Title: Amos T. Akerman to W. T. Bennett, 19 November 1870
Date: November 19, 1870
Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: National Archives and Records Administration
Whitman Archive ID: nar.01486
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Vanessa Steinroetter, John Schwaninger, and Nima Najafi Kianfar
November 19, 1870.
Gen. W. T. Bennett,
Washington, D. C.
The President has referred to me your communication to him of the 14th instant, and the accompanying papers.
It appears that a criminal prosecution is pending against you in the District of North Carolina, for alleged misconduct as a Supervisor of Internal Revenue—that the case has been once before a jury, who failed to agree—and, therefore, it now stands.
If I understand the object of your communication, you desire that the President shall direct a discontinuance of the proceedings—and you rest the application substantially upon the grounds that you are innocent, and cannot get a fair trial in North Carolina.
It will occur to you upon reflection that the course which you desire to be taken will involve a very serious departure from the rule upon which the Executive Department has acted from the beginning of the Government, of leaving the regular administration of the law without interference. Pardons have never been granted by the President prior to a conviction, except in certain cases of insurgents against the Government—an exception which stood on peculiar grounds, not applicable to the case of persons charged with ordinary offences against the laws.
The President cannot presuppose that the law will be improperly administered either by judges or juries. If he should undertake the examination of the evidence in each case in which such applications would be made, if invited by success in a prominent instance, his time, or the time of any officer to whom he should delegate the trust, would be thus occupied, to the exclusion of all other business.—And examinations made ex parte are not likely to reach such correct results as examinations conducted in open court, in the presence of all parties, and under the rules which the experience of ages has ascertained to be most favorable to a just issue. An open Court is the place which the framers of our Government have established for the investigation of criminal charges.
Let me add that the stifling of such a prosecution by Executive action here, at your instance, upon any such grounds as you urge, would probably operate injuriously on your reputation, by exposing you to the charge of avoiding the usual mode of investigation.
Should injustice be done you, in the result of the final trial, an interposition of the executive, by the use of the pardoning power, might properly be sought. At present, I do not feel at liberty to recommend to the President any such action as you desire, particularly as the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, within whose province the matter comes, declines to recommend it.
Very respectfully, &c.
A. T. Akerman, Attorney General.
application of Gen. W. T. Bennett.