The Single Legal Victim of the American Revolution
The trial fittingly commenced on the fourth of July. The year was 1777 and the defendant, "a wicked, malicious, seditious, and ill-disposed person," was charged with attempting to
stir up and excite discontents and seditions among his majesty's subjects and to alienate and withdraw the affection, fidelity, and allegiance of his said majesty, and to insinuate and cause it to be believed that divers of his majesty's innocent and deserving subjects had been inhumanly murdered by his said majesty's troops in the province, colony, or plantation of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, in America belonging to the crown of Great Britain, and unlawfully and wickedly to seduce and encourage his majesty's subjects in the said province, colony, or plantation, to resist and oppose his majesty's government. . . . 1
No, the defendant was not some unfortunate American patriot captured by the British army and brought to trial for treason. Rather it was our old "friend," John Home Tooke "late of London, Clerk" who was charged with "false, wicked, scandalous, malicious, and seditious libel of and concerning his said majesty's government and the employment of his troops." 2 What precisely were his misdeeds to have called forth such a scathing indictment?
Tooke's organization, the Society for Constitutional Information (founded as a rival of the Wilkite-dominated Society for the Supporters of the Bill of Rights), had continued the fight for American rights. It was at a meeting of this group that Tooke moved that a subscription of £100 be raised for
the relief of the widows, orphans, and aged parents of our beloved American fellow-subjects, who, faithful to the character of Englishmen preferring death to slavery, were, for that reason only, inhumanly murdered by the King's troops at or near Lexington and Concord, in the province of Massachusetts, on the 19th of last April 3 [italics in original].