Martin Guy Letter

A Personal Vindication of Martin W. Guy, and the Reason Why During the War He Refused to Serve on a United States Grand Jury, which Found a True Bill Against the Late Gen. N. B. Forrest for Treason.

In discharge of the duties incumbent upon me as one of the grand jurors of this district, I am asked by my fellow jurors to concur with them in finding a true bill of indictment for Tennessee against Maj. Gen. N. B. Forrest of the Confederate Army, as he is notoriously in arms in defense of the Southern Confederacy and very recently has been in this county and a portion of the troops have penetrated this town, captured prisoners and made war upon the troops of the United States. This forms a strong and striking case, requiring an indictment for treason in the opinion of my fellow jurors. I have given this subject all the consideration of which I am capable, with an anxious desire to do my duty. The presiding judge in his charge to the jury, uses this language: “In making this diligent inquiry, your highest aim within the sphere of the duties assigned you, should be simply to promote the end of public justice.” With this highest aim to promote public justice, I cannot concur with my fellow jurors for the following reasons: First, the Government of the United States is a voluntary compact between sovereign, equal and independent States, forming a compact for certain specified limited purposes. This compact, or partnership, is the constitution of the United States. In 1861 a portion of the States to this Federal compact, each in its sovereign capacity withdrew from the Federal Union and created another union and government called Confederate States, the States still adhering to the old Union called United States, denying the power and right of the seceding or withdrawing States to withdraw and form a separate Confederacy. As there is no umpire to decide this high question peaceably, the States calling themselves United States have resorted to umpire of the sword, to compel the seceding States to return to the old compact. There is no warrant in the constitution for making war upon sovereign States. If the published debates of the framers of the constitution are to throw any light upon the subject, the power of the Federal Government to make war upon a sovereign State is expressly and emphatically repudiated. Whether the remaining States to the old compact have a right to make war on the seceding States or not, they are, nevertheless, making war on the seceding States. The seceding States under their new form of government, Confederate States, are defending themselves against the war made upon them by the States still adhering to the old compact. With this view of the case I am not prepared to say that Maj. Gen. N. B. Forrest is making war upon the United States. He is a citizen of one of the seceding States. They claim they have a right to secede; that they have seceded and made another government, and that they are simply acting in self-defense, not making an aggressive war on the States called the United States. I am not prepared to say whether they are right or not. Second, I am a citizen of the State of Tennessee. The citizens of the State of Tennessee against my vote, against my wishes, against my judgment, against my acts (while it was an open question, I had a right to vote and act) by an overwhelming majority voted to secede from the old confederation and join the new. I cannot separate myself from my State, if I would. Against my judgment they have withdrawn from the old Union. A majority of its citizens determined to belong to the new union, that is an impossibility! The war has been raging for more than three years with varying success. After more than three years’ war, I have no evidence before me that a majority or even a tenth part of the citizens desire to return to the old Union. The facts would seem to justify a different conclusion. Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and perhaps two or three communities in East Tennessee are under the control of Federal authorities. Such places are held by the arms of the Federal Government, while all the balance of the States are in sentiment with them, and the greater portion of the fighting population is in arms against them. This Federal judicial district embraces all of West Tennessee, while in fact and in truth its jurisdiction and processes would not be acknowledged and could not be enforced over and beyond the corporate limits of the town of Memphis, or at least outside of the limits of the Federal pickets, about three miles square. The construction of this grand jury is significant. The law contemplated that they should be selected from different counties, while in truth and in fact they are all from the town of Memphis. With these facts before me, with war raging over the length and breadth of the land, I am not prepared to join in bills of indictments against my fellow citizens of Tennessee and arraign them for treason and have them tried for their lives. They have as much right to their opinions as I have to mine. I differ with them as to the policy of their acts. But who is to decide which is right and who is wrong? I cannot pronounce them traitors. The line of separation between traitors and patriots is almost invisible. It depends upon success. Washington, Hancock and other Revolutionary fathers were called traitors. After seven years of war they succeeded, and in all coming time they will be called patriots, notwithstanding they rebelled against their government. Third, the presiding judge, with much emphasis, warns us that we are public functionaries, standing between the accuser and the accused; that we are the great security to the citizen against unfounded and vindictive prosecution, and the grand-jury room, therefore, is no place for the exhibition of personal animosities, or the gratification of individual malice. The moment that these, and less seductive influences of fear, favor or affection are permitted to invade the sanctity of the jury-room, grand juries cease to answer the purpose of their institution and become instruments of oppression and wrong. If the sage suggestions are necessary in peace, how potent they become in times like these, “when” (to use the language of the Court) “the whole country has become the victim of a delirium which strikes at the foundation of our political organization.

Grand jurors are but men, liable to err, as other mortals. Can they — when the country is deluged with blood, when father is arrayed against son, and brother against brother, when the whole country is seized with delirium — calmly, philosophically and wisely lift themselves against the surging passions of the hour, and rightfully discharge these duties to themselves, their God and their countrymen? Fourth, I cannot believe we shall promote the highest aim of our duties, the end of public justice, by holding courts and instituting charges against those who differ with us in opinions. If we commence wholesale charges and indictments for treason against all those who are opposed to us, in retaliation they will commence the same against those who think as we do throughout the South — these many thousand wise and good union loving men, who deeply deplore the course which the Southern States have thought proper to pursue, and with uplifted hands are imploring God Almighty for a return to union and peace. Shall we commence here a system which will certainly involve these noble patriots in speedy and certain destruction? The war is not yet ended. The man don’t live who can see through it, or when or how it is to end. We are told the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong! The slightest incidents in life control the destinies of states, empires and individuals. No man living can tell what to-morrow will bring forth. The incidents of war may drive the Federal authorities out of Tennessee. If we sit here, hatch charges against our fellow men, what becomes of us in turn? Fifth, in view of all things, while the land is raging with delirium, I cannot believe we shall subserve the ends of public justice by instituting terrible inquisitions and indictments against our fellow citizens. Especially is it important that we desist at this time. A presidential election will come on before the people of the United States in less than sixty days. The war is now working to points beyond which, in the opinion of many, it cannot much further go. Out of these may come peace, union, liberty, fraternity. Is it wise to stir up strife when all good lovers of mankind hope that strife shall cease? If these things must be done, if the guilty must be punished, in the name of all that is holy, let us wait until the angry passions and delirium of the hour shall cease, and men selected from all parts of the judicial circuit come together, and unmoved by prejudice, passion, hatred, fear or revenge, calmly weigh these matters of high import and act rightly. Sixth, we have recognized Maj.-Gen. Forrest, the Confederate, even men on the high seas termed pirates and belligerents. Can we recognize them as belligerents and then institute these proceedings against them? Had Gen. Forrest been captured, would we have held him prisoner and tried him for treason, or would we have held him a prisoner of war, finally exchanged him, and turned him loose to come up against, us in arms? Seventh, may I now ask that you, Mr. Foreman, make known to the court my position, and let my position be filled by another more worthy and competent. I, since sitting in your body, have suffered much bodily pain, as I am much afflicted. If I may be permitted to retire by leave of the court, I shall carry with me no unkind feelings toward any member of this jury; but, on the other hand, I believe you to be gentlemen who have a high regard and desire to promote what you think the best interest of the State, and our common country. For the officers comprising this grand jury, from my limited acquaintance, in the discharge of your duties, I entertain the most profound respect, and I must say a word in behalf of my worthy friend and old countryman from Hardeman County. I have known him well for the last twenty-five years. A nobler or more honorable heart God never put into man than he possesses. A friend to the widow and orphans, the poor man in affliction or in prison, or an outcast, has ever found Pitser Miller a friend. The friendless he was always desirous to relieve and comfort and distress. May all such noble men live to a ripe old age, as the benefactors of our country. Gentlemen, I am now in your hands; I hope that you will have charity enough in your souls. Although you may think I am in error, if so then I am honorably so, so help me God.

MARTIN W. GUY.