Civil War – Lincoln’s plans for the end of the war – Amnesty and Reconstruction

Submitted by C.J. Johnson


On December 8, 1863, President Lincoln gave his annual address to Congress. It was during this speech he announced his “Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction,” in which he detailed his plans to bring Southern states back into the Union.

With key Union victories during 1863, Lincoln started preparations to ensure the freedom of Southern slaves and restore Confederate states. Lincoln’s Proclamation reflected forgiveness, since he felt the Confederates never legally seceded from the Union. Lincoln hoped this Proclamation would encourage a Confederate surrender and unite Union backing. He also wanted to beat Congress to the initial reconstruction plans.

Main points of his Proclamation included (1) Confederates would be restored as U. S. citizens when they took an oath of allegiance to the United States (exceptions: high ranking Confederate government officials and military leaders); (2) Confederate states would be readmitted to the Union when 10 per cent of their voters (based on the 1860 voter rolls) had taken the oath and a new republican state government was formed; (3) Confederate states were requested to develop legislation abolishing slavery, which did nothing to reduce slaves’ new freedoms.

The opening lines of the Proclamation were, “I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is hereby granted to them and each of them, with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves, and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath, and thenceforward keep and maintain said oath inviolate; and which oath shall be registered for permanent preservation…”

The Allegiance Oath read, “I, __, do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Union of the States thereunder; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all acts of congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far as not repealed, modified, or held void by congress, or by decision of the supreme court; and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the supreme court. So help me God.”

During the first week of Amnesty and Reconstruction, Lincoln pardoned his sister-in-law, Emilie Todd Helm, widow of Confederate Gen. Benjamin Helm, who was killed at Chickamauga in September 1863. Mrs. Helm, a native Kentuckian, went to Washington following her husband’s death, and moved in with her half-sister Mary Todd Lincoln.

When the President was confronted with housing a Rebel, Lincoln was said to have replied, “General Sickles, my wife and I are in the habit of choosing our own guests. We do not need from our friends either advice or assistance in the matter.” Mrs. Helm returned to Kentucky after her pardon.