Monday, June 23, 2014

Jefferson Davis Never Convicted of Treason

Cruel punishment was inflicted upon President Jefferson Davis during his imprisonment: placed in irons, guards pacing in his cell and candlelight twenty-four hours a day, no exercise, and food that was barely edible.  Even the London Times was shocked at the torture and wrote in defense of "a man whom a little success would have transformed from a traitor to a monarch."
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"
Jefferson Davis Never Convicted of Treason
"Finally, on May 10, 1866, in the circuit court of the United States for the District of Virginia, Jefferson Davis was indicted for treason.  Davis had been held at Fort Monroe on three charges: conspiracy to assassinate the President.  2., starvation and murder of Union prisoners. 3. Treason. 
Two New York members of the bar, George Shea and Charles O'Conner, had previously agreed to represent Davis without pay.  There was a great deal of pressure from prominent persons in the North for the defense of Davis, not the least among them was Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.  Other lawyers volunteered to help bring about a speedy trial.
There were those in the government who would have been happier if the whole problem had been avoided by an escape of Jefferson Davis to a foreign country in the first place instead of capture.  There were those who also suggested that Davis ask for a pardon to which he would never consent.  Since he felt he had never committed any crime, he would never ask for a pardon.
Still the Federal government procrastinated.  Chief Justice [Salmon P.] Chase tenaciously clung to the idea that there should be no trial for treason.
"If you bring the leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion.  Trials for treason in the civil courts are not remedies adopted to the close of a great civil war.  Honor forbids a resort to them after combatants in open war have recognized each other as soldiers and gentlemen engaged in legitimate conflict . . . It would be shockingly indecorous for the ultimate victor to in such conflict to send his vanquished opponent before the civil magistrate to be tried as if he were a mere thief or rioter.
Lincoln wanted Jefferson Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake; his trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason. Secession is settled. Let it stay settled."
When the term of the court at Richmond was opened in May, 1867, George Shea filed for a petition on behalf of Davis for a writ of habeas corpus, and the writ was granted and served on the commanding officer at Fort Monroe . . . In the company of his counsel Davis came into court on May 13, 1867.
Horace Greeley, Cornelius Vanderbilt and other prominent Northern men posted bond in the amount of $100,000, and Davis was set free."
(Jefferson Davis, Herman S. Frey, Frey Enterprises, 1977, pp. 69-72)