Review of the Testimony Taken Before The Second Inquest On The Body of John Robbins, Who was shot in Portland, June 2d, 1855; together with Remarks on the Report of the "Investigating Committee," appointed by Mayor Dow and the Aldermen, June 9th, 1855 (n.d. , n.p. [Portland, Me.], anon.)
P. 2: The hatred with which the Maine Law party are pursued, and the jealousy with which they are watched, result from their hatred and jealousy of their opponents, when in power, and their contemptuous and bitter persecution of them when out of power. In so excited a state of public feeling, neither side is wholly right, and neither is wholly wrong. . . .To view with entire impartiality a question which, like this of the liquor law, has divided among themselves houses, and families, and churches, is too much to expect from one living and moving among the very scenes. . . . But one thing can be done, and it is attempted here. Ascertained facts can be narrated; [The references in the following pages are to the pamphlet published by Bearce, Starbird, Rich & Co., which is a verbatim report of the evidence, as given at the second inquest.] and logical deductions, drawn from such facts, must necessarily command the attention of thinking men.
Many years ago there was begun, in this
State, an agitation of the question of intemperance, which has
never ceased to the present day; but which has, on the contrary,
grown in importance and interest with each succeeding year. Commencing
under the name of reform, it has acquired the semblance, at least,
of tyranny. In its inception, a labor of love, it has, by a paradoxical
but invariable rule of the progress of reform, come finally to
be sustained by a spirit of hostility, and has taken the form
of a fierce and unrelenting warfare. The pioneers of the agitation
were doubtless sincere, and still are so to a certain extent,
but their zeal and artlessness have been taken advantage of by
cunning and unscrupulous politicians, whose only desire was to
climb into office, and who have at last inoculated the whole party
with their own selfishness, and lust of power, and uncharitableness.
. . . . . .
P. 3: Clubs were formed for electioneering purposes, organizations were carefully arranged throughout the State, and always with an eye single to the main point in issue. After many years of violent agitation, both public and secret, the party commenced their political maneuvers, and by subserving the interests of politicians, and attaching themselves sometimes to one party and sometimes to another [Democratic Governor John Hubbard and Whig Mayor of Portland Neal Dow], passed by a legislature "calling itself democratic," [speech of Hon. Shepard Carey, at Augusta, June 21, 1855] the first Maine Law, having previously, in the same year , elected Neal Dow Mayor of Portland.
During that memorable year, no exertion
was spared by the Mayor to give, both to the letter and to the
spirit of the Maine Law, a thorough trial. The public money was
paid out to spies and informers, the city was overrun with pimps
and self-constituted police, who bored into boxes and bales of
goods, and searched for liquor in every conceivable place from
a dwelling house to a coffin, until the tenure of property, and
the safety of goods passing through the city, was rendered so
uncertain, as to excite, in the minds of many, apprehensions of
injury to the business of the city. The only result of all this
was the famous statistics of Neal Dow [showing declines in crime,
insanity, etc.], which have done more than any other thing to
deceive the public on the subject of the Maine Law.
. . . . . .
P. 4: The great and fatal mistake of the enactment is, that it overshoots its mark. In order to abate a nuisance [tippling shops and drinking houses], it is not necessary to burn the whole neighborhood.
. . . . . .
By forcing, and skilful maneuvring, they [the Maine Law partisans] managed to make the Maine Law synonymous with Temperance; and by thus manufacturing public opinion, shamed some and intimidated others into voting for their candidates. So when, in 1853, the efficacy of the law was found to have been impaired by various judicial decisions, it was patched up and re-enacted in this State, the principle [prohibition] being fully reasserted. The Maine Law faction, by its strictly faithful organization, and its unwavering zeal, rapidly increased in power; and by joining itself to one or the other of the old parties and adopting their tenets, while it adhered firmly to its own peculiar idea, soon took the position of the dominant party. From the party's adopting, as leaders, intriguers discarded from the other ranks, who sacrificed their former political principles for its support, results the violent and bitter hatred which has always characterised both the advocates of the Maine Law and their opponents.
On no question, since 1812, have our people
been so intensely excited as on this. The peremptoriness of the
Maine Law party, who would allow of no compromise, and admit no
conservative men, has driven every one to take either one side
or the other, and they have pursued with the most indiscriminate
abuse all whom their intemperate fanaticism kept from their ranks.
. . .Alternate victories and defeats kept [p.5] alive the spirit
of the battle; until at last the Maine Law party, by engrafting
the principles of the Know Nothings on their original creed, made
a complete sweep, and remained undisputed masters of the field.
It is one thing to conquer, and another thing to make a profitable
use of victory. The exultant victors of 1854 [statewide results],
like their brethren in a neighboring State [Massachusetts], by
indulging their personal hatred and their selfish ambition, and
glutting themselves on the first occasion of a feast, have done
more harm to their cause than they will readily repair. By their
unsparing proscription [the 1855 Maine Law] they have struck a
blow which will recoil upon themselves. The have sown the dragon's
teeth, and, to their dismay, are surrounded by armed men.
. . . . . .
. . .The [Portland mayoral] contest was, as usual, intensely exciting, and the exultation of the successful party extravagant; while the bitterness of the hostile forces was increased more by this than any previous event. The Municipal Court of Portland had been abolished, and a Police Court, with increased jurisdiction, created. . . . This was in order to get rid of Judge Williams, who, though neither his ability nor his fairness had ever been [p.6] questioned, was not sufficiently enthusiastic in favor of the Maine Law. The choice of the present police judge, to fill the place left vacant, was the most unfortunate selection that could have been made. He was and is the editor and part-owner of a violent and unscrupulous party newspaper, and one that has been accused of perfidious practices under his management; he had long been an active politician, and was noted for his strong personal prejudices. Whatever may have been his other qualifications, he certainly was not "learned in the law," having seen no practice at the bar for many years. Next after Neal Dow, the present incumbent was the last man, from every sense of duty and expediency, to be appointed to so responsible a situation.
Things were in this state on the first of May, A. D. 1855. The public mind was universally excited, in favor of, or in opposition to the Maine Law. . . .One party was determined to enforce it with the utmost rigor, and the other party to resist or evade it, while at the same time they chafed under its restrictions.
On the evening of May 31st, the Board of Aldermen met as usual. Alderman Joseph Ring having been absent at the last meeting, and having heard that some liquors had arrived for the city agency, while he knew not only that no agent had been appointed, but that the majority of the Board had expressed themselves in opposition to the measure, asked the Mayor in regard to it. The following is the Portland Advertiser's report of that conversation, as sworn to at the trial of Neal Dow, at the City Hall, on June 6, 1855.
"At a meeting of the Board of Aldermen, of which I am one, on Thursday evening last, we were deliberating about a City Agency, and I remarked, 'Mr. Mayor, how came those liquors here?' (I asked because I had been absent one evening.) Said he, 'I ordered them here,' or 'I got them here,' or something of that kind. Then I asked him by what authority he got them. He stated, not any authority as he knew of. He said there was an agent from New York recommended to him, who said he had pure liquors and he told him to send them. I asked what amount there was. He relied $1600 worth. I remarked, 'Then you got them on your own hook,' and his reply was, 'I suppose so.' I asked him if he thought he had made a good speculation out of it. I think he said, 'I [p.7] think I shall, or 'I don't know but I shall' I am not positive which. I asked him then, why they were not seized. His reply was, they were seized, every bit of them, and carried up to City Hall as soon as they came here. That was all there was as regards that."
On the same evening, May 31st, an unsuccessful attempt was made to pass an order, putting $2000 at the disposal of the Mayor, for the purpose of enforcing the Maine Law. . . .The morning papers of June 1st, published, as usual, the proceedings of the City Government on May 31st; and on June 2d, two of them published a statement embodying the above conversation. In the afternoon of June 2d, at about three o'clock, a complaint was made before the judge of the Police Court, and a warrant issued for the arrest of Dow and the seizure of the liquors. The liquors were, at this moment, liable to seizure, because they were not marked according to law. [according to Sect. 15: No such liquors owned by any city, town or plantation, or kept by any agent of any city, town or plantation . . . shall be protected against seizure and forfeiture . . . unless all the casks and vessels in which they are contained shall be at all times plainly and conspicuously marked with the name of such city, town or plantation and of its agent. . . ] The complainants demanded the warrant, in order that they might ensure a speedy seizure. Judge Carter refused the request, on the ground that if a Deputy Marshall had it, the fee for service would be saved to the city! When the officer did come, the judge detained him half an hour, on the ground that there should be an officer in attendance while the Court was in session! The officer, who was a creature of Dow's, then went to the Marshal's [p.8] office, and delayed some fifteen or twenty minutes. He then saw Dr. Dow and Mr. Carleton and had some conversation with them. [testimony of Oren Ring, p. 50] On leaving them he went to the agency, where he again delayed under the pretence of asking advice about the seizure. In the meantime, the Aldermen had been convened in great haste. They approved the agent's bond, and accepted the liquors by the advice of Judge Carter, who was present. [testimony of Joseph Ring, p. 110, 101]
was known to the public that Henry Carter was judge of the Police
Court; that the warrant had been refused to the complainants,
and given to a man devoted to Dow's interests; that a delay had
been made, during which this officer had informally consulted
Dow and some of his friends, and the Board of Aldermen had met.
All this evinced a reckless disregard of the public feeling, which
was known to exist. After this shameful trick, it is not at all
surprising that when Deputy Ring came out of the agency, between
four and five o'clock, over an hour since the issue of the warrant,
he saw an "excited crowd of two or three hundred," and
when he told them he had not seized the liquors, some of them
swore they should come out. . . . Nor is it at all wonderful that a crowd
should be there in the evening, to see what was about to be done.
. . .Had Mr. Neal Dow known one-tenth part as much law as he [p.9]
pretends to, he would have seen that his own statue had hedged
in and confined the sale of liquor, with so many artificial restrictions,
and had made so many little omissions conclusive proof of intent
to sell contrary to law, that even he, with all his boasted acumen,
had fallen into his own snare; and had he possessed one-tenth
part of the discretion he ought to have, he would have submitted
quietly to the arrest and seizure, pleaded "not guilty,"
and appealed from sentence, had it been rendered. . . .Justice
would have taken its course, and the public mind would have been
restored to quiet. No one pretends that Neal Dow intended those
liquors for any other than a legal sale, as he considered it;
that is, a sale by the city. But with a technical violation of
the law, he is distinctly chargeable. He should have submitted
to the consequences of his ill-timed joking, instead of braving
out, regardless of consequences, what neither law nor justice
would have supported in him.
. . . . . .
Let us now take up the narration of the transactions of the evening of June 2d. A small crowd had collected during the afternoon, which gradually diminished until after tea time, when it began steadily to increase. At eight o'clock the throwing of stones commenced, the crowd having become quite large. The first notice [disputed the claim made by Neal Dow's statement that Sheriff Baker gave notice; "He had no special insignia of office, by which he might be recognized; he did not tell who he was; he did not try to arrest any one; he did not require any aid; he did not attract any notice from the crowd. A few moments after, the Mayor came down, with his retinue, into the street; and this was the first time the notice of the crowd was officially drawn to the fact that they were unlawfully assembled."] the people, there assembled, had, that they [p.10] were violating the law, and were considered as a riotous assemblage, was at about ten o'clock, from Mayor Dow and Alderman Carleton, who led a file of soldiers, armed with muskets, down from the City Hall in front of the Agency door. Having come to a halt, Mr. Dow and the Sheriff ordered them in the name of the State to disperse, or they would be fired upon. [testimony of Capt. Green, p.11; testimony of Sheriff Baker, p. 57] No attention was paid by the crowd to this menace, and Mr. Dow then ordered the soldiers to fire. [Mr. Carleton pretends that the company was not to fire at this time. He says it was arranged at the City Hall, that no order to fire should be given without the concurrence of two magistrates; but he adds that he does not know that this was understood by the company. (Carleton, pp. 95, 96) . . .That Capt. Green understood no such thing is evident from his testimony. The only reason for his not obeying the order to fire was, that the idea shocked his sense of humanity. (Capt. Green, p. 11).] This order was not obeyed, and the crowd continued to pelt the military with stones until they left the spot, some in company with two men who had been hit with stones, some of their own accord, and some with Mayor Dow, and at his order. But no attempt was made to arrest a single person. No warning was given except the command to disperse, and the threat that they would be fired upon.
Three obvious comments present themselves at this stage of the narration. First; the presence of Messrs. Dow and Carleton, two of the most vindictive and prominent of their party, was ill calculated to allay an excitement created by their own wrongful acts, or to calm the fury of a crowd, composed mostly of their personal and political opponents. An order to disperse, coming from them, was not likely to be pacifically received, nor promptly obeyed.
Second; Dow stood, before the eyes of the crowd, in the light of a criminal, defending the very fruits of his crime, possessing the very property that had just been taken from him by legal process, and claiming to direct the very officer who held him, or ought to have held him, under arrest. No wonder that the suspicions, that had already been excited, and the indignation that had been aroused, were increased instead of being diminished. [p.11] His intention to evade the law could not have been more plainly expressed.
Third; this was the first appreciable notice
given to the crowd, that they were engaged in or abetting unlawful
. . . . . . .
To return to the narrative. The soldiers refused to fire. Many, from various causes, left the ranks, leaving a small remnant of the original force, to bear the brunt of the battle. Mr. Dow led these men down into Middle-street, where he met the Rifle Guards, who had previously been ordered to arms . . . and addressed them these remarkable words: "Men, when I give the order to fire, I shall give it through your captain. When you get it from him, I want every man of you to mark your man. We will see whether mob law shall rule here, or whether your chief magistrate shall. He then led them into the armory of the Light Guards, took the muskets of that company against the will, and without the consent [testimony of Winship, p. 8; Captain Green, p.11] of those who were liable for their safe keeping, and called on the Light Guards to [p.12] surrender their ammunition, loaded those guns that were not before loaded, invited bystanders to join the ranks of the Rifle Guards (Winship, p. 8; Capt. Green, p. 11; Capt. Roberts, p. 12] and accompanied by two aldermen [Carleton, p. 93; Brooks, p. 92] led them down into Middle-street, to that door of the agency, which was on the opposite side of the building from the crowd and out of their sight.
In the meantime the crowd, emboldened by the precipitate flight of the mayor and his troops, became more and more audacious. Stones flew thicker and faster, and at twenty minutes before eleven the first aggressive act, beyond the throwing of stones, was committed. "A person," says Marshal Barrows (p.32) "seeming to be the leader, and using very exciting language," tried to unbolt the door on the inside, by introducing his arm through the window of the door, from which the shutter had been purposely taken, (Oren Ring, p.56) A shot was fired at him by the deputy, and another by the marshal, and in a moment, the whole timid herd, frightened by the appearance of one man's head through the door, began to fire off their pistols as fast as ever they could, without the least attempt being made to arrest any rioter. (Oren Ring, pp.52, 53) This was continued from twenty to twenty-five minutes.
One remark occurs here too obviously to
be omitted. The first aggressive act was met by a deadly shot,
when an arrest might easily have been made.
. . . . . . .
P. 13: We left the police firing pistols. Just at this juncture, the door on Middle-street was opened, and admission given to the Rifle Guards. They stepped forward a few feet, and fired in sections of four. (Capt. Roberts, p. 12; Carleton, p. 93). They fired upon a dense crowd, from a dark room, without a word of warning, (Leighton, p. 7; Ware, p.27) and through a door nearly closed, which prevented the crowd from seeing, and at the same time sheltered the military from the missiles of the mob. The Mayor led some men down [into the] cellar to fire through the gratings. (Capt. Roberts, p. 12) Whether this was done or not does not appear (Field, p. 42). The intention has never been denied. After the door was burst open by the mob, the military retreated into Middle-street, (Brooks, p. 91, Dow's Message) from whence they fired into Congress-street, through the agency. The crowd immediately dispersed. (Baker, pp. 58, 59) The Rifle Guards were then divided into squads of five or six, and began to patrol about the city hall, making arrests. The first arrest was made after the firing of musketry. . . .Information was brought to Mr. Dow, that a man had been killed, and he, after inquiring if it was irish [sic], said he would send some one to see about it. (Clay, p.4; Sloan, p. 79) No farther efforts were made to discover the number of killed and wounded. (Brooks, p. 91)
The deceased man was John Robbins, of Deer Isle, Me. He was second mate of the barque Louisa Eaton, and had come to the city on the day of the riot. Early in the evening he paid a visit at the house of Mrs. Catherine Fuller, where he staid until the fire-bells called him out. Finding it to be a false alarm, he returned, and remained in conversation with Mrs. Fuller and her sister, to whom he is said to have been engaged to be married. (Jane Hudson, p. 40; Catherine Fuller, p. 40). He left the second time at a quarter past ten. . . .As he was going home for the night he was attracted to the city hall. . . . Having arrived there, the excitement of danger was too great a temptation, and he immediately placed himself in the front rank . . . . The only act, in which he was seen to be engaged, was to kick the door. For this he is stigmatized as an old offender, a fugitive from justice, and a ringleader in a mob, which had been in contemplation for more than a month! The disposition of the deceased was eminently peaceful and good natured; he was a handsome man, finely shaped and about six feet tall. He was shot through the chest, and died in a moment. He was the only person killed in the riot, though seven other persons were wounded. (Young, p. 105) One of these was probably the man whom the Marshal heard cheering the crowd on, and whom he shot with his revolver; for he was shot before Robbins, and carried off by some of the crowd. The two persons are entirely distinct. (Dela, p. 86)
Such is a simple plain account of this melancholy affair, gathered entirely from the evidence given before the jury, empanelled by coroner Wendell P. Smith. A coroner had previously held an inquest over the body; but it was done in a hurried and illegal manner, so that the inquest was no inquest after all. The verdict was loose and vague, and gave no satisfaction. The people of Portland were indignant at this course of concealment and trickery, that had signalized the whole proceedings; and at a public meeting, held on June 4th, demanded a legal investigation [p.15] of the whole affair. A committee was appointed, of whom one or more were constantly in attendance at the second inquest. The testimony was given under oath, the witnesses were liable for perjury, if they swore falsely. No better evidence could have been obtained; and as if aware of this fact, Mr. Dow took care to have distinguished counsel present during the whole time.