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March 28, 2012

The sentence for the pamphlet

Daniel Isaac Eaton waited in Newgate prison to find out what his fate would be.

Before Eaton could be convicted, a Mr. Prince Smith filed an affidavit in Eaton’s defense.

In addition to other words of common sense, Mr. Prince Smith told the court that “It was quite impossible to maintain the fear of God by force; and religion ceased to be the fear of God when it became the fear of man.”

But no matter how much Mr Smith insisted of “the impossibility of enforcing religious opinion by judicial prosecutions,” the judge and jury wouldn’t buy it.

The judge didn’t see the point in questioning the validity of the law. “If [Mr. Prince Smith] were to indict a man for murder, he should certainly shut out from the inquiry, whether murder were or were not a crime, but not whether the accused were guilty or not.” The purpose of the trial was to find out of Eaton were innocent or guilty of breaking the blasphemy laws, not to question the validity of those laws.

With this advice in mind, the jury sentenced Eaton to prison and a spell in the stocks.

On Friday, the 15th of May, 1812 Eaton was sentenced to an 18 month jail term “and to stand in the Pillory between the hours of twelve and two once within a month.”

The pillory wasn’t a pleasant experience. William Cobbett, the famous journalist and activist, noted that he’d seen some men stand at the pillory beforehand.

“The people of England have not lost their character” he stated. He’d seen, the year before Eaton’s punishment, two men who were sentenced to stand in the pillory for “unnatural offences”, with their head and hands locked up in the very same place where Eaton was to be pilloried.

Within an instant of being displayed there, the men’s “features were almost instantly rendered indistinguishable by the peltings of mud, blood, addled eggs, guts, garbage, dead dogs and cats, and every species of filth,” including human and animal poo, while their ears heard nothing but “hootings and execrations.”

Convicts had died from these kinds of peltings, others had been permanently disfigured within moments. Eaton was to be subjected to an hour of such treatment.

The physical and emotional pain, the threat of disfigurement, disability, and even death, could not have been something Eaton was looking forward to.

(Eaton on the pillory)

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