Saturday, October 15, 2016

Edwin M. Stanton to Major-General John A. Dix, December 15, 1864

War Department, Washington City, December 15,1864.

General,—Your General Order No. 97, telegraphed to this Department, has been submitted to the President, who directs me to inform you that he approves prompt and vigilant action, within proper limits, to protect your Department and its inhabitants against hostile aggression; and that, in view of the recent action by a local British tribunal in turning loose the marauders who were guilty of murder and robbery at St. Alban's, every effort should be made to secure the citizens of the United States on the frontier, in their persons and property, against future outrages. But it remains to be seen whether the Executive authorities in Canada will sanction the action of their judicial officer; and the President does not approve that part of your Order which instructs “all military commanders on the frontier” in certain cases therein specified to cross the boundary between the United States and Canada, and directs pursuit into neutral territory. The act of invading neutral territory by military commanders is, in the opinion of the President, too grave and serious to be left to the discretion or will of subordinate commanders, where the facility of communication with superior authority is so speedy, as it always may be with the chief authority in your Department, and even with the President at Washington. The President, therefore, does not think the portion of your Order referred to required by any public necessity, or compatible with proper military subordination or the public peace and security. Subordinate military authorities, when left to their own will or discretion, are too prone to act upon views of military necessity where none really exists, to be intrusted with the power of crossing neutral territory without specific authority. If circumstances shall require military commanders to cross into Canada, or to pursue marauders, thieves, or murderers of any description into neutral territory, proper authority can be applied for, without any delay prejudicial to the public welfare.

Your obedient servant,

Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
Major-general John A. Dix,
Commanding the Department of the East, New York.

SOURCE: Morgan Dix, Memoirs of John Adams Dix, Volume 2, p. 113

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