After Slavery: Educator Resources

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6. Judge A. P. Aldrich Removed from the Bench

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Five: Conservatives Respond to Emancipation in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

After nearly two years of Presidential Reconstruction, during which federal commanders had been granted limited authority in the former Confederacy, many conservatives chafed under 'military rule' by 1867. Since North Carolina and South Carolina were both part of the same military department, the policies of a single commander affected both states. Conservatives rejoiced when General Daniel Sickles was replaced in September 1867 by General E. R. S. Canby, but they soon came to dislike him as well. Particularly unpopular was Canby's General Orders No. 89, issued on September 13, 1867, which ordered that "all citizens assessed for taxes, and who shall have paid taxes for the current year and who are qualified and have been or may be duly registered as voters, are hereby declared qualified to serve as jurors." After the registration of voters under the provisions of the Reconstruction Acts in the summer of 1867, this meant that freedpeople could sit on juries and judge whites. The question of what rights freedpeople would have in court was crucial, and in some ways even more fundamental than their right to vote. As a delegate to South Carolina's 1865 constitutional convention, Judge A. P. Aldrich was one of eight who refused to vote for the provision acknowledging the end of slavery.

Aldrich left the bench in the period when it was not yet certain whether the election to call a constitutional convention would be successful or not, and he clearly anticipated a time soon when military authority would be removed and his class would once again rule. He had to wait several more years, however, for that shift in power to occur.

Judge A. P. Aldrich Removed from the Bench

We give below a copy of Gen. CANBY'S order suspending Judge ALDRICH, who recently declined to execute the jury order of Gen. CANBY, saying, "Believing, as I do, that the present Congress is an usurping body, and that its attacks on the coordinate departments of government, and the United States and State Constitutions, are fast reducing the country to the condition of party vassalage, I cannot retain my self-respect, conscientiously perform the obligations of my oath of office, and lend my aid to support perpetrate the tyranny of which we complain. I do not propose to argue the question. I simply announce my conviction."

The order suspending him is as follows:

Charleston, S.C., Oct. 19, 1867

Hon. H. P. Aldrich is hereby suspended from the exercise of all functions appertaining to the office of Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions.

Authority is given to His Excellency the Governor of the State of South Carolina, to provide by an assignment of the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions, for the holding of the terms of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions to the Districts of Edgefield, Barnwell, Beaufort, Colleton and Orangeburgh, heretofore assigned to be held by Hon. A. P. Aldrich, suspended.

Whenever, at a term of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions in the Districts of Edgefield, Barnwell, Beaufort, Colleton and Orangeburgh, a Judge shall fail to attend, it shall be the duty of the clerk of such Court to adjourn the same from day to day until advised that the attendance of one of the Judges cannot be procured at such term; and before the first adjournment thereof it shall be the duty of the clerk and the Sheriff of the district to call in a magistrate and the said Court shall be deemed open and legally organized for the purpose of making jury lists and drawing jurors. Said Court, so organized, shall then and there proceed in the manner prescribed by law, and in conformity with General Orders Nos. 89 and 100, current series, from these headquarters, to draw grand and petit juries for the next term of said Court.

By command of
Brevet-Major-Gen. ED. R. S. CANBY
Louis V. CAZIARC, Aid-de-Camp, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

On the 21st inst. Judge ALDRICH was expected to preside at BARNWELL Court-House. The Clerk called over the grand and petty jurors, but was not directed to swear them. When the list was called the Judge proceeded to address them. he first alluded to the sad memories called up by the deaths of so many of the members of the Bar in the last thirty years; then adverted to the present condition of the country, and the single issue of the war-to restore the Union; then to his course at Edgefield, which had been noticed by the military. He then read the modification of Order No. 89, as communicated in a circular from Gov. ORR, and his reply thereto, in which he said the modification violated the Jury Law of the State quite as flagrantly as does the original order; and the same conscientious and constitutional reasons which compelled him not to enforce the one would compel him not to carry out the other. He then read the order which had been served on him that morning, suspending and not permitting him to hold any Courts in his circuit. The Judge then addressed the jurors on the Reconstruction Acts and the powers of the military commanders, which do not include his suspension. Rising from his seat he said:

GENTLEMEN: In forced obedience to the command of Brevet Major-Gen. ED. R. S. CANBY, I lay down my office for the present. Personally, I feel no mortification at this indignity, because it has been put upon me for the conscientious discharge of my constitutional duty.

I did not receive my office from him, or from any power which he represents, and he has no right to remove me. But it almost breaks my heart to witness the humiliation of this proud old State, we all love so well, in my poor person. Be of good cheer, it is only for a time. I see the dawn of a brighter day. The great heart of the American people beats true to constitutional liberty. The time is at hand when we will be relieved from the tyranny and insolence of military despotism.

Gentlemen of the juries, for the present farewell; but if God spares my life, I will yet preside in this Court, a South Carolina Judge, whose ermine is unstained. My brethren of the bar, be patient; be loyal to the Constitution; be true to yourselves.

Mr. Clerk, as I am not permitted to perform any judicial act, you and the Sheriff will issue to the jurors their pay certificates as if the Judge had not attended. Mr. Sheriff, let the Court stand adjourned while the voice of justice is stifled.

Source: "The Removal of Judge Aldrich," New York Times, October 26, 1867

Questions to Consider

  1. Where does Aldrich believe the authority for his court resides?

  2. Why might there be objections to allowing African Americans to serve on juries?

  3. Why was this issue particularly significant in the autumn of 1867?

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