It can hardly be said that there was any open and avowed opposition in the community to the proceedings during their early progress. There is some uncertainty and obscurity to what extent there was an unexpressed dissent in the minds of particular private persons. On the general subject of the existence and power of the Devil and his agency, more or less, in influencing human and earthly affairs, it would be difficult to prove that there was any considerable difference of opinion.
The first undisguised and unequivocal opposition to the proceedings was a remarkable document that has recently come to light. Among some papers which have found their way to the custody of the Essex Institute, is a letter, dated “Salisbury, Aug. 9, 1692,” addressed “To the worshipful Jonathan Corwin, Esq., these present at his house in Salem.” It is indorsed, “A letter to my grandfather, on account of the condemnation of the witches.” Its date shows that it was written while the public infatuation and fury were at their height, and the Court was sentencing to death and sending to the gallows its successive cartloads. There is no injunction of secresy, and no shrinking from responsibility. Although the name of the writer is not given in full, he was evidently well known to Corwin, and had written to him before on the subject. The messenger, in accordance with the superscription, undoubtedly delivered it into the hands of the judge at his residence on the corner of Essex and North Streets. The fact that Jonathan Corwin preserved this document, and placed it in the permanent files of his family papers, is pretty good proof that he appreciated the weight of its arguments. It is not improbable that he expressed himself to that effect to his brethren on the bench, and perhaps to others. What he said, and the fact that he was holding such a correspondence, may have reached the ears of the accusers, and led them to commence a movement against him by crying out upon his mother-in-law.
The letter is a most able argument against the manner in which the trials were conducted, and, by conclusive logic, overthrows the whole fabric of the evidence on the strength of which the Court was convicting and taking the lives of innocent persons. No such piece of reasoning has come to us from that age. Its author must be acknowledged to have been an expert in dialectic subtleties, and a pure reasoner of unsurpassed acumen and force. It requires, but it will reward, the closest attention and concentration of thought in following the threads of the argument. It reaches its conclusions on a most difficult subject with clearness and certainty. It achieves and realizes, in mere mental processes, quantities, and forces, on the points at which it aims, what is called demonstration in mathematics and geometry.