and rebels? Is their crime less heinous than forgery or horse-stealing? Did the fathers of our country intend to deal tenderly with them; to make of treason a light thing; to hold out inducements and temptations to it, by shielding those, who might endanger the nation’s welfare and imbue their hands in the blood of their fellow citizens, from the penalties that might fall upon other and lighter offences? The question needs no answer. And yet this is the result of maintaining, that the Constitution prohibits the confiscation of the property of rebels for a period extending beyond their natural lives.
Consider, now, the absurdity of taking the real estate of rebels, in part punishment of treason, if we have no right to alienate it beyond the period of their natural lives.
The penalty for treason being generally the death of the traitor, the execution of the sentence of the law upon his body would be likely to follow very soon after the sentence itself was passed upon him. If, now, we can forfeit his real estate only for his lifetime, forfeiture really amounts to nothing—for it could extend only from the time of the sentence to the execution. It would be no punishment at all—no damage to his heirs, and no benefit to the community which he had so deeply wronged. We certainly cannot suppose, that the framers of our Constitution, among whom were some of the best scholars and the most learned lawyers of the age, could have intended any such senseless absurdity as this. Nor is this all, the clause of the Constitution in question makes no distinction between personal and real estate. The words are "or forfeiture except," &c., and therefore the restriction, whatever it be, applies as well, and with the same binding force, to personal effects, mere chattels and household goods, many of which perish in the using, as to real estate.
I pass to another very important consideration. I have several times alluded to the general policy of our Government to make every one responsible for his own acts and not to visit the sins of the father upon the children. And it is worth while to consider, how this interpretation of the Constitution harmonizes with that idea, and secures its complete realization in regard to the subject of treason at least. In England a man’s treason might be visited on his children in either of two ways, as we have seen, namely: