1856 Insanity As A Defense

The Trial of Charles B. Huntington, spelled Huntingdon by The New York Times, is interesting because it was one of the first trials where insanity was introduced as a defense. Drs. C.R. Gilman and Willard Parker, were called to testify on behalf of the accused. With 27 indictments from the grand jury, Mr. Huntington was charged with forgery, duping a half million dollars or more from Wall Street Investors. His defense counsel, James T. Brady and John A. Bryan, admitted his guilt but stated that he suffered from “Moral Insanity,” which was “an insanity developed in reference to the moral nature, rather than the purely intellectual processes.” The defense went on to state that, “Whether the intellect may be generally intact and yet the affections, emotions, or will be impaired, is a question about which learned investigators differ. But none of those who deserve or enjoy any reputation doubt that insanity-as a physical disease of the brain-may be manifested, exclusively, in developments affecting the moral part of our nature.” (1)

The two expert witnesses, Alienists, an old term for modern-day Psychiatrists, examined Mr. Huntington and stated that he suffered from Monomania, a term that is no longer used, but in today’s terms might be compared to Obsessive Compulsive Behavior, which is basically an obsession with one idea, thing or subject. The Prosecution for the State of New York, District Attorney A. Oakey Hall, with William Curtis Noyes, rejected this line of defense saying that Mr. Huntington was a career criminal. Elisha S. Capron, City Judge of New York City Court, presided over the trial. The jurors were: Charles H. Groves, Morris L. Samuel, William Holme, John Nicholson, George Lazarus, Robert T. Newcomb, Henry Pincus, Joseph Cristadoro, William H. Kipp, William Wood, William H. Dayton, and James P. Kinsey. They found Mr. Huntington guilty of forgery and he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Included below are the links to many of the original newspaper accounts. They are quite lengthy. The descriptions of people and their actions in “Mr. Huntingdon’s Effects Under The Hammer” and “More Insanity” are very entertaining. Some of the words and dollar amounts used in these articles were illegible and some I simply didn’t understand in which case, you will see a question mark next to the word or dollar amount.

NEW-YORK CITY. Mr. Huntingdon’s Effects Under The Hammer.
The costly collection of Dresden China vases, Parian marble groups and statuettes, ormolu ornaments, bad pictures with ponderous gilt frames, immense pier glasses, elegantly carved rosewood furniture, beautiful service of plate, general ginercrackery?, and a considerable quantity of household goods, with which MR. HUNTINGDON (that celebrated financier who forgot prudence in success, and consequently found himself suddenly stowed away one fine morning in a cell in the Tombs) had crammed his late residence, No. 86 East Twenty-second-street, were sold in an auction yesterday by HENRY H. LEEDS. The notice of the sale attracted a large crowd of people. Everybody seemed anxious to obtain a souvenir of the distinguished though fallen operator. The natural consequence of this was a very brisk competition, especially for the merely ornamental articles. The crowd was always greater in the parlors and drawing-rooms than in the bed-rooms or kitchen. The moment the auctioneer announced his intention to proceed to sell the goods in one of the former a horrific rush to it occurred, and it was crammed almost to suffocation before he could reach the door. The throng crushed, and pushed, and elbowed, and shouldered, and squeezed one another in utter defence of all the rules of polite intercourse and conventional gallantry. In one corner you might observe an old lady of remarkable rotundity-(that being a very frequent characteristic of the female contingent of the assemblage)-flattened against the wall by a lank young gentleman with very red eyes, her bonnet crushed to one side and her face red as a lobster, in the vain struggle to push him aside. Elsewhere, a slim female of dubious age and very long nose, on which her gold spectacles were set ludierously awry, would request, in a tone of studied calmness, the stout gentleman tramping on her toes, to move off, and, in a loud voice, express her astonishment that people who had no business there would insist on forcing themselves in places where they were not wanted. Here a weak-minded gentleman, prompted in all his bids by his wife and daughter, who held him a close prisoner, would writhe about in torment when the solid crowd, in its irregular heavings, caused his nearest neighbors to trample on his corns. There, a careworn-looking young man, just about to commence housekeeping, would be thrust against a young lady who had been separated in the universal crush from her “pa” or “ma,” and would apologize with a sickly smile? for his inevitable trespass. Here, a thin-legged swell in pursuit of the marble Venuses in puris naturalibus for which the brilliant HUNTINGDON was supposed to have an excessive penchant, would cast contemptuous glances through his quizzing glass on the heavy? old bachelor beside him, who made a bid for everything, and would have had no hesitation, if HUNTINGDON had been hung, in paying $1,000 for the rope. In another corner a stern dowager, in black, would figet about at every shove she got, and anxiously slip? her hand on her pocket to find if her porte-morale had been abstracted.

The sale began at 10 1/2 o’clock and lasted until six. The articles of least use brought comparatively the highest prices. A towel rack, for instance, sold at $1 121/2?, a China foot tub for $4, a pair of excellent window-shades for 62 1/2? cents each, and an admirable velvet carpet for $1 321/2? cents a yard, whereas an ormolu vase and shad was knocked down at $35, and a parlor suite of furniture, consisting of a sofa, a tete-a-tete, two arm and four parlor chairs, at $390. A carved open-work center table with marble top, went at $90, a rosewood etagere at $250, a rosewood encoignure? at $70, a mantel glass at $120, a bronze gas chandelier at $49, an indifferent painting of “The Deer by the Lake,” at $75, a small rosewood bookcase by BELTES, richly carved, at $160, and a pair of China spittoons at $330?…”
To read the rest of this article: NEW-YORK CITY. Mr. Huntingdon’s Effects Under The Hammer, November 5, 1856, Published November 6, 1856

Trial of Charles B. Huntingdon for Forgery. Extraordinary Phase of the Huntingdon Trial. – Our criminal report, this morning, opens one of the most extraordinary chapters in the whole history of criminal jurisprudence. The counsel of HUNTINGDON, on trial for forgery, concede the fact of his guilt,–acknowledge everything alleged in the indictment,–exaggerate to the greatest possible extent the criminal acts of their client,–and swell the amount of his forged paper to the incredible sum of Twenty Millions of Dollars,–for the purpose of setting up the plea of–Insanity!

We publish a verbatim report of the speech of the prisoner’s counsel in entering upon this novel and most extraordinary line of defence. It has evidently been prepared with care, and is the result of deliberate and protracted consultation on the part of the eminent lawyers who are acting for the defence. Indeed, Mr. BRYAN states, in the speech, that this line of argument was adopted only as a last resort:–that, after studying the whole case, his counsel told HUNTINGDON that there was no possibility of his escape,–that the proof was too clear, and too overwhelming, to leave the remotest chance of an acquittal, and that the best thing he could do would be to plead guilty, and throw himself on the mercy of the Court. This, however, he refused to do, and persisted in the declaration of his innocence and of the certainty of his acquittal. His apparent insensibility to his position, and the strange pertinacity with which he denied his guilt, staggered his counsel, and finally led them to fall back upon a chance remark dropped by a witness, and repeated by the Justice, that he believed HUNTINGDON was crazy. They have accordingly taken this as the line of their defence,–and will do everything in their power to convince the Jury that he is not morally responsible for his acts.

It is confessed that HUNTINGDON’S insanity is not of a species recognized in books of medical jurisprudence. A new kind of insanity is invented for his particular case. It is styled a monomania for forgery,–a species of insanity which impelled him to commit act of forgery without any motive, except the desire to handle large sums of money, and without taking any of the ordinary precautions to prevent discovery. A very curious and interesting narrative is given of HUNTINGDON’S early life and entire career up to the present time, in which are included a great variety of particulars concerning his style of living,–the luxury of his furniture,–the speed of his horses, and the lavish scale of his expenditure generally. All this is intended to create the impression that he acted recklessly, without reflection, and in a way to indicate on his part an entire lack of prudence and common sense.

Everybody, of course, was taken by surprise upon hearing the declaration by the prisoner’s counsel of the line of defence they should adopt. What is likely to be its success must be matter of conjecture,–nor would it be quite proper, perhaps, at this stage of the proceedings, to canvass the merits of such a plea. It is very obvious, however, that if this new species of insanity is to obtain recognition, all such things as crimes will speedily disappear. We shall have monomania for murder, for theft, for rape, for arson, for every act indeed which is now deemed criminal, pleaded as a bar to conviction. The theory of the defence nullifies the idea of moral guilt, and resolves all crime into disease. Many speculative philosophers have indulged in the same views,–but they have never hitherto obtained recognition in our courts of justice. The speech of HUNTINGDON’S counsel will be found exceedingly interesting and worthy of persual.”
SOURCE: The New York Times. Published: December 20, 1856. Copyright @ The New York Times.

MORE INSANITY. – At this season of the year it will be prudent to guard against a general insanity which is developed among all classes; it manifests itself chiefly in an extravagant expectation of being complimented with a costly present, while in some it shows itself in a desire to give everything to everybody. Dealers in fancy articles manifest most alarming symptoms of insanity compared with which the financial operation of the insane HUNTINGDON were rational and business-like. They have an idea that nothing gives the public such satisfaction during the holiday season as paying three or four times the value of an article for the sake of making an extravagant present. We know an excited shopkeeper in Broadway, who says he finds it difficult to have sufficiently high priced articles for his customers. If he is not insane, his customers clearly must be.

But the EVENING POST relates an instance of insanity which is said to be prevalent in fashionable circles, which we had not before heard of. The POST says it is customary to hire costly wedding presents of the jewelers, and after they have been used to dazzle the eyes of the guests, and excite their envy at the happiness of the bride, to return them to the shop from which they were borrowed. There have been a good many magnificent weddings lately, which have been the talk of the town; but we hope their magnificence was not all bogus. Of course none but a hopelessly insane person would be guilty of such practices as the POST has exposed. It is time to enlarge our lunatic asylums.”
SOURCE: The New York Times. Published: December 22, 1856. Copyright @ The New York Times

CONVICTION AND SENTENCE OF HUNTINGDON. – It would be an affectation of maudlin sentimentalism, if we expressed any other opinion in reference to the conviction of HUNTINGDON, than that of satisfaction; and we believe that the public at large will feel relieved from an impending disgrace by knowing that the ends of justice have been fulfilled in his sentence. We have no disposition to exult over the debasement of a fellow creature; but the monstrous frauds of this man were so undeniable, he had, apparently, been rioting in his extravagant course of wickedness, because he imagined that the Law could not reach such dashing villany as his, that when his counsel set up the defence of insanity, it was felt to be an outrage upon the public. If he had been exonerated from the consequences of his gigantic forgeries on the ground of insanity, or even if the Jury had not been able to agree upon a verdict, it would not only have had a damaging effect upon public morals, but it would have been a disgrace to our whole community. Happily, we have been spared such a result. It has long been a reproach to us that a wealthy rogue could not be convicted in our Courts; but the conviction and prompt sentence of HUNTINGDON will do something toward effacing this stain upon our character. The remarkable course pursued by the defence in attempting to establish the insanity of the prisoner by proving how irreclaimably bad he had been from his boyhood, deprives him of all claim upon the sympathies of the public; and if society congratulate itself upon being rid of a most dangerous character, of whose reformation there could be no reasonable hope, the fault must be laid at the door of his own counsel.”
SOURCE: The New York Times. Published: December 31, 1856. Copyright @ The New York Times.

Trial of Charles B. Huntingdon for Forgery-Twenty-Seven Indictments Against Him – First Day’s Proceedings, December 16, 1856, Published December 17, 1856

Trial of Charles B. Huntingdon for Forgery-Second Day, December 17, 1856, Published December 18,1856

The Trial of Charles B. Huntingdon, Third Day, December 18, 1856, Published December 19, 1856.

Trial of Charles B. Huntingdon for Forgery, Mr. Brady’s Address for the Defence, Monday, December 29, 1856, Published December 30, 1856

The Trial of Charles B. Huntingdon for Forgery, Conclusion of Mr. Noyes’ Address for the Prosecution, Charge of the Judge, Conviction and Sentence of the Prisoner, Published December 31, 1856.

1. Trial Of Charles B. Huntington For Forgery. Principal Defence: Insanity. Prepared For Publication By The Defendant’s Counsel, From Full Stenographic Notes Taken By Messrs. Roberts & Warburton, Law Reporters. New York: John S. Voorhies, Law Bookseller and Publisher. No. 20 Nassau Street. 1857. Page viii.