John M. (John Montgomery) Gordon.

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Brown University

iO 1932

Noffolk, Apfil 15, 16/3,

To Judge Clifford,
Attorney General Sj)eed,

Wm. M. Evarts, and, perhaps, '-'U'"Li

a dozen otJiers, or those who survive. '■* ^: ..

L. .;

Gentlemen : —

I have read carefully, in the Charleston Daily New? of March 29th
ulto., an account of a dinner given in the seaport of South Carolina,
(now under negro rule and whose capital, Columbia, was burnt by the
Northern incendiary Sherman) by one Colonel Richard Lathers, (querv,
is he white or black) to a number of distinguished Northern men and
some leading ones of the State of John C. Calhoun, at which party the
persons first named in this communication was present. This account
has been already commented on by my old friend "Senex" with his
accustomed ability and usual forbearance, and he has left me very little
to add to his crushing, grinding reply. I have something, however,
to say, and shall treat your "solemn, secret council, of the most able,
lawyers of the North, held at Washington a few months after the end
of the war" in the style of the hunted Indian Chief, Captain Jack,
who, in this morning's paper, is reported to have buried his hatchet
and war club, not in the bosom of mother earth, but in the skull of
his enemy, one of them a Federal colonel somebody, once a military
commander of the City of Richmond, after its fall and conflagration,
and who, I am informed by another old friend of mine, (an Irishman,
who went tJjrougli tlie whole war near the person of General Lee,) was
a very great brute. You, Judge Clifford, are reported to have stated
to the dinner party in Charleston, that the secret council of lawyers
above mentioned, " had been selected from the whole Northern profes-
sion, for their legal ability and acumen," and that the result of their
deliberations was the sudden abandonment of the case by the Federal

Government in view of the insurmontabie difficulties in the way of
getting a final conviction in tlie Supreme Court (of Jefferson Davis,)
which difKcuIties were revealed by their patient study of the law bearing
on the case," now, I ask you, whether this confession, does not give
up the whole case. The ablest lawyers of the North, upon consultation
by the Rebel Government at Washington, advise it, that, under the
Constitution and laws of the United States, it could not convict Davis
of treason, even before a packed Supreme Court, with Judge Jeffry
Salmon P. Chase (now struck down by paralysis, I will not say " under
Providence,") at his head, and a Northern Justice at its tail? Why was
this "council of Northern lawyers of learning and acumen" kept secret ?
Secrecy is a badge of fraud, and the Rebel Government, at Washing-
ton, dare not let the world know, that its legal advisers, selected from
New England and the North, had given an opinion against its whole
action and course of proceeding against the South. Is this not the
naked truth? Is there a man living, or hereafter to be born, that can
doubt it? You say that " the conference was long, learned and pro-
found." T pause to ask, why was not such a conference of Northern
lawyers called before the dead dog Lincoln began the war of invasion
on the South ? But one answer can be given. He and his bandit party
were afraid to call and consult even such a secret conclave. You say
" The Federal Constitution, the law of nations, the decisions of the
Supreme Court, in the trial of Aaron Burr, and other causes celebres,
and the whole list of state trials, in the history <>f the whoTe civilized
world (which latter I doubt) were studied, weighe(i^i,nalyzed and dis-
sected" and the prosecution of Mr. Davis suddenly abandoned." Now
I put it to the most learned lawyer in the world, to the whole bar of
the United States and to every man and boy of the plainest under-
standing, whether, after such a scrutiny and investigation and admis-
sion and legal opinion, given by the ablest lawyers of the Radical party
itself, any person with three grains of sense can say that Jefferson
Davis committed treason ! and if he, the head and front of the South-
ern Confederation did not, who did ? To those who call me and my
^countrymen traitors, I now and shall hereafter, as hitherto, simply hurl

my curse. But I have not di)ue with your cabal, Mr. Attorney Geue-
ral and Judge Clifford. I shall let the world know vour true reasons
for saying and thinking that Jefferson Davis could not be convicted of
treason even in the court below, at Richmond, before the microi^copic
insect, Underwood and the paralytic Salmon P. Chase, of Ohio. Now
the Constitution of the United States, formed by a convention of the
twelve not thirteen states (little Rhode Island wa« not represented,) and
presided over by General Washington, in the twelfth year of the In-
dependence of the United States declares, Article 3, Section 3, § l,that
"Treason against the United States shall consist onhj in levying war
against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and
comfort." and § 2, that " The Congress shall have power to declare the
punishment of treason." This is all the Constitution says on the sub-
ject. You as a lawyer well know, or ought to know, that the convention
which made the late Constitution (peace to its memory !) defned treamm,
to prevent the introduction into this country from England, (whose laws
the states adopted,) of the numerous acts and wicked decisions of the
Parliament and Courts of Great Britain, in regard to this crime. A
landlord, for instance, was hung, drawn and quartered for saying, by
way of joke, that his son was heir to the crown, which was the sign of
his hotel. You well know moreover, that the words "levying war
and adhering to enemies, giving th»^ni aid and comfort " are legal
terms, the meaning and definition of which are to be sought and ascer-
tained 'i^J^>: common law of England and its reports of judicial

Now I ask yo'^j^ fiiw plain (piestions, which history and every man
and woman and child and negro in the North and South, can readily
answer. Against whom did my State of Virginia wage war ? Against
which, or what part of the Unite<l States or people thereof, did she wage
or declare war ? Did she wage war against the Northern States, when
she refused, at the call of the Rebel Government at Washington, or,
to speak more correctly, of the-dead dog Lincoln and his banditti cabinet,
to enlist her citizens and march down to Carolina to massacre her breth-
ren of the South ? To burn their towns and dwellings, barns and

churches, desolate their fields, rob their men, set free the negroes and
rape their women, both white and black ? Negro women were raped
in Virginia by German boars from the coal and iron State of the Qua-
ker Pennsylvania. I have the fact from an old friend from the
neighborhood, (himself the owner of one hundred liberated slaves, and
the father of four brave sons whom he gave to his country and the
war,) and I have a confirmation of that foul fact from the lips of a
hall-breed Indian, a descendant of some tribe of King Powhattan,who
told me, with her own lips, that she was violated by a Yankee oflScer,
while held by his brutal soldiers. The fact will appear to the world
to be incredible, but f)r the'English Lord Audley's case represented in
state trials and that I have no reason to dou])t the woman's veracity.
Was not Virginia (^who wished to separate in peace from her sisters
Regan and Goneril, like Abraham from his brother Lot, of Sodom and
brimstone memory ) herself invaded by the ruffian hordes of the North
as was Italy by Hannibal and his African followers, (the Rebel Gov-
ernment enlisted negroes, and has since then granted them pensions,)
and had she not a right to defend herself when attacked by her enemy ?
Has not every animal and insect been provided with weapons for that
purpose by its Maker, from the ivory teeth of the mighty mastodan
and enormous elephant down to the tail of a New England skunk —
your Senator Sumner, who defended his head and seat of honor from
the cane and foot of the chivalric Brooks, of South Carolina, even on
the floor of the Senate chamber, with his foul, stinking breath and
upraised knees? Virginia and Virginians did not levy war against
the United States," her refusal to do so — to wage war against her sister
South Carolina and other Southern States was her oftence. It drove
her lo exercise her sovereign right of secession and to consecrate her
territory the battle-field of the South, which Maryland was afraid to
do. I hold up therefore before her bleeding bosom, the broad shield
of the Constitution and I tell you Judge Clifford & Co., that you, upon
your own confessionand statement of your own case, (like Colfax & Co.)
are the guilty party, and deserve the death of traitors for that crime

committed against the State of Virginia, and I shall prove it past the
possibility of a doubt.

You will not deny that you and your party "gave aid and comfort"
in the legal sense of these words, to the Federal Rebel Government, in
the war of invasion it w^aged against Virginia. The battle of Frede-
ricksburg, Spottsylvania Courthouse, Chancelloi-sville, Manassas and
Bull's Run prove that fact. What right had the Federal Rebel Govern-
ment, the joint agent of all the states, to wage war upon a part of them,
its Co: creators ? Tiiere is nothing in the late Constitution which
allows or even refers to such a power. If there is, point it out.
Buchanan, nor Judge Black could find it. I know that Constitution
by heart. As a young man, I memorized it and the Declaration of
Independence, I studied every commentary and judicial decision
thereon, every exposition and discussion in or out of Congress worth
reading, from the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions down to the pro-
clamation of General Jackson against nullification, and I came to the
conclusion of the learned lawyer, U. S. Attorney Rawle, tliat " the
secession of a state from the Union depends entirely on the will of the
people of such state."

My opiniou is, of course, of no weight with you, but I will lay a
wager, that neither you nor your lawyers uf greatest acumen, can
repeat from recollection a single article or section, or even paragraph,
verbatim, literatim and punctuation, of the Constitution formed by
Washington, Madison & Co., and written out by Governeur Morris
and especially of the Eight Section, which enumerates the power of

The wager on my side shall be a full copy (if I have one left) of my
writings, bound in leather; on your side, let it be a copy of Sumner's
speeches, or Chase's forthcoming paralytic decisions of the Supreme
C'ourt of the United States, bound in a dog's skin. I, too, "have found
nothing in the Constitution which authorizes the Congress of the com-
mon Government to wage war on any state or states," but I do find
an article (11th of Amendment) which says, " that the judicial power
of the United States shall not be construed to extend to uny suit in law
or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States,"
&c. If the Supreme Court cannot, even try a case against a state,

6 .

shall the Federal Government be allowed to wage war against its
creators? Who made and can unmake it at will ? For if it had a
right to wage war against nine of the states, wliy "ot against nine and
thirty ? The principle is precisely the same, and I defy you and the
whole New England bar with all " its legal acumen " to state a good
reason why not. I am arguing this point of treason, not to convince
you, (for you have already virtually admitted and given it up,) but for
the benefit of such of your Northern friends as neither know the
Constitution, nor the Ten Commandments, nor the Lord's Prayer, nor
even the multiplication table as far as 13 times 13, by lieart. If Jefi'erson
Davis then, did not commit treason against the United States (as your
secret council of lawyers admit and as I have demonstrated) according
to the Constitution, how could he have committed that crime against
its creature the Federal Government, or the authorities thereof? They
derived from the states a limited amount of their delegated authority,
and the exercbe, to a certain extent and for certain [>urposes, of sovereign
I)ower. The states however never parted with their sovereignty in
whole, or even in part, but reserved the right completely to control and
remodel or even destroy the Constitution which they had made, I mean
collectively. This no one has doubted or ever denied. The Constitution
itself expressly and explicitly declares that they may do so. How
then could all or any of them commit treason against their creature,
their joint agent? Treason can only be. committed by the violation of
some law. What law of Congre^ did the Southern States violate ?
Name it. Put your finger upon the chapter, the section and the page
of the act which the " wildest enthusiast" ever said was violated by
the Confederated States. What law of God or man forbade the
o-allant citizens of Charleston, South Carolina, to fire in self defence,
upon Fort Sumter when it was in the act of being provisioned and
fortified in order to batter down the seaport town of that Sovereign
State? Put your bloody finger on that law. The Confederated States
adopted substantially the old Constitution of the United States, and
carried with them, when they seoeded, all the laws of the United
States, until formally repealed. If they committed no treason against

the United States, nor against their creature Congress, did they commit
that crime against their Co. states or any of them, who did not
secede? Did they owe them fealty? No one will have the hardihood
now to say they did. That was an offence which even the dead doo-
Lincoln never charged them withal 1. He only said, that the Federal
Rebel Government, the creature, had a right to defend its existence
against its creator, upon the absurd and politically impious ground of
self defence. Now the only offence the Seceding States committed, or
could have committed, against their Co. States, who did not secede,
was a violation of the compact of the Constitution, (which I denv that
the South flid infract) and the proper remedy was for the legislatures of
the injured or offended states, to have called conventions of the sovereign
people within the limits of each, declared solemnly that, in their
opinion the South had violated the Constitution and anthorized Con-
gress to wage war against the Southern Confederation. This would have
given Congress, or rather the dead dog Lincoln, some show or color of
iiuthority ? But this they nev^r did. They were afraid to do so. They
well knew that the states generally were fully committed to the
doctrine of State Sovereignty and the right of secession, and that
Massachusetts herself, had on thirteen several occasions proclaimed her
fealty to State Rights and the whole doctrine of State Sovereignly.

This has been shown by "A Son of Norfolk" in his work published
last year entitled "The State Sovereignty Record of Massachusetts."
You gentlemen, to whom I now address myself, or some of you, have
doubtless read that able production and fearful record, and you know
what I state, of your own knoioledge to be true. This it is that "flut-
tered your voices at Corolr," and produced the negro dinner at
Charlesto'n, with its barefaced, impudent disclosures. Why did not
the dead dog Lincoln and his banditti cabinet get the sanction of even
the sovereign people of Massachusetts to their war on the Southern
States? Why did they not get the sanction, or the subsequent ratifi-
cation of the sovereign people of the other mis-called free states, or
even of their rabid. Radical Legislatures (who however, had no power
to sanction such a war on state rights and the South) for the mere sake


of appearances ? This Lincoln and his cabinet of ruffians and robbers
never did ! Will posterity credit this indisputable fact, which settles
the whole question of that war of invasion on the South, as a war of
murder, rapin, rape and arson, and condemns the memory of its perpe-
trators, aiders and abettors (and among theui you or some of you,
gentlemen), to eternal execration by the human race. But I have
not yet done with treason and the real traitors. I now charge and
shall prove, that the Northern people who joined heart and hand in the
wicked war of invasion of Virginia, committed against that State, the
crime of treason. Tate's digest of the statutes of Virginia p. 515, gives
the act in regard to treason against the State, viz : " If a man do levy
war against the Commonwealth in the same, or be an adherent to the
enemies of the Commonwealth, within the same, giving them aid and
comfort within the Commonwealth," or elsewhere, and be thereof con-
victed of open deed, by the evidence of two sufficient and lawful
witnesses or his own voluntary confession, the person so convicted, and
his or her aiders, abettors and counsellors, shall suffer death by hanging
by the neck, without benefit of clergy (Acts 177G, 1 792 and April 1,
1817) and so, "every person who shall erect or establish, or cause or
produce to be erected or establislied, any government separate from,
or independent of, the government of Virginia, or who shall, in any
such usurjjed government, hold or execute any office, legislative,
executive, judiciary or ministerial," &c., shall be adjudged guilty of
high treason and punished as other traitors, (Acts 1785 and 1792, 1819,
1820,) and "the Governor shall in no wise exercise a right of granting
pardon to any person convicted of treason against the Commonwealth,
but may suspend the execution until the meeting of the Legislature,"
Acts 1776 and 1792. Do you doubt that this law is Constitutional ?
Is not treason a crime committed against a sovereign and cannot it be
committed against any state? Pennsylvania and every state has a law
against treason, as I doubt not. This shows that tbe State of Virginia
(as in truth did every other state) thought herself sovereign, and, ac-.
cordingly, defined treason against herself and prescribed its penalty of
death. Now it is a maxim of law, with which every Blackstone lawyer

is fiuniliar, that the hand which bindg can alone unbind. A citizen of
a state became bound to obey its agent, the General Governraeut, by,
through and under the authority of his own state, and in no other way,
or to any greater extent.

The State of Virginia having bound her citizens to a qualified alle-
giance to the Federal Government, afterwards, solemenly, in a sovereign
convention of the whole people, unbound them and makes it treason
to wage war against the Commonwealth or aid and abet thoee who do.
Can one of her citizens therefore in obeying her laws commit treason
against her faithless discarded agent, the Federal Rebel Government,
wliose delegated powers siie had revoked ? If so, then the citizen is
put in a fixed dilemma and commits treason, whether he obeys the
principal or agent, a crime in each alternative and a thing impossible
in fact and even in fancy. You and your secret council admit, that
Jefi'erson Davis did not commit the crime of treason against the United
States and I have demondrated that he did not. Did the two hundred
thousand men, who at his call, laid down their lives for their country,
on the field of battle commit legal or moral treason ? You youi-self,
I repeat, admit and confess that they could not be convicted of treason
under the Constitution and laws of the United States. There were
witnesses enough to their acts. The world bears witness. History
bears witness on her illuminated pages, bright with the fame of their
noble actions, with the blaze of the battles of Fredericksburg, Spot-
sylvania Courthouse, Chancellorsville, Manassas and Bull's Run, with
the glory of Lee and of Stonewall Jackson, next to Washington (whom
Boston has forgotten) first in the hearts of their countrymen.

If the army of Virginia and hosts of the South did not commit
treason against the vile reptile (which bit the hand that fed it,) the
Federal Rebel Government, what crime did they commit against it, in
defending their native soil, at the call of their old mother State,
against its invasion by Northern barbarians ? Why was not Davis
indicted, tried and convicted of some other minor offence or misde-
meanor, and then pardoned by the President of the Rebel Government
at Washinctou ? You mi^ht then have had color to the claim of


clemency, but what room fur magnanimity, is there iu not prosecuting
an iunocent man for an offence, of which you confess you could not
convict him. Is it magnanimous, in the New England code of morals,
to restrain your hands from taking or seeking the lives of innocent men 't
Whom the laws of the country and a jury of impartial men would
acquit, even in the face of the charge of a corrupt judge? Is it mag-
nanimity to take bribes like Vice Presidents Colfax and Wilson (Sena-
tor Sumner's worthy coadjutor) and to steal silver spoons, bearing a
family crest, like a certain representative from New England is
believed to have done, although he has publicly denied the faet ? Is
it magnanimity to take the lie publicly and to digest it in private? I
have by no means exhausted the subject of the State Right of seces-
sion, which I shall take up again, at some future day and regularly
discuss in other aspects. I shall discuss the nature of sovereignly and the
meaning of that much misunderst'iod word. The legal effects of seces-
sion of the Federal Rebel Government, on the donation of jjiiblic lands
made to it by Virginia for the use of the United and not disunited
States, under the English common law doctrine of donor and donee.
Whether a state must not return to the Union by the way she came in
and went out, viz : by the vote of a convention of the people thereof who
passed the ordinance of secession ; whether the Legislature of the
State have any power in the premises, (I have read and studied
all their several constitutions) and whether the amendments to
the late Constitution of th*^ United States are not each and every
one of them fraudulent, null and void, and should be treated so
by all the seceding states. I content myself before concluding
with one remark about the Virginia law of treason. Were I
Prosecuting Attorney of the Commonwealth and the tan-yard bull
dog Grant were to show his brazen, bloated face at Richmond, I would
draw an indictment against him for high treason. As foreman of the
Grand Jury I would endorse "a True Bill," as Judge I would charge
the petit jury that he had committed treason, citing the passage from
Rawle or the Constitution p. 302 which says : *' The secession of a state
from the Union depends entirely o?i iliewill of the people of such states."


I would say that the prisoiipr at the bar caunot plead ignorance of the
law, (which is no excused for he had learnt this law by heart, at West
Point, where this learned author's work was a text book, made so b)^
the Federal Rebel Government itself down to 1861, and that he has con-
fessed his guilt in his late Inaugural Speech. I would then read the
Virginia act of secession and its law of treason and I would cite from
Rawle, chapter 32, p. 297, this passage : "If a faction should attempt to
subvert the government of a state, for the purpose of destroying its
republican form, the paternal power of the Union could be called forth
to subdue it. Yet it is not to be understood that its interposition would
be justifiable if the people of a state should determine to retire from the
Union, whether they adopted another or retained the same form of gov-
ernment," adding that these doctiines were taught by the United States
Government at West Point, to Lee, Davis, Beauregard, Jackson and
the prisoner, and that the law and facts of the case were too plain for
a doubt.

As foreman of the jury or juryman I would say guilty, without
leaving my seat. As Governor of the State I would not suspend the
execution of the sentence until the meeting of the Legislature, and, as
the sheriff of the County of Henrico, I would have him hung by the
neck ou Capitol Hill, near the monument of Washington, (or, if the
culprit preferred a private execution,) within the walls of the Libby
prison and within hearing of the cries of the Richmond women who
were raped by his soldiers. Hung, I say, with a cotton rope, until he
was dead, dead, dead! The hangman's cord should be manufactured
of South Carolina and Louisiana cotton, mixed half and half, with
Kentucky flax, picked by the fingers of a negro child, carded by his

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Online LibraryJohn M. (John Montgomery) Gordon[Letters and tableaux → online text (page 1 of 3)