December 25, 1868 – President Andrew Johnson Pardons All Confederates

The first Civil War amnesty proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on December 8, 1863. It offered pardons to any person taking an oath to support the Constitution and the Union and pledging to abide by all Federal laws and proclamations in reference to slavery made during the period of the rebellion. Six classes of persons were excluded from the benefits of the amnesty, including any persons known to have treated unlawfully black prisoners of war and their white officers.

A supplementary proclamation, issued March 26, 1864, added a seventh exception (persons in military or civilian confinement or custody) and provided that members of the excluded classes could make application for special pardon from the President.

Abraham Lincoln in November, 1863

Abraham Lincoln in November, 1863

On May 29, 1865 after the war was over, President Johnson issued his first amnesty proclamation, citing the failure of many to take advantage of Lincoln’s earlier proclamation. Under the new terms, Johnson incorporated Lincoln’s seven exceptions from the general amnesty with a few alterations and added seven more, including persons who had broken the oath taken under the provisions of the proclamation of December 8, 1863.

The presidential pardon restored a citizen to his former civil rights and also provided immunity from prosecution for treason and from confiscation of property. Moreover, exemption from amnesty precluded people from such activities as the “transfer of titles or properties” and the obtainment of copyrights and patents, making business very difficult. Thus, the President was soon besieged with thousands of applications, and by the fall of 1867 he had granted about 13,500 individual pardons.

President Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson

Two years later, on September 7, 1867, Johnson, desiring to hasten Reconstruction, issued another proclamation narrowing the excepted classes to three.

Less than a year later, on July 4, 1868, Johnson issued yet another amnesty proclamation, granting amnesty to all former Confederates except for the approximately three hundred who were “under presentment or indictment in any court of the United States upon a charge of treason or other felony.”

And on this day in history, Johnson’s final amnesty proclamation (“The Christmas Pardon”) was extended “unconditionally and without reservation” to all who had participated in the rebellion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: