Amnesty

Article originally published in Harper’s Weekly, 8 April 1865 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net)

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THE mischief which is done by the well meaning but foolish clamor that the President shall offer fresh terms of peace is incalculable. That the malignant Copperhead opposition should seek to embarrass the situation by representing him as averse to peace is natural; but that loyal papers should persistently poison the public mind with the impression that the President is reluctant or obtuse in the matter is most unfortunate. To destroy public confidence in the chief executive by incessant complaint that he does not act wisely to insinuate that peace is at every moment possible if only the President chose; to declare that the rebels are merely waiting for a kind word from him before laying down their arms, is to be guilty of the greatest injustice to him and the gravest injury to the country.

The President has already several times declared to the rebels and the world all that he has the authority to say upon the subject of peace. On the 8th of December, 1863, under the act of Congress which authorized him to promise pardon and amnesty to rebels with such exceptions and conditions as he chose, the President issued his amnesty proclamation. By this act he pardoned all rebels who should solemnly take and faithfully keep the oath of allegiance to the Government, restoring all rights of property except as to slaves, and excepting from the pardon certain classes of persons who have held civil or military positions, and who had treated our colored soldiers, seamen, laborers, and officers otherwise than as prisoners of war. Last summer he repeated the substance of this offer in saying to whom it might concern that submission to the laws and emancipation were the conditions of peace. On the 6th of December, 1864, the President in his Message renewed the offer of amnesty of the previous year, announcing, however, that the time might come when public duty would demand that the door of grace should be closed. On the 3d of February, at Hampton Roads, he repeated the conditions plainly : the restoration of the national authority, no modification of his position upon the slavery question, and no cessation of hostilities without a final disbanding of the insurgent armies.

What more can or ought the President to do? “What we desire of the President,” says one man, “is that he clear it [the subject] of all ambiguities, by publicly setting forth precisely what the Southern people hitherto in revolt against the Federal authority are to gain or save by promptly throwing down the weapons of rebellion and returning to loyalty and peace.” This is exactly what the President has done, and repeated, and reiterated. It is just as well known today to every man who cares to know it as it could be if it were announced twice a week. His amnesty is addressed to the rank and file of the rebel army, to the deluded people of the South. It could not be clearer or more complete. More than he offers he ought not to offer, nor would public opinion justify. As a citizen of the United States he may believe, as we do, that there is no desire of blood or revenge in the hearts of loyal men. But as President he certainly ought not to say that DAVIS, HUNTER, & Co. shall not be indicted, tried, and punished for treason. The pardoning power is not a dispensing power.

There is no conceivable good end to be accomplished by insisting that with every step of General SHERMAN the President ought to say to the rebels, “There! will you give it up now? Do, please.” The rank and file of the rebel armies and the citizens of the Southern States know perfectly well that when they take the oath of allegiance in good faith they are not molested, and are in no danger of a trial for treason. If they do not know it, after four distinct proclamations of the fact, a fifth will not help them. To say that our armies open a way to reach the people with the fifth is idle, because as fast and as far as they go the amnesty goes with them. When the President is ready to offer other conditions and exceptions he will say so. Until then humanity and national dignity require him to do exactly what he is doing.

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