The Civil War amnesties are the most complicated of any in our history, if only because the questions of whom to pardon and when were not fully resolved until 1898. In addition, the use of the pardoning power by the President came into dispute, and the effect of his pardons was temporarily lost in the resultant power struggle with Congress. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment markedly changed the constitutional grounds of the matter, and in the end full amnesty was only achieved by a combination of Presidential pardon and congressional amnesty.

What is clear is that the Union side from the beginning viewed pardon as the requisite preliminary to restoration of the South as a political entity. Starting with President Lincoln’s proclamation of conditional pardon on December 8, 1863, which required an oath of allegiance to “henceforth support, protect and defend the Constitution,” the Union gradually reduced the number of exempted classes until virtually all Southerners were pardoned. Between them, Lincoln and Johnson issued six conditional pardons. The last of these, proclaimed on December 25, 1868, was to all intents and purposes a universal amnesty.

However, Congress in the interim had taken control of suffrage and officeholding under the Fourteenth Amendment, and despite Johnson’s unconditional pardon some 150,000 Southerners were barred from voting until Congress moved to remove the disability. In a congressional amnesty on May 22, 1872, the number of exempted Confederates was reduced to between five hundred and seven hundred men. Their disabilities in turn were removed by a series of individual bills in Congress through February 24, 1897. Complete amnesty was achieved the next year when, on June 6, 1898, more than thirty years after the war had ended, Congress approved a universal and unconditional amnesty for any Southerners still disabled by Section 3 of Amendment 14.

If in time the majority of Union military deserters and draft evaders secured pardon, they did so through individual petition to the President. There were two conditional general pardons for deserters. The first, proclaimed on March 11, 1865, granted full pardon to all deserters who returned to their units within sixty days and served a period equal to the original term of enlistment. Johnson offered a conditional pardon on July 3,1866, to deserters who returned to their units by August 15,1866. Such men would escape punishment but would have to forfeit their pay. There was no universal amnesty.


Like the Mexican War fifty years earlier the Spanish-American War was fought almost entirely by volunteers. There was no draft, and the militia was not called up. The Regular Army of twenty-eight thousand was swiftly increased to 210,000 in 1898 and reduced almost as quickly to eighty thousand the next year.

There was no general pardon nor amnesty for deserters at the war’s end.


The annexation of the Philippines, one of the acquisitions of the Spanish-American War, ultimately cost more in both lives and money than the entire war against Spain as a result of the Philippine Insurrection. Initially the United States had employed the rebels under Emilio Aguinaldo in the capture of Manila, but when the terms of the Treaty of Paris were made known, the Filipinos refused to accept an American take-over and began to fight their one-time allies. Some seventy thousand U.S. troops were rushed to the islands to confront a rebel army almost as large. By the end of 1899 formal resistance had given way to guerrilla warfare, but it was two years before the insurrection came to an end and a civil government was established. Aguinaldo, in the meantime, had been taken prisoner by the Americans in March, 1901.

On July 4, 1902, President Roosevelt offered a conditional pardon and amnesty to a majority of the insurrectionists, provided they signed an oath of allegiance to United States authority in the islands. The Moro tribesmen, who continued to fight, were as a class exempted from the pardon, as were all persons convicted of, or under indictment for, “murder, rape, arson, and robbery.” The latter, however, were free to ask for individual pardons in the light of their particular circumstances.

There were no general pardons or amnesties extended to deserters from the American forces sent in to suppress the insurrection.


World War I is the first of the nation’s wars to reflect present-day conditions, that is, to engender a population of military deserters, draft and war resisters, and draft evaders who would benefit from amnesty of the kind now sought after the Vietnam war. A policy of selective pardon, rather than general amnesty, was adopted.