The Oberlin Evangelist
May 25, 1859
Our Oberlin Friends in Jail
Since April 15, thirteen of our fellow citizens have lain in Cleveland jail. So fare as appears yet, they must lie there full tow months more before their trial can be resumed or any progress made towards their liberation.
Why are they there?
Because they were ordered y the Court into the custody of the Marshal, and he, in pursuance of law, place them in jail. Special circumstances have seemed to them to forbid their asking the privilege of giving bail for their appearance in Court and going out thus.
The material points of the case, as we understand them, are these:
When first notified of their indictment, they went unattended before the Court, as men, not as felons, plead not guilty, and demanded an immediate trial. The Court chose not to try them then, but let them go home on their own recognizances, they having refused to give bail. They remained, held to the Court only by their own recognizances, yet promptly in attendance at every session, until the verdict against Bushnell had been rendered. Then, the prosecuting attorney, excited apparently by the discussion, which arose on the question of a new jury, moved the Court to order all these men awaiting trail, into the custody of the Marshal. The Court replied: - “You have a right to make that motion and it is then my duty to grant it; let the Marshal take them in charge.” While they were being called and were taking their places in a specified part of the room, the counsel for defence moved that they be released now from their recognizances, it being manifestly improper that they should be held on their personal bond and their honor, and also held in the durance of a prison at the same time. The Court assented and ordered accordingly. They went to jail. When the Court opened again Monday morning, what was their surprise and the surprise of hundreds who were present at the transactions above described, to find that the records of the Court were so entered as to imply that the indicted men first surrendered their recognizances and then, and for that reason were ordered into the Marshal’s custody! Whether this were a simple mistake, or a designed falsehood, it is not our purpose to determine. We know it to be not in accordance with the facts. We were present; we heard and noted the essential facts carefully, and so did more than a hundred others who can confirm what we have given as the order of the events.
Yet the Court, though appealed to earnestly and respectfully then, to order its records to be corrected, refused. The same request was made May 12, and urged, but again in vain.
This action of the Court has seemed to our friends to place a serious barrier in the way of their giving bail or proposing to renew their recognizances. Under circumstances very similar, Paul and Silas said – “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily. Nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.” So say our friends – We have treated the Court with all honor and truthfulness; let them give us like treatment. By thrusting us into prison despite of our recognizances, they virtually nullified them and compelled us to ask that they be cancelled in form as they had been in fact; now, before we ask for their renewal, let them at least do us the simple justice of a truthful record of actual facts.
Not the least among the important results of this prosecution will be its showing on the question whether any justice can be had in a Federal Court in a case of Slavery versus Freedom. If justice cannot be had, the suffering of injustice patiently will be a testimony before the nation and the world, the outcome of which testimony will be for the blessing of future ages. In this hope our brethren are cheerful. They believe in a God whose Providence notes each sparrow’s fall, and never fails to extort praise from the wrath of man and to restrain all the remainder thereof. It is the comfort of their hearts to commit their case to this all-ruling God, and to know that while few friends only can reach them with kind and sympathizing words, there are many whose prayers will have free access to him who controls all. H.C.