St. Louis Observer

July 21, 1836

The Charge of Judge Lawless

The horrid transaction which called forth the document to which we now refer, is fresh in the minds of all our readers. A fellow-creature was torn from prison, by an infuriated mob, and burned alive in the city of St. Louis. This deed it became the duty of Judge Lawless to bring before the constituted authorities of the land, and he has done it in the charge to the Grand Jury, now lying before us. In this charge the ground is openly taken that a crime, which if committed, by one or two, would be punishable with death, may be perpetrated by the multitude with impunity!!! Says the Judge:

"If, on the other hand, the destruction of the murder of Hammond was the act, as I have said, of the many--of the multitude, in the ordinary sense of these words--not the act of numerable and ascertainable malefactors; but of congregated thousands, seized upon and impelled by that mysterious, metaphysical, and almost electric frenzy, which, in all ages and nations, has hurried on the infuriated multitude to deeds of death and destruction--then, I say, act not at all on the matter; the case then transcends your jurisdiction--it is beyond the reach of human law!!!!!!!"

1. In this charge of Judge Lawless we see exemplified and illustrated the truth of the doctrine we have, for years, been endeavouring to impress on the minds of our countrymen, viz. that foreigners educated in the old worked, never can come to have a proper understanding of American constitutional law. Judge Lawless is a foreigner--a naturalized one it is true, but still to all intents and purposes a foreigner--he was educated and received his notions of government amidst the turbulent agitations of Ireland, and at a period too, when anarchy and illegal violence prevailed to a degree unprecedented even in the annals of that wretched, and most unhappy land. Amidst the lawless and violent proceedings of those times Mr. Lawless grew up. He is next found in arms, in the service of France, fighting against the country to whom his allegiance was due. His third appearance in a public capacity, is as Judge in one of the republican state of America, where he delivers such a charge to our Grand Jury, as the one now under our consideration.

We disclaim all wish or intention to wound the feelings, or injure the personal reputation of Judge Lawless; but we do wish to disarm the monstrous doctrines he has promulgated from the bench, of their power either as a present rule, or a future precedent; and we apprehend that when the school in which the Judge was educated, is know and candidly considered, his notions of practical justice, at once so novel to Americans, so absurd and so wicked, will have little influence with our sound hearted, home educated republicans.

2. Judge Lawless is a Papist; and in his Charge we see the cloven foot of Jerusalem, peeping out from under the veil of almost every paragraph in the Charge. What is Jesuitism but another name for the doctrine that principles ought to change according to circumstances? And this is the very identical doctrine of the Charge. A horrid crime must not be punished because, forsooth, it would be difficult perhaps to do it. The principles of Justice and of constitutional law, must yield to a doubtful question of present expediency. Doubtless the Judge is not aware whence he derived these notions; and yet it cannot be doubted that they came originally from St. Omers, where so many Irish priests are educated. So true is it, that Popery in its very essential principles is incompatible with regulated, civil or religious liberty. Our warning voice on this subject is lifted up in vain; but some of those who now hear it, will live to mourn over their present incredulity and indifference.

3. In his answer to the remarks of the New York American, Judge Lawless intimates that the safety of this office is owing to the course he took in this matter. We don not believe him; but if he says true, then what a disgraceful truth to St. Louis! What had the 'Observer' done? It had told the story of the horrid tragedy enacted here in plain, unvarnished terms, just as the affair occurred. No one pretends that our version of the affair was incorrect, and we added nothing more than in the spirit of earnest and solemn warning, to entreat our fellow-citizens to stay such proceedings, or their all was lost. And for this the Judge says, but for his interposition, our office would have been destroyed. That is, a mob in St. Louis burns a man up, and then citizens tear down the office of the press, that dares to reprobate such an act. This assertion of the Judge is a gross libel upon the city, as we verily believe. We have never heard of any threats to pull down our office, which did not originate with his countrymen--mark that.

But even supposing it true, and that our office was endangered by what we wrote concerning the McIntosh tragedy, we desire no such volunteers as Judge Lawless, with such principles, to come to our rescue. We reject all such. We desire not to be saved at such an expense. To establish our institutions of civil and religious liberty, to obtain freedom of opinion and of the press, guaranteed by constitutional law, cost thousands, yea, tens of thousands of valuable lives. And let them not be parted with, at least, for less than cost. We covet not the loss of property nor the honours of martyrdom; but better, far better, that the office of the 'Observer' should be scattered in fragments to the four winds of heaven; yea, better that editor, printer, and publishers, should be chained to the same tree as McIntosh, and share his fate, than that the doctrines promulgated by Judge Lawless from the bench, should become prevalent in this community. For they are subversive of all law, and at once open the door for the perpetration, be a congregated mob, calling themselves the people, of every species of violence, and that too with perfect impunity. Society is resolved into its first elements, and every man must hold his property and his life, at the point of the dagger.

Having traveled somewhat extensively of late, we have had opportunity of learning the impression made abroad by recent occurrences in this city. And we know that the feeling excited by this charge of Judge Lawless, is far more unfavourable than that consequent upon the burning of McIntosh. For that, say they, was the act of an excited mob, but here is the Judge on his bench, in effect sanctioning it!!

The subject grows upon our hands, but we forbear. We again repeat that we have had no wish in all we have said, to injure the reputation of Judge Lawless. The subject is one altogether too important to allow personal feelings to enter into the discussion of it, either one way or the other. For all that part of his charge where an attempt is made to identify the 'Observer' with Abolitionism, and then charge upon that the McIntosh tragedy, the Judge is perfectly sincere in the expression of this opinion. And the ignorance and prejudice which could lead to such an expression of opinion, however censurable in the Judge is still more pitiable in the man. Of this part of the charge, Charles Hammond, Esq. of the Cincinnati Gazette says, "It is as fanatical as the highest state of Abolition fanaticism can be."

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