From the Richmond Examiner, 2/7/1866, p. 3, c. 4

THE “FERRETS” – A CARD FROM MR. WM. IRA SMITH. – A communication has been addressed to the Editor of this paper by Mr. Wm. Ira Smith, in which he complains that the connection of his name with the proceedings of the association of “Ferrets,” referred to in the Examiner of Saturday last, “does him the greatest injustice.” That he may have the fullest opportunity of defending himself, we print his communication in full:

To the Editor of the Examiner:

The connection of my name with the proceedings of the association referred to in your publication this morning, under the head of “Ferrets,” is entirely without any foundation in fact, and does me the grossest injustice. At the time designated I was absent from the city, and so remained for several weeks. I was not then, nor had I been before, nor have I been since, a member of that or of any similar association. Nor could I then, or at any time, have had any sympathy in the objects and feelings imputed to that association.

As to my connection with the Whig, which is made the subject of remarks by you, it is only necessary to say that upon the occupation of the city by the Federal forces, I being the only one of the proprietors remaining in the city, obtained permission of the proper authorities to commence its publication, and took charge of its business interests. I neither edited nor directed the editorial policy of the paper, but left that in other hands. I rendered to the other proprietors an account of my transactions on their return to the city, and turned over the business to them. My action in the matter was entirely satisfactory. I am no politician, and have limited my participation in publick affairs to voting when and as I thought the publick interest required.

This statement is made not only as a defence against the imputations contained in your publication, but also to disabuse the minds of others who misunderstood the character of my connection with the Whig at the time referred to by you, and who improperly held me responsible for its course.

                                                                                                                     Yours respectfully,
                                                                                                                      WM. IRA SMITH.

If Mr. Smith is sufficiently interested in our report of the proceedings of the preliminary meeting of “Ferrets” to read it carefully, he will find that he is not charged with having been present at the meeting in question. His name, however, appears upon the minutes as a member of the committee, and it is only fair to suppose that he would not have been so nominated unless the chairman and his colleagues had had had the best reason to know from their knowledge, and from Mr. Smith’s own course – then publishing one of the most violent Union papers in the whole country – that the pose would be agreeable to him. Let it be understood that we do not state whether Mr. Smith was in Richmond or not (although we are inclined to believe he was); the onus of proof does not lie with us; and if he states the truth, it will be a very simple matter for him not only to prove his absence, but to show, by his action in peremptorily withdrawing his name so soon as the proceedings came to his knowledge, that “he could not then, nor at any time, have had any sympathy in the objects and feelings imputed to the association.” Why didn’t Mr. Smith do this?

With regard to his connection with the Whig at the time of the evacuation of Richmond, Mr. Smith says he did not edit the Whig, but “left that in other hands.” In making such an assertion as this, Mr. Smith either shows his own gross ignorance or makes a willful misrepresentation of the facts! The merest tyro in journalistick matters knows that the tone and policy of a newspaper is directed by the proprietor, although the form and words in which that tone and policy is conveyed to the publick are framed by the editor. During the war Mr. Smith purchased an interest in the Whig to keep him out of the army and the clutches of conscription. His money saved him. Immediately after the Federal troops entered this city, Mr. Smith obtained permission to re-issue the Whig upon the firmest “Union” principles; his name was placed at the head of the paper as proprietor, i. e. as the responsible person, and the Whig with the Astral flag upon its pages, tottered into new life. Does Mr. Smith suppose that if he had published in the Whig any “so-called” rebellious articles that he would have been allowed by the military authorities to turn the responsibility over to “other hands”? He knew that he was responsible; he knows that he dictated the policy of the Whig. As a Massachusetts man, born and educated there, and a personal acquaintance of one of the United States officers high in authority, the permit was obtained by William Ira Smith, and he alone, with the understanding that the Whig should be published as a “loyal Union” paper of the strictest sect. It was William Ira Smith who, after the assassination of President Lincoln, was summoned before the military commandant, and consented to the removal of the State device and motto – Sic semper tyrannis – from the head of the editorial column, because, forsooth J. Wilkes Booth had made it treasonable and odious by its exclamation after the murder. It was William Ira Smith who took into his family one of the provost marhsals appointed to lord it over his fellow citizens, even one against whom he had, two short months previous, marched out to fight in the ranks of the “Printers’ Guard.” It was William Ira Smith who dictated the subjects for “Union editorials,” and suggested the nice soothing points and cringing phrases, if he did not write them himself. It was William Ira Smith, with his name as full as we have written it, conspicuously displayed as the “Editor and Proprietor” of the Whig, who mixed the wormwood and gall for his fellow-citizens, and put it to their lips every morning. It was William Ira Smith who ran down the circulation of the Whig from nine thousand copies (the number which it started with) to less than five hundred in three month’s time!

It is fresh in the minds of every Virginian how the Whig appeared, when Mr. Smith was its proprietor, morning after morning, with fulsome laudations of the Yankees, and pitiful jeers and scoffs at the conquered “rebels.” We cannot forget that the most fanatical of the Northern papers were not so surcharged with virulence and abuse of the Confederates as was the Whig, of which Mr. Smith was proprietor. We cannot forget, and we hope no Southernman will ever forget, those cruel jokes on the unexpected demise of the “Southern Confederacy,” when, God knows, that every honest rebel was worth a thousand Ira Smiths. If Mr. Smith does not recollect that cruel, base, trifling with the Southern heart, then bursting with grief, we can refresh his memory by its reproduction, and with many other extracts. We do not forget the eulogy the Whig (when Mr. Smith was its proprietor) paid to the negro correspondent of the Philadelphia Press, “Mr. Chester,” who was so “affable,” so “agreeable,” so “gentlemanly” – these are the Whig’s own words. We can give Mr. Smith this paragraph, also, if he has forgotten it. Why did Mr. Smith let this and other such infamous paragraphs appear in his paper? He was proprietor – why didn’t he exercise his authority, and refuse to publish them? All these things belong to us, and to our remembrance of those who took the first opportunity to turn upon and rend those who for years had been their staunch protectors.

William Ira Smith needs no further “justification” in Richmond. He is known well enough to render any further comment unnecessary. He may go down to history in company with “Oates” and “Bedlow,” or be held up to immortality in the pages of “Harper” or “Frank Leslie,” but in neither case need he flatter himself that he will reign in hell or serve in heaven.” We are done. If William Ira Smith is not a “Ferret,” he is a blind ground mole, or something less.

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