Proclamation About Amnesty

March 26, 1864

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, it has become necessary to define the cases in which insurgent enemies are entitled to the benefits of the proclamation of the President of the United States, which was made on the eighth day of December, 1863, and the manner in which they shall proceed to avail themselves of those benefits:

And whereas, the objects of that proclamation were to suppress the insurrection and to restore the authority of the United States, and whereas the amnesty therein proposed by the President was offered with reference to these objects alone:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare that the said proclamation does not apply to the cases of persons who, at the time when they seek to obtain the benefits thereof by taking the oath thereby prescribed are in military, naval or civil confinement or custody, or under bonds or on parole of the civil, military or naval authorities or agents of the United States as prisoners of war or persons detained for offences of any kind, either before or after conviction, and that, on the contrary, it does apply only to those persons who being yet at large and free from any arrest, confinement or duress, shall voluntarily come forward and take the said oath with the purpose of restoring peace and establishing the national authority. Prisoners excluded from the amnesty offered in the said proclamation may apply to the President for clemency like all other offenders, and their applications will receive due consideration.

I do farther declare and proclaim that the oath prescribed in the aforesaid proclamation of the 8th. of December, 1863, may be taken and subscribed before any commissioned officer, civil, military or naval, in the service of the United States, or any civil or military officer of a State or Territory not in insurrection, who, by the laws thereof, may be qualified for administering oaths. All officers who receive such oaths are hereby authorized to give certificates thereon to the persons respectively by whom they are made. And such officers are hereby required to transmit the original records of such oaths at as early a day as may be convenient to the Department of State, where they will be deposited and remain in the archives of the Government. The Secretary of State will keep a register thereof, and will on application, in proper cases, issue certificates of such records in the customary form of official certificates.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.


Done at the city of Washington, the twenty-sixth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-four, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD Secretary of State.

To Benjamin B. French

Private March 25, 1864.
Executive Mansion, Washington,
Hon. B. B. French

My dear Sir:

I understand a Bill is before Congress, by your instigation, for taking your office from the control of the Department of the Interior, and considerably enlarging the powers and patronage of your office. The proposed change may be right for aught I know; and it certainly is right for Congress to do as it thinks proper in the case. What I wish to say is that if the change is made, I do not think I can allow you to retain the office; because that would be encouraging officers to be constantly intriguing, to the detriment of the public interest, in order to profit themselves. Yours truly


To Clara and Julia Brown

                                                                 Executive Mansion Washington
Misses Clara & Julia Brown         March 21 1864

The Afgan you sent is received, and gratefully accepted. I especially like my little friends; and although you have never seen me, I am glad you remember me for the country’s sake, and even more, that you remember, and try to help, the poor Soldiers. Yours very truly A. LINCOLN

A note on the bottom of the copy explains that a photograph of Clara and Julia was sent with the afghan. The letter from Clara and Julia, dated at Buffalo, New York, March 9, 1864, is as follows:

“Please accept this Afghan from your little friends who desire to express their regard. . . . The afghan was exhibited at the `Central Fair’ recently held here, and now we are very happy in sending it to our Dear President.

“Please remember that you have little friends in Buffalo who pray for you, that you may be cheerful, strong and wise.”

Reply to New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association

Gentlemen of the Committee.            March 21, 1864

The honorary membership in your Association, as generously tendered, is gratefully accepted.

You comprehend, as your address shows, that the existing rebellion, means more, and tends to more, than the perpetuation of African Slavery—that it is, in fact, a war upon the rights of all working people. Partly to show that this view has not escaped my attention, and partly that I cannot better express myself, I read a passage from the Message to Congress in December 1861:

“It continues to develop that the insurrection * * * * * * * * * * till all of liberty shall be lost.”

The views then expressed remain unchanged, nor have I much to add. None are so deeply interested to resist the present rebellion as the working people. Let them beware of prejudice, working division and hostility among themselves. The most notable feature of a disturbance in your city last summer, was the hanging of some working people by other working people. It should never be so. The strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation, should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and tongues, and kindreds. Nor should this lead to a war upon property, or the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor —property is desirable — — is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprize. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.

To Edwin M. Stanton

Hon. Secretary of War:           Executive Mansion,
My dear Sir:                                 Washington, March 18. 1864.

I am so pressed in regard to prisoners of war in our custody, whose homes are within our lines, and who wish to not be exchanged, but to take the oath and be discharged, that I hope you will pardon me for again calling up the subject. My impression is that we will not ever force the exchange of any of this class; that taking the oath, and being discharged, none of them will again go to the rebellion, but the rebellion again coming to them, a considerable per centage of them, probably not a majority, would rejoin it; that by a cautious discrimination the number so discharged would not be large enough to do any considerable mischief in any event; would relieve distress in, at least some meritorious cases; and would give me some relief from an intolerable pressure.

I shall be glad therefore to have your cheerful assert to the discharge of those whose names I may send, which I will only do with circumspection. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

In using the strong hand, as now compelled to do, the government has a difficult duty to perform. At the very best, it will by turns do both too little and too much. It can properly have to motive of revenge, no purpose to punish merely for punishment’s sake. While we must, by all available means, prevent the overthrow of the government, we should avoid planting and cultivating too many thorns in the bosom of society. These general remarks apply to several classes of cases, on each of which I wish to say a word.

First, the dismissal of officers when neither incompetency, nor intentional wrong, nor real injury to the service, is imputed. In such cases it is both cruel and impolitic, to crush the man, and make him and his friends permanent enemies to the administration if not to the government itself. I think of two instances. One wherein a Surgeon, for the benefit of patients in his charge, needed some lumber, and could only get it by making a false certificate wherein the lumber was denominated “butter & eggs” and he was dismissed for the false certificate. The other a Surgeon by the name of Owen who served from the beginning of the war till recently, with two servants, and without objection. when upon discovery that the servants were his own sons, he was dismissed.

Another class consists of those who are known or strongly suspected, to be in sympathy with the rebellion. An instance of this is the family of Southern, who killed a recruiting officer last autumn, in Maryland. He fled, and his family are driven from their home, without a shelter or crumb, except when got by burthening our friends more than our enemies. Southern had no justification to kill the officer; and yet he would not have been killed if he had proceeded in the temper and manner agreed upon by your-self and Gov. Bradford. But this is past. What is to be done with the family? Why can they not occupy their old home, and excite much less opposition to the government than the manifestation of their distress is now doing? If the house is really needed for the public service; or if it has been regularly confiscated and the title transferred, the case if different.

Again, the cases of persons, mostly women, wishing to pass our lines, one way or the other. We have, in some cases, been apparantly, if not really, inconsistent upon this subject—that is, we have forced some to go who wished to stay, and forced others to stay who wished to go. Suppose we allow all females, with ungrown children of either sex, to go South, if they desire, upon absolute prohibition against returning during the war; and all to come North upon the same condition of not returning during the war, and the additional condition of taking the oath.

I wish to mention two special cases—both of which you well remember. The first is that of Yocum. He was unquestionably guilty. No one asking for his pardon pretends the contrary. What he did, however, was perfectly lawful, only a short while before, and the change making it unlawful had not, even then been fully accepted in the public mind. It is doubtful whether Yocum did not suppose it was really lawful to return a slave to a loyal owner, though it is certain he did the thing secretly, in the belief that his superiors would not allow it if known to them. But the great point with me is that the severe punishment of five years at hard labor in the Penitentiary is not at all necessary to prevent the repetition of the crime by himself or by others. If the offence was one of frequent recurrence, the case would be different; but this case of Yocum is the single instance which has come to my knowledge. I think that for all public purposes, and for all proper purposes, he has suffered enough.

The case of Smithson is troublesome. His wife and children are quartered mostly on our friends, and exciting a great deal of sympathy, which will soon tell against us. What think you of sending him and his family South, holding the sentence over him to be re-inforced if he returns during the war.

 The letter sent to Stanton is reproduced as sent, but represents only the first paragraph of the draft. The remainder of the draft is reproduced following Lincoln’s signature. Stanton replied on March 19: “Your order for the discharge of any prisoners of war, will be cheerfully & promptly obeyed.”

Remarks at Closing of Sanitary Fair, Washington, D. C.

March 18, 1864

Ladies and Gentlemen: I appear to say but a word. This extra-ordinary war in which we are engaged falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier. For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country’s cause. The highest merit, then, is due to the soldier. [Cheers.]

In this extraordinary war extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars; and amongst these manifestations nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. [Cheers.]

I am not accustomed to the use of language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that if all that has been said by orators and poets since the creation of the world in praise of woman were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying God bless the women of America! [Great applause.]

To John A. J. Creswell

Hon. John A. J. Creswell      Executive Mansion,
My dear Sir:                               Washington, March 17, 1864.

It needs not to be a secret, that I wish success to emancipation in Maryland. It would aid much to end the rebellion. Hence it is a matter of national consequence, in which every national man, may rightfully feel a deep interest. I sincerely hope the friends of the measure will allow no minor considerations to divide and distract them. Yours truly A. LINCOLN