Execution on the White House Lawn

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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-We are frequently asked whether Jefferson played a role in a '''White House Lawn Execution''' for someone convicted of treason. This is a myth. <ref>In the movie, '''Swordfish'''(2001), John Travolta's character, Gabriel Shear, states that this actually happened.</ref> Not only did Jefferson never personally shoot anyone for any reason, there were no treason executions or convictions during Jefferson's presidency. The only case that might have contributed to this myth is a case back in 1778 when Jefferson helped write a piece of legislation in Virginia to hunt down the murderer and bandit Josiah Philips for treason. This bill actually included that his associates and anyone connected with him could be executed. In the end, Josiah Philips was found and convicted not for treason, but for robbery.<br>+There is a very persistent story that [[Thomas Jefferson]] personally executed someone on the White House lawn for treason; some sites name the prisoner as a Rodney Cox from North Carolina.<ref>Robert Ludlum, [http://classicals.com/federalist/ThomasJeffersonhall/messages/780.html "Re: IS IT TRUE THAT HE SHOT A MAN AT THE WHITE HOUSE FOR TREASON?"] American History Forums: Thomas Jefferson Lecture Hall. Accessed February 10, 2009.</ref> We have no evidence that this event ever occurred: no such thing is ever mentioned in Jefferson's papers, or contemporary newspaper accounts. The story, as far as we know, originated entirely with the movie ''Swordfish'' (2001), where it is mentioned by John Travolta's character, Gabriel Shear.
---[[User:Bcraig|Bcraig]] 14:37, 18 April 2007 (EDT)+ 
 +The true origins of the story are a puzzle. Several actual events could have been (severely) misunderstood or mistaken for a "Jefferson execution:"
 + 
 +*Jefferson was involved in drafting a "Bill to Attaint Josiah Philips and Others" in 1778, which ordered the trial and provided for the execution of the murderer and bandit Josiah Philips for treason. Josiah Philips was eventually found and convicted of robbery, not treason.<ref>[[Short Title List|''PTJ'']] 2:189-193.</ref>
 +*The murder of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in their famous 1804 duel has also been suggested as a possible source for the story in question.
 + 
 +Neither of the above seems very plausible as a source. Unless further reliable evidence surfaces, we can only explain this story as a complete fabrication by the scriptwriters of ''Swordfish.''
==Footnotes== ==Footnotes==
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==Further Sources== ==Further Sources==
-[http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1804486105/details ''Swordfish'' on Yahoo! Movies]+*Coates, Eyler Robert. ''The Thomas Jefferson FAQ.'' [http://www.geocities.com/Athens/7842/archives/shooting.htm "DID JEFFERSON SHOOT A TRAITOR ON THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN?"]
 +*Internet Movie Database. [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0244244/ ''Swordfish''].
 +*Jefferson Library. ''A Summary View.'' [http://jeffersonlibrary.wordpress.com/2008/11/05/jefferson-still-survives-unlike-the-other-guy/ "Jefferson still survives, unlike the other guy."] A brief discussion of this question in our library blog.
[[Category:Frequently Asked Questions]] [[Category:Frequently Asked Questions]]
[[Category:Politics]] [[Category:Politics]]
 +[[Category:Legends]]

Current revision

There is a very persistent story that Thomas Jefferson personally executed someone on the White House lawn for treason; some sites name the prisoner as a Rodney Cox from North Carolina.[1] We have no evidence that this event ever occurred: no such thing is ever mentioned in Jefferson's papers, or contemporary newspaper accounts. The story, as far as we know, originated entirely with the movie Swordfish (2001), where it is mentioned by John Travolta's character, Gabriel Shear.

The true origins of the story are a puzzle. Several actual events could have been (severely) misunderstood or mistaken for a "Jefferson execution:"

  • Jefferson was involved in drafting a "Bill to Attaint Josiah Philips and Others" in 1778, which ordered the trial and provided for the execution of the murderer and bandit Josiah Philips for treason. Josiah Philips was eventually found and convicted of robbery, not treason.[2]
  • The murder of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in their famous 1804 duel has also been suggested as a possible source for the story in question.

Neither of the above seems very plausible as a source. Unless further reliable evidence surfaces, we can only explain this story as a complete fabrication by the scriptwriters of Swordfish.

Footnotes

  1. Robert Ludlum, "Re: IS IT TRUE THAT HE SHOT A MAN AT THE WHITE HOUSE FOR TREASON?" American History Forums: Thomas Jefferson Lecture Hall. Accessed February 10, 2009.
  2. PTJ 2:189-193.

Further Sources