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THE ELIOT SCHOOL CASE.
On Monday, the fourteenth day of March last, the public were much excited by the announcement that there had been an open rebellion in the Eliot School, one of the largest grammar schools in Boston, and that all the Catholic children had refused to obey the established regulations of the School Committee in regard to the reading of the Holy Scriptures and the recital of the Ten Commandments. Over three hundred pupils peremptorily refused to obey these regulations, and were therefore dismissed from the school.
On the following Wednesday, a complaint was made in the police court by William Wall, the father of one of the pupils, against McLaurin F. Cooke, the second or sub-master of the school, charging him with an assault and battery upon his boy, Thomas J. Wall. The trial was protracted for a number of days, and necessarily postponed on account of the public business, until the twenty-fifth of March, when this argument was addressed to the court on behalf of the defendant. The following facts, which appeared at the trial, are referred to in the debate.
On Sunday, the 6th of March, there was a meeting in a basement room of St. Mary's Church, a church of the Jesuits, on Endicott Street, at which a few of the Eliot School children, and some of the parents, were present. What took place did not fully appear, although it was admitted that some directions were given to the children by Father Wiget, the priest, in regard to repeating the Ten Commandments in school. On the Monday morning following the boy, Thomas J. Wall, refused to join with the other scholars in repeating the Ten Commandments, saying that he did not know them. He was reminded by the teacher that he had always been in the habit of repeating them before, but still persisted in his denial. He was then taken to Mr. Mason, the Principal of the school, who told him that he must not attend school until his father came with him, and the matter was inquired into. On Wednesday the father brought back his boy, and gave directions that he should repeat the commandments, as the others did, or that he should be punished severely. On Thursday he came again and asked if his son had obeyed the regulations, and was told that he would not be required to do so until the next Monday. He then repeated the order to punish the boy severely, if he refused, and gave very particular directions not to dismiss him from school, if he disobeyed, but to keep him and punish him severely. On the Sunday following the children, about nine hundred in number, who attended St. Mary's Church, were all collected and instructed by Father Wiget, that they must not repeat the Ten Commandments, or join in the Lord's Prayer, and he threatened them with exposure from the altar, if they disobeyed him. On Monday there was a general disturbance and disorder in the different school-rooms during the usual reading of the Bible. The boys scraped with their feet, and made much disturbance by whistling and muttering; they afterwards all refused to say the Lord's Prayer, or recite the Ten Commandments. It was testified that the boy Wall was the most active, and appeared to be the one to whom the others looked as foremost. He was called to the teacher's desk and examined, and then was whipped for his misconduct. It was claimed that the boy was severely whipped, but the evidence of a physician who was called by him, showed that the whipping was not severe, and that all marks or effects of it disappeared the next day.
The boy and his father were called as witnesses, and among other things, the boy said that a brass medal silver washed was given to him by Father Wiget the night before he was called as a witness. This took place at the Jesuit's house, but the boy said he did not know why the medal was given him, and could not recollect any thing said to him at the interview, except “to go home to his supper.” The defence was placed upon the ground, that the regulations of the school were proper, and that there was a planned and concerted rebellion to overthrow the discipline of the school, and set the master's authority at defiance, and that such misconduct not only justified, but required a much more severe punishment than was given. The counsel for the prosecution took the ground that the school regulations were illegal and unconstitutional, and thus the great question in the cause was raised.
May it please your Honor :
The spectacle which is presented to-day in this court, is indeed novel and strange. A worthy teacher of one of our principal public schools, who is bound by our wise and benevolent laws to impart the great gifts of free instruction in piety and morality and learning to his pupils, is arraigned as a criminal-arraigned by one of his own pupils at the bar of this court as a criminal because he has attempted to do his duty-because he has obeyed that ancient, wise and beneficent law, which in words of simple and familiar beauty enjoined upon him to “impress upon the minds of the children committed to his care, those principles of piety, justice, love of country, humanity and universal benevolence, which are the basis of a Republican government, and tend to secure the blessings of liberty.”
He stands indeed before the bar of this court arraigned as a criminal, but he stands there in proud humility, proud of his position, conscious that in the execution of the delicate and important trusts committed to him, he has done his duty boldly and manfully-confident that the laws will protect him-confident that the hearts and the minds of his fellow-citizens will sustain him gratefully, because in the hour of peril and of duty he was true to the laws.
But this is not the whole picture. In the dark back ground are seen his accusers; the real criminals, who have usurped the place and the name of accusers. And who are they? Some are seen and some are unseen, some are known and some are unknown, some are seen in full view, while some are only seen as doubtful and mysterious shadows; but the brief, strange record of this case tells its own significant story.
For years we have enjoyed the highest blessing which even a free government can bestow upon its citizens—the blessing of education, unbought, unsold-free to all, common to all, without distinction of birth, or sect or race. Under the wise and parental system of our public schools, our children were taught together as one free, and happy, and united family. The children of the emigrant and the alien sat side by side with the son of the free-born American—they learned from the same bookthey shared the same instruction, profited by the same culture
—and they left the school together to enter upon the broad highway of life with the same lights of learning behind them, the same stars of hope and promise before them, free and equal under the laws.
This was the story.of yesterday; but to-day we find a sad and mournful and ominous change. Suddenly—at the absolute will of one man-by the exercise of a dark and dangerous, a fearfully dangerous power, hundreds of children of tender years, children who were living in the full enjoyment of liberty and of learning, are not only arrayed in open rebellion against our established regulations, and in open violation of our laws, but are deliberately taught that they are to sacrifice all the benefits and blessings of free education, and are led out by their priest from the protecting roof of the school-house to the temptations, the dissipations and crimes of the streets. This course is even now justified and persevered in; the same influences are still at work in our schools, and we are told to-day by the advocate of those deluded children, that this dangerous and unscrupulous priest was in the right, that the laws under which my client justifies himself, were rightly denounced from the altar, were properly set at defiance by the pupils, and are destructive of the liberty of conscience, intolerant, illegal, unconstitutional and void.
Who is this priest who comes here from a foreign land to instruct us in our laws ? For whom, and on whose behalf, is this charge of intolerance—this charge that we are violating the sacred liberty of conscience—brought against the people and the laws of Massachusetts ? Can it be that one of the Society of Jesuits is the accuser ? I wish to discuss this case as calmly as I may. I wish to say nothing to arouse feelings which cannot easily be allayed; but there are memories which we can never banish from heart or brain; there are records on earth and in heaven which can never be blotted out; there are pages of history written in letters of fire, and of blood; and the man who leads forth his flock of children, and boldly arrays. them in open defiance of our established laws, who audaciously and ungratefully assails our established regulations as intolerant and unchristian, and as violating the sacred liberty of conscience, would do well to look behind him, as well as before —would do well to pause and reflect if he is in a position which authorizes such grave accusations, or justifies such violence.
But I must discuss this case with more of method and order, and I will not answer this attack upon our laws and our institutions until I have shown how material it is to the decision of this cause—how vital and deadly a blow is aimed at our institutions, our liberties, and our laws.
My client is charged with an unlawful assault upon one of his pupils. There was a pretence originally made, that he had been guilty of needless and unreasonable severity in enforcing the established regulation of the school, but that pretence has faded—and faded away into utter insignificance.
The evidence of the boy himself, and of the physician who saw him, showed that the punishment was neither unusual nor severe.
The evidence of the boy himself showed that it was necessary he should be punished, unless all hopes of obedience and control in that school were to be abandoned forever. But what can be said now, after we have proved by witness upon witness —that gross violation of the discipline of the school—the indecent and riotous conduct of the children—their wilful and openly concerted rebellion against the masters—that planned and arranged conspiracy among the scholars, that they would unite together and overthrow the authority of the teachers, and the regulations of the school ?
What justification can be offered for all this, unless indeed the novel rule is to be established in Massachusetts that a Jesuit can dictate from Endicott Street as to the management of our public schools. Unless his authority is to be superior to our laws;—unless he can set up his will as supreme ;-unless his nod can justify any disobedience, any disrespect, any violence, on the part of the scholars;—then it was the plain duty of the