Thursday, May 23, 2013

"A man when about to travel a road infested with robbers, lawfully arms himself with pistols"

"The following argument was delivered by Mr. Dexter, in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts at the trial of Thomas O. Selfridge, attorney-at-law, for killing Charles Austin, on the Exchange, in Boston, on the fourth of August 1806...."

"...Mr Dexter here went into a minute examination of the whole evidence. In the course of it he labored to prove that Mr. Selfridge went on the Exchange about his lawful business, and without any design of engaging in an affray; that he was in the practice of carrying pistols, and that it was uncertain whether he took the weapon in his pocket in consequence of expecting an attack; that if he did, he had a right so to do, provided he made no unlawful use of it; that the attack was so violent and with so dangerous a weapon, that he was in imminent danger; that it was so sudden, and himself so feeble, that retreat would have been attended with extreme hazard; that the pistol was not discharged until it was certain that none would interfere for his relief, and that blows, which perhaps might kill him, and probably would fracture his skull, were inevitable in any other way, and that the previous quarrel with the father of the deceased, if it could be considered as affecting the cause arose from the misbehavior of old Mr. Austin, and that the defendant had been greatly injured in that affair:--Mr. Dexter then proceeded:

"It cannot be necessary, gentlemen, for the defendant to satisfy you beyond doubt, that he received a blow before the discharge of the pistol. There is positive evidence from one witness, that the fact was so, and other witnesses say much that renders it probable. But if the defendant waited until the cane was descending, or even uplifted within reach of him reason and common sense say, it is the same thing; no man is bound to wait until he is killed, and being knocked down would disable him for defence. The killing can be justified only on ground that it was necessary to prevent an injury that was feared; not that it was to for one that was past. This would be revenge, and not self defence...."

"...A man when about to travel a road infested with robbers, lawfully arms himself with pistols; if he should be attacked by a robber, and from necessity kill him, is he to be charged with having sought this necessity, because he voluntarily undertook the journey, knowing the danger that attended it, and took weapons to defend himself against it? As little is the defendant to be censured for going about his ordinary business, when he knew it would be attended with danger, and arming himself for defence, in case such an emergency should happen, as that the laws could not afford him protection. I have here supposed that the pistol was taken for the purpose for which it was used; this, however is far from being certain from the evidence, as it is in proof, that the defendant had daily occasion for pistols in passing between Boston and Medford, a road that has been thought attended with some danger of robbery; and that he sometimes carried pistols in his pocket."

- Samuel Dexter, [AMERICAN ELOQUENCE: A Collection of SPEECHES AND ADDRESSES, BY THE MOST EMINENT ORATORS OF AMERICA; WITH BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES AND ILLUSTRATIVE NOTES, By FRANK MOORE. "There were Gyants in the earth in thofe dayes . . . . . . . . . . mightie men, which were of olde, men of renowne." IN TWO VOLUMES. VOL. II. NEW YORK: D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, 346 & 348 BROADWAY: LONDON 16 LITTLE BRITAIN. 1857. (DEXTER, Samuel, a Representative and a Senator from Massachusetts; born in Boston, Mass., on May 14, 1761; graduated from Harvard College in 1781; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1784 and commenced practice in Lunenburg, Mass.; member, State house of representatives 1788-1790; elected to the Third Congress (March 4, 1793-March 3, 1795); elected as a Federalist to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1799, until May 30, 1800, when he resigned to enter the Cabinet; appointed Secretary of War by President John Adams 1800; appointed Secretary of the Treasury 1801; resumed the practice of law in Washington, D.C.; moved to Boston, Mass., in 1805 and continued the practice of law; declined the appointment of Minister to Spain in 1815; unsuccessful candidate for Governor in 1816; died in Athens, Greene County, N.Y., May 4, 1816).

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