In the summer of 1861, the postmaster of Baltimore asked Dix to shut down three newspapers in the city in a letter endorsed by Postmaster Montgomery Blair. Mind you, Blair and his Baltimore postmaster were already actively denying the mails to papers they disapproved of - this was an additional step beyond denying postal service.
Elsewhere in the North, the "summer of rage" was dealing harshly with opposition papers, with mobs wrecking presses; perhaps a loyal mob could not be raised in Baltimore at this time. Note that Blair had been Butler's mentor. Butler is now gone. Dix's reply, directed to Blair and setting the new tone, is wonderful.
I presume you are not aware that an order for the suppression of these presses was made out in one of the Departments at Washington and in consequence of strong remonstrances from Union men in Baltimore was not issued.Translation: I assume you are not trying to circumvent a decision already taken. Nice jab. (Notice the implicit federal "license to publish," by the way.) Dix continues,
"Under these circumstances, it would not be proper for me to act without the authority of the government.And Montgomery, my dear, you are not the government.
Any action by me without such authority would be improper for another reason that probably does not occur to you. The command of General McClellan has been extended over the state of Maryland. I am his subordinate and have corresponded with him on the subject. I cannot therefore act without his direction.Great bureaucratic politics. You, Montgomery, must not only enlist the government, but you must then have the government bring McClellan into your scheme. Now, a deft touch, the definition of "government":
But independently of this consideration I think a measure of so much gravity as the suppression of a newspaper by military force should carry with it the whole weight of the influence and authority of the Government...The "government" shall equal the "whole government" and not a couple of departments. This guy is good.
The next sentence I like very much, for Dix acknowledges the feeling of the Unionist majority and states a reason for going against that majority that Blair can understand:
There is no doubt that a majority of Union men in Baltimore desire suppression of all the opposition presses in the city but there are many - and among them some of the most discreet - who think differently.In other words, if we placate the majority we lose support for the cause as the "discreet" Unionists fall away.
Now the triumphant conclusion of his letter. Can you spot the threat?
The city is now very quiet and under control though my force is smaller than I asked..."Bravo, John Dix.