Friday, January 05, 2007

"He Came Here With Black Perjury Upon His Soul"

I mentioned in an earlier post that the attorney who represented Sherman Booth in the legal proceedings arising out of the liberation of fugitive slave Joshua Glover was Byron Paine (pictured left, I'd guess in the early 1860s). According to the Wisconsin Court System site, Paine was an abolitionist and friend of Booth who represented him without pay.

But this post is dedicated to more mundane matters. Paine also represented John A. Messenger, who with Booth apparently formed part of the crowd that freed Glover. Like Booth, Messenger was criminally charged in federal court in Wisconsin with aiding and assisting the rescue of a fugitive slave, in violation of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. A related decision captures a bit of Paine's courtroom style.

A certain Mr. Jennings was, it seems, a chief prosecution witness against Messenger. His testimony against Messenger was apparently damning, and Paine does not seem to have dented Jennings' credibility, for in his closing Paine was none too subtle. Speaking of Jennings' testimony, Paine's defense was: "He came here [as a witness] with black perjury upon his soul . . . He stood there with black perjury upon his soul . . . He is perjured."

The source is a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a slander action that Jennings brought against Paine, Jennings v. Paine, 4 Wis. 358, 1855 WL 1921 (1855). The holding, by the way, was that Paine's speech in the courtroom was absolutely privileged.

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