05 September 2008

Why Wasn't Jeff Davis Tried for Treason?

"The Treason Trial of Jefferson Davis": A Panel Discussion
12th Annual Elizabeth Roller Bottimore Lecture

Thursday, September 25, 2008
7:30-9:00 p.m.
Keller Hall Reception Room,
University of Richmond
Free to the public, registration

In May 1865, the U.S.government indicted Jefferson Davis on the charge of treason. Imprisoned at Fort Monroe, but represented by prominent northern lawyers, the former Confederate president prepared his case; he eagerly anticipated the opportunity to vindicate himself and the nation he led. Instead, the federal government delayed the trial and, early in 1869, quashed the indictment and declined to try Davis. What was the case against Jefferson Davis? What was Davis’ defense strategy? Why did the federal government not pursue the case? [Good question] What was the significance of that decision for Confederate and American history?

The 12th annual Elizabeth Roller Bottimore Lecture, cosponsored by The Museum of the Confederacy and the University of Richmond Department of History, will explore these and related questions. The participants in a panel discussion will be Kent Masterson Brown, a Constitutional lawyer and historian whose many published works include an article on the constitutionality of secession; Clint Johnson, a historian and author of the forthcoming book, Pursuit - The Chase, Capture, Persecution, and Surprising Release of Confederate President Jefferson Davis(June 2008); and Cynthia Nicoletti, a graduate of Harvard Law School and University of Virginia history doctoral student who is completing her dissertation on the Davis case.

(Above announcement is from the Museum of the Confederacy's website.)


Anonymous said...

He was never tried for treason because the United States did not want the issue of the right of secession argued in open court. Jefferson Davis and others wanted to be tried, as they believed they could easily prove that the Constitution allowed the right of secession (10th Amendment). It is no conincidence that no Confederate was ever charged with treason.

Larry said...

In fact, it was Lincoln who committed treason. It says in Article 3 Section 3 of the Constitution that treason is ONLY the act of levying war against the states----and that is exactly what Lincoln did, levy war against the South. The question needs to be: Why was Lincoln never charged with treason?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"Why was Lincoln never charged with treason?"

Because his side won.

Terry T said...

What the constitution actually says about treason is:
"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."
The so-called confederacy waged war against the United States. The United States only put down the treasonous rebellion.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Not quite that simple Terry. Our very founding was based on separation:

"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Most of the colonies clearly believed the Federal government was a voluntary association of states, as evidence by previous threats of secession by New England states.

Thanks for the comment.