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Special Message

June 06, 1890

To the Senate of the United States:

In response to the resolution of the Senate of the 26th of May, requesting me to "communicate to the Senate such information as may be in possession of the executive department relating to the alleged landing of an armed force from the United States revenue cutter McLane at Cedar Keys, Fla., and the alleged entry of houses of citizens by force, and their alleged pursuit of citizens of the United States in the surrounding country, and the authority under which the commanding officer of the cutter acted in any such matter," I submit for the information of the Senate the accompanying correspondence, which contains all the information possessed by the executive department relating to the matters inquired about.

It will be observed that the United States collector of customs at Cedar Keys had been driven from his office and from the town and the administration of the customs laws of the United States at that port suspended by the violent demonstrations and threats of one Cottrell, the mayor of the place, assisted by his town marshal, Mitchell. If it had been necessary, as I do not think it can be in any case, for a United States officer to appeal to the local authorities for immunity from violence in the exercise of his duties, the situation at Cedar Keys did not suggest or encourage such an appeal, for those to whom the appeal would have been addressed were themselves the lawless instruments of the threatened violence. It will always be agreeable to me if the local authorities, acting upon their own sense of duty, maintain the public order in such a way that the officers of the United States shall have no occasion to appeal for the intervention of the General Government; but when this is not done I shall deem it my duty to use the adequate powers vested in the Executive to make it safe and feasible to hold and exercise the offices established by the Federal Constitution and laws.

The means used in this case were, in my opinion, lawful and necessary, and the officers do not seem to have intruded upon any private right in executing the warrants placed in their hands. The letter dated August 4 last, which appears in the correspondence submitted, appealing to me to intervene for the protection of the citizens of Cedar Keys from the brutal violence of Cottrell, it will be noticed, was written before the appointment of the new collector. That the officers of the law should not have the full sympathy of every good citizen in their efforts to bring these men to merited punishment is matter of surprise and regret. It is a very grim commentary upon the condition of social order at Cedar Keys that only a woman, who had, as she says in her letter, no son or husband who could be made the victim of his malice, had the courage to file charges against this man, who was then holding a subordinate place in the customs service.


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

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