The Cleveland Daily Herald

Cleveland, May 9, 1859

The Rescue Case – Trial of Langston.


      Mr. BackusÕ introductory remarks were in such a low tone as not to reach the ear of the reporter. He was understood to say that the act under which defendant is indicted was a political law, growing out of political causes, and hence the offence under it is a political crime. Counsel will not say it is not equally the duty of a jury to convict for an actual violation of this law as if there was a breach of moral law; but he will say that a defendant charged with this offence does not occupy such a position with this jury and this court as he would if in the dock charged with violation of a high moral precept. Counsel drew a very happy distinction between an offence arising from pure motives and a crime wrong in itself. Counsel said that the jury would trust defendant just as readily since that offence was committed as they would before; he must use the word guilty for there is no other word, but it must be used in a different sense from that of turpitude; if they found the defendant guilty, it must be because of the breach of a statute, not because he had done anything morally wrong. Counsel believed that the jury, no matter what their political feelings may be would rather see the defendant go acquit; he did not believe any one of them was so prostituted as to wish to convict, so as to say to the South he had the backbone to punish for a rescue; he did not believe there was such a man on the jury, for Counsel has known most of them too long to believe any such thing. Counsel believed that if the jury should find the defendant guilty, it would be with reluctance, and he believed the Court, if compelled to execute the law, would do it with deep regret; and that an acquittal would be gratifying to the Court and jury – aye, and even to the District Attorney himself.

      Mr. Backus made a strong appeal in behalf of the defendant on the ground of the sympathy that he naturally must have towards one in part of the same blood, and who is in bonds, and drew a very forcible parallel between this case and one that might arise between two Americans; counsel cited with great effect the case of the boy Moratara in Rome and the unusual sympathy of the Jews, on account of brotherhood, and their exertions in behalf of a fellow countryman; counsel argued that the jury must find more excuse for a man of defendantÕs color in aiding another of his color, through sympathy, from escaping from the laws of Kentucky servitude, than they would for a white man.

      Mr. Backus then addressed himself more particularly to the proof. Counsel would not ask the jury to go as far as did the Vermont Judge, who said he should not admit any title valid except a deed from God Almighty. Yet he should insist upon strict proof that John was BaconÕs slave. Here counsel reviewed the testimony upon the ownership of John.

      Mr. Backus then took up the Power of Attorney, and quoting the Fugitive Slave Law, claimed that the acknowledgment was not taken before the proper authority; that such acknowledgment could be taken only before such authority as by Kentucky statute was authorized to take similar acknowledgments. There has been no proof to show that Kentucky law authorizes the Clerk of Mercer County to take such acknowledgment, and unless a statute does authorize it, or the common law authorizes it, the acknowledgment is not good. Mr. Backus claimed that even the acknowledgment taken personally before the Clerk Cochran would not have been good; but even admitting that Mr. Cochran was empowered to take such acknowledgment, it should be authenticated by the ClerkÕs seal, not by the seal of the Court, for the Court did not take such acknowledgment and the CourtÕs seal is only to be used when authenticating the acts of said Court. He must certify to it by his own seal. In the first place Cochran is not such an officer as is authorized to take such acknowledgment, and second, that in taking such acknowledgment he did not use the proper seal.

      Counsel raised another objection to the acknowledgment that it was not taken before the clerk personally, for if the clerk had power to take such acknowledgment he gets that power from the Fugitive Law and not from Kentucky statute, whereas the Deputy Clerk only gets his power to act, from Kentucky statute, and if the Deputy has such power he must get it from Congress.

      Mr. Backus commented very fully upon the discrepancy in the testimony of Mr. Cochran on the first and on this trial, in relation to the acknowledgment of that Power of Attorney, claiming that after the argument in the first case upon this Power of Attorney, Mr. Cochran added to his testimony saying that he had personal knowledge of the parties taking the acknowledgment and denying that on the first trial he swore that he did not have any personal knowledge on the subject. On this point Mr. Cochran was contradicted by a number of witnesses who swore that on the first trial Mr. Cochran did testify that he had no such personal knowledge.