Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jefferson Davis Accused Of Treason...?

Sometimes when you are researching history, you can find the strangest stories. This one I had never heard!

It seems tha Jefferson Davis was arrested and put on trial for treason. Who would have thought? Still, the most interesting part of the story is how he got out of it. I found this article over at Knowledgenuts that explains it all.

The Clever Way Jefferson Davis Avoided Being Convicted Of Treason
By Heather Ramsey on Friday, June 19, 2015

After the Civil War, former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was charged with treason in the US federal court system. However, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court gave the Davis legal team an interesting argument for dropping the treason charge. By proving that the US had no citizens under the Constitution, Davis couldn’t be tried for treason against the US. His citizenship rights were finally restored in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter.


On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army, ending the US Civil War. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had already fled the South’s capital in Richmond, Virginia. He wanted to escape to Britain or France, where he might reestablish a government in exile. However, before he could do so, members of the 4th Michigan Cavalry arrested him. At the time he was apprehended, Davis was sporting his wife’s black shawl. The Northern press tried to make him a laughingstock by accusing him of dressing as a woman in a desperate attempt to evade capture. However, Davis and his wife insisted that she had given him the shawl to stay warm for health reasons.

When Davis was indicted on a charge of treason in the federal court system, he stood before US Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon Chase, who was acting as a circuit judge at the time. Chase preferred to dismiss the treason charges, but another judge, John Underwood, wouldn’t agree to it. Davis’s defense team argued that he had already been punished by the 14th Amendment, which stopped him from serving in public office in the future.

As a former US House and Senate member before the war, Davis had taken an oath of allegiance to support the Constitution of the United States. Under the 14th Amendment, anyone who has taken such an oath and engaged in insurrection against the US cannot hold public office. According to Davis’s lawyers, that inability to hold public office under the 14th Amendment constituted punishment for his rebellious actions. To prosecute him for treason for the same rebellious actions would constitute double jeopardy under the 5th Amendment. Therefore, his lawyers argued, he could not be legally tried for treason.

However, the Chief Justice gave the Davis team another interesting argument for dropping the treason charge. Chase asked if a person could be prosecuted for treason against the US if he were not a US citizen. Clearly, no. Then Chase asked if there was a reference to the concept of a US citizen in the Constitution. Again, there was not. A person could only be a citizen of his state. Therefore, by proving that the US had no citizens, Davis couldn’t be tried for treason against the US. It was a clever argument that has never been used again as far as we know.

Although a deadlocked case in the district court would have automatically gone to the Supreme Court, it ultimately didn’t matter. President Andrew Johnson pardoned everyone who fought for the Confederacy on December 25, 1868, as long as they applied for the pardon. Although former officials of the Confederacy still couldn’t hold office or vote, they were now immune from prosecution for treason. In some circles, there wasn’t much appetite for trying Davis for treason anyway. Officials of the US government were afraid that Davis would prove that the South’s secession had been legal. However, the various amnesty provisions passed at that time never reinstated Davis’s citizenship. His citizenship rights were finally restored in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter.

I can only imagine the mess that the government had in trying to reorganize after the Civi War. That's something I think we overlook when studying about that time in history.

Coffee out on the patio this morning. Strawberry cake to share...!


Sixbears said...

Actually, I'm encouraged by some of our History. We've muddled through some bad times in the past and then gone on to do good things.

Pardoning everyone was one of the better ideas at the time.

Don't think that state citizenship argument would fly today as the Federal Government is a lot stronger and the states a lot weaker.

Chickenmom said...

That was the only good thing Carter ever did.

linda m said...

I am glad they never tried Jefferson Davis for treason. And I agree with Chickenmom about the only good thing Carter ever did. Let's hope this Country never has to go thru another Civil war. Strawberry cake sounds yummy.

HermitJim said...

Hey Sixbears...
We have made a lot of progress in the past and hopefully things will continue to improve, in spite of the bumps in the road.

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Phyllis...
Not remembered for a lot of earth shaking events, is he?

Thanks for coming by this morning!

Hey Linda...
I'm glad as well. Time was needed to help the healing process.

Thanks for the visit today!

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