Orestes A. Brownson, a Catholic convert, was the greatest Catholic writer of mid-Nineteenth Century America. He published Brownson’s Quarterly Journal, an influential and popular magazine which examined the political, cultural and literary scene of the America of its time. One hundred and fifty years ago one of his subscribers sat down and wrote him a letter. Dr. Samuel Mudd was an unknown figure at the time, but just over three years hence all of America would know his name as the physician who treated the assassin John Wilkes Booth after he had slain President Lincoln. Mudd was arrested in the aftermath of the assassination. Mudd claimed to be completely innocent. However, at his trial evidence was presented that established that Mudd had contacts with Booth in late 1864. What they talked about is lost to history. Evidence by Mudd’s former slaves helped establish that Mudd had been part of the conspiracy. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, escaping the death penalty by a single vote.
Mudd was held for four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. During a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 the prison doctor died and Mudd volunteered to take his place. His efforts helped stem the outbreak and the soldiers at the fort wrote a petition to President Johnson asking for clemency for Mudd: He inspired the hopeless with courage and by his constant presence in the midst of danger and infection…. [Many] doubtless owe their lives to the care and treatment they received at his hands. Due to this, and the ceaseless efforts of his defense attorney Thomas W. Ewing, Jr. who was influential with the Johnson administration, on February 8, 1869 Johnson pardoned Mudd. Since Mudd’s release there have been continuing efforts to clear his name. In 1992 my former Congressman, Republican Thomas Ewing, co-sponsored with Steny Hoyer, Democrat Maryland, House bill 1885 to overturn the conviction of Mudd. The bill failed in committee.
Here is the text of Mudd’s letter to Brownson:
Bryantown, Chas. Co., Md. Jan 13th, 1862
O.A. Brownson Dear Sir:
I sometimes since received a bill from your publisher in New York—whom I wrote stating my reasons for withdrawing my subscription to your once able review for non payment of the present account. I now repeat in substance what I then wrote to the publisher—viz. that I had not been a subscriber since 1859—the Rev. Father Vizinanzi was then agent—The Review continued to be rec’d in 1860. I inquired of Father Vizinanzi whether he had erased my name from his list of subscribers? He told me he had. When the first Vol. 1860 was rec’d I considered it a mistake or negligence on the part of the Agent—but learning to the contrary I considered it a gratuity or inducement for further subscription—so I did not trouble myself until the reception of a bill from the Publisher in New York—to which I replied immediately that I was no subscriber and ordered it to be discontinued. It was sent again in 1861 until receiving a bill, which I again a second time responded to, and stated that many of the Vols. I had refused to take from the office—and at his request and expense, those that I had and those in the Post Office would be returned. This is the third time I have been troubled on your account, and I am in hopes you will not bother me again, unless you can show clearly that I am truly indebted to you.
“It is hard to kiss the hand that smites.” Through you our country beloved by its people and the wonder of the world, has rec’d. an irreparable injury. Your encouragement to the Revolutionist and men of no religion of Europe—Your condemnation of the National party or parties, and influence given to Sectionalism and the fear of rendering yourself unpopular in the North—has had a great weight in bringing about the present deplorable state of our Country—You have even advocated revolution here, in order to be consistent with your language upon European affairs, forgetting that there is no rule without an exception, and the principles of the Constitution.
The present Civil War now raging, was not brought about entirely by fear on the part of the South, that their property in Slaves was endangered, but more by an unwillingness to yield up rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States—the privilege of framing laws and enjoying all immunities not reserved by the General Constitution. The South could not give up State rights—The North found Slavery unprofitable, therefore, abolished it, without any interference by the South—and all we have asked is the exercise of the same power and right. Under the system of State Rights, under the Constitution of the United States—Every Abolitionist is a disunionist. Republicanism we view in the same light on account of its exclusiveness and Sectionalism. We do not object to Republicanism or Abolitionism being a State organization or party, (provided they are passive) because the right the power is accorded under the Constitution. But we are bitterly opposed to its being brought into National Politics or its principles rendering fit, an officer to execute or legislate for our Common Country. A majority of the people of the North believe Slavery to be Sinful, thereby they attempt to force down our throats, their religious Conviction, which is Anti-Catholic and uncharitable.
The North on account of its pride, shortsightedness, hypocricy and much phylanthropy—has caused the destruction of one of the most glorious nations upon the face of the earth. The South even those termed Seceders and leaders of Secession desire union! Yes Union!—It is the longing of my heart, that the same old Star Spangled should continue to wave over the land of the free and the home of the Brave. But Alas! we know not in what manner it can be brought about. One thing seems certain to us all, the Union can never be restored by war, and the North must be very blind not to know and see it. The Success of the Federal arms does not justify a further prosecution of the war, thus far they have not gained a single victory; they have not gained one foot of territory, other than the enemy by his prudence and defensive attitude granted—with exception of a few batteries on the barren sea coast. The South has already manifested more energy, industry, prudence and Yankeeism than the North—They have erected foundries, manufactories of various sorts, and in a few months will be enabled to live well, with sealed ports.
She is possessed of every ingredient to make her self-sustaining and powerful—all she wants is a little more time, and if the war should be protracted, all the better for her future, because her resources will be brought out. Her iron, lead and other mines, which she is rich in will be worked and cause her not to look abroad for supplies.
The people of the South are differently constituted from those of the North—attributable to education and climate. As an example they are more sensitive—their sense of honor is much more keen and they would sooner run the risk of death, than live with an injured reputation. It is seldom you hear of a duel in the North, where parties are challenged to mortal combat to settle their grievances, but you find instead a recourse to law—a few dollars satisfying the dishonored. I say this in no disparagement, but merely to show the dissimilarity of the two people. The South also possess in a high degree—the virtues of forbearance, endurance and magnanimity. The war as it has progressed goes to prove and you will find these characteristics still more noticeable as it advances. The people of the North are Puritanical, long faced or Methodistic and hypocritical—they deal in Sympathetic language to hide their deception—their actions are Pharisaical, covert, stealthy, and cowardly. They are law abiding so long as it bears them out in their selfish interest, and praisers and scatterers and followers of the Bible so long as it does not conflict with their passions. They make good cow drivers, pickpockets and gamblers. With these traits of character in your leading politicians and preachers—it is impossible that confidence can be inspired in the South. Their words and actions for reasons alleged above are all met with mistrust by their Southern brethren. Your people have so degenerated, that were it not for the foreign element—which you possess—there would be only war on parchment, as it is, there is just enough of true Yankee to make the rest good for nothing, but an expense to the Nation. They fight very hard when there is no danger of being hurt and for the want of some visible exemplification of the destruction of shell and shot, they turn their pieces upon each other, resulting in the death of many, which fortunately is more gain than loss to the Federal Government.
The Union would be better maintained and restored, if the battles could always take place among each of this vast Army of 700,000 and end in its own total destruction, because the cause being removed—the patient the Government, would be soon convalescent—unless the system is so much depressed, there is not left sufficient vital power to bring about a healthy reaction.
I regret sincerely to see such a lack of Patriotism in the Present Administration and in the representatives of the North. They seem to be dreamy and mystified—they rush headlong regardless of law and its consequences and skulk like sheep-stealing dogs, when another nation stands up in open contravention. I confidently assert, that if there was any other man at the head of the Government of true conservative and constitutional principles, the Revolution would immediately cease so far as the South is concerned.
It’s my opinion that you and Bishop Hughes have put yourselves upon the same footing as the rest of the demagogues and Preachers of your Section such as Beecher, Cheeves, Smith, Phillips and Etc. You have destroyed all the good you have accomplished and the church instead of prospering will lose ground in your midst so soon as the government settles down once more into a peace. They will see clearly, the folly of those would be leaders political and religious, and it’s not the least improbable that many will have to seek an asylum in a foreign land.
You will please excuse this hasty and roughly scribbled epistle—it is not my intention to rob you of that jewel—honesty of intention. You know full well, that slavery being a State institution recognized by every administration and confirmed by many acts of Congress, can only be abrogated by State will. The South has stood a high protective tariff for many years, without a murmur, (excepting S. Carolina) and for what? Namely to support a few manufacturing interests in the North. The North has grown rich by the products of slave labor, pride and self esteem was its consequence; he considers himself the most exalted of God’s creation, and deigns to establish principles of humanity for the rest of mankind. Christ, our Saviour found slavery at his coming and yet he made no command against its practice. Therefore I think it is a great presumption in man to supply the omissions which God in his infinity thought proper to make.
My remarks are more directed to the Non-Catholic portion of the North but I fear from your leaning and that of Bishop Hughes, you will bring about an unkind feeling between members of our church—especially against their Superiors, North and South.
I would like, had I the time to give you some practical illustrations of the two systems of labor in a medical, religious and temporal point of view, as it is manifest to me, but I must now conclude by wishing you prosperity in all your undertakings when directed for the honor and glory of God.
Most respectfully, Samuel A. Mudd, M.D.
0. A. BROWNSON D. D. LL.D.