A Brief History
On December 25, 1868, much maligned and embattled President of the United States Andrew Johnson issued a blanket pardon for all Confederate veterans of the US Civil War.
A Southerner himself, Johnson had been born in North Carolina and lived in Tennessee where he served as Governor and US Senator before becoming Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president in the 1864 election. When Lincoln was killed and Johnson assumed the presidency in 1865, the Civil War was now over and Johnson was eager to get the South back into normal operation, allowing the former Confederate States to hold elections and re-form their governments.
The Republican congress took exception to this, and imposed harsh “reconstruction” laws on the former Confederate states, enabling African-Americans to hold public office much to the chagrin of White Southerners.
Clashes with congress resulted in Johnson becoming the first US president to be impeached in 1868, but he avoided conviction and remained in office, allowing him the opportunity to issue his pardon of former Confederate soldiers and other Confederate office holders, including Confederate President Jeff Davis and even Dr. Samuel Mudd (the guy convicted of helping John Wilkes Booth escape) shortly before leaving office.
Question for students (and subscribers): Presidential pardons are often made right before leaving office and are just as often controversial. What do you think about Johnson issuing the blanket pardon for former Confederates? Did this act of leniency help heal the country? Did the pardon hurt the country? Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.
The featured image in this article, “President Andrew Johnson Pardoning Rebels at the White House” by Stanley Fox in Harper’s Weekly, October 14, 1865, is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
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