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The price to be paid for a blessing, great in the estimation of every good citizen and patriotic soldier, was the enlargement of the President, Santa Anna, and his restoration to Mexico.
“ It was alleged, that Santa Anna was faithless and unworthy of trust,—that he was a prisoner, and incapable of treating, -and a murderer, that ought to be executed. To this he replied, that the government had already treated with him, and that he had performed, and was daily performing, part of his stipulations. The treaty having been ratified by executory compliance on one part, was irrevocably and solemnly binding on the other. Besides, the government believed that Santa Anna's highest political interests would require the complete execution of the principal stipulation in his part of the treaty. "Is there any man in Texas who does not believe that it is impossible for Mexico to subdue this country, and retain it as an integral part of the Mexican Republic ? No man in Texas is more fully and impressively convinced of the impossibility than is the President, Santa Anna. He has learned the fact by sore experience, the best possible teacher of practical truths. Will he then be faithless to his own plain interests, and to the interests of his country?'
“ It was objected that Santa Anna was a murderer, and ought to be tried and executed. He (President Burnet) had yet to learn the principle of international or civil law that would justify the courts, civil or military, of one belligerent nation in taking cognizance of the official military acts of the opposing Commander-in-Chief. But supposing the right of jurisdiction to exist, they were debarred from exercising it by the military convention agreed upon and ratified between General Houston and the Mexican chief, before the government were apprized of his capture.”
It was further alleged that Santa Anna, as a prisoner, had no power to conclude a treaty. There was some plausibility in this objection; but its force was destroyed by the fact that his treaty had been recognised, and in some very valuable points executed, by the succeeding Commander of the Mexican forces in Texas. In pursuance of that treaty, General Filisola had agreed to evacuate their territory, and had already passed the Nueces, and was probably by that time crossing the Rio Grande, at the head of 5,000 men.
“ What great evil could possibly result from the liberation of the captive President of Mexico? Is Santa Anna so formidable that he alone is a terror to Texas? The plains of San Jacinto had witnessed the idle vanity of his boasted invincibility, and there was not a soldier in the Texan ranks that would not as soon confront him as the meanest caitiff of his nation.—Where then the objection to his being restored ? Who and what was he more than any other Mexican chief? If they must fight the Mexicans again, it was of little importance who led their miscreant hordes ; they must and could carry the war beyond the Rio Grande, and whether Santa Anna, or Bravo, or another were there, he would witness the rehearsal of the brilliant tragedy of San Jacinto. By detaining the prisoner, they would gain nothing but the miserable gratification of wreaking a pitiful vengeance for the wrongs their friends had sustained at his hands. This desire to retaliate was natural, and had he never been received as a prisoner, he might, on the clearest principles of retribution, have been made the victim of his own exterminating and barbarous policy; but after he had been admitted to the protection and hospitality of the camp, and had actually ratified, and, in part, executed a treaty with his captors, it would have been a gross violation of every principle of honour, and every rule of war, to visit such retribution upon him.”
Notwithstanding the cogency of President Burnet's reasoning, the current of public sentiment ran against the liberation of Santa Anna. Indeed, there
was a difference of opinion on the subject in the Cabinet itself. General Lamar, who, on the assumption of the command of the army by General Rusk, had been appointed Secretary of War, was strongly opposed to the measure of liberation. In a letter addressed by him to the President and Cabinet, he entered into an ample exposition of his views respecting the disposal of the prisoners, premising that whilst most of the Cabinet considered Santa Anna exclusively as a prisoner of war, he regarded him more as an apprehended murderer.
« The conduct of General Santa Anna will not permit me to view him in any other light. A chieftain battling for what he conceives to be the rights of his country, however mistaken in his views, may be privileged to make hot and vigorous war upon the foe; but when, in violation of all the principles of civilized conflict, he avows and acts upon the revolting policy of extermination and rapine, slaying the surrendering, and plundering whom he slays, he forfeits the commiseration of mankind, by sinking the character of the hero into that of an abhorred murderer. The President of Mexico has pursued such a war upon
the citizens of this republic. He has caused to be published to the world a decree, denouncing as pirates beyond the reach of his clemency, all who shall be found rallying around the standard of our independence. In accordance with this decree, he has turned over to the sword the bravest and best of our friends and fellow-citizens after they had grounded their arms, under the most solemn pledge that their lives should be spared. He has fired our dwellings, laid waste our luxuriant fields, excited servile and insurrectionary war, violated plighted faith, and inhumanly ordered the cold blooded butchery of prisoners who had been betrayed into capitulation by heartless professions. I humbly conceive that the proclamation of such principles, and the perpetration of such crimes, place the offender out of the pale of negotiation, and demand at our hands other treatment than what is due to a mere prisoner of war. Instinct condemns him as a murderer, and reason justifies the verdict. Nor should the ends of justice be averted because of the exalted station of the criminal, or be made to give way to the suggestions of interest, or any cold considerations of policy. He who sacrifices human life at the shrine of ambition is a murderer, and deserves the punishment and infamy of one; the higher the offender, the greater reason for its infliction. I am, therefore, of opinion that our prisoner, General Santa Anna, has forfeited his life by the highest of all crimes, and is not a suitable object for the exercise of our pardoning prerogative."
As the next best course to adopt after the rejection of the proposal for the execution of Santa Anna, he recommended his detention until a treaty of peace had been concluded with Mexico; but his mind adhered to the conviction, that the prisoner should be tried and punished for the crime of murder.
“ I still feel that strict justice requires this course; that it is sustained by reason, and will receive the sanction of the present generation, as well as the approving voice of posterity. If the Cabinet could concur with me in this view of the subject, and march boldly up to what I conceive to be the line of right, it would form a bright page in the history of this infant nation. It would read well in the future annals of the present period, that the first act of this young republic was to teach the Caligula of the age that, in the administration of public justice, the vengeance of the law falls alike impartially on the prince and the peasant. It is time that such a lesson should be taught the despots of the earth : they have too long enjoyed an exemption from the common punishment of crime. Throned in power, they banquet on the life of man, and then purchase security by the dispensation of favours. We have it in our power now to give an impulse to a salutary change in this order of things. We are sitting in judgment upon the life of a stupendous villain, who, like all others of his race, hopes to escape the blow of merited vengeance by the strong appeals which his exalted station enables him to make to the weak or selfish principles of nature. Shall he be permitted to realise his hopes or not? Shall our resentment be propitiated by promises, or shall we move sternly onward, regardless of favour or affection, to the infliction of a righteous punishment? My voice is · Fiat justitia ruat cælum.'”
He disclaimed resorting to the law of retaliation in support of the measure he proposed; all he asked was even-handed justice :
“Let the same punishment be awarded him which we would feel bound in honour and conscience to inflict on a subaltern charged and convicted of a like offence: this is all that justice can require. If he have committed no act which would bring condemnation on a private individual, then let him be protected; but if he have perpetrated crimes, which a man in humble life would have to expiate upon the scaffold, then why shield him from the just operations of a law to which another is held amenable ? The exalted criminal finds security in negotiation, whilst the subaltern offender is given over to the sword of the executioner. Surely no considerations of interest or policy can atone for such a violation of principle. View the matter in every possible light, and Santa Anna is still a murderer.”
Alluding to the feelings of the Volunteers, he
“ It will be useless to talk to a soldier of San Jacinto about national independence, and national domain, so long as the bones of his murdered brethren lie bleaching on the prairies unrevenged. Treble the blessings proposed to be gained by this negotiation will be considered as poor and valueless, when weighed against that proud and high resentment