13 Mass. 248 (Mass. 1816), Chaddock v. Briggs

Citation:13 Mass. 248
Opinion Judge:Parker, C. J.
Party Name:Calvin Chaddock v. Alden Briggs, Jun
Attorney:B. Whitman, in support of the motion, Hobart, for the plaintiff.
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Page 248

13 Mass. 248 (Mass. 1816)

Calvin Chaddock


Alden Briggs, Jun

Supreme Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth and Bristol

July, 1816

Page 249

This was an action of the case for slander, in which the plaintiff declares, "that, whereas he is a good and faithful citizen of this Commonwealth, and for more than eight years now last past has been, and now is, a minister and preacher of the gospel, legally settled and ordained over the congregational church and society in Hanover, and was always of good reputation and character for temperance and sobriety among, &c., and is, and ever has been, free from the odious and criminal offence of drunkenness; nevertheless, the said Alden, not being ignorant of the premises, but maliciously and wickedly contriving and intending to blacken and defame the plaintiff in his good name and reputation, injure him in his ministerial office aforesaid, and put him in danger of losing the same and the profits accruing to him therefrom, on, &c., at, &c., in the presence and hearing of divers good citizens, &c., did openly speak, utter, and publish, of and concerning the plaintiff, so being such minister and preacher of the gospel as aforesaid, the following false, scandalous, malicious, and defamatory words, namely; 'Old Chaddock' (meaning the plaintiff) 'stayed at our house last night, and was pretty devilish drunk. He was so drunk he could not find his keg. He made out to stagger up to the house. He was drunk.' And at, &c., on, &c., in the presence and hearing of, &c., and with the intention and for the purposes aforesaid, did openly speak, &c., of and concerning the plaintiff, so being such minister, &c., these other false, &c., words, namely; 'Mr. Chaddock' (meaning the plaintiff) 'has had a drunken frolic this week. He and a party went out a getting hay, got back to our house, and he got so drunk he could not get home, but stayed and slept with me.' By means of speaking and publishing which said several false, &c., words, the plaintiff has been unjustly suspected to have been guilty of the crime of drunkenness, and has been put in danger of being deprived of his ministerial office aforesaid, and losing the profits accruing to him from the same; and likewise has undergone great pain and distress in body and mind; and has been greatly injured and prejudiced in his good name, and in his religious character and usefulness. To his damage $ 2000."

A verdict being found for the plaintiff, the defendant moved an arrest of judgment, because the declaration did not show a sufficient cause of action.

Judgment on the verdict.

B. Whitman, in support of the motion, argued, that the words were not actionable in themselves, containing no allegation of a crime upon which the law would animadvert; nor did they relate to his office or trade. The words charged may perhaps be actionable in England, when spoken of a clergyman of the established church, who has a higher estate in his office than ministers in this country. They have a species of temporal authority in the ecclesiastical courts, and so may be entitled to protection as magistrates. In that country, too, from the nature of the ecclesiastical establishment, every clergyman may look for promotion, which slander may prevent; but, in this country, there are no grades among the clergy, and of course no ecclesiastical preferment. There can, then, be no difference in this regard between a minister and his parishioners in this Commonwealth.

But, if this be not so, the words in this case are not alleged to have been spoken of the plaintiff in his clerical character. There is no colloquium laid, to this effect; nor do the words of themselves show any relation or connection with his official character. 1

Nor do the words charged imply a crime for which the plaintiff might legally be prosecuted; nor such a habit as might subject him to the inconvenience and disgrace of having a guardian placed over him by our laws. They intimate but a single instance of frailty, not at all inconsistent with a general good character and virtuous habits. 2

Hobart, for the plaintiff. The words are tantamount to saying, that the...

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