In December of 1829, James Porter and George Wilson robbed several postal shipments and terrorized various mail carriers in their rampage for loot. Unfortunately for them, they were soon caught, tried, and condemned to hang for their crimes. Porter was hanged on schedule; Wilson was given a presidential pardon.
But he was hanged for his crimes, nonetheless.
The robbery took place in Pennsylvania, but soon attracted the attention of the whole nation. Two men had robbed the United States mail, and within five months’ time, were facing justice at the end of a rope. On July 2, 1830, James Porter walked up the gallows and, shortly thereafter, into eternity.
But George Wilson did not share Porter’s fate even though he shared his guilt! That’s because Wilson had several influential friends, and they petitioned President Andrew Jackson on his behalf. “Old Hickory” listened to their case and actually granted a presidential pardon to the guilty man. Instead of facing the gallows, Wilson’s sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison.
But then something very strange happened: Wilson declined President Jackson’s pardon.
This had never happened before. Here was a man who’d been condemned to die for his crimes against the government, rescued by none other than the President of the United States himself, and yet, he wouldn’t accept the pardon. Stunned, those in the hearing asked Wilson to explain himself, but the prisoner had nothing else to say.
The government was now in a quandary as to what to do with George Wilson. The case was in the headlines of many papers and attracted the attention of every lawyer in the nation. The Attorney-General, Roger Taney, weighed in on the case and said, “The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it. It is a grant to him; and he may accept it or not, as he pleases.”
Chief Justice John Marshall had the responsibility of delivering the final verdict. In his lengthy statement to the court – and the rest of the nation – he wisely noted, “A pardon is a deed, to the validity of which, delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete, without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered; and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.”
Since George Wilson rejected the pardon, he remained under the penalty of death, and was soon hanged for his crimes.
Wilson was foolish to commit the crime, and even more foolish to decline the pardon from President Jackson. But there are lots of people who are even more foolish still because they reject the pardon that God offers them from their sins.
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Have you accepted the pardon that God wants to extend to you through His Son, Jesus Christ?
Certificate of Division from the Circuit Court for Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1830.
Topics Illustrated Include:
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)