Page images
PDF
EPUB

has no interest in the proceeding in which that state is engaged. I beg leave, most respectfully, to assure you, sir, that the declaration will be received by the people of New York with surprise and disappointment. Hitherto we have believed that our cause was the cause of the whole Union; that our honor was dear to all the members of the confederacy, and that our efforts to vindicate the property and lives of our citizens were favored with the sympathy, and entitled to the defence, of the government of the United States.

It is presumed that there can be no misunderstanding between the government of the United States and that of this state, on the subject in question. The executive of this state had the honor to communicate to the president an approval of the positions assumed by him, and every subsequent communication from this state has reaffirmed those positions on our part. Now that your excellency has made so unexpected a declaration, the question is not merely whether New York shall vindicate the lives and property of her citizens, but whether, after engaging in that proceeding with the sanction and guaranty of the president, she is to be abandoned by the government of the United States. Under these circumstances, it is believed to be my duty to assure your excellency that the dignity and honor of this state can not be compromised, nor her just claims upon the federal government relinquished.

If, as your excellency supposes, it be proper for the district attorney of the United States, for the territory within which the cause of action arose, to appear as counsel and advocate against this state, because he is by profession an attorney, such a proceeding would, on the grounds assumed by your excellency, be equally proper for the attorney-general of the United States, and even for the secretary of state, in whose care are the foreign relations of the country, if those functionaries should be members of the legal profession. It is not perceived that, in our republican system, the grade or dignity of the functionaries can affect the applicability of the rule your excellency has established. Large as are the privileges conferred by an attorney's license, it has nevertheless been heretofore supposed that the propriety of their exercise, by an individual who had acquired them, might be affected at least by his acceptance of a public trust.

I learn from the public prints, that, notwithstanding the president has declared that the case in question belongs appropriately to the judicial authorities of this state, to the exclusion of the federal government, and has guarantied New York in the vindication of the lives and property of her citizens, by this very proceeding, yet that the functionary objected to is at this moment maintaining before the court having cognisance of the cause, that that tribunal is without jurisdiction, and that the exercise of any power over the prisoner by that court, or by any other authority within this state, is repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States. I beg leave to say, that it would scarcely be less acceptable to the people of this state to know that these positions were assumed and maintained by the district attorney, by direction of the government of the United States, than it is to learn that he is permitted by that government to assert them npon a retainer, and for a reward and compensation paid by the offender. In the former case, there would be a directness which would command respect and induce consideration, on the part of the state, of the extraordinary position thus assumed by the president of the United States.

Again, the district attorney is maintaining at this juncture, before the supreme court, in direct opposition to the ground heretofore assumed by the president, that inasmuch as the prisoner's crime is alleged to have been committed in obedience to the provincial authorities of Upper Canada, and has been justified by the British government, without a tender of satisfaction or even of explanation on the part of that government for the original outrage, the accused is therefore not responsible in any court whatever. The British government has assumed the offence, has made the prisoner's cause its own, and has declared its determination to protect and defend him at all hazards and in every emergency. The cause, therefore, defended by the district attorney, is the cause of Great Britain, and the ground of defence is the position assumed by that government, and the converse of American ground. Under these circumstances, neither the obligation nor the disposition of her Britannic majesty's government to pay the reward and compensation, which you are pleased to say it is the right of the district attorney to earn, can be doubted. His retainer, therefore, may be assumed to be a retainer by the British government, and his services, in opposition to this state and the United States, to be paid by our arrogant adversary. It is respectfully submitted, that such a spectacle as the transaction now exhibits, if not unseemly, as I have heretofore supposed, is at least very little calculated to secure the confidence of New York, or command the respect of Great Britain.

The district attorney may indeed temporarily lay aside his commission, but he can not part with his official character and influence, and these are lent for hire to our antagonist. If he fail in his present efforts before the supreme court, he must renew the same defence before the court and jury to be charged with the trial of the cause. I earnestly hope that the influences thus improperly brought into exercise against this state may not prevail. But if that happy result is attained, it will be an occasion of deep regret, that we are indebted for it to the firmness of our judiciary and the intelligence of our jury, rather than to the discretion of the district attorney or the forbearance of the government whose commission he bears:

I beg leave to assure you that your fears that the government of the United States could not find persons willing to discharge the duties of district attorney upon such conditions as I have had the honor to suggest, seem to me not altogether well-grouuded, at least in regard to the district for which Mr. Spencer acts. The bar of that district is numerous and able. I very much doubt whether there is a lawyer within it who would decline so honorable an appointment; nor do I believe that there is another, besides the functionary who now holds it, who, in exercising his high trust, would embarrass himself and the government with a retainer so incongruous and offensive.

It is true, as your excellency supposes, that the people of New York very highly appreciate their rights as an independent state, and are jealous of federal power. Yet I think I can confidently assure you, that their sensitiveness concerning their rights is not so tender that they will insist upon your permitting officers of the United States to justify and defend, in their courts, the outrages of a foreign nation, solely because those officers may happen to be citizens of New York and attorneys in its courts of record.

I have the honor to remain your excellency's obedient servant.

His EXCELLENCY John TYLER,

President of the United States.

LETTER IX.

TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

STATE OF NEW YORK, EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT,
Albany, June 1, 1841.

} Sir: I acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 25th of May, in which, after reviewing the subject you have done me the honor to discuss in former communications, you conclude with the expression of an opinion that a prolongation of the correspondence would be unprofitable and of a desire that it might be regarded as closed.

No one could be more fully convinced than I am of the importance of harmony between the government of the United States and that of this state in regard to questions of deep interest to the latter and affecting the relations of the country with a foreign power.

I need not advert to the many and cogent reasons why I must necessarily desire to consider with candor and approve with earnestness the measures and policy adopted by the government of the Union. It was with profound regret I discovered that the correspondence, begun with such a disposition on my part, and having in view only the prevention of an apparent misunderstanding between the government of the United States and this state, had from some cause taken such a course as to exhibit in a measure the reality of the misunderstanding, the appearance of which was deprecated. Such a result was as unlooked for by myself as I am sure it was on your part. Solicitous now that that misunderstanding may be removed, I will not go back to inquire when or how the correspondence received so unfortunate a direction, but will cheerfully acknowledge all the responsibility for it that may be supposed to rest upon me. I take the liberty also to say that in addressing you directly during the known absence of the secretary of state, in consequence of which a previous communication to him on a different subject had failed to receive the notice which I knew you would have accorded to it, it was far from my desire or expectation to engage you in a correspondence, the conducting which in person I am well aware must have been very inconvenient. I acknowledge myself obliged by the attention manifested in the course you have taken, and I shall be entirely satisfied with a reference of this communication, if it shall be regarded as meriting or requiring any notice, to an appropriate department, as indeed I shonld have been with a similar disposition of the subject at any stage of the discussion.

I beg leave to say further, that if I had been acting individually I should have deemed it my duty to defer to your opinions and to acquiesce in your decisions as soon as they became known to me. With these explanations, I trust I may be allowed to observe that the representative character in which I stand enjoins me from leaving the subject without first taking care that the positions which I have deemed it my duty to maintain on behalf of this state, be rescued from misapprehension. A similar privilege with what is thus claimed has been already exercised as a right on your part. I trust, however, that in performing a duty which thus seems to remain, I shall not manifest a desire, as I shall endeavor not to furnish occasion, for a reply.

You remark in your last communication that you had heretofore supposed that the right of every man to a fair and impartial trial, to be confronted with his accusers, and to be defended by counsel of his own retaining, admitted of no question, but was deeply engraven on the hearts of the American people; and you are pleased to express surprise that, speaking in the name of the state of New York, I should have entered my dissent from this proposition, which you had hoped would have been regarded as incontestable.

Your known respect for justice, encourages me to believe that you would not conclude me from observing that the general rights of accused persons have not been understood on my part to be among the subjects discussed. It is not within my recollection that the proposition which you have now stated has been before submitted for my consideration, and it is certain that my supposed dissent from it does not appear on the record.

The correspondence has related to the case of Alexander M'Leod, charged under peculiar circumstances with the crime of

« PreviousContinue »