The following educational document corresponds with Unit Eight: Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.
One of the major divisions between poor and prosperous whites occured near the beginning of Presidential Reconstruction. When Andrew Johnson became president following Lincoln's assassination, his priority was to restore order to the South now that the Confederacy had collapsed. To begin that process, he had to retreat from some of his statements a year earlier when he called for the treason of Confederate leaders to be dealt with harshly. As a practical matter, and in an attempt to treat white southerners as Lincoln had wished, "with malice toward none," Johnson issued a wide-ranging "Amnesty Proclamation" on May 29, 1865. Under its terms, the average Confederate soldier was pardoned, since Johnson had long felt that planters had bulldozed average, decent southerners into secession. There were, however, fourteen classes of people who were excepted from the amnesty, and they would have to petition the President individually to have him consider their cases. Over half of the fifteen thousand who petitioned for pardons did so because they owned more than $20,000 worth of property before the war. In the document below, a carriage maker and postmaster from Pendleton, in Anderson County, South Carolina, explains his situation to Johnson and requests a pardon.
J. B. Sitton's Petition for a Presidential Pardon
To His Excellency
President of the United States
The undersigned, a citizen of Anderson District, State of South Carolina, begs leave to represent that he is one of the excepted classes in your Excellency's Amnesty Proclamation and respectfully and earnestly invokes the clemency of your Excellency in his behalf for pardon. He is fifty four years of age, has eight children, was a union man and Jackson Democrat and the only one left in the village of Pendleton competent to fill the office, was without solicitations on his part appointed Postmaster in 1835 and continued in discharge of the duties of said until 1st May 1861 when by a Proclamation issued by Hon. John H. Regan then claiming to exercise the duties of Postmaster General of the Confederate States, he was ordered to send in his resignation as Postmaster at Pendleton and pay over all moneys, stamps & envelopes belonging to the United States to the Postmaster General at Washington D.C. which he did promptly. A commission was then sent to him and he felt in duty bound to serve as Postmaster until the surrender of Gen.s Lee and Johnson.
He would also represent that about the 1st of January 1862 without solicitation or knowledge on his part, a commission was sent him by Hon. A. G. McGrath Judge of the South Carolina District Court, as Receiver under the Sequestration Act for the Districts of Anderson Pickens Laurens Greenville & Spartanburg he at first refused to accept on the ground that being Postmaster he could not consistently hold both offices, but this objection was over ruled by being submitted to the District Attorney & Secretary of State, and he then accepted the office and remained in discharge of said office until the surrender of Gen. Lee. He has never been concerned in running the blockade or speculating in any way, has been a carriage maker for thirty five years and by his industry had made some property consisting of 13 servants houses lots & land bank accounts and promissory notes. His debtors paid him in Confederate bonds & notes, and he has lost seventy thousand dollars in that way, and nine tenths of his remaining credits, he regards as worthless on account of the parties having lost all their property in slaves, are utterly unable to pay. Consequently he is worth less than twenty thousand dollars. He has taken an oath of allegiance to the United States (in copy annexed) and expects to remain a loyal citizen of the same the short remainder of his days. With these facts stated candidly on his part, he hopes that you will hear and grant him a full pardon, and he will as in duty bond ever pray. He intends to be a loyal & faithful citizen & will behave himself as such.
J. B. Sitton
Source: Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons ("Amnesty Papers"), 1865-67. Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003; National Archives, Washington, D. C.
Questions to Consider