In 1833, the Supreme Court took on one its more unusual cases: UNITED STATES v. GEORGE WILSON

The case does not appear that special at first glance. It involved two defendants named James Porter and George Wilson.  They were accused of a few instances of obstructing the United States mail service, and assaulting and wounding a mail carrier in 1830.  They were both convicted and sentenced to death.

James Porter was put to death on July 2nd, 1830.  But George Wilson was different.  Prior to the judge pronouncing their sentence on the morning of May 27th, 1830, George Wilson recanted his not guilty plea in court and changed it to a guilty plea.  It did not change his sentence.

On June 10th, with George Wilson’s friends pleaded with President Andrew Jackson for his life, and the president issued a pardon for the crime which caused him to receive the death penalty. Later in October, George Wilson rejected the pardon in a reconvened court by saying nothing.


The President of the United States of America takes the time and effort to issue a reprieve, and it is not used?  What’s going on here?

This case was so unusual it was heard by the United States Supreme Court.  Evidently this was new ground for a convict to reject forgiveness.

The Court ultimately ruled, and this is a quote from the detailed document at Cornell’s web site below:

This court is of opinion, that the pardon in the proceedings mentioned, not having been brought judicially before the court, by plea, motion or otherwise, cannot be noticed by the judges.

To use an analogy, it’s like playing the game monopoly and drawing a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  If you don’t take the initiative to play the card when you land on the dreaded Go To Jail spot, the card is useless–even if you just forget to play it before the next person’s turn.

George Wilson was hanged in the end, despite a pardon on the table for him just for the asking.

George Wilson had done nothing to earn a pardon.  President Jackson was responding to a group of petitioners who approached the president on George Wilson’s behalf.  Prayer groups do the same on behalf of their friends, family, and many others they do not even know.  They petition Jesus to draw them to salvation.  They are not asking Jesus to actually forgive them: he has done that already.  They (we) are asking Jesus to intervene and bring the person to the awareness of it, the acknowledgement of it, and ultimately the desire to cry out to Him for it.

Our prayer is to remove the person’s obstacles to accepting Jesus’ salvation.  “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  — Romans 10:13  (CSB)

Jesus is not our errand runner, nor is He some kind of puppet master.  He is a loving Father, and the King of Kings.  The Supreme Court said in their ruling, when the petitioner pleads, only then will the court hear it.  Jesus does likewise: he offers the forgiveness (pardon) which is already complete, but he will not force it on anyone.

This decision by the Supreme Court has so much Godly wisdom in it. George Wilson’s admission of guilt didn’t change his sentence.  God’s word tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Simply admitting that we have sinned is a good step, but by itself it won’t undo the sentence of eternal death.  We have to cry out to Jesus for his pardon of our sins.  He’s already created it and signed it, but we have to add our signature to it.  Otherwise, we will hear the dreaded words at the great day of judgement: “Depart from me you sinners, for I never knew you.”

Also, what motivated George Wilson to ignore the pardon will always be a mystery.  But I can give a multitude of speculations why, which would even apply today to those who have not accepted Christ.

  • Did he have a misguided loyalty to his partner in crime? He confessed but his partner James Porter had not.  Did he feel it was not fair unless James was pardoned as well, and he would die for that opinionated sense of fairness? After all, he may have seen good sides of James having spent so much time with him. A person who is fully evil is indeed rare.  Why save me and not him?
  • Did he have a masochistic personality or conscience?  Did he feel that he was not worth the attention of the President, or embarrassed to admit that what he had done was so bad that he needed a pardon? In fact, why wouldn’t someone admit that the president must see something worthy of a pardon?  Presidents do not issue pardons like candy.  Neither does Jesus.
  • Was there a bad incident or imprint with the government in his past which caused a level of hate or distrust strong enough to push this away?  It is common to hear people discuss something about pain or hurt by a church’s members from people who have walked away from God.  Despite whatever hate or distrust exists, a pardon is still a pardon.  It’s authority does not change. Leaders in higher positions always look at things differently (more broadly) than lower level leaders do.

This list could on and on.  The sole question which George Wilson had to answer is the same one we have to answer with Jesus: what or who are we letting stand between the King who sees things differently than us, and extends his offer of pardon directly to us–bypassing any and all middlemen.

Don’t wait to accept the invitation: George Smith missed his chance to have things made right.  And unlike George, we have the problem of not knowing when our death will occur.

Too many people wait for the 11th hour to do something critically important, only to die at 10:30.  Cry out to him now for that pardon.  Time is short.

Wikpedia summary of the case:

Full document at Cornell University’s web site:

Note: Be prepared for wordy, run-on sentences in the 19th century text of the full document.