Thomas Jefferson Papers

Stay of Execution, 21 August 1802

Stay of Execution

Whereas sentence of death hath been passed by the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia for the County of Washington on James McGirk, convicted of murder in due form of law, which sentence was ordered to be carried into execution on the twenty eighth day of the present month of August, and whereas reasonable cause hath been suggested why such execution should be stayed; Now therefore be it known that I Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, do hereby reprieve the said James McGirk until the twenty eighth day of October next, to which day the execution of the said sentence is accordingly adjourned.

Done under my hand & the seal of the United States, this twenty first day of August one thousand eight hundred two.

Th: Jefferson

FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, GPR); in Daniel Brent’s hand; at head of text: “Respite” and “Papers on file”; at foot of text: “By the President. James Madison Secy of State.”

DO HEREBY REPRIEVE: TJ was at Madison’s residence in Orange County on the day he signed this order of temporary reprieve (see TJ to Dearborn, 20 Aug.). When the stay of execution reached Washington, a rumor began that TJ had granted James McGurk a pardon. Even after the correction of that report, TJ’s opponents attacked him for issuing the reprieve. “What then has influenced the mind of our gracious chief magistrate,” asked the Washington Federalist. “Is it an innate respect, a natural regard for every thing that is base and unprincipled?” (Washington Federalist, 27 Aug.).

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