Special Message

December 14, 1908

To the Senate:

I inclose herewith a letter from the Secretary of War transmitting a report of the investigation made by Mr. Herbert J. Browne, employed by the Department in conjunction with Capt. W. G. Baldwin to investigate as far as possible what happened at Brownsville on the 13th and 14th of August, 1906. The report and documents contain some information of great value and some statements that are obviously worthless, but I submit them in their entirety.

This report enables us to fix with tolerable definiteness at least some of the criminals who took the lead in the murderous shooting of private citizens at Brownsville. It establishes clearly the fact that the colored soldiers did the shooting; but upon this point further record was unnecessary, as the fact that the colored soldiers did the shooting has already been established beyond all possibility of doubt. The investigation has not gone far enough to enable us to determine all the facts, and we will proceed with it; but it has gone far enough to determine with sufficient accuracy certain facts of enough importance to make it advisable that I place the report before you. It appears that almost all the members of Company B must have been actively concerned in the shooting, either to the extent of being participants or to the extent of virtually encouraging those who were participants. As to Companies C and D, there can be no question that practically every man in them must have had knowledge that the shooting was done by some of the soldiers of B Troop, and possibly by one or two others in one of the other troops. This concealment was itself a grave offense, which was greatly aggravated by their testifying before the Senate committee that they were ignorant of what they must have known. Nevertheless, it is to be said in partial extenuation that they were probably cowed by threats, made by the more desperate of the men who had actually been engaged in the shooting, as to what would happen to any man who failed to protect the wrongdoers. Moreover, there are circumstances tending to show that these misguided men were encouraged by outsiders to persist in their course of concealment and denial. I feel, therefore, that the guilt of the men who, after the event, thus shielded the perpetrators of the wrong by refusing to tell the truth about them, though serious, was in part due to the unwise and improper attitude of others, and that some measure of allowance should be made for the misconduct. In other words, I believe we can afford to reinstate any of these men who now truthfully tell what has happened, give all the aid they can to fix the responsibility upon those who are really guilty, and show that they themselves had no guilty knowledge beforehand and were in no way implicated in the affair, save by having knowledge of it afterwards and failing and refusing to divulge it. Under the circumstances, and in view of the length of time they have been out of the service, and their loss of the benefit that would have accrued to them by continuous long-time service, we can afford to treat the men who meet the requirements given above as having been sufficiently punished by the consequences they brought upon themselves when they rendered necessary the exercise of the disciplinary power. I recommend that a law be passed allowing the Secretary of War, within a fixed period of time, say a year, to reinstate any of these soldiers whom he, after careful examination, finds to have been innocent and whom he finds to have done all in his power to help bring to justice the guilty.

Meanwhile, the investigation will be continued. The results have made it obvious that only by carrying on the investigation as the War Department has actually carried it on is there the slightest chance of bringing the offenders to justice or of separating not the innocent, for there were doubtless hardly any innocent, but the less guilty from those whose guilt was heinous.


Theodore Roosevelt, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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