"Have you obtained the opinion of any of the wise at Washington on the subject?".
On May 29, 1865, President Johnson issued a proclamation granting amnesty to all persons who participated either directly or indirectly in the recent rebellion. All rights and property, except for slaves, were to be restored upon taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. There were 14...
On May 29, 1865, President Johnson issued a proclamation granting amnesty to all persons who participated either directly or indirectly in the recent rebellion. All rights and property, except for slaves, were to be restored upon taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. There were 14 classes of people who were excluded from this amnesty proclamation because of positions they had held in the Confederacy. In order to obtain a pardon, these people had to formally request one from the President. On September 7, 1867, Johnson issued a second amnesty proclamation narrowing the number of excepted classes to 3 and reducing the number of those still unpardoned to about 300. His third proclamation, which excluded only Jefferson Davis, John C. Breckinridge, Robert E. Lee, and a few others, was issued July 4, 1868. On Christmas Day of that same year, Johnson’s final amnesty proclamation was extended "unconditionally and without reservation" to all who had participated in the rebellion.
During the post-Civil War period, however, the Congress was under the control of Radical Republicans who were against senior Confederates resuming an important role in national political life, and they became involved in the amnesty question. Section 3 of the 14th amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress and ratified in July 1868, provided that no person could hold any civil or military office under State or Federal Government, including Congress or the Electoral College, who had previously taken an oath to support the Constitution while holding such a position and then had engaged in rebellion against the United States. This was designed to prevent senior Confederate leaders from showing up in Congress as newly-elected representatives or senators. The Amendment provided that Congress, by a two-thirds vote in both Houses, could remove this disability on individuals or classes of people. Opponents generally criticized the amendment process as fatally flawed and the content as vague. President Johnson opposed the amendment and urged states not to ratify.
When Johnson’s term as president was over in 1869, he returned to Tennessee and ran for the U.S. Senate. Edmund Cooper had been his aide during and after the Civil War, but Cooper’s brother Henry was a Johnson foe and ran against the former president. Henry had been a unionist but served as a Tennessee state judge during the war. Cooper won and was elected for a six-year term to begin on March 4, 1871. Johnson was bitter about the loss and determined to run again in 1872 for a seat in the House of Representatives.
Joseph S. Fowler was Cooper’s predecessor in the U.S. Senate. Although a Republican, he was on good terms with President Johnson and voted to acquit during the impeachment. Upon the expiry of his term in 1871, he did not return to Tennessee to live, but remained in Washington. Allen Thurman was an Ohio Democrat who served as U.S. Senator beginning in 1869. Much liked by Johnson, he was a strong opponent of the Republicans’ Reconstruction measures. Judge Samuel Milligan was a Johnson associate (and Union spy during the war) who was appointed by him a judge of the U.S. Court of Claims.
Autograph Letter Signed, Greenville, Tennessee, January 22, 1871, to Fowler, wondering whether Cooper would be seated in the Senate or be precluded by Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. “Enclosed please find autographs and manuscripts as requested. I am compelled to do all my writing in pencil, as I presume you are aware since the injury of my arm and hand. I hope though it will answer the purpose as no better can be done at present. Give my regards to Senator Thurman. He is kindly remembered by me having served one Congress with him in the House of Representatives. I have been expecting to hear from you. I would have been pleased to have seen you as you passed by but did not hear of it until you were gone. There is nothing transpiring here more than which you will see in the newspapers worth commenting.
There is more feeling among the officeholders in reference to amnesty than anything else. Tell Judge Milligan he must not write to me in regard to some questions he and I were talking about before he left, of which no doubt you and he has since you reached Washington. Will Cooper take his seat without opposition? [What] is the position of elector and office under the 3rd section of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution? Have you obtained the opinion of any of the wise at Washington on the subject? There is much to be done in the state next summer and you must prepare to help in the work. I have much to say when I see you…” ALS’s of Johnson are quite rare, and fewer still have good content. This is just the second we have had.
Cooper was seated without opposition. And regardless of Johnson’s feelings about Section 3, by 1871 a number of ex-Confederates had applied for and been granted congressional amnesty. The General Amnesty Act of May 22, 1872 reduced the issue further, leaving only a few hundred former Confederates under the disabilities imposed by the 14th Amendment. It was not until June 6, 1898 that the general amnesty was made universal.
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