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On This Day

On This Day… The Case Against Jefferson Davis!

Written by: George Chittenden : 02 Jul 2019

It was on this day, 15th February, back in 1869 when the charges of treason against former Confederate president Jefferson Davis were finally dropped when a U.S. Attorney entered "nolle prosequi" into the record. Jefferson Davis had been arrested two years earlier as a suspect in the assassination of United States president Abraham Lincoln and was held at Fort Monroe in Virginia.

Investigators were not able to establish a link between Davis and the Lincoln assassins, so the U.S. government charged him with treason instead, for organising and arming the 1864 military invasions of Maryland and the District of Columbia during the American Civil War. His trial would have been the trial of the century, but America had mixed feelings about punishing Davis. Some wanted to see him hang, whilst others preferred a more conciliatory approach that would help to realign southern society rather than punish a select few leaders for causing the rebellion.

In December 1868, the defence asked for a dismissal claiming that the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already punished Davis by preventing him from holding public office in the future and that further prosecution and punishment would violate the double jeopardy restriction of the Fifth Amendment. The court were divided in its official opinion and put the question to the United States Supreme Court. At this stage U.S. president Andrew Johnson released an amnesty proclamation on December 25, 1868, issuing a pardon to all persons who had participated in the rebellion

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