1835

From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:

In the month of November 1834, a correspondent who signed himself “THE PEOPLE” contributed a critical article to the “Nova Scotian” dealing with some of the complaints that were contained in the lengthy report of the Grand Jury. (Long afterwards, it was learned that the name of the contributor was George Thompson, prominent Haligonian.)

This writer declared that the burden of County taxes fell mostly upon the shoulders of the middle classes who lived in the Peninsula of Halifax. Many outside districts paid nothing, yet they sent their poor, their debtors and their criminals to be lodged in Halifax jails and workhouses.

In the “Nova Scotian” for January 1st, 1835, there appeared from the same correspondent, another lengthy and more daring letter which must have made long-suffering persons gasp with astonishment and admiration.

The writer noted that about one-half of the respectable middle class people had, in recent months, been summoned or sued for the amount of their taxes, while some wealthy inhabitants of Halifax went unmolested for years. Furthermore, “the people were entirely in the dark in regard to the collection and appropriation of their monies”.

“During the last 30 years”, continued the convincing correspondent, “the Magistracy and Police have, by one stratagem or other, taken from the pockets of the people, in overtaxation, fines, etc., a sum that would exceed in the gross amount £30,000; and I am prepared to prove my assertions”.

These and other censorious statements, resulted in the Editor being prosecuted for libel. The indictment charged Joseph Howe with being “a disseminator of sedition and dangerous to the peace of society”. The trial was set for March 2nd.

Howe prepared his own case. Having previously served on the Grand Jury, he was well acquainted with conditions. In February, a writer in the “Acadian Recorder” called upon the community to furnish Mr. Howe with any information that might be of value in his defence. Next morning, Howe had difficulty getting into his Granville Street newspaper office. Even the passageway was crammed with people.

When the trial opened on the first Monday in March, the Courtroom in Province House, where now is located the Legislative Library, was crowded to suffocation.

Howe spoke for six hours and a quarter. The Halifax “Times” described his defence as being “eloquent, impressive and caustic enlivened often with witty sallies, which proved at times too exciting for even the gravity of the Bench”.

After a general survey of the situation, Howe centred his attacks on officials at the old Court House near the Ferry, which he ironically called “the brick Temple”.

In alluding to specific examples of negligence, Howe’s thoughts turned to our side of the harbor. He charged that in the populous and thriving districts of Musquodoboit, Chezzetcook and Preston, no taxes had been collected since 1821, or else were unaccounted for.

As it was nearly six o’clock when Howe finished, Chief Justice Brenton Halliburton suggested that adjournment be made. Mr. Murdoch remonstrated. It would give the other side the advantage of the night for more preparation.

After a consultation with the Jury Foreman, the Court decided to continue, but by this time the excitement of the crowd could not be restrained, making it very difficult to preserve order. Thereupon adjournment was made.

When they reconvened at 10 o’clock on Tuesday, Attorney General S. G. W. Archibald addressed the Court, followed by the Chief Justice, who explained the law of libel to the Jury. He thought the letter was a libel, and told the Jury it was their duty “to state by your verdict that it is libelous”. However, he added that they were not bound by his opinion.

Then the Jury retired. In ten minutes they were back. When Foreman Charles J. Hill had again led the panel into the jury box, and stood facing the Chief Justice, there was a breathless silence …

“NOT GUILTY”

A voluminous shorthand report of this famous trial afterwards filled eight pages of the “Nova Scotian”. The enthusiasm of Howe’s admirers at the conclusion is. thus described:

On leaving the Province Building, Mr. Howe was borne by the populace to his home, amidst deafening acclamations. The people kept holiday that day and the next. Musical parties paraded the streets at night. All the sleds in Town were turned out in procession with banners; and all ranks and classes seemed to join in felicitations on the triumph of the Press. The crowds were briefly addressed by Mr. Howe from his window, who besought them to keep the peace — to enjoy the triumph in social intercourse round their own firesides; and to teach their children the names of the TWELVE MEN, who had established the FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.

The twelve jurymen were Charles J. Hill, Robert Story, Edward Pryor, junior, James H. Reynolds, David Hall, Edward Greenwood, John Wellner, Robert Lawson, Archibald McDonald, Samuel Mitchell, Thomas A. Bauer and Duncan McQueen.