The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter VIII: To the Duke of Grafton: 18 March 1769

[26] MY LORD,  

BEFORE you were placed at the head of affairs, it had been a maxim of the English government, not unwillingly admitted by the people, that every ungracious or severe exertion of the prerogative should be placed to the account of the minister; but, that whenever an act of grace or benevolence was to be performed, the whole [27] merit of it should be attributed to the sovereign himself.* It was a wise doctrine, my Lord, and equally advantageous to the King and his subjects; for while it preserved that suspicious attention with which the people ought always to examine the conduct of ministers, it tended, at the same time, rather to increase than diminish their attachment to the person of their sovereign. If there be not a fatality attending every measure you are concerned in, by what treachery, or by what excess of folly, has it happened, that those ungracious acts which have distinguished your administration, and which, I doubt not, were entirely your own, should carry with them a strong appearance of personal interest, and even of personal enmity, in a quarter where no such interest or enmity can be supposed to exist, without the highest injustice and the highest dishonour? On the other hand, by what judicious management have you contrived it, that the only act of mercy to which you ever advised your sovereign, far from adding to the lustre of a character truly gracious and benevolent, should be received with universal disapprobation and disgust? I shall consider it as a ministerial measure, because it is an odious one; and as your measure, my Lord Duke, because yon are the minister.

As long as the trial of this chairman was depending, it was natural enough that government should give him every possible encouragement and support. The honourable service for which he was hired, and the spirit with which he performed it, made common cause between your Grace and him. The minister, who, by secret corruption, invades the freedom of elections, and the ruffian, who, by open violence, destroys that freedom, are embarked in the same bottom; they have the same interests, and mutually feel for each other. To do justice to your Grace's humanity, you felt for M'Quirk as you ought to do; and if you had been contented to assist him indirectly, without a notorious denial of justice, or openly insulting the sense of the nation, you might have satisfied every duty of political friendship, without committing the honour of your sovereign, or hazarding the reputation of his government. But when this unhappy man had been solemnly tried,

*Les rois ne se sont reservese que les graces. Ils ranvoient les condamnations vers leurs officiers. Montesquieu.

[28] convicted, and condemned; when it appeared that he had been frequently employed in the same services, and that no excuse for him could be drawn, either from the innocence of his former life, or the simplicity of his character; was it not hazarding too much, to interpose the strength of the prerogative between this felon and the justice of his country?* You ought to have known that an example

* Whitehall , March 11, 1769. His Majesty has been graciously pleased to extend his royal mercy to Edward M'Quirk, found guilty of the murder of George Clarke, as appears by his royal warrant, to the tenor following:

Whereas a doubt has arisen in our royal breast concerning the evidence of the death of George Clarke, from the representations of William Broomfield, esq. surgeon, and Solomon Starling, apothecary; both of whom, as has been represented to us, attended the deceased before his death, and expressed their opinions, that he did not die of the blow he received at Brentford: And whereas it appears to us, that neither of the said persons were produced as witnesses upon the trial, though the said Solomon Starling had been examined before the coroner; and the only person called to prove that the death of the said George Clarke was occasioned by the said blow, was John Foot, surgeon, who never saw the deceased till after his death: We thought thereupon to refer the said representations, together with the report of the recorder of our city of London, of the evidence given by Richard and William Beale and the said John Foot, on the trial of Edward Quirk, otherwise called Edward Kirk, otherwise called Edward M'Quirk, for the murder of the said Clarke, to the master, wardens, and the rest of the court of examiners of the surgeons' company, commanding them likewise to take such farther examination of the said persons, so representing, and of said John Foot, as they might think necessary, together with the premises above mentioned, to form and report to us their opinion. "Whether it did or did not appear to their, that the said George Clarke died in consequence of the blow he received in the riot at Brentford, on the 8th of December last." And the said court of examiners of the surgeons' company having thereupon reported to us their opinion,— "That it did not appear to them that he did;" We have thought proper to extend our royal mercy to him the said Edward Quirk, otherwise Edward Kirk, otherwise called Edward M'Quirk, and to grant him our free pardon for the murder of the said George Clarke, of which he has been found guilty. Our will and pleasure, therefore, is, that he the said Edward Quirk, otherwise called Edward Kirk, otherwise called Edward M'Quirk, be inserted, for the said murder, in our first and next general pardon that shall come out for the poor convicts of Newgate, without any condition whatsoever; and that, in the mean time, you take bail for his appearance, in order to plead our said pardon. And for so doing this shall be your warrant.

Given at our court at St. James's, the 10th day of March, 1769, in the ninth year of our reign.
By his Majesty's command,     ROCHFORD.

To our trusty and well-beloved James Eyre, esq. recorder of our city of London, the sheriffs of our said city
and county of Middlesex, and all others whom it may concern.

[29] of this sort was never so necessary as at present; and certainly you must have known, that the lot could not have fallen upon a more guilty object. What system of government is this? You are perpetually complaining of the riotous disposition of the lower class of people: yet, when the laws have given you the means of making an example, in every sense unexceptionable, and by far the most likely to awe the multitude, you pardon the offence, and are not ashamed to give the sanction of government to the riots you complain of, and even to future murders. You are partial, perhaps, to the military mode of execution; and had rather see a score of these wretches butchered by the guards, than one of them suffer death by regular course of law. How does it happen, my Lord, that, in your hands, even the mercy of the prerogative is cruelty and oppression to the subject?

The measure, it seems, was so extraordinary, that you ,thought it necessary to give some reasons for it to the public. Let them be fairly examined.

1. You say, that Messrs. Broomfield and Starling were not examined at M'Quirk's trial. I will tell your Grace why they were not. They must have been examined upon oath; and it was foreseen, that their evidence would either not benefit, or might be prejudicial to the prisoner. Otherwise, is it conceivable that his counsel should neglect to call in such material evidence?

You say, that Mr. Foot did not see the deceased until after his death. A surgeon, my Lord, must know very little of his profession, if, upon examining a wound or a contusion, he cannot determine whether it was mortal or not. While the party is alive, a surgeon will be cautious of pronouncing; whereas, by the death of the patient, he [30] is enabled to consider both cause and effect in one view, and to speak with a certainty, confirmed by experience.

Yet we are to thank your Grace for the establishment of a new tribunal. Your inquisitio post mortem is unknown to the laws of England, and does honour to your invention. The only material objection to it is, that if Mr. Foot's evidence was insufficient, because he did not examine the wound till after the death of the party, much less can a negative opinion, given by gentlemen who never saw the body of Mr. Clarke, either before or after his decease, authorise you to supersede the verdict of a jury, and the sentence of the law.

Now, my Lord, let me ask you, has it never occurred to your Grace, while you were withdrawing this desperate wretch from that justice which the laws had awarded, and which the whole people of England demanded against him, that there is another man, who is the favourite of his country, whose pardon would have been accepted with gratitude, whose pardon would have healed all our divisions? Have you quite forgotten that this man was once your Grace's friend? Or, is it to murderers only that you will extend the merry of the crown!

These are questions you will not answer, nor is it necessary. The character of your private life, and the uniform tenor of your public conduct, is au answer to them all.


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