The historical, or Starting Part.
I have long since been of the opinion, that it was lawful and right in the eyes of God, for a man have more wives than one at a time; and I learned the doctrine from the Bible, as will appear from my third plea.
I have all along freely and frequently conversed on the subject, chiefly for talk sake, and sometimes for, and sometimes against it, but not always gave my opinion about it; and as matters have turned, I sincerely wish I never had given it all; nay, I have done all I could to reduce it to a private judgment only, which I should still be glad, if possible to do, so be the matter might settle so.
Yet I well remember to have heard church members give their opinions in favor of Polygamy, years ago; but never heard of anybody being offended at it – – – that I have not the least dream in my mind, that any could have the least reason to be offended,, though I should give my opinion about it, as a matter of simple right, while I found no fault with the laws, customs, fashions, or even opinions of my country about it; or wished for, or endeavored at no change in either – – – that it came to pass about a year before the church process began, I happened, while I was discoursing chiefly for talk sake, at sundry times and places, to give my opinion in favor of Polygamy, in plain words, not once thinking of an offense.
But that which made me more frequent in discoursing on the subject at this time, was chiefly these two things, viz. First, others being more than common inquisitive about it; and secondly, the Rev. Mr. Searles preached a very good sermon on family education and government, about this time, and in some part of the discourse, cited Mal. ii. 14,15. which he explained to prove against Polygamy.
Now those with whom I had lately been discoursing, began to pelt me about it, as if they had thereby gained a noble advantage over me. And this brought on the talk briefly again, and increased in me a fresh zeal for dispute; that I had indeed by this time got to be very apt to talk about it. Now at length one of the brethren of the church manifested to me some dissatisfaction about the doctrine of Polygamy; he also informed me that sundry of the brethren, and in particular that Mr. Robbins, was very much dissatisfied about it, and that Mr. Robbins was preparing to attack me (which I then understood by way of argument) to which I replied, that I was not afraid to undertake the argument publicly with him; but flopped and said that I had no interest at maintaining the doctrine, that I had not the least desire to disturb any body, nor wish to alter the opinions, laws or customs of my country; and seeing the doctrine of Polygamy had given offense, I was sorry I had ever said anything about it, and was willing to promise to say no more. And now I had sundry opportunities of discoursing with sundry members, and in particular with Mr. Robbins, to whom I made the same concessions, but Mr. Robbins told me my concessions would never do, and that I must retract it as principle of error, or could never be forgiven: to which I replied, that I could not, for I verily believed the principle was right, and that there were many things in Scripture and reason in favor of it; but did not want to disturb anybody, &c.
To make short of it, the process now soon began by Mr. Case, and all along in the first step, I continually made the foregoing concessions, adding, that I was willing to make them at any time and place he should choose, which offers I continually made to any members of the church I met with, on every suitable occasion. But it seems I could not give Mr. Case's satisfaction, for he proceeds to take the second step, at which I made the same concessions over again and added (by the assistance of the brethren that were present) some arguments, such as, though the doctrine of Polygamy may be wrong, yet, as it was a circumstantial thing, not plainly decided in the Bible, it was not right to take it up and condemn a man for thinking it lawful, anymore in the present case, then where Christians differ about circumstantial matters; such as keeping Saturday-night or Sabbath-day night as holy time and such like.
Now, though it was the opinion of three of the members, out of five that were present, that my concessions were sufficient, yet he told it to the church and called it heresy, as you may see in the complaint, which see in the result of the Council, where it is published at large.
About this time I applied to Major Pettibone and Mr. Ashel Humphry for advice, and they both told me that they did not like the principle, yet they judged my concessions were quite sufficient, and I found there were a considerable number in the church that were of their way of thinking, which gave me some hopes that when the church came to hear the matter I should be cleared.
Now at this first church meeting I asked the favor of employing Major Pettibone and Mr. Humphry as an assisting counsel, which was granted me.
We then told the church that I had made the foregoing concessions from the first, which Mr. Case did then publicly own that I have ever done. I likewise told the church that I was ready to make the same concessions now. And, to shorten the narrative, I ever made the same concessions at every trial through the whole, on every suitable occasion. Now at this first meeting I delivered the first plea.
The altercations of this meeting, were not (as I hoped) about a settlement, but about a Council chiefly, which I was unwilling to agree to in hopes of a settlement. But, it seems, a major part had very different aim than that of settling, viz. my condemnation, unless I should retract in the most rigid and expressed manner, as will doubtless appear in the sequel. This meeting was adjourned without doing anything. At the second meeting held by adjournment, I delivered my second plea, and there were much the same altercations as at this first meeting, and no business done but what respected the calling of a council; which, when I perceived the church were determined to have one, I was really willing (seeing no hopes of accommodating without was left) to join with them to make it mutual.
I expected to have the Council called in the usual method which had been adapted in the church; which was a Council of individuals, I agreed therefore, but on finding my mistake (for they had now changed their custom) though I had nominated two, I yet flung up and told them I should not proceed on that plan. But notwithstanding they went on and chose the following Rev. gentlemen and their messengers; the Rev. Messrs, Brindsmaid, Middlefield, Washington, Pitkin, Farmington; Benedict, Middlefield, Keep, Sheffield and Perry, Hawrington.
The meeting then adjourned for the council.
In this interim, viewing it as a superstitious thing that this matter of mine was taken up and carried on the length it was, and the church changing their usual custom about councils, in the midst of my cause; and the Stockbridge affair, and the sundry such like things bearing hard in my mind, turned my thoughts on the subject, in Matthew xii. 12. From which I formed that solemn discourse, that is at the end of the pleas.
This discourse I delivered at the house of Major Pettibone, in the evening, to a respectable number of the inhabitants of Norfolk, and a few church members, in hopes to open the eyes of the people. Now in delivering this discourse I assumed no other prerogatives than those of a free citizen, I was therefore careful to avoid every ceremony that might give disgust.
The time when this discourse was delivered was between this second adjournment and the expected counsel.
Now when the time came, the expected counsel all spelled except Mr. keep and his messenger, at which disappointment the church appeared very much chagrined.
We now renewed a request for such a Council as had ever before been the usage of this church, viz. a council of individuals: alleging that as as there never had been any advisory Council, in this church, on any other plan, it was unreasonable to change their custom or law, when there was a cause in trial: that it was contrary to the received maxims of all courts of justice in the world, and particularly unreasonable, to make new law, or change a custom in the middle of a trial: and many such arguments, and earnestly requesting such a Council, but they refused to grant it.
Mr. Robbins proposed to call Mr. keep an messenger and sundry Rev. gentleman accidentally at his house and for the church to lay the matter before them, for their advice, in as much as a council had failed, but the church would not agree to call them.
It was next put to the church whether they would now carry the matter to issue, and they voted in the affirmative. We then, on our part, manifested that we had more to say in vindication, and somewhat that contained new matter, and that are pleas necessarily, would take up considerable time.
The church on hearing this fell to altercating , some saying they had heard enough and too much time had been spent already about it; others, that if they must hear me again, I must not be allowed to say a single word but what was entirely new, and others, that it was well nigh impossible to keep from saying something old along with new, and that it would be unfair to break the chain of discourse for a little matter of old, and such like.
But we alleged that it was but reasonable they should hear us patiently although some old were mixed with our new; that we saw some brethren present and sisters and spectators, that had not before attended the meetings, all who would want to hear what have been said before; it would therefore be just to go over the whole again.
The church in consideration of these things (the time being gone) perceived the necessity of another adjournment, and seeing that they must adjourn, whether they had not better call another council, which they resolved in the affirmative, but first voted to rescind the former vote, and then proceeded to call as counselors those very gentlemen they have formerly objected against, for having given their judgments extra.
Every gentleman was voted in with eagerness; and without any regard to scarce anything but their being near at hand and likely to attend.
The Council now chosen consisted of the following Rev. gentleman and their messengers, viz. Messers, Farrand, Canaan, Smith, Sharon, Mills, Torringford, Perry, Harwington, and Keep, Sheffield. The church then adjourned to Tuesday, December 12, 1780.
This counsel arrived at the time and met the church at the meeting house.
We laid before the Council the same arguments we had laid before the church last meeting; wherein we supposed I was injured, in not being allowed such a Council and was ever before granted in this church; and also the reasons we had to accept against them, as being improperly called, and that most if not all of them had given their judgments extra: in hopes that they would have been candid enough to have advised the church to call such a counsel as we had requested, or at least to have advised the church to some others than themselves: But it seems that they paid little or no regard to any thing we said of this nature; saying, that the church had arrived to call, and that they had a right to hear and advise them, without any regard to those things, and that they only wanted to know whether the church still requested their advice; which when voted that they did, ended all the altercations about them.
The Council then asked me if I would join with the church and asking their advice, and I answered in the negative. They then asked if I designed to lay before them my pleas, and I answered, if it might lay me under no future disadvantage, and if they chose to hear them that they might be under better advantage to advise the church, I was willing (not withstanding I could not consistently ask their advice) to lay my part of the cause before them; and on their assuring me that it should not or could not be any future disadvantage and that they chose to hear it, I then concluded to give them my pleas, for which purpose (it being now night) the Council and church adjourned to the house of Mr. R. Robbins, where, after manifesting my concessions that I had ever made, and was willing still to make, and after Major Pettybone had spoken for me in concise extempore discourse, I then delivered to them my first, second and third plea, with the answers to sundry objections. But they, not withstanding, and an artful, plausible (as it appears to me) uncandid way of arguing, advised the church to condemn me, as may be seen in the result which they drew up the next day in the forenoon, and sometime in the afternoon read to the church; and the church and consequence (being called upon in their presence) condemned to me at once without any more to do.
N.B. The above result is published next after my pleas, with remarks on it, &c.