The Worlds Famous Orations. Great Britain: I. (7101777). 1906.
II. At His Trial for High Treason
Sir Henry Vane (161362)
Born in 1612, died in 1662; came to Massachusetts in 1635; Governor of Massachusetts 16361637; returned to England and entered Parliament in 1640; made a Commissioner to negotiate the Solemn League and Covenant with Scotland in 1643; member of Council of State in 1649; imprisoned for an attack on the Protectorate of Cromwell in 1656; arrested and executed on a charge of treason in 1660.
I AM1 so far satisfied in my conscience and understanding that it neither is nor can be treason, either against the law of nature, or the law of the land, either malum per se, or malum prohibitum; that on the contrary, it is the duty I owed to God the Universal King, and to his majesty that now is, and to the Church and people of God in these nations, and to the innocent blood of all that have been slain in this quarrel. Nothing, it seems, will now serve, unless by the condemnation passed upon my person, they be rendered to posterity murderers and rebels, and that upon record in a court of justice in Westminster Hall. And this would inevitably have followed if I had voluntarily given up this cause, without asserting their and my innocency; by which I should have pulled that blood upon my own head, which now I am sure lies at the door of others, and in particular of those that knowingly and precipitately shall imbrue their hands in my innocent blood, under whatsoever form or pretext of justice.
My case is evidently new and unusual, that which never happened before; wherein there is not only much of God and of His glory, but all that is dear and of true value to all the good people in these three nations. And, as I have said, it can not be treason against the law of nature since the duties of the subjects in relation to their sovereigns and superiors, from the highest to the lowest, are owned and conscientiously practised and yielded by those that are the asserters of this cause.
Nor can it be treason within the statute of Edward III., since, besides, what hath been said of no king in possession, and of being under powers regnant, and kings de facto, as also of the fact in its own nature, and the evidence as to overt acts pretended, it is very plain it can not possibly fall within the purview of that statute. For this case, thus circumstantiated, as before declared, is no act of any private person, of his own head, as that statute intends; nor in relation to the king there meant, that is presumed to be in the exercise of his royal authority, in conjunction with the law and the two houses of Parliament, if they be sitting, as the fundamental constitutions of the government do require.
My lords, if I have been free and plain with you in this matter, I beg your pardon; for it concerns me to be so, and something more than ordinarily urgent, where both my estate and life are in such eminent peril; nay, more than my life, the concerns of thousands of lives are in it, not only of those that are in their graves already, but of all posterity in time to come. Had nothing been in it but the care to preserve my own life, I needed not have stayed in England, but might have taken my opportunity to withdraw myself into foreign parts, to provide for my own safety. Nor needed I to have been put upon pleading, as now I am, for an arrest of judgment; but might have watched upon advantages that were visible enough to me, in the managing of my trial, if I had consulted only the preservation of my life or estate.
No, my lords, I have otherwise learned Christ, than to fear them that can but kill the body, and have no more that they can do. I have also taken notice, in the little reading that I have had of history, how glorious the very heathen have rendered their names to posterity in the contempt they have showed of deathwhen the laying down of their lives has appeared to be their dutyfrom the love which they have owed to their country.
Note 1. Addressed to the Court of Kings Bench before which Vane, charged with high treason, was arraigned on June 2, 1662. Found guilty four days later, he was executed on June 14. In all things, says Pepys, he appeared the most resolved man that ever died in that manner. Abridged. [back]