RESPUBLICA v. WEIDLE - 2 U.S. 88 (1781)
U.S. Supreme Court
RESPUBLICA v. WEIDLE, 2 U.S. 88 (1781)
2 U.S. 88 (Dall.)
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
November Sessions, 1781
This was an indictment for misprision of Treason, in the defendant's speaking the following words 'that he had lived six years in London, and nine years in Ireland; and never lived happier in his life, than he had done under the English government; and that the King of England is our King, and
will be yours.' The words proved, by the evidence on the trial, to have been spoken were, that 'Weedle said he had lived six years in England, and nine in Ireland, and that he lived well, and that is was not so as people took it in this country; and he further said, the King would become King, and that the witness thought so too.' There was, however, some attempt to shew that he was intoxicated at the time of speaking the offensive words.
The indictment was founded on the 4th Sect. of the Act of Assembly (1 Vol. Dall. Edit. p. 728) and charged all the misprisions of treason there enumerated. The words are 'That if any person or persons within this State shall attempt to convey intelligence to the enemies of this State, or the United States of America, or by publicly and deliberately speaking or writing against our public defence; or shall maliciously and advisedly endeavour to excite the people to resist the Governmant of this Commonwealth, or persuade them to return to a dependence upon the Crown of Great Britain; or shall maliciously and advisedly terrify, or discourage, the people from enlisting into the service of the Commonwealth; or shall stir up, excite or raise tumults, disorders, or insurrections in the State, or dispose them to favor the enemy; or oppose and endeavour to prevent the measures carrying on in support of the freedom and independence of the said United States; every such person, being thereof legally convicted by the evidence of two or more credible witnesses, shall be adjudged guilty of misprision of treason, &c.'
Bradford, Attorney General, having closed the testimony for the prosecution, observed that the act of Assembly was couched in general and comprehensive terms; and that the words proved to have been spoken by the defendant were clearly within the sense and meaning of the words laid in the indictment. To shew the heinous nature of the offence, he cited Fost. 200. 201. 4 Bl. C: 117; and he insisted that drunkenness, in itself a vice, could not be an excuse for the perpetration of a crime.
Yeates, for the defendant, premised that the law on which the indictment arose, was new, and could only be justified by the crisis of American affairs at the time of passing it, when it was necessary to seal the lips of the disaffected. The necessity no longer existed; and policy would admit, what legal authorities required, that, as a penal law, it should be strictly construed. The part of the section of the act, to which the evidence applies, is then materially incorrect: For, it is not sense in the present form of wording and pointing; and can only be rendered intelligible by adding some words, and by omitting the semicolon, and the disjunctive 'or.' By that correction, it would read thus: 'If any person, by publicly and deliberately speaking [2 U.S. 88, 90]