James P. Sterrett Declares Copperheads Traitors
October 13, 1862

In October 1862, Judge James P. Sterrett declared Copperheads "traitors at heart" and argued that the "present is no time for neutrality."

A Judicial View of Treason—A Timely Warning to Traitors

Hon. J. P. Sterrett, presiding judge of the Quarter Sessions of Pittsburg, in this State, in his charge to the Grand Jury on Monday, used the following language, which is at the present time very seasonable:

The moment the first insult was offered to our flag the patriotism of the loyal masses of the North and the West was aroused, and men of all parties and all creeds rallied around it with a degree of unanimity and ardent enthusiasm never before witnessed. The Governments of the Old World were astonished. If any thing had been wanting to prove the capacity of our people for self-government, and their devotion to the principles of our free and enlightened institutions, the history of this rebellion has furnished it. It is not the fault of the loyal masses that this rebellion has not been crushed ere this. Everything that they could command has been cheerfully laid upon the altar of their country.

But while this has been so, in regard to the great masses of our people, there have been here and there a few, and in some places, perhaps, a goodly number, whose sympathies were not and are not with us; men who were traitors at heart, and only awaited a fitting opportunity to give aid and comfort to the enemy. This has been one of the greatest difficulties with which the General Government has had to contend; and from time to time stringent regulations have been adopted. Several of the loyal States have found it necessary to legislate on the subject.—Last year our own Legislature passed a law, which you will find in the pamphlet laws of 1861, page 408.

The offences at which the act is aimed are clearly and particularly described.—Anything that is said or done with intent to oppose, prevent, or subvert the Government, or to give aid and comfort to the enemy, is criminal—such as endeavoring to persuade any one from entering the military service or attempting to induce any one to abandon the service, &c. “Idle talk and clamor against the Government, or newspaper and other railing, which, in time of peace, would be overlooked and disregarded, should, in the present crisis of our national affairs, be treated as a grave offence, tending to weaken the arm of the Government, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” But it is not by direct acts alone that men may be discouraged from entering the service of the country, and the law of the land subverted. It may often be effected by indirect means, such as ridiculing the same and attempting to bring it into contempt.

Those who may be disposed to speak and act contrary to the provisions of the law, may imagine that it would be difficult to show, in a criminal prosecution, that there was any intention or design to oppose or subvert the Government. The intention, as in all other crimes, is, of course, the gist of the offence, but it should be borne in mind that men’s intentions are generally to be inferred from their words and actions. If a man strikes another with a deadly weapon, we infer that the intention was to kill. So if a man rails or writes against the Government, and against entering the army, &c., the natural inference is that his intention is to weaken the arm of the Government, and to that extent oppose it. It is not necessary that he should be successful in accomplishing the acts forbidden by the law. The attempt is sufficient.

The present is no time for neutrality—much less for active opposition and hostility. At such a time as this it is the duty of every citizen to stand by the Government giving it all the aid in his power, and by his advice and example urging others to do the same. It behooves every one to be at the post of duty—to keep a vigilant eye upon the public interests, and where those in authority are found unfaithful or known to abuse the trust reposed in them, they should be exposet and made to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds.


The (Lancaster, PA) Inquirer, 13 October 1862