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The Ordeal Of William Penn
Long before he founded his Quaker commonwealth in America, he stood up for religious freedom against the awesome power of the Crown—and put the entire English-speaking world in his debt
April 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 3
The observer tells us that the jurors were commanded to agree upon their verdict, while the prisoners remained in the “stinking hole.” After an hour and a half eight jurors came down, agreed on a verdict, and the court sent an officer to bring down the other four, who would not agree. They were Edward Bushell, John Hammond, Charles Milson, and John Baily. Edward Bushell was known to be their leader, and “the Bench [says the observer] used many unworthy threats on the four that dissented.” The Recorder told Bushell that he was the cause of this “disturbance”; and added, “I shall set a mark [a fine] upon you, Sir.” The prosecutor, Sir John Robinson, announced that he had known Bushell for fourteen years, and that he had thrust himself upon the jury: “I tell you, you deserve to be indicted more than any man that hath been brought to the Bar this day.”
Bushell answered that he would willingly have avoided jury service, but had not been able to. Alderman Bludworth retorted that when he saw Mr. Bushell he knew that he would never yield: “Mr. Bushell, we know what you are.” And the Mayor added: “Sirrah, you are an impudent fellow. I will put a mark upon you.” According to the observer, the court used much menacing language, and behaved themselves imperiously toward the jury—all this because the four had refused to find Penn and Mead guilty. After this “barbarous language,” the court sent the jurors out to reconsider the verdict.
After a considerable time the jury came back, stubborn as ever.
CLERK : Are you agreed in your verdict?
JURY : Yes.
CLERK : Who shall speak for you?
JURY : Our foreman.
CLERK : Look upon the prisoners at the Bar: Is William Penn Guilty of the matter whereof he stands indicted, in manner and form, or Not Guilty?
THE FOREMAN [Thomas Veer]: Guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street.
THE COURT: Is that all ?
THE FOREMAN : That is all I had in commission.
THE RECORDER : You had as good say nothing.
MAYOR : Was it not an Unlawful Assembly? You mean he was speaking to a tumult of people there?
FOREMAN (seeing the trap): My Lord, this is all I had in commission.
At this point, according to the observer, some of the jury seemed to “buckle” under the questions of the court, but the others would allow no such words as “unlawful assembly”; and the Recorder, the Mayor, the prosecutor, and Alderman Bludworth vilified them “with most opprobrious language.” Finally the Mayor told them they had given no verdict, and that they should go and consider it again, so that an end might be made of this “troublesome business.”
The jury had won the first two rounds, and Bushell must have harangued them during the half hour they were out. Their third verdict, signed by all twelve, was as queer, and as little satisfactory to the court, as the first. They found that William Penn was guilty of speaking or preaching to an assembly met together in Gracechurch Street on the fourteenth of August last, 1670. Obviously this was no “proper” verdict.
“This,” says the observer, “the Mayor and Recorder resented at so high a rate, that they exceeded the bounds of all reason and civility.” The Mayor asked them if they would be “led by such a silly fellow as Bushell.” Then, addressing himself to the foreman: “I thought you had understood your place better”—meaning his duty to obey the court, and convict.
The court, the prisoners, the jury, and particularly _ the people knew what was at stake. The government was determined to stop forbidden religious assemblies, to break the spreading Quaker movement, and to use an instrument of the people, the jury, for such purposes. The Recorder said as much, frankly: “Gentlemen, you shall not be dismist till we have a Verdict that the Court will accept: and you shall be locked up without Meat, Drink, Fire, or tobacco; you shall not think thus to abuse the court; we will have a verdict, by the help of God, or you shall starve for it.”
Penn, out of the bail-dock and back in court, objected: “The arbitrary resolves of the Bench may not be made the measure of my Jury’s Verdict.” The Recorder, again losing his temper, sputtered: “Stop that prating fellow’s mouth, or put him out of the Courtl”
As the court broke up, Penn continued to argue. The Quakers had made no tumult, as the Mayor claimed. Two soldiers with force and arms had closed the Friends’ lawful meeting place. Now a verdict had been given, and Penn demanded, “I require the Clerk of the Court to record it, as he will answer it at his peril. And if the Jury bring in another Verdict contrary to this, I affirm they are perjured men in law.”