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Laurens’ Examination

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

December 23.—The firmness of Mr. Laurens, whatever opinions may have been conceived of the nature of his past conduct, was certainly such, in his examination before the Secretaries of State, as must extort admiration from the most attached and enthusiastic partisan. Besides the three Secretaries of State, who sat in solemn council for the purpose of interrogating him, there were present Mr. Frazer, the Secretary of Lord Stormont, Mr. Thompson, the Secretary of Lord George Germaine, and Mr. Mansfield, the present Solicitor-General. Their lordships commenced the business by severally putting such questions to him as seemed to them of most peculiar importance. The spirited American, in reply to their repeated interrogatories, bowed, and thanked their lordships for the civilities and attention he had received since the misfortune of his captivity, but in all matters respecting his country he was determined on the most inviolable silence. He then addressed himself to the Under Secretaries, who attended with pen, ink, and paper, ready to commit every expression to record, and observed to them, (our readers may depend upon it, these are his own words,) “Your paper, gentlemen, will certainly retain its original purity for any thing that falls from me, for on this subject I neither can nor will give the smallest information.” Mr. Mansfield then held a conference with their lordships, the result of which was, an injunction upon the subtle civilian to practise a little of his profession upon the wary American, and to endeavor, by first asking trifling questions, and so proceeding gradually to more material inquiries, to seduce him into an inadvertent reply on some subjects of consequence. This artifice was accordingly carried into execution, but the same effect attended the lawyer’s finesse, as had before accompanied the more open proceedings of their lordships, and Mr. Laurens kept strictly to his first determination of total taciturnity. He was five hours under examination.

All the material papers taken in the possession of Mr. Laurens, have, by command, been sent to Windsor, to undergo the inspection of a great personage.

Mr. Laurens’ black servant, who was prohibited from attending his master some days ago, has been permitted, by an order from the Secretary of State, to go to the Tower. The order, however, is very limited, as it is an express injunction that he shall never be left alone with Mr. Laurens, but that the warder of the Tower is to be present at every interview that passes between them.

When the above celebrated captive first arrived in the metropolis, he was by accident carried into a house in Scotland Yard, in which Sir William Meredith was at that time a lodger. Sir William and he had been acquainted some time ago, so that as soon as Mr. Laurens had rested a little from the fatigue of his journey, he sent up his name and compliments, offering his services, and requesting an interview. Mr. Laurens returned his best thanks to Sir William, for his obliging intentions respecting him, but as he had received every attention and civility that his unhappy circumstances would admit of from the hands of his captors, he did not think it would be altogether honorable to indulge himself in any interview with a gentleman, however he might otherwise wish it, whose professed political principles were in a direct opposition to theirs. Sir William had good sense enough to admit the propriety of the apology, and as an indication that he felt no chagrin from the rejection of his application, that same evening sent Mr. Laurens a present of a pine-apple.1


1 Upcott, vi. 67.