Tag Archives: Amnesty

Reconstruction Begins in Arkansas

January 19, 1864 – A legally dubious convention amended the Arkansas constitution to abolish slavery in the state.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Delegates assembled at Little Rock to consider constitutional changes, the most important of which was to end slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The delegates were not popularly elected to represent the people of Arkansas, and as they debated, the popularly elected (pro-Confederate) state government continued functioning in southwestern Arkansas, which was not yet under Federal military occupation.

Under this amended Unionist constitution, Arkansas was now eligible to be restored to the U.S. Convention delegates approved submitting the constitution to a popular vote on March 14. Those eligible to vote would be white men who swore allegiance to the Union. Lincoln wrote Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the Federal occupation forces in the Department of Arkansas:

“Sundry citizens of the State of Arkansas petitioned me that an election may be held in that State, in which to elect a Governor; that it be assumed at that election, and thenceforward, that the Constitution and laws of the State, as before the rebellion, are in full force, except that the Constitution is so modified as to declare that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…”

According to Lincoln, the legality of the constitutional convention was not to be questioned; as long as the delegates voted to abolish slavery, Steele was authorized to “fix the rest.” The delegates elected Isaac Murphy as provisional governor until the elections were held in March. Lincoln would leave Steele to work with civil authorities on the details of forming the new Unionist government for Arkansas, as long as those details included ending slavery.



Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16868-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 360-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10303; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 390-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 456-58; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q164

Davis Demands Confederate Independence

January 8, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis responded to a letter from North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance urging the Confederate government to try negotiating peace with the U.S. to ease the growing discontent in his state.

Near the end of 1863, Vance wrote Davis about the mounting dissatisfaction among the people in his state regarding the war. Vance wrote, “I have concluded that it will be impossible to remove it except by making some effort at negotiation with the enemy” to relieve “the sources of discontent in North Carolina.”

Vance acknowledged that negotiations must only be conducted on the basis of Confederate independence, and if these “fair terms are rejected” as anticipated, then “it will tend greatly to strengthen and intensify the war feeling, and will rally all classes to more cordial support of the government.”

He then referred Davis to President Abraham Lincoln’s recent Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, under which 10 percent of a state’s eligible voters could form a new, Unionist state government to rule over the other 90 percent. Vance was concerned that the mounting dissension in North Carolina could produce the requisite 10 percent who would want to return to the Union.

Vance stated “that for the sake of humanity, without having any weak or improper motives attributed to us, we might, with propriety, constantly tender negotiations.” He wrote, “Though statesmen might regard this as useless, the people will not and I think our cause will be strengthened thereby.” The purpose of Vance’s letter was to get Davis to ask the U.S. to negotiate peace, knowing that the U.S. would reject the request. Vance could then use this rejection to show North Carolinians that it was the U.S., not the Confederacy, that was unwilling to talk peace.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis’s response did not seem to acknowledge Vance’s true purpose. Instead, the president explained that he had always wanted peace, and had even sent envoys to negotiate peace with the U.S., only to be rejected. No peace could be had that would return the southern states to the Union because, Davis wrote, “Have we not just been apprised by that despot (Lincoln) that we can only expect his gracious pardon by emancipating all our slaves, swearing allegiance and obedience to him and his proclamation, and becoming in point of fact the slaves of our own negroes?”

Appealing to the patriotism of Vance’s state, Davis asked, “Can there be in North Carolina one citizen so fallen beneath the dignity of his ancestors as to accept, or to enter into conference on the basis of these terms?” He acknowledged that some may consider negotiating a return to the Union, but even the “vilest wretch” would not accept emancipation as a condition of their return.

Regarding Lincoln’s amnesty proclamation, Davis argued:

“If we break up our Government, dissolve the Confederacy, disband our armies, emancipate our slaves, take an oath of allegiance binding ourselves to obedience to him and disloyalty to our own States, he proposes to pardon us, and not to plunder us of anything more than the property already stolen from us, and such slaves as still remain.”

Lincoln’s decree only sought to “sow discord and suspicion” by pledging to “support with his army one-tenth of the people… over the other nine-tenths.” This would “excite them to civil war in furtherance of his ends.” No, Davis would not negotiate peace on those terms. He would only negotiate on the basis of Confederate independence and maintaining slavery. He concluded:

“To obtain the sole terms to which you or I could listen, this struggle must continue until the enemy is beaten out of his vain confidence in our subjugation. Then, and not till then, will it be possible to treat of peace. Till then, all tender of terms to the enemy will be received as proof that we are ready for submission, and will encourage him in the atrocious warfare which he is now waging.”



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 450, 454; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 696-97

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

December 9, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln outlined a plan to bring the Confederate states back into the Union. This was part of his effort to exacerbate political dissension in the Confederacy while uniting the factions within his own Republican Party.

As the Confederacy seemed about to collapse, Federal politicians began considering how the post-war South should be administered. By this time, three clear plans had taken shape in Congress:

  • Democrats supported canceling the Emancipation Proclamation and offering general amnesty to all Confederates if they agreed to return to the Union; once returned, they could send representation to Congress and all would continue as it did before the war.
  • Conservative Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and offering conditional amnesty, with the Confederate states sending representation to Congress only after certain conditions were met, including accepting black freedom.
  • Radical Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and revoking the civil rights of those who supported the Confederacy; the states would be treated as conquered territories and brought back into the Union after several conditions were met, including accepting both black freedom and equality.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

As the leader of the conservative faction, Lincoln proclaimed, “Whereas it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugrate loyal State governments,” he offered a “full pardon” to those who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they swore loyalty to the Union and promised to obey Federal laws.

Those excluded from the pardons included high-ranking Confederates, officers who relinquished U.S. military commissions to join the Confederacy, and those who treated Federal soldiers “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” Those receiving a pardon would have all their property rights restored, “except as to slaves.” The decree also included Lincoln’s proposed policy on converting slavery into free labor in the South:

“Any provision which may be adopted… in relation to the freed people (by the new state governments), which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent, as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the national Executive.”

Lincoln’s proclamation also included what became known as the “Ten Percent Plan,” which proposed that if 10 percent of a state’s registered voters (according to the 1860 census) swore loyalty to the Union and recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves,” then those voters could form a new government and send Federal representation to Washington. It would then be for Congress to decide whether to seat those new representatives in the House and Senate.

This marked a significant political shift for Lincoln. When the war began, he argued that the rebellion consisted of a small minority who did not represent the majority of southern sentiment. But by proposing the “Ten Percent Plan,” he acknowledged that 90 percent of every Confederate state constituency most likely wanted no part of reunion. As such, harsher measures would be needed to bring their states back into the Union and ensure that their leaders would be loyal.

Democrats were the plan’s loudest critics. They argued that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee that each state have a republican form of government since 10 percent of a state’s voters would be dictating how the remaining 90 percent should be governed. They also noted that since no Confederate state would likely have a 10 percent loyalty rate, that percentage would be made up of former slaves and northerners migrating to the states. Moreover, forcing people to swear allegiance to the government violated the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The pro-Democrat New York World pointed out that “By setting up… State governments, representing one-tenth of the voters, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina,” the Lincoln administration “could control as many electoral votes as may be needed to turn the scale” in next year’s presidential election. Democratic New York Governor Horatio Seymour argued that this plan would give 70,000 voters in the southern states just as many votes in the Electoral College as 16 million voters in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

But this proclamation was not intended to satisfy the minority Democrats; it was intended to appease both Radicals and conservatives within the Republican Party. Radicals supported the demands that Confederates swear loyalty to the Union and acknowledge the end of slavery. Conservatives supported the “Ten Percent Plan” because it undermined Radical ideas to reorganize southern states as conquered territories.

Radicals favored disqualifying anybody with Confederate sympathies from voting, along with any southern professional who lacked Union sympathies. Radicals also insisted that all slaves should be immediately freed without compensation to slaveholders, and that newly freed slaves should be allowed to vote in some cases. They also argued that Congress, not the president, had the constitutional authority to restore the Union.

Conservatives argued that most southerners owned no slaves and had not voted to secede, and thus should not be penalized for merely fighting to defend their homes. Lincoln saw revoking emancipation as a “cruel and an astounding breach of faith,” but he also saw no reason to further punish the South since both sides had been so terribly punished by the war itself.

Behind the conflict between Radicals and conservatives was a growing conflict between Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. While Lincoln was largely viewed as the conservative leader of the Republican Party, Chase aspired to replace him as president in 1864, and thus he was supported by most Radicals.

However, some Radicals voiced support for Lincoln’s plan, including influential Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner said that Lincoln’s proclamation gave him “great satisfaction” because it touched upon “his idea of proper reconstruction without insisting on the adoption of his peculiar theories.” And Joseph Medill, editor of the pro-Radical Chicago Tribune, wrote that the “political future begins to look clear,” and stated that this decree proved there was only one politician “in whom the nation more and more confides–Abraham Lincoln.”

Newspapers critical of Lincoln’s proclamation included the New York Journal of Commerce, which called it a “ukase from the chambers of an autocrat,” and the Chicago Times, which contended that Lincoln was either “insane with fanaticism, or a traitor who glories in his country’s shame.”

However, the pro-Democrat New York World praised the decree because it canceled out the “abolition plan of Senator (Charles) Sumner” (i.e., the Radical plan to immediately free all slaves and punish all Confederates). The influential Blair family, representing the conservative Republicans, also commended it because it canceled “Sumner’s and Chase’s territorial project.”

Despite the rift between the two Republican factions, Lincoln’s proclamation temporarily united the party by offering concessions to both sides. Lincoln also assured members of Congress that he would be willing to change the plan to suit future events if necessary. Furthermore, it threatened to disrupt Confederate politics by enticing some southerners to push for restoring the Union under this plan. This marked the first significant Federal step toward restoring the Union.



Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16790, 16807-33; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9950-71, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 563-64, 588-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 444-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 698, 709; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463


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

Harper's Weekly Banner

Harper’s Weekly Banner

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.