J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

“Wishes of the descendants of Chancellor LANSING”

On 15 Nov 1870, the New York Times reprinted Thurlow Weed’s letter about the disappearance—and alleged murder—of former Constitutional Convention delegate John Lansing. That naturally caught the attention of John Lansing Livingston (1830-1904), one of the missing man’s grandchildren.

On 7 December, he wrote his own letter to the Times about Weed’s decision not the share the confession of some unnamed man:
These reasons for refusing to fulfill a solemn promise made to his deceased friend, may be satisfactory to Mr. WEED and the gentlemen with whom he consulted, but will hardly be accepted as sufficient by the public, and certainly not by the descendants of Chancellor LANSING. It cannot escape remark that, according to Mr. WEED’s own statement, he has been for many years in possession of evidence, implicating certain parties, living, at the time, in the crime of murder, and that the failure to disclose such evidence while justice could reach the guilty, made him in the eye of the law particeps criminis, and guilty as principal.

The persons named to Mr. WEED as guilty are now dead and beyond the reach of human tribunal, but his solicitude for their feelings of their descendants and associates is so great that he cannot bring himself to disclose the evidence placed in his hands, in trust, under promise to make the same public. No such thoughtful consideration has been given by him to the natural feelings, or wishes of the descendants of Chancellor LANSING, to none of whom, the parties in the world most interested, has he thought proper to communicate any of the facts in his possession, respecting the death of their relative, although his attention has been drawn to their claims both by letter and at a personal conference. It is to be hoped that Mr. WEED will, upon further reflection, see the propriety of making known all the facts and circumstances communicated to him. . . .

I dissent altogether from the conclusions at which Mr. WEED has arrived, and confidently believe that his course, in suppressing the evidence in his possession regarding the murder of Chancellor LANSING, will not be sustained by public opinion, to which he appeals for justification with so much seeming confidence.
John Lansing Livingston was also the grandson who found his ancestor’s unedited notes of the Constitutional Convention, which the New-York Historical Society just purchased.

TOMORROW: New attention to the case.


DebbieLynne said...

So even then, criminals got more respect than victims and victims' families? Take heart, Whitey!

Chris said...

Didn't they have laws against obstruction of justice at his time? I find it fascinating that they could have an open debate in the papers about whether to share the name of a murderer.

Fantastic historical information!

J. L. Bell said...

Weed was also, he later claimed, keeping secrets about the murder of William Morgan in 1826, which he prepared for publication a few months before he died.

Weed had launched his political career on that case, making himself a leader of the new Anti-Masonic Party, so I don’t take him for a neutral observer.