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Argument in the Christiana Riot Trial
United States v Hanway, November 29, 1851
in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia



 


    On September 11, 1851, Edward Gorsuch and five others came to Christiana, Pennsylvania, in a search of four slaves who had fled from the Gorsuch farm in Baltimore County, Maryland. The Gorsuch party was joined by a federal deputy marshal, Henry H. Kline, and two other policemen. The fugitives were then living in the home of an ex-slave William Parker, who with a number of other blacks attempted to keep Gorsuch from retrieving his slaves. Hearing a disturbance, neighbor, Caster Hanway, rode over to Parker’s home. Testimony varied, but Hanway apparently tried to prevent bloodshed by urging each side not to shoot. After some verbal exchange, those in Parker’s house fired on the Marylanders, wounding Gorsuch, who died shortly thereafter. Parker, some other blacks, and the fugitives escaped to Canada. Marshall Kline that Hanway’s presence encouraged the blacks to resist, and Hanway and 40 others (38 of whom were blacks) were charged with “intending to resist in a treasonable way, the execution of an act of Congress passed September 18, 1850, and commonly call “The Fugitive Slave Law.”

    Mr. Stevens, addressing Judge Robert C. Grier. If the Court please, your honors, need not be informed that the crime of treason consists in acts done, and the intention with which they were done. Many acts may be done which if done with an intention to levy war against the United States, would be treason; but these same acts done without any such previous intention, would amount to an ordinary breach of the peace, or to misdemeanor and murder. The great question to be considered by this court, and especially by the jury is, what brought together these people, some armed and some unarmed. For if they have come together with a lawful intent, and afterwards, even they who came with such intent, committed murder, it is not treason. How then are you to show what brought these people together. The prosecution has given some slight testimony, such as the sounding of a horn about breakfast time, from which I suppose they will ask the jury to infer that there was a previous combination to resist the United States government. Now, what we propose to show is this; That there were in that immediate neighborhood a gang of professional kidnappers, residing there, some of whom had been confined in the penitentiary, and had come out. That they had not only upon one, but on two or three occasions, in the dead of night, invaded the houses of the neighbors, of white people, where black men lived, and black people, and by force and violence and great injury and malice, without authority from any person on earth, seized and transported these men away, and they have never afterwards been seen of known of in those parts. And that in consequence of this, there was a general feeling of indignation against these professional dealers in human flesh, not against lawful authority but against professional outlaws that thus prowled over and disturbed this neighborhood. And that when the prisoner, Hanway, in the morning, for the first time, came out of his own house, not having heard anything of this, he was informed that there were kidnappers trying to kidnap Parker, whom it was supposed was the object of the attack. And that in pursuance of such information, and with a full knowledge of the repeated acts of outrage and kidnapping in that neighborhood, he went to the place where he did go. We do this to show what might have brought him there, which is one essential part of our and their case. And we do it to show, may it please your Honors, that if anybody should suspect in that neighborhood that there was a covert term or slang phrase used, and that kidnappers did not mean kidnappers, to show that it did mean those who followed that business for a living.
 
     We do not care, if your Honors please, (and I suppose the prosecution may have their choice,) whether they confine us to a single case, or ask to go on to more. We do not want to employ a number, but we want to show that they are not idle rumors merely, and without foundation, got up in a certain way by anybody, but that they are rumors that proceed from honest people. My friends on the other side seem to think these things are mere pretense. It is well founded that these kidnappers were caught in the act of dragging a man off in chains, never to be brought back. It is to show the reason why a whole neighborhood might be ready upon a notice given (upon the repetition of such a crime as that) to go to a place, and whether after getting there they committed anything that is to be considered an outrage of the law, we shall be prepared to show by other testimony. We want to show that he went there with pure and laudable motives, and we will undertake to show that what he did afterward he was there, was honorable, humane, and noble
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