Grand Juries, as you know, Mr. “ Spirit,” are, usually, made up of the dignitaries of a county--they are “ men of consequence” [1] ;--but it sometimes happens that there are among these prying legal lynxes ; men without any qualifications save a Falstaff paunch, who seek to play the wise and consequential magistrate. They feel “ obleged” to snarl and growl at all offences and misdemeanors, as well as crimes ; and as the periodical term of Circuit Court approaches, the luckless wight, who may have sought to “ kill time” by poring over “ Hoyle in sheets,” as well as the knave who “ with malice aforethought,” has insulted the dignity, and violated the peace of the State, are set to quaking in their shoes for fear of this modern tribunal of inquisitorial power--the Grand Jury.

It is said that the holy officers of the Inquisition were less lenient to those of their own faith, who were subjected to the penalties of its summary code, than to the heretics, whose devilish obstinacy led them to prefer its tortures to the abjuration of their heterodoxical notions. Not so lenient are Grand Juries--of which fact we have a humorous case in point.

A brief period ago, the Grand Jury for ------ county, Alabama, was empannelled, and duly sworn to “ true presentments make of all crimes, offences, and misdemeanors, committed in their county.” Never did Grand Jury before keep to the law more strictly. Their moral sense seemed to have been outraged by the vices of the county, and with something of a puritanical spirit, they set to work to root out all offenders, and thus restore a healthy tone to our moral atmosphere--and put rich fees in the pockets of the honorable SOLICITOR !

Time passed on apace, and the clerk acknowledged the weighty responsibility of “ true bills” in abundance ; which, for safe keeping--for in these longitudes “ true bills” are sometimes found minus a “ leetle” before Court--carried in a capacious breeches pocket, which for the greater safety, as a close observer would have noticed, was garnished by an extra number of very antique looking buttons. These were bills for “ Retailing,” bills for “ Gaming,” bills for “ Affrays,” bills for “ Fighting the Tiger,” and in two cases the keepers of the “ Tiger” were arraigned for exposing too freely the propensities of the “ varmints.” These and various other “ bills” will serve one purpose, most effectually. They will lay heavy bills of cost on the poor devils who have thus offended against the “ peace and dignity of the State of Alabama.”

The Grand Jury had been in session some four days, and certain persons charged with very immoral offences had not yet been subjected to the ordeal of their scrutiny. On the fifth day, the witnesses in their cases were called in.

The first witness was an honest but rude countryman, who knew nothing, and therefore could tell nothing. He thought, however, that “ all warn’t ‘xacktly right ‘bout Mrs. F------, from all he could larn, but he know’d nothin’ hisself.”

The second witness had “ seed sartin gentlemen stop thar, but didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout their bissness : the gineral repetation of the house moutn’t be ‘xactly the thing it autew, but he warn’t prepar’d to swar agin the old ‘omen and gals.”

The Foreman, an old buck of 50, was particularly desirous that this evil (old Mayor WHARTON, of Philadelphia, used to term it a necessary evil,) should be reached, and eradicated. He thought it a blur on the fair escutcheon of the county--an escrescence on the body politic--a sin of the genus deadly--a deep monstrocity--and he, the Foreman of the Grand Jury for ------ county, for the Spring term of 1845, would ferret out the offenders and break up their nest. In the matter of “ ferreting out,” he was as good as his word, but those who have heard how suddenly a certain native of Patland disposed of a burning potato, may guess as to the remainder.

“ Call Mr. H------, George H------, Mr. Clerk,” was the sudden and unexpected direction of the Foreman : “ he can tell us something about this business--I know he can !”

Mr. H------, soon appeared ; he was a good looking fellow, with a deal of human kindness marked boldly in the lineaments of his manly face. A quiet turn of the eye betokened his love of fun, and on the present occasion, it was evident to those who knew his propensity, that he had “ some deviltry in store.”

“ Mr. H.,” said the Foreman, throwing an extra amount of austerity into his manner and tone, “ Mr. H., do you know anything of the inmates of a certain house in your neighborhood--Mrs. F------‘s, I mean ?”

Mr. H.--“ Yes, I know something concerning the house as well as the inmates.”

Foreman.--“ Never mind the house, sir, but let us know what that something is concerning the inmates. It is strongly suspected, and generally believed, that the young men of your neighborhood give countenance to this nuisance ; and sir, I tell you, it must be abated : let us know what knowledge you possess--you are no doubt well informed, sir--very well informed sir !”

Mr. H.--“ Why, sir, I know that Mrs. F------, lives 14 miles from town, and that she has two daughters !”

Foreman.--“ We know that, sir, but don’t you know that Mrs. F------ keeps a house of bad repute ? I ask you that, sir.”

Mr. H., with a slight leer--“ You, sir, can tell the Jury more, as to that matter, than I. I saw you there, as I was passing a few days ago !”

If a sudden vermilion suffusing the human countenance, rivalling in color the brilliant hues of a turkey’s comb, is any evidence of embarrassment, then our hero evinced indubitable evidence of modest sensibility. He was a man naturally quick of speech, but when excited his words followed each other in such quick succession, that one was constrained to imagine they were running a race in his throat, each seeking egress from its confinement in advance of its leader. On the present occasion, they seemed to stick fast--his utterance was choked up--but he finally cleared his throat, and desired the clerk to hand him a glass of water ! The water was swallowed “ in a jiffy ;” when, turning to the Jurymen (whose eyes and mouths were opened to their utmost extent, betokening astonishment at this unlooked for dilemma of their Foreman,) he said, in no very intelligible terms--

“ Gent--gentlem’n--I acknowl--that is, I admit--I do not deny that I did stop for one moment at Mrs. F------'s,—but one moment gentlemen, and only for a glass of water--nothing else, gentlemen, upon my honor, but a glass of water induced me to call at Mrs. F------'s.” Then turning to Mr. H., he said, with no little evidence of choler—“ We can dispense with your presence, sir ; you can retire !”

Mr. H. did retire ; but not without tendering all the information the foreman might desire “on that subject !

MORAL. Grand Jurors should not seek to annoy others for little peccadilloes, where themselves may be a party to the offence complained of.

Alabama, October 31, 1845. SATCHEL.


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 15.40 (29 November 1845): 471. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Original text omits second quotation mark.

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