All Confederate soldiers gain presidential pardons, Dec. 25, 1868
In the aftermath of the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson on this day in 1868 issued pardons to all Confederate soldiers who fought in that conflict. The president extended “unconditionally, and without reservation ... a full pardon and amnesty for the offence [sic] of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late Civil War, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws.”
In his Christmas Day Proclamation, Johnson said his action would “renew and fully restore confidence and fraternal feeling among the whole, and their respect for and attachment to the national [e.g., federal] government, designed by its patriotic founders for the general good.”
As the vice president, Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat, had succeeded the assassinated Abraham Lincoln to the presidency shortly after the Union victory.
On Dec. 8, 1863, in his annual message to Congress, Lincoln, the first Republican president, had outlined his plans for reconstruction of the South, including amnesty terms for former Confederates. A pardon would require an oath of allegiance, but it would not restore ownership to former slaves, or restore confiscated property that involved a third party.
As Lincoln further envisioned his actions, his pardons would have excluded officeholders of the Confederate government or persons who had mistreated prisoners.
Congress, however, objected to Lincoln's plans as too lenient and refused to recognize delegates from the reconstructed governments of Louisiana and Arkansas. With radical Republican lawmakers in full control of the legislative agenda, Congress instead passed the Wade-Davis Bill. This measure required half of any former Confederate state’s voters to swear allegiance to the United States and that they had not supported the Confederacy. While the bill also ended slavery, it did not allow former slaves to vote. Lincoln vetoed the bill.
During his presidency, Lincoln issued 64 pardons for war-related offences: 22 for conspiracy, 17 for treason, 12 for rebellion, nine for holding an office under the Confederacy, and four for serving with the rebels.
Under the terms of surrender for the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 10, 1865, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant stipulated that “each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.”
On May 5, 1965, the paroles were further extended so that soldiers from the 11 Confederate states, plus West Virginia, would be allowed to return home, but that “all who claim homes in the District of Columbia and in states that never passed the Ordinance of Secession (Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) have forfeited them and can only return thereto by complying with the amnesty proclamation of the president and obtaining special permission from the War Department.”
SOURCE: “This Day in Presidential History,” by Paul Brandus (2018)