Henry J. (Henry Jarvis) Raymond.

History of the administration of President Lincoln : including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. With a preliminary sketch of his life online

. (page 32 of 46)
Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry Jarvis) RaymondHistory of the administration of President Lincoln : including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. With a preliminary sketch of his life → online text (page 32 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

be the legitimate subjects of its action. I have no fear that the recog
nition of this doctrine will lead to an arbitrary invasion of the personal
security, or personal liberty, of the citizen. It is rare indeed that a
charge of disloyalty will be made on insufficient grounds. But if there
should be an occasional mistake, such an occurrence is not to be put in
competition with the- preservation of the nation ; and I confess I am but
little moved by the eloquent appeals of those who, while they indig
nantly denounce violation of personal liberty, look with no horror upon
a despotism as unmitigated as the world has ever witnessed.

The military commission, before which Vallandigham was
ordered for trial, met on the 6th, found him guilty of the
principal offences charged, and sentenced him to be placed in
close confinement in some fortress of the United States, to be
designated by the commanding officer of that Department.
Major-General Burnside approved the sentence, and designated
Fort Warren, in Boston harbor, as the place of confinement.
The President modified this sentence by directing that, in
stead of being imprisoned, Mr. Vallandigham should be sent
within the rebel lines, and should not return to the United


States until after the termination of the war. This sentence
was at once carried into execution.

The arrest, trial, and sentence of Mr. Vallandigham created
a good deal of excitement throughout the country. The op
ponents of the Administration treated it as a case of martyr
dom, and held public meetings for the purpose of denouncing
the action of the Government as tyrannical and highly dan
gerous to the public liberties. One of the earliest of these
demonstrations was held at Albany, on the 16th of May, at
which Hon. Erastus Corning presided, and to which Governor
Seymour addressed a letter, expressing in the strongest terms
his condemnation of the course pursued by the Government.
" If this proceeding, said he, speaking of the arrest of Val
landigham, " is approved by the Government, and sanctioned
by the people, it is not merely a step towards revolution, it
is revolution. It will not only lead to military despotism, it
establishes military despotism. In this aspect it must be
accepted, or in this aspect rejected. * * The people of
this country now wait with the deepest anxiety the decision
of the Administration upon these acts. Having given it a
generous support in the conduct of the war, we pause to see
what kind of a government it is for which we are asked to
pour out our blood and our treasure. The action of the Ad
ministration will determine, in the minds of more than one-
half of the people of the loyal States, whether this war is
waged to put down rebellion at the South, or destroy free
institutions at the North." The resolutions which were
adopted at this meeting pledged the Democratic party of the
State to the preservation of the Union, but condemned in
strong terms the whole system of arbitrary arrests, and the
suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

A copy of these resolutions was forwarded by the presiding
officer to President LINCOLN, who sent the following letter in
reply :



Gentlemen: Your letter of May 19, inclosing the resolutions of a
public meeting held at Albany, N. T., on the 16th of the same month,
was received several days ago.

The resolutions, as I understand them, are resolvable into two propo
sitions first, the expression of a purpose to- sustain the cause of the
Union, to secure peace through victory, and to support the Administra
tion in every constitutional and lawful measure to suppress the rebellion;
and, secondly, a declaration of censure upon the Administration for
supposed unconstitutional action, such as the making of military arrests.
And from the two propositions a third is deduced, which is, that the
gentlemen composing the meeting are resolved on doing their part to
maintain our common Government and country, despite the folly or
wickedness, as they may conceive, of any Administration. This posi
tion is eminently patriotic, and as such I thank the meeting and con
gratulate the nation for it. My own purpose is the same, so that the
meeting and myself have a common object, and can have no difference,
except in the choice of means or measures for effecting that object.

And here I ought to close this paper, and would close it, if there were
no apprehension that more injurious consequences than any merely
personal to myself might follow the censures systematically cast upon
me for doing what, in my view of duty, I could not forbear. The reso
lutions promise to support me in every constitutional and lawful meas
ure to suppress the rebellion, and I have not knowingly employed, nor
shall knowingly employ, any other. But the meeting, by their resolutions,
assert and argue that certain military arrests, and proceedings follow
ing them, for which I am ultimately responsible, are unconstitutional.
I think they are not The resolutions quote from the Constitution
the definition of treason, and also the limiting safeguards and guaran
tees therein provided for the citizen on trial for treason, and on his being
held to answer for capital, or otherwise infamous crimes, and, in
criminal prosecutions, his right to a speedy and public trial by an im
partial jury. They proceed to resolve, " that these safeguards of the
rights of the citizen against the pretensions of arbitrary power were
intended more especially for his protection in times of civil commotion."

And, apparently to demonstrate the proposition, the resolutions pro
ceed : " They were secured substantially to the English people after
years of protracted civil war, and were adopted into our Constitution at


the dose of the Revolution." Would not the demonstration have been
better if it could have been truly said that these safeguards had been
adopted and applied during tho civil wars and during our Revolution,
instead of after the one and at the close of the other ? I, too, am de
votedly for them after civil war, and before civil war, and at all times,
" except when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may
require" their suspension. The resolutions proceed to tell us that these
safeguards " have stood the test of seventy-six years of trial, under
our republican system, under circumstances which show that, while
they constitute the foundation of all free government, they are the
elements of the enduring stability of the Republic." No one denies
that they ha^e so stood the test up to the beginning of the present
rebellion, if we except a certain occurrence at New Orleans ; nor does
any one question that they will stand the same test much longer after
the rebellion closes. But these provisions of the Constitution have no
application to the case we have in hand, ^because the arrests complained
of were not made for treason that is, not for the treason defined in the
Constitution, and upon conviction of which the punishment is death
nor yet were they made to hold persons to answer for any capital or
otherwise infamous crimes ; nor were the proceedings following, in any
constitutional or legal sense, "criminal prosecutions." The arrests
were made on totally different grounds, and the proceedings following
accorded with the grounds of the arrest. Let us consider the real case
with which we are dealing, and apply to it the parts of the Constitution
plainly made for such cases.

Prior to my installation here, it had been inculcated that any State
had a lawful right to secede from the national Union, and that it would
be expedient to exercise the right whenever the devotees of the doctrine
should fail to elect a President to their own liking. I was elected con
trary to their liking, and accordingly, so far as it was legally possible,
they had taken seven States out of the Union, had seized many of tho
United States forts, and had fired upon the United States flag, all before
I was inaugurated, and, of course, before I had done any official act
whatever. The rebellion thus began soon ran into the present civil
war; and, in certain respects, it began on very unequal terms between
the parties. The insurgents had been preparing for it more than thirty
years, while the Government had taken no steps to resist them. The
former had carefully considered all the means which could be turned
to their account. It undoubtedly was a well-pondered reliance with
them that, in their own unrestricted efforts to destroy Union, Constitu-


tion, and law altogether, the Government would, in great degree, be
restrained by the same Constitution and law from arresting their pro
gress. Their sympathizers pervaded all departments of the Govern
ment, and nearly all communities of the people. From this material,
undercover of "liberty of speech," "liberty of the press," and "habeas
corpus," they hoped to keep on foot among us a most efficient corps
of spies, informers, suppliers, and aiders and abettors of their cause in
a thousand ways. They knew that in times such as they were inau
gurating, by the Constitution itself, the " habeas corpus" might be sus
pended ; but they also knew they had friends who would make a ques
tion as to who was to suspend it : meanwhile, their spies and others
might remain at large to help on their cause. Or if, as has happened,
the Executive should suspend the writ, without ruinous waste of time,
instances of arresting innocent persons might occur, as are always likely
to occur in such cases, and then a clamor could be raised in regard to
this which might be, at least, of some service to the insurgent cause. It
needed no very keen perception to discover this part of the enemy s pro
gramme, so soon as, by open hostilities, their machinery was put fairly
in motion. Yet, thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the guaranteed
rights of individuals, I was slow to adopt the strong measures which
by degrees I have been forced to regard as being within the exceptions
of the Constitution, and as indispensable to the public safety. Nothing
is better known to history than that courts of justice are utterly incom
petent to such cases. Civil courts are organized chiefly for trials of in
dividuals, or, at most, a few individuals acting in concert, and this in
quiet times, and on charges of crimes well defined in the law. Even in
times of peace, bands of horse-thieves and robbers frequently grow too
numerous and powerful for the ordinary courts of justice. But what
comparison, in numbers, have such bands ever borne to the insurgent
sympathizers even in many of the loyal States? Again, a jury too
frequently has at least one member more ready to hang the panel than
to hang the traitor. And yet, again, he who dissuades one man from
volunteering, or induces one soldier to desert, weakens the Union cause
as much as he who kills a Union soldier in battle. Yet this dissuasion
or inducement may be so conducted as to be no defined crime of which
any civil court would take cognizance.

Ours is a case of rebellion so called by the resolution before me in
fact, a clear, flagrant, and gigantic case of rebellion ; and the provision
of the Constitution that " the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall
not be suspended unless when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the


public safety may require it," is the provision which specially applies to
our present case. This provision plainly attests the understanding of
those who made the Constitution, that ordinary courts of justice are in
adequate to "cases of rebellion" attests their purpose that, in such
cases, men may be held in custody whom the courts, acting on ordinary
rules, would discharge. Habeas corpus does not discharge men who are
proved to be guilty of defined crime ; and its suspension is allowed by
the Constitution on purpose that men may be arrested and held who can
not bo proved to bo guilty of defined crime, "when, in cases of rebel
lion or invasion, the public safety may require it." This is precisely our
present case a case of rebellion, wherein the public safety does require
the suspension. Indeed, arrests by process of courts, and arrests in
cases of rebellion, do not proceed altogether upon the same basis. The
former is directed at the small percentage of ordinary and continuous
perpetration of crime ; while the latter is directed at sudden and exten
sive uprisings against the Government, which at most will succeed or
fail in no great length of time. In the latter case arrests are made, not
so much for what has been done as for what probably would be done.
The latter is more for the preventive and less for the vindictive than the
former. In such cases the purposes of men are much more easily under
stood than in cases of ordinary crime. The man who stands by and says
nothing when the peril of his Government is discussed, cannot be misun
derstood. If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy; much moro
if he talks ambiguously talks for his country with " buts," and "ifs"
and ands." Of how little value the constitutional provisions I have
quoted will be rendered, if arrests shall never be made until defined
crimes shall have been committed, may be illustrated by a few notable
examples. Gen. John C. Breckiuridge, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Joseph
E. Johnston, Gen. John B. Magruder, Gen. William B. Preston, Gen.
Simon B. Buckner, and Commodore Franklin Buchanan, now occupying
the very highest places in the rebel war service, were all within the
power of the Government since the rebellion began, and were nearly as
well known to be traitors then as now. Unquestionably, if we had
seized and held them, the insurgent cause would be much weaker. But
no one of them had then committed any crime defined in the law.
Every one of them, if arrested, would have been discharged on habeas
corpus, were the writ allowed to operate. In view of these and similar
cases, I think the time not unlikely to come when I shall be blamed for
having made too few arrests rather than too many.

By the third resolution, the meeting indicate their opinion that mili-


tary arrests may be constitutional in localities where rebellion actually
exists, but that such arrests are unconstitutional in localities where re
bellion or insurrection does not actually exist. They insist that such
arrests shall not be made "outside of the lines of necessary military oc
cupation and the scenes of insurrection." Inasmuch, however, as the
Constitution itself makes no such distinction, I am unable to believe that
there is any such constitutional distinction. I concede that the class of
arrests complained of can be constitutional only when, hi cases of re
bellion or invasion, the public safety may require them ; and I insist
that in such cases they are constitutional wherever the public safety does
require them ; as well in places to which they may prevent the rebellion
extending as in those where it may be already prevailing ; as well where
they may restrain mischievous interference with the raising and supply
ing of armies, to suppress the rebellion, as where the rebellion may
actually be ; as well where they may restrain the enticing men out of
the army, as where they would prevent mutiny in the army ; equally
constitutional at all places where they will conduce to the public safety,
as against the dangers of rebellion or invasion. Take the particular
case mentioned by the meeting. It is asserted, in substance, that Mr.
Yallandigham was, by a military commander, seized and tried " for no
other reason than words addressed to a public meeting, in criticism of
the course of the Administration, and in condemnation of the military
orders of the general." Now, if there be no mistake about this ; if this
assertion is the truth and the whole truth ; if there was no other reason
for the arrest, then I concede that the arrest was wrong. But the
arrest, as I understand, was made for a very different reason. Mr.
Yallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of the Union ,
and his arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to
prevent the raising of troops; to encourage desertions from the army;
and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to sup
press it. He was not arrested because he was damaging the political
prospects of the Administration, or the personal interests of the com
manding general, but because he was damaging the army, upon the ex
istence and vigor of which the life of the nation depends. He was
warring upon the military, and this gave the military constitutional
jurisdiction to lay hands upon him. If Mr. Yallandigham was not
damaging the military power of the country, then this arrest was made
on mistake of fact, which I would be glad to correct on reasonably satis
factory evidence.

I understand the meeting, whoso resolutions I am considering, to bo


in favor of suppressing the rebellion by military force by armies.
Long experience has shown that armies cannot be maintained unless
desertions shall be punished by the seve re penalty of death. The case
requires, and the law and the Constitution sanction, this punishment.
Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must
not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert ? This is
none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or
friend, into a public meeting, and there working upon his feelings till he
is persuaded to write the soldier boy that he is fighting in a bad cause,
for a wicked Administration of a contemptible Government, too weak to
arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case to
silence the agitator and save the boy is not only constitutional, but
withal a great mercy.

If I be wrong on this question of constitutional power, my error lies
in believing that certain proceedings are constitutional when, in cases of
rebellion or invasion, the public safety requires them, which would not
be constitutional when, in the absence of rebellion or invasion, the
public safety does not require them; in other words, that the Constitu
tion is not, in its application, m all respects the same, in cases of rebel
lion or invasion involving the public safety, as it is in time of profound
peace and public security. The Constitution itself makes the dis
tinction ; and I can no more be persuaded that the Government can
constitutionally take no strong measures in time of rebellion, because it
can be shown that the same could not be lawfully taken in time of
peace, than I can be persuaded that a particular drug is not good medi
cine for a sick man, because it can be shown not to be good food for a
well one. Nor am I able to appreciate the danger apprehended by the
meeting that the American people will, by means of military arrests
during the rebellion, lose the right of public discussion, the liberty of
epeech and the press, the law of evidence, trial by jury, and habeas
corpus, throughout the indefinite peaceful future, which I trust lies be
fore them, any more than I am able to believe that a man could contract
so strong an appetite for emetics during temporary illness as to persist
in feeding upon them during the remainder of his healthful life.

In giving the resolutions that earnest consideration which you request
of me, I cannot overlook the fact that the meeting speak as " Demo
crats." Nor can I, with full respect for their known intelligence, and
the fairly presumed deliberation with which they prepared their res
olutions, be permitted to suppose that this occurred by accident, or
in any way other than that they preferred to "designate themselves


"Democrats" rather than "American citizens." In this time of
national peril, I would have preferred to meet you on a level one step
higher than any party platform ; because I am sure that, from such
more elevated position, we could do better battle for the country we all
love than we possibly can from those lower ones where, from the force
of habit, the prejudices of the past, and selfish hopes of the future, we
are sure to expend much of our ingenuity and strength in finding fault
with and aiming blows at each other. But, since you have denied mo
this, I will yet be thankful, for the country s sake, that not all Demo
crats have done so. He on whose discretionary judgment Mr. Vallan-
digham was arrested and tried is a Democrat, having no old party
affinity with me ; and the judge who rejected the constitutional view ex
pressed in those resolutions, by refusing to discharge Mr. Yallandigham
on habeas corpus, is a Democrat of better days than these, having re
ceived his judicial mantle at the hands of President Jackson. And still
more, of all those Democrats who are nobly exposing their lives and
shedding their blood on the battle field, I have learned that many
approve the course taken with Mr. Vallandigham, while I have not
heard of a single one condemning it. I cannot assert that there are
none such. And the name of Jackson recalls an incident of pertinent
history : After the battle of New Orleans, and while the fact that the
treaty of peace had been concluded was well known hi the city, but be
fore official knowledge of it had arrived, General Jackson still maintained
martial or military law. Now that it could be said the war was over,
the clamor against martial law, which had existed from the first, grew
more furious. Among other things, a Mr. Louiallier published a denun
ciatory newspaper article. General Jackson arrested him. A lawyer
by the name of Morrol procured the United Scates Judge Hall to issue a
writ of habeas corpus to relieve Mr. Louiallier. General Jackson
arrested both the lawyer and the judge. A Mr. Hollander ventured to
say of some part of the matter that "it was a dirty trick." Genera)
Jackson arrested him. When the officer undertook to serve the writ of
habeas corpus. General Jackson took it from him, and sent him away
with a copy. Holding the judge in custody a few days, the General
sent him beyond the limits of his encampment, and set him at liberty,
with an order to remain till the ratification of peace should be regularly
announced, or until the British should have left the Southern coast
A day or two more elapsed, the ratification of a treaty of peace was
regularly announced, and the judge and others were fully liberated. A
few days more, and the judge called General Jackson into court ano


fined him $1,000 for having arrested him and the others named. The
General paid the fine, and there the matter rested for nearly thirty
years, when Congress refunded principal and interest. The late
[Senator Douglas, then in the House of Representatives, took a leading
part in the debates, in which the constitutional question was much dis
cussed. I am not prepared to say whom the journals would show to
Lave voted for the measure.

It may be remarked : First, that we had the same Constitution then
as now ; secondly, that we then had a case of invasion, and now we
have a case of rebellion ; and, thirdly, that the permanent right of the
people to public discussion, the liberty of speech and of the press, the-
trial by jury, the law of evidence, and the habeas corpus, suffered no
detriment whatever by that conduct of General Jackson, or its subse
quent approval by the American Congress.

And yet, let me say that, in my own discretion, I do not know
whether I would have ordered the arrest of Mr. Vallandigham. Whilo
I cannot shift the responsibility from myself, I hold that, as a general
rule, the commander hi the field is the better judge of the necessity in
any particular case. Of course, I must practise a general directory and
revisory power in the matter.

One of the resolutions expresses the opinion of the meeting that arbi
trary arrests will have the effect to divide and distract those who
should be united in suppressing the rebellion, and I am specifically
called on to discharge Mr. Vallandigham. I regard this as, at least, a
fair appeal to me on the expediency of exercising a constitutional power
which I think exists. In response to such appeal, I have to say, it
gave me pain when I learned that Mr. Yallandigham had been arrested
that is, I was pained that there should have seemed to be a necessity
for arresting him and that it will afford me great pleasure to discharge
him so soon as I can, by any means, believe the public safety will not

Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry Jarvis) RaymondHistory of the administration of President Lincoln : including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. With a preliminary sketch of his life → online text (page 32 of 46)