Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

loss to account for the spirit manifested in the prosecution. If they look at the trivial character of many of the specifications against the defendants, they are still more at a loss. It is difficult to account for such elaborate and persistent harshness, without yielding to the prevailing belief that other motives than the vindication of justice have entered into this case.

The undersigned are not strangers to the fact, that one of these defendants, in the discharge of what he believed to be his duty as a good citizen, has, by correspondence and testimony before committees of Congress, been brought into collision with officers of the Navy Department; and there is too much reason to believe that some of these officers have allowed themselves to be governed by personal feelings throughout these strange proceedings.

Under such circumstances, the undersigned most respectfully ask your assistance in securing justice to these defendants, according to the common course of proceedings at law. They are acquainted with the statute which provides court-martial for contractors in certain cases, and they are unwilling to make any suggestion which shall interfere with its efficiency; but they have no hesitation in saying that such a statute, intended for extreme cases, should not be applied to a case like the present, where, with a single exception, the questions are simply whether the defendants complied with their contract, and therefore, from their nature, can be better considered by the ordinary tribunals accustomed to such questions than by a naval tribunal composed of officers who have no familiarity with them.

If the pending proceedings against the Messrs. Smith

should be continued, there are two courses with regard to them which may be recommended.

First, That they should be transferred at once to the United States Court in Massachusetts, and be placed under the direction of the learned Attorney of the United States for that District.

Secondly, If the foregoing order is not deemed expedient, on the existing evidence, then a commission or commissioner might be appointed by the President to inquire into the circumstances attending the arrest of the defendants, and also into the nature of the charges against them, in order to ascertain and report if there is any sufficient reason for the singular harshness to which they have been already subjected, and also for the exceptional proceedings instituted against them.

For the sake of justice, and to relieve the Government from all suspicion of undue harshness, the undersigned protest against the spirit in which these proceedings have been conducted, and appeal to you for such remedy as shall seem best, to the end that the public interests may be adequately protected without any sacrifice of the rights of the citizen, and without needless interference with the order of business.

[blocks in formation]

JOHN B. ALLEY, by C. Sumner, as by letter.1

[BOSTON, August 15, 1864.]

1 Hon. Alexander H. Rice, a Representative of Boston, being absent from

Boston, addressed a letter to the President.

The trial proceeded at Charlestown, lasting several months, with able counsel for the defendants, and it ended in judgment against the defendants, who were sentenced to imprisonment for two years and a fine of twenty thousand dollars. This judgment and sentence were approved by the Secretary of the Navy, and it only remained for the President to give them his sanction. Before this was done, Mr. Sumner saw him. The President listened to his appeal, and at once put into his hands the elaborate report from the Secretary of the Navy, setting forth the facts in the case and approving the conclusion of the court-martial, asking him to read it carefully and give his opinion upon it, which he did without delay.

OPINION.

THIS case has been pending since 17th June, 1864, when the Messrs. Smith Brothers, who, as merchants, enjoyed an enviable reputation, were suddenly arrested by military authority, and, without any opportunity of conferring with counsel or friends, were hurried off to Fort Warren. During all this period, running over nine months, I have kept myself aloof from the case, so far as possible, knowing that I was not so circumstanced. as to consider it on its merits, and under the conviction, that, at last, justice would be done.

On certain matters independent of the merits I have with others been called to speak. One of these was the manner of the arrest and the bail required. At the time of the arrest, all the books and papers of the parties were seized and sequestered. The hardship of the arrest was aggravated by the bail required, which was fixed at half a million of dollars. "Excessive bail" is forbidden by the Constitution; but it would be difficult to say what bail could be "excessive," if this was not.

The other matter on which I was called to speak was the order for the trial of the Messrs. Smith Broth

ers by court-martial at Philadelphia, when it was notorious that the proceedings must be protracted, and that numerous witnesses must be summoned from Boston, at great expense: the whole constituting a plain oppression, not unlike the demand of "excessive bail.”

The hardship in these preliminary proceedings seemed to justify an appeal to the President, in which I joined, for his intervention at least to change the place of trial. Perhaps they illustrate also the temper which entered into this prosecution.

It is only since the President has put into my hands the report on the findings of the Court, adopted by the Secretary of the Navy, that I have looked into the case on its merits. I have read that report carefully, and also the arguments of the counsel on both sides; but I have not had any opportunity to examine the whole record. From the fulness of the report, and of the arguments, this was hardly necessary. The record is extensively cited in the report and the arguments, and also in a pamphlet by one of the respondents, which I have read.

The more I have examined the case, the more I have been surprised by the preliminary proceedings, the continued prosecution, and the findings of the Court. I can well understand how they were used in the House of Representatives as an argument for the total repealof the Act of Congress authorizing the trial of civilians by courts-martial. Such a case must make us fear, that, under this Act, justice may be sacrificed. It might make honest merchants hesitate to enter into business relations with the Government.

On careful examination, it seems that the whole prosecution, so far as proof is seriously pretended, is

reduced to one single specification, to wit, the sale and delivery of five thousand pounds of a tin called. Revely, instead of a tin called Banca, by which, at most, the Government lost one hundred dollars. There are other specifications; but the report adopted by the Secretary of the Navy forbears to dwell on them; and I do not think they can be made the foundation of any judgment against the respondents. They did not seem to have impressed the President, in the conversation which I had with him on the subject. I put them aside as unproved or irrelevant. There only remains the single specification with regard to tin.

Look at this carefully, and the wonder increases that these proceedings were ever instituted.

[ocr errors]

1. The first remark to make is, that, even according to the finding of the Court, the Government has suffered only to the amount of one hundred dollars,being the difference in price between the two kinds of tin at the date of delivery. The pettiness of this loss is still more apparent, when it is considered that the transactions of the respondents with the Government reached the sum of more than twelve hundred thousand dollars, having such infinite details that they covered twelve hundred and five pages of sales. Surely, on every principle of reason or evidence, the insignificance of this loss, in transactions on so large a scale, and extending over three years of time, constitutes an unanswerable presumption in favor of the respondents, excluding, as it does, any adequate motive for the perpetration of fraud. Even assuming that the supply of tin was questionable, it would be reasonable to call it ill-considered, hasty, or mistaken, rather than criminal, according to the finding of the Court. Certainly it could be no jus

« AnteriorContinuar »