Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>Teacher Resources>The Execution

Mr. Hunter, one of the procsecutors, closed the argument for the prosecution.

He said he proposed to argue this case precisely like any other. He had hoped the counsel for the defence would have omitted to interpolate any outside matters, and, to a great extent, he had been gratified. One remark be would allude to in the opening speech of the defence this morning, where he had been represented as having drawn the picture of the dishevelled locks of an alarmed beauty. His friend had done him some injustice, in attributing to him a design of exciting alarm, or disturbing the minds of the people unnecessarily. He had endeavored to march straight forward, with the sole purpose of discharging his duty, in procuring the attainment of justice in respect to the prisoners. He would commend to Mr. Griswold the testimony he had borne at the opening of the Court, that not only have the forms of a fair trial been extended to the prisoner, but the substance also; that, in the midst of ell temptations to the contrary, in the midst of all the solid reasons that have been urged why a different course--I do not mean an irregular course--a different legal and constitutional course by the Governor of Virginia, might have been pursued of declaring martial law and administering drum-head justice. That the Chief Magistrate has taken high conservative ground, we, as Virginians, are justly proud of, and that we did not force this thing beyond what prudence requires of us, and that in regard to the power and patriotism of the Commonwealth of Virginia we are sufficient for it, come when it may, and in whatever form. He proceeded to remove the objections founded on the idea that might have been made as to the power of this Court to try a case where the offence was committed. It was hardly necessary to show that it was within the county of Jefferson, and within the jurisdiction of this Court. There was a law in Virginia making the Potomac River the boundary between Maryland and Virginia, and giving either State power, by a solemn compact, to execute a criminal process to the further bank. These matters which are contained,I in the Code of Virginia, it was unnecessary to prove by witnesses. The Jury could read the Code for themselves. Another law defined the limits of Jefferson County, showing that it embraced the locality where these events occurred, and giving jurisdiction to this Court. It was hinted in a preliminary stage of the proceedings, and an attempt was made to argue, that the United States held an exclusive jurisdiction over the Armory grounds, but no stress was now laid on that point, because not one murder out of the four lives taken was committed on the Armory grounds. Mr. Hunter then took up the argument of treason, which he understood to be that none but an attaché of the Commonwealth can commit treason against it. It is limited to no parties--it does not require that the offender should boa citizen according to our system of government, and the complicated machinery of Federal and State governments, under which we live. In some respects, we are unfortunately bound to recognize as citizens of Virginia those who have proven themselves within our borders, as in this case, and without them, as in others, our deadliest enemies. The Constitution of the United States provides that citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the immunities of citizens of the several States. Brown came here with the immunities given by the Constitution. He did not come divested of the responsibilities belonging to those immunities. Let the word treason mean breach of trust, and did he not betray that trust with which, as a citizen, he is invested when within our borders? By the Federal Constitution, he was a citizen when he was here, and did that bond of Union--which may ultimately prove a bad bond to us in the South--allow him to corns into the bosom of the Commonwealth, with the deadly purpose of applying the torch to our buildings and shedding the blood of our citizens. Again, our Code defines who are citizens of Virginia, as all those white persons born in any other State of this Union who may become residents here. The evidence in this case shows, without a shadow of a question, that when this man came to Virginia and planted his feet on Harper's Ferry, he came there to reside and hold the place permanently. It is true that he occupied a farm four or five miles off, in Maryland, short t me since but not for the legitimate purpose of establishing his domicil there. It was for the nefarious purpose of rallying forces into this Commonwealth, and establishing himself at Harper's Ferry as a starting point for a new Government. Whatever it was, whether tragical, or farcical and ridiculous, as his counsel has presented it, his conduct showed, if his declarations were insufficient, that it was not alone for the purpose of carrying off slaves that he came there. His Provisional Government was a real thing, and no debating society, as his counsel would have us believe, and in holding office under it, and exercising its functions, he was clearly guilty of treason. The 46th section has been referred to, as showing it was not treasonable, but he supposed that that meant that the new government was to be a union of separate States like the present, with the difference that all were to be free States. The whole document must be taken together. The property of slaveholders was to be confiscated all over the South, and any man found in arms was to be shot down. Their conduct at Harper's Ferry looked like insanity, but there was too much method in Brown's madness. His purposes were too welt matured, and he and his party declared there were thousands in the North ready to join them. While the Jury are to take the whole declaration, the law books expressly declare they may reject, if they see good cause to do so, that which would extenuate the guilt of the prisoner. They are bound to consider it; that is all. As to conspiracy with the slaves to rebel, the law says the prisoners are equally guilty, whether insurrection is made or not. Advice may be given by actions as well as words. When you put pikes in the hands of the slaves, and have their masters captive, that is advice to slaves to rebel, and punishable with death. The law does not require positive evidence, but only enough to remove every reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the party. Sometimes circumstantial evidence is the strongest kind, for witnesses may perjure themselves or be mistaken. The defense say we don't know who killed the negro Hayward; that Brown did not do it because there was no object, but that it was dark, and the supposition is that Haywood was killed by mistake. They say Brown shot no unarmed men, but Beckham was killed when unarmed, and, therefore, he thought the whole case had been proved by the mass of argument. With regard to malice, the law was, that if the party perpetrating a felony, undesignedly takes life, it is a conclusive proof of malice. If Brown was only intending to steal negroes, and in doing so took life, it was murder with malice prepense. So the law expressly lays down, that killing committed in resisting officers attempting to quell a riot, or arrest the perpetrator of a criminal offence, is murder in the first degree. Then what need all this delay--the proof that Brown treated all his prisoners with lenity, and did not want to shed blood? Brown was not a madman to shed blood when he knew the penalty for so doing was his own life. In the opening he had sense enough to know better than that, but wanted the citizens of Virginia calmly to hold arms and let him usurp the government, manumit our slaves, confiscate the property of slaveholders, and without drawing a trigger or shedding blood, permit him to take possession of the Commonwealth and make it another Hayti. Such an idea is too abhorrent to pursue. So too, the ides that Brown shed blood only in self-defence was too absurd to require argument. He glories in coming here to violate our laws, and says, he had counted the cost, knew what he was about, and was ready to abide the consequences, That proves malice. Thus, admitting everything charged, he knew his life was forfeited if he failed. Then, is not the case made out beyond all reasonable doubt, even beyond any unreasonable doubt indulged in by the wildest fanatic? We therefore, ask his conviction to vindicate the majesty of the law. While we have patiently borne delays, as well here as outside in the community, in preservation of the character of Virginia, that plumes itself on its moral character, as well as physical, and on its loyalty, and its devotion to truth and right, we ask you to discard everything else, and render your verdict as you are sworn to do. As the administrators of civil jurisdiction, we ask no more than it is your duty to do--no less. Justice is the centre upon which the Deity sits. There is another column which represents its mercy. You have nothing to do with that. It stands firmly on the column of justice. Administer it according to your law--acquit the prisoner if you can--but if justice requires you by your verdict to take his life, stand by that column uprightly, but strongly, and let retributive justice, if he is guilty, send him before that Maker who will settle the question forever and ever.

Copyright Digital History 2016