Pardoning Jefferson Davis

Civil wars a horrible, brutal ordeals that can scar for decades, if not centuries.   The Spanish Civil War was especially traumatic, and I’m beginning to doubt that Syria will ever be a viable political entity again.

Which is another example of how unique our nation is.  We endured our own civil war, and yes, it was traumatic, with heavy loss of life and widespread destruction.  Reconstruction was not easy, but we pulled it off.  As my history friends like to say, it was a relatively “civil” civil war.  Although there are still distinct regional differences, the memory of that conflict is still very much alive.  There are numerous monuments to the Confederate States of America (although there currently seems to be a reevaluation in some quarters) and the Confederate flag is a common and very legal sight.  What other nation in the world would allow so many reminders of a failed rebellion?

I’m thinking about this because of an email from the Smithsonian magazine about Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s only president.  Although the city of New Orleans recently removed a prominent statue of Davis, the amazing part is not only was Davis not executed after the war, he was pardoned of treason on Christmas Day, 1868, then restored to full United States citizenship in 1978.  (The restoration came 90 years after his death, but still, the rebellion’s leader completely forgiven?  Yep!)  Since Davis always defended his conduct during the war — he said “Repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented” in 1884 — it was probably best that he didn’t live to see his citizenship restored, but the important point is it did happen.

This was just an example of what was best for the wounded nation.  An amnesty law was passed in 1876 to restore full citizenship to every Confederate (except Davis).  The Confederacy’s military leader Robert E. Lee was allowed to file an amnesty oath in 1865.  He then went on to a much different but successful career as a college president, at what is known today as Washington and Lee University (

Reconciliation really is a very important part of our history, something that would be good for us to remember today.

The  entry was written by Tom Frail.  The photo came from the email.


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