerned in the prosecution could even have heard of it before its publication. Whatever the event may have been, my motives, I humbly apprehend, are not culpable. I heard the murmurs of many, who had perhaps more spirit and sense of liberty than prudence. They were exasperated to a high degree. They said that one of the worthiest of men had been not only murdered, but defamed; and that the murderer was treated with indulgence and partiality inconsistent with our constitution, and destructive of our security and privileges. They said that even the lowest mechanick and meanest peasant in Great Britain were too sensible of their valuable privileges to rest quietly under such circumstances; and they vowed that they would make it appear that they had the same sense of liberty, ware equally impatient of injury, and would be no discredit to their spirited ancestors. Some of the Honourable Gentlemen who were blamed I have the happiness of being acquainted with, and on account of their respectable characters I greatly esteem them: Therefore, as some well meaning warm men were likely to show unjustifiable resentment, and take steps which to those Honourable Gentlemen would have been disagreeable, and such as must have been disapproved by every cool man, and would perhaps have been attended by fatal consequences, I published the truth, as the best means in my power to remove such inquietude. And is it not apparent that the desired effect is thereby, in some measure, produced. And do not most people take it for granted that those whom they blamed must be now sensible of their errour, and that they will take care, as far as possible, to remedy what is blameable on the present occasion, and to prevent future inconveniences of the like kind? Mr. Routlidge I was acquainted with, and for many good qualities I esteemed him: Was I then blameable for giving him a just character? I am far from wishing ill to Col. Chiswell; it would give me extreme concern to think I had done him any injury. I sincerely commiserate him and his family on account of their misfortunes, and with it were possible to clear him in a legal and constitutional manner; but were he even my father, I should deem myself an un worthy member of this community if I were capable of wishing him clear at the expense of an injury done to the constitution. Could any one think it necessary to attempt to conceal this unlucky affair, and make efforts to have Mr. Chiswell cleared unjustly? Who, that has any regard for this colony, would be willing to justify the reflection that a worthy honest man, a man greatly respected by all his acquaintances, who removed hither from his native country, far from any relation, should be first murdered and then defamed, without proper steps being taken to do justice to his memory, and prevent such future evils? And what stranger, under such circumstances, would desire to settle among us?
But wherein consists the disadvantage to Col. Chiswell in consequence of the particulars being published? Will not, and ought not, the jury who shall be on his trial, to be Gentlemen of penetration and candour; Gentlemen who would detect and detest every artifice whether for or against Mr. Chiswell, and without prejudice justly decide his fate? Will not the publication rather tend to his benefit, as his counsel are thereby enabled to ransack law, and reason for favourable arguments? And will not the sudden indignation which must undoubtedly be excited by the first certain account of the dismal affair subside in some measure before the trail, and be intermixed with compassion, and a disposition to favour him?
I ardently wished for a judicious and candid disquisition of some important matters relative to this affair, and when I saw a late piece signed Metriotes I rejoiced, and expected from thence great erudition, just reasoning, and ample gratification; but how was I surprised when I found only an elegant superficial declamation! Polemical writing I much dislike, and with entirely to avoid; and if compelled to appear a little in that character, I shall confine myself to the matter immediately under consideration, without making observations on the character of the opponent, or his others writings. I shall therefore make no animadversions upon Metriotes's preference of money to other motives, nor his insinuating and delusive arguments ab affectione and ad bominem relative to the union of the offices of Speaker and Treasurer; neither shall I animadvert on his treatment of other writers, but shall confine myself to what he has written either directly or indirectly against Dikephilos. Could any one have expected that a Gentleman capable of so elegant a style, who took upon him the title of Metriotes, would quote Lord Mohun's case as he has done, without mentioning the rule by which the King's Bench are regulated? Have not the King's Bench at all times, in every instance, strictly regarded the laws prescribed to the inferiour courts and officers in admitting persons to be bailed, and never deviated from them unless it was doubtful whether or not the person accused was guilty, or unless there was some remarkable particular circumstance in favour of the criminal? Is not their constant attention to this, as well as the King's being supposed always there present, a reason why they have not likewise been particularly restrained by statute? As Metriotes has fixed upon Lord Mohun's case as most suitable to his purpose, I must beg leave to refer the readers to the reports of Mr. Salkeld and Mr. Strange [see the note] from whence they may discover how the King's Bench are regulated. Does Metriotes write in character when he lays a stress on the supposition that the writers to whom he alludes, if subject to a like misfortune as Mr. Chiswell, would be pleased with the like indulgence? I wonder that a Metriotes could ever think of proposing that a criminal should judge his own case! Ought not decisions to be referred to persons who are not culpable, no. injured, nor connected with either party, when we fairly desire a just determination?
When he was pleased to mention the certainty of Mr. Chiswell's appearance to take his trial, as otherwise a large sum of money must be paid, I expected he intended to propose a revival of the ancient Gothick institution of giving liberty to murder any man, at any time, upon the payment of a certain sum of money; and I should have been but little more surprised if he had superadded a bill of rates of mens lives, according to their size or dignity.
He mentions that the unwarrantable proceeding of a country court in admitting bail, in a cafe of murder, passed unnoticed; but if the persons who ought to have called that Court to account for exceeding their due bounds permitted those transgressors to past with impunity, is it not an additional reason why a stop should effectually and speedily be put to such an unconstitutional evil?
It gives me a sensible concern to find a writer who is capable of using such elegant language, and of giving such good advice as Metriotes is pleased to give towards the last of his piece, content himself with substituting, in place of solid reasoning, hardly any thing but elegant declamation, or specious, superficial, inconclusive arguments, addressed only to the imagination. Why would he not address himself to the judgment?
I with that he, or some other person who has leisure, and is properly qualified, would employ some time in making a candid disquisition of what may be thought important; laying aside every address to the passions, and admitting nothing but just conclusive reasoning.
I have not denied that the Judges of the General Court have an equal right of admitting persons to bail out of session as in sessions, nor that that they have a right to grant that privilege after its being refused by a County Court; neither ought it to be denied that they have power similar to that of the King's Bench, though, if it were necessary to bring that point in question, some reasons perhaps, which would be very hard to get over, might be given why the King's Bench may have power somewhat superior to our Judges, in some few matters relative to murder, as well as some other important particulars. Let it suffice, however, at present that there is no reason to believe that the Court of King's Bench would have admitted Col. Chiswell to be bailed. On such occasion the lawyers well know that being unacquainted with the particulars is no excuse, unless it could be made appear that there was no possibility of obtaining intelligence. Our Judges must derive their authority from acts of Assembly, or from British statutes, or from the custom of some Court in Great Britain. I believe it will be readily allowed that there is no such act of Assembly, nor stature; and I apprehend that even Metriotes will hardly undertake to produce a precedent.
I believe no one can censure Mr. Wythe , nor the other eminent lawyers who gave their advice generally relative to the power of the Judges of our General Court, without descending to the particular case. That worthy Gentleman, with his usual moderation, humanity, and sensibility, gives an account which I hope will be generally satisfactory. I humbly apprehend that no censure ought to be bestowed on the Gentlemen who entered into the recognizance, because they may be considered as doing only such a friendly service as Gentlemen of sensibility could hardly refuse. I hope likewise that the Honourable Gentlemen who admitted the bail, as they will no doubt do every thing in their power to prevent future inconvenience on this and every other occasion, may be no further blamed; for all men are subject to errour.
If the account lately given by the Honourable and good Mr. President was owing to his mistake, I am sorry for the misapprehension of that amiable Gentleman; but if the two persons whose testimony regulated the bailment swore what he published, and what excited in the persons who were present at the Examining Court the utmost amazement, must not every man of probity exclaim against them, and demand that they may be called upon in a legal manner, and meet with a reward adequate to their merit.
I entirely concur with Metriotes in thinking that men in power should be treated with great deference; but this deference should be consistent with British freedom, and not like slaves to a Bashaw. If British subjects know the power of men in high stations, and if men in high stations will exceed their due bounds, has not the meanest subject a right to mention his apprehension and grievance? Has he not a right to endeavour to maintain his privileges? And what would a patient submission to injury indicate? Does the man deserve British privileges who would do nothing for their security? And what must be thought of the impertinent pseudo-patriot who threatens a drubbing to the man who shall dare to publish truths?
I am far from being fond of troubling the publick, and I dislike the characters of a party and popular writer. However, it is possible that I may hereafter spend a few spare hours in animadverting on such performances as seem to affect the publick in general, or myself in particular.
I am, Gentlemen, Your very humble servant,
- Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), "To Mess. Purdie and Dixon," August 29, 1766, 3.