Billy Graham asked: ‘Who doesn’t accept a free pardon? You may be surprised to know that many nations around the world make provision for pardoning criminals. The constitution of Spain, for example, forbids general pardons but states that “individual pardons are a gracious measure granted to sentenced convicts by the King.” South Africa’s constitution gives the president the right to pardon a person for wrongdoing. Would you be surprised to learn that not everyone who is offered a pardon accepts it? Who, you might ask, would refuse a pardon? The answer is those who would, perhaps, refuse to be saved from a sinking ship. Then there are those who believe they can save themselves. From the records of the US Supreme Court comes such a story of defiance. In 1829, a man by the name of George Wilson was indicted for robbing the mail in Pennsylvania and endangering the life of a government mail carrier. For this crime “against the peace and dignity of the United States of America,” Wilson was tried and sentenced to death. But the president of the United States sent Wilson a pardon, stating (quote): “I, Andrew Jackson, President of the United States of America… have pardoned… George Wilson the crime for which he has been sentenced to suffer death, remitting the penalty [as stated]… In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed to these presents.”

At that point Wilson did a strange thing: he refused to accept the pardon. No one seemed to know what to do, so Wilson was sent to the Supreme Court. After reviewing the facts of the case, Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the court’s opinion that the value of the pardon is determined by the acceptance of the one receiving it and that, if refused, the pardon does not stand. The chief justice concluded that Wilson must be hanged. And he was.

Source: Billy Graham, The Reason For My Hope, p.48-9