DS, ORB. Attorney General Bates replied on February 4, 1862, to a note, presumably not extant, from Lincoln on the same date requesting an opinion asPage 129
to whether the executive could lawfully grant to a convict a ``respite of his sentence, without relieving him altogether of the death penalty.'' Bates gave his opinion that ``I have no doubt that you can. . . . A reprieve does not annul the sentence. . . . It only prolongs the time.'' (DLC-RTL). Although many previous seizures of slave ships had been made, Captain Nathaniel Gordon of Maine was the only slave-trader ever convicted and hanged in accordance with federal law. So numerous were the failures of juries to convict, that many believed Gordon entitled to executive clemency as a victim of unprecedented juridical rigor. The language of Lincoln's reprieve leaves no doubt of his concurrence in the justice of the sentence, but indicates his awareness that public sympathy had encouraged Gordon to believe a pardon would be granted.
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