The Blasphemy Trial of C. B. Reynolds - Part III
The American Secular Union, a nineteenth century freethought association, tried to spread the "secular message" by sponsoring lectures across the country. Since most halls would not rent to "blasphemers," the Union purchased tents in which to hold these lectures. One traveling educator representing the group was C. B. Reynolds, a former Seventh-Day Adventist.
Reynolds pitched his "Liberal Tent" in Boonton, New Jersey, on July 26, 1886. Soon after, he was arrested for blasphemy.
The Truth Seeker was at that time associated with the American Secular Union, and it followed the developments of Reynolds's arrest closely. In a three-part series, the American Atheist is reproducing the news of the Reynolds case as it appeared in The Truth Seeker.
In Part I (October 1986) C. B. Reynolds's first Liberal program in Boonton, New Jersey, on Monday, July 26, 1886, proceeded calmly enough with a "fair-sized" audience. Late in the evening some very minor vandalism occurred.
Tuesday night the tent was filled - and surrounded by a hostile mob. Reynolds completed the planned lecture quickly. That night two of the tent's guy ropes were cut.
Reynolds entered a legal complaint against the leaders of the mob the next morning, Wednesday, July 28. The justice who received it reluctantly issued arrest warrants only after Reynolds deposited $5. At Reynolds's request, the mayor ordered the city marshall's presence at the tent that evening. But before the lecture began, Reynolds was arrested by that marshal for blasphemy. He returned to give his lecture, but the crowd was so disruptive that he could not. Reynolds and his comrades abandoned the tent in order to save themselves from a literally howling mob. The next morning, Thursday, the tent was found to have had the main and auxiliary guys cut, its top ruined. To add insult to injury, on Friday Reynolds was ordered not to hold any further meetings in Boonton.
On Saturday, July 31, 1886, Reynolds's indictment for blasphemy was recorded by a nearly illiterate judge. Testimony against Reynolds from individuals unable to recount what he had said was admitted, but Reynolds's witness was barred from testifying because he did not positively believe in both heaven and hell. Bail was set to await the action of a Morris County grand jury.
The August 14, 1886, Truth Seeker examined New Jersey's laws. The Constitution adopted by New Jersey in 1844 guaranteed freedom of speech and the press: "No person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles." Blasphemy was, however, a crime punishable by twelve months hard labor or a fine not exceeding two hundred dollars. While the Revised Statutes of New Jersey did not exclude nonbelievers from testifying, the common law allowed only a person who believed "there is a God who will punish him if he swears falsely."
In Part II (November 1986) Reynolds returned to Boonton on Wednesday, August 11, 1886, to distribute pamphlets on blasphemy, one being the August 14 Truth Seeker editorial.
The Truth Seeker of August 21, 1886, revealed that Reynolds had not learned his lesson: He was actively organizing the New York state convention and planned to give lectures in both Long Island and in Norwalk, Connecticut, later in the month. The Truth Seeker of that date also published a letter from Robert G. Ingersoll, in which he offered to aid in Reynolds's case. To show the general sympathy in New Jersey for free speech, The Truth Seeker of August 28 reprinted an editorial from the Beverly Banner which stated:
[W]hcn a man who has fallen so low as to take a public stand and announce it as his belief that there is no God, and no hereafter, and try to persuade, and in some instances succeed, in inducing men and women to follow him in his infamous career, a tar-and-feather overcoat would be too good for him.
No religious journal mentioned the Reynolds' arrest.
On Tuesday, October 19, 1886, the Morris County grand jury indicted Charles B. Reynolds for blasphemy, not for the alleged blasphemy which occurred on July 28 (for which he had been arrested), but for the alleged blasphemy which occurred when he distributed the pamphlets on August 11. Fifty witnesses had been called against Reynolds on this new charge. The district attorney did not bother to inform Reynolds of the indictment - he learned of it from the newspapers. The trial was set for October 27, despite the fact that the court was informed that Reynolds's counsel, Robert Ingersoll, could not appear, having had surgery to the throat. Reynolds was simply told, "Get other counsel." No other counsel could be found in New Jersey. At risk to his health, Ingersoll did appear at the court on October 27 to ask for a postponement of the trial until the next term since his doctor "forbade him to try any case lest he should permanently lose his voice." The judge adjourned the case until the third Tuesday in January 1887. Reynolds was on bail.
Meanwhile, the district attorney refused to move against the individuals who wrecked Reynolds's tent.
The New York Sun published an editorial on November 1 which condemned the New Jersey proceedings because they were giving too much publicity to "a strolling lecturer." The November 13 Truth Seeker emphasized that the issue was free speech.
In a letter in the December 18, 1886, Truth Seeker, Reynolds stated that he expected to be convicted, but would rather "endure the penalty than to make the slightest of our principles or rights."
Finally notice was received that the trial would be postponed to the May term of the Morris County court. The Truth Seeker of February 5, 1887, expressed the opinion that the authorities of Morristown were embarrassed and would never bring the case to trail.
But if the authorities were embarrassed, it wasn't enough to make them give up the case, as you shall see.
May 14, 1887
The Weary Way of the Blasphemer.
The Morristown court opened at 11 o'clock Tuesday morning, the third instant, and C. B. Reynolds occupied a front seat therein. He was accompanied by his bondsman, Edwin Worman, of Boonton; John Maxtield, of the same place; L. K. Washburn, and the Editor of The Truth Seeker. The civil branch of the court had the first innings, and it was not until a grand jury had been impaneled, and the civil calendar called, that the judge who presides in criminal cases took the middle seat on the bench. Then two or three men were naturalized, a young lawyer made a motion, and the court adjourned without referring to Mr. Reynolds.
At the noon recess District Attorney Cutler was interviewed. He said he would be busy all the week with the grand jury, had some other cases to try the next week, and was not very certain when he would move Mr. Reynolds' trial. At this Mr. Reynolds modestly suggested that the case be dismissed, which the judge would probably do if asked by the district attorney. The idea was not favorably entertained by the district attorney. He should, he said, try the case this term, and the court would probably adjourn in two weeks. He would see the judge, and have the day set; so at 2 P.M. Mr. Reynolds and his friends wandered wearily back to the court room, hoping that the district attorney would keep his word and interview the judge in time for them to take the afternoon train back to New York.
His honor came in and ascended the bench, the district attorney looked at him a moment, spoke to a lawyer, and then gathered up his papers and made for the grand jury room. Mr. Reynolds and friends squirmed on the hard seats of the court room, and thought bad thoughts. The Court took up the calendar, called it over again, and at last found a case in which the lawyers were ready for trial. Mr. Reynolds kept his eyes on the door of the grand jury room, through which Mr. Cutler had disappeared, and his friends kept vigilant watch of the clock. The sheriff was ordered to impanel a jury, and twelve men of the vicinage responded to the lottery, took their seats, kissed the Bible, s'helpmegod, and the attorney for the plaintiff addressed them. Mr. Reynolds and his friends never relaxed their watchfulness, and the door of the grand jury room and the clock were indented by the looks directed at them. The case was one of assault and battery, where one railroad engineer had pounded another railroad engineer because the latter had been guilty of ministerial conduct with the former's wife. The plaintiff swore that he had been well thrashed, a doctor corroborated him, and the clock traveled on toward train time, but still no district attorney emerged from the grand jury room. Mr. Reynolds's friends tip-toed their way out of court, for The Truth Seeker had to go to press, and walked rapidly to the depot. Mr. Reynolds and his bondsman kept their fidgety seats, waiting for Jersey Justice to pull the bandage from her eyes, and recognize his right to know when he would be wanted to answer the charge of having defended the almighty from the slanders of his friends. Wednesday morning the Editor found this note upon his desk:
"Cutler and the judge set the case down for a week from Monday - Monday, May 16th.
"C. B. R."
At what hour of the day or night this decision was arrived at we do not know. Enough that it came at last, for at one time it was thought that Mr. Reynolds would have to permanently settle in Morristown to find out. The district attorney is a genial young gentleman, but he seems to be a very busy man.
Mr. Reynolds lectured in Philadelphia last Sunday, the 8th, and will no doubt be happy to visit other places between then and the 16th, for he must linger in this vicinity till that time, if no longer. Mr. L. K. Washburn will replace Mr. Reynolds at Philadelphia on the 15th inst[ant]., and would also be glad of other engagements in this section of the country. If Mr. Reynolds is tried on the 16th, The Truth Seeker will contain a full report of the proceedings. But we suspect that the authorities of Morris county are not overanxious to employ further the legal machinery of their inquisition.
Mr. Reynolds's Case.
Between the going to press of The Truth Seeker and the date of issue will occur the trial of C. B. Reynolds. When Mr. Reynolds, his counsel and bondsman, appeared in the Morris County court last Monday morning, District Attorney Cutler was not ready for trial. He had not had time to prepare. But he had found ample opportunity to get out another indictment against Mr. Reynolds for distributing the pamphlets in Morristown. This he handed Colonel Ingersoll with great deference, just as though it pained him. The trial was then set down for Thursday, May 19th, at 11 A.M.
For this second indictment Mr. Reynolds is probably indebted to the friendly offices of the Methodist editor of the Boonton Bulletin, who was on the grand jury for the present term, aided by the pleasant and pious Mr. Cutler.
A daily paper of this city says that in several of the churches of Morristown prayers have been offered touching this trial, and in one church in particular divine assistance was implored to enable the young men of the church to restrain themselves from attending the trial, on account of the pernicious influence it might exert upon their minds.
Our readers will know the result next week.
Convicted and Fined.
After many postponements and delays, Charles B. Reynolds has been given a trial for the crime of blasphemy, and New Jersey is happy over her relapse to savagery. On Friday night, the 20th instant, the church members of Morristown slept sounder than they had before since last fall - with more peaceful consciences and happier hearts, for they had done their duty by their God, and convicted and robbed the heretic. The statute of two hundred years of age in New Jersey, and in the rest of the world dating back to the gorillas of the forests, has been reverently awakened and religiously rehabilitated. The law enacted by the baboons of the past has been enforced by twelve jackasses of the present, and the rest of the animals of Morristown grunt their approval.
Thursday, May 19th, in the year of grace 1887, the Court of Common Pleas of Morris county. New Jersey, U.S.A., assembled at half-past nine and waited until eleven o'clock for Colonel Ingersoll and his client. Three judges were upon the bench when the latter arrived - Mr. Francis Child in the center and presiding, with lay judges DeWitt C. Quimby and Charles H. Munson on either hand. Lay judges Munson and Quimby are sensible-looking, level-headed men, but Mr. Childs has the peculiar facial characteristics that denote the tyrant. From his cheeks up his head narrows rapidly; downward it expands enormously, and upon his neck rests a double chin of great volume. His eyes are black and small, and twinkled viciously when he looked at the defendant. His manner upon the bench reminded us of Judge Benedict, and his general make-up of the picture of Lord Howe in the school histories. One rather cruel comment made by a man present was that the bench stood for 101 - one on each side and nothing in the middle. The courtroom and gallery were crowded to suffocation; all the approaches thereto, and every spot where the proceedings could be even occasionally heard, were utilized by the friends or foes of free speech. The whole town was intensely excited, and many people had come in from the surrounding country. Before Colonel Ingersoll had said anything, probably nine out of ten of the spectators would have rejoiced piously to see Mr. Reynolds sentenced to the penitentiary; if, when the colonel was stopped by the presiding judge in the afternoon, the verdict could have been given by the audience they would have unanimously declared that the suppression of free speech, as attempted by the prosecution, was the most heinous of crimes. As soon as Colonel Ingersoll had forced his way through the crowd and found a seat. Judge Childs cautioned the people to keep quiet, and ordered the clerk to impanel the jury. The defense was allowed six challenges only, and they were necessarily used by Colonel Ingersoll in a very short time, for from the start the judge was plainly against Mr. Reynolds; and no matter how bigoted a talesman confessed himself to be in response to the questions of Colonel Ingersoll, the double-chinned cipher in the center of the bench ruled that he was a competent juror. And such men as had been called for jury duty! Ignorant Roman Catholics from the mines, stolid carpenters - with no thought but of the six days of toil and one of worship - superstitious Methodists, and bigoted Presbyterians formed the material selected to try a man for expressing his honest thought concerning the Christian deity. There were little snakes of prejudice, as Colonel Ingersoll put it, lurking in the minds of all of them, but the judge held that that made no difference so long as they thought they could acquit Mr. Reynolds providing the evidence showed that he had not distributed the pamphlets in Morristown! As that was not disputed, it is easily seen what the jury must have been. When Colonel Ingersoll had exhausted all his challenges, and the jury had been seated, and stood up, and sworn, and counted and recounted with all the pompous formality of ancient rules, the list stood as follows: Jacob Odgen, church member, denomination not stated; Lewis Boing, no church; Andrew B. Cogan, Roman Catholic; Paul H. Mandeville, no church; George Schuyler, no church; Michael Rourke, Roman Catholic; Eugene Buchanan, Methodist; Leo De Hart, no church; Horace L. Dunham, church member, denomination not given; Lemuel E. Pierson, ditto; Benjamin Flaharty and John McTiernan, Roman Catholics. There were but two or three of these men with faces indicating any intelligence whatever, and their verdict proved that each one ought to be marked on the forehead, J. J. - Jersey jackass.
When these animals had been secured in the pen. District Attorney Cutler told them that the crime charged upon Mr. Reynolds was circulating a blasphemous and impious pamphlet. He then called as witness John W. Babbitt, a constable of the court, who was armed with a copy of the pamphlet, which he swore he had religiously preserved locked up in his bookcase ever since it was given to him by Mr. Reynolds in person. Winfield West, bill poster, testified that he too had received a pamphlet, besides which he had warned Mr. Reynolds not to distribute them in Morristown as it interfered with his, the witness's, business. Thomas Cleary, Benj. McLean, Matthew Lowe, Mr. Dutton, George L. Clark, David L. Fox, Charles Thursten, Lewis Armstrong, all received pamphlets from the hand of Mr. Reynolds last October, and the pamphlets they received were copies of the one offered in evidence by the prosecutor, who rested his case when the last witness had stepped down from the chair.
The witnesses used up the time of court till recess. Upon the reopening of court Colonel Ingersoll began the defense. He had no witnesses, for the circulation of the pamphlet was admitted, but began at once his address to the jury. Time and lack of space prevent the publication of the speech this week, but we shall give it verbatim in our next issue. No summary published in any of the daily papers gives the faintest idea of its beauty and grandeur. All the hot summer afternoon he held the audience spellbound - not a man moved from his seat; scores were touched to tears, while often times it seemed impossible to prevent the people from breaking into tumultuous applause to express their approval of his sentiments. The lay judges listened intently, and more than once their hands seemed desirous of meeting in approving contact. The gavel of the presiding judge was constantly busy, though when not actually pounding the little square of marble before him he leaned back in his chair, looked out of the window, up at the ceiling - anywhere to find an object to employ his attention that he might not hear the burning sentences flowing from the eloquent lips of the greatest man this century has produced. Colonel Ingersoll spoke low and soft, pleading with the stumps before him for a verdict which should leave the flag unstained, and the pages of New Jersey's history unsoiled by the most infamous of acts, the suppression of free speech. His voice has recovered its strength and tone, and its lowest note was heard in the farthest corner of the court room. The speech was full of imagery, the purest patriotism, and grandest of pleas for liberty, and the most exquisite and touching pictures. He made point after point against the law, following it from the dens and caves of savagery up through the centuries of religious persecution to the present, when, as he said, he had hoped the battle for human rights had been fought and won. Mercilessly he denounced the law, and with flawless logic showed that if Mr. Reynolds had not the right to express his sentiments, then no man on the jury had the right to speak his. He touched every chord of the human heart and had the audience with him in every thought, but if he implanted even the feeblest sentiment of tenderness, of loyalty to principle, of patriotism, or of right into the clods before him in the jury box, the illegal and brutal charge of the judge must have torn it up by the roots. Among the whole twelve images of humanity-there was not one man.
About half past four Judge Childs interrupted Mr. Ingersoll with the announcement that the hour of adjournment had arrived, and after a caution to the jury not to permit discussion of the case in their presence, the court room was cleared. Friday morning at half past nine Colonel Ingersoll resumed his argument, continuing until nearly half past ten o'clock. The morning address was a complete speech in itself. He summed up the points he had made and emphasized the legal grounds upon which he asked for the acquittal of Mr. Reynolds. As he neared the end of his appeal, the judge poised the gavel, ready to suppress the applause which the audience seemed bound to give the pleader for liberty. The last word had scarcely left the Colonel's lips when the wooden hammer fell, and silence was enforced. District Attorney Cutler was upon his feet at once, and attracted the attention of the jury. Mr. Cutler is a youngster of some thirty years, pleasant to look upon, but inclined to be a trifle deceptive in what he promises. He is not a good speaker and shows but little of that deep learning in the law which, as district attorney, he must of course possess. He stated to the jury that the law against blasphemy was on the statute books. With its wisdom or unwisdom they as jurors had nothing to do. Their duty was to say whether the words of Mr. Reynolds as copied in the indictment came within the meaning of the statute. Whether the statute is constitutional or not must make no difference to them; that was for a higher court to determine. They must judge of the facts only. Except by giving a sonorous roll to the words, "Gentlemen of the jury!" and occasionally emphasizing the last word of some other sentence in an equally meaningless manner, Mr. Cutler made no attempt to speak interestingly. What he told the jury ought to have been in the judge's charge, and he must have the credit of making no appeal to the evident religious prejudices of the twelve men who were to decide the case. He spoke for ten or fifteen minutes. When he sat down, the presiding judge, Mr. Francis Childs, began his charge.
We have previously described Mr. Childs, but that description of him was as he appears in calm judicial repose. When he has a religious opponent in his power, he changes his looks. His passions send the blood to his face in a flood, his black eyes twinkle with malice, and he speaks with such enthusiasm as we may imagine Cotton Mather exhibited when he argued for the execution of witches in early colonial times. Displacing one of the lay judges at the end of the bench, that he might be nearer the jury. Judge Childs entered upon his argument. It was evident after the first five minutes that the district attorney and the judge had "swapped jobs." Mr. Cutler had been cool and comparatively mild. The judge was the opposite. His words were not a judicial charge to a jury, but a heated and very slightly disguised appeal for conviction. He raised his voice in temper, pounded the bench to emphasize his points, and throughout his speech was the advocate for his religion and the prosecutor of him who had brought it into contempt. His zeal betrayed him. Legally expressed, the case at this point was Colonel Ingersoll for the defendant. Judge Childs for the plaintiff; and the plaintiffs attorney made it a matter of personal pride to win. It was not often he got the chance to argue against so distinguished a man as Colonel Ingersoll, and the opportunity must be made the most of. With the superstitious reverence which the average juror feels for the high dignitary upon the bench, he might have won it in any event; but with the jury he had before him, it was the easiest thing in the world. We quote his speech for the sole reason that it possesses historic interest as showing the worst that can be done by even a New Jersey judge:
You will notice that the defendant is on trial for libel, and it is called a blasphemous libel, because it denies and contumeliously reproaches the holy name of God; because it contumeliously reproaches Jesus Christ and the holy word of God. Blasphemy consists in the denial of the being, attributes, or nature of, or uttering impious and profane things against, God or the authority of the holy scriptures; but it is only committed by uttering such things in a scoffing and railing manner, out of a reproachful disposition, as it were, in the speaker, rather than with any purpose of propagating his irreverent opinion. If he has merely asserted his disbelief in all the popular notions of Christianity, without attempting by impious and abusive or blasphemous remarks to wound the feelings of the whole Christian community, he will not have committed an offense of which the law can take notice.
You will further observe that the defendant is not on trial for the principles of his religious belief. The laws of this state recognize no standard of faith, nor any established form of worship. There is no offense known to our laws as heresy or nonconformity.
If you are satisfied from the evidence that the defendant circulated the alleged libel, and that the same is blasphemous, and that the same was written, published, and circulated for the purpose of scoffing at, or railing and bringing into disrepute the Christian religion in that respect, and out of a reproachful disposition in the writer, and calculated and intended to wound the feelings of the Christian community, then the defendant is guilty in manner and form as he stands charged.
It has been said, gentlemen, that the words contained in this indictment are not blasphemous; that is, that they are not scoffing and railing, that they are not uttered with a reproachful spirit, and that they are not calculated to wound the religious sentiment entertained by a large portion of the community. That is a question for you to judge. You can read them over. You can read them with care, as found in the indictment, and after having read them, then you arc to pass that judgment on those words that you think under your oaths, and acting in the discharge of an important duty, they are entitled to.
But it is said in this case that the law under which this prosecution is maintained is obsolete - that it is dead. The law on this subject is not obsolete or dead. It is today the living expression of the will of the people in reference to this particular matter, and you have no more right to disregard or make this law a dead letter, or refuse to enforce it, than you have to repeal or abrogate any other law on the statute books protecting citizens in their rights of person or property.
You, gentlemen, are not possessed, as has been well remarked, with arbitrary powers. You do not have legislative functions. It is your duty to pass on existing laws, and as you find them - not to cavil at, not to question, the wisdom or propriety of that enactment. It has been enacted by a power far above you, by a power representing the people, and it is the expression of the will of the people that comes before us here as the law, and it is a mistake that a jury or a member of a jury has a right to do as he pleases. He has not that right. He is bound as a good citizen, he is bound by the oath he has taken, he is bound by his conscience, to administer justice in this case according to the law of the land - not as he wishes it, not as he would have it, but as he finds it. He is under the law, restrained by the law, protected by the law, directed by the law, as much in the jury room as he is out of it.
Now, gentlemen, what is the history of this case? And I will say here that there may be an honest difference of opinion, as there undoubtedly is an honest difference of opinion, as to the propriety of this enactment. You may have your individual views. I may have my individual views. It may be that I would wish the law different from what it is. You may wish the law more stringent than we find it. So it is with every law. There is not a law on the statute books but what you will find an honest difference of opinion in reference to. As to the law in reference to capital punishment - the punishment visited for the gravest offenses committed against the law - men differ, and differ widely, but can it be held that because a juror differed as to the wisdom of that law that therefore a person arraigned before him on a charge of murder, with evidence proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, that that man should be acquitted because a juror doubted the wisdom of the law?
What is law? We say the law forbids this, or commands that - what do we mean by law? We have heard the learned advocate for the defendant in this case. With beautiful words, impassioned manner, and with speech so glowing as to send a thrill to every heart, he has pictured the beauties of liberty. But where is the essence of liberty - where is the evidence of it? Is it not in the great power vested in self-government? And where is the evidence of self-government save in the power to enact laws by the people for the government of all the people? And what is law, I ask you? The learned commentator says it is a rule of action prescribed by the supreme power of the state. And where do we find here the supreme power lodged? Where is sovereignty here? It reposes in the people. Then what is law? It is a rule prescribed by the people for the government of the people. It is not the will of a legislature, not the say-so of a body of men who are in power today and away tomorrow - that is not law. And so, when we say that there is on the statute books of the state of New Jersey a law that says, "No man shall commit blasphemy," that is the same as saying that the power of the people exercising the sovereignty reposed in them has declared that thus is the will of the people of the state of New Jersey.
What secures freedom of speech? What guarantees to a defendant the right to trial by jury? What gives the processes of court to compel the attendance of witnesses? What is it that prevents the courts from closing the mouth of his counsel? It is the law. And how long, gentlemen - think of it - could freedom of speech exist without law?
Now, gentlemen, does this law interfere with the freedom of speech? On that question I have an opinion delivered by probably one of the most eminent students of the Constitution that this country ever saw - a gentleman whose writings are found in every library, whose opinions are quoted almost as gospel; and he, passing on a case exactly similar to this, says: "The free and equal and undisturbed enjoyment of religious opinion, whatever it may be, and free and decent discussion on any religious subject is guaranteed and secured; but to revile with malicious and blasphemous contempt the religion professed by almost the whole community is an abuse of this right." And in that same case this law under discussion - and I so charge you - was held to be perfectly constitutional, and that it was no invasion of the rights of the citizen so far as freedom of speech was concerned.
Now, gentlemen, it is said that this is an obsolete law. This law is found first, so far as we are concerned, back in the colonial days of this state. Almost at the first formation of the state government it was enacted as a law. In 1844 the law was again adopted by the people as the rule of conduct with reference to this particular subject matter. In 1874 - not fourteen years ago - only a little over thirteen years ago - the people of the state of New Jersey represented in the legislature by their representatives, enacted this same law again as the rule of conduct that they prescribed for the government of all the people of this state. There it is.
And, gentlemen, I desire to call your attention again to this fact, that your duty as jurors is limited solely to passing upon the question of the existence of the law and the question of the violation of the law. With the wisdom of the enactment you have nothing to do. That power is vested in the people and exercised by them through the legislature. Since this very bill was formed, since this indictment was presented, the people of this state have assembled through their representatives at the state capital. The doors were open. This case had notoriety. If it was the desire and wish of the people that this law should be stricken from the statute book, there was the proper tribunal to appeal to, and power vested with ample jurisdiction over this matter.
But it is enough for us to know that it is the law, and being the law, we are bound to enforce it; and if this defendant has been proved to your satisfaction, beyond the reasonable doubt I have referred to, to have committed the crime of blasphemy, it is your duty to convict him. If he has not, it is your duty to acquit him. Let him be acquitted, or let him be convicted, because he has either violated, or has not violated, the law. Do not acquit him by violating the law yourself.
When the judge finished, silence fell. Everyone was astonished, amazed, stupefied with the plain bias and heat exhibited. The listening lawyers present glanced at each other and winked suspiciously. The spectators sat in open-mouthed wonder. The reporters for the New York dailies, used to court scenes and tyrannical rulings, were taken so far aback by the speech that they forgot to write. "Do not acquit him by violating the law yourselves!" What could a spineless juryman do after a command like that? The silence was broken by the judge, who commanded the clerk to swear the officers who were to have charge of the barn doors when the jury went out. Soon the jury chairs were empty, the spectators, lawyers, and judges scattered, subject to call when the jury returned. Opinions were about even on a verdict of acquittal; strong that it would be either acquittal or disagreement; few believed that conviction could follow after Colonel Ingersoll's speech. These good opinions simply proved that the people didn't know the kind of a jury they get up in Morristown. Being used to juries of men, however, this mistake was natural. Besides, the judge had supplied every quality of prejudice the jury lacked, and had driven them into a corner.
The jury retired just before eleven o'clock; just after twelve o'clock they sent word that they had agreed. The court was again in session, and the jury returned in single file, a dozen jackasses along a narrow path. Ranged in a row, they elected the foreman to speak for them. Mr. Jacob Ogden looked at the clerk and said, "Guilty!" The judge said, "Gentlemen you are discharged," and the twelve disappeared.
All through the trial Mr. Reynolds bore himself firmly. The anger against him was intense throughout the town, the only resident who spoke civilly to him being the clerk at the Mansion House. This, however, did not seem to cause him any anxiety, and he certainly was not visibly afraid of the court. He looked the jurymen square in the face, and the eyes that were cast down were not behind his spectacles.
When the jury pronounced their verdict, the prosecutor had gone to dinner and could not be found. After waiting for him awhile, the court took a recess to go to dinner, reassembled at one o'clock, but still no prosecutor. Becoming tired, Judge Childs assumed a judicial demeanor, and said sternly, "Charles B. Reynolds, stand up." Mr. Reynolds stood up. "You have been convicted," continued Mr. Childs, "of circulating blasphemous matter. Inasmuch as the law has for so long been unused, you may reasonably be expected to have been ignorant of it. And while ignorance of the law excuses no man from its penalties, the court feels bound to take the fact of your ignorance into consideration in passing sentence. The judgment of the court is that you pay a fine of twenty-five dollars, together with the costs of prosecution, and stand committed till paid."
This backdown was not altogether unexpected. When the verdict was rendered, Colonel Ingersoll at once moved for a new trial, but during the hunt for the prosecutor it was found that the two lay judges, Messrs. Quimby and Munson, were opposed to the punishment of heresy, and insisted upon a light fine as the penalty on the conviction secured, and a dismissal of the other indictment. The prosecutor was also willing that the matter be disposed of in that way. With the exception of Childs, the court felt, as a daily paper put it, willing to let up on Mr. Reynolds if Colonel Ingersoll would let up on the court. After his speech on Thursday, the Baptist and Methodist preachers of the place approached Colonel Ingersoll and told him they agreed with "every word he had said." A young lawyer, the son of the Presbyterian parson of the place, said the same. Though the ministers doubtless exaggerated their agreement, there was no doubt that the speech had had a great influence upon public sentiment. The judges knew of this, and when Colonel Ingersoll told them that if they tried Mr. Reynolds upon the other indictment, he would come down and convert the whole town, they thought the joke might have a serious side. Had Childs been left to himself, he would probably have imposed the full penalty of the law. But Colonel Ingersoll had softened public sentiment and won over the lay judges, and Mr. Reynolds escaped state prison.
When the bill of costs had been made out by the clerk of the court, with the fine added, Colonel Ingersoll made out his check for the amount - seventy-five dollars - and passed it over, remarking that if they wanted any more to let him know and he would send it to them. It is not likely that he will be called upon for more, however, for when the Morristown Jerseyman gets a chance to foot up a bill against a New York heretic, he is not apt to forget many items of importance. By the time the clerk had pocketed the check Prosecutor Cutler had returned from dinner, and in response to a question from the judge said he desired to enter a nolle prosequi as to the other indictment. The judge granted this, ordered Mr. Reynolds' bondsman, Mr. Edwin Worman, to be exonerated, and dismissed the court.
In the little speech to the "prisoner at the bar" it will be noticed that the judge ate the words he uttered in the charge. Before he had ascertained how the associate judges stood in the matter, Mr. Childs had been hot for conviction. The district attorney also wanted a conviction to the end that his descent might be made easy. The extraordinary lack of intelligence and manhood in the jury, and the extraordinary abundance of prejudice and venom in the judge, who sunk his office in that of the advocate, secured it. They had their way to that point, when they were overruled, and compelled to retreat. When Childs was charging the jury, therefore, the law was a live and breathing statute, the latest expression of the sovereign people, whose will it undoubtedly was that it should be enforced. When he came to sentence the prisoner, the law had become obsolete. It was one of the most rapid cases of dissolution known in the annals of jurisprudence. At a quarter before eleven o'clock, when he charged the jury, and again at a quarter past twelve o'clock, when the verdict was rendered, the law was remarkably healthy, and bade fair to live another two hundred years. At a quarter past one o'clock it had died of old age, and was buried in the cemetery of the past! Let us hope that Christian hate and prejudice will never again find a Gabriel to resurrect it.
Mr. Reynolds is now free from the toils of New Jersey savagery, and will resume his labors for intellectual liberty. He realizes that he has been very near to prison, and escaped only by the ability of his counsel. Nevertheless, he will again take the field with his tent, if the Liberals want him, and it is not likely that he will again be put in danger.
For his sacrifices and services in this case Colonel Ingersoll will be thanked by every true man and woman in the world. The others will probably mourn that he succeeded in keeping a heretic out of prison.
A Letter from Mr. Reynolds.
Dear Truth Seeker: Rejoicing with my loved ones at my return to our happy home - from which I have been absent since last December - I desire to return my grateful thanks to each and every one of the kind friends whose sympathy and aid sustained me during the annoyance, worry, and expense attendant on my persecution by the bigots of New Jersey.
To Col. R. G. Ingersoll, who, when I first informed him of my arrest in Boonton, generously promised to defend me, no words can express my gratitude or that of my wife and children. Never was promise more royally kept. His grand effort in behalf of liberty of speech will for all time continue to do wondrously effective work for Liberalism.
I am sure all the friends will heartily indorse the views of Dr. E. B. Foote in regard to the reimbursing of Colonel Ingersoll for the money expended, and I very highly appreciate the generous donation, by Dr. E. B. Foote and son, of the entire amount of the fine. But it is just like them - genuine Liberals - the study and happiness of their lives is the alleviation of human suffering and the promotion of liberty.
To attempt to correct or contradict the many silly and malicious misrepresentations in some secular and many religious papers would be useless. But I do desire that all Liberals should know the facts. Even according to the Jersey law I was not guilty of blasphemy. There is no low, improper, or obscene word in my pamphlet, "Blasphemy and the Bible," for the free distribution of which I was indicted. The pamphlet was written in self-defense, simply with the desire to prove that the Bible and those who insist that its every word is inspired of God were the real blasphemers; that the Bible was not a safe moral guide, nor the best saints of the Old Testament, indorsed by the New, persons whose example it was safe or creditable to follow.
I did not, in my Tent at Boonton or elsewhere, ever use abusive or blasphemous words, only in reading the Bible, always giving chapter and verse and carefully omitting the filthy and obscene words. The bitterly prejudiced bigot, Judge Childs, in his charge admitted:
Blasphemy is only committed by uttering such things in a scoffing and railing manner out of a reproachful disposition, as it were, in the speaker, rather than with any purpose of propagating his irreverent opinion. If he has merely asserted his disbelief in all the popular notions of Christianity, without attempting by impious and abusive or blasphemous remarks to wound the feelings of the whole Christian community, he will not have committed an offense of which the law can take notice.
It was because I did confine myself to the Bible and did not use any indecent language, but so fully and convincingly laid bare the facts, that Christians, realizing their inability to answer me or refute my assertions, endeavored to imprison me.
The pamphlet, "Blasphemy and the Bible," was simply a defense of my views and principles. The cartoon may or may not be in bad taste. I call attention to the fact that it was not referred to in the indictment under which I was tried.
The edition of "Blasphemy and the Bible" is exhausted, but a new edition has just been issued by The Truth Seeker Company. They will mail a copy to any address on receipt of price, ten cents.
C. B. Reynolds.
North Parma, N.Y., May 28, 1887.
June 11, 1887
The Case of Charles B. Reynolds.
I am glad that our friend Reynolds has been instrumental in bringing to light the infamous law on blasphemy in New Jersey, and the bigotry and hate of her people, without having to go to states prison for it. On the whole it has been a great victory. That great champion of mental freedom, Colonel Ingersoll, had a magnificent chance to lash the religiously conservative populace, and he did it well. It will have a healthy effect upon that community, the state, and the entire country. Further than that, he has shown himself to be the fearless man we who are personally acquainted with him believed him to be. Some may think that discretion is the better part of valor, and that he lacked that discretion, but whether so or not, he, with the prison doors open before him, dared to stand by his honest convictions, and this is glory enough for himself and his friends.
When the self-alleged servants of Jehovah call upon the sovereign will of the people to imprison an honest, fearless, liberty-loving man because he publishes views contrary to theirs, on the plea of wounded feelings, it is a blessing to the country and a safeguard to its free institutions that the farce of the whole thing has been forcibly pictured to the people at large, as it has been done in his recent trial through the will and the ability of Ingersoll the invincible. It can be nothing but a farce for a handful of fanatics to call upon the civil law to defend a supreme divinity against a human being.
We expected nothing better from that ignominious section of this so-called land of liberty than that the full penalty of the law would be his portion. But the backdown of the court is obviously significant. The narrow souls of New Jersey should come in contact with manhood and womanhood imbued with broader and more philanthropic ideas of personal and intellectual liberty.
What a judge! And yet, what better material could be expected from such a source? Mr. Childs's charge to the jury is believed to be without precedent for its shallow reasoning, the novitious significance of its interrogatories, its assumption of things not susceptible of proof, its colorable phases, its bias, and its deplorable lack of judicial dignity by falling to the argument and plea of an interested advocate of the cause of a bigoted people, who he claims instituted and still sustain such an unjust law.
Reynolds continued to lecture for free-thought after his trial in New Jersey; he had not been taught his lesson at all. In 1889, for six months, he lectured weekly to the members of the Liberal Club of Walla Walla, Washington, in Small's Opera House. In May 1892, he began to perform the same service for the Tacoma Secular Union, lecturing weekly. After becoming president of that club, he organized the first state convention of liberals in Washington. That convention occurred in 1890 and was the momentum needed for the formation of a statewide organization of Liberals. That group was active in many state/church separation areas and succeeded in abolishing paid chaplains in the Senate and House in Olympia, Washington. It also obtained a favorable decision from the state attorney-general which almost entirely excluded religious teaching and prayers in the public schools. On August 6, 1893, Reynolds inaugurated the Tacoma Secular Sunday-school. Until his death, he spoke regularly at the Secular Church of Portland, Oregon. Reynolds was a frequent contributor to the Boston Investigator, the New York Truth Seeker, and the Indiana Ironclad Age.
Reynolds died of concussion of the brain sustained when he fell from a swing in which he was sitting. The death occurred at his home in Seattle, Washington, on July 3, 1896.
cc: Credit goes to American Atheists for this article
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