March 24, 1862

Former President Franklin Pierce Defends Himself Against Treason Charges Brought by Seward

Autograph Letter Signed
4 pages
SMC 422
Unpopular in the White House, Pierce was even more unpopular out of it. A Southern sympathizer, a Lincoln detractor, and distraught over the outbreak of war between North and South, Pierce was not reticent in criticizing the Union. One by one, as the various policies of the Lincoln administration were promulgated, Pierce unrestrainedly criticized them. By the end of 1861, he had fallen under suspicion of being a secret Southern sympathizer – a sentiment turned fact when, on Christmas Eve, Pierce received an official letter from Secretary of State Seward, enclosing an anonymous communication naming him as having taken a trip in aid of an anti-war organization known as the Knights of the Golden Circle, “a secret league,” Seward said, “the object of which [was] to overthrow the Government.” The outrage of having his patriotism questioned, on the basis of the flimsiest kind of evidence, by the highest authorities, drove Pierce into a fury; he replied at once, and although Seward apologized straightaway, Pierce complained privately, and at length, to his Democratic friends about the incident. By March, however, the scurrilous charge had found its way into the press - trumpeted, in fact, by the Republican Boston Journal and the New York Evening Post. This was too much for the ex-president to take, and here, with this letter, he arranges for his old friend, Senator Latham of California, to introduce a resolution demanding that all the correspondence in the matter be submitted to Congress for inquiry. In part;
The following… is the entire official note from Mr. Seward dated Dec 20th, "I enclose an extract from a letter received at this Department from which it would appear, that you are a member of a secret league, the object of which is to over throw this Government. Any explanations upon the subject, which you may offer, would be acceptable."  I need not, of course, tell you, that I never heard of a league of the character indicated, until I received the curt and insolent note quoted above. My name does not appear in the “extract” enclosed to me (which, by the way, was from an anonymous letter) nor do I believe that the writer had the slightest reference to me… You will see at once that I cannot permit articles like that, which I sent to you this morning, to be floating about, unnoticed by me - Having answered the charge officially … the publication of that answer by… one of the Houses, is clearly...the only graceful and dignified way of muting these malignant assaults...
The House and Senate concluded the charges were a hoax – but that did nothing to assuage the public’s suspicion of Pierce’s loyalty. No doubt many remember that President Pierce had appointed Jefferson Davis - the President of the Confederacy - his Secretary of War. Both men served in the Mexican War together. It did not help that he, in turn, became more and more outspoken in his denunciations of Lincoln and the Union prosecution of the War; the situation became so bitter and so bad, that when Lincoln was assassinated, the 14th President of the United States had to defend his house against an angry mob.
Autograph Letter Signed, marked “Private," 4 pages, quarto, Concord, New Hampshire, March 24, 1862. To Senator Milton S. Latham.
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