“The Matter was Very Trivial”: The Value of Pardon Applications

By Patrick A. Lewis

Approximately half of each governor’s official papers are applications for pardons and remissions of fines—obviously a gold mine for historians of law and justice.

But there is something in those papers for historians of all stripes. This letter from Gov. Magoffin’s files asking for a pardon for a “trivial” gambling charge, for example, is most valuable for Robert Riddell’s expression of political sentiment in the midst of the secession winter of 1861. Look how that news even precedes the business at hand!
What hidden secrets are you looking forward to finding in the Civil War Governors of Kentucky?

Irvine Jany 29th 1861
A B Stivers
Dear sir

I received your letter in due season & should have answered it long ago—& would have done so but expected to start down to Frankfort every day, but it seems Just as I was going to start I have been disappointed & by those I did not expect—

I will now write & hope that what I have said will be a sufficient apology for my seeming neglect, and even now I do not know what to write—Estill is for the Union if she can stay in & have her rights protected & is willing to concede something for the good of the resident of the states—but the north have transgressed a good ways in our rights, however our union is very dear to us & should not be thrown aside on account of any trivial matter you know my views & the views of Estill County—our County seems to be willing to trust you without an expression for her sentiments this is of course flattering to you & will prompt you to look to the interest of this state—, Your family are well—now near—send me a paper occasionally

Respectfully &c
Robt Riddell Jr

At the June Term 1860 of the Estill circuit court Isaac Johnson was fine $20= besides cost for gaming, the matter was very trivial & Ike you know is not a gambler. we sent a petition to the governor to remit it he respited it as I understand & it is now due & the securities will have it to pay unless it is remitted, now I want your to go in person & gets the governor to remit it, it ought to be done, all other fines of this county have been remitted & Ike is not asked to pay his fine. dont fail

Yours &c
Robert Riddell Jr

B. M