George Washington has been found not guilty of treason against the British crown in a mock trial that featured real British and American judges and lawyers and actors playing historical figures.
The participants playing Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Lord North, the British prime minister during the American Revolution, testified at the trial set in 1779, which was filmed Thursday for television.The American statesmen, in 18th-century dress, were played by members of the Philadelphia-based Royal Pickwickians, a troupe that combines acting with historical research. North was played by Professor Bruce Collins.
Washington, played by Bill Sommerfield, said he was elated by the unanimous ruling of the three judges.
The judges were Lord Bridge of Harwich, a senior Law Lord; Sir Patrick Neill, a British appellate judge; and U.S. Federal Judge A. Sherman Christensen from Utah.
"Justice has been done," Washington said. "We've been vindicated and now I must go back and pursue the war with vigor and bring it to a just conclusion."
The armistice ending the Revolutionary War was not announced until 1783.
The team of American defense attorneys argued that Washington acted in self-defense since the British had declared war in effect with their litany of abuses, hurting the colonists economically and depriving them of liberties.
"We have a right to defend ourselves to resist those acts of tyranny," James Figliulo, a Chicago lawyer, told the court. "We ask only to be free, we ask only to govern ourselves. We tried time and time again to address our grievances and make our point. Those petitions, remonstrances and requests were repeatedly rejected by the Parliament and the king."
The defense argued that Lord North and King George III had treated the colonists like slaves.
Prosecuting Washington under the Treason Act of 1351 was Sydney Kentridge, the human rights lawyer who defended Steven Biko in South Africa. He argued that the conditions in the colonies could not have been so bad since 221,000 people had migrated to America between 1760-75.
"The moral pretensions of this case are ill-founded," Kentridge said. "What is this slavery that the Colonies say they have, which thousands of people cross the Atlantic to be part of?"
In his summing up, Kentridge called on the three judges hearing the case not to find Washington guilty of treason which is punishable by hanging, but to "make a declaration that Washington was guilty of treason," and allow him to return to America.
The three judges ruled that the way Britain governed the colonies forced the Americans to react.
The colonists "only as a last resort, were driven to the Declaration of Independence," Lord Bridge said.
The defense attorneys' wives and other Americans, in the audience of 280 which paid $34 to watch the trial, waved tiny colonial American flags as the verdict was announced.
The International Scholarships for Young Lawyers will receive the proceeds from the trial, which will be shown at a later date on British and U.S. television.
The trial came about after Lord Goff, a member of the House of Lords, made the treason charge at a June meeting of the American Inns of Court Foundation.
Lawyers from Chicago and New Jersey took up the gauntlet and traveled to the history-laden Lincoln's Inn for the trial.
The Inn, an oasis of Georgian office buildings and tidy gardens in central London, was founded in the 14th century. It is the oldest of four Inns of Court which train and admit barristers, lawyers who argue cases in Britain's senior courts.
Barristers-in-training must spend 18 months following senior barristers through the courts and the Inns, so called because many barristers used to work and live there.