May 29, 1865 – President Andrew Johnson issued two proclamations designed to continue Abraham Lincoln’s plan to restore the Confederates states to the U.S. This began what would ultimately become a bitter feud between the president and the Radical Republicans in Congress.
The “Amnesty Proclamation” granted “amnesty and pardon” to “all persons who have, directly or indirectly, participated in the existing rebellion” if they pledged to fully support, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution, abide by Federal laws, and acknowledge the end of slavery. Those eligible for amnesty were required to take the following oath:
“I, (name), do solemnly swear, (or affirm,) in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the union of the States thereunder; and that I will, in like manner, abide by, and faithfully support all laws and proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves. So help me God.”
This generally followed the model Lincoln had established, but while Lincoln had created six classes of southerners ineligible for amnesty, Johnson added eight more. Disqualified southerners included those who:
- Held civil or diplomatic offices in the Confederacy
- Resigned from a Federal judgeship to join the Confederacy
- Served in the Confederate military with a rank above colonel in the army or lieutenant in the navy
- Resigned from the U.S. Congress to join the Confederacy
- Resigned from the U.S. military “to evade duty in resisting the rebellion”
- Mistreated Federal prisoners of war
- Left the U.S. to support the Confederacy
- Had been educated at West Point or the U.S. Naval Academy before joining the Confederacy
- Served as governor of a Confederate state
- Left their homes in loyal states to live in Confederate states
- Engaged in destroying U.S. commerce on the high seas or raiding the U.S. from Canada
- Were held in custody by Federal officials, whether tried or not
- Supported the Confederacy while owning more than $20,000 in taxable property
- Violated prior loyalty oaths
The $20,000 exclusion was part of Johnson’s effort to punish aristocrats–especially wealthy slaveholders–whom he believed had persuaded impressionable poor southerners to support secession. Besides these exclusions, Johnson restored all property to southerners except for slaves. Voting rights would be restored when voters swore loyalty to the U.S. and accepted the end of slavery.
Johnson declared that “special application may be made to the President for pardon by any person belonging to the excepted classes; and such clemency will be liberally extended as may be consistent with the facts of the case and the peace and dignity of the United States.”
A second proclamation, drafted by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, restored civil government in North Carolina and named William W. Holden as provisional governor. Holden would temporarily rule the state while Federal duties such as tariff collection, mail delivery, and interstate trade resumed.
Holden was authorized to organize and schedule an election of delegates to assemble and draft a new state constitution. The election would take place once 10 percent of the state’s eligible voters (according to the 1860 census) had sworn loyalty to the U.S. The delegates would be chosen among the eligible voters. Since blacks had been ineligible to vote in 1860, they were disqualified from becoming voters or delegates.
The convention delegates were required to:
- Reject the ordinance of secession
- Repudiate the Confederate debt
- Ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery
They also determined requirements for permanent voting and office-holding rights, which had traditionally been state, not Federal, prerogatives. Once the new constitution was drafted, it would take effect when a majority of the registered voters approved it in a general election. Once the constitution was approved, elections would be held to fill local, state, and Federal offices.
The “North Carolina Proclamation” violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a republican form of government for each state because Holden was not a popularly elected governor, and 10 percent of the voters dictated how the other 90 would be governed. Nevertheless, Lincoln had used this plan to restore Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas to the Union, and Johnson also used it to restore the remaining conquered states (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas) during the summer of 1865.
Most congressional Radicals found Johnson’s terms too generous. They especially opposed the exclusion of blacks in forming the new state governments. The Radicals argued that the former Confederate states had surrendered their rights by seceding and should therefore be reconstructed like conquered provinces. But Johnson disagreed:
“There is no such thing as reconstruction. These States have not gone out of the Union, therefore reconstruction is not necessary… The States had brought Congress into existence, and now Congress proposed to destroy the States. It proposed to abolish the original and elementary principle of its being. It was as if the creature turned round on the creator and attempted to destroy him.”
Johnson recommended that black men who were literate or owned more than $250 in property be allowed to vote in the southern states, but he adhered to the principle that the states must ultimately decide for themselves how best to govern their citizens, without Federal interference. No southern state governments acted upon Johnson’s recommendation.
Johnson hoped to restore the former Confederate states to the Union by the time the new Congress gathered in December. But the Radicals had other ideas, and their delicate political alliance with Johnson after Lincoln’s death quickly succumbed to full-scale political warfare, which ultimately led to Johnson’s impeachment in 1868. Like the war itself, reconstruction would prove more costly in terms of life, liberty, and property than anybody had anticipated.
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