An Interesting Use of the Word Award

In Respublica versus Chapman, 1 Dall. 53 (1781), the Chief Justice asked the defendant “why execution should not be awarded against him.” Never occurred to me that an award could be a bad thing.

Aside from the curious use of the word “award,” I really found this case to be quite interesting. Chapman was tried for high treason during the American Revolutionary War in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The case was heard by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania during the April Term of 1781. In terms of historical perspective, Cornwallis would not surrender at Yorktown for another six months.

In Chapman’s defense, he claimed that he was a subject of the King of Great Britain, and therefore owed no allegiance to the Commonwealth. Hence, he could not have committed high treason. The court actually engaged in quite an extensive inquiry into whether the defendant owed a duty of allegiance to the Commonwealth. I really respect a court that can be principled in a case involving treason during a war, without resorting to victor’s justice.

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