Tried for High-Treason.
WHEN the Whig ministry of queen Anne were turned out of; or, in the modern phrase, had resigned their places, the Tory ministry who succeeded them encouraged a young divine named Henry Sacheverell to enflame the passions of the public by preaching against the settlement made at the revolution, and inculcating all those doctrines which were then held as the favourite tenets of what was called the high church party. Sacheverell was a man of abilities, and eminently possessed of those kind of talents which are calculated to inspire such sentiments as the preacher wishes his auditors to possess.
It is well known to the public in general that Dr Sacheverell's discourses tended to instigate the people against the house of Hanover, and to insinuate the right of the pretender to the throne of these realms. This caused such a general commotion that it became necessary to bring him to a trial in some way; and contrary to all former practice respecting a man of his rank, he was tried before the house of peers, and being convicted, was silenced for three years.
However, in consequence of his insinuations, the passions of the populace were so excited, that they almost adored him as a prophet; and some of them were led to commit those outrages which gave rise to the following trials.
Messieurs Bradbury and Burgess, two dissenting ministers, having made themselves conspicuous by preaching in behalf of the revolution settlement, and freedom of sentiment in matters of religion, they became the immediate objects of the resentment of the mob. What arose in con sequence hereof will appear from the following abstract of the trials of the criminals in question.
On the 19th of April, 1710, Daniel Damaree was indicted for being concerned with a multitude of men, to the number of five hundred, armed with swords and clubs, to levy war against the queen.
A gentleman deposed, that 'going through the Temple, he saw some thousands of people, who had attended Dr Sacheverell from Westminster-Hall: that some of them said they would pull down Dr Burgess's meeting-house that night.' Others differed as to the time of doing it, but all agreed on the act, and the meeting-house was demolished on the following night.
Captain Orril swore that on the first of March, hearing that 'the mob had pulled down Dr Burgess's meeting-house, he resolved to go among them, to do what service he could to government, by making discoveries.'
The captain going to Mr Bradbury's meeting, found the people plundering it, who obliged him to pull off his hat. After this he went to Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, where he saw a bonfire made of some of the materials of Dr Burgess's meeting-house, and saw the prisoner, who twirled his hat, and said 'D —-n it, I will lead you on: G —-d d —-n me, we will have all the meeting-houses down; high church and Sacheverell, huzza!'
Another evidence proved that the prisoner headed part of the mob, some of whom proposed to go to the meeting-house in Wild-street; but this was objected to by others, who recommended going to Drury-lane, saying 'that meeting-house was worth ten of that in Wild-street'.
Joseph Collier swore that he saw the prisoner carry a brass sconce from Dr Burgess's meeting-house, and throw it into the fire in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields, huzzaing, and crying 'High church and Sacheverell.' There was other evidence to prove the concern that the prisoner had in these illegal acts; and several persons appeared in his behalf; but as in their testimony they contradicted each other, the jury could not credit their evidence; but brought in a special verdict.
GEORGE PURCHASE was indicted for levying war against the queen, &c. in the same manner that Damaree had been. On this trial captain Orril deposed, that after seeing Dr Burgess's meeting-house demolished, and a fire made in Lincoln's-Inn-Fields with some of the materials thereof; he met a party of the guards, whom he directed to go to Drury-lane, where a bonfire was made of the pews, and other utensils; and that there was a great mob, which was dispersed by the guards: that the prisoner was very active, pushing at the breasts of the horses with a drawn sword: that this evidence asked him what he meant, telling him that in opposing the guard he opposed the queen, and would have persuaded him to put up his sword, and go home; but instead of taking this advice, he replied, 'D —-n you, who are you? for High-Church and Sacheverell or no? I am, G —-d d —-n them all,' meaning the guards, 'for I am as good a man as any of them all': that he then called to the mob 'Come on, come on boys; I'll lead you on, I am for High-Church and Sacheverell, and I'll lose my life in the cause.'
Captain Orril farther deposed, that after this the prisoner ran resolutely with his sword in his hand, and made a full pass at the officer who commanded the guards; and if one of the guards had not given a spring and beat down his sword, he would have run the officer through the left flank: that the prisoner now retired a little lower, and the guards had by this time dispersed the mob, having knocked down forty or fifty of them in the action.
Richard Russell, one of the guards, deposed, that they were ordered by the serjeant to march into Drury-lane, and to return their bayonets and draw their swords; that when they came to Drury-lane, there was a bonfire with a large mob about it; that near the fire the horse were all drawn up into one line, with their tails against the wall, that none of the mob might come behind: that the prisoner then stood in the middle of the lane, huzzaing, and came up, and would have thrust himself between the horses; but the guards beat him off with the flats of their swords.
The prisoner produced some witnesses; but as what they said did not contradict the testimony of the evidences against him, their depositions had no weight. The jury were satisfied with the proofs that had arisen; but having a doubt respecting the points of law, they brought in a special verdict.
At the same time and place Francis Willis was tried for assisting in demolishing the meeting-house of Mr Bradbury in Fetter-lane, and burning the materials at a bonfire in Holborn; but was acquitted for want of sufficient evidence against him.
The verdicts respecting Damaree and Purchase being left special, their cases were argued in the court of King's Bench in Westminster-Hall, the following term, before the lord chief justice Parker and the other judges; when, though every artifice of the law was made use of in their behalf; they were adjudged to be guilty; in consequence of which they received sentence of death, and were executed at Tyburn, on the 15th of June, 1710.
From the fate of these unhappy men we may learn the extreme folly of the lower orders of people interesting them selves in religious and political disputes. These offenders were watermen to the queen; but their loyalty to their sovereign and a proper regard to themselves, equally called on them to discharge the duties of their station with punctuality, and to leave the management of the church and state to those to whom they immediately belonged.
It is well known that, towards the close of the reign of queen Anne, political disputes were carried to a very unusual height in this kingdom. The body of the people were divided into two great factions, known by the names of High Church and Low Church: but though the church was the word, religion was almost out of the question; and the principal object of dispute was of a political kind. The question was, whether the house of HANOVER, or the family of STUART should sway the sceptre of these kingdoms. But it is astonishing to think that, even at that period, any son of the church of England could be so deluded as to think that a Catholic prince, of an obnoxious family, proscribed by the laws of the land, could be a proper sovereign for a protestant people. The supposition carries absurdity in the face of it; yet such was the violence of the passions of the people, that the pretender had nearly half as many friends in the kingdom as the rightful heir to the throne!
With regard to the malefactors in question, their offence was of the most atrocious nature. Every man has an equal right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. It was therefore in a high degree criminal to demolish the meeting-houses of the dissenting ministers. We should have no more spleen against a man for differing from us in religious sentiments, than for being taller, or shorter, or of a different complexion from ourselves. It was a wise saying of a celebrated writer, that 'I would no more quarrel with a man for his differing in sentiments from me, than I would for the colour of his eye-brows.'
The operations of the mind, being free by nature, ought to be allowed the most unlimited scope. A good protestant will not quarrel with a Roman Catholic for the peculiarities of his worship: he will only pity him for those parts of it which he thinks absurd, and endeavour to regulate his own worship by what he deems a purer standard.
Upon the whole, the fate of these malefactors ought to teach us obedience to our superiors, love to our neighbours, and duty to our God. There can be no peace of mind expected by those who do not live in the discharge of their duty; while those who perform it may reasonably hope for the serene comforts of a good conscience in this world, and console themselves with the hope of immortal happiness in the next.