The first Civil War amnesty proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on December 8, 1863. It offered pardons to person taking an oath to support the Constitution and the Union and 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.
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 in addition, including persons who had broken the oath taken under the provisions of the proclamation of December 8, 1863.
A Presidential pardon would restore a citizen to his former civil rights and would also provide 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.
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.