Judge Underwood's Charge to the Grand Jury

June 6, 1866


Underwood understands Richmond has become notorious for trafficking men of serious crime more often than other cities. He argues that Davis has violated the state law which says that no one should influence others to threaten or obstruct administration, and those that do are punishable by fine or imprisonment.


Gentlemen of the Jury, -I am happy to meet you again, and to know that you still live, not withstanding the assaults that have been made upon you. Little need to be said in addition to the instructions given at Norfolk. Your last session has made you historical; and I trust the efforts which have been made to intimidate you and to impede the course of justice will not render you less faithful and earnest in the discharge of your public duties. We ought not to be surprised that the treasonable and licentious press of this State and city should wince, and rage, and become furious, when treason and licentiousness are exposed and arraigned for trial and punishment. Nor should we be surprised at the enormity and desperation exhibited when we remember that this city has long been the centre and seat of the greatest traflic in human beings that has ever disgraced the world; a traffic, which has annually employed many hundreds of moral monsters and many millions of capital, subsidising the press, pulpit, and politics of the State, rendering Richmond more infamous among men for its participation in this great crime than all the cities along the coasts of Senagambia, Upper and Lower Guinea, Congo, Loango, Angola, and Benguela combined. The wonder rather is that so many traces of kindness, humanity, and Christian civilization should have survived such debasing and brutalizing influences ; and let us thank God and take courage that, more fortunate than the devoted cities of antiquity, we can count more than ten men who have here stood faithful among the faithless. The complaints of threatened violence and intimidation which have been torwarded to me by several of your number for your late heroic and patriotic action have been submitted to the highest legal and military authorities of the Government, and I can assure you of the earnest sympathy and firm support of all the officers of the law, not excepting the President, whom the treasonable men flatter and fawn upon, but whom they will probably soon curse as heartily as they did two years ago. But, gentlemen, I am glad to call your attention to an act of Congress which puts your own vindication, as well as that of the country, into your own hands. In 1831 Congress enacted, as you will find on page 488 of the fourth volume of the Statutes at Large, as follows : And be it further enacted , That if any person or persons shall, corruptly, or by threats or force, endeavor to influence, intimidate, or impede any person, witness, or officer in any court of the United States in the discharge of his duty, or shall corruptly, or by threats, or force, obstruct or impede or endeavor to obstruct or impede the due administration of justice therein, every person or persons so offending shall be liable to prosecution therefor by indictment, and shall on conviction therefor be punished by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding three months, or both, according to the nature and aggravation of offence.
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Brooke Beam




“Judge Underwood's Charge to the Grand Jury,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed June 1, 2023, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/201.