The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article III, Section 3, and Clause 2: “The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.” This clause was included in the Constitution to protect the family of any person accused of treason and their right to inherit the property of the accused person.
“All of this harks back to the dark days in English history. The Crown often indulged itself in plunder by accusing some wealthy landowner of treason and then confiscating his estate. This was not done at a trial but by an act of Parliament, called a `bill of attainder.’ The `attainder’ referred to the pointing of the finger at the accused. Once he had been `fingered’ or `attainted,’ his property could be permanently confiscated by the Crown after the culprit was executed.
“The United States ran into a similar problem during the Civil War. Officers of the military or the United States government, who were under oath to serve the Union but joined the Confederate cause, were declared to be not only rebels but guilty of treason. Action was therefore taken against their estates and many of them were confiscated and sold. Nevertheless, after the death of these individuals, their heirs demanded back the property on the basis of this provision. To the shocked amazement of the purchasers, the Supreme Court ruled that the property had to be returned to the heirs. The property of a rebel could be expropriated for the life of the offender, but it could not be permanently `attainted’ as far as his family was concerned. The Constitution said so” (W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 626).