Everyone knows Sir Isaac Newton for his work on physics, but were you aware that he also did a lot in the field of criminal law?
All of this post’s quotes are selections from the Wikipedia:
As warden of the Royal Mint, Newton estimated that 20 percent of the coins taken in during The Great Recoinage were counterfeit. Counterfeiting was high treason, punishable by the felon’s being hanged, drawn and quartered. Despite this, convicting the most flagrant criminals could be extremely difficult.
When I first heard this I assumed he was just a figurehead, or at least simply the creative mind behind certain measures. (For example, he had an inscription placed along the rim of British coins to stymy “clippers”, folks who would trim the edges of silver coins for the metal’s value.) Further reading proved this out somewhat – the title was intended as mostly ceremonial.
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Still, something funny happened: Sir Isaac Newton didn’t take the position lightly, and instead decided to get his Steven Seagal on.
Disguised as a habitué of bars and taverns, he gathered much of that evidence himself. […] Newton had himself made a justice of the peace in all the home counties. Then he conducted more than 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, informers, and suspects between June 1698 and Christmas 1699. Newton successfully prosecuted 28 coiners.
I love the idea of a bewigged Newton prowling from gin joint to bordello, his eyes on other men’s money. Did he carry some weapon for his own protection? A knife in the pocket, in case things should go sour? Was there some point where the father of modern physics was clutching at the hilt with a sweaty palm, ready for action, only to have the tension of the moment broken by his potential foe breaking into a smile and declaring he was “just kiddin'”?
It seems he even had an arch-nemesis of sorts:
One of Newton’s cases as the King’s attorney was against William Chaloner. […] Chaloner made himself rich enough to posture as a gentleman. Petitioning Parliament, Chaloner accused the Mint of providing tools to counterfeiters[…] He petitioned Parliament to adopt his plans for a coinage that could not be counterfeited, while at the same time striking false coins.
Newton actually brought Chaloner to trial, but couldn’t make the charges stick after the counterfeiter’s connections pulled some strings.It was at this point in my reading that I realized Newton, like some high-sock wearing Dirty Harry, was not a fellow to be messed with.
Newton put him on trial a second time with conclusive evidence. Chaloner was convicted of high treason and hanged, drawn and quartered.