The miscellaneous essays and occasional writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. Volume I[-III].
Hopkinson, Francis, 1737-1791.
Page  151

For the Pennsylvania Packet.*


HAVING observed with real concern, that our newspapers have for a long time past been filled with private contests and personal calumny, to the great abuse of the liberty of the press, and disho|nour of our city; I, who have ever been ambitious of devising something for the public good, never before devised or thought of by any schemer what|ever, set my wits to work to remedy this growing evil, and to restore our gazettes, advertisers, jour|nals, and packets to their original design, and make them the vehicles of intelligence, not the common sewers of scandal.

TO convince you that I am not altogether un|qualified for this purpose, you must know that I have had a tolerable education in the charity-school belonging to our university. My parents being Page  152 poor bound me to a scrivener. My master soon discovered in me an aptitude for business; and as I wrote a good hand, he took me from the menial labours of the kitchen to assist him in his office; where I engrossed deeds, leases, wills, &c. and af|ter a little practice, was able to do the chief part of his business for him.

WHEN I had completed my apprenticeship, I left the scrivener and set up for myself. I served as clerk in the offices of several successive mayors, aldermen, and justices of the peace—and, to my honour be it recorded, my employers frequently applied to my judgement in difficult cases—and I venture to say—but with all due deference—that my advice contributed not a little to support their worship's official reputation.

NOW for my project—which after much labo|rious study I have completed, and generously give to the public without any prospect of reward; save only the reputation of being the author of so ingenious and salutary a scheme.

LET there be a new court of justice established, under the name and stile of The High Court of Honour: To consist of twelve impartial and judi|cious men, annually elected by the freemen of the Page  153 state. In which election all persons of what degree or quality soever (slaves excepted) shall be en|titled to vote—strangers also excepted, who have not resided one year in the city or county where they would vote. This court when met shall chuse one of their body for president, and also appoint some suitable person to serve as clerk: and shall have jurisdiction in all matters of contro|versy between man and man, of what kind soever they be, provided no property real or personal shall come in question, so as to be affected by the final judgment of the said court. It shall deter|mine on differences in opinion—points of honour —ceremony—rank and precedence in all cases of affronts—flights—abuse—scandal, slander, and ca|lumny—and in all other matters of contest; ex|cept as before excepted. Nine judges shall make a quorum, and a majority of voices shall deter|mine the judgment of the court—and from their decision there shall be no appeal.

THE clerk shall keep a large bound book, to be entitled The Rascal's Record. In which shall be fairly entered, in alphabetical order, the names, occupations, and places of residence of those on whom the judgment of the court shall fall; which book shall at all times be open to inspection, on paying the clerk sixpence specie for every search, Page  154 and one shilling for a certified extract. And if after the establishment of this court, any person or persons shall presume to decide any point of honour, contest, or squabble, by duel, or by ap|peals to the public, in any newspaper, hand-bill, or pamphlet, such offence shall be deemed a con|tempt of the high court of honour: and the par|ty or parties so offending shall be rendered infa|mous, by having their names respectively entered in the Rascal's Record.

AND the form or process of the court shall be as follows—If any man hath cause of offence a|gainst another, he shall apply to the clerk of the court for a declaration. These declara|tions shall be fairly printed on good paper, with suitable blanks for the names of the parties, dates, &c. And the plaintiff applying shall pay eighteen pence for the blank and six pence for fill|ing it up, attesting it, and entering the action on the docket. And the party shall, in the presence of the clerk, sign the said declaration with his own hand; or if that cannot be, shall make his mark. After which the clerk shall number and file the said declaration.

ON notice from the clerk that such a declara|tion hath been filed, the judges shall meet and Page  155 agree on a time and place for hearing the cause; to which the accusers and accused shall be sum|moned to attend, with their respective witnesses. No council shall be admitted in this court; but the parties shall personally plead their own causes. After a full hearing, the court shall give their final sentence or decree. If judgment shall be against the accusee, his name, &c. shall be entered on the rascal's record, with a number, in a column for the purpose, referring to the number of the de|claration filed. But if the accuser shall fail to make good his charge or charges against the ac|cusee, his name, even the name of the accuser, shall be entered as aforesaid, on the rascal's re|cord. And thus shall all controversies be insti|tuted, conducted, and determined in the high court of honour.

AND the form of the declaration shall be as follows, viz.

KNOW ALL MEN, by these presents, that I A. B. of the city of Philadelphia—do announce, pronounce, attest, and declare, that my friend and fellow citizen C. D. of the same city—is a rogue, a rascal, a villain, a thief, and a scoundrel: that he is a tory, a traitor, a conspirator, and a rebel: That he is Page  156 a forestaller, a regrator, a monopolizer, a spe|culator, and a depreciator: That he is a back|biter, a slanderer, a calumniator, and a liar. That he is a mean, dirty, stinking, sniveling, sneaking, pimping, pocket-picking-d—d son of a bitch. And I do further declare, that all and every of the above appellations are intended, and ought to be taken, construed, and under|stood in the most opprobrious sense of the words.*

IN testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand at Philadelphia this — day of — in the year —.

NOW THE CONDITION of the above declara|tion is such, that if the aforesaid A. B. the ac|cuser, shall well and truly support, maintain, and verify before the judges of the high court of honour, any one or more of the aforesaid charges against his friend and fellow citizen C. D. accusee as aforesaid, then the said A. B. shall be saved harmless, and remain justified in his procedure. But and if the said A. B. shall fail to make proof as aforesaid, then he, the said A. B. doth, by these presents, submit, admit, and permit that his name, that is to say, the name of him the said A. B. ac|cuser Page  157 as aforesaid, shall be entered in the book of record of the said honourable court, called the rascal's record; there to remain from genera|tion to generation. World without end. Amen!

"SIGNED and attested the day and year afore|said." &c. &c. &c.

SUCH, Mr. Printer, are the out lines of my scheme; which I acknowledge may admit of con|siderable improvement. It would ill become me to expatiate on the many and great advantages that would accrue to my country from such an es|tablishment. How much bloodshed—how much inkshed, would be spared? How many difficult points of honour, and nice questions of ceremony would be judicially determined? How many pri|vate animosities would be checked in the first stage, and brought to issue before the blood be|came heated by argument and altercation? These sources of panegyric I leave to the judicious pens that will doubtless be employed hereafter, if my project should be adopted, in dissertations on the rights, limits, and advantages of the high court of honour.

I cannot, however, forbear pointing out one benefit that will arise from my project, which is, Page  158 that when a gentleman finds himself so disposed; he may vilify and abuse his friend and neigh|bour at the very reasonable expence of two shil|lings; whereas it costs the Lord knows what to get a column or two of scandal inserted in your paper: but modesty forbids my saying any thing more on the subject.


December 1780.