Secession Era Editorials Project

Furman University Department of History


The Harper's Ferry Trials.

New York, New York, New York Tribune [Republican]

(25 October 59)

As the Grand Jury of Jefferson County, in which Harper's Ferry is situated, is already in session, the trial of Brown and his confederates may be expected to take place at once, unless delay be granted to prepare for a trial, or a change of venue to some less excited county should be asked for. Neither of these is probable. The prisoners in fact have no defense, and their case will probably be speedily disposed of. We trust the whole proceeding may partake of the same spirit of decency, propriety, and respect for the law, and the rights of the prisoners, which characterizes the charge given by the presiding Judge to the Grand Jury.

It is suggested, however, that the finding of the Grand Jury will not be limited to indictments against the prisoners in hand. It is assumed that indictments will also be found against certain citizens of this State as accessories before the fact. Long speculations are indulged in as to whether Governor Morgan will respond to a requisition based on such indictments, and on the probable results on the one hand of his refusal, or on the other of his compliance.

It does not appear to us that there is the slightest difficulty in the case, or any occasion for these elaborate speculations. Even if, instead of the merest surmises, based, in the case of one individual, upon his having asked Brown to dine with him, there were the fullest and clearest evidence that parties in this State had been privy to Brown's seizure of the arsenal, and had encouraged him in it to the extent of providing him with the pecuniary means, we do not see how they could be demanded for trial in Virginia. The Constitution provides that "any person charged in any State "with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall "flee from justice, and be found in another State, "shall, on demand of the executive authority "of the State from which he fled, be "delivered up to the removed to the "State having jurisdiction of the crime." This evidently contemplates that the party charged must have fled out of the State making the demand. In case, therefore, of indictments being found in Virginia against any residents of New-York as accessories before the fact, it does not appear that Gov. Wise would have any warrant to demand them, or Gov. Morgan any authority to surrender them. It does not follow, however, in case there were any evidence against them sufficient to justify the finding of an indictment, that they would therefore escape trial. We do not see any obstacle to their being indicted and tried in the counties in which the acts were done, which are relied upon as proof of their complicity. It is a rule of the criminal law, that a man shall be tried in the county where the act charged was done. The charge in the case supposed, is not the having seized the Harper's Ferry arsenal, and committed murder to hold it, but the having counseled, encouraged, and aided those who did go; counsel, encouragement and aid not given in Virginia, but, if at all, in this State. Why, then, should not the parties be indicted and tried here? They would certainly be in less danger here than in Virginia of being tried for one offense and hanged or lynched for another.

[<<Previous Editorial][Next Editorial>>]