The following is the main portion of Judge Richard Parker
's charge to the Grand Jury
of Frederick county
, to which allusion was made yesterday:
Gentlemen of the Grand Jury:
--We meet together at a most unfavorable time for the calm and proper discharge of our duties.--War, with its attendant evils, is raging along our borders, and seems each day to be approaching nearer and nearer to our homes and firesides.
There is not one of us who can avoid partaking of the excitement which such a condition of affairs has aroused; and yet we must be careful, lest under its influence we needlessly trample down some great safe-guard of our liberties, or neglect duties imposed upon us, or perform them in a careless or inefficient manner.
Times of war have their peculiar dangers, as well as their peculiar obligations.
Whilst at such periods every good citizen will rally to the defence of his State, and be zealous to guard her against every injury that may threaten her, whether from within or without, he will at the same time be careful to defend against assault or encroachment all those personal rights which designate us as a free people.
We must also be jealously watchful, lest under some plausible pretext of the public good, powers not granted to our public agents be assumed by them, and great constitutional rights be thereby set aside or impaired.
In a neighboring State, under some such pretext, the great writ of habeas corpus,
devised for the protection of the citizen from all illegal restraint upon the freedom of his person, has by an insolent soldiery been rendered practically inoperative, and the military has thus made itself superior to the civil authority.
We fortunately need not dread that so bad an example will be imitated here, for our Constitution has provided that ‘"the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus
shall not in any case be suspended;"’ and such was our forefathers' love of liberty, and wise precaution to protect it, that in the Declaration of the Rights which they claimed as pertaining to them and their posterity, though adopted in the midst of our Revolutionary struggle, it is laid down as a fundamental principle of a free Government, ‘"that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."’ Still this example will serve to show how boldly the most sacred rights may be disregarded by men in power — and that eternal vigilance is the price that we must pay for the preservation of human freedom.
What conduct is to be regarded as criminal or otherwise, what men may do or may not do in times of war as well as in times of peace, is plainly written down in our laws.--And whilst we cannot overlook any conduct which is opposed to the requirements of law; so, on the other hand, we cannot hold that to be criminal which the law does not so consider and denounce.
Moreover, all violations of its injunctions can be inquired into and punished by none other than its duly appointed agencies, military or civil, who possess from its grant all the powers necessary for these purposes, and all which they possess at all. The law can tolerate no interference by others with duties it has assumed to itself; but in vindication of its majesty will be prompt to punish every such interference as a high offence against the best interests of the community.
Let us not then, whether in times of peace or of war, for a moment forget that we live under a Government of Law; that Law is supreme over all of us, to control our actions even in the height of excitements, to enforce the discharge of duty from the most apathetic and reluctant, and to compel the most turbulent to live in subjection to its authority.
In times of quiet, the firm enforcement of our penal laws is found to be essential to the peace and good order of society.
It is these laws which protect us in the enjoyment of life and property by punishing all who dare to infringe upon either.
And it is evident that their prompt enforcement is still more necessary in times of disorder, when men are thrown together in large bodies, removed from the restraints of home and of neighborhood; and when greater opportunities are supposed to be offered for the commission of crime without the fear of detection, from the fact that so large a portion of our most active citizens have been withdrawn from our midst, to repel an enemy, whose tread is a desecration of our soil.
To other causes of disturbance let there not be added the want of peace and of a feeling of security about our homes, or any invasion of the rights of person or of property, by any class of our own people.
But let us, at once and decidedly, check any conduct, which at all tends to the further disturbance of society, by every means which the law places at our disposal.
But I must pass to a more particular consideration of subjects which events now occurring render of great practical importance.
As you are aware, our law divides all of fences into two great classes: Felonies, which are punishable by death or by confinement in the penitentiary; and misdemeanors, which are punishable by fine and imprisonment in the county jail.
And first in degree
among the former is the crime of treason,
a term denoting treachery or a breach of that loyalty and faithful service which is due to one's State, in return for the protection to life, liberty and property that it extends over each one of its citizens.
And yet, until within a few short weeks since, what Virginian had even been so much as suspected of a purpose to raise a parricidal arm against the Commonwealth
and the hope and wish of every citizen of the State
, throughout its whole extent, had been that Virginia
might ever continue one and indivisible.
Now, however, we hear of designs and combinations to divide the State
, and form a new State out of certain of its counties; and it is my duty to advise you that this cannot legally be done, unless the Legislature shall give its consent thereto; nor can any one hold or execute any office in such new State, or protess allegiance or fidelity to it, or under color of its authority resist the execution of the laws of this Commonwealth, without incurring the guilt and pains of treason.
We all know that the relations which so long subsisted between us and the other States under the Constitution of the United States
, have been entirely dissolved by the sovereign people of Virginia
; and because of this, the Government
of the United States
is now waging war upon us. We thus stand towards each other in the attitude of enemies; and our Law declares that whoever shall ‘"levy war against the State
,"’ as if he shall enlist in the Federal
army, or assemble with others in force to resist the State
's authority, or who shall ‘"adhere to its enemies — giving them aid and comfort,"’ in whatever way the same may be done, as by raising troops for their service, or by furnishing their armies with supplies, or by giving them information as to our means of offence or defence, the movements of our forces, or any other treasonable intelligence, shall, upon conviction, be punished with death as a traitor.
It is further declared to be a high offence, that any should know of any such treason, and not, as soon as may be, give information thereof, to the Governor
or some conservator of the peace.
These laws are stern, their penalties severe, and yet, because of the great interest involved and the widespread mischief that may attend their violation, not more so than may be necessary; and it will be our duty to enforce them against any of our citizens who shall in any way assist the United States Government in its present aggressive war upon us.--Virginia
has withdrawn from the Union
under the Federal Constitution
Her people now owe exclusive allegiance to her, and none whatever to the United States
That she has this right to withdraw, (I speak not of the propriety of its exercise, because that question comes not within the range of judicial inquiry,) has long been my well-considered opinion; I may say I have never entertained a doubt with regard to it. When in June, 1776, our State threw off the English
yoke, and declared herself a free and independent State, she at once became invested with all the rights of sovereignty.--She has never, so far as I can discover, at any time diverted herself of any of these rights.
He people are now, as they were in 1776, and from that period have always been, a separate people, with every right that belongs to a free and independent nation.
When on the 25th of June, 1788, she became a member of the Federal Union, she in no proper sense surrendered or lost any portion of her sovereignty.
Her accession to the Union
was simply an expression of the will of her people, in the exercise of their sovereignty, that certain governmental potters should be administered through the Government
, whilst the residue were to be administered by the Government
Not withstanding those grants of powers, it was her indubitable, unalienable and indefensible fight, as an independent nation, to reform, ulter or abolish any government she had established for herself — that which was administered through the Federal
agents, as well as that which was administered by her own exclusive servants.
Of this right she could not deprive herself.
The people of 1788 could not take from the sovereign people of 1861 the great right of modifying, for entirely abolishing, any government which had in their opinion become oppressive or injurious.
Then again when our State in 1788 ratified the Federal Constitution
, she did it with this declaration, which is made a part of her act of ratification, ‘"that the powers granted under the Constitution
, being derived from the people of the United States
, may be resumed by them, whenever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression."’--whilst she thus announced what was true, that these powers were derived, not from herself alone, but from the people of all the United States
--and if perverted to their injury the same might be resumed by them — that is, by the other States as well as by herself, yet she could have made this reservation for herself alone, having no authority to make it for the people of any other State.
And as by the Ordinance of the 17th April last, which has been ratified by the recent popular vote, the State
has declared that the Federal Government
has perverted, to the injury of her people, the powers conferred upon it, I do not see how we can question her right, thus reserved, to resume to herself the powers she had granted to that Government.
You perceive, gentlemen, I speak solely of the right
of the State
, her lawful power, to withdraw from the Federal Union.
In this forum we can consider no other questions than those of a legal nature.
being established, it follows that the recent action of the State
is binding on us all, and every good citizen is bound to give it his full support.
From my long acquaintance with our own Virginia
people, I know that whilst they make no concession to threats or force, they are ever ready to render a cheerful obedience to the laws of their State, and because of this, I have attempted to show that the late Ordinance of Secession was not passed in violation of law, but that the State
had the legal right to adopt it.
If such shall become the universal judgment of our people, we need have no prosecutions under these laws respecting treason.
The very fidelity that has been displayed in the past, is the strongest assurance that can be given of fidelity in the future.
I also, gentlemen, invite your serious attention to some of the numerous provisions of our laws respecting our free negro and slave population: provisions, intended to prevent our being annoyed and overrun by any portion of the former, except such as by law are entitled to remain amongst us; to protect all the masters' rights of property in the latter, and to keep both classes in that state of subjection which is alone consistent with their comfort and our safety.
In times like these, we should be very watchful over these people, and see that in their ignorance they are not betrayed by others into conduce which, whilst hurtful for the moment to us, might prove absolutely destructive to them.
An inferior race, placed by Providence
under our control, we must as far as possible protect them from the arts of designing men, by punishing with exemplary severity all who may even attempt to incite them to any serious mischief.
In this way only can we fully discharge the duties of protection we owe to them and to ourselves.