Amendment I (Petition and Assembly)

[Volume 5, Page 206]

Document 18

Pennsylvania v. Morrison

1 Addison 274 Pa. 1795

These men were indicted for having, on 18th August, 1794, unlawfully, riotously, and routously assembled together, to disturb the peace, and, in Market Street in Pittsburgh, raised a pole or standard, called a liberty-pole, in defiance of the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, and of the United States, and as an indignity and insult to the honourable James Ross, Jasper Yeates, and William Bradford, Esquires, commissioners on behalf of the United States of America, and the honourable Thomas McKean and William Irwin, Esquires, commissioners on behalf of the state of Pennsylvania, to confer with the citizens of the counties west of the Allegheny mountains; to the great disturbance of the peace, and to the ill example of others.

Woods, for the defendants. These men acted under force, as those had done, who went from Pittsburgh to the meeting at Braddock's-Field. They had no view to oppose the government. Many did not sign the terms of amnesty, because they supposed themselves innocent. It was not the intention of the defendants to oppose the laws, but to save the town from violence.

President. Thomas White must be acquitted: there is no evidence against him. John McWilliams has signed the amnesty.

You have no evidence of any constraint from a mob from the country, but in the declarations of the defendants themselves. This is not like the case of Braddock's Field, where five or six thousand men were assembled, and threatened the town. There must be first some evidence, that violence was threatened, and danger existed, to the town, before they can found any excuse for their conduct, on this ground.

Pole-raising was a notorious symptom of dissatisfaction, and the exhibition of this, in the only part of this country, where government was supposed to have strength, must have made an impression very unfavourable to the whole country, promoted violence in the people here, and induced force on the part of government.

All the evidence of their acting under duress, is their saying so. It is, at least, as probable, that this was a cover for their real motives, an opposition to the civil authority. Why did not these men sign the amnesty, when almost every man besides in the town signed it? They surely refrained not from a consciousness of innocence. It is somewhat singular, if danger then existed, that the only men in this town anxious for its safety, were men of little or no property in it; and that then all the men of property were against this measure. When there was real danger, all the town went to Braddock's-Field.

The act of raising a pole in the street is itself unlawful, independent of any other ill intention. The probability is, that the intention was an unlawful opposition to the government, [Volume 5, Page 207] and that the excuse was feigned, to cover their real designs.

Verdict guilty, except as to White and McWilliams.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendment I (Petition and Assembly), Document 18
The University of Chicago Press