TJ Wooler and the Black Dwarf 1817

The Two Trials of Thomas Wooler

Source: A verbatim report of the Two Trials of Mr T.J. Wooler, editor of the Black Dwarf, for alleged Libels. Published by T.J. Wooler at the Black Dwarf office, London 1817;
Translated: from the original for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2011.

Thomas J. Wooler was put on trial for statements made in his paper, “The Black Dwarf.” Speaking of a passage in the incriminated issue in which he says that “those who will not attend to their own affairs, must take experience from the lesson — that others will invariably deceive them or betray them. Our Ministers have done both. The nation has to reproach them with the most infamous duplicity, the most dreadful treachery.”

I do not pretend to deny that this language is strong, and I will take leave to add, that I intended it to be strong, because I am firmly persuaded that nothing but the boldest language and the most determined energy (and if I had the good fortune to be a leader I should think so sill) can rouse the nation to such a degree of exertion as to procure the dismissal of a Minister so odious and injurious, and so odious, because injurious. This, allow me to observe is the great point of all; and unless we gain that we gain nothing. I charge them here with having deceived and betrayed the nation — I appeal to their speeches in Parliament — I appeal to my learned accuser. Has not every promise they held out been disappointed? Has not every hope been blasted? Instead of Great Britain having been the firm and undaunted guardian of liberty as they pretended to make her, has she not insulted one country and betrayed another? Have they not avowed, even within a few weeks, that that constitution which our ancestors fought for, and bought at so dear a rate of blood, and which they told us would be able to defend us against the world, is unable to even protect itself from the attacks of a few miserable individuals? they meant that the constitution, would not screen them from the hatred of those whom they deceived and betrayed. I hope it could not; but of this I am sure, if it could defend them, if it could screen them from the justice they deserved, it would not be worth preserving. To prevent their own dismissal with disgrace they have miscalled themselves the constitution, and have assigned the constitution to oblivion. Do not imagine Gentlemen, that I feel any petty hostility against such men as these — I know them not, and care not for them; they are beneath my notice as individuals — their station calls upon me to assail them, and when I see a knot of such men assembled in council for legislation — When I see that from their talents they are incompetent, and from their principles unworthy — When I see that all their vain promises have failed — That their boasted measures, instead of producing happiness have occasioned misery, and that the result has ever been a falsification of the outset, how can I refrain from applying such epithets as I have applied, when I know them to be so well deserved? Surely it is more to be wondered that I have restrained myself within any bounds of moderation and decency!... Let my learned accuser come forward to some purpose- let him shew that they have not deceived and betrayed; that they have not been guilty of infamous duplicity and dreadful treachery: and I will patiently submit to any punishment: happy should I be that he should prove it to my cost — What need any man to attack me in a set speech, if he did not mean to defend upon the reasoning of that speech? If what I have said be a libel, why has he not proved it, instead of making laboured digressions upon any thing but the real question before you? — Why did he not reason a little upon the case? Why did he not attempt to prove that I was wrong, that I was unjust? since it is for you Gentlemen to decide, whether I am or am not guilty; as I shall appear to have spoken truth or falsehood.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL: I submit my Lord that the defendant is transgressing every principle of law.

MR.JUSTICE ABBOTT: You are transgressing beyond all reason and contrary to every principle of law- You must confine yourself within reasonable bounds.

MR. WOOLER: I should be happy, my Lord, to confine myself to those reasonable bounds if they can be prescribed; but for aught I know, if I do not defend myself in my own way, I may be consigned to some distant dungeon, and my liberty is to precious to me to stand upin forms.

Differing as I do from the attorney-General in politics, no doubt he has found out some sentence in which the administration is censured. he does not think that they have had a design to impair the constitution; but I am not of his opinion — I think that they have done it by design. does his denial of what I state to be the fact, prove more than his assertion of what is the fact? My opinion is, at least, as good as his, and his perhaps might be as good as mine. I presume it is not yet (whatever it might be hereafter) high treason to think differently from the members of the administration. The Attorney-General, doubtless, considers it some offence, and he has during his life been most careful to avoid it. The question is, whether holding the opinions I do hold I may not express them, and whether the paper before you is more than a fair display of my feelings and sentiments? as to the multiplicity of petitions, and the small number received by the House of Commons, that is a mere matter of fact, which I defy the Attorney General to contradict. Here, perhaps, I may as well anticipate one argument I intend to use: it does not follow that a petition from a few individuals will be attended to; or that the petition of a great number of persons will be attended to; but it does follow that the petition of a great number of persons ought to be attended to by those who profess to have the interests of the people at heart: the greater the number of persons subscribing to the petition, the more ought the prayer to be weighed and considered; and when a nation is unanimous upon any one point, to petition is absurd, and the members of administration must of necessity concede that which the people with one consent demand. The great subject on which this paper is written, and to which it applies, is Parliamentary Reform, and upon the subject it is a known fact that a great majority of people presented petitions to the House of Commons — no matter for this purpose whether they were received or not; but they were signed by a great number of the most active and intelligent members of society, perfectly competent to decide upon grand and important national questions. It is stated here that these petitions were sent into the House in such numbers that they could not lie upon the table — they crowded in so fast that the table was presently quite full, and then it became necessary to clear them away to make room for other petitions arriving in still larger quantities. It is not necessary to go into particulars — the Attorney General and every man at all acquainted with the political events of the last few months must be aware of these facts, so that I will not detain you with a statement of them; but it is curious that the only libellous passage in this paper refers to this subject, and of this the Attorney-General does not complain: here is a libel certainly, and I only wonder it has escaped — the words are, “ a clerk, who ought to be sent to school to learn to read, is set to mutter over your petition.” — This is a libel most assuredly upon the poor man’s capacity to read; but I can assure you, Gentlemen, most solemnly, that I did not thereby mean scandalously, maliciously, and seditiously to defame the Clerk of the House of Commons.

Gentlemen of the Jury, the Attorney-General has thrown into the back ground a most important charge, as I collect it on the face of this information; viz, the libel upon King John, King Charles, King James, and King William II. In the warrant under which I was arrested this part of the libel was made most prominent — these dead kings were pressed forward as the leaders of the hosts against me — these ghosts, these phantoms led the van on this most unsubstantial charge, but today we have not heard a word about them. Mr. Attornety-General has deserted their standard — he marched them on and has left them; for I expected certainly to hear something about my malicious, scandalous, and seditious libels upon King John and King James and King William; but it appears that the Attorney-General, who has exhausted himself so much in eulogizing ministers, has not a word to say on behalf of these poor dead Monarchs, who have been so vilified and abused. He, perhaps, was ashamed of being seen in such company, and he has got out of it as soon as possible. At least, Gentlemen, this one omission is worthy of remark, though I do not by any means intend to fill up all the blanks he has left. having said thus much, I will vow proceed to read to you another part of this libel — “We may petition the House for reform, if, in the same breath, we will admit that it wants no reform; we may entreat it to restore us the blessings of the constitution, and give us back our rights, if we will confess that our rights have not been infringed upon, and that the blessings of the constitution have never been impaired. Such is now the state of the Right of Petition. We must suppress the remonstrance of truth and the frim tone of justice, and then our complaints will be heard — and despised.” I appeal to any man whether such has not been the effect of the language of the Ministers — whether what I have asserted is not a historical record. Does it tend to bring the ministers into contempt, because their opinions are quoted and recorded? If it do, they have only to thank themselves — if a statement of their conduct tend to defame them, it is to be lamented that their conduct has been no better — if it deserved censure, surely a laugh raises against them in a paper like this was the least they might reasonably expect...

I thank you, Gentlemen, for the attention you have bestowed upon me. I throw myself fearlessly upon your protection, persuaded that you will not, by your verdict, consign me to the gloom of a dungeon, because I have excited a laugh against the Ministers by a little effusion of harmless ridicule

[Much tumultuous approbation followed the delivery of the speech.]

...The Jury then retired from the box, and having been absent an hour and five minutes returned with a Verdict of — NOT GUILTY.

It was received by the spectators with much applause.