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calculated to produce the effect which has already been suggested, namely, to fix the attention of the party on the nature of the duty he is about to undertake. The form of words, while they should distinctly indicate the obligation, should be pronounced in a manner that is calculated to make a suitable impression. With us there is a further ceremony, that of holding up the right hand. The meaning and origin of this custom are not without uncertainty. It has been said to be a mere acknowledgement of identity, that is, that the person coming to swear, is the same person that is called by name;
thus it would be a branch of the same process, by which a prisoner, arraigned capitally, is required to hold
up hand as an admission that he is the person intended in the indictment. Another opinion, and we think the better one, is, that it is the appropriate form of invocation, and so intended to mark the appeal which is contained in the conclusion of the declaration, So help me God.' A form elsewhere adopted is to lay one hand on the Bible, and afterwards to kiss the book.
It is certain that the essence of the matter is in the asseveration, and not at all in the form; yet a practical man will not hesitate to conform to the general opinion, notwithstanding that he may wish and endeavour to enlighten it. So great is the influence of form, that men will tell you they do not consider the obligation to be any thing, unless the oath is administered in the manner which their religious tenets require; and the cases are not few, in which, while the obligation of an oath properly administered is acknowledged to be binding, so that the conscience of the party would not permit him to violate it, yet for the very purpose of speaking an untruth without the guilt of perjury, the true form has been evaded, and a poor evasion made to reconcile falsehood with self-satisfaction. We have known
We have known a multitude of cases where persons, to whom an oath was administered without tendering them the Bible to be kissed, have declared that they were not sworn, and might therefore vary a little from the truth for the benefit of a friend. We have been aware that even a Bible, unless it had the symbol of the cross, was not always considered a genuine book, the kiss of which bound the conscience of the party; and we have heard, and credit the assertion, that persons have pretended to kiss the book, but in fact kissed their own hand only, and felt that this sub
terfuge prevented their subsequent falsehood “from laying perjury upon their souls'! Such acts may be considered the
! very extravagance of folly, if they are not set down to positive and wilful guilt. But if they occur, if they frequently occur, if they occur with impunity, what is required of those on whom the manners and morals of society depend? Teach better principles,' it will be said. But your pupils are either self-willed and cannot learn, or your instructions are counteracted by adverse doctrines. Something must be done.
In the great majority of cases such folly is not supposable. The inattention paid to an oath arises from the want of an imposing ceremony in propounding it. The form of an oath is therefore no inconsiderable thing. Whatever we may think of its importance, we must accommodate ourselves to the condition of those who are around us, and form our rules so as to produce the best effect.
It answers no purpose to quarrel with human nature. We must take mankind as we find them; and until they can be instructed and elevated, we must use the means which are level to their capacity.
An intelligent and conscientious man, called in the course of a public trial to give testimony in a court of justice, and feeling the vast importance to the whole of the concerns of the community, that truth should always be told, and thereby right be done, might well say,
• A cause like this is its own sacrament;
And infinite connexion.' From such a man, oath or no oath, the truth would flow as from a fountain pure and transparent. They who heard his testimony would have that confidence in his veracity, which the weight of his character was calculated to inspire, and might as securely trust his word as his bond. But other men are called to the same task, not perhaps decidedly bad men, but such as have a doubtful character, or one that is not yet known to the jury; or they are men from whom resistance to truth may be expected, unless their perverse inclination is restrained, and the temptation, that might lead them astray, counteracted by a force which they dare not resist.
One general rule mușt prevail. There can be no discrimina
tion, no respect of persons, no departure from common form. The wisdom of the law demands an oath. Let then this same wisdom be cautious, lest by the frequency of its demand it wear off the impression from its seal. Let it be further careful that it does not so hurry the work that the impression be illegible or defaced. Let this duty be considered a solemn thing, and be performed decently and in order.
The administration of justice is of such immense importance to a people, that no means for its security can be neglected without folly bordering on madness. Among our people there is the most perfect confidence, that no man may be despoiled by an edict of mere arbitrary power. Life, liberty, and property, and the dearer jewel, reputation, we hold by the tenure of established laws; and it is not so much our boast that we hold them by this wise and perfect tenure, as our wonder that intelligent beings in any country can consent to put them on any less permanent security. But these laws are to be administered through the agency of men having surely no means of applying them with correctness, but by the information derived from human testimony. There is in this testimony, in its best condition, an inherent imperfection, that often leaves the mind of the most careful and conscientious hearer in a state of painful uncertainty. It is only by the light of truth, by the accurate developement of facts and circumstances, that human judgment can reach the ultimate object which it professes to pursue ; and it is obvious, that if it be deluded by false and flickering lights, if it be misled by the artificial and wavering flame which corruption may generate, instead of being guided by the steady star which should direct its course, the wildest and wickedest injustice will be the inevitable penalty. It would be in vain then, to extol our free institutions. Of what consequence is it to an innocent sufferer, whether his ruin be accomplished by the passion of a tyrant or the wilful perjury of a suborned and profligate witness ? Of what value is it, that the forms of impartial justice have been carefully observed, and the intention of a magistrate to do right has been steadily manifested, if these forms are perverted and this intention is deceived by a corruption of the very means that are provided for their security ? Without a most scrupulous regard to veracity, all the advantages of our institutions over the
government of the most arbitrary despot are but little else than a mockery. Possibly this remark is but a variation of the common maxim, that it is only by the virtue and intelligence of the people that a republic can prosper, but it brings the vagueness of the general sentiment to a definite and destinct point. It should awaken the public feeling. It should rouse the attention and consideration of the community. The public sentiment, which after all, if not the only, is the most efficient sanction of laws and director of manners, should become more sensitive ; and the watchmen on the walls of our political fortress should sound an alarm at the most distant movement of a foe, not the less to be regarded because his aim is to sap the foundations instead of assailing the battlements of our freedom.
We do not think there should be a delay of the just expressions of a proper feeling on this subject until specific and particular cases arise, and individual delinquency can be identified. The common course of the law can reach such instances. We have already endeavoured to show that the actual mischief is vastly beyond what the law can grasp; and the effort of the patriot should be directed rather to the prevention of the evil than to its punishment.
If the law against perjury must have exact and positive proof of overt acts, and be certain of the time, the place, and the circumstances, public opinion, dealing with the subject in a wider range, can establish a higher standard of practical morality, may denounce the intention which yet fails in its means of deception, and prevent by its rebuke that practical and injurious discoloration which results from the use of a doubtful
a phraseology,-- that 'paltering in a double sense,' which, while it reconciles the speaker to the possible truth of his words, imposes on the hearer a meaning, which he who utters them would not dare decidedly to avow.
Observation should be had of that miserable and degraded class, now happily, by the force of an enlightened public opinion, gradually diminishing, whose intemperate habits cloud their intellect, and render obtuse all moral perceptions.
An habitual drunkard is no fit subject for an oath; and although there might be great difficulty in excluding by law the testimony of such persons, yet what they say, even in their soberest moments, should be received with the most careful allowances.
The habit of intemperance, to a greater or less degree, deprives human character of some of its most valuable properties, not for the time merely, during which the excitement continues, but for all time and under the most favorable subsequent circumstances. To say nothing of that moral obliquity, which is to be expected from the degraded being who voluntarily deprives himself of reason, there is a consequent feebleness of judgment, a sickly and vicious imagination, and an imbecility of accurate recollection, which are painfully perceptible to every one, who is placed in a situation where the testimony of such men is ordinarily adduced; and it is among the most destructive consequences of the vice of which they are guilty, and one, we think, which has not yet been sufficiently regarded, that the poison which has destroyed their own characters is thus thrown off to enter into and contaminate the very aliment of society. It should encourage those, who are concerned in the great work of promoting reformation in this respect, that they are thereby purifying our courts of justice, and thus advancing all those most important interests, which it is the business of society
The subject assumes a higher character in the eye of the moralist, than even of the patriot. Better, it would seem to him, to abolish all oaths, all form of sacrament, all legalized appeal to the Deity in mere civil concerns, than to multiply occasions for the gross profanation of his name, and accumulate the fearful and debasing crimes which are the consequence. But it is enough to state this, without enlarging upon it. A kind Providence has placed within our reach the remedy for this evil, as well as for others to which we are exposed. We find this remedy in our institutions, in the education of our people, in the diffusion of knowledge, in the care and watchfulness of those who are called to give direction to public feeling and public manners. There is a force in
a them, which can control the downward tendency of the rash, the inconsiderate, and the deluded. Let us resort to them. Let us do what we may to bring the evil to light, certain that it can flourish only under the covert of darkness, certain that the brightness of knowledge will blast it, certain that when the intellectual and moral faculties of the community are converged upon it, it will wither and decay.