President Abraham Lincoln Pardons Confederates from Kentucky, at the Behest of One of His Strongest Supporters in the State

Lincoln was always solicitous of Kentucky, as he felt that maintaining the Union without holding Kentucky would not be possible

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When the Civil War began, it was clear that the border states of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland held the key to victory, and President Lincoln especially thought that maintaining the Union without holding Kentucky would not be feasible. Citizens of those states soon took sides, and in Kentucky, while the official state...

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President Abraham Lincoln Pardons Confederates from Kentucky, at the Behest of One of His Strongest Supporters in the State

Lincoln was always solicitous of Kentucky, as he felt that maintaining the Union without holding Kentucky would not be possible

When the Civil War began, it was clear that the border states of Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland held the key to victory, and President Lincoln especially thought that maintaining the Union without holding Kentucky would not be feasible. Citizens of those states soon took sides, and in Kentucky, while the official state government remained loyal to the Union, Confederate sympathizers organized a rival government called the Provisional Government of Kentucky, to take their state into the Confederacy. Four major government officers were installed in the offices; governor, lt. governor, treasurer and auditor. The latter office was held by Josiah Pillsbury. This government was recognized by the Confederate government in Richmond, and Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861. For citizens loyal to one side to live where the other side predominated was a hazardous proposition.

On December 8, 1863, Lincoln issued a proclamation offering amnesty to those who had participated in the rebellion, provided that they take an oath of allegiance to the United States and agree to abide by the Emancipation Proclamation.

Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky, and one of its principle newspapers at the time was the Frankfort Commonwealth, the editor of which was A. G. Hodges. The Commonwealth was a staunch Whig paper and when the Whig party dissolved in the 1850s, it gave its support to the American, or Know-Nothing, Party. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Hodges and the Commonwealth embraced Unionism and loyalty in Kentucky. Although Hodges criticized Lincoln’s plans for emancipation, by the end of the war Hodges was one of the president’s closest advisors about affairs in Kentucky.

On December 16, 1864, Hodges wrote Lincoln on his Commonwealth stationery. He had Lincoln’s ear, and used his access to the President to urge him to see a fellow Kentuckian, who apparently had some Confederate friends or relatives who were now anxious to take the oath of allegiance to the United States that Lincoln had specified. Hodges wrote: “I take pleasure in introducing to you Joseph H Hickman,Esq., of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, one of the truest and most zealous of your friends in Kentucky. It required a man with a great deal of nerve, and a good pair of heels, to be a friend of yours in the region where he resides. His life has been threatened by a whole band of guerillas for casting his vote for you at the late election. He has had many narrow escapes for his life. Sometimes a good horse and sometimes his heels have been instruments which have saved him. Mr. H. is a gentleman of great integrity, and you may rely implicitly upon any information he may impart to you.”

Hickman met with Lincoln and obviously pled his case. Lincoln complied. Autograph endorsement signed, Washington, December 21, 1864. “Let these men take the oath of Dec. 8., 1863, & be discharged.”

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