RESPUBLICA v. DE LONGCHAMPS - 1 U.S. 111 (1784)
U.S. Supreme Court
RESPUBLICA v. DE LONGCHAMPS, 1 U.S. 111 (1784)
1 U.S. 111 (Dall.)
Court of Oyer and Terminer, at Philadelphia
October Sessions, 1784
Charles Julian De Longchamps, commonly called the Chevalier De Longchamps, was indicted, that 'he on the 17th of May, 1784, in the dwelling-house of his Excellency the French Minister Plenipotentiary, in the presence of Francis Barbe Marbois, unlawfully and insolently did threaten and menace bodily harm and violence to the person of the said Francis Barbe Marbois, he being Consul General of France to the United States, Consul for the State of Pennsylvania, Secretary of the French Legation &c. resident in the house aforesaid, and under the protection of the law of nations and this Commonwealth.' And that 'afterwards, to wit on the 19th of May in the public street &c. he the said Charles Julian de Longchamps unlawfully, premeditatedly and violently, in and upon the person of the said Francis Barbe Marbois under the protection of the laws of nations, and in the peace of this Commonwealth, then and there being, an assault did make, and him the said Francis Barbe Marbois unlawfully and violently did strike and otherwise &c. in violation of the laws of nations, against the peace and dignity of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.' To these charges the defendant pleaded not guilty.
The evidence, in support of the first Court, was, that on the 17th of May, De Longchamps went to the house of the Minister of France, and after some conversation with Monsieur Marbois, was heard to exclaim in a loud and menacing tone, 'Je vous deshonnerera, Policon, Coquin', addressing himself to that gentleman. That the noise being heard by the Minister, he repaired to the room from which it issued, and that in his presence the defendant repeated the insult offered to Monsieur Marbois in nearly the same terms.
In support of the second Court, it appeared, that De Longchamps and Monsieur Marbois, having met in Market Street, near the Coffee House, entered into a long conversation, in the course of which, the latter said that he would complain to the civil authority, and the former replied, 'you are a Blackguard.' The witnesses generally deposed that De Longchamps struck the cane of Monsieur Marbois,
before that gentleman used any violent gestures, or even appeared incensed; but that as soon as the stroke was given, Monsieur Marbois employed his stick with great severity, til the spectators interfered and separated the parties. One of the witnesses, indeed, said, that previously to engaging with their canes, he observed the two gentlemen, at the same instant, lay their hands on each others shoulders, in a manner so gentle, that he, who had heard it was customary among the French to part with mutual falutations, imagined a ceremony of that kind was about to take place, and was surprized to see De Longchamps step back, and strike the cane of Monsieur Marbois.
On the part of the defendant, evidence was produced of his having served with honour in the French armies, and his commission of Sub- Brigadier in the dragoons of Noailles, was read. It appeared that the occasion of his calling on Monsieur Marbois, was to obtain authentications of these, and some other papers relative to his family, his rank in France, and his military promotions, in order to refute several publications, which had been made in the newspapers, injurious to his character and pretensions. The refusal of Monsieur Marbois to grant the authentications required, was the ground of De Longchamps' resentment, and the immediate cause of his menaces at the Minister's house.
With respect to the assault, one witness (a Frenchman) swore that he saw Monsieur Marbois give the first blow, and his Excellencey the President of the State, testified, that Monsieur Marbois, having complained to him of the insult received in the Minister's house, he sent a message to De Longchamps, requesting to see him; that the defendant readily attended, when his Excellency explained his reasons for apprehending, that he meditated some personal violence upon Monsieur Marbois, and requested him to pledge his parol of honour, that he would prosecute the matter no farther. This he declined in polite, but positive terms; when his Excellency proposed to Monsieur Marbois that the Chevalier should be bound over for his good behaviour; but that gentleman would not accede to the proposal.
Sergeant and Vannost, for the defendant, contended, that the expressions laid in the first part of the indictment, were too equivocal to be construed into menaces of corporal harm. 'I will dishonour you', is a sentence that conveys more than one signification; and the threat would have been fully accomplished, had the Chevalier descended to any of those very libellous publications, with which his own character had been asperfed. The established maxim, that words ought to be taken in their mildest sense, operates, therefore, in favour of the defendant; and, at all events, that they do not amount to an assault, and are not the subject of an Indictment, are principles incontrovertibly established. 3 Bl. Com. 20. Finch L. 202. 4 Inst. 108. They insisted, that the President offered Monsieur Marbois the only security which the law will allow on such occasions, and which would effectually have restrained any future violence intended [1 U.S. 111, 113]