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Doc. 81.-the Amnesty proclamation.

The following is a circular letter of the Law Department of the Administration to the District Attorneys of the United States, explaining the provisions of the President's proclamation of amnesty:

Attorney-General's office, Washington, February 19, 1864.
sir: Many persons against whom criminal indictments, or against whose property proceedings under the confiscation laws are pending in the courts of the United States, growing out of the participation of such persons in the existing rebellion, have, in good faith, taken the oath prescribed by the proclamation of the President of eighth December, 1863, and have therefore entitled themselves to full pardon and restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves and where rights of third parties have intervened, which that proclamation offers and secures.

The President's pardon of a person guilty of acts of rebellion, will, of course, relieve that person from the penalties incurred by his crime, and, where. an indictment is pending against him therefor, the production of the pardon signed by the President, or of satisfactory evidence that he has complied with the conditions on which the pardon is offered, (if he be not of the class excepted from the benefits of the proclamation,) will be a sufficient reason for discontinuing such criminal proceedings, and discharging him from custody therein.

Nor is it less doubtful that a bona fide acceptance of the terms of the President's proclamation by persons guilty of acts of rebellion, and not of the excepted class, will secure to such persons a restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves and where the rights of third parties shall have intervened, notwithstanding such property may, by reason of those acts of rebellion, have been subject to confiscation under the provisions of the confiscation acts of sixth of August, 1861, chapter 60, and seventeenth July, 1862, chapter 195. For, without adverting to any other source of power in the President to restore or protect their rights of property, the thirteenth section of the act of seventeenth July, 1862, authorizes the President at any time thereafter, by proclamation to extend to persons who may have participates in the existing rebellion in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions, and at such time and on such conditions, as he may deem expedient for the public welfare. It will hardly be questioned, I suppose, that the purpose of this section, inserted in a law mainly intended to reach the property of persons engaged in rebellion, was to vest the President with full power to relieve such persons, on such conditions as he should prescribe, from the penalty of loss of their property by confiscation.

Although the proceedings for confiscation under the acts of August sixth, 1861, and July seventeenth, 1862, are in rem, against the property seized, yet, under both acts, the ground of condemnation is the personal guilt of the owner, in aiding the rebellion. By the pardon and amnesty, not only is the punishment of that personal guilt remitted, but the offence itself is effaced, that being the special effect of an act of amnesty by the Government. Of course, it arrests and puts an end to all penal proceedings founded thereon, whether they touch the persons or the property of the offender.

There is, therefore, no case of judicial proceedings to enforce the penalties of acts of rebellion which cannot be reached and cured by the constitutional or statutory power of the President to grant pardon and amnesty, whether the proceedings be against the person of the offender by criminal indictment or against his property under the confiscation act referred to.

The President has accordingly directed me to instruct you that, in any case where proceedings have been commenced and are pending and undetermined in the District or Circuit Court of the United States for your district, against a person charged with acts of rebellion, and not of the excepted class, whether they be by indictment or by seizure and libel of his property for confiscation, (the rights of other parties not having intervened,) you will discontinue and put an end to those proceedings, whenever the person so charged shall produce evidence satisfactory to you that he has, in good faith, taken the oath and complied with the conditions prescribed by the President's proclamation of eighth December, 1863. Nor is it necessary that the evidence which he produces should be a deed of pardon, signed by the President. It would be quite impossible for the President to furnish the multitudes who are now availing themselves of the benefits of the proclamation, and who are likely to do so hereafter, with this formal evidence of pardon. It will be sufficient to justify your action, if the party seeking to be relieved from further proceedings, shall prove to your full satisfaction that he has, in good faith, taken the oath, and brought himself within the conditions of pardon and amnesty set forth in the proclamation. If, in any case, you have good reason to believe that the oath has been taken for the mere purpose of obtaining the possession of personal property seized under the confiscation acts, with intent to remove it from the subsequent reach of the officers of the law, you will make report of the facts and reasons for your belief to this office before discontinuing the proceedings or restoring such property to the possession of the owner.

Forfeitures under the fifth section of the act of thirteenth July, 1861, chapter 3, are not of the class reached by the President's proclamation; for, under that act, the question whether the property seized is subject to forfeiture depends upon the predicament of the property itself, and not [384] upon the personal guilt or innocence of its owner. In this respect, forfeitures under that act have more resemblance to cases of prize of war captured at sea as enemy's property, than to proceedings under the acts of August, 1861, and July, 1862. Such forfeitures are enforced, not so much to punish the owner for disloyal acts, as to prohibit commercial intercourse, and to weaken the public enemy, which are always efficient instruments and legitimate effects of public war. But although the remissions of forfeitures under the act of July, 1861, are thus not within the scope of the proclamation of pardon, still ample power is conferred on the Secretary of the Treasury by the eighth section of that act to mitigate or remit all forfeitures and penalties incurred under the act. And it is not to be doubted that in all proper cases under that act, where the owner of the property, residing in the territory in rebellion, complies with the conditions of the proclamation, that the Secretary of the Treasury will exercise the power of remission of such forfeitures in the same spirit of generous forbearance and liberality which inspires and characterizes the proclamation.

Very respectfully, etc.,

Titian J. Coffey, Acting Attorney-General.

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