Understandably at the end of the Civil War, there was a great deal of bitterness against those who were perceived as being the "leaders" of the Rebellion. Obvious targets included those Confederate officers who had resigned form the Untied States Army to follow their states.
Following President Lincoln's instructions and his own desire to "Let us have Peace," General Grant granted Lee and those who surrendered t Appomattox paroles which prevented the more vindictive of the Northern leadership from trying Lee or any of his officers and men for treason.
And, over the next few years, the ex-Confederates were granted amnesty by presidential proclamation.
Although the various amnesty acts and the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited certain classes of ex-Confederates from filling many United States political and military positions, they did secure personal liberty and, over time, even the prohibitions against former Confederates becoming officers in the United States Army and Navy were lifted.
Robert E. Lee died in 1870, but the Army continued to receive letters concerning his status -- enough letters that the adjutant general's office eventually established a formal "201" Personnel File for the long dead general. Now in the National Archives, and available on microfilm (M-2063), Lee's 201 File contains information from his appointment to West Point to his resignation in 1861 and on after his death.
Copied here is a letter from RG 407, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1917-, sent in 1945 in response to a request from a woman in California. It is, in effect, a form letter, sent out in the name of the Adjutant General by a clerk.
It is important because the sequence of pardons, declarations of amnesty and various laws applied to other ex-Confederates, as well as General Lee.
One minor error: it reports that when Lee applied for a Presidential Pardon, he failed to include the Oath of Allegiance as required by law. A few years ago the oath turned up, misfiled, perhaps deliberately by someone who did not want to see Lee pardoned. Bob Huddleston
Lee, Robert E.
(16 Jan 45) RO-R
Mrs. Sam. A. Davis,
235 South Jackson,
Glendale 5, California.
Dear Mrs. Davis:
In response to your letter of 16 January 1945, herewith in a copy of my letter of 27 June 1936, regarding General Robert E. Lee, C.S.A.
"In a proclamation dated May 29, 1865 (13 Stat. 758), President Johnson granted, with certain exceptions, amnesty and pardon to all persons who have, directly or indirectly, participated in the existing rebellion * * *. Among the persons excepted from the operation of this proclamation were
"3rd. All who shall have been military or naval officers of said pretended confederate government above the rank of colonel in the army or lieutenant in the navy;
"5th. All who resigned or tendered resignations of their commissions in the army or navy of the United States to evade duty in resisting the rebellion;
"8th. All military and naval officers in the rebel service, who were educated by the government in the Military Academy at West Point or the United States Naval Academy."
"Persons who sought to accept the benefits of this proclamation were required to take and subscribe to, maintain inviolate, an oath of allegiance prescried therein.
"General Lee, although not included within the terms of this proclamation by reason of the above quoted exceptions, made application for a pardon which, however, appears never to have been aced upon by President Johnson. The required oath of allegiance did not accompany General Lees applciation (War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. XLVI, Part III, pp. 1275-1286).
"On July 4, 1868, President Johnson issued another proclamation of amnesty and pardon (15 Stat. 702) which was much broader in its application than that of May 29, 1865, in that it granted
"* * * unconditionally and without reservation, to all and to every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion, excepting such person or persons as may be under presentment or indictment in any court of the United States having competent jurisdiction, upon a charge of treason or other felony, a full pardon and amnesty for the offence of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war * * *".
"No oath of allegiance or other act was required of those who were pardoned by the amnesty of July 4, 1868, above cited.
"It would appear that this amnesty proclamation operated to pardon General Lee for the offense of treason for, so far as is known, General Lee was not under presentment or indictment upon a charge of treason or other felony.
"On July 13, 1868, nine days after the proclamation last above referred to, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the last State necessary for its adoption.
"The third section of this amendment materially restricted the political rights of former officers of the United States who had participated in the rebellion against them, unless relieved from such disability by a vote of two-thirds of each House of Congress.
"In a proclamation dated December 25, 1868 (15 Stat. 711), President Johnson proclaimed and declared
" * * * unconditionally, and without reservation, to all and every person who directly or indirectly participated in the late insurrection or rebellion, a full pardon and amnesty for the offence of treason against the United States, or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.
"This proclamation following, as it did, the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendent, was necessarily limited in its operation by the restrictions imposed by that Amendement upon the Presidents pardoning power. The proclamation was operative, however, to pardon General Lee for the offense of treason and restore all to his former constittuional rights, privileges and immunities except the right to hold certain offices.
"Following General Lees death, October 12, 1870, Congress, by the acts of May 22, 1872 (17 Stat. 142), and June 6, 1898 (30 Stat. 432), removed all political disabilities imposed by the 3rd Section of the Fourteenth Amendment.
"It seems clear that General Lee was in fact pardoned by President Johnson, if not by the proclamation of July 4, 1868, then certainly by that of December 25, 1868, and that any politcal limitations to which he was subject by the Fourteenth Amendment were removed by the act of June 6, 1898.
"It is the opinion of the War Department that full and complete amnesty was accorded to General Lee by the several proclamations and acts of Congress above referred to, and that there remains no disability with respect to him upon which a further act of the Executive or of Congress could be operative even if he were still living."
The Adjutant General
201 File, Old Records Division, Adjutant General's Office, 1917- , RG 407, National Archives Microfilm M-2063, Military Service Records of Robert E. Lee