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A Tale of Two Cities

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Mr. Attorney-General had to inform the jury, that the prisoner before them, though young in years, was old in the treasonable practices which claimed the forfeit of his life. That this correspondence with the public enemy was not a correspondence of to-day, or of yesterday, or even of last year, or of the year before. That, it was certain the prisoner had, for longer than that, been in the habit of passing and repassing between France and England, on secret business of which he could give no honest account. That, if it were in the nature of traitorous ways to thrive (which happily it never was), the real wickedness and guilt of his business might have remained undiscovered. That Providence, however, had put it into the heart of a person who was beyond fear and beyond reproach, to ferret out the nature of the prisoner’s schemes, and, struck with horror, to disclose them to his Majesty’s Chief Secretary of State and most honourable Privy Council. That, this patriot would be produced before them. That, his position and attitude were, on the whole, sublime. That, he had been the prisoner’s friend, but, at once in an auspicious and an evil hour detecting his infamy, had resolved to immolate the traitor he could no longer cherish in his bosom, on the sacred altar of his country. That, if statues were decreed in Britain, as in ancient Greece and Rome, to public benefactors, this shining citizen would assuredly have had one. That, as they were not so decreed, he probably would not have one. That, Virtue, as had been observed by the poets (in many passages which he well knew the jury would have, word for word, at the tips of their tongues; whereat the jury’s countenances displayed a guilty consciousness that they knew nothing about the passages), was in a manner contagious; more especially the bright virtue known as patriotism, or love of country. That, the lofty example of this immaculate and unimpeachable witness for the Crown, to refer to whom however unworthily was an honour, had communicated itself to the prisoner’s servant, and had engendered in him a holy determination to examine his master’s table-drawers and pockets, and secrete his papers. That, he (Mr. Attorney-General) was prepared to hear some disparagement attempted of this admirable servant; but that, in a general way, he preferred him to his (Mr. Attorney-General’s) brothers and sisters, and honoured him more than his (Mr. Attorney-General’s) father and mother. That, he called with confidence on the jury to come and do likewise. That, the evidence of these two witnesses, coupled with the documents of their discovering that would be produced, would show the prisoner to have been furnished with lists of his Majesty’s forces, and of their disposition and preparation, both by sea and land, and would leave no doubt that he had habitually conveyed such information to a hostile power. That, these lists could not be proved to be in the prisoner’s handwriting; but that it was all the same; that, indeed, it was rather the better for the prosecution, as showing the prisoner to be artful in his precautions. That, the proof would go back five years, and would show the prisoner already engaged in these pernicious missions, within a few weeks before the date of the very first action fought between the British troops and the Americans. That, for these reasons, the jury, being a loyal jury (as he knew they were), and being a responsible jury (as THEY knew they were), must positively find the prisoner Guilty, and make an end of him, whether they liked it or not. That, they never could lay their heads upon their pillows; that, they never could tolerate the idea of their wives laying their heads upon their pillows; that, they never could endure the notion of their children laying their heads upon their pillows; in short, that there never more could be, for them or theirs, any laying of heads upon pillows at all, unless the prisoner’s head was taken off. That head Mr. Attorney-General concluded by demanding of them, in the name of everything he could think of with a round turn in it, and on the faith of his solemn asseveration that he already considered the prisoner as good as dead and gone. The attorney general told the jury that, although the prisoner was a young man, he had been involved in treasonous activities for many years. It wasn’t as if he had committed treason for the first time that day, or the day before, or even the year before. He had been traveling between France and England for quite a long time on secret business. If traitorous acts ever succeeded (which luckily they never did), he might have never been caught. But Fate had caused a brave, honest man to investigate this man and pass the information on to the authorities. This good and patriotic man, with the most noble attitude, would be brought before the jury. The attorney general said that the man had once been a friend of the prisoner. But once he had learned of his evil doings, he decided to turn his friend in. He said that if statues were built in Britain to honor great citizens, as they were in ancient Greece and Rome, then there would surely be a statue erected of this man. Unfortunately, though, this was not done in England. He told the jury that virtue, which poets write about, was contagious. (He said the jurors were sure to know the poems by hearts, but judging by their looks, the jury didn’t.) The most contagious of virtues was patriotism, or love of one’s country. This man was a prime example of a patriot, and just talking about him was an honor. His patriotism led the prisoner’s servant to go through his master’s desk drawers and pockets, and to look though his papers. The attorney general was ready to hear others discredit this servant for betraying his master, but he personally believed him to be a better person than his own brothers and sisters, and he respected him more than his own mother and father. He advised the jury to think similarly of the servant. The attorney general explained that the testimony from these two men, along with the documents they had discovered, would prove that the prisoner had had lists of the strength and location of British forces, both at sea and on land, and that he had given this information to the enemy. He explained that these lists were not in the prisoner’s handwriting but that this only helped the prosecution because it proved that he had been cautious. They would prove that he had been passing this information for five years, and had already started to do so a few weeks before the first battle between British troops and colonists in America. For these reasons, the loyal, responsible citizens of the jury had no choice but to find the prisoner guilty and sentence him to death, whether they wanted to or not. The members of the jury, as well as their wives and children, could never sleep soundly again unless the jurors sentenced the prisoner to have his head chopped off. The attorney general ended by demanding that they find him guilty in the name of everything good and decent, and he said he already considered the prisoner as good as dead.

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