The Cleveland Daily Herald
Cleveland, May 10, 1859
The Rescue Case – Trial of Langston.
FOURTEENTH DAY – MORNING SESSION.
The closing argument for the prosecution was commenced by Judge Bliss.
He opened by claiming that an act against a social or legislative law may be as criminal as an act against the law of nature. The injury to the person suffering from the unlawful act may be compensated by pecuniary recompense, but the injury to society by the violation of its laws demands a far more severe punishment. In this case the loss of $1,400 to the owner of the rescued slave is but a small portion of the injury inflicted by the act of rescue, the damage to society was far greater. Counsel proceeded to review the testimony, claiming it to be fully established that the boy John was anxious to go back to his master in Kentucky, and also that there was a concert of action on the part of the crowd, and that they went to Wellington with a settled determination to act in defiance of the law. He said that the students of Oberlin are taught sedition and contempt of law and their country. They are then sent forth to preach treason from the pulpit, their hearts filled with malice against their country, and ready to give friendship and support to any and all of its enemies. Counsel admits that the institution of slavery does not comport with the law of nature, but Ohio is not implicated in the sin, if sin it be. The subject of slavery in Ohio is our business, and the people of the State will attend to it. But no citizen of Ohio has a right to interfere with the subject of slavery in Kentucky.
Counsel reviewed the proceedings of the framers of the Constitution in reference to the insertion of the clause relating to the rendition of fugitive slaves, and asked if it was right or politic to reverse the action of the men who framed the Constitution. He claimed that the act of rescue was both criminal and dangerous to the peace and safety of the people of the country. Counsel disclaimed any malice or desire to inflict punishment on the prisoner on trial, or any of the accurse, unless proved clearly guilty. The object of the penalty sought to be inflicted on the guilty was only for the purpose of warning others from repeating the offences against the law, which had lately, became so frequent.
In allusion to the plea that the seizure of John from Oberlin was supposed to be illegal because he had been taken off by stratagem, Counsel claimed that it was the only practical way. The men of Oberlin slept on their arms, and were ready at any moment to resist by violence and bloodshed any attempt to enforce the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act by capturing a runaway slave in their midst. – Oberlin was the harbor of refuge for absconding slaves; a grand dept on what they called the “Underground Railroad.”
Counsel asserted that at Oberlin the taking of a fugitive slave is kidnapping; that they hold every negro there is free, and they repudiate the laws of the United States, and attempt to enforce by their county courts their fanaticism, even to the conviction of persons for kidnapping who seek to reclaim their slaves.
Judge B. claimed there was concert of action shown; and that the arming of fifty or one hundred men showed that a desperate struggle was anticipated; that Watson was a captain among them, and proclaimed when he left Oberlin he would bring John back dead or alive; that is if he could not capture John he would murder him and bring back his dead body; why the jury should not start at the word murder, for does not the Hon. Mr. Giddings say in a letter to the Hon. Mr. Plumb that the Kentuckians should have been delivered over to the negroes for execution. If such are the doctrines of the great teacher of this fanaticism, what are we to expect from the pupils - such as Watson; it is this spirit the Government expects to rebuke by enforcing this law.
On the question of notice of legal capture to the crowd, counsel claimed that John himself communicated from the balcony the fact he was a slave and was going back to his master. – Counsel then referred to the testimony that want to show that it was known at Wellington that John was a slave, and the proof that showed the intention of the Oberlin men to accomplish a forcible rescue, and to prevent the execution of the law.
Counsel claimed that if Langston was in that crowd, he is responsible for what that crowd said and what it did; for there being a common criminal design, the act of one is the act of all, and there is a joint responsibility; and even if he was there, and did nothing, but did not protest against the proceedings, the presumption is that he is guilty. Counsel then reviewed the testimony relative to Langston’s conduct during the day at Wellington, arguing there from that he was engaged in the rescue, even when pretending to favor a resort to legal means; that arch legal means were only to be used in an illegal manner for the purpose of effecting the deliverance of the slave from his owners.
The argument of Judge Bliss will conclude to-day, and the case no doubt go to the jury, but not in season to get the charge of the Judge in our first edition, but we hope to give it in our second edition.