Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 8.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Order Annulling Sentence of Benjamin G. and Franklin W. Smith [1]

March 18, 1865

I am unwilling for the sentence to stand and be executed, to any extent in this case. In the absence of a more adequate motive than the evidence discloses, I am wholly unable to believe in the existence of criminal or fraudulent intent on the part of one of such well established good character as is the accused. If the evidence went as far toward establishing a guilty profit of one or two hundred thousand dollars, as it does of one or two hundred dollars, the case would, on the question of guilt, bear a far different aspect. That on this contract, involving from one million to twelve hundred thousand dollars, the contractors should attempt a fraud which at the most could profit them only one or two hundred, or even one thousand dollars, is to my mind beyond the power of rational belief. That they did not, in such a case, strike for greater gains proves that they did not, with guilty, or fraudulent intent, strike at all. The judgment and sentence are disapproved, and declared null, and the accused ordered to be discharged.

March 18. 1865 A. LINCOLN


[1]   ADS-F, Franklin W. Smith, The Conspiracy in the U.S. Navy Department. . . . (1890), p. 56; ADf, DLC-RTL. The order as printed here was considerably revised from the wording in the autograph draft. See Lincoln to Welles, January 26, supra. Franklin W. Smith's account of the injustice of his trial and Senator Charles Sumner's account (Edward L. Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner, IV, 232-33) give one side of this case. Gideon Welles' Diary, March 18, 1865, and passim, gives the other.