Page images
PDF
EPUB

the paper contained adverse to the prisoner became legal proof, while such portions of it as were favorable to himself were entitled to no weight or consideration. Nor is there any hardship in this rule, since the prisoner voluntarily submitted his statement, to the surprise and without the consent of the districtattorney.— The paper can have no more weight in this review than it had with the jury, for the rule that requires courts and juries to receive impartial evidence is equally obligatory on the executive department. - Nevertheless the statement has been carefully examined, and the result is that its account of the transaction is unworthy of any confidence. It was prepared for the confidential use of the prisoner's counsel within ten or twelve days after the crime, under their instructions to set down the whole truth. Yet while it purports to give an account of an affray following reproachful words, it does not state which of the parties used the words. It states that mutual blows were given before the prisoner seized the hatchet, but does not inforın us how many blows, nor describe any of them, except one received by himself, more severe than the others, and which he returned with violence. It states that the parties grappled, and he was pushed against the wall, while the deceased was twisting the prisoner's neckcloth, and then the prisoner seized the hatchet and inflicted one blow -- then lost all power of reason by strangulation, and remembered nothing further distinctly or coherently until afterward, when he was roused by a knocking at the door. Since his conviction the prisoner has submitted a series of letters written by himself to various friends during his imprisonment. In one of the letters written after the trial, he says that he did but defend himself against a wanton, vile, and unpardonable attack. That he asked the deceased to be just, who thereupon accused him of injustice. For calm words, the deceased gave him insulting language. His peremptory denial was returned by the deceased with blows. In a subsequent letter he excused himself by haste and want of consideration, for having set down in the statement produced on the trial, that “he was obliged to stand on the knees of Adams to crowd him into the box;" says that the first part of the statement was quite imperfect, and did not convey the whole truth; admits that he retorted language of unmeasured reproach, and gives further details so important, if true, that they could not have been forgotten when preparing his previous statement; and which can not now be admitted as true, because they were not made known by him until that statement had proved insufficient for his defence.*

The letters of the prisoner furnish other reasons to distrust his veracity. To receive such an exparte statement, and permit speculation based upon it to overthrow a verdict, would be subversive of the administration of justice.

The laws are always to be executed except where their penalties can be waived without prejudice to the public welfare and for reasons consistent with their general policy. Society has been deeply shocked and justly alarmed for the security of life in the metropolis. A deliverance of the prisoner by executive clemency would be an encouragement to atrocious crime. Nor does the prisoner's character or conduct recommend him to the favor which can be only sparingly yielded. He dwells with just satisfaction upon extraordinary respectability of birth; he possesses talents, and he has enjoyed more than ordinary advantages of education, and has given instruction in various modes to his fellow-citizens. But he has contracted habits and relations inconsistent with an inoffensive and virtuous life. His conduct in relation to the crime and its consequences has been insincere, inhuman, relentless, and remorseless. He is vain, self-confident, and irreverent; imbued with false sentiments of honor, morality, justice, and virtue; and seems incapable of compunction for crime committed or sorrow for injuries inflicted. Penitence and resolutions to amend are indispensable, among other conditions, of pardon. No such conditions are offered in the present case. The prisoner has forgotten his victim, heaped insult upon his humble and bereaved family, defied the court, denounced the jury, and presented himself before the executive as an injured, not as a penitent man.

* Extract of John C. Colt's letter, dated February 15, 1842:

“He almost instantly seized hold of my neckcloth, which placed me in his powerpressing me to the table and wall, he struck me three or four times in the breast, and seized me per prives partes. Everything seemed to turn black. I was in agony, and exerting myself for relief, how I know not. The last distinct recollection I have, before I was relieved by his fall, was, that of trying to press him off with my left hand, as I held to his collar, endeavoring with my right hand at the same time to raise

my. self from the table, as he had me pressed over backward upon it. It was in this painful position that I seized that accursed hatchet and gave him the unfortunate blows that I did. When relieved from his horrid grasp, I beheld for the first time my awful defence. Heaven only knows the number of blows I struck him. There may have been four or five, And when I reflect upon the instrument most unfortunately seized, and instantaneously used, it is only topbe wondered that his head was not dashed into a thousand pieces."

+ Extract of John C. Colt's letter, dated March 8, 1842:

“My counsel considered my case perfectly a clear one, and believed that I should be acquitted. To produce this result they conceived that the evidence of Adams' coming to my office in bad blood, and the evidence of the scuffle, and the evidence of his account being wrong, were quite sufficient, when taking into consideration the fact that this unfortunate man had befo in several instances, shown himself a kind of dare-dog, and had been consequently turned from the houses of several citizens for abusive and insulting language. Had this not have been the conclusion, I could easily have slipped through the fingers of the law. The body of that unfortunate, foolish man was never identified, and the only positive evidence connecting me with the box containing it, was the drayman's. He swore that I was the man that delivered it to him, consequently it was alone necessary to prove that I was not about the granite building that morning, to have been acquitted. But I should for ever despise myself for slipping through the fingers of the law by such means.”

In making known to the prisoner that the expectation of pardon, the last hope of life, must be relinquished, the governor can not forbear from expressing an earnest wish that the few days which yet remain to the prisoner may be spent in preparing to appear before that dread tribunal appointed for all men, before which none can offer any other justification than sincere repentance for every error, and humble yet confiding faith in the Redeemer of Mankind.

THE CASE OF JAMES WATSON WEBB.

STATE OF New York, EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT,
Albany, November 28, 1842.

} THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK:

To all to whom these presents shall come : WHEREAS, at a court of general sessions of the peace, held in and for the city and county of New York, in the month of November, 1842, James Watson Webb was convicted of leaving this state for the purpose of giving or receiving a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, and giving or receiving such challenge, and was thereupon sentenced to be imprisoned in the stateprison at hard labor for the term of two years; and whereas an unconditional pardon is solicited in behalf of the said James Watson Webb, by the court, by the grand jurors, by the municipal councils, by the officers of justice in the said city, and by many good and worthy citizens of this state, because he was not the challenger in the said duel; because the challenger, though holding a high representative trust, has not been brought to justice, and is not amenable to the laws of this state; because the combat was not mortal, and the challenged party sincerely manifested a determination to avoid depriving his adversary of life, and he was unharmed; because the said James Watson Webb voluntarily submitted himself to justice and confessed his offence, waiving all advantage of legal defence; because, although the practice of duelling is in wanton and flagrant violation of Divine laws, and is inconsistent with the morality and humanity which ought to distinguish a civilized people, and has therefore been forbidden by the laws of this state with forfeitures, pains, and penalties, through a period of nearly forty years, and the attorney-general, judges, and grand jurors have been expressly required to bring all offending to condign punishment, yet, until now, the moral sentiment prevailing among us has not adequately sustained those laws, and all persons who have offended against the same have remained unmolested, except three who, after conviction, received pardon through the hands of our former chief-magistrates, and many of such offenders have been raised by their fellow-citizens to high executive, legislative, and judicial trusts : wherefore it is represented to us, that it would be partial and unequal to enforce in the present case penalties which may have been regarded as obsolete; and that the said James Watson Webb is deserving of our clemency: Now, therefore, know ye, that in consideration of these premises, but upon the express condition that the said James Watson Webb shall not, while he remains a citizen of this state, violate any of the laws designed to prevent duelling, nor by any act aid, assist, or abet, any such violation, nor print nor publish any justification or defence of the practice of duelling, or any paper with intent to advocate or uphold the same - we have pardoned, remised, and released, and by these presents do pardon, remise, and release, the said James Watson Webb of and from the offence whereof, in our said court, he stands convicted as aforesaid, of and from all sentences, judgments, and executions thereon, hereby restoring to him all the rights and privileges of citizenship forfeited by him in consequence of the said offence or the said conviction.

NOTE.—The following is a brief history of the case of James Watson Webb:

In the session of 1840 and 1841, Congress passed a General Bankrupt Law-every member from Kentucky voting against it. In the session of 1841-'42, an attempt was made to repeal it; and General Webb, in the columns of the “Courier and Enquirer," commented severely upon the inconsistency of men voting for the repeal of the law at

that time, which they had voted in favor of only a few months previously. In these strictures, however, he expressly excepted the Kentucky delegation, of which the Hon. Thomas F. Marshall was one, because they had all voted against the law. After some other incidents, a challenge grew out of this affair, which at General Webb's suggestion was withdrawn, to be renewed at Wilmington, in Delaware. The meeting did not take place until June 25. Two shots were exchanged, the second of which took effect upon Webb-passing through the under part of the knee. It was certified to Governor Seward, that after Webb had fallen, he made proclamation that he was gratified with the result, and that he had not attempted to take the life of Marshall, but had pledged himself in writing not to do so, and that he bore him no malice. General Webb was indicted, tried, and convicted, under the 5th section of the “Act against duelling," and sentenced to two years' imprisonment in the stateprison. No similar offence has since occurred in this state. -Ed.

« PreviousContinue »