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ought, without delay, to be set aside. But this is only the beginning of justice. Some positive reparation should be made to citizens who have been so deeply injured. Charles Sumner. Washington, March 17, 1865. To The President Of The United States.
The President promptly overruled the judgment and sentence. The result was received with manifestations of joy. The defendants, whose cruel prosecution had been protracted for six months, had an ovation in the congratulations of their friends and fellow-citizens. Strangers at a distance, feeling that public liberty had suffered through them, sent their sympathy. The press gave expression to the prevailing sentiment. Nor was Mr. Sumner forgotten. The defendants made haste by telegraph to say: "Accept the lasting gratitude of Smith Brothers, their families, and their many friends." Others wrote in the same spirit, —as, for instance, J. C. Hoadley, of New Bedford, who, though not knowing the sufferers, said: "I thank you, in the name of all fair dealing, for your opinion upon the case of Franklin W. Smith "; and John Clark, who, having been connected with the press in Boston, had passed into the public service, wrote from Norfolk :—"Will you permit me to thank you for your able exposition of the case of the Smith Brothers? I do not know those parties; but I am interested in public liberty, and I have seen no abler defender of it, since the beginning of the war, than you have shown yourself to be on this occasion. I thank you, Sir." From these expressions it appears that the effort of Mr. Sumner was regarded as not only a defence of the individual citizen, but a contribution to good government. The testimony of Mr. Clark was of the more value, as he had not been accustomed to sympathize with Mr. Sumner in his public course. Independent of its character, this case has an incidental interest. It was one of the last, if not the last, having a personal relation, that ever occupied the mind of President Lincoln. His indorsement, overruling the judgment and sentence, bears date March 18th. This was Saturday. Meanwhile the Rebellion was about to fall, and the President left Washington, by boat, Thursday, March 23d, for City Point, the headquarters of the Army of Virginia, where he remained till after the surrender of Richmond, returning to Washington Sunday evening, April 9th, and being assassinated Friday evening, April 14th. Some circumstances associated with this case help exhibit the character of the President. They will be stated briefly. As soon as Mr. Sumner had prepared his Opinion, he hurried to the President. It was late in the afternoon, and the latter was about entering his carriage for a drive, when Mr. Sumner arrived with the papers in his hand. He at once mentioned the result he had reached, and added that it was a case for instant action. The President proposed that he should return the next day, when he would consider it with him. Mr. Sumner rejoined, that, in his opinion, the President ought not to sleep on the case, — that he should interfere promptly for the relief of innocent fellow-citizens, — and urged, that, if Abraham Lincoln had suffered unjust imprisonment as a criminal, with degradation before his neighbors, an immense bill of expense, a trial by court-martial, and an unjust condemnation, he would cry out against any postponement of justice for a single day. The President, apparently impressed by Mr. Sumner's earnestness and his personal appeal, appointed eleven o'clock that evening, when he would go over the case, and hear Mr. Sumner's Opinion. Accordingly, at eleven o'clock that evening, in the midst of a thunder-storm, filling the streets with water, and threatening chimneys, Mr. Sumner made his way to the Presidential mansion. At the very hour named he was received, and at the request of the President proceeded to read his Opinion. The latter listened attentively, with occasional comments, and at the close showed his sympathy with the respondents. It was now twenty minutes after midnight, when the President said that he would write his conclusion at once, and that Mr. Sumner must come and hear it the next morning, — "when I open shop," said he. "And when do you open shop?" Mr. Sumner inquired. "At nine o'clock," was the reply. At that hour Mr. Sumner was in the office he had left after midnight, when the President came running in, and read at once the indorsement in his own handwriting, as follows : —
"I am unwilling for the sentence to stand and be executed, to any extent, in this case. In the absence of a more adequate motive than the evidence discloses, I am wholly unable to believe in the existence of criminal or fraudulent intent on the part of one of such well-established good character as is the accused. If the evidence went as far toward establishing a guilty profit of one or two hundred thousand dollars, as it does of one or two hundred dollars, the case would, on the question of guilt, bear a far different aspect. That on this contract, involving from one million to twelve hundred thousand dollars, the contractors should attempt a fraud which at the most could profit them only one or two hundred, or even one thousand dollars, is to my mind beyond the power of rational belief. That they did not, in such a case, strike for greater gains proves that they did not, with guilty or fraudulent intent, strike at all. The judgment and sentence are disapproved and declared null, and the accused ordered to be discharged. "A. Lincoln. "March 18, 1865." Then followed an incident as original as anything in the life of Henry the Fourth, of France, or of a Lacedaemonian king. As Mr. Sumner was making an abstract of the indorsement for communication by telegraph to the anxious parties, the President broke into quotation from Petroleum V. Nasby, and, seeing that his visitor was less at home than himself in this patriotic literature, he said, "I must initiate you," and then repeated with enthusiasm the message he had sent to the author: "For the genius to write these things I would gladly give up my office." Then rising and turning to a standing-desk behind, he opened it and took out a pamphlet collection of the letters already published, which he proceeded to read aloud, evidently enjoying it much. For the time he seemed to forget the case he had just decided, and Presidential duties. This continued more than twenty minutes, when Mr. Sumner, thinking there must be many at the door waiting to see the President on graver matters, took advantage of a pause, and, thanking him for the lesson of the morning, left. Some thirty persons, including Senators and Representatives, were in the anteroom as he passed out.1 Though with the President much during the intervening days before his death, this was the last business Mr. Sumner transacted with him.
i This incident la related by Mr. Sumner in his Introduction to the Boston edition nf the Na-by Letters, in 1872. RESPECT FOR THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Resolution Adopted At A Meeting Of Senators And RepresentAtives, April 17, 1865.
President Lincoin breathed his last on the morning of Saturday, April 15th. Congress not being in session, there was a meeting of Senators and Representatives then in Washington, April 17th, at noon, when Hon. Lafayette S. Foster, President pro tempore of the Senate, was called to the Chair, and Hon. Schuyler Colfax was chosen Secretary. Senator Foot, of Vermont, stated the object of the meeting. On motion of Mr. Sumner, a Committee of five from each House was ordered to report at four o'clock, p. M., on the action proper for the meeting. The Chair appointed Mr. Sumner, Mr. Harris, of New York, Mr. Reverdy Johnson, of Maryland, Mr. Ramsey, of Minnesota, and Mr. Conness, of California, on the part of the Senate, also Mr. Washburne, of Illinois, Mr. Smith, of Kentucky, Mr. Schenck, of Ohio, Mr. Pike, of Maine, and Mr. Coffroth, of Pennsylvania, on the part of the House of Representatives. On motion of Mr. Schenck, the Chairman and Secretary of the meeting were added to the Committee. The Committee reported a list of pall-bearers for the funeral, and also a Congressional Committee of one from each State to accompany the remains of the late President to Illinois, which were adopted by the meeting. They also reported the following resolution, drawn by Mr. Sumner, which was unanimously agreed to. THE members of the Senate and House of Representatives now assembled in Washington, humbly confessing their dependence upon Almighty God, who rules all that is done for human good, make haste, at
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this informal meeting, to express the emotions with which they have been filled by the appalling tragedy that has deprived the nation of its head and covered the land with mourning, and, in further declaration of their sentiments, resolve unanimously,— 1. That, in testimony of their veneration and affection for the illustrious dead, who has been permitted, under Providence, to do so much for his country and for Liberty, they will unite in the funeral services, and by an appropriate committee will accompany his remains to their place of burial in the State from which he was taken for the national service. 2. That in the life of Abraham Lincoln, who, by the benignant favor of republican institutions, rose from humble beginnings to the height of power and fame, they recognize an example of purity, simplicity, and virtue which should be a lesson to mankind; while in his death they acknowledge a martyr whose memory will become more precious as men learn to prize those principles of constitutional order, and those rights, civil, political, and human, for which he was made a sacrifice. 3. That they invite the President of the United States, by solemn proclamation, to recommend that the people of the United States should assemble on a day appointed by him, in public testimony of their grief, and to dwell on the good that has been done on earth by him we now mourn. 4. That a copy of these resolutions be communicated to the President of the United States, and also to the afflicted widow of the late President, as an expression of sympathy in her great bereavement.