AN ARGUMENT MADE IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, ON
THE 27TH OF JANUARY, 1848, IN THE DORR REBELLION CASES
[THE facts necessary to the understanding of these cases are sufficiently set forth in the commencement of Mr. Webster's argument. The event out of which the cases arose is known in popular language as the Dorr Rebellion. The first case (that of Martin Luther against Luther M. Borden and others) came up by writ of error from the Circuit Court of Rhode Island, in which the jury, under the rulings of the court (Mr. Justice Story), found a verdict for the defendants; the second case (that of Rachel Luther against the same defendants) came up by a certificate of a division of opinion. The allegations, evidence, and arguments were the same in both cases.
The first case was argued by Mr. Hallet and Mr. Clifford (Attorney-General) for the plaintiffs in error, and by Mr. Whipple and Mr. Webster for the defendants in error. Mr. Justice Catron, Mr. Justice Daniel, and Mr. Justice McKinley were absent from the court, in consequence of ill health. Chief Justice Taney delivered the opinion of the court, affirming the judgment of the court below in the first case, and dismissing the second for wang of jurisdiction. Mr. Justice Woodbury dissented, and delivered a very elaborate opinion in support of his view of the subject.]
THERE is something novel and extraordinary in the case now before the court. All will admit that it is not such a one as is usually presented for judicial consideration.
It is well known, that in the years 1841 and 1842 political agitation existed in Rhode Island. Some of the citizens of that State undertook to form a new constitution of government, beginning their proceedings towards that end by meetings of the people, held without authority of law, and conducting those proceedings through such forms as led them, in 1842, to say that they had established a new constitution and form of government, and placed Mr. Thomas W. Dorr at its head. The previously existing, and then existing, government of Rhode Island treated these proceedings as nugatory, so far as they went to establish a new constitution; and criminal, so far as they proposed to confer authority upon any persons to interfere with the acts of the existing government, or to exercise powers of legislation, or administration of the laws. All will remember that the state of things approached, if not actual conflict between men in arms, at least the "perilous edge of battle." Arms were resorted to, force was used, and greater force threatened. In June, 1842, this agitation subsided. The new government, as it called itself, disappeared from the scene of action. The former government, the Charter government, as it was sometimes styled, resumed undisputed control, went on in its ordinary course, and the peace of the State was restored.
But the past had been too serious to be forgotten. The legislature of the State had, at an early stage of the troubles, found it necessary to pass