Silas Ketchum.

The Opdyke libel suit. A full metrical, juridical, and analytical report of the extraordinary suit for libel of George Opdyke verses Thurlow Weed, which progressed from day to day, commencing on the 13th day of December, 1864, and ending on the 11th January, 1865, in the New York Supreme court cir online

. (page 5 of 5)
Online LibrarySilas KetchumThe Opdyke libel suit. A full metrical, juridical, and analytical report of the extraordinary suit for libel of George Opdyke verses Thurlow Weed, which progressed from day to day, commencing on the 13th day of December, 1864, and ending on the 11th January, 1865, in the New York Supreme court cir → online text (page 5 of 5)
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deserved weight, seemed struggling against adverse influences. The
result was a real triumph for Mi*. Weed.

The transactions which gave rise to the suit throw valuable light
upon the ways of our politicians. Mr. Opdyke has always been put
forward by that class of persons who make the strongest demand
for purity of administration. Whatever may have been ]iis repute
among the wire-pullers, the public had the idea that he disdained


the arts which disgrace so many of our public men. This exposure
is a blow to those who have aimed at reform.

The most damaging fact which came out on the trial was excluded
by the court. Mr. Weed had charged that Mr. Opdyke had " made
more money by secret partnerships in army cloths, blankets, clothing
and gun contracts, than any fifty sharpers, Jew or Gentile, in the
city of New York." To this Mr. Opdyke replied in a letter to
Senator Harris, which was published, as follows : " Equally ground-
less is the charge against me of being gorged with Government con-
tracts. * * * yo^ T^[\\ \)Q astonished at the mendacity of the
charge when I inform you that these contracts with the offices of my
son exist only in Mr. Weed's imagination. I have no Government
contracts, nor have any business with the Government, direct or
indirect." Upon the trial it Avas proved, that while at the time the
letter was written Mr. Opdyke's statement was true, yet he had
been engaged in filling Government contracts to a large amount.
Neither Mr. Field nor Mr. Emott attempted to deny this fact, which
makes the letter to Harris, if not a suppressio veri, at least a stcg-
gestio falsi.

Another unpleasant revelation was that Mr. Opdyke was in part
reimbursed for his election expenses by contributions wrung from
the scantily-paid Custom House officers. It was charged by Mr.
Weed that this had been agreed between Mr. Opdyke and Mr.
Andrews, as the condition of the support by the former of the latter
for the very lucrative place of Surveyor of New York. Unless Mr.
McNeil, a member of the New York Legislature, and Mr. William-
son, a leading supporter of the Administration here, were guilty of
wholesale fabrication of testimony, this is true. But if it is true,
Mr. Opdyke committed perjury, for he denied the agreement in
positive terms. Either theory meets the moral of the transaction,
which is, the disgraceful character of conspicuous public men.

The truth is, that the leaders of both political parties here are
unworthy of public confidence. No one can rise from the perusal
of this case without the conviction that politics, as at present con-
ducted, are, at least here, a dishonest pursuit, and that the struggle
is not for principle, but for the chance of plunder.

This trial afforded some pleasant illustrations of the manners of
the New York bar. Mr. Evarts charged that Mr, Field had extorted
from Gen. Fremont a fee of 2,000 shares of Mariposa. Mr. Field
blandly retorted upon his opponent as follows :

" My friend Pierrepont need not waste his thoughts upon it, for
nobody will ever make him such an ofter, aud he Avould not earn so
much Avere he to live a hundred years. My friend Evarts would not


accept such an offer if it were made. He would not take a large fee,
not he ! His honest soul relucts at it as it relucts at one man help-
ing another to an office upon any understanding, express or implied,
that his friend will remember him. Now I propose this compromise
with him: If he will make oath that when he went to Washington
to procure the appointment of his friend to a certain lucrative office
in this city, there was no understanding that he should receive the
counsel fees which the office could bestow, I will promise not to
cross-examine him." In this pleasant way the case was tried, to the
amusement of the bystanders, but to the scandal of judicial pro-

Two persons won great credit in this case. Gen. Fremont, who
was a witness, bore himself like a man under very trying circum-
stances; and Judge Mason deserves the thanks of the bar for the
ability and dignity with which he conducted the trial. Had some
of our judges been on the bench, the scandal would have been

ereater and the result less satisfactory.


[From the Utica Morning Herald.]


The termination of the libel suit of Opdyke vs. Weed, adds
another illustration to the many on record, of the indisposition of
courts and juries to punish severity of speech concerning public men.
In this case, as in many others, the jury failed to agree. Whether,
as some state, nine of the jurors favored exemplary damages, or
whether, as others aver, seven of them would assent only to a
nominal award, the case confirms what has grown to be a rule, that
libel suits bear no fruit for the plaintiff. In this instance the alleged
libel was perpetrated gratuitously, by a volunteer who sought news-
paper columns for the express purpose ; and the counsel urged this
as an aggravation of the offense, and argued that no such immunity
should be accorded to him as would be due to an editor in the regu-
lar discussion of men and affairs in the course of his duty. Of por-
tions of the published allegations the defendant made no justifica-
tion or explanation; other points he sought to establish and enforce.
The case was sharply contested on both sides, with all the arts of
rhetoric and law. The prominence of the parties, the eminence of
some of the witnesses, and the ability of the counsel, will place it
among the causes celebres. It may again be tried, for the parties
have means and persistence. But the rule will be likely to find
further exemplification, that libel suits seldom result in real verdicts


for the plaintiff. And the rule, we believe, has become so well
determined, that no ordinary causticity of remark, or offensiveness
of charges, will effect an exception.

This is a tribute to the general fairness and justice of newspaper
criticism. Mistakes will occur; individuals will suffer wrongfully;
but the disposition to be just and fair is almost, if not quite, univer-
sal with the press. Freeness and fullness of speech require, as a
condition, immunity from petty and annoying prosecutions. This
the temper of courts and juries insures to journalists, out of a deep
sense of the great value to society and the State of that independent
censorship which the press exercises. The laws are stringent and
well defined, and may be enforced against flagrant and positive
abuses. Against an editor of common prudence and recognized
integrity they are a dead letter, even if he should fall into glaring
and culpable fault. Any one who deems himself aggrieved may
bring annoyance and some little expense upon a newspaper by insti-
tuting a prosecution ; but all this will fall in equal or greater degree
upon himself He will find lawyers willing to help him, but the
sentiment of the community, although it may deem him wronged,
will turn to the other side before he can bring his case to trial, and
it will be a diflicult thing to empannel a jury which will agree in a
severe verdict against any reputable established journal.

The fact increases the moral responsibility of newspaper conduc-
tors. Practically there is no check upon their criticism and verdicts,
but their own sense of right and honor. They may strike, and the
law sets no shield between them and their victim. They may assail,
and only conscious integrity can stand scatheless. They may con-
demn, and only their own injustice can nullify or weaken the effect
of their condemnations. Pure and noble character cannot be shat-
tered or besmeared by unjust censure; before the concentrated light
and heat of newspaper criticism the weak and the base must be ex-
posed and melted down. In the long run, plain speech, even reck-
less condemnation, can harm no true man ; false charges, in time,
correct themselves ; and the freest and fullest discussion secures tlie
promptest and completest measure of justice.

Whether we adopt the theory of the plaintiff, or that of the defend-
ant, as to the merits of this particular case, we cannot fail to per-
ceive in its result, indications of the obvious truth we have men-
tioned. A libel suit may ventilate particular subjects before the
public eye. It may bring the defendant into court, and put him
into the hands of lawyers. It may produce annoyance and compel
expenditure. But a verdict for exemplary damages has ceased to
grow on that tree.


[From the Buffalo Courier.]


The New York Journal of Commerce, in an article on the Weed-
Opdyke case, says:

" There is one point in this case to which we desire to direct atten-
tion. It is of the highest importance, as illustrating the present
state of our public morality.

"It was charged that Mr. Opdpke sold an office, receiving pay for
his influence in obtaining an appointment. The evidence offered to
sustain the truth of the charge was, that, in consideration of his
exertions, money was promised from the Custom House to aid in the
election of Mr, Opdyke to the mayoralty. This Avas denied by Mr.
Opdyke, and we do not pretend to decide as to the truth of the mat-
ter. But the startling fact was that Mr, Opdyke and his counsel,
admitting the receipt of several thousand dollars from Custom
House collections, to aid in his election, boldly took the position that
this was usual and common, and that there was nothing in it which
was to be found fault with. In short, it was justified as an estab-
lished American custom, and, from the silence of the other side on
the subject, it would seem as if it were an admitted doctrine that
the raising of money in the Custom House for election purposes, by
the assessment of clerks, &c., was an established part of the Ameri-
can common law, and fully approved by the American code of

"What have we come to, if this be so? Let it be distinctly
understood that this custom is not confined to the Republican party.
It is a Democratic custom also. There is no superior morality in
one party over the other in this respect. But have we arrived at
that stage when the public mind is prepared to assent to the doc-
trine that it is right, proper, moral, approved by good citizens, for a
party in power to assess its ofliceholders, and thus use the public
money in its hands for the purpose of extending or perpetuating its
power? It is well known that this custom prevails in the Demo-
cratic party wherever it holds ofiices. In this city, especially, it is
the curse of the charter elections. It is the plundering system on
which numerous organizations are founded and fattened. And in
national politics it results in demoralizing the entire body politic.
Instead of permanent, efficient, skillful and experienced clerks and
officeholders, it gives us tools of partisan organizations in responsi-
ble posts, and wastes the national power and wealth for the reward
of partisan services. Why are people so blind to this grand defect
in our public policy? When the custom of assessing officeholders
for election purposes began, or was first made public, it was received


with indignation by the honest sense of the people. We have trav-
eled so fast that we now see an ex-Mayor of the city justifying the
custom as perfectly right and proper, and one which he believes to
be sustained by the public sentiment of the day ! "

[From the BuflFalo Commercial Advertiser.]


The result of this long-contested case will not surprise any one
who has kept posted in its details, as it has dragged its slow length
through the columns of the New York papers. The jury, after
being out twenty-four hours, came into Court and stated that they
could not agree. It seems that the court had charged that upon
one point, which was undefended, the publication was libelous in
law; and it was upon this point that the jury were unable to agree,
nine of them desiring to give a verdict for six cents, the others being
in favor of some other sum. The New York Times states that
"upon the announcement of the result many of the citizens in
attendance crowded around Mr, Weed and his counsel with con-

We sincerely tender our congratulations, as well, to the veteran
who has thus again triumphed over his enemies, and we commend
the result to the attention of sensitive politicians who feel inclined
to rush into court for plasters to damaged reputations, as another
instance of the unwillingness of juries to place any restriction upon
the proper freedom of the press. Having within the past four years
had the pleasure of " adding up " certain ambitious politicians in this
locality, who dragged us into court to answer the charge of having
defamed their characters, which the juries valued at precisely six
cents, we feel justified in extending our hearty congratulations to
Mr. Weed upon the "lame and impotent conclusion" which has
attended this last raid upon his private purse.

Libel suits may now be considered as about " played out." Noth-
ing can justify editorial attacks upon private character, but when a
man puts himself before the people and asks for public positions of
honor and trust, he should understand that he places himself upon
trial, as it were, and can no longer screen himself behind the immu-
nities due to private life. If he is bold enough to ask his fellow
citizens to cei'tify that he is honest, capable and virtuous, he must
not complain if some who know to the contrary, speak " what they
do know," for the benefit of the public at large.


[From the Buffalo Morning Express,]


For the present this long-winded trial has been brought to a close,
by the non-agreement of the jury. We doubt if it ever goes upon
the calendar again. This whole affair possesses some very peculiar
features. Opdyke sued Weed for the recovery of damages sustained
through the publication of an alleged wicked libel. Mr. Weed
defended, and the suit was brought to trial, and, by a very peculiar
turn of the case, Opdyke, instead of Weed, was on trial throughout.
The testimony was far more damaging to the character of Mr.
Opdyke than the libelous article, which was made the foundation of
the suit, would have been if let entirely alone ; and hence, in our
opinion, this is the last we shall hear of the Opdyke- Weed libel case.
Ojidyke went a wool gathering and came home shorn.

While we have not approved of all that Mr. Weed has written
and published over the signature of "T. W.," during the last year
or two, yet in this Opdyke controversy he has had our fullest sym-
pathies. Because of political diiferences, there has been an evident
conspiracy in and out of New York city, to assail and damage the
reputation of Mr. Weed by every possible invention. He was pur-
sued with a malignity almost without parallel, and when pushed
beyond patience, he turned and rent his persecutors. It was out of
this proceeding that the famous libel suit originated, and we con-
gratulate Mr. Weed upon the result. Those who are in such haste
to gratify personal or political malice by gross defamation, may
draw a salutary lesson from this case. It teaches that it is not safe
for him who is not mthout fault, to cast the first stone.

[From the Norwich (Conn.) Morning Bulletin.]


The trial of the famous libel suit of ex-Mayor George Opdyke v.
Mr. Thurlow Weed, was begun on Tuesday, December 13, and after
continuing through eighteen days, was given to the jury on Tues-
day, the 1 0th instant. After being out twenty hours, they found
themselves unable to agree. The court having charged them on one
point of the publication, that it was libellous in law and undefended,
the jury could not decide upon that point whether six cents or some
other sum would be the proper amount of damages. Seven of them
at one time, and nine at another, favored the award of six cents.
There is, apparently, a law of libration in affairs, in accordance with
which it is perhaps fitting that this cause, protracted to such an


extraordinary length, calling out so many men of more or less
eminence as witnesses, and pending between personages of such
peculiar public notoriety, should have ended in no verdict, and in a
debate whether six cents' worth of hurt was done the plaintiff's
character by the publication of the libel.

[From the Northern Journal.]


No libel suit which has ever been tried in this country has excited
so much attention, or occupied so large a space in the public press.
It has continued through a full month, the parties having employed
the very ablest counsel in the State.

It has been evident to very many, for some time, that there could
be no heavy verdict for the plaintiff, and a disagreement seemed
most probable.

And this is the result. The Jury have not agreed, there being
seven for a verdict for the defendant and Jive for the plaintiff.

This is, of course, a substantial verdict for the defendant ; and
that he deserved such a verdict, no one, we think (whether friend or
foe) will doubt who has carefully read the testimony.

[From the Batavia Advocate.]


This celebrated trial, which has been before the Court in New
York for a month or so past, has finally come to an end. It was a
suit for libel, brought by George Opdyke against Thurlow Weed,
founded upon one of the letters published in the Albany Evening
Journal some months since, in which Mr. Weed made some very
damaging charges against ex-Mayor Opdyke.

The interest taken in this trial has probably been greater than in
any other similar trial which ever came before a New York jury.
The parties were well known, and the Court House was filled every
day during the lengthy trial. The jury found themselves unable to
agree, and were discharged. It is reported that they stood seven
for six cents damages, and five for greater damages. We guess Mr.
Opdyke will not be in a hurry to sue Mr. Weed again.


[From the Schenectady Star.]


*rhe jury in the Opdyke-Weed libel case were seven for a verdict
for the defendant and five for the plaintifi*. This is a substantial
verdict for the former. Very few will regret the result. Mr. AVeed
was quite as much sinned against as sinning. Mr. Opdyke should
have been contented with the means of retaliation oifered him
though the public press for the smart from Mr. Weed's whip which
he provoked. The law is not intended for such cases. It was a
political quarrel, and both gentlemen had ample space for its settle-
ment through the legitimate channel. It was, on Mr. Opdyke's
part, as the counsel for Mr. Weed well said, a simple attempt to
get money, and that is a commodity which certainly will not heal
wounded honor.


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Online LibrarySilas KetchumThe Opdyke libel suit. A full metrical, juridical, and analytical report of the extraordinary suit for libel of George Opdyke verses Thurlow Weed, which progressed from day to day, commencing on the 13th day of December, 1864, and ending on the 11th January, 1865, in the New York Supreme court cir → online text (page 5 of 5)