public prints, to the resolutions adopted at a recent meeting in the city of Albany affirming the personal rights and liberties of the citizens of this country, has been referred to the undersigned, the committee who prepared and reported those resolutions. The subject will now receive from us some further attention, which your answer seems to justify, if not to invite. We hope not to appear wanting in the respect due to your high position if we reply with a freedom and earnestness suggested by the infinite gravity and importance of the questions upon which you have thought proper to take issue at the bar of public opinion. You seem to be aware that the Constitution of the United States, which you have sworn to protect and defend, contains the following guarantees, to which we again ask your attention: First. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. Second. The right of the people to be secure in their persons against unreasonable seizures shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause supported by oath. Third. No person, except soldiers and mariners in the service of the Government, shall be held to answer for a capital or infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a grand jury, nor shall any person be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Fourth. In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right of a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State or district in which the crime shall have been committed, and to be confronted with the witnesses against him. You are also no doubt aware that on the adoption of the Constitution these invaluable provisions were proposed by the jealous caution of the States, and were inserted as amendments for a perpetual assurance of liberty against the encroachments of power. From your earliest reading of history, you also know that the great principles of liberty and law which underlie these provisions were derived to us from the British Constitution. In that country they were secured by magna charta more than six hundred years ago, and they have been confirmed by many and repeated statutes of the realm. A single palpable violation of them in England would not only arouse the public indignation, but would endanger the throne itself. For a persistent disregard of them, Charles the First was dethroned and beheaded by his rebellious subjects. The fact has already passed into history that the sacred rights and immunities which were designed to be protected by these constitutional guarantees have not been preserved to the people during your administration. In violation of the first of them, the freedom of the press has been denied. In repeated instances newspapers have been suppressed in the loyal States because they criticized, as constitutionally they might, those fatal errors of policy which have characterized the conduct of public affairs since your advent to power. In violation of the second of them, hundreds, and we believe thousands, of men have been seized and immured in prisons and bastiles, not only without warrant upon probable cause, but without any warrant, and for no other cause than a constitutional exercise of the freedom of speech. In violation of all these guarantees, a distinguished citizen of a peaceful and loyal State has been torn from his home at midnight by a band of soldiers, acting under the order of one of your generals, tried before a military commission, without judge or jury, convicted and sentenced without even the suggestion of any offence known to the Constitution or laws of this country. For all these acts you avow yourself ultimately responsible. In the special case of Mr. Vallandigham, the injustice commenced by your subordinate was consummated by a sentence of exile from his home pronounced by you. That, great wrong, more than any other which preceded it, asserts the principles of a supreme despotism. These repeated and continued invasions of constitutional liberty and private right have occasioned profound anxiety in the public mind. The apprehension and alarm which they are calculated to produce have been greatly enhanced by your attempt to justify them. Because in that attempt you assume to yourself a rightful authority possessed by no constitutional monarch on earth. We accept the declaration that you prefer to exercise this authority with a moderation not hitherto exhibited. But, believing as we do, that your forbearance is not the tenure by which liberty is enjoyed in this country, we propose to challenge the grounds on which your claims of supreme power is based. While yielding to you as a constitutional magistrate the deference to which you are entitled, we cannot accord to you the despotic power you claim, however indulgent and gracious you may promise to be in wielding it. We have carefully considered the grounds on which your pretensions to more than legal authority are claimed to rest; and if we do not misinterpret the misty and clouded forms of expression in which those pretensions are set forth, your meaning is, that while the rights of the citizen are protected by the Constitution in time of peace, they are suspended or lost in time of war, when invasion or rebellion exists. You do not, like many others in whose minds reason and the love of regulated liberty seem to be overthrown by the excitements of the hour, attempt to base this conclusion upon a supposed military necessity existing outside of and transcending the Constitution, a military necessity behind which the Constitution itself disappears in a total eclipse. We do not find this gigantic and monstrous heresy put forth in your plea for absolute power, but we do find another equally subversive of liberty and law, and quite as certainly tending to the establishment of despotism. You claim to have found, not outside but within the Constitution, a principle or germ of arbitrary power, which in time of war expands at once into an absolute sovereignty, wielded by one man, so that liberty perishes, or is dependent on his will, his discretion,
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.