Court, Jury, Justice

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“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence…”  John Adams, Argument for the Defense [Boston Massacre], December 4, 1770

“You shall have my hearty Concurrence in telling the Jury, the Nullity of Acts of Parliament, whether We can prove it by the Ius Gladii [Capital Crimes, “Right of the Sword”]or not. I am determined to live and die of that Opinion, let the Ius Gladii, Say what it will. The System and Rules of the Common Law, must be adopted, I Suppose, until the Legislature Shall make Alterations in Either, and how much So ever, I may, heretofore have found fault with the Powers that were, I suppose, I shall now be well pleased to hear Submission inculcated [taught, admonished] to the Powers that be—because they are ordained for good.”  John Adams, Letter to Justice William Cushing, June 9, 1776

“In ordinary cases, the public ought to rest satisfied, with the verdict of a jury; a method of trial, which [is a citizen’s]… greatest security…  by attending in courts of law and justice, it is to be presumed that their minds are there impressed with a sense of justice; and that they gain that general idea of right or law, which it is necessary that all men in a free country should have…

[Jurors] are accountable to God and their own consciences, and in their day of trial, may God send them good deliverance. But in times when politics run high, we find by the experience of past ages, it is difficult to ascertain the truth even in a court of law: At such times, witnesses will appear to contradict each other in the most essential points of fact; and a cool conscientious spectator is apt to shudder for fear of perjury…

In a court of justice, it is beneath any character to aim at victory and triumph: Truth, and truth alone is to be sought after.”  Samuel Adams, Boston Gazette, January 21, 1771

“The hearts of your soldiers beat high with the spirit of freedom; they are animated with the justice of their cause; and while they grasp their swords, can look up to heaven for assistance.”   Samuel Adams, Oration Delivered at the State House, August 1, 1776

“As to the doctrine of slavery and the right of Christians to hold Africans in perpetual servitude, and sell and treat them as we do our horses and cattle, that (it is true) has been heretofore countenanced by the Province Laws formerly, but nowhere is it expressly enacted or established. It has been a usage -- a usage which took its origin from the practice of some of the European nations, and the regulations of British government respecting the then Colonies, for the benefit of trade and wealth.

But whatever sentiments have formerly prevailed in this particular or slid in upon us by the example of others, a different idea has taken place with the people of America, more favorable to the natural rights of mankind, and to that natural, innate desire of Liberty, with which Heaven (without regard to color, complexion, or shape of noses, features) has inspired all the human race. And upon this ground our [Massachusetts] Constitution of Government, by which the people of this Commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves, sets out with declaring that all men are born free and equal -- and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws, as well as life and property -- and in short is totally repugnant to the idea of being born slaves. This being the case, I think the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract.”  Justice William Cushing, Charge to the Jury in Commonwealth v. Jennison, April 1783

“Indeed, the general natural tendency of reading good history must be to fix in the minds of youth deep impressions of the beauty and usefulness of virtue of all kinds, public spirit, and fortitude…

History will also afford frequent opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion, from its usefulness to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons; the mischief’s of superstition, and the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern.

History will also give occasion to expatiate on the advantage of civil orders and constitutions, — how men and their properties are protected by joining in societies and establishing government; their industry encouraged and rewarded, arts invented, and life made more comfortable; the advantages of liberty, mischief’s of licentiousness, benefits arising from good laws and a due execution of justice. Thus may the first principles of sound politics be fixed in the minds of youth.”  Benjamin Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania, 1749

“I have always, from my earliest youth, rejoiced in the felicity [happiness] of my fellow-men; and have ever considered it as the indispensable able duty of every member of society to promote, as far as in him lies, the prosperity of every individual, but more especially of the community to which he belongs; and also, as a faithful subject of the state, to use his utmost endeavors to detect, and having detected, strenuously to oppose every traitorous plot which its enemies may devise for its destruction.

Security to the persons and properties of the governed, is so obviously the design and end of civil government, that to attempt a logical proof of it, would be like burning tapers [small candles] at noon-day, to assist the sun in enlightening the world; and it cannot be either virtuous or honorable, to attempt to support a government, of which this is not the great and principal basis; and it is to the last degree vicious and infamous to attempt to support a government which manifestly tends to render the persons and properties of the governed insecure.

Some boast of being friends to government; I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice; but I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.”   John Hancock, Boston Massacre Oration, March 5, 1774

“Is it not amazing, that at a time, when [the] Rights of Humanity are defined & understood with precision, in a Country above all others fond of Liberty, that in such an Age, & such a Country we find Men, professing a Religion [the] most humane, mild, meek, gentle & generous; adopting a Principle [slavery] as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to Liberty.

… I cannot but wish well to a people whose System imitates [the] Example of him [Jesus] whose Life was perfect.  –And believe me, I shall honor the Quakers for their noble Effort to abolish Slavery.  It is equally calculated to promote moral & political Good.

Would anyone believe that I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase!

… I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.-  Everything we can do is to improve it.  If it happens in our day, if not, let us transmit to our descendants together with our Slaves, a pity for their unhappy Lot, & an abhorrence for Slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished-for Reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity [tenderness]. It is the furthest advance we can make toward Justice.  [We owe to the] purity of our Religion to show that it is at variance with that Law which warrants Slavery.”   Patrick Henry, Letter to Robert Pleasants, January 18, 1773

“… I am ashamed to refuse the little Boon [favor, petition] you ask of me, when your Example is before my Eyes—My Children would blush to know, that you & their Father were Contemporaries, & that when you asked him to throw in his Mite for the public Happiness, he refused to do it.  In Conformity with these Feelings, I have declared myself a Candidate for this County at the next Election, since the Receipt of your Letter, but enjoying very indifferent Health I cannot leave my Home to make the Declaration efficacious as I could wish—The proceedings of the last Assembly have alarmed many thinking people hereabouts; & although there be Cause, for serious Apprehension, I trust the Friends of Order, Justice, & Truth will once more experience the Favor of that God who has so often & so signally bestowed his Blessings upon our Country.”  Patrick Henry, Letter to George Washington (In Response to Washington’s Letter on January 15, 1799, and four months prior to Washington’s death), February 12, 1799

“Keep Justice, Keep truth- and you will live to think differently.”  Patrick Henry, Charlotte County, March 4, 1799

“Every member of the State ought diligently to read and to study the constitution of his country, and teach the rising generation to be free. By knowing their rights, they will sooner perceive when they are violated, and be the better prepared to defend and assert them.”  John Jay, Charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster Co., September 9, 1777

“This, gentlemen, is the first court held under the authority of our constitution [New York], and I hope its proceedings will be such as to merit the approbation of the friends, and avoid giving cause of censure to the enemies of the present establishment.

It is proper to observe that no person in this State, however exalted or low his rank, however dignified or humble his station, but has a right to the protection of, and is amenable to, the laws of the land; and if those laws be wisely made and duly executed, innocence will be defended, oppression punished, and vice restrained. Hence it becomes the common duty, and indeed the common interest of those concerned in the distribution of justice, to unite in repressing the licentious, in supporting the laws, and thereby diffusing the blessings of peace, security, order and good government, through all degrees and ranks of men among us.

I presume it will be unnecessary to remind you that neither fear, favor, resentment, or other personal and partial considerations should influence your conduct. Calm, deliberate, reason, candor, moderation, a dispassionate and yet a determined resolution to do your duty, will, I am persuaded, be the principles by which you will be directed.”  John Jay, Charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster County, September 9, 1777


“It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The honor of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.”   John Jay, Letter to R. Lushington, March 15, 1786

“… you [the jury] have… a right to take upon yourselves to judge of both [facts and law]… both objects are lawfully, within your power of decision.”  John Jay, Georgia v. Brailsford, 1794

“…  I do not like… the omission of a bill of rights [in the U.S. Constitution] providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms [false arguments] for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land and not by the law of Nations.

… a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787

“Render the [State] Judiciary respectable by every possible means…  Men of high learning and abilities are few in every country; and by taking in those who are not so, the able part of the body have their hands tied by the unable. This branch of government will have the weight of the conflict on their hands, because they will be the last appeal of reason.”  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Archibald Stuart, December 23, 1791

“… it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies…”  Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

“In the transaction of your foreign affairs, we have endeavored to cultivate the friendship of all nations, and especially of those with which we have the most important relations. We have done them justice on all occasions, favored where favor was lawful and cherished mutual interests and intercourse on fair and equal terms. We are firmly convinced, and we act on that conviction, that with nations as with individuals, our interests soundly calculated, will ever be found inseparable from our moral duties; and history bears witness to the fact, that a just nation is taken on its word, when recourse is had to armaments and wars to bridle others.”   Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

“… the federal judiciary [is] an irresponsible body…  working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today & a little tomorrow, and advancing it’s noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the states, & the government of all be consolidated into one.  To this I am opposed; because whenever all government, domestic [State] and foreign [Federal], in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated."  Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Charles Hammond, August 18, 1821

“Indulging no passions which trespass on the rights or the repose of other nations, it has been the true glory of the United States to cultivate peace by observing justice, and to entitle themselves to the respect of the nations at war by fulfilling their neutral obligations with the most scrupulous impartiality.”  James Madison, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1809

“It is due to justice; due to humanity; due to truth; due to the sympathies of our nature; in fine, to our character as a people, both abroad and at home, that they [the Colored population] should be considered, as much as possible, in the light of human beings, and not as mere property. As such, they are acted on by our laws, and have an interest in our laws. They may be considered as making a part, though a degraded part, of the families to which they belong.  If they… were of our own complexion, much of the difficulty would be removed.  But the mere circumstance of complexion cannot deprive them of the character of men.”  James Madison, Speech in the Virginia State Convention of 1829-30, December 2, 1829

“… the savage practice [of slavery]… has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy…”  Thomas Paine, African Slavery in America, March 8, 1775

“… I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them. We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government; that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible; for this divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and all those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.”  Benjamin Rush, On Education… The Bible as a School Book,  1791

“I hope… the wisdom, temper [calmness] and firmness of the Government (supported by the great mass of the People) will dispel the threatening [Political] clouds, and that all will end without shedding of Blood. To me, this is so demonstrable, that not a particle of doubt would dwell on my mind relative thereto if our Citizens would advocate their own cause instead of that of any other Nation under the Sun; that is, instead of being Frenchmen, or Englishmen in Politics—they would be Americans—indignant at every attempt of either of these—or any other Power to establish an influence in our Councils, or that should presume to sow the Seeds of distrust, or disunion among ourselves. No policy, in my opinion, can be more clearly demonstrated than that we should do justice to all but have no political connection with any of the European Powers, beyond those which result from, and serve to regulate our Commerce with them.”  George Washington, Letter to William Heath, May 20, 1797

“Your steady adherence to impartial Justice, your quick Discernment and invariable Regard to Merit, wisely intended to inculcate those genuine Sentiments, of true Honor and Passion for Glory… heightened our natural Emulation, and our Desire to excel. How much we improved by those Regulations, and your own Example…   Judge then, how sensibly we must be Affected with the loss of such an excellent Commander, such a sincere Friend, and so affable a Companion. How rare is it to find those amiable Qualifications blended together in one Man? How great the Loss of such a Man?”  Officers of the Virginia Regiment, Letter to George Washington, Dec 31, 1758

“Resolved, That we will by all lawful ways and means which Divine Providence hath put into our hands, defend ourselves in the full enjoyment of, and preserve inviolate to posterity, those inestimable privileges [rights] of all free-born British subjects, of being taxed by none but representatives of their own choosing, and of being tried only by a jury of their own peers; for if we quietly submit to the execution of the said Stamp Act, all our claims to civil liberty will be lost, and we and our posterity become absolute slaves.

Resolved, That we will, on any future occasion, sacrifice our lives and fortunes, in concurrence with the other Sons of Liberty in American provinces, to defend and preserve those invaluable blessings transmitted by our ancestors.”  Sons of  Liberty, Norfolk, VA, March 31,1766

“That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”  Virginia Constitutional Convention, Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”  Annals of Congress, US Constitution (Amendment VI), September 24, 1789