Return to St. Augustine in the Civil War
Philip Fraser to Abraham Lincoln on Reconstruction
in Florida
Philip Fraser to Abraham Lincoln, Saturday, December 31, 1864 (Reconstruction in Florida)
From Philip Fraser to Abraham Lincoln, December 31, 1864
Library of Congress

Elizabeth. New Jersey Dec 31st 1864


Nearly two years ago I consulted with the Attorney General of the United States as to the propriety
of organizing the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Florida I then
suggested to him the difficulties which presented themselves, to the successful exercise of the
jurisdiction of the Court in prize cases, especially, in consequence of the existing blockade of the
Port of St. Augustine. He did not consider these difficulties insuperable and expressed the opinion,
that my duty required me to organize the Court and be ready for any business, which might arise in
my District. I agreed with him and believed farther that the organization of the Court, will reassure
the people of the permanent occupancy of the State; would develop a national sentiment, and would
hasten a reorganization of a State Government under the Federal Constitution. So far as a
development of a Union sentiment is concerned, the result has proved that my belief was not
unreasonable-- Under the present aspect of affairs, cut off as Florida now is from the Rebel
Government, an early reorganization of a Union State government may be looked for-- All we need
now to accomplish so desirable an end, is the aid of the Military in establishing a civil government.
But I regret to say that the action of the Military authorities, has had the effect to dishearten our
people, by placing many obstacles in the way of their material prosperity -- by monopolizing
profitable business, thereby preventing enterprising and loyal citizens from pursuing their legitimate
business, and raising doubts in their minds, whether the Government means to protect them in their
rights as citizens, by guarantying and restoring to our State a republican form of government-- The
Military commander of the Department has also openly denied the existence of any civil authority
within his lines, and has by his military orders attempted to prevent the execution of the legal
process of the Court--

Before going down to Florida last summer to hold a session of the Court at St. Augustine, I
addressed a note to the Secretary at War suggesting that an order from him directing the military
authorities of the Southern Department to aid the officers of the Court in the discharge of their
duties would greatly facilitate the transaction of business. He informed me in reply that he had
referred my letter to the Commander of the
Department of the South for favorable consideration. It
was not however considered favorably, by that commander as events have proved. I therefore
deemed it my duty, to set forth some of the facts, in another letter to the Secretary at War
accompanied with exhibits and vouchers showing the determination on the part of the military
authorities to prevent the execution of the legal process of the Court in certain cases, which is now I
presume on file in the War Department with accompanying papers. In that letter I requested the
Secretary at War if proper, to give such orders to the military authorities in the Department of the
South as would require them to respect the legal process of the Court-- In reply the Secretary
informed me that it was the opinion of Gen. Halleck Chief of Staff -- in which he concurred, that no
such order as the one asked for by me should be given-- The conclusion therefore is that the
military commander of a Department may suppress the legal proceedings of a Judicial Tribunal of
the United States -- may prevent the discharge of its constitutional functions -- may in effect abolish
an independent department of the Government, and may subject the people to an exclusive military
jurisdiction In the name of civil liberty, and constitutional law, I desire to record my solemn protest,
and to appeal to yourself as the highest military authority, against such monstrous doctrine and
practice-- I ask no consideration for myself personally or for the other officers of the Court-- We
would prefer to take some honorable part in suppressing the rebellion and restoring the Union in our
capacity as civil officers, and in sustaining the military in all its efforts directed to that end, but we
cannot consent to aid in the suppression of civil liberty, nor to the eradication of the judicial tribunals
of the United States within our state.

The recognition of the right of the military power to suppress the proceedings of the U. S. Dist Court
for the Northern District, concedes also the right to suppress the proceedings of the U. S. Dist Court
for the Southern District of Florida-- Both courts stand in the same relation to the Government --
both in an insurrectionary state and both are within the lines of military occupancy of our armies--
There is no way of enforcing the process of these courts against the determined opposition of the
military. It is therefore of the highest importance that any false impressions entertained by military
commanders upon this subject should be corrected, and they should be taught that civil liberty is not
incompatible with the most efficient exercise of military power -- and that civil tribunals must be
prepared to replace the military, if we expect ever again to enjoy the blessings of peace, and the
rights of freemen under the constitution. Nothing is asked further than that the government will
sustain the court in the discharge of its legal duties -- that its legal process shall be respected by
the military authorities-- The military are required by express orders from the War Department to
give their aid to Treasury agents in the discharge of their duties. Is there then any good reason why
a similar order should not be given so far as the Courts are concerned whose proceedings would
have already made large returns to the Treasury but for the interference of the military? I can see
no good reason for such discrimination-- I have the honor therefore, on this appeal, to your
excellency to repeat the request heretofore made to the Secretary of War.

I have the honor to be

Very Respectfully yours

Philip Fraser

U. S. Dist Judge N. Dist. Fla
Abraham Lincoln - 1864