Following the American Civil War, President Andrew Johnson and the Republican Congress were at odds over many aspects of Reconstruction policy, including the political rights of former Confederates. Johnson granted amnesty liberally, excluding only a few classes of individuals who would have to write him personally for pardon. Such requests were honored so indiscriminately that the applications tell us little about the applicants’ real wartime actions and political beliefs. When Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment, however, the seldom-remembered third section banned southerners who held prewar offices and subsequently aided the Confederacy from again holding office under Reconstruction. This “disability” could only be removed by a two-thirds vote of Congress. Between 1868 and 1872, Congress passed several bills removing the disabilities of some 4,600 former Confederates. The process by which they were relieved of their disabilities was more rigorous than Johnsonian amnesty, as is reflected in their petitions. The applications also lend insight into the war record and postwar activities of those southerners whom a Republican Congress considered “reconstructed.”
Left: Petition #6050, Petitions for Removal of Political Disabilities Under the Fourteenth Amendment, Georgia HR40A-H21, National Archives and Records Administration.
One such application was made by James J. Findley of Hall County, Georgia. Findley’s application is representative in its brevity. First, he states the office that he held prior to the war: state legislator. Second, he states his wartime service in the Confederate army, in which he rose to the rank of colonel. Third, he states his postwar partisan loyalties: he “supported Gen. Grant for President and do belong to the Republican party and shall continue to give my support to that party whether pardoned or not.” Whether Findley would have adhered to the party without its support might reasonably be doubted, and the application itself does not fully document his wartime and postwar activities. Nevertheless, the reverse side of the application indicates that Findley was truly a trusted Republican, as his application is endorsed by the Republican governor, Rufus Bullock, the state comptroller general, Madison Bell, and the chairman of the state Republican committee, Foster Blodgett. These recommendations were necessary to get Findley’s name added to a bill that removed his disability and allowed him to subsequently run for Congress as a Republican.
Right: Personal connections to prominent politicians were useful for former Confederates seeking to remove their "disability" during Reconstruction. Governor Rufus Bullock, pictured here, endorsed James J. Findley's application. (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
Findley’s pardon reflects the efforts of the Republican Party to reconstruct the South. The northern leadership made sure that Confederates who joined the Republican Party were privileged in their ability to run state governments over unrepentant Confederates. Joining the party—or at least accepting the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments—was essential for a white southerner to be recognized as a “reconstructed” Confederate.
The names of these reconstructed rebels can also be matched to census data and manuscripts. Findley was a former slaveholder, but not your typical planter—he was a businessman who earned most of his wealth from mining. He was also a good friend of Joseph Brown, Georgia’s wartime governor and most prominent postwar convert to the Republican Party. With applications like Findley’s the historian can follow a trail of evidence that will explain the background, networks, and efforts of reconstructed rebels.