Mr. Seward to Mr. King.
Sir: Your despatch of the 26th of November, No. 68, which relates to the case of John H. Surratt, has been received. I commend and thank you for the useful and very interesting details concerning the ways of that offender which you have given me. Among the papers which accompany the despatch is a memorandum, which is inscribed “A copy,” and the text of which is as follows:
About twelve months ago Surratt carne to Rome, under the name of Watson. In Canada he procured letters from some priest to friends in England. Having left England for Rome, he got letters for some people here, among others for Rev. Dr. Neane, rector of the English college. Being detained for some days at Civita Vecchia, and having no money to pay expenses there, he wrote to Dr. Neane, from whom he received fifty (50) francs. On his arrival here he went to the English college, where he lived for some time. After that he entered the Papal service.
Rome, November 25.
The paper bears no signature. The only information you give me from which to determine its authenticity is, that you have received it from good authority. I do not know that the statement thus recited would in any case have any value. Certainly, unauthenticated, it can be of no use other than to awaken curiosity. I think you ought to have given the authority to which you allude. I am aware that the person who imparted. the information to you may probably have given it to you as confidential, and that he might even have declined to give it to you at all if you had not agreed to receive it under an injunction of secrecy. Such an injunction neither you nor I have in any case a right to accept. We are agents of the President, in whom the whole executive power of the United States is vested. Clearly the information contained in the paper was designed for him, and not for yourself or for me personally. No one can rightfully claim to impose upon us an injunction to conceal from the President facts which concern the public safety and welfare. I have acted upon the principle which I thus inculcate throughout all the excitement of a civil war. Better to reject all information whatever than to receive it with limitation inconsistent with official duty. What I have written is not to be taken, however, as conveying censure for the past, but rather as an instruction for the future.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Rufus King, Esq., &c., &c.