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its oppressive, stifling air, from its homelessness and hopelessness. Gently, silently, the love of a great people bore the pale sufferer to the longedfor healing of the sea, to live or to die, as God should will, within sight of its heaving billows, within sound of its manifold voices. With wan, fevered face tenderly lifted to the cooling breeze, he looked out wistfully upon the ocean's changing wonders; on its far sails whitening in the morning light; on its restless waves rolling shoreward to break and die beneath the noonday sun; on the red clouds of evening arching low to the horizon; on the serene and shining pathway of the stars. Let us think that his dying eyes read a mystic meaning which only the rapt and parting soul may know. Let us believe that in the silence of the receding world he heard the great waves breaking on a farther shore, and felt already upon his wasted brow the breath of the eternal morning.
THE LAW OF SELF-DEFENCE
SEARGENT S. PRENTISS
Seargent Smith Prentiss was born in Portland, Maine, Sept. 30, 1808; was graduated at Bowdoin College in 1826; and was admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1829. He removed to Vicksburg in 1832, and represented it in the State legislature in 1835. Elected to Congress in 1838, he made a strong speech against the sub-treasury bill. He strenu
ously opposed the repudiation of the Mississippi State debt, and in part from his dislike for that measure removed to New Orleans in 1845. His death occurred in Longwood, Mississippi, July 1, 1850. Born in New England, of Puritan ancestry, he possessed all the physical and mental characteristics and attributes of the cavalier, and became the beau-ideal of Southern chivalry. One of his greatest speeches was delivered in defence of his friend, Judge Wilkinson, who was charged with murder, an extract from which is here given.
HE law of self-defence has always had and ought to have a more liberal construction in this country than in England. Men claim more of personal independence here; of course they have more to defend. They claim more freedom and license in their actions toward each other, consequently there is greater reason for apprehending personal attack from an enemy. In this country men retain in their own hands a larger portion of their personal rights than in any other; and one will be authorized to presume an intention to exercise and enforce them, upon grounds that, in other countries, would not excite the slightest suspicion. It is the apprehension of impending harm, and not its actual existence, which constitutes the justification for defensive action. If my enemy point at me an unloaded pistol or a wooden gun, in a manner calculated to excite in my mind apprehensions of immediate, great bodily harm, I am justifiable in taking his life, though
it turn out afterward that I was in no actual
So, on the other hand, if I take the life of another, without being aware of any intended violence on his part, it will constitute no excuse for me to prove that he intended an attack upon me.
The apprehension must be reasonable, and its reasonableness may depend upon a variety of circumstances of time, place, and manner, as well as of character. The same appearance of danger would authorize greater apprehension, and of course readier defensive action, at night than in the daytime. An attack upon one in his own house would indicate greater violence, and excuse stronger opposing action, than an attack in the street.
Indications of violence from an individual of known desperate and dangerous character will justify defensive and preventive action, which would be inexcusable toward a notorious coward. A stranger may reasonably indulge, from the appearance or threats of a mob, apprehension that would be unpardonable in a citizen surrounded by his friends and neighbors.
Bearing these observations in mind, let us look at the situation of the defendants. They were attacked at their hotel, which, for the time being, was their house. They were strangers, and a
fierce mob had gathered around them, indicating, both by word and deed, the most violent intentions. They were three small, weak men, without friends
for even the proprietor of the house, who should have protected them, had become alarmed and left them to their fate. Their enemies were, comparatively, giants dangerous in appearance and desperate in action. Was there not ample ground for the most fearful apprehensions?
But the district attorney says, they are not entitled to the benefit of the law of self-defence, because they came down to supper. According to his view of the case, they should have remained in their chamber, in a state of siege, without the right to sally forth even for provisions; while the enemy, cutting off their supplies, would doubtless soon have starved them into a surrender. But it seems there was a private entrance to the supper table, and they should have skulked in through that. No one but a craven coward, unworthy of the privileges of a man, would have followed such a course. The ordinary entrance to supper was through the office. They had a right to pass this way; no law forbade it. Every principle of independence and self-respect prompted it. And through that office I would have gone, as they did, though the floor had been fresh sown with the
fabled dragon's teeth, and bristling with its crop of armed men.
I care not whether the assailing party had deadly weapons or not; though I will, by-and-by, show they had, and used them too. But the true question is, whether the defendants had not good reason for believing them armed and every way prepared for a desperate conflict. I have shown already that Dr. Wilkinson and Murdaugh did not transcend the most technical principle laid down by the commonwealth's attorney; not even that which requires a man to run to the wall before he can be permitted to defend himself — a principle which, in practice, is exploded in England, and never did obtain in this country at all. But, says the learned attorney, Judge Wilkinson interfered and took part before he was himself attacked; he had no right to anticipate the attack upon himself; he had no right to defend his friend; he had no right to protect his brother's life. Now I differ from the worthy counsel on all these points: I think he had a right to prevent, by anticipating it, violence upon his person; he had a right to defend his friend, and it was his sacred duty to protect his brother's life.
Judge Wilkinson was the most obnoxious of the party; his friends were already overpowered; he