Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Augustus B. Woodward and Others, [ca. 16 August 1802]

From Augustus B. Woodward and Others

[ca. 16 Aug. 1802]

To Thomas Jefferson President of
the United States of America

The undersigned, compassionating the unhappy situation of James Mac Gurk, now confined in the jail of the County of Washington, in the District of Columbia, and sentenced to be executed on the twenty eighth day of August, 1802, and conceiving that his severe and rigid confinement for one year in the said jail, loaded with irons, a confinement protracted on account of the legal embarrassments which arose relative to his execution between the executive and judicial authorities of the District of Columbia, has been in itself in a great degree a punishment of the offence of which he has been found guilty, too moderate indeed if the murder of which he has been convicted were premeditated and intentional, but in some measure not so greatly disproportionate to the offence if it were the effect of his unfortunate temper and habits without any formed design, beg leave with the highest consideration and respect to approach the President of the United States, to whom has been wisely entrusted the exclusive and absolute power to pardon offences against the United States, and to interpose their humble but earnest solicitations to obtain from him the boon of life to the miserable and repentant offender.

Augustus B. Woodward

RC (DNA: RG 59, GPR); undated, but see preceding document; in Woodward’s hand; signed by Woodward and 94 others, with 55 additional names written in one unidentified hand; endorsed by TJ as received 20 Aug. and “Mc.Girk’s case. Petition” and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “reprieve to Oct. 28.”

THE UNDERSIGNED: the first signers of this petition in James McGurk’s behalf were, in addition to Woodward, the Irish-born architect James Hoban; the Washington property developer Pierce Purcell, who was Hoban’s partner in some real estate ventures; and John Kearney, who like Hoban was an architect and real estate developer from Ireland. Other signers included Charles Jones and Alexander McCormick, who were leaders in the establishment of a masonic lodge in Washington in 1804, and the surveyor and mapmaker James Reed Dermott. Hoban, Kearney, Jones, and McCormick were candidates in city council elections at various times in the early nineteenth century. A number of the signers of the memorial printed above had Irish surnames (RCHS description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1895–1989 description ends , 3 [1900], 202, 281; 5 [1902], 87; 6 [1903], 161; 7 [1904], 78, 80, 135; 33–34 [1932], 268, 270; National Intelligencer, 13 Apr. 1804, 31 May, 3 June 1805; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends , 9:91–2; Vol. 33:204–5).

LEGAL EMBARRASSMENTS: see TJ’s request for the opinions of Levi Lincoln and John Thomson Mason on the question of the warrant for McGurk’s execution, 11 Apr. 1802, and Lincoln’s and Mason’s replies of 12 Apr.

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