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THE TRIAL OF JOHN FROST.

HILARY TERM, 1793.

The trial of John Frost, an eminent London attorney, is the first of that remarkable series of state trials in which Mr. Erskine appeared for the defence, and in which his labors accomplished so much for the cause of personal liberty. Mr. Frost was, with the full concurrence of the Lord Chancellor,* indicted by the Attorney-General for having, in a coffee-house, while heated with wine, made use of the expression, “I am for equality, and no king.” The entire history of the case sufficiently appears in the speech of the Attorney-General and in the evidence subjoined.

*

The indictment having been opened by Mr. Wood, the Attorney-General spoke as follows:

GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY: Though I have the honor to attend you, in my official character, it will not have escaped your attention that this charge is brought against the present defendant by an indictment.

Gentlemen, the transaction, with the guilt of which the defendant is charged, happened upon the 6th of November last. I hope I shall not be thought guilty of stating anything that can be considered as improper, when I call your attention to a fact that is notorious to the whole country; that about that period public representation had been made, that the minds of men were alienated from that constitution, which had long been the subject of the warmest encomiums of the best informed men in this country; which we have been in the habit of considering as the best birthright which our ancestors could have handed down to us, and which we have been long in the habit of considering as the most valuable inheritance that we had to transmit to our posterity. This constitution had been represented as that from which the affections of the country had become altogether

*Loughborough.

we were told that this disaffection was moving along the country with the silence of thought; and something like a public challenge was written to meet men who are fond of other systems, by fair appeals to the public, who are finally to decide upon every question between every individual of this country, and the government.

Gentlemen, the Attorney-General of that day, who found himself by the duty of his office called upon to watch over, what he considered, a property and inheritance of inestimable value, thought it necessary to meet this sort of observation, by stripping

alienated;

himself of what belonged to him in his official character; and appealing, as far as he could appeal, to the tribunals of the country, which the wisdom of the constitution had established, for the purpose of protecting men from improper accusations; and he did not therefore call upon those whom he thought proper to prosecute, by the exercise of any official authority of his own, putting them and himself at issue upon these points, as it were, before a jury of the country, but he directed indictments to be carried to the grand juries of the country, to take their sense upon the subject, and to have their opinion, whether it was fit that persons propagating such doctrines as this defendant stands charged with, should, or should not, be suffered in this country to state them with impunity?

Gentlemen, in consequence of this determination the present defendant stands indicted; and before I state the words to you, I think it my duty to mention to you, that he is now to be tried upon the second indictment which a grand jury of this country has found. When the first indictment was carried before the grand jury, this defendant was abroad; a warrant was issued for his apprehension, and he returned to this country in the month of February last: he appeared to the indictment, and gave bail to it; by some accident he had been indicted by a name which does not belong to him, and pleaded the misnomer in abate

ment. Another indictment was carried before the second grand jury, who found that second indictment without any hesitation, and it is in consequence of that proceeding that he is called upon to-day to deny the truth of the charges which this information contains, or to state to you upon what grounds he is to contend, that his conduct as stated in this indictment is to be considered as legal.

Gentlemen, the transaction which the indictment charges him with, happened on the 6th of November last; you will find from the conversation, as it will be given in evidence to you that Mr. Frost had, I think, returned from France shortly before; that he had dined with a set of gentlemen, whom I believe to be very respectable, at the Percy coffee-house upon that day. He came into the

public coffee-house between nine and ten in the evening, as nearly as I am able to ascertain the time, and a gentleman who had long been acquainted with him, to whom I believe I may venture to say, Mr. Frost was certainly under no disobligations in life, seeing him, addressed him as an acquaintance, asked whether he was lately come from France, and how matters went on in that country? Mr. Frost told him he was lately come from France, and expected soon to go there again ; he then added the words that have been read to you from the indictment: “I am for equality; I can see no reason why any man should not be

upon a footing with another; it is every man's birthright.”

Gentlemen, some persons present in this coffeeroom, the general conduct of all of whom, I think, will have some influence upon your judgment, with respect to the mind with which Mr. Frost conducted himself upon that day, immediately asked him, what he meant by equality ; to which he answered, “Why, I mean no king.” “What! dare you own in any public or private company in this country, such sentiments ?” “Yes, I mean no king; the constitution of this country is a bad one.”

Gentlemen, what were the other particulars of the conversation that passed I am unable to state to you; but

you

will find the zeal and anxiety which a number of respectable persons acted with upon this occasion, made it very difficult for Mr. Frost to pursue this sort of conversation any further; and in what manner Mr. Frost left the coffee-house, and under what feelings and apprehensions in the minds of those who were there, I shall leave to you to collect from the witnesses, rather than attempt to state it myself.

Now, gentlemen, it is for you to decide, whether, in cases of this nature, prosecutions shall be carried on against defendants who think proper to use language so contemptuous to the sovereign of the country; and surely, I need not in this place con

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