Article 3, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2

Document 10

Joseph Hawley to Elbridge Gerry

17 July 1776Gerry Life 1:206--8

I have often said that I supposed a declaration of independence would be accompanied with a declaration of high treason: most certainly it must immediately and without the least delay follow it. Can we subsist? Did any state ever subsist without exterminating traitors? I never desire to see high treason extended here further than it is now extended in Britain. But an act of high treason we must have instantly. The colonies have long suffered inexpressibly for want of it. No one thing made the declaration of independence indispensably necessary more than cutting off traitors. It is amazingly wonderful, that having no capital punishment for our intestine enemies, we have not been utterly ruined before now. For God's sake, let us not run such risks a day longer. It appears to me, sir, that high treason ought to be the same in all the United States;-- saving to the legislature of each colony or state the right of attainting individuals by act or bill of attainder. The present times show most clearly the wisdom and sound policy of the common law in that doctrine, or part thereof, which consists in attainting by an act of the whole legislature. Our tories (be sure the learned of them) knew very well the absurdity of punishing as high treason any acts or deeds in favour of the government of the king of Great Britain so long as we all allowed him to be king of the colonies. Dear sir, this matter admits of no delay; and when the act declaratory of high treason is passed, the strongest recommendation for a strict execution of it, I humbly conceive, ought to accompany it. Our whole cause is every moment in amazing danger for want of it. The common understanding of the people (like unerring instinct) has long declared this; and from the clear discerning which they have had of it, they have been long in agonies about it: they expect that effectual care will now be taken for the general safety, and that all those who shall be convicted of endeavouring by overt act to destroy the state, shall be cut off from the earth.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 4, Article 3, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2, Document 10
The University of Chicago Press

Austin, James T. The Life of Elbridge Gerry. With Contemporary Letters. 2 vols. Boston, 1828--29.

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