Thomas Jefferson Papers

Bill Granting Free Pardon to Certain Offenders, [13 May 1778]

Bill Granting Free Pardon to Certain Offenders

[13 May 1778]

Whereas the American Congress by their resolution passed on the 23d. day of April last past, reciting that persuasion and influence, the example of the deluded or wicked, the fear of danger or the calamities of war may have induced some of the subjects of these states to join aid, or abet the British forces in America, and who, tho’ now desirous of returning to their duty, and anxiously wishing to be received and reunited to their country, may be deterred by the fear of punishment: and that the people of these states are ever more ready to reclaim than to abandon, to mitigate than to increase the horrors of war, to pardon than to punish offenders: did recommend to the legislatures of the several states to pass laws, or to the executive authority of each state, if invested with sufficient power, to issue proclamations, offering pardon, with such exceptions, and under such limitations and restrictions, as they shall think expedient, to such of their inhabitants or subjects, as have levied war against any of these states, or adhered to, aided or abetted the enemy, and shall surrender themselves to any civil or military officer of any of these states, and shall return to the state to which they may belong before the 10th. day of June next: and did further recommend to the good and faithful citizens of these states to receive such returning penitents with compassion and mercy, and to forgive and bury in oblivion their past failings and transgressions.1

Be it therefore enacted by the General assembly that full and free pardon is hereby granted to all such persons without any exception who shall surrender themselves as aforesaid, and shall take the oath of fidelity to this Commonwealth within one month2 after their return thereto.

MS (Vi); in TJ’s hand. Endorsed by him: “A Bill granting free pardon to certain offenders.” Docketed by Edmund Randolph: “Read first time May 13. 1778. Read second time May 14. 1778. committed to morrow to whole house.” Accompanying this MS is a slip in Randolph’s hand headed: “Amendments to the bill of pardon.” There was, however, only one amendment offered (see note 2, below).

This Bill, which stands in marked contrast to that for attainting Josiah Philips drawn by TJ a few days later, failed of passage for some unknown reason, despite its having been recommended by Congress and its having passed the House in short order. On 13 May TJ, along with Page, Lawson, and Meriwether Smith, was appointed to bring in a Bill on the subject. He apparently had requested leave to do this, and must have had the Bill already prepared, for he reported it the same day. On 14 May it was read the second time and referred to the committee of the whole; two days later the Bill was debated in committee and one amendment was offered. On 18 May it was read the third time and passed; TJ carried the Bill to the Senate (JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1778, 1827 edn., p. 6, 7, 10, 11). Apparently the Senate considered it useless to pass such a Bill in the short time remaining before 10 June; it was never reported back to the House and did not become law.

1Thus far the Bill recites the resolution of Congress almost verbatim (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , x, 381–2). Congress ordered 500 copies of its resolution printed in English and 200 in German for “circulating … amongst the American levies in the enemy’s army.” Since the resolution of 23 Apr. limited its recommendation to 10 June 1778, it is obvious that little good would have been accomplished by enacting such a law late in May.

2Changed in committee from “month” to “week.”

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