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The Madera Tribune

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A pardon for Nixon wasn’t enough

March 7, 2019

For The Madera Tribune
Former U.S. President Gerald Ford.

President Gerald Ford created a national controversy when he pardoned Richard Nixon in August 1974. That, however, didn’t stop him from signing another controversial pardon a year later.


He granted this one to someone who had made application for a pardon 110 years earlier but never received it.


After the Civil War ended, any Confederate soldier could apply for a pardon and have his citizenship restored.


One Southern officer decided to do just that.


Before the pardon could be granted, however, the officer had to take an oath of allegiance to the Union. Such a move was considered to be controversial in a South that was still not reconciled to its defeat. Nevertheless, the ex-Confederate officer went ahead with it.

 

The necessary oath of allegiance finally wound up on the desk of Secretary of State Seward, but instead of passing it on to the president,he inexplicably gave it to a friend as a souvenir — perhaps purposely wanting to derail the application for a pardon.

 

Weeks passed into months and months into years without any action having been taken on the officer’s request for a pardon. Sadly, in 1870, the old soldier died without receiving the pardon or having his citizenship restored.


The matter was conveniently forgotten for the next hundred years. Then by some miracle, a researcher at the National Archives discovered the officer’s amnesty oath among State Department records.

 

The document was forwarded through the proper channels until it finally reached the president’s desk. In 1975, the ex-Confederate officer’s full rights of citizenship were posthumously restored as President Gerald Ford signed his official pardon.

 

And by now you likely know it was Robert E. Lee who had sought that pardon.


In a forgiving twist in time, he finally got his wish, and his citizenship was restored.


At the Aug. 5, 1975, signing ceremony, President Gerald R. Ford acknowledged the discovery of Lee’s Oath of Allegiance in the National Archives and remarked:


“General Lee’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.”


Now the old soldier can finally rest in peace.

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