No. 440.
Mr. Hoffman to Mr. Evarts.

No. 32.]

Sir: A very remarkable trial has recently taken place here; so remarkable, especially as showing the mode of the administration of justice in Russia, and the motives both of reason and feeling which control it, [Page 759] that I have thought you might be interested in a narrative of the circumstances. It is the trial of Vera Zasulitch.

In January last, General Trepoff, chief of police and governor of St. Petersburg, was giving audience as usual to the crowd of petitioners who frequented his office. A young woman approached and handed him a paper. As he cast his eye upon it, she drew a revolver from her dress and shot him in the groin. She was of course immediately arrested and imprisoned; and her trial came on in due course.

It commenced on the 12th instant before a court of three judges and a jury. The prisoner was very ably defended by Mr. Alexandroff, an advocate of ability and courage. There was no difficulty in establishing the facts. They were freely admitted by the prisoner “herself, who was put upon the stand. She stated that she had shot at General Trepoff intentionally; that she had not aimed at any particular part of his person, and that she had cared little whether she killed or wounded him. She then proceeded to give an account of her motives.

Vara Zasulitch is of a respectable family. She is a daughter of an officer of the army. In 1869, at the age of seventeen, she was guilty of the crime of knowing a revolutionist, and of the imprudence of writing to him. Her letter, an innocent one, fell into the hands of the police, who arrested her. For two years they kept her in prison, while they sought for proof of her complicity in some revolutionary plot. Finding none she was released from prison, but not set at liberty. She was taken from her family at St. Petersburg and sent to Krestsi, in Novgorod, landed there without money, and kept there under the surveillance of the police for two years more. She was then transferred to Kharkoff, where she was kept two years longer. Finally, after six years of confinement and surveillance on the mere suspicion of being engaged in revolutionary propagandas, she was released.

Returning to St. Petersburg after an interval of time, her mind brooding over the gross injustice she had suffered, she heard of an incident which happened last July at the fortress, and produced at the time a great sensation. Corporal punishment has been abolished by the present Emperor, one of the many humane acts of his reign. Notwithstanding this, General Trepoff had ordered a prisoner to be flogged for the crime of not taking off his hat to him in the court-yard of the prison. This incident came to the knowledge of Vera Zasulitch. Acting upon a sensitive and courageous mind, it drove her, as she says, to bring these abuses of power to public attention and to the knowledge of the Emperor. She is represented to have said that the Emperor knows nothing of the violation of justice which is constantly occurring in his dominions, and that the only way to bring the matter to his knowledge was to commit some act which would lead to a public trial, and thus reach his ears.

This was all her defense, well enforced by her able advocate.

You naturally suppose that the jury found her guilty of assault with intent to wound, and recommended her to mercy. Not at all. They acquitted her promptly and magnanimously, and the verdict has met with almost universal public approval. Officers very high in rank in the Russian service were present and applauded.

You ask who were the jurors. They were a very respectable class of men, some of them lately or still in the employ of the government, and all belonging to the class of substantial citizens.

The explanation of this singular verdict, I think, is this: I heard it said at the time of the trial, “It is not the prisoner who is on trial; it is General Trepoff and the police system of Russia”; and the verdict of “not guilty” on the prisoner was in reality a verdict of “guilty” on General [Page 760] Trepoff and the police administration of Russia. As such it was received by the audience with cheers, and by the immense crowd gathered in the neighborhood with great enthusiasm, and appears to have met with very general public approval.

General Trepoff, who has recovered from his wound, is reported to have asked for leave of absence immediately upon learning the verdict, and to have left the city. It is believed that he will never resume his functions.

Vera Zasulitch was set at liberty and escorted to her home by an immense crowd of people. The next morning she had disappeared. Possibly her friends have withdrawn her for the present to strict privacy—probably she is again in the hands of that police whose administration the jury and public opinion have condemned, to be sent out of the country or interned (?) in some distant province.

I have, &c.,