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controversy-not to excuse the defendants nor to arraign the state.
Fifteen years ago, Michigan attempted to stretch a railroad across the peninsula, from shore to shore. It was honorable even to fail in so noble a design. An imperfect road was built, reaching from Detroit to Kalamazoo, and was travelled by a few slothful engines. The state conducted it, as the state conducts every thing, with conciliation and kindness toward the people. Necessity obliged the state to give the enterprise over to a corporation, which speedily extended the road to the western waters, and brought it into a perfect condition. Engines increased equally in numbers and in speed, and the road became a thoroughfare alike useful and important to the citizens of Michigan and to the whole country. This public gain was attended by the usual conflict between the corporation and citizens, about routes, titles, prices, stations and property unavoidably taken, injured or destroyed. The regions through which it passed were newly opened. Their inhabitants were settlers, and settlers are generally poor. Their farms were not fenced. Public roads, as well as public lands, were habitually used as ranges for pasturage. Cattle, often the settler's only convertible property, were frequently destroyed. The change was sudden and abrupt. The corporation refused to pay damages ; the settler insisted on them. Litigation ensued, and failed to settle the contested claim. The corporation offered half price, as a compromise. The settler regarded this as a concession of the right and insisted on the whole. Jealousy of wealth and power inflamed the controversy. Occasionally a settler retaliated, and ultimately several united in committing trespasses. The corporation invoked the legal tribunals, but failed for want of evidence. The controversy became embittered, chiefly in Jackson county. On the night of the 19th of November last, the freight depot at Detroit took fire and was reduced to ashes. No one dreamed, or ever would have dreamed of an incendiary, had not a public out cast, lured by the tempting rewards of the corporation, conceived the thought of enriching himself by charging the crime committed here upon persons in Jackson county, obnoxious for trespasses committed there. He secretly gave body and form to that suspicion, and on the 19th of April last, it resulted in the alleged disclosure of a long concerted, profoundly contrived, and deliberately
executed conspiracy by citizens of Leoni for the entire demolition of the rails and structures of the Michigan Central Railroad.
Thus it is seen that the state, by neglecting to provide for the consequences of the sudden change of its policy, caused its citizens "to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths in a way not cast up."
There has been a wild and fearful conflict. On one side, unbridled, licentious speech, retaliation of private wrongs upon the body politic, by reprisals, reckless of condition, sex or age, and of distinction between the offending and the guiltless; on the other, a corporate police of mercenary spies, pursuing and haunting the steps of all who were exposed to their suspicion or their malice. Secret accusations were laboriously compiled by scribes and verified by oaths before magistrates, with the carefully studied and profoundly concealed purpose of obtaining, in some way, evidence enough to sustain an accusation against citizens of Leoni of some crime or crimes for which they could be tried away from Jackson county.
When all was matured, an indictment was speedily found against Abel F. Fitch and others, for burning the depot at Detroit; another for conspiracy to burn the new depot which had arisen in its place; another for burning the depot at Niles ; another for conspiring to burn the depot at Marshall; another in the United States Court, for manufacturing and passing counterfeit money; and still another for burning the public mails. Civil actions were simultaneously brought against the defendants. Bail in frightful sums, was exacted in each of these actions and on every one of these indictments. Able and sympathising friends were ready to become bound; but the wealth of Jackson county could not meet the large demand, and the defendants, ever since, have been held fast as in a cage of iron. The corporation employed ten lawyers among the most eminent within the state, and assuming the direction of the prosecution and defraying a large portion of its expense, has poured forth, through the lips of its witnesses, the compiled volume of secretly gathered accusations. The prisoners have come daily into court to encounter these accusations, and have returned at night to confront pestilential disease in the jail. The press of Michigan received the disclosures as true, and proclaimed them to the world. The press throughout the whole country, accepting the disclosures, responded in expressions of horror to what it regarded as evidence of a universal demoralization in Michigan, and demanded immediate punishment of the accused, with a restoration of the earlier and more rigorous penal code of the state.
Meanwhile, death, by removing the lowest and the highest of the alleged offenders, has invested the transaction with the solemnity of tragedy. Reaction has come, and with it, division of opinion and of sympathy. It is a strife between a corporation and the city of Detroit on the one side, and the county of Jackscn on the other. The question is vehemently discussed, whether Abel F. Fitch died a felon or a victim of cruel oppression. Opposition to the corporation, on whatever grounds, confining itself within legal limits, of course gains strength by moderation. Corporate wealth cannot long oppress the citizen in such a country and under such a government as this. Your verdict against these defendants, if it should appear to be well grounded upon the evidence, should abate a rapidly rising popular commotion ; but, if it should not be so sustained by the evidence, a people who make the wrongs
of each one the common cause of all, will pick strong matter of wrath out of the bloody finger's ends of a successful conspiracy. You have discrimination, candor and courage. You have need to exercise them all. You cannot escape present censure, whether you find the defendants guilty or innocent. But if your verdict be a truthful one, it will receive its vindication in history.
[Here Mr. Seward reviewed at length the evidence on the alleged conspiracy.]
The railroad company, unable to convince the farmers of Jackson county that half price was enough for cattle destroyed, and unable to arrest the depredations which were committed by.way of reprisal, resorted to a system of espionage. On the 10th of August, 1849, they offered a reward of $500 for proof sufficient to convict any one person of any one unlawful overt act, past, present or to come. I am not complaining of this. It becomes necessary to expose this system before you, for the purpose of testing the value of the evidence which has been procured by it. The railroad company employed a corps of spies to watch and to circumvent suspected citizens, paying them compensation, varying from seven shillings and $2 per day or night, to $10 per month. How large that corps was is unknown. But it numbered one
hundred at one time, and no less than fifteen of its members have appeared here as witnesses to sustain this prosecution. * * *
Let me not be misunderstood. Not only do I rejoice that no human life has been lost, nor limb broken, but I condemn these outrages as atrocious, cruel and inhuman. Their only alleviation is that they proceeded from passion; and passion, dark and stumbling, in individual men, is blinder still in masses, where a sense of individual responsibility is lost. But that constitutes no justification. I sympathise in no hostility to the Michigan Central Railroad--in no hostility to corporations--in no hostility to wealth. I rejoice in the completion of every new link in that chain of internal communication, upon which I rely to bind together the ever changing boundaries of this vast empire. I would indeed hold corporations, as I would private citizens, to the practice of justice and moderation; but I know of no legitimate redress, in a government of laws, but redress by law, and by constitutional change of laws. I regret that these aggressions remain unpunished. I trust they will yet be punished, and that the majesty of the law will yet receive its ample vindication.
A corporation, enjoying a monopoly of carrying the person and property of citizens over a great national highway, and deriving from it an income exceeding by three-fold the revenues of the state, has become, in this season of alarm, a power behind the state, greater than the state itself; and now we see the wisdom of a saying of the son of Sirach, himself a sovereign. Beyond a doubt his own court was infested by a nest of caterpillars like these, when he admonished the unwary : “ Curse not the king; no, not in thy thought; and curse not the rich, even in thy bedchamber; for a bird of the air shall carry thy voice, and that which hath wings shall tell of the matter."
Regarding the witnesses produced in this case as mere spies and informers, unconvicted of crime, uncontradicted and unimpeached, what is their moral standard in a virtuous commonwealth? Hear what Addison said, for he was not only a moralist but a Secretary of State, “A man who is capable of so infamous a calling as that of a spy is not very much to be relied upon. He can have no great ties of honor or checks of conscience to restrain him in those covert evidences, where the accused has no opportunity of vindicating himself. He will be more industrious to carry that which is grateful than that which is true. There will be no occa
sion for him, if he do not hear and see things worth discovering; so that he naturally inflames every word and every circumstance, aggravates what is faulty, perverts what is good, and misrepresents what is indifferent. Nor is it to be doubted that such ignominious wretches let their private passions into these their clandestine informations, and often wreak their particular spite and malice against those they are set to watch.” If this is wise morality, (and it has been universally received,) and if there is sound philosophy in the old Spanish proverb, “bad the crow, bad the egg,” we shall be at no loss to appreciate the evidence before us. It is a mountain of falsehood, with here and there a grain of truth. When I look upon the men who occupy the place on my right hand, and recognize among them pioneers of the state, its farmers, its rechanics, and its citizens; and then on this legion of spies, and find there on the witness-stand convicts yet wearing the look and the gait contracted in the State Prison, and see others come reeking from the stews of the city ; I ask myself, can it be real ? Does honesty dwell in the penitentiary, and crime stalk abroad over the state? Is the city pure, and the country polluted ? Has truth fled from the hearth of the farmer in the country, and taken shelter in the purlieus of the metropolis ? No! I am not in Michigan. I am in Venice, where an aristocratic senate keeps always open the lion's mouth, as well by day as by night, gaping for accusations against the plebeian and the patriot. I am in Syracuse, and see before me the dungeon which the tyrant has erected, with cells in which he has imprisoned those he fears, and with walls constructed on the model of the human ear, so that its curious channels convey to him even suppressed groans, and sighs, and whispered complaints.
But first, where is the truth of these accusations to be tried ? They are accusations of local offences which ought of right to be tried at home where the accused parties live, by a jury of that vicinage, and not elsewhere nor by a jury of strangers. The accused ought to be at large on bail, to procure the evidence to confront the calumniators; and yet they have been dragged seventy miles from their homes, out of their own county of Jackson, through the intervening county of Washtenaw, and have been put on trial for local offences, here before a foreign court, by a
jury of strangers, in a community which, in judgment of law, is -to them a community of aliens and enemies. Nay more, when