Thursday, December 27, 2012

Conspiracy Against the Government

In the Senate, March 25th, Mr. LATHAM said:

I have a resolution that I shall offer, and I beg the indulgence of the Senate while I make a brief preliminary statement, as I shall ask for its immediate consideration.  In the Boston Journal of Saturday evening, March 22, 1862, appeared the following article:

“TREASONABLE PLOT IN MICHIGAN. – The Detroit Tribune publishes a curious document revealing an attempt that in that State last fall to organize a league for the purpose of overthrowing the Federal Government.  This object is plainly avowed in a secret circular, which declares the purpose of the movement to be ‘to rise and unite if necessary, with the a--- (army) and the S----, (South,) overrun the N---- (North) like a hurricane, sweeping the A------------- (Administration) into eternity, or at least, driving them into complete and unconditional submission.’  The document is dated October 5, 1861, and says the league is doing a noble work in Maryland and among the soldiers at Fortress Monroe and that ‘President P----- (President Pierce) in his passage has drawn many brave and influential men to the league.’  The Tribune says the original of the document is now in the State Department at Washington, and that it led to the arrest and imprisonment of several persons in Fort Lafayette.  It was discovered that secret organizations existed in many towns in Michigan, and in numerous places in Canada West.”

This morning I received the following letter from ex-President Pierce:

CONCORD, N. H., March 24, 1862.

MY DEAR SIR:  I inclose a short notice from the Saturday evening edition of the Boston Journal, (March 22,) the substance of which it is quite probable you may have seen before.  Having originated in Michigan, and been reproduced in Boston, it can hardly be doubted that it has already secured a wide circulation.

The subject is not new to me.  It was the occasion of a correspondence between the Secretary of State and myself as early as December last.  I thought it reasonable to suppose, at the close of that correspondence, that the matter would cease to attract notice.

This expectation not having been realized, and the offensive charge alleged to be based upon a document, the original of which “is now in the State Department at Washington,” having been revived and extensively published, will you do me the favor to introduce in the Senate a resolution calling for the correspondence to which I have referred.

It will strike you, I am sure, both upon public and personal grounds, that such imputations should not be permitted thus to circulate unchallenged, especially when an answer to them, at least so far as I am concerned, has been for months upon the files of the first Department of the Government.

I am, very truly, your friend, &c.,


Hon. MILTON S. LATHAM, United States Senate, Washington, D. C.

Mr. President, I shall offer the resolution in my hand, and I trust the Senate will permit its consideration now, for I deem it nothing more than proper not only to this distinguished individual, but to the country.  That the truth in relation to this charge should be known, and if a malignant and base calumny, that it should be branded as such:

            Resolved.  That the Secretary of State be requested to transmit to this body copies of any correspondence which may have taken place between Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, and Hon. Franklin Pierce, ex-President of the United States having reference to a supposed conspiracy against the Government.

Mr. CHANDLER.  Mr. President –

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Senator will allow the Chair first to ascertain whether there is any objection to the consideration of the resolution.

Mr. CHANDLER.  I wish to make some remarks in regard to the resolution.

The VICE PRESIDENT.  They are not in order unless the resolution is before the Senate.

Mr. HOWARD.  I hope there will be no objection to it.

Mr. CHANDLER.  A copy of that letter was furnished by me to the State Department, I think as early as November last, and it has been in my hands since the 7th or 8th day of October.  I should desire to read to the Senate the whole of the letter which that is an extract, but it is at my room, and I have not got it with me at this time.  The organization was most treasonable and infamous; it was wide spread; and it received the attention of the State Department, as I think it should have done.  The writer of that identical article – a Dr. Hopkins – was on his way to accept a commission as surgeon in the Federal Army when he was arrested and sent to Fort La Fayette.  About that time “the Knights of the Golden Circle,” as I was informed and believe, came to the resolution that they would be more patriotic than anybody else; that they would rush into the Federal army; that they would put men, if possible, in every regiment of the Federal army; and to my certain knowledge, they did succeed in getting a large number of the worst traitors in the United States into the Federal army; and they are there now.  This man Hopkins acknowledged the writing of this letter, but undertook to call it a joke.  Well, sir, it was a pretty serious joke.  I have, perhaps, more information than it is necessary for me to divulge at this time in reference to this matter.

Mr. LATHAM.  I do not wish to gainsay anything the gentleman has said.  What I wish, and what I feel is due to the Government and the country is to know whether a person who has filled the highest office within the gift of the American People, an ex-President of the United States, was in any manner connected with such an organization.  It is due to him, and it is due to the country, that it should be known whether such is the fact; and that is simply the object of my resolution.

Mr. HOWARD.  I am very glad, Mr. President, that the Senator from California has presented this resolution.  I think it is alike due to ex-President Pierce and to the country that the facts, so far as they are attainable at the State Department, should be obtained by the Senate and spread out before the country.  I do not undertake to say, nor to intimate, that the papers to which allusion is made by the Senator from California, will in any way implicate ex-President Pierce.  I do not know how that may be; I will not undertake to say.  That there is such a letter has been referred to by my colleague is certainly true; for I have seen the original with my own eyes; or that which is called the original.  I believe, however, that the resolution of my friend from California does not require a copy of that particular letter – the letter of Dr. Hopkins.  I would inquire of him whether it is broad enough to cover that letter.  It calls simply for any correspondence that may have taken place between ex-President Pierce and the State Department, and I think stops there; but I may be mistaken.

Mr. LATHAM.  At the suggestion of the Honorable Senator from Michigan, I will amend my resolution, so as to add at the conclusion of it, “and all other papers relating to the same.”

Mr. HOWARD.  I hope that amendment will be made, so that we may have all the documents before the Senate.  I will go further. – I do not know that my friend form California will – and suggest to him to extend his resolution so far as to require the production of any written or printed document in the possession of the executive department of this Government relating to the organization and purpose of a secret combination known commonly as the Knights of the Golden Circle.  I will not move such an amendment now myself; but I suggest it to him, and if he will move it, I shall be very glad to have him do that also.

Mr. LATHAM.  I think the resolution is broad enough as it is.  That might involve matters which the State Department might not deem conducive to the public interest to lay before this body.  I should certainly vote for such a resolution if that were brought in independently of my own; but I think it is embarrassing the resolution I now offer.

Mr. HOWARD.  I will not offer it myself, I am quite satisfied with the extent of the resolution as amended by my friend from California.  I hope it will pass.

Mr. CHANDLER.  Will the Secretary read the resolution as it now stands.

The Secretary read it as follows:

            Resolved.  That the Secretary of State be directed to transmit to this body copies of any correspondence which may have taken place between Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, and Hon. Franklin Pierce, ex-President of the United States, having reference to a supposed conspiracy against the Government, and all other papers relating to the same.

The resolution was agreed to.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, April 5, 1862, p. 2

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