[Ads-l] Investigate quote? "better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent person be convicted"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 22 05:48:28 UTC 2015


Here are two pertinent quotations from Fred's Yale Book of Quotations.
(The quotations from Franklin and Voltaire that I am omitting are also
relevant.)

[Begin excerpt]
John Fortescue
English judge, ca. 1394ā€“ca. 1476

I should, indeed, prefer twenty guilty men to escape death through
mercy, than one innocent to be condemned unjustly.

De Laudibus Legum Angliae ch. 27 (ca. 1470)
See Blackstone 7; Benjamin Franklin 37; Voltaire 3
[End excerpt]

[Begin excerpt]
William Blackstone
English jurist, 1723ā€“1780

All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for
the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than
that one innocent suffer.

Commentaries on the Laws of England bk. 4, ch. 27
(1769)
See Fortescue 1; Benjamin Franklin 37; Voltaire 3
[End excerpt]

I can see several other instances that conform to the adage template,
but the ratio specified varies. Early English Books Online has an
instance dated 1681 that states: "better that a Thousand persons that
are Guilty should escape, than that one Innocent person should die".

I only have access to openly released material in the EEBO database.
So I cannot evaluate some matches. There are also multiple matches in
the 1700s in Google Books.

Year: 1681
Title: The tryal of William Viscount Stafford for high treason in
conspiring the death of the King, the extirpation of the Protestant
religion. . .
Author: Stafford, William Howard, Viscount, 1614-1680.
Publication: Dublin : Reprinted by Jos. Ray ... and are to be sold by S.
Helsham, Joh. North, Jos. Howes and the rest of the booksellers of Dublin, 1681.
Sub-section: The Fifth Day.
Database: Early English Books Online

[Begin excerpt from EEBO text]
Lord Stafford.

My Lords, I hear a strange Position, I never heard the like before in
my life, and 'tis what he said, if I am in the wrong I beg your
Lordships pardon and his too. He told your Lordships the Reason why
the Law should be so, was because else a great many of those persons
that have already been Executed must have been acknowledged unjustly
cut off and put to Death, that is an Argument I hope will not weigh
with your Lordships or any body, for 'tis better that a Thousand
persons that are Guilty should escape, than that one Innocent person
should die, much more then that it should not be declared, that such a
Judgment was not well given.
[End excerpt]

Garson

On Tue, Jul 21, 2015 at 4:01 PM, Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at ix.netcom.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Investigate quote?  "better that ten guilty persons escape
>               than one innocent person be convicted"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> FWIW, this sounds like an extension of the Biblical story where Abraham
> convinces Jehovah to not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there are 10 good
> people there.
>
> http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0118.htm#17
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham#Abraham.27s_plea
>
> Benjamin Barrett
> Formerly of Seattle, WA
>
> Learn Ainu! https://sites.google.com/site/aynuitak1/home
>
>> Joel Berson <mailto:berson at ATT.NET>
>> 21 July 2015 at 11:40
>>
>> What is known about "it is better that ten guilty persons be found
>> innocent=
>> than one innocent person be convicted"?
>>
>>
>> The following is from 1693:
>>
>>
>> "It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that
>> one inn=
>> ocent person should be condemned."
>>
>>
>> Allegedly from Increase Mather, Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil
>> Spirits=
>> (Boston: Benjamin Harris, 1693), p. 66.=C2=A0 I have not checked.
>>
>>
>> Joel
>>
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>>
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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