Alexandria Library -- Special Collections

Document of the Month

December 2004

"A Western Lawyer's Plea Against the Fact" July 9, 1869

This speech was discovered in material we received from The Lyceum. [The Lyceum accepts objects; we accept paper].
It appears that the document was signed by Benjamin T. Fendall but there is no record about where the speech was given or the client's identity.
Page 1 of lawyer's plea Page 2 of lawyer's plea

Benjamin Trueheart Fendall was from a prominent Alexandria family. (See Letter from Townshend Dade Fendall to Aunt Mary Dade, December 28, 1861, Document of the Month, December 2003). According to the census, city directories, and obituaries, Benjamin lived in Baltimore and worked as a civil engineer. His brother, William Eaches Fendall, practiced law in Alexandria. Did Benjamin draft this speech (or editorial) for his brother to use? If they had opposing views on capital punishment, did Benjamin write it to mock his brother? Was this speech written by a different "Benjamin T. Fendall"?

The transcription of this florid speech appears below:

Gentlemen of the Jury: The Scripture saith “Thou shalt not kill;” now, if you hang my client, you transgress the command as slick as grease, and as plump as a goose egg in a loafer’s face. Gentlemen, murder is murder, whether committed by twelve jurymen, or by a humble individual like my client.

Gentlemen, I do not deny the fact of my client having killed a man, but is that any reason why you should do so? No such thing; Gentlemen; you may bring the prisoner in “guilty;” the hangman may do his duty; but will that exonerate you? No such thing; in that case you will be murderers. Who among you is prepared for the brand of Cain to be stamped upon his brow to-day? Who, freeman – who in this land of liberty & light? Gentlemen, I will pledge my word, not one of you has a bowie-knife or a pistol in his pocket. No gentlemen your pockets are odoriferous with the perfumes of sigar (sic) cases and tobacco.

You can smoke the pipe of a peaceful conscience; but hang my unfortunate client, and the scaly alligators of remorse will gallop through the internal principles of animal viscera, until the spinal vertebrae of your anatomical construction is turned into a rail-road, for the grim and glory goblins of despair.

Gentlemen, beware of committing murder! Beware, I say, of middling with the eternal perogative! Gentlemen, I adjure you, by the manumitted ghost of temporal sanctity, to do no murder. I adjure you, by the name of woman, the mainspring of the tickling time piece of time’s theoretical transmigration, to do no murder! I adjure you, by the love you have for the esculent and condimental gusto of our native pumpkin, to do no murder! I adjure you by the stars set in the flying engine of your emancipated country, to do no murder! I adjure you, by the American Eagle that whipped the universal game cock of creation, and now sits roosting on the magnetic telegraph of time’s illustrious transmigration, do no murder! And lastly gentlemen, if you ever expect to wear storemade coats – if you ever expect free dogs not to bark at you – if you ever expect to wear boots made of the free hide of the Rocky Mountain buffalo – and, to sum up all, if you ever expect to be any thing but a set of sneaking, loafing, rascally, cut-throated, braded (sic) small ends of humanity, acquit my client, and save your country.

The prisoner was acquitted.

Benjamin T. Fendall
July 9, 1869

Transcribed by Barbara Winters, November 2004

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