Birney's Report of the Cincinnati Trial

"Trial of the Cincinnati Rioters," The Philanthropist, February 27, 1868.


Our readers will recollect, that after the anti-abolition riot in this place, last July-a year ago, suits were instituted against certain persons believed to be concerned in that disgraceful outrage. Mr. Pugh sued for damages done to his press and office, and Augustus Wattles, agent of the Anti-Slavery Society, for damages done to the paper, pamphlets and books in the Depository. Both cases were appointed to come on at the present term of the Court of Common Pleas, but the witnesses necessary in the prosecution of the former suit being absent, a postponement was asked and granted.

The case of Wattles vs. Joseph Graham, Joseph S. Bates, Joseph Talbot, Jno. O Clark and others, came on for trial on Thursday, 15th inst., at 12 o'clock A. M. The testimony was conclusive against Bates and Graham. Graham was chairman of the meeting at the Exchange, preliminary to the mob, and put a resolution to this effect, that the meeting should proceed peaceably, orderly and quietly to destroy the press of the Philanthropist. The watchword adopted was "Santa Anna!" Graham was present at the destruction of the property, and when the mob, gathering together in the streets the papers, pamphlets, &c., were about setting fire to them, he leaped upon the pile, harangued them upon the danger of such a movement, and at length prevailed on them not to jeopardy the good character of their cause by such an act of indiscreet violence.

The testimony was clear against Bates: he was seen busily engaged in the work of destruction.

The evidence against Talbot and Clark was of a doubtful character, and as to the other individuals arraigned, we believe nothing was proved against them.

Messrs. Starr, Hall and Chase were the counsel for the plaintiff; Messrs. Fox, Reed, Semmes, Spencer and Gwynne for the defendants.

The Court, with its accustomed liberality, allowed considerable latitude of discussion to counsel, and we listened with much interest to the earnest appeals made to the Jury. W shall not attempt any thing like a report of the particulars of what was said, lest we might unintentionally misrepresent the gentlemen employed, but without any hesitation we may say, that Messrs. Semmes, Reed and Fox endeavored with great ingenuity to operate on the prejudices of the Jury, by exaggerated, distorted and false representations of the doctrines, measures and designs of abolitionists. We felt no otherwise concerned about this, than as it betrayed lamentable ignorance or prejudice; for so gross were their caricatures, we knew that no reflecting mind could be imposed upon by them. The speech of Salmon P. Chase was well calculated to correct the impressions, which the gentlemen just named, labored so ingeniously to produce. In an eloquent manner, he fervently avowed his deep abhorrence of the whole system of slavery, and sternly rebuked the doctrine, advanced by one of the gentlemen, that slavery and liberty were twin sisters, harmonious principles, equally cherished in this great republic. It had been imputed to him that he was an abolitionist, an advocate of immediate emancipation. He denied that he believed in the doctrine of immediate emancipation; if such were his belief, he should not hesitate to avow it. He prayed God, that his tongue might cleave to the roof of his mouth, if ever from fear he should fail in giving utterance to the convictions of his mind. Mr. Chase, after an earnest vindication of the character of abolitionists, and reading from the work of Dr. Channing on Slavery, proceeded in a perspicuous, able and honest way to comment on the evidence. Altogether, it was an effort honorable alike to his heart and mind, showing no less ability in the one than noble honesty in the other.

We have spoken particularly of Mr. Chase, not because we undervalue the services of the remaining counsel for the prosecution, but because the speech of the former gentleman, embracing a reply to many harsh accusations against abolitionists and their measures, must be of special interest to our readers.

Judge Este delivered an excellent and impressive charge to the jury, reminding them of their grave responsibilities in maintaining the efficiency and majesty of the laws. The jury retired at six o'clock on Saturday evening, and after being out five hours, returned a verdict of $50 for the plaintiff. The damages alleged were $300, and, as proved on trial, the value of the property destroyed was from one hundred to two hundred and fifty dollars.

It is needless to say that the verdict occasioned much surprise. The defendants themselves, we are told, were most agreeably disappointed, and disinterested spectators scarcely thought a verdict would be returned for less than two hundred and fifty dollars.

The suit, it is understood, has been appealed (by the prosecution of course) to the Supreme Court.