April 20, 1862: Breckinridge should hang

Lt. General John C. Breckinridge

The New York Times editorialist was sad that Breckinridge had not been captured at Shiloh, and felt that he, along with a considerable list of Confederate leaders, should be hanged as a traitor.

The Traitor Breckinridge.

It is devoutly to be deplored that the report of the capture of the arch-traitor JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE, at the battle of Pittsburgh Landing, has not proved true. The time has now come when their own personal safety will be the chief look-out of the leaders of the rebellion. They will presently seek to escape by flight the righteous vengeance which they feel in their guilty consciousness is prepared for them; but during the short time they still continue to play their sham part, whether in the field or at the rebel capital, their supreme aim will be to secure themselves from capture. This must not be permitted. Our Generals must bear in mind that the nation commits to them, as a special duty, to secure at whatever cost the live bodies of the leaders, civic and military, of the rebellion. If it is necessary, let them detail a posse comitatus for this special and exclusive purpose. It is better that ten thousand ordinary prisoners from the rank and file of the rebel army should be allowed to escape — they will all be released as it is — than that one DAVIS, BRECKINRIDGE, STEPHENS, YANCEY, TOOMBS, COBB or FLOYD, should be permitted to cheat the gallows. For them and their mates there is one sure fate — be hanged by the neck till they are dead. This is the punishment provided for treason, and there is a growing conviction in the public mind that it must be fully meted out to the leaders of the rebellion that has lifted up its hand against the life of the Republic.

We say this is a growing conviction, because hitherto, while rebellion triumphed and the end seemed yet far off, the disposal of the traitor chiefs could hardly be considered a practical question. But now that the wicked cause has about run its course, and we are able to look back and view it in its whole scope, and see how unspeakably base has been its origin, and how diabolical its course, there is being rapidly developed a stern, immovable resolve, that the leading traitors shall expiate their crime with their lives. We now hold in the State prisons of the nation several prominent rebel military leaders. The Government has wisely refused to exchange these; but there are other cases in which we think it has not acted so wisely. In this category we place the release of the traitor, Ex-Senator GWIN, who, it will be remembered, was arrested by Gen. SUMNER, at Panama, while on his way from California, and who was brought to New-York, but suffered to go on parole, and who latterly turns up orating at Richmond! Why he was permitted to go is a mystery which we are utterly unable to fathom. It cannot be that evidences of his treason were wanting; for it is well known that when the great plot was being hatched at Washington last Winter, a year ago, GWIN was a prominent agent of the traitor cabal; while of his overt acts of treason, while still in California, there is damning proof.

Let the Administration know that the people are in dead earnest in this matter; and not only hold fast to such rebel leaders as they now have in custody, but make a special point that all the rest are secured. It will, perhaps, not be very long before they will be called on to place them at the bar of justice to receive the punishment due their unparalleled crime.

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