How One Man Changed the Direction of British Law for Years
The murder of Edward Drummond
Daniel M'Naghten, sometimes spelt McNaughtan, changed the history of all legal procedures in most countries. Through claiming delusions, he was the first man to be found guilty on the grounds of insanity. This ruling would become the basis of all insanity pleas and became known as The M'Naghten Rules. The crime he committed was the murder of a public servant; he was aiming for the Prime Minister.
Who was Daniel M'Naghten
M'Naghten was born in 1813 in Scotland; many suggest Glasgow. Much of what we know about him comes from the trial documents and newspaper reports of the time. He was the illegitimate son of a woodturner; When his mother died, he lived with his father's family.
Shortly after, he became an apprentice at his father's workshop; he was not offered a partnership despite working there. Even then, he was said to have radical political views. After the disappointment of the partnership, he left and started a three-year career as an actor.
He returned to Glasgow in 1835 and set up his own woodturning workshop. For five years, he had great success at this. He lived frugally and saved a large amount of money. Working during the day, he spent much of his evenings learning.
In December 1840, he sold his business for a significant profit. For the next two years, he lived between London and Glasgow. Returning home in 1841, he stated that the Tories were persecuting him; they were following him. However, many considered these to be delusions.
Murder of Edward Drummond
Drummond was personal secretary to several British Prime Ministers; at the time of his death, he worked for Robert Peel.
On 20th January 1843, Drummond was walking from Whitehall, where he had seen his brother, to Downing Street. M'Naghten approached him from behind and shot him in the back. As he drew a second gun, M'Naghten was overpowered by a Police Constable.
Drummond was not considered too injured and walked back to his house. He went to the hospital where doctors removed the bullet; it had hit no vital organs. Five days later, complications led to his death. Many considered that Drummond had been mistaken for Peel, that the Prime Minister had been the intended target.
The M'Naghten trial
M'Naghten appeared at Bow Street Magistrates the morning after the assassination attempt. He made one statement about being persecuted at the time of the murder. He never spoke again during the trial about the assassination attempt.
When he was arrested, he had £750 (£80000 in today's money) via a bank receipt, considered a considerable amount of money. It was this money that funded his defence.
The trial started on 2nd March at the Old Bailey. It was presumed that many powerful men wanted the trial to reach an insanity plea, which led to the early date.
Both the defence and the prosecution based their case on the insanity of M'Naghten. Both agreed that he had been suffering from a delusion when he shot Drummond. However, despite agreeing on the insanity, the prosecution also argued that M'Naghten knew right from wrong; witnesses testified he generally appeared sane when they met him.
The defence argued that the delusions had led to a breakdown of moral sense and self-control. Due to this, he was not responsible for his actions. Witnesses were found that could support this with their testimony.
The trial lasted two days; when the jury adjourned, Judge Tindall stated that he could not lead the jury, but if they found M'Naghten not guilty, he would be well looked after. All the medical evidence was for the defence. Without retiring, the jury found M'Naghten not guilty on the grounds of insanity.
M'Naghten was transferred immediately to Bethlem Hospital; apart from one hunger strike, he spent twenty-one uneventful years. Then, in 1864, he was transferred to the newly opened Broadmoor. However, his health was declining and he was classified as an imbecile. He died on 3rd May 1865.
The case was not without its controversy. Many questioned the £750 found on M'Naghten on the arrest. It was a considerable amount of money, more than he would have received from selling his workshop. Was he a political activist who was paid to assassinate the Prime Minister and faked insanity?
In 1843 a surgeon suggested that Drummond was not killed by M'Naghten but an incompetent surgeon. The poor medical treatment resulted in a hastily removed bullet that was not fatal, causing him to bleed out.
The last controversy was that the accusation the Tories were persecuting M'Naghten was never investigated.
The M'Naghten Rules
The verdict caused an outcry, especially from Queen Victoria, a victim of several assassination attempts. She raised concerns. The House of Lords revoked ancient law to ask five questions to twelve prominent judges, one of these Tindal.
The five questions were all related to insanity cases. Eleven of the judges answered, one refused. Judge Tindal reported the findings to the House of Lords on 19th June 1843.
The answers to these questions became enshrined in law as the M'Naghten rules. One murderer changed the rules that have dominated law in the United Kingdom and the United States for over one hundred years.