Today in History:

869 Series I Volume XVII-II Serial 25 - Corinth Part II


Memphis, November 17, 1862.


President Washington Union Club:

DEAR SIR: The resolutions of November 16 are before me. I heard them read at the time, and the debate on them, but then did not make known what was in progress, nor can I now tell all, but the Union men may rest assured that no insult shall be made to our Government by Judge Swayne or anybody else, and stand unrebuked. Secessionists, when in power, may be tyrants and villains, but we must be men. We must heed the lessons of history and counsels of wise men, who have gone before us. They in rebellion use terror and force; we can afford to do right. They keep up clamors an rumors, boasts and arrogance; we, knowing ourselves to be right, can pursue "the even tenor of our way," calm and conscious of ultimate success.

Now, finding ourselves (the military) in Memphis firmly established, I naturally wanted to see order established among the people of your town. Among all nations, murder, arson, burglary, robbery, and personal violence are deemed crimes against human nature, and these is always a tribunal speedily appointed to try all such cases. These tribunals have no political power, and therefore in war remain unimpaired, and pursue their business, although all the rest of government might be in wreck and confusion. We all know that in Memphis you have a good deal of crime, too much, and somebody must punish it. The military is here to vindicate the right and dignity of the General Government, not to take care of the people. We have enough to do if we mind our own business, so that somebody else must punish murder, &c., among citizens. Finding a criminal court here, I conferred with Judge Swayne, and explained to him that whilst we were determined the flag of our country and the just authority of the Government should be respected all over the world, we wanted the people of Memphis protected against the criminals in their midst, and that he might hold his court.

He has organized it, and appointed his grand jury, and has let off some secession and State's right nonsense. When a man makes big professions and falls far short in practice, what is the judgment of men? So when a judge makes a magnificent manifestos, and then tries a few pickpockets and loafers, what may we infer? Instead of being a subject of dread and fear, he becomes an object of ridicule. A criminal court is rather a small affair to make trouble among honest men, and this criminal court, what can it do? It may indict criminals that every Union man would like to see punished, but can they hurt any hones man? No; they must punish crime, but dare not attempt to execute any law of Tennessee in opposition to the laws of Congress. Let them attempt to indict a Union man for his opinion, or attempt to punish others for hiring a runaway slave, or let the court attempt the exercise of any foolish or despotic power, and Judge Swayne and that grand jury would learn a lesson in politics that would last them to their dying day. If this court minds its own business, and punishes crime, I will help them; but if they attempt to convert a petty criminal court into a political machine, I will promplty interfere.

Judge Swayne and the grand jury know my opinions, and I think the Union Club will have no reason to fear evil consequences. The Union people are not yet able to compose the necessary court and machinery of Government. Who are your judges? Who are your lawyers? These you must have, before you can make county courts, district