What Is the Amnesty Act of 1872?

The Amnesty Act of 1872 returned the right to hold office to most of the secessionists who rebelled during the Civil War. The federal government offered the Confederacy amnesty to encourage loyalty and smooth the way for Reconstruction. The Amnesty Act of 1872 was part of a series of acts that granted certain groups of Confederate citizens amnesty and the return of their property and homes.

By 1872, Ulysses S. Grant had assumed the presidency from Andrew Johnson and became responsible for implementing Congress' Reconstruction efforts. During his presidency, he recognized all of the Confederate states as members of the United States with new state governments and federal representation. The Amnesty Act of 1872 excluded only 500 Confederate sympathizers in total.

With their political powers restored, Southern states began electing Democratic candidates to office, intimidating African-American citizens from either voting or running for office. The Republicans eventually agreed to end the radical Reconstruction efforts, leaving the South in the hands of the former Confederacy; this was followed in 1877 by the withdrawal of federal troops, leaving African-Americans to defend their civil rights themselves. Southern blacks found themselves forced into the lives of tenant farmers, beginning a cycle of poverty. The failure of Reconstruction delayed the push for equal rights until the 20th century.