"THE WIFE AND CHILDREN OF SAID BENJAMIN OGLE… ARE IN EXTREME NEED OF HIS CARE AND ASSISTANCE": EXCEPTIONAL PRESIDENTIAL PARDON SIGNED BY ABRAHAM LINCOLN, PARDONING A MAN CONVICTED OF MANSLAUGHTER WHILE WARNING AWAY A MOB HARASSING A SOLE AFRICAN AMERICAN BOY
LINCOLN, Abraham. Manuscript pardon signed. Washington: June 18, 1861. One wove leaf, measuring 21 by 17 inches, written on both sides, presidential seal intact. $35,000.
Manuscript pardon boldly signed by Abraham Lincoln and countersigned by Secretary of State William H. Seward, granting clemency to Benjamin Ogle, who had served three years of an eight-year prison term for manslaughter, after shooting to death a ten-year-old boy named John Webb of Georgetown in 1858. Webb was one of a group of young boys that had been harassing and throwing stones at a sole African American boy; Ogle, whose house stood nearby, emerged with his gun, warned the white boys away, and then shot once, hitting Webb in the back of his head and killing him. The pardon notes that "this was the first criminal charge ever brought against the said Benjamin Ogle… the wife and children… have been brought to great distress by reason of his conviction and imprisonment… and are in extreme need of his care and assistance."
"The power to grant presidential pardons, contained in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, has been directly related to— if not the critical feature of— some of the most salient political events in our nation's history including: the Whiskey Rebellion, Fries Rebellion, the Alien-Sedition Acts, the presidential election of 1800, the Aaron Burr conspiracy trial, the War Between the States, and Reconstruction… The use of clemency powers has played a major role in the development of criminal law's recognition of an insanity defense, self-defense, and compulsion" (P.S. Ruckman, Jr.). The Constitution gives the president "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." A reprieve reduces the severity of a punishment without removing the guilt of the person reprieved, while a pardon removes both punishment and guilt. As judicially interpreted, the president's power to grant reprieves and pardons is absolute. During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln demonstrated this presidential prerogative 343 times.
The Washington Evening Star of February 18, 1858, reported on the trial. (A printed copy of the newspaper's report is included.) Multiple witnesses reported an altercation in Georgetown, including this report: "when I saw some white boys running towards a colored boy; heard them saying something to him about fighting; the boy stood on the corner of First and Frederick streets, when one of the boys struck him; this was opposite Ogle's house; the colored boy made as if to strike back and all the white boys began to pick up stones; the white boy who had struck the black, threw a stone at him also, and the black threw back at him; all the rest of the boys, now began to throw at the black boy… John Webb came and stood by the side of the witness, and pitched a stone at the black boy; some of the stones which were now thrown struck Ogle's porch; witness then saw Ogle come out of the house with a gun… All the rest of the boys ran up Frederick Street, John Webb ran straight down First Street; witness looked up now, and saw Ogle point the gun, and heard him say that if the boys did not go away he would shoot some of them; that was while they were running away; Ogle leveled his gun at them; afterwards, he took up the gun again, and pointed it at John Webb, who was running down the street; saw smoke come out of the gun and then John Webb, after making one or two steps, fell to the ground." Webb was shot once in the back of his head, and died immediately. While the pardon does not explicitly reference the racially charged incident that led to Ogle shooting Webb, one can conjecture whether these circumstances had anything to do with the "large number of highly respectable citizens" who sought clemency on Ogle's behalf.
In full, the document reads: "Whereas it appears that on the first day of May in the year of our Lord 1858, Benjamin Ogle was indicted and convicted for manslaughter in the criminal court of the District of Columbia, and was by the said court sentenced to be imprisoned in the Penitentiary of said District for the term of eight years; And whereas the said Benjamin Ogle has now served out more than three years of his said term of imprisonment, and conducted himself well during his confinement, both the Chaplain and Warden of the Penitentiary certifying that 'his conduct has been of the most unexceptionable and hopeful character.' And whereas the District Attorney of the United States has reported to me that this was the first criminal charge ever brought against the said Benjamin Ogle, that he was never esteemed a cruel or even disorderly man, but was in fact rather remarkable for his good humored disposition; And whereas it has been represented to me by persons in whose veracity and means of knowledge I have confidence, that the wife and children of the said Benjamin Ogle have been brought to great distress by reason of his conviction and imprisonment as aforesaid, and are now in extreme need of his care and assistance; And whereas a large number of highly respectable citizens of the District of Columbia have earnestly besought me to extend the executive clemency to the said Benjamin Ogle, now therefore be it known that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the premises, divers other good and sufficient reasons me thereunto receiving, have granted and do hereby grant unto him the said Benjamin Ogle a full and unconditional pardon. In testimony whereof I have hereunto signed my name and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington this eighteenth day of June A.D. 1861 and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-fifth. [signed] Abraham Lincoln." With embossed presidential Great Seal. Countersigned by Secretary of State William H. Seward; docketed on verso.
Near-fine condition, with only minor expert paper repairs along three folds. Signature bold and very fine. Scarce, with the paper presidential seal intact.