Saturday, May 25, 2013

"every man has a right to carry arms"

"The evidence on both sides being closed, Mr. Dallas rose on behalf of the accused, and addressed the court and jury. 

"...Having said thus much on the riot let me call your attention to the other indictment which is before you, against Dr. Reynolds alone for assault, &c. I am surprised that two indictments could possibly have been instituted; and I can no otherwise moderately account for it, than by supposing some error or misapprehension in the proceedings at the mayor's. We have seen that in Dr. Reynolds' conduct nothing has been proved of a riotous nature; yet here is in one, the act of riot exhibited against him before you, as a rioter; but is it not extraordinary, that in one moment you should indict him for riot, and punish him for it, and in the next, present him for assault with intent to murder? It is a well known and sound rule of penal justice, that no man can be indicted twice for the same offence; but I ask, if you were to find both these indictments true against Dr. R., whether he would not be punished twice for the same offence. But how can this be called an offence? It is not pretended that he struck any body, or that he attempted to strike any body, but when he was attacked by the redoubtable Mr. Gallagher, he produced a pistol. I am here not to say he was right in producing a pistol, but I will say that he was not wrong. If a man is surrounded, so that his strength is overpowered, he is justifiable in using this weapon, not to destroy life, but to hold it in terrorem, in aid of his physical strength. I will show that this is the positive language of the law, as well as of reason. I am willing to maintain that a man is justified in carrying arms to defend himself. Every assault is actionable, but there is no doubt that arms are to be used only when the blow cannot be avoided. If any man attempts to strike me, the law allows me to anticipate the blow. If I cannot prevent his making use of his strength, the law of nature and the law of reason justify me, not in applying to extremes, but if it becomes necessary to my safety, I am to make use of the weapon to prevent the blow, and even to take his life, if necessary to my own safety.
   "Dr. Reynolds was assailed; a crowd came about him; there was a general cry of "push him out." We must suppose him placed under all these indications, and when young Gallagher approached him with threats, while at moment he was keeping four or five persons at bay, he came up, influenced by resentment to assist in the business. Dr. R. would have been equal to contest with Mr. Gallagher alone, but his hands were not equal to the with the addition of him to four or five more. In this predicament, and struck, or struck at by this young man, having a pistol in his pocket, Dr. R. produced it, and though it was said the pistol was loaded, yet we find he not make use of it but to extricate himself from his assailants. The probability must be formed from the nature of the case, which is, that the pistol was produced at the moment that the push was given: when personally attacked, he says, "I will not suffer myself to be insulted." I ask, whether, in common conduct, which must be allowed by every man who hears me, he would not, if attacked by four or five men, if he could scarcely keep these at bay, and had not strength to encounter them, but still having the of himself so as not to draw his pistol, if he had any, if he saw the sixth man coming up with a menacing appearance and shouts, would he not his pistol from his pocket under these circumstances, and say, "no, this going too far;" "till I was struck I checked my passion; I would not go to extremities." Would not anyone have added, "I will now defend myself!"

   "This was an act which every man would have done, to prevent further insult. If he had contemplated any violence, is it possible to suppose that he being armed, would not have committed it before? They did not know he was armed. Besides, it does not appear whether the pistol was cocked or not. This pistol was put into the pocket of Dr. R. with the same view as it was used for--to protect his person from assassination, and it was produced from his pocket to protect him from insult.Dr. R. was well known to the pastors of that church, and to have suffered expatriation and the sacrifice of the dear ties of kindred, friends, and an enviable society, in promoting the restoration of liberty of conscience to the Catholics of Ireland. He went to that place with a view of obtaining subscriptions to a memorial for the relief of his country people arrived from Ireland; he went there peaceably, without any view of violating the sacred ground, or to offer any insult to the congregation, for they had broken up before he came; and before he could utter an apology, abusive language was poured out upon him. All this he can bear, and even the words "put him out." He can bear even to be kept at bay by four or five men; but the moment this young man put him in further peril, here he is struck, he says he can bear it no longer, "any man that offers me violence, I will kill him." These words I put in the strongest light they can possibly bear, because I know the law will bear me out in it.
   "Gentlemen, why was this pistol put in Dr. Reynolds' pocket? Was it to murder Gallagher? Was it with a design to use it on this occasion? No! I am sorry to say that we found occasion for the evidence of Mr. Clay. When we heard his evidence, every man here must have seen occasion for him to wear a pistol; every man must be convinced that there was a plot to assassinate Dr. Reynolds. Mr. Clay is a gentleman of known integrity and veracity, and would not suffer this impression to be made on his mind, without his conclusions were drawn from the strongest evidence. There can be no doubt but there did exist a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Reynolds, which was communicated to him prior to this time; so soon as he heard it he asked advice; he asks, "shall I carry a pistol?" He is told that there is no security in a pistol, that the danger was such as to require a more secure weapon for defence, and that he ought to carry a dirk. What man would have hesitated to protect himself against a menace of that kind? I appeal to every man in Court--I appeal to the Attorney-General himself on this point; he carries a sword cane, and so do I; there are many gentlemen in this country, who, from the occasion of the times, and the combination of circumstances, also wear sword canes. There were two periods when every one wore weapons of defence from necessity.The first when the police was so defective that robberies were constant, and self-protection became necessary through the defects of the law. The second, when political fury rose to such a height, as in 1785-6, that it no longer became a question of defence against robbers, but against political opponents. The times are altered, or party violence has become less serious; we see indeed that the spirit of party yet preserves a disposition to assassination, in the threats against Dr. R's life, and that he at the present time has occasion to act on the defensive as every one did at these periods; there is no danger to be apprehended from a man who carries a sword cane or other weapon of defence; there is no law in Pennsylvania to prevent it; every man has a right to carry arms who apprehends himself to be in danger. If every man has a right, was not this gentleman justifiable in putting arms in his pocket, when so special an occasion commanded him? Here there is no danger of error; it was a mere accidental circumstance of Mr. Clay lodging in the same house that brought the design on Dr. Reynolds' life to his knowledge. Mr. Clay is a man of too high credit and acknowledged understanding to render what he says questionable The court must be satisfied of its propriety from so respectable an authority.


(Alexander James Dallas, (June 21, 1759 – January 16, 1817), was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1785. When the United States Supreme Court came to Philadelphia in 1791, he would become their first reporter of decisions starting with West v. Barnes (1791). Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Mifflin named Dallas Secretary of the Commonwealth, a post he held from 1791 to 1801. He was then named United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1801, and served until 1814. Dallas also functioned as de facto governor for much of the late 1790s due to the alcoholism of Gov. Mifflin. He helped found the Democratic-Republican party in Pennsylvania, and was an advocate of strict construction of the new Constitution. And replaced Albert Gallatin as the U.S. Treasury Secretary, under President James Madison. Where he reorganized the Treasury Department, brought the government budget back into surplus, and advanced the creation of the Second Bank of the United States).

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