Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Take Back a Punishment and Be Vindicated

There are three branches to the United States government. What one takes away, another one can give back. For instance, if the legislative branch makes a mistake and passes an unconstitutional act, the executive can refuse to enforce it and the judicial can nullify it.

If somebody is wrongfully adjudicated guilty of a crime, the executive can pardon the accused, and the legislative can offer restitution in payment for what has been suffered.

But what if someone is in the middle of a lawsuit to reclaim his property, and the legislature just passes a law that the spoils go to one of the parties to the litigation? I don't have direct evidence of this myself, but I have heard that something like that happened to the goods belonging to Jean and Pierre Laffite. Before their lawsuit could come to trial, a law was passed to the effect that the goods belonged to Patterson. Is that constitutional?

It's good to have checks and balances. And yet.... this ability to undo what has already been done can be misused. And sometimes a person does not want  a pardon for a crime he has not committed. He wants vindication, instead.

Notice that when President Madison pardoned all the Baratarians who served in the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Laffite did not claim that pardon, because he believed he was not guilty of a crime.

And when Andrew Jackson was forced to pay $1000.00 as a fine for being in contempt of court, for having Judge Hall incarcerated for granting a writ of habeas corpus during Jackson's imposition of martial law, Jackson never asked for a pardon. Instead, toward the end of his life, he got Congress to pass a law that the fine was to be paid back to him.

Why? Was it because he needed the money? Or was he trying to make a point? According to the book by Matthew Warshauer, Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law it was because: “He viewed the return of his fine as a larger statement about the legitimacy of violating the constitution and civil liberties in times of national emergency.”

What can we learn from this? If you get in trouble, but you want to be vindicated, don't go for a pardon. Get an act of Congress to refund your money.


  1. When it comes to getting a bill passed through Congress and signed into law by the President, it helps to have high-ranking political friends who can lobby Congressional leaders for you. That's how Daniel T. Patterson and Col. George T. Ross got the bill passed through Congress and signed by President Madison in February 1817 which ordered the Secretary of the Treasury to pay them $50,000 from the proceeds of the Sept. 1814 raid on the Laffites' establishment at Barataria. Only Patterson benefitted from this as Ross died in June 1816 after actively lobbying for the bill in 1815 and 1816 in Washington along with his influential friend, former Navy purser William P. Zantzinger. This can be found in the Congressional Record in 1816 and 1817.

    1. Thanks for this information, Pam. I think it is very interesting that Patterson was allowed to profit from his raid on Barataria through a bill passed through Congress and signed by the president, considering that the raid jeopardized national security at a time when the British were attacking Ft. Bowyer. Were the Laffite cases for restitution still pending in Federal court at the time when this bill was signed into law?

    2. I think the Laffites' cases were still pending, at least part of them. They did win one or two of those, small victories in terms of the larger loss.