Beaumont, Andrew
Autograph Letter Signed, as Pennsylvania State Legislator, Harrisburg, Dec. 18, 1822 to William Jessup, Montrose, Pennsylvania

quarto, two pages, plus integral address leaf, in very good, clean and legible condition.

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Beaumont, a Pennsylvania legislator denounces a proposal to exempt “conscientious objectors” from jury duty in murder cases.

 

           “Dear Sir,

                … yesterday … a resolution was brought forward purporting to exempt persons having conscientious scruples against serving on juries in cases of murder or where the Indictment contains a count of murder in the first degree. The debate arose on the question of reference to the Judiciary Comm. The House agreed … to refer but the vote was not considered as the definitive expression of the sense of the House. Should such a bill or a Bill containing such principles pass …not at all likely … it would be establishing a monstrous principle in a free govt. when the burdens of civil society ought to fall equally upon all classes and where nothing should be sanctioned by the Legislature countenancing privileged orders and invidious distinctions. It would degrade and bring into contempt and disrepute that invaluable palladium of our civil rights and personal security – the trial by Jury …”

 

              Beaumont goes on to discuss the “right candidate for Governor”; possible “trouble with the Banks” which would be met “fearlessly”; the importance of improving navigation on the Susquehanna River; and the “flattering” Republican horizon, which prompted a biblical analogy (“That Babylonian confusion which of late bewildered us is dissipated and a perfect community of feeling and understanding prevails among the Republican Israel.”) But it is his strong opposition to exempting “conscientious objectors” from jury duty in murder cases which is of historical significance, considering that it was just 35 years since adoption of the US Constitution – and 145 years before the issue of “death-qualified” juries was taken up, in a related form, by the United States Supreme Court, which held that prospective jurors could not be disqualified from jury service simply because they had “conscientious” religious objections to the death penalty.

              

              Beaumont, after serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, was elected to the US Congress during the “Age of Jackson”, later returning to Washington as President Polk’s Commissioner of Public Buildings. Even more notable was his correspondent – William Jessup, later a Pennsylvania circuit judge and staunch abolitionist, who at the Republican National Convention of 1860, chaired the Committee that wrote the anti-slavery platform, adopted to thunderous applause by the delegates, on which Abraham Lincoln ran victoriously for President of the United States.