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President Andrew Johnson Pardons Confederate John C. Shelton, 1866


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


The power of the president to pardon those who commit offenses against the United States is enumerated in the Article Two of the U. S. Constitution. A presidential pardon is an executive order granting clemency for a conviction of a crime, with the exception of impeachment cases. Generally, pardons do not imply that the individual is innocent of committing the crime for which they were convicted.

One of the most controversial uses of the presidential pardon occurred when President Andrew Johnson issued sweeping pardons to thousands of former Confederate officials and soldiers after the American Civil War officially ended on April 9, 1865. The final surrender of all Confederate troops occurred on June 2, 1865. President Johnson issued a proclamation on May 29, 1865, extending amnesty to most former Confederate officials and soldiers. Despite the term "amnesty," the move was somewhat punitive on Johnson's part. He wanted to allow most Confederate soldiers to receive amnesty while punishing those who played more important and visible roles in the Confederacy. If a soldier qualified for a pardon, he had to swear a loyalty oath to the United States and free any slaves that he owned. The president included fourteen exception categories to the general pardon. They included soldiers who had attended the United States military and naval academies, former Confederate governors and other officials, high ranking officers, and participants in the rebellion who had property valued at more than $20,000. These individuals could still seek amnesty, but had to file a petition with the President.

John C. Shelton was Stafford County farmer who had owned enslaved laborers at the time of the 1860 census. He was not included in the general amnesty as a result of the thirteenth clause excluding those "persons who have voluntarily participated in said rebellion and the estimated value of whose taxable property is over $20,000." He filed a petition on April 13, 1866, stating that he did not bear arms or hold office in service to the Confederacy. President Johnson issued a pardon to James Shelton on July 5, 1866. The pardon is signed by both President Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.

Citation: Presidential pardon for John Shelton, July 5, 1866, Accession 24593, Shelton Family Papers, Library of Virginia.


VS.1, VS.7, VS.8, USI.1, USI.9, USII.1 USII.3, VUS.1, VUS.7

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