Thomas Jefferson Papers

Pardon for David Brown, 12 March 1801

Pardon for David Brown

Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America,

To all who shall see these Presents,—Greeting:

Whereas David Brown, late of the District of Massachusetts, labourer, in the Circuit Court of the United States held at Boston for the said District on the first day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety nine, was convicted of certain misdemeanors, in writing, uttering and publishing certain false, scandalous, malicious and seditious writings against the Government, Congress and President of the United States: and thereupon by the judgment of the same Court the said David Brown was adjudged to pay a fine of four hundred dollars to the Use of the United States, suffer eighteen months imprisonment and stand committed until the said judgment should be executed: And whereas the said David Brown hath suffered the said term of imprisonment, and it appears that from poverty he is unable to pay the said sum of four hundred Dollars or any part thereof. Now Therefore be it known, That I Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the premises and of divers other good causes me thereunto moving, have pardoned and remitted and by these presents do pardon and remit to the said David Brown the misdemeanors aforesaid whereof he stood convicted and the judgment aforesaid of the said Circuit Court thereupon; and all pains and penalties incurred or to be incurred by reason thereof.

In Testimony whereof, I have caused the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed, and signed the same with my Hand.

Done at the City of Washington the Twelfth day of March, in the year of our Lord, one thousand Eight hundred and one; and of the Independence of the United States of America, the Twenty fifth.

Th: Jefferson
By the President
Levi Lincoln
Acting as Secretary of State

MS (Pierce W. Gaines, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1965); in clerk’s hand, signed by TJ and Lincoln; with seal of the United States. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, GPR; in same clerk’s hand).


David Brown, an itinerant Republican speaker and writer, was arrested in March 1799 under the Sedition Act for allegedly inciting the citizens of Dedham, Massachusetts, to erect a liberty pole that carried a sign declaring “No Stamp Act, No Sedition, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax; downfall to the Tyrants of America, peace and retirement to the President, Long Live the Vice-President and the Minority.” Denounced by alarmed Federalists as a “wandering apostle of sedition,” he was sentenced in June by Judge Samuel Chase to eighteen months in prison and fined $400 for “sowing sedition in the interior country.” Brown’s sentence was the harshest imposed under the Sedition Act. Although he completed his prison term in December 1800, he remained in jail because he could not pay his fine. He sent petitions for pardon to John Adams in July 1800 and February 1801, but was unsuccessful on both occasions (Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends , 257–70). Apparently unaware of the above pardon, Brown petitioned TJ for his release on 23 Mch., pleading that two years’ imprisonment was punishment enough for “an offence against a Law, which has now no existence, & which never perhaps had the decided approbation of the people over whom it was exercis’d” (MS in DNA: RG 59, GPR; in an unidentified hand, signed by Brown; certified by Oliver Hartshorn, underkeeper of the prison in Boston; enclosed in TJ to Levi Lincoln, 10 Apr. 1801).

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