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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 26, 2009 9:00am-10:14am EST

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that one of them knew a great deal more than the tour guide. a small group delighted in the added depth the tour suddenly took on. this was my first encounter with brian mcginty. he introduced himself as a retired lawyer and historian. he told us of his intention to write the very book that he is here to speak of tonight. needless to say i was excited and i am greatly pleased and honored that he graciously agreed to come here tonight on the official date of the book's released on this eve of the centennial of john brown's raid on harpers ferry. an accomplished writer, mcginty has offered seven books of which john brown's trial is only his most recent published by harvard university press. in february of 2008, he published lincoln and the court which dealt with lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, his struggle with roger cheney and the supreme court's decisions during the civil war.
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in his book the open massacre published by oklahoma university press in 2006 mr. mcginty explored a famous southwestern indian massacre of a morgan family which took two of the children captive. among earlier books by mr. mcginty are at rest get tougher road less about the great polish pianist and his love for a small california town. mr. mcginty is an amateur pianist and strong life of legend of the definitive biography of the colorful father of california wine culture but published by stanford university press in 1998. obviously mr. mcginty writes about his own interests and passions among them law, history, music and wine. having spent a career practicing law in california mr. mcginty has now retired to scottsdale where he continues to write on history and the law while pursuing many other interest.
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ladies and gentlemen it is my pleasure to introduce, and please make a warm welcome for mr. brian mcginty. .. >> he asked me if i would be interested in coming back to your hands, when the sesquicentennial of john brown's activities in jefferson county
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would take place. place. after arrangements very kindly facilitated by kim sullivan and the west virginia humanities council, i agreed to do so. in looking out across this historic courtroom tonight, i'm very happy that i accepted that invitation. i had been prepared to make a few observations about this courthouse and this courtroom, which are really, really very historic, both because of john brown's trial that took place here, but for other reasons as well. judge sanders covered that very well. i'm going to get right to the story of the trial. and out the outset, i want to tell you, the thesis that i am going to express tonight, which is the thesis of my book, titled "john brown's trial." it is that john brown's trial was the most important trial in
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the history of the united states. that's my conclusion after studying it as close as i could. and that's the report of my book. i try to explain in my book why i believe that to be true, and i will try to give you a suggestion on what i believe that to be true in my remarks here tonight. john brown's trial was the first trial in the history of the united states to receive massive attention from national media. it was the first trial in which a defendant was executed for treason against a state, as opposed to treason against the united states. it was the first trial in which an accused defendant appealed to a higher law to justify violent crimes. it was a trial that involved more than just a determination of an individuals guilt or
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innocence, according to laws laid down in statute books and in case reports. it was a trial that pitted two starkly different moral visions against each other. one of these visions defended the institution of chattel slavery as traditional, necessary, just and worthy of protection from outside interference. particularly, from the outside interference of northern abolitionists, like john brown. the other condemned slavery as an affront to human rights, a violation of god's law, and an embarrassment to a nation that claim to be founded on the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. and the quest of the truck, brown did not argue that he was innocent of violating the laws of virginia. laws that prohibited murder.
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and in citing slaves to rebellion and committing treason against the commonwealth of virginia. instead, he argued that the laws of virginia that supported and protected slavery, laws that condemn hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, to lives of perpetual oppression and degradation solely because of their racial background were unjust. the trial gave brown a unique opportunity to express his views on the subject, and he did so in a manner that inspired americans all over the country, many even in virginia, with the realization that he was a man of courage, principle, conviction, and humanitarian impulse. however much they disagreed with him, however deeply they condemned his resort to violence in harpers ferry, his trial revealed that he was not a mere
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thug or cutthroat, as many both north and south had at first believed in. brown's raid on harpers ferry shocked the nation. it outraged regina and inspired them with revulsion and fear pickett aroused slaveholders throughout the south, a content for northern abolitionists. at the same time, it convinced southerners that northerners attacks on slavery were deeply grounded. they would not soon go away. the south had to defend itself against the views represented by brown, and many southerners concluded that the only way to do that was to cut the ties that bound the north and the south. this conclusion did not arise from the raid on harpers ferry, but from the trial that was conducted here in the jefferson county courthouse 150 years ago. to understand brown's trial, it
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will be helpful at the outset to explain a few of the key facts about it. first, it was a short trial. it began in the circuit court of jefferson county in the middle of the day on wednesday, october 26, 1859, just 10 days after brown launched his rate in harpers ferry, eight days after he was captured, and a week to the day after he was transferred from harpers ferry to charlestown. it continued on thursday the 27th of october, friday the 28th, saturday the 29th, and falling a break for sunday, for half a day on monday, the 31st of october, at which time the jury returned its verdict. adoring most of the trial, brown was suffering from painful saber wounds, suffered during his
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capture in harpers ferry. and he was unable to stand or sit. instead, he was forced to attend the trial lying on a cot covered by a blanket, and at least once he had to be carried across the street from the jail to the courtroom. now if you want to know what this trial look like, imagine a man lying on a cot in the wail of this courtroom, unable to sit or to stand, and compelled to listen to a trial going on around him that would result in his hanging. that's what john brown's trial meant to john brown himself. in all four days of court time were devoted to the trial. two days after the verdict was announced, brown was brought back into court and asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed on him. even delivered his famous last statement, and the judge
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sentenced him to death by hanging, the sentence was carried out on december 2, 1859, in a field just five blocks from this courthouse. it was 30 days after the trial was concluded and just short of five weeks after it began. vessel happen in a remarkably short time, given the circumstances of the case. the indictment presented complicated issues. it took 20 minutes alone for the court clerk to read the indictment in open court. difficulty issues were raised by the trial, some not previously dealt with in any american court. such as, for example, whether treason could be committed against a state, whether a person who was not a resident of the state, and thus owed no allegiance to the state, could be tried for treason against that state. where the crimes committed in the federal enclave such as a
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u.s. armored an arsenal in harpers ferry where properly triable in federal court, or in state court, whether it is proper to try a defendant who is suffering from painful wounds, and unable to stand or sit while he does like on a cot covered by blankets. the evidence was voluminous, both in terms of oral testimony and documentary evidence. during the four days of brown's trial, nine attorneys were heard from, and approximately 19 witnesses were examined. it's difficult to determine the exact number of witnesses because there was no official transcript of the testimony. the witness' testimony was recorded by newspaper reporters, who sometimes those reports were very accurate, sometimes they were rather hazy. there were two prosecuting attorneys, and seven defense attorneys, was at least a half-dozen other lawyers who are
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peripherally involved in the defense either helping to procure voters around the fence or offering advice from the sidelines, or representing some of the other men who were captured with john brown in harpers ferry and brought here for trial. charles harding was the commonwealth attorney for jefferson county in 1859, and as such, authorized by law to prosecute brown's case. but he was a heavy drinker, and had a volatile sometimes explosive temperament. he was capable of making some aspect of courtroom arguments, but not on a sustained basis. as one of the deputy clerks and charlestown later remarked, when harvey began to speak, if you shut your eyes and listened to the first few minutes, you would think patrick henry had returned to work. after that he dwindled away into an aptitudes. virginia's governor henry alexander wise did not consider
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harding complement to conduct so important a trial, and he called on andrew hunter, one of the most respected attorneys in charles town to take overall control of the proceedings. andrew hunter portrait is hanging on the wall behind the. hunter did not like harding. and a letter to the governor he described him as a., quote, little prosecutor. i found out letter in the state library in richmond. and he willingly accepted the governor's call to take charge of the case. while both hunter and harding appeared throughout the trial, all of the important trial decisions were made by hunter. and he shouldered most of the work. hunter was a native of berkeley county and related by blood or marriage that many of the aristocratic families of northern virginia. he was a graduate of washington academy, later washington and
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lee university, and hamdan sydney college and head for several years represented the baltimore and ohio railroad in virginia. the railroad ran straight to harpers ferry on its way from baltimore to wheeling, and was one of the most influential corporations in the country. in the course of his work for the bnl, hunter made contact with important men in maryland and in virginia, and amassed considerable personal fortune. he left the house called hunter hill on the eastern edge of charles town. despite his obvious ability, however, hunter was a rather odd choice for the prosecuting attorney. for he was heavily burdened with what we would today call conflicts of interest. first, he was personally related to one of the principal victims of brown's violence in harpers ferry. a man named fontaine beckham. beckham was the mayor of harpers
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ferry, and in charge of the local business of day b&o. during brown's raid, he was carrying around a water tower at the edge of the arsenal ground when the shot from the engine house in which brown and his men had taken refuge toward the end of the raid hit him, and he was killed by that shot. hunter's wife, elizabeth, was beckham's niece. and the hunter and beckham families were close. even more striking, however, and to hunter's son, a young attorney named henry hunter who went to harper's ferry as a militiamen from his charles town after the news of the brown's raid reached charlestown, he was a militia man who arrived in the town and was sitting in a bar of the white house which was then the principal hotel in harpers ferry. when he heard the news that
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fontaine beckham, his great-uncle had been shot. into a rage triggered by the news and by his own drinking, henry hunter in medially went into one of the upper rooms of the wager house where two of brown's men were being held captive, to shoot them. but the sister of the hotel proprietor stood in his way here consisting there would be no shooting in the wager house. so henry hunter then dragged one of brown's men out of the hotel where, surrounded by a crowd of townspeople, he shot him to death. it was in effect a murder of a helpless man committed in broad daylight and before many witnesses. yet henry hunter was never charged with this killing. he was never tried. in our time and manlike andrew hunter would be barred from prosecuting brown's case because of his personal involvement with the facts of the case in 1859, he was not barred, and he
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prosecuted the case to a courtroom victory. and when brown was hauled out of the courthouse to the execution grounds, south of town, henry hunter was given a responsible position among the militia men who guarded the site while brown was hanged. during the civil war, the territory connecting washington, d.c., with the upper shenandoah valley, the territory that we are now standing on, became one of the major fields of battle in the civil war. harpers ferry and charles town changed hands frequently with confederates in charge one day and union army troops the next. in 1864, union general david hunter came through charles town with his army. it happened that andrew hunter was david hunter's first cousin, but they supported different
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sides of the conflict. general hunter was an abolitionist, and andrew hunter was a defender of slavery and illegal visor to robert e. lee. when general hunter at arrived and charles town he ordered his men to burn andrew hunter's house to the ground. they did so on july 17, 1864, ignoring the protest of andrew hunter's wife and the other family members who occupied it. the civil war has often been described as a war of brothers against brothers. and charles town at least it was also a war of first cousins against first cousins. three of the attorneys who helped brown and charles town for court-appointed attorneys. three others were attorneys of the brown's own choosing. all of the attorneys worked under significant handicaps however, because they didn't sympathize with brown, others
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because the very severe time constraints imposed on them by the court. at the outset, the presiding magistrate of the examining court appointed volcker to represent brown. both of these men were well-connected lawyers who helped respective positions in the aristocracy of northern virginia, but they had been personally present in harpers ferry during the fighting there and they had actually thought against brown. boss separatism that any negotiation for what would have permitted brown to withdraw from harpers ferry across the potomac into maryland, and falconer had openly express his opinion, not only that brown was guilty, but that he deserved just punishment for his crimes. to his credit, faulkner tried to decline his appointment arguing that he was disqualified because
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of his personal involvement in the raid and the opinions he expressed. but the magistrates court insisted that he represent brown. later when the case reached the circuit court, falter was replaced by the mayor of charles town, thomas clayborne green. green was well-connected lawyer. the mayor of charles town, the son of a justice of virginia's supreme court of appeals, a cousin of virginia's u.s. senator, james m. mason, and a great grandson of georgia mason of guns and halter the venerated author of the virginia declaration of rights. green was an attorney of obvious civility who in later years became a justice of the west virginia supreme court of appeals, and i think as such presided in this courtroom when the west virginia supreme court of appeals held its sessions here. the overriding problem with the court-appointed attorneys was simply that brown did not choose
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them to represent him, and he had no confidence in them. shortly after he was captured, brown wrote letters to ohio and massachusetts, and both of which date it formally lived, asking attorneys there to come to charles town to represent him and his codefendants. but by the time the attorneys were able to respond to brown's letters, the trial had already begun and charles town without them. the three attorneys who came to charles town in response to brown's letters were hiebert griswold from ohio, samuel chilton from washington, d.c., and george hoyt from massachusetts. chilton and griswold were mature attorneys of experience and special ability, but point was only 21 years old and had only recently passed the massachusetts bar. he was so slight and boyish and his apparent that when he first arrived at charles town, people
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here that he must be two years younger, and they frankly doubted that he was really an attorney. hoyt's initial purpose in coming to charles town was to reconnoiter the town, the courthouse, the jail, and advise brown's supporters back in boston that if there was any way they might help him escape. but when hoyt met brown in the jail, brown made it clear that he did not want to escape. he had decided to stay where he was and face the music. later, brown said that he would not walk out of the jail, even if its doors were thrown open for him. he knew that there would be gunfire if you try to escape. the sheriff and the jailer and others might be killed or injured. he had developed special respect and affection for these men, the sheriff and the jailer particularly, and she did not want to subject them to danger. he would stay in jail to the bitter end. in the course of my research for
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the book, i checked the u.s. census records were northern virginia to determine whether the men who had charge of brown's trial were slaveholders. and if so, how many slaves they held. the most illuminating records were those that i found for the senses of 1860, which was taken only about six months after brown's trial came to an end. the records were, to say the least, interesting. i found when 1860 census was taken, the the chief prosecutor, owned for slaves. judge richard parker junior, the winchester-based jurist who presided over the trial, owned 10 slaves. brown's court-appointed attorneys were themselves slaveholders. charles falter owned 13. lost bosko another of his court-appointed attorneys held
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for and thomas clayborne green, the mayor of charles town owned another for. i couldn't find all 12 of the jurors in brown's case as slaveholders schedules, but those identifying owned among them 50 for slaves. the eight magistrates who farmed brown's examining court owned among them a total of 105 slaves. altogether, these men owned 190 for slaves. the question has often been asked whether brown's trial was fair. [laughter] >> is a legitimate question. it is not an easy question to answer, however. certainly the fact that brown was surrounded on all sides by slaveholders, militated against the fairness of the trial after all, he had coming to virginia
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as he said to free the slaves. in effect, take away the property of the men who now had his fate in their hands. the prosecutors, judges, the jury, even the attorneys appointed to represent him. they were obviously imperiled by his self-professed goals. another factor that militated against harris was the shortest of the trial and the repeated requests were modest delays that were denied by judge parker. there's no question that parker conducted the trial with haste. but he really had to, for virginia statues at the time provided that a person indicted for a felony had to be indicted and tried at the same term of the court in which the indictment was found, unless good cause was shown for a delay. parkers circuit court opened its german jefferson county in october 20, 1859, and it was
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obligated by law to move on to winchester and frederick counties no later than novembe november 10. brown's indictment was returned by the grand jury in october 26. it follow that absent good cause for a delay, brown and the other six men who were captured with him and harper sorry, all had to be tried and executed before november 10. since brown's trial did not begin until october 26, this meant that the seven men all had to be tried in the short space of 12 days. sundays, of course, were excluded. virginia law also provides that each of the men was entitled to be tried separately. if the trial of anyone of them was delayed beyond november 10, he would have to be held in jail until the circuit court return to charles town the following april. during the intervening six months, the untried prisoners would have to be guarded against
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a possible rescue attempt from the north. this was a prospect that local officials considered a real possibility. as did governor wise, who ordered hundreds of militiamen to charles town to guard the courthouse and the jail against hostile attack. so parker urged on by the prosecutor and governor wise conceded to conduct the trial. and one of his letters to governor wise, andrew hunter wrote that parker was, quote, for observing all the judicial decencies, unquote. so am i, hunter told the governor, but at double quick time. and so the trial got underway even before brown's own attorneys were able to arrive in charles town. when the boyish george hoyt arrived from boston, brown's
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appointed attorneys leading to 21 year old novice to try to resurrect the shambles that the trial had become. and by the time that brown's chose an attorney from ohio and washington, d.c., hiram griswold and children arrived on scene, the witnesses had all been examined and there was nothing left to do but present closing arguments. and so the trial hurdled fo forwarded to the very. the haste in which the trial was conducted was not judge parker's particulars thought that he was a good judge. a long and distinguished line of virginia jurist. judge sanders alluded to his father, judge richard parker senior. he was born in richmond and 1810, and graduate from the university of virginia and he practiced law in winchester and charles town before serving for 10 years as military storekeeper in harpers ferry.
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he was elected to congress in 1849, but resigned after about a year and have to become circuit judge. he knew the law well, and he had a good judicial temperament. but he was determined to drive brown and his codefendants before november 10, and he did all in his power to achieve that result. there's little doubt, at least a little doubt in my own mind, that brown was guilty of the charges brought against him. there were many witnesses who saw him in harpers ferry during the raid and they all testified against him. he was not an innocent man, at least not as guilt or innocence is determined by the laws of virginia. which after all are the laws under which he was tried. but he was a passionate even guilty men are entitled to a fair trial under the american
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system. brown's trial raises serious legal question to the issue of whether the crimes he was charged with were properly tried in a virginia state court rather than a federal district court, was raised during the trial that never persuasively answer. whether brown could properly be charged with treason against the commonwealth of virginia, even though he was not a resident of virginia was another key issue. judge parker ruled that he could be, because as a citizen of the united states, he owed allegiance to virginia and to all of the states of the american union. this question has been hotly debated by historians over the generations. and there are arguments on both sides. i, however, believe that judge parker got it right, and that brown was properly tried for treason against the virginia. i discussed the reasons for that conclusion in my book.
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brown's chose an attorney's griswold and chilton argued that during the trial and during their closing arguments, that the proof offered during the trial was not adequate to sustain all of the charges in the indictment. but the jury disagreed. and after only 45 minutes of the liberation, they returned their verdict. brown was guilty. after the sentence was passed, children filed a petition for a whit of air with the supreme court of appeals in richmond, but the petition was denied without a written opinion. it was an odd conclusion to a judicial proceeding that all virginians recognized as perhaps the most contentious ever conducted in virginia, certainly with the highest profile trial ever conducted on virginia soil, with a daily reports printed on the front pages of newspapers
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all over the country. and yet the judges of the supreme court of appeal in virginia did not consider the case important enough to hold a hearing or to file an opinion explaining their decision. these judges, like the officials in charles town, were slaveholders. i consider the question of the fairness of brown's trial at some length in my book. i quote the historians and lawyers who have over the years expressed their opinions on the subject. i also quote the statements of judge parker and andrew hunter made on that very question when as old men and they were asked for the recollections to the trial. not surprisingly, both parker and hunter that the trial was fair in all respects but i think their arguments were good but not conclusive. but whether brown's trial was fair or not, is not in my
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opinion the right question to ask about is it really extraordinary judicial event. there was never any real question that brown would be convicted in charles town, and that he would be hanged. but that's not what made his trial so important history. brown did not take the witness stand during his trial. he never testified. in fact, he had no right to testify. for the law of england in the united states have traditionally forbidden parties from testifying in their own cases. it was deemed that any person who had a personal interest in the case would inevitably lie. even if it was under oath. and so they were not permitted to offer sworn testimony. it was only after the civil war that this rule was changed so that criminal defendants were permitted to testify in their own cases. now of course it is accepted that all criminal defendants
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have the right to testify, although they also have the right to remain silent. the choice is theirs. it was not so at the time of brown's trial, and brown made no effort to take the witness stand. even though he did not testify, however, he did find opportunities to speak during his trial. he addressed the court. he sought shortly as in the proceedings. he asked some questions of the witnesses. he reminded the judge and jury several times that he had been promised a fair trial. and in the end, he took advantage of the opportunity that the law allowed him to make a statement in his own words before sentence was passed. and when brown spoke, he did so in a strong and earnest words, at one point when judge parker denied a request for a delay, brown raised himself up on the cot in which he was lying and said, if we are to be forced with a mere form, a trial for
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execution, you might spare yourselves the trouble. i am ready for that fake. during his famous last statement, he stated that his purpose for coming into harpers ferry was not to kill or injure or destroy property, only to help the slaves. i deny everything, he said, but what i have all along admitted of a design on my part to free slaves. had he come there, the rich, powerful, and intelligent, the so-called great on behalf of any of their friends, it would have been all right. everyman in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment. i see a book, he said, which i supposed to be the bible, or at least the new testament, which teaches me that all things
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whatsoever i would that men should do to me, i should do so even so to them. it teaches me further to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. i endeavored to act up to that instruction. i am yet to young to understand that god is any respect or of persons. i believe that you have interfered as i have done, as i have always freely admitted i have done, and on behalf of his despised poor is no wrong but right. now if it is deemed necessary that i should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and to mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, i say let it be done.
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the way brown spoke during his trial, the way he conducted himself before, during and after the proceedings, one with grudging admiration of even the most fervent slaveholders, the words he spoke inspired investors both north and south with their sincerity and raw courage or ever since later ranked brown's last statement with lincoln's gettysburg address as one of the two best specimens of eloquence we have had in this country. governor wise expressed himself so satisfied with brown that he proclaimed him a man of clear head, courage, fortitude, simple and ingenious. and he said that brown inspired him with his integrity. a man of truth. notwithstanding all this, the governor refused to grant brown's clemency, and he took an active role in making the
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preparations for his hanging just south of charles town. why do i consider john brown's trial the most important trial in american history? it's quite simply because of its consequences. because of what happened after it was concluded, because of the causal effect it had on a great civil war that followed it so quickly. and because of the blow it struck against the institution of chattel slavery. let's assume for purposes of discussion that brown was at least in part responsible for the civil war that began just a little over one year after the trial in charles town and. let's assume also that his raid on harpers ferry arouse passions all over the country, convincing southerners that political maneuvering was no longer adequate to protect slavery from
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its northern enemies. that secession from the union and military defense of the confederate states of america was necessary to achieve that goal. these are all reasonable assumptions. they have been made by historians for generations. but let's also assume that the radon harpers ferry was the last we ever heard of john brown. let's assume that he was shot and killed during the fighting in harpers ferry. as he nearly was. over lynched by the mob that was hungry for vengeance after he was captured, as he nearly was. or that governor wise had convened a court-martial and condemned him to death with a trend within hours of his capture. he wanted to do that very thing that he arrived in harpers ferry too late. let's assume, in other words, there was no trial in charles
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town. no magistrates court, no grand jury, no indictment, no jury, no verdict, no appeal to the supreme court of appeals in richmond. if that had been the case, brown would never have had an opportunity to address the court. he could not have made the statement quoted all over and over in newspaper reports. reprinted in newspapers all over the united states, and later celebrated by emerson and others. his voice would never have been heard in public. he would be known for his violence in harpers ferry, but not for his eloquence and humanity in this courthouse in charles town. he would have been dismissed as a fanatic, an extremist, who was willing to take the law into his own hands, a madman who was willing to shed innocent lives to achieve a political goal, but
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was caught in the act and stop. what would brown's legacy have been in such a case? in my opinion, it would have been practically nothing. at least far less than it was, in fact. it was because he survived to stand trial in charles town that we remember him tonight. it was because he spoke so eloquently in judge parker's courtroom enunciated the moral vision that brought him into harpers ferry in the first place. it was because he delivered his last statement before judge parker, and because he expressed his willingness to die for his convictions, that we remember him today as a visionary. an idealist. and ultimately, martyr to the cause of human freedom. and these memories are still
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potent because of john brown's trial. because of the four days when attorneys and witnesses and jurors decided brown's fate in this courthouse. during those four days, the nation watched john brown, listened to him speak, pondered his message, and set the nation on the course to the civil war. to the emancipation of slaves and to the new birth of freedom that lincoln spoke of at gettysburg. and it all began here in the jefferson county courthouse where we are gathered to see. thank you. [applause]
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>> i should have said at the beginning that i will be happy to sign books, but i want to amend that statement to say i would be delighted to sign books. [laughter] >> particularly if you buy them before i signed them. but books are on the table here, and before we get to the book signing, let's ask some questions and answers. don't make into our because i'm not good at answering hard questions. you, sir, in the blue shirt. >> in regards to john brown's charge of treason against the state of virginia on the ground that he was a citizen of the united states, he was therefore subject to the law of virginia, correct? so it's ironic i find that the state of virginia, a witch put the prosecutor for that did not afford itself to those same loyalties, the united states a
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year later when it secede from the union and join the confederacy. i was curious, did that same judge supported the confederacy and therefore break the road that he prosecuted john brown? >> okay. there are a whole library on that subject, and some of them are very good. judge parker was a state judge. he was a judge under the authority of the laws and constitution of the commonwealth of virginia, and when the commonwealth of virginia secede from the union, judge parker went with it. i think you can judge from the fact he owned 10 slaves that he probably wasn't very happy with what john brown was trying to do here, whether he was guilty of any hypoxia or not i don't know. i don't accuse the people who left the union at the time of the civil war with hypocrisy, but he probably did sympathize
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with the confederacy. but he may have had some good reason for doing so because he was a virginian and he owed his office to the commonwealth of virginia. another question. yes, sir. >> very large from the john brown society. i thank you, sir, for your efforts. i have come to the conclusion after thinking about john brown for over 20 years, and considering that the united states government has never done a postage stamp, a postage stamp to honor john brown, that there is a continuity with the capitalistic and peerless take u.s. government today, and the slaveowning u.s. government of the past, with the decision of president james buchanan to send colonel robert e. lee leading
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the u.s. brains to capture brown after he went into the u.s. arsenal, that the united states government, to this day, the spouses john brown, all over the world, people i've known from south america, south africa, europe and asia, love john brown. that there is a strange continuity that continues with the u.s. -- >> thank you. i appreciate those remarks. it is not really germane to the trial. so i think that we will consider your remarks. yes, sir? >> as i listened to talk about this trial, i am thinking of the trial of the german resistance to the nokia regime -- nokia regime. again, they were charged with
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treason to the nokia regime, tried by the knotty party judg judges. how is the john brown trial for treason for judge and jury and slaveholders any different? >> well, that is an argument that you made a good argument there, and certainly there is a good body of opinion that would agree with you. on the other hand, there are people who do not look so favorably on john brown's. john brown is a controversial figure in american history. i think he will probably always be a controversial figure in american history. and we have to recognize that out of the controversy arise different opinions but i have expressed my opinion here, and probably agree with you with your account but there are others who don't share that opinion. yes, sir?
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>> can you tell us what happened to the other defendants? >> they were all thank. they were all hanged. there was that one time there was an effort made to try one of the defendants in federal court, and the purpose for that was so that they could subpoena people outside of virginia to testify in the trial. the process of a federal court extends beyond the borders of the state whereas the state court can only subpoena witnesses within the state, and governor wise was strongly of the opinion that there were men who were complicit with brown and the reagan harpers ferry who were seeking to avoid justice in new york and boston. but that effort wasn't made, and that man was tried here and also hanged. there was another man named john
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cook who was the brother-in-law of the governor of indiana, and the governor came here and played for his life. and urged him to confess to make a confession, asked for the mercy of the court and asked governor wise or clinton. he did that, was quickly tried, convicted and sentenced to hang. and was hanged and governor wise did not extend clemency. >> were they all hanged here in charleston? >> yes, they were. they were all based on harpers ferry raid. they were all nearly identical charges. with two exceptions. this is a really interesting acception. two of the defendants were what they used to call collared men. one was what they called, and i use this word hoping i don't give offense to anyone, they
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malabo. but he was of mixed race. but of course he was classified as a black person, the same as any other. they were free men, and they were charged with treason against the commonwealth of virginia as brown and the other defendants were. their attorneys were smart men, however. their attorneys were from the north, and they said judge, they recently made a decision in the supreme court of the united states that anyone of african descent cannot be a citizen of the united states. if you can't be a citizen of the united states, how can you be a citizen of the commonwealth of virginia? and if you're not a citizen, how can you be charged with treason against the commonwealth of virginia? well, they consider those arguments and they said yes, you got us there. so they drop the treason charges and hanged them for murder.
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and citing rebellion. [laughter] >> yes, sir? [inaudible] >> treason is defined in the united states constitution and a very specific way. it is the only crime that is defined in the united states constitution, and i'm not going to try to read you the definition from memory here because i will leave the word out or do something wrong. the virginia definition of treason was statutory. but it was modeled on the american -- on the definition in the united states constitution but it essentially was making war against the government or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. that's kind of the essence of the crime. so the question was argued also during the trial, even though it was a short talk, there were a lot of issues that had to be argued, did john brown make more
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on the commonwealth of virginia, his attorneys made a good argument that he didn't do that. that he nfs, he had just formed a club, kind of like an optimist club or an elks club or something like that. [laughter] >> of course, they didn't buy that argument. yes, sir? >> a federal judge with jurisdiction over the city had decided that their jurisdiction were laws in place with the federal government to stop the state trial? >> no. there is no provision in the constitutional system for the federal government to interfere with the exercise of proper jurisdiction by its state court. and judge parker opined on that very subject, and he said once john brown is in the custody of state officials, he will remain there until they have dealt with him according to state laws.
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if he should be released, then federal officials might have arrested him and tried him for a federal offense, but since he was dead at the time of his release, it wouldn't have accomplished very much. back in the back row. yes, sir? >> entries about what the atmosphere was like in the courtroom, was security very tight, where there is a lot of militia groups around for the trial? >> that's a great question. the streets were crowded with militia. governor wise had ordered militia here from richmond, various other parts of virginia. a senate candidate in front of the courthouse and in front of the jail. there were cannons aimed at the jail and at the courthouse in case anyone should try to help brown escaped. it was like an armed camp
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outside, outside the building, outside the courthouse. not inside the courthouse however. because judge parker objected to any military display inside the courthouse. and at one time, there was a soldier that came in the courtroom during the course of the trial, and judge parker rather i really ordered him to leave. that's another -- there are interesting twists and turns to the story. after the trial is over, after the civil war began, this courthouse was used by both union and southern troop, confederate troops at various times as one army would come in and pushed the other out. they would set up here in the courthouse, and they would use it as a barracks. so that the area around judge
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parker's bench had soldiers sleeping all over it. judge parker didn't like this. weapons are soldiers in his courtroom, but there was very much he could do about it when the armies came through. yes, sir? >> the struggle with the decision to execute brown, people said in letters warning them not to do that, it would have a martyr effect. i'm just curious about -- >> judge wise was generally being characterized as a material changeable man who changed his mind a lot, who was an emotional man, very intelligent man. he was an attorney, well experienced attorney. and he cared a lot about the decisions that were made here, but nobody was ever quite sure
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what he would ultimately decide here. this is another little interesting twist on this story, i think. when the charges were first filed against john brown hair, before the indictment was returned, the charges did not include treason. it was only when the indictment was filed that our friend andrew hunter inserted the count of treason against the commonwealth. there was a man who lived in charleston by the name of lloyd who was a great brown scholar. and i discovered this from reading his papers in the west virginia archives. he was of the opinion, he said he couldn't find any documentary evidence on it, that hunter had inserted the count charging brown with treason. so that wise would not be able to retrieve him, because under
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the law at that time, wise as the governor had the power to reprieved or grant clemency for murder, for inciting slaves to rebellion, for aiding and abetting murder, which the other charges in the case, he did not have the power to grant clemency for treason without the consent of the general assembly, which state legislator. and he was of the opinion that knowing that wise was a vacillate or and that you didn't know exactly what his final decision would be, he put in the treason charge to tie his hands. by that may or may not hold water. read about it in the book, because wise could have applied to the legislature for permission to do this and he did not. he did not. and i think, he was running for president at the time. he thought that he was a moderate and southerner who
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might be elected as president of the united states. he was a little mistaken in that regard. a fellow from illinois made instead, but he was trying to deal the moderates on both sides, both in the north and south, and so he did besylate. [inaudible] >> what i was looking for? well, he left a lot of letters. there are a lot of john brown's letters. he wanted someone who would sympathize with him. someone who was a good attorney. but he also, he made quite clear in one of his letters, do not send an older abolitionist. he didn't want an altar
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abolition because he knew that would arise antipathy here in charles town and what it would do him more harm than good to do that. yes, sir? [inaudible] >> those with a private attorney. they were griswold and children. chilled the most responsibility for it, there was another attorney in richmond by the name of green. i believe his name was william green who was a brother of thomas clayborne green, the mayor, who had represented brown by court appointment in the early stages of this trial here. but chilton and griswold presented the arguments in richmond with the assistance of william green. and their petition exists. it's a very rare document. i had a chance to read it and richmond, and it was very well
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presented. and at the time, the statutes of virginia provided that the judges of the supreme court couf appeals would state the reasons for their decisions in writing. now they never made -- they never issued an opinion in the brown case. you know, it was a terribly contentious case. very controversial, and was on the minds of people throughout the united states, and yet they denied the petition without a formal opinion. they did have a $0.01 opinion and a facts saying that they denied the petition because the decision of the circuit court had obviously been right, something to that effect. it was really like a one sentence conclusion of. . .
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>> and another in new york that had something to do with the war of 1812 with people who were supplying british ships in the harbor with necessary material for the war, and they were
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charged with treason against new york. and as i recall, the decision in that case was helping, helping the british defeat the united states is not treason against new york. it might be treason against the united states, but not against new york. so there were other cases, but they were very rare. and to my, to the best of my knowledge that was -- and i think it's well documented -- the first execution for treason against a state. yes, sir. >> do you think that john brown's confession or understanding of this trial changed as it went on? >> yes, i do. i really think that, i think that there was a change in brown. i think in the beginning that he thought that he might actually be held not, be found not guilty because of the fact that he didn't really intend to do any harm here. i think it was naive, but i think that he really did believe
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that, and he did really want some attorneys who might help him prove that case. very quickly, however, he changed his mind, and he decided that it was far better for him to be executeed for his noble cause than for him to be found not guilt or to escape from jail if he could have done that. yes, ma'am. >> one of the things that he did was -- [inaudible] it doesn't seem like any of the charges covered that. [inaudible] >> well, i'm quite sure it was a crime. it was not charged per se. it was part of the inciting slave to rebellion, part of the, perhaps, aiding and abetting murder because there were four civilians who were killed in harper's ferry, were shot dead
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during the fighting that ensued. it is, it is interesting that there was no charge of kidnapping. there was nothing of that kind that was filed against brown. and by the way, some of the hostages that he took and he kept them in the fire engine house in harper's ferry which you can visit now today, they were in there for maybe 24 hours, some period of time. had very nice things to say about him. he was treated them with respect. did not abuse them. and as a matter of fact, we were discussing this this afternoon, a couple of them said, well, my wife is worrying about me at home, and i haven't had any breakfast. and he said, well, go home and have breakfast, get your wife to give you some breakfast, but come back here and take your
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place as a hostage. [laughter] and they did so. that's exactly what they did. they went home, they had breakfast, they came back and took their place as hostages. >> [inaudible] that charge wasn't added? did they bring out -- [inaudible] >> would you repeat that, please? i missed the beginning. >> could that have been the reason that that charge physically wasn't included? >> that might have been. that might have been. i think, however, that a lot of the mistakes that were made during the trial can be attributed to the rush to judgment. if you have a trial like this that really involved fundamental legal questions and you have 19 witnesses that you're going to call to testify and you have to swear, have a jury sworn, summoned from the outlying areas of the county and you have an indictment that takes 20 minutes to be read in open court, you're going to make a lot of mistakes
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trying to do all that in such a short time, and that's what they did. but i don't think they were terribly worried about the mistakes because they, they regarded it asen inevitability that brown would be convicted and hanged. and they were right. yes, sir. >> two questions. when brown's record, he was in custody of the united states army. how did they lose control of their prisoner to state authorities, and secondly, did brown's constitution play any part in his conviction and freedom? >> well, i think i didn't get your first part. when brown was in the custody of the u.s. army? >> [inaudible] the united states army. >> oh. well, when lee and his -- yeah, they captured him. they turned him over to the state authorities quite quickly, and this was, perhaps, another mistake. if they had been turned over instead to the u.s. marshall or
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the eastern district of virginia, then he would have been in federal custody and tried in federal court, and it would have taken a lot longer because the federal court had to, you know, convene. it was meeting in southern virginia at the time, and it wouldn't have rushed to judgment, there wouldn't have been such a rush to judgment. and the state would have been helpless. at that point they could not demand it. but there was a conference, a hurried conference in washington between james buchanan and the united states attorney. what will we do about this, about john brown? and governor wise was quite adamant. the commonwealth of virginia will take custody of john brown and deal with him according to the laws of the commonwealth of virginia. that's all there is to it. and brown said, well, he department care particularly one way or the other, so he let them
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do it. >> how about his individual constitution? >> it was introduced in evidence in the trial, and portions of it were read to the jury. >> [inaudible] >> yes, uh-huh. yes, sir. >> [inaudible] tried in federal court, but if he'd been tried in federal court, the evidence, would he still have been convicted and hung? >> yes, i think he would have been. >> thank you. >> oh, that satisfies you? [laughter] well, i think he would have been. he was -- he broke the law. i mean, he broke the law in a violent way. you break the law in a violent way, they don't say go home and don't do it again. they, in those days they strung you up and hanged you, and i think that would have happened. but it would have been a much different trial in many respects. one, one important difference would be that the aggrieved
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party in that case would have been the united states of america. seeking to vindicate its loss, to enforce its rule, to enforce its order. as it was, it was the commonwealth of virginia vindicating its laws. it was a different focus entirely. and brown would not have been, would not have, perhaps, aroused as much terrible opposition if it hadn't been that it was made to seem that he offended virginia. in fact, he offended the entire united states when he broke the law, in my opinion. yes, sir. >> andrew -- [inaudible] regarding your position. do you look into that, at the murder of his u.s. superintendent of the army -- >> oh, yes. you're referring to the earlier
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trial that had arisen out of the harper's ferry. yeah. well, hunter had a good point there. there had been a murder that took place in harper's ferry around 1930. the superintendent was murdered in cold blood by a disgruntled employee who had been laid off, and he was very angry. he went into the superintendent's office and shot him to death. he was brought to charlestown and tried here and hanged. and hunter cited that as a precedent. he said, we've always done it this way. crimes arising out of harper's ferry, the army and arsenal in harper's ferry have been tried in charlestown and so that it's good. the slight problem with that argument is, if you do things wrong one time, it doesn't necessarily mean you can do it wrong twice. [laughter] yes. >> i have a question more about your writing process in creating the book.
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since you mentioned that there were no transcripts of the trial, and i realize -- >> no official transcripts. >> no official transcripts. and you did research which also involved looking at newspaper articles and this sensational list that was attending the trial. i wonder if you had any trouble or regular trouble struggling with what was, what was being honestly reported versus nor ridley reported or editorialized and if you could comment on that. >> yes. well, there is some difficulty on that. in particular, there were several of the new york newspapers that were represented leer during the trial, and one of them ran afoul of the local authorities for writing unfavorable reports about charlestown. can't imagine what there would have been unfavorable that happened here at the time, but he thought there was, and he wrote some stories. and they took offense at that, and they told him to get out of
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town. he had 24 hours to leave town. he did, and he went -- i think he was the writer for the tribune. horace greeley's newspaper. and i believe that he went up to either baltimore and philadelphia and filed some more stories that were even more unfavorable about charlestown in which, and some people have accused him of making up some of the stories. now, there were some good ones in those stories. one was that the floor of the courtroom at the time was covered with pecan and peanut shells, that the people were just rabidly, you know, chewing on pecans and peanuts and throwing their shells on the floor. and when you would walk across the floor, it would sound like you were walking on broken glass. and i don't know whether this reporter for the new york newspaper made that story up or whether it was really true. it wasn't in the other
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newspapers. yeah. yes, sir. [applause] >> shall we go to the signing table? >> thank you, mr. mcginty. i think we need to give him a break. he'll be delighted to sign your book if you care to purchase one. the historical society is selling the books this evening, and, of course, mr. mcginty will be at harper's ferry at the conference tomorrow. maybe you'll have a chance to catch him there. from the humanities council, we thank you all for being here, and certainly we thank brian mcginty for an excellent speech this evening. thank you, sir. [applause]
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>> brian mcginty is the author of "lincoln and the court." october 16th marked the 150th anniversary of john brown's raid. for more information visit >> from the 2009 southern festival of books, christian ethics professor shaun casey discusses his book, the making of a catholic president: kennedy v. nixon 1960. this event is 45 minutes. >> i want to talk about why we should care about the 1960 election, what was so special about that one. secondly, i want to tell you about the major lessons i learned in my research that you can find in the book if you take the time to read it, thirdly, i want to walk you through pivotal en


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