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Parkman. There will appear in future volumes of this series great national political trials like those of Aaron Burr and Andrew Johnson and great historical ones like those of the assassins of three Presidents. But the defendants in the first two of these were not malefactors and in the last three were obscure and half insane fanatics. Professor Webster was the honored occupant of a chair in our greatest American University, and the man he killed was a prominent scientist and philanthropist of the most cultured city on the continent. In all its details, the crime was as extraordinary as it is celebrated. Only a few months previous, the murderer and his victim had sat side by side on a platform at the dedication of the new Medical Building whose erection was due to the munificence of Dr. Parkman, and the professor had listened to the speeches eulogizing the benevolence and the public spirit of the physician. To him had the professor applied for financial aid on more than one occasion, and the very chair he filled in the college was the endowment of the man whom he slew in that very building. And when in his small room on the first floor he was beating to death his benefactor and patron, the noise he made disturbed not a little the quiet of the class room just overhead, wherein was lecturing to his students in medicine, that gentlest of American poets and humorists, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Was it a cold blooded murder with the design of getting out of the way at one stroke his creditor and his embarrassing debts or was it the result of a sudden fit of anger, as claimed by the professor in his last confession? The question is hard to answer. The one thing certain is that had he made a clean breast of it on the day of the killing or even after he had disposed of the
body, and up to the next Sunday, he would never have been hanged and would certainly not have been convicted of more than manslaughter. But when he called on his pastor, the brother of his victim, on that fatal Sunday afternoon and told the clergyman that the doctor had called at his office on the day of his disappearance and had been paid his debt and had gone away with the money, he owed him—this was the end of all for him. He stood to this story throughout the trial and until death stared him in the face, and then made his confession. But it was now too late. A confessed liar and thief, his word was no longer worth anything. And yet one cannot read his confession without a feeling that he may after all have been guiltless of the capital crime for which he suffered, for in the very shadow of the gallows, when all hope was gone, he repeats it in this pathetic letter which he asked to be kept secret, but which later found its way into the public prints:
Boston, August 6, 1850. Rev. Dr. Parkman:
Dear Sir, I cannot leave this world in the peace of mind for which I pray, without addressing you, as the head of that family which I have so deeply injured and afflicted, to make known to you and them the bitter anguish of soul, the sincere contrition and penitence, I have felt at having been the cause of the affliction under which you and they have been called to mourn. I can offer no excuse for my wicked and fatal ebullition of passion but what you already know, nor would I attempt to palliate it.
I had never, until the two or three last interviews with your brother, felt towards him anything but gratitude for his many acts of kindness and friendship. That I should have allowed the feelings excited on those occasions to have overpowered me so as to involve the life of your brother and my own temporal and eternal welfare, I can, even now, hardly realize.
I may not receive from you forgiveness in this world, yet I cannot but hope and believe you will think of me with compassion, and remember me in your prayers to Him who will not turn away from
the humble and repentant. Had I many lives, with what joy would I lay them all down, could I in the least atone for the injury I have done, or alleviate the affliction I have caused; but I can now only pray for forgiveness for myself and for every consolation and blessing upon every member of your family.
In justice to those dearest to me, I beg to assure you, and I entreat you to believe me, no one of my family had the slightest doubt of my entire innocence up to the moment when the contrary was communicated to them by Dr. Putnam. That they have your sincere pity and sympathy, I feel assured.
There is no family towards every member of which I have always felt a greater degree of respect and regard than that of which you are now the head. From more than one I have received repeated acts of friendship and kindness, for which I have ever been and am most truly grateful.
Towards yourself, in particular, have not only my own feelings been those of the most sincere regard and gratitude, but every individual of my family has felt towards you that you were their pastor and friend. Often has my wife recalled the interest you took in her from her first becoming your parishioner, and often has she spoken with feelings of deep gratitude, of the influence of your public ministrations, and of your private instructions and conversations, and of your direction of her inquiries and reading in what related to her religious views. These she has often recalled and referred to, as having firmly established the religious faith and trust which are now such sources of consolation and support to her and our chil. dren, as well as to myself.
Nothing that has occurred has weakened these feelings; and, al. though those I leave behind me may not meet you without the keen. est anguish, I trust you will exonerate them from any participation in, or knowledge of, their father's sin, up to the moment I have mentioned. And may you remember them in your prayers to the Father of the fatherless and the widow's God!
I beg you, my dear sir, to consider this strictly a private letter, and by no means to give it publicity; at the same time, I will request you to make known to the immediate members of your family the state of my feelings and my contrition.
That every consolation and blessing may be vouchsafed to yourself and to every member of your family, is the heartfelt prayer of
Yours, most respectfully,
J. W. WEBSTER.
A curious case of mistaken identify is that of Thomas Hoag (p. 456). The woman who swore she was mar
ried to him described him as the handsomest man she had ever seen, and looking at him as he stood before her in the dock exclaimed: “How often have I combed those dear locks!” Her sister said the same thing; all the neighbors in the little country town identified him, and yet beyond a shadow of a doubt every man and woman of them was deceived.
The canny Virginian gentleman with the Scotch name who took such good care of his money was no match at all for the light-fingered gentry of his day, even within the sacred precincts of a church. (Henry B. Allison, p. 464).
Poor Tommy Lafon (p. 473), whose unfortunate but natural defense of his little brother resulted so fatally, was convicted and punished not for the homicide but for the unnatural and hard-hearted conduct of his aristocratic mother towards the poor butcher-boy whose life he accidentally took.
That it is a very serious thing to interfere with the right of locomotion of a man of the law, James Lent (p. 545), found out to his sorrow. The most interesting incident in the case is, however, the brushing aside by the old New York magistrate of that most frequent and long-lived excuse “I forgot.”
The action of Trevett v. Wheeden (p. 548) marks not only the birth in this nation of that mistaken political economy whose descendants have called themselves Greenbackers and Free Silverites, but is one of the earliest instances of the exercise by a court of the high function of declaring an act void because it disagrees with the constitution. And the case of The Rhode Island Judges (p. 584) marks the beginning of a struggle against that power, not yet ended and probably never to end. The great speech of General Varnum, as it is
set out, does not seem to justify the great praise it received in its day, and to the modern reader adds nothing to the reputation of that distinguished lawyer. The explanation may be found in the fact that it was reduced to writing after the excitement which produced it had passed away."
Of the state of affairs in the United States and the world in the year 1795— how history is repeating itself today !Dr. Wharton says:
“France and England were now struggling for the mastery of the ocean, and by this gigantic contest the remotest tides were affected. The United States possessed the only carrying trade as yet unabsorbed, and presented, therefore, a surface particularly open to collision. The United States possessed the only neutral ships still afloat, as well as the only neutral seamen to man them; and to these essential staples, the contending powers looked both for sail and sailors. The one, secure in her maritime supremacy, strutted over the seas like a constable, breaking into our ships, and kidnaping their crews. The other, unable to rob in the highway, sneaked about the hedges and bushes, and sticking her flag out of the reach of the cannon of her rival, undertook upon American soil, out of American bottoms and American sailors, to manufacture French privateers. The aggressions of the first could only be met, as at last they were met in 1812, by arms; the aggressions of the latter, being committed within our own jurisdiction, were the proper subjects of municipal action."
It was from the efforts on the part of the American government to enforce its neutrality by these means, that the prosecutions of Gideon Henfield (p. 615) and John Etienne Guinet (p. 637) took place.
The political quarrel which these prosecutions provoked: the opposition to them on both constitutional and sentimental grounds—for a large majority of the American people were in close sympathy with their late French ally,-present a dramatic picture of the early days of our government. We see the first
i Chand. Crim. Tr.