Title: Benjamin Helm Bristow to Amos Pilsbury, 22 December 1870
Date: December 22, 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.01570
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Joshua Ware, John Schwaninger, and Nima Najafi Kianfar
December 22, 1870.
Amos Pilsbury, Esq.
Superintendent of the Penitentiary
at Albany, N. Y.
I have received your letter of the 19th instant, relative to one Essex Vinegar, a U. S. convict, convicted at the March term, 1870, of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, of "horse stealing," and sentenced to imprisonment for the term of two years, in the Penitentiary at Albany.
You state that this convict is of unsound mind, and has been so pronounced by three physicians, and ask if any provision is made by law for the transfer of the U. S. convicts who are, or may become, insane, from the Penitentiary to an Insane Asylum.
The only Act of Congress that I am aware of having any bearing upon this subject is the Act of June 30, 1834, (4 Statutes, p. 739,) the first Section whereof enacts: that "whenever any criminal convicted of any offence against the United States shall be imprisoned, in pursuance of such conviction, and of the sentence thereupon, in the prison or penitentiary of any State or Territory, such criminal shall in all respects be subject to the same discipline and treatment as convicts sentence by the Courts of the State or Territory in which such prison or penitentiary is situated."
I am not prepared to say, however, that the language of this Act is broad enough to admit of the right of the State authorities, or of the officers in charge of the prison or penitentiary, to remove therefrom an insane U. S. Convict, and place him in an Asylum. Should that right be admitted, and the convict continue insane after the expiration of his sentence, I am informed that under the laws of the State of New York he cannot be discharged from the Asylum, (unless his friends take and provide for him,) whilst of unsound mind. Therefore, an insane convict of the United States, without friends to care for him, after the expiration of his sentence, would remain in the Asylum at the expense of the State, there being no appropriation under the control of this or other Executive Department of the Government, applicable for such expenses.
Should this convict have friends who will provide for his necessities, I will present the case as one worthy of Executive clemency, upon application being made therefor to this Department.
B. H. Bristow, Solicitor General,
and Acting Attorney General.
Case of an insane U. S. convict, (Essex Vinegar) in Albany Penitentiary