General Amnesty Granted to Most Confederates

May 29, 1865

Washington, DC

Cartoon showing Andrew Johnson lampooning the Amnesty Act. ()

Even before he ascended to the Presidency following the death of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson expressed a vengeful system of financial punishments for former Confederate leaders once the United States government finally squashed the rebellion. Lincoln’s assassination only deepened Johnson’s vindictiveness, and he famously was quoted as stating that “treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished.” At the urging of Attorney General James Speed, who championed Lincoln’s desire for leniency on former Confederates, Johnson softened his approach and thus, on May 29, 1865, he issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The proclamation laid out the provisions governing the restoration of citizenship and rights to former rebels, granting the majority of them formal pardons so long as they took an oath swearing allegiance to the United States of America. There were caveats within the proclamation, however, which laid out fourteen classes of former rebels who could not acquire citizenship through the simple oath of allegiance. The stipulations – three specifically aimed at punishing high ranking military leaders of the former Confederacy – made it obligatory for the excluded classes of former rebels to petition directly to the Executive Office for the reinstatement of their citizenships, and if approved, “clemency will be liberally extended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States.”


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