On this dayMay 22, 1872

Congress Restores Confederates' Office-Holding Rights with the Amnesty Act of 1872


Passed by Congress and signed by President Ulysses Grant on May 22, 1872, the Amnesty Act of 1872 ended office-holding disqualifications against most of the Confederate leaders and other former civil and military officials who had rebelled against the Union in the Civil War. Afterwards, only a few hundred Confederate leaders remained under office-holding restrictions.

Even while the Civil War was in progress, the Union offered amnesty to Confederates in an attempt to encourage loyalty to the Union and begin the process of reconstruction. The Confiscation Act of 1862 authorized the U.S. President to pardon anyone involved in the rebellion. The Amnesty Proclamation of December 1863 offered pardons to those who had not held a Confederate civil office, had not mistreated Union prisoners, and would sign an oath of allegiance. Another limited amnesty that targeted Southern civilians went into effect in May 1864.

In May 1865, President Andrew Johnson provided for amnesty and the return of property to those who would take an oath of allegiance. Former high-ranking Confederate government and military officials, and people owning more than $20,000 worth of property, had to apply for individual pardons.

As a result of the 1872 Amnesty and the many that preceded it, the vast majority of white former Confederates in the South were free to own land, vote, hold office, and make laws in the Southern states, less than two decades after the war's end. When Reconstruction ended in 1877 and federal troops left the region, these people who had so recently fought to maintain white supremacy and retain slavery were well-positioned to seize control of their state governments and orchestrate laws and policies to suppress the new civil rights of Black people.

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