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HOME > Biographical > Harriet Beecher Stowe > CHAPTER XI. THE TRIUMPH OF JUSTICE OVER LAW.
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Having been obliged to record so many trials in which justice has been turned away backward by the hand of law, and equity and common humanity have been kept out by the bolt and bar of logic, it is a relief to the mind to find one recent trial recorded, in North Carolina, in which the nobler feelings of the human heart have burst over formalized limits, and where the prosecution appears to have been conducted by men, who were not ashamed of possessing in their bosoms that very dangerous and most illogical agitator, a human heart. It is true that, in giving this trial, very sorrowful, but inevitable, inferences will force themselves upon the mind, as to that state of public feeling which allowed such outrages to be perpetrated in open daylight, in the capital of North Carolina, upon a hapless woman. It would seem that the public were too truly instructed in the awful doctrine pronounced by Judge Ruffin, that “THE POWER OF THE MASTER MUST BE ABSOLUTE,” to think of interfering while the poor creature was dragged, barefoot and bleeding, at a horse’s neck, at the rate of five miles an hour, through the streets of Raleigh. It seems, also, that the most horrible brutalities and enormities that could be conceived of were witnessed, without any efficient interference, by a number of the citizens, among whom we see the name of the Hon. W. H. Haywood, of Raleigh. It is a comfort to find the attorney-general, in this case, speaking as a man ought to speak. Certainly there can be no occasion to wish to pervert or overstate the dread workings of the slave system, or to leave out the few comforting and encouraging features, however small the encouragement of them may be.

The case is now presented, as narrated from the published reports, by Dr. Bailey, editor of the National Era; a man whose candor and fairness need no indorsing, as every line that he writes speaks for itself.

The reader may at first be surprised to find slave testimony in the court, till he recollects that it is a slave that is on trial, the testimony of slaves being only null when it concerns whites.

We find in one of the Raleigh (North Carolina) papers, of June 5, 1851, a report of an interesting trial, at the spring term of the Superior Court. Mima, a slave, was indicted for the murder of her master, William Smith, of Johnston County, on the night of the 29th of November, 1850. The evidence for the prosecution was Sidney, a slave-boy, twelve years old, who testified that, in the night, he and a slave-girl, named Jane, were roused from sleep by the call of their master, Smith, who had returned home. They went out, and found Mima tied to his horse’s neck, with two ropes, one round her neck, the other round her hands. Deceased carried her into the house, jerking the rope fastened to her neck, and tied her to a post. He called for something to eat, threw her a piece of bread, and, after he had done, beat her on her naked back with a large piece of light-wood, giving her many hard blows. In a short time, deceased went out of the house, for a special purpose, witness accompanying him with a torchlight, and hearing him say that he intended “to use the prisoner up.” The light was extinguished, and he re?ntered the house for the purpose of lighting it. Jane was there; but the prisoner had been untied, and was not there. While lighting his torch, he heard blows outside, and heard the deceased cry out, two or three times, “O, Leah! O, Leah!” Witness and Jane went out, saw the deceased bloody and struggling, were frightened, ran back, and shut themselves up. Leah, it seems, was mother of the prisoner, and had run off two years, on account of cruel treatment by the deceased.

Smith was speechless and unconscious till he died, the following morning, of the wounds inflicted on him.

It was proved on the trial that Carroll, a white man, living about a mile from the house of the deceased, and whose wife was said to be the illegitimate daughter of Smith, had in his possession, the morning of the murder, the receipt given the deceased by sheriff High, the day before, for jail fees, and a note for thirty-five dollars, due deceased from one Wiley Price, which Carroll collected a short time thereafter; also the chest-keys of the deceased; and no proof was offered to show how Carroll came into possession of these articles.

The following portion of the testimony discloses facts so horrible, and so disgraceful to the people who tolerated, in broad daylight, conduct which would have shamed the devil, that we copy it just as we find it in the Raleigh paper. The scene, remember, is the city of Raleigh.

“The defence was then opened. James Harris, C. W. D. Hutchings, and Hon. W. H. Haywood, of Raleigh; John Cooper, of Wake; Joseph Hane and others, of Johnston, were examined for the prisoner. The substance of their testimony was as follows: On the forenoon of Friday, 29th of November last, deceased took prisoner from Raleigh jail, tied her round the neck and wrist; ropes were then latched to the horse’s neck; he cursed the prisoner several times, got on his horse, and started off; when he got opposite the Telegraph office, on Fayetteville-street, he pulled her shoes and stockings off, cursed her again, went off in a swift trot, the prisoner running after him, doing apparently all she could to keep up; passed round by Peck’s store; prisoner seemed very humble and submissive; took down the street east of the capitol, going at the rate of five miles an hour; continued this gait until he passed O. Rork’s corner, about half or three-quarters of a mile from the capitol; that he reached Cooper’s (one of the witnesses), thirteen miles from Raleigh, 105about four o’clock, P. M.; that it was raining very hard; deceased got off his horse, turned it loose with prisoner tied to its neck; witness went to take deceased’s horse to stable; heard great lamentations at the house; hurried back; saw his little daughter running through the rain from the house, much frightened; got there; deceased was gouging prisoner in the eyes, and she making outcries; made him stop; became vexed, and insisted upon leaving; did leave in a short time, in the rain, sun about an hour high; when he left, prisoner was tied as she was before; her arms and fingers were very much swollen; the rope around her wrist was small, and had sunk deep into the flesh, almost covered with it; that around the neck was large, and tied in a slipknot; deceased would jerk it every now and then; when jerked, it would choke prisoner; she was barefoot and bleeding; deceased was met some time after dark, in about six miles of home, being twenty-four or twenty-five from Raleigh.”

Why did they not strike the monster to the earth, and punish him for his infernal brutality?

The attorney-general conducted the prosecution with evident loathing. The defence argued, first, that the evidence was insufficient to fasten the crime upon the prisoner; secondly, that, should the jury be satisfied beyond a rational doubt that the prisoner committed the act charged, it would yet be only manslaughter.

“A single blow between equals would mitigate a killing instanter from murder to manslaughter. It could not, in law, be anything more, if done under the furor brevis of passion. But the rule was different as between master and slave. It was necessary that this should be, to preserve the subordination of the slave. The prisoner’s counsel then examined the authorities at length, and contended that the prisoner’s case came within the rule laid down in The State v. Will (1 Dev. and Bat. 121). The rule there given by Judge Gaston is this: ‘If a slave, in defence of his life, and under circumstances strongly calculated to excite his passions of terror and resentment, kill his overseer or master, the homicide is, by such circumstances, mitigated to manslaughter.’ The cruelties of the deceased to the prisoner were grievous and long-continued. They would have shocked a barbarian. The savage loves and thirsts for blood; but the acts of civilized life have not afforded him such refinement of torture as was here exhibited.”

The attorney-general, after discussing the law, appealed to the jury “not to suffer the prejudice which the counsel for the defence had attempted to create against the deceased (whose conduct, he admitted, was disgraceful to human nature) to influence their judgments in deciding whether the act of the prisoner was criminal or not, and what degree of criminality attached to it. He desired the prisoner to have a fair and impartial trial. He wished her to receive the benefit of every rational doubt. It was her right, ............
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