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Thaddeus Hyatt · Response to the Senate Investigating Committee Summons · January 28, 1860
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Thaddeus Hyatt Summons

THE HARPER'S FERRY INVESTIGATION. The following is the letter of Mr. Thaddeus Hyatt to the Senate Investigating Committee, which has been referred to by telegraph:

New York, Saturday, Jan. 28, 1860.

To the Hon. J. M. Mason, Chairman of the Select Committee of the Senate of the United States:

Sir. I am in receipt of the summons of your committee, and shall comply with your requisitions to the extent of presenting myself before your honorable body at the appointed hour. But—and I mean no disrespect to your committee, to the Chair, nor to the honorable Senate by whose act the committee has an existence—I shall now answer its interro[g]atories. As a citizen of the Republic, faithful to its traditions, its genius, and its laws, I protest against the inquisitorial character of a tribunal that, in the exercise of its merely normal functions, sinks and degrades its witnesses into "informers." Powers, such as those with which your Committee have been clothed by the hasty action of the honorable Senate, are not incident to a Government organized as is ours, with a learned and competent Judiciary, nor do I find in the Constitution any warrant for their exercise by your honorable Committee; neither do I see that, until it shall have been made apparent, the Judiciary branch of our Government is impotent to reach and punish the specific crimes aimed at by the Senate.

By the resolution which gave birth to your committee, it will be in order for any committee to make inquisition with a view to further legislation against inter-state or other conspiracies against government. Holding to the Constitution, and to the immunities and privileges of citizens protected by its safeguards, I feel bound in duty, as well to the public as to myself, to ignore as usurpations the exercise of unconstitutional powers in a matter of import so grave and far-reaching as the present. Unrebuked encroachments of power to-day become the precedents of tyranny to-morrow. Not, therefore, because of disrespect to your honorable committee, and not of contempt for the honorable Senate, but because of loyalty to the Constitution and to the people, do I here and now and in this wise protest against and refuse to be obedient to the power of your committee.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,


Source: unidentified clipping, John Brown Scrap Book, compiled by Frank Sanborn, Vol. 1, Boyd B.
Stutler Collection, West Virginia State Archives.

West Virginia Archives & History