‘You Dare Not Hang That Man’ – Johnson Receives a Letter Brimming With Crazy

May 14, 1865 (Sunday)

“Intelligence was received this morning of the capture of Jefferson Davis in southern Georgia. I met Stanton this Sunday P.M. at Seward’s, who says Davis was taken disguised in women’s clothes. A tame and ignoble letting down of the traitor.” – Gideon Welles, Naval Secretary.

As the news spread through Washington, President Andrew Johnson received a curious letter signed “Pro Patrea et Preside,” complete with a cartoon dagger above the name, which translated from the Latin to “country and president.”

Johnson: "Just you try it."
Johnson: “Just you try it.”

The anonymous author began be referencing Johnson’s “infamous bribe,” referring to the $100,000 offered for the capture of Jefferson Davis, stating that it was responsible for the capture of the Confederate president.

“He is in your power; in no idle spirit of threatening I say to you Chief Magistrate of the United States, beware of how you exercise that power.

“Mr Davis is in no way responsible for the death of your predecessor: nor is he responsible for what you call the Rebellion. His part in it has been the servant of the people, of whom I am one. He was made so by their will, and that will would today uphold him if untrammeled by your horde of bayonets. It has upheld him to the death of the noblest and bravest of men the world ever saw. Thew few remaining would still give their lives for he cause which he has so nobly and conscientiously sustained, and many (I for one) would give their lives for his, and I will if his is taken. You dare not hang that man! Do so, and YOUR LIFE SHALL BE THE FORFEIT.

“Gaurded [sic] at every step as your craven life is, it will not always be so. There will come the time when you think, even the spirit of your people is crushed and exterminated, as are our rights., and you have nothing to fear from a rebellion so dead and buried. For that time I will watch and wait, WITH A RESOLVE AS FIRM & FIXED AS THE HEAVENS – to avenge my President and my country, with my life as the sacrifice. From this purpose your hanging of the alleged ‘conspirators’ and a hundred time their number will not intimidate or turn me.”

The news itself would appear in the newspapers of the following day.1



  1. Sources: Diary by Gideon Welles; The Papers of Andrew Johnson. []

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