The Attempt to Prevent Registration

June 27, 1867


Two Richmonders have been brought to court in Virginia for perjury.The prosecuters claim that they gave aid to the rebellion since January 1, 1864; however, there is no evidence of this brought before the courts.The Dispatch asks that the two men be released because they are highly respectable and, under the Alexandria Constitution, have no valid charges made against them.Therefore, they should be allowed to register to vote because they are not disfranchised according to law.


The Attempt to Prevent Registration. Citizens Charged With Perjury. Mr. Downey Before the United States Commissioner. It will be remembered that on the 20th instant two well-known and highly respectable citizens of Richmond, Messrs. Mark Downey and Thomas B. White, were brought before George Chahoon, Esq., Commissioner for the United States Circuit Court, to answer a charge of perjury. The charge was preferred by John A. Hicks in an affidavit alleging that Mr. Downey had voluntarily given aid in the rebellion since the 1st of January, 1864, and notwithstanding this fact had sworn in the oath prescribed by the act of Conpress passed March 2, 1867, that he had not been disfranchised for rebellion. The charge was made, doubtless, at the instigation of certain United States officials on the ground that all persons who have aided in the war against the Government since January 1864 have been disfranchised by the Constitution adopted three or four years ago by a handful of men assembled in Alexandria, generally known as the Alexandria Constitution. The affidavit was read, and the case opened on the 20th, but nothing material was done on that occasion, the time being occupied by the discussion of counsel concerning preliminary matters. It was postponed from day to day until yesterday at 10 o'clock, when it was finally brought up before the Commissioner. Mr. Downey promptly made his appearance, as on previous days, and was represented by General Bradley T. Johnson and Mr. Charles U. Williams. The Government was represented by District Attorney L. H. Chandler. One witness, Mr. Theodore Elmore, testified that Mr. Downey had committed acts of hostility against the Government of the United States since January, 1864, in his capacity as a member of the Home Guard. Mr. Chandler, in behalf of the prosecution, then addressed the Commissioner in support of a motion to postpone the consideration of the case until the 25th of July. He contended that the matter should not be lightly passed over. The question was a serious one, and it should be decided whether the right to register was affected by the Alexandria Constitution. That Constitution is the law of the State, and how can Mr. Downey or any other mail who has aided the rebellion since January, 1864, claim that he has not been disfranchised when that law expressly declares that such persons are disfranchised? It is unfair to say that this movement has been gotten up by a ring of radical Republicans. The press have unjustly repeated this charge, and a great hue and cry has been raised to this effect on all sides. Not only Republicans, but men on both sides of the house, have doubts about the law of the case. Mr. Stanbery, who no one can say is animated by a partisan bias, in his first opinion, says no statute now in force in either of the ten southern States declares disfranchisement as to right of suffrage, except it Virginia, and intimates doubt upon this point by reserving his opinion. There is great doubt about the fact of the right of ninety per cent, of the citizens of Virginia to vote. The law, I admit, is unjust; but we are not to consider its justice. We must only ask, Is it so? It is my duty to prosecute for violations of this law. This is no outrage upon Mr. Downey. He has not been torn from his family and imprisoned, nor subjected to much personal inconvenience, but, on the contrary, he has received every courtesy at our hands, and been admitted to bail on his own recognizance. Now, the course which I propose is that the further consideration of this ease be postponed until the 25th of July next. Congress will probably meet early in July, and I have every reason to believe that the great question to be considered will be, not the impeachment of the President, but the opinion of the Attorney-General on the reconstruction acts. Something may, by the time which I have indicated, be developed in regard to the points in question in this case, and I therefore ask that it be postponed. Mr. C. U. Williams spoke briefly in reply to Mr. Chandler, urging that his client was entitled to a speedy and impartial trial, which could only result in his immediate discharge. No evidence whatever has been elicited to prove that perjury has been intentionally committed. A criminal intention must necessarily be proved, and the District Attorney admits that there is no evidence to prove this against Mr. Downey. Perjury requires a wilful false oath, and the law expressly states that a corrupt intention is necessary to make the perjury complete. The character of Mr. Downey, continued Mr. Williams, is too well known to require a word. He is subjected to much inconvenience by this prosecution, and as no evidence is produced, he should be at once discharged.
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“The Attempt to Prevent Registration,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed February 1, 2023,