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Amnesty Petition of George Davis, November 22, 1865

Title

Amnesty Petition of George Davis, November 22, 1865

Description

George Davis was a lawyer from the Porter’s Neck area (now Pender County, New Hanover County at the time), who practiced law in Wilmington, NC. (Powell 1986, 32) He was exempted from President Johnson’s general amnesty on the grounds that he served in the Confederate Congress, and eventually became attorney general to Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Any confederate who served as “civil or diplomatic officers” of the Confederacy were required to make a separate petition for amnesty. Davis argued that he deserved amnesty on the grounds that he was not a secessionist and served the state of North Carolina based on his loyalty to the state after secession occurred. He claims that in regards to secession he “strenuously opposed it, until the adjournment of the Peace Conference in February 1861.” (Item 864) He does not deny his service and loyalty to the confederacy, however, but says his petition is “honest and true as the faith I formerly pledged to the Confederate States.” (Item 864)

When Davis wrote his petition he was being held prisoner at Fort Hamilton in New York. He had attempted to flee North by way of ship from Key West when he was captured. (Patrick 1944, 361) Though all members of the Confederate Congress had to submit a petition for amnesty, Davis is unique in that he served in multiple offices for the Confederacy, and along with his own petition, many letters were written on his behalf. (Item 864) Even the governor at the time Jonathan Worth wrote to President Johnson pleading for Davis’ amnesty. He also chose to stay in the public eye after his parole by adamantly opposing reconstruction, though he did abstain from running for any public offices. However, he served as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention in 1866 in an effort to unite the ideas of Democrats and Republicans and also spoke out against the Radical Republican constitution proposed in 1868 and sought reforms. His political prowess earned him an invitation from Governor Vance in 1878 to be chief justice of the North Carolina state supreme court. (Powell 1986, 33) Though Davis declined this offer and never served in a public position again, he did remain politically active until his death in 1896, even having a statue of his likeness in downtown Wilmington to this day.

Davis’ amnesty petition is similar to others from high ranking Confederates at the time in that he claims to have been anti-secessionist. In looking at other petitioners from the same county, many make similar claims that they were very loyal to the union up to the point that North Carolina seceded and only then they became loyal to North Carolina, and the South. Brigadier General William MacRae for example, said that he was so anti-secession that he only joined the army at the low rank of private in loyalty to his state, and only by chance rose in the rank to become a commanding force in the Confederate Army due to his strong sense of duty. (Item 474) MacRae , like Davis, discusses his duty and honor in the Confederacy as an example of how he would be dutiful and honorable to the Union if granted amnesty. Both Davis and MacRae originally try to set them self apart from other confederates in saying that they were against secession- taking no part in secessionist talk- but then go on to describe their deep loyalty to the Confederate states that seceded. They use two different bargaining chips in appealing for amnesty.

While Davis did believe in preserving the Union before the war, his feelings after the Washington Peace Conference and his service directly to President Davis show that his loyalties were never to the Union, but rather to North Carolina and his own political beliefs. After serving as a delegate at the Washington Peace Conference in early 1861, he realized his views could not be supported in the Union, and thus adopted a secessionist attitude. He had returned from the convention convinced that “the South could not hope for justice at the hands of ‘Black Republicans’.” (Patrick 1944, 314) He even admits to this in his petition for amnesty by stating he was ever loyal to the union until the Peace Conference. (Item 864) By saying this, he is revoking anything he said before about being anti-secessionist considering did change his views just in time for the war. When North Carolina seceded Davis became a delegate for the state in the Confederate Congress- showing his willingness to support the Confederacy as soon as North Carolina withdrew from the United States. Davis was a secessionist by the time the secession occurred, thus making his petition for amnesty invalid.

There is a very similar double-sided nature in many of the petitioner’s letters. They pledge their loyalty to both the Union and the Confederacy all in same letter- and at times in the same sentence. This dichotomy gives little credibility to any of the amnesty petitions. Davis admits to his loyalty to the confederacy and his opposition to the Republicans in the same letter that he claims to be a faithful servant to President Johnson and the Union. (Item 864) This explanation is very weak and thus one cannot take Davis’ or many other amnesty petitions for fact or truth.

Creator

Davis, George

Source

George Davis, Amnesty Petition, November 22, 1865, Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons (“Amnesty Papers”), 1865-67, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94, Publication M1003, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Date

1865-11-22

Contributor

Cauley, Erin M.

Type

Document

Coverage

Wilmington, North Carolina
New Hanover County, North Carolina

Original Format

Government Document

Text

In Prison, Fort LaFayette, Nov. 22, 1865

His Excellency,

Andrew Johnson,
President of the United States

Sir,

Desiring and intending on good faith to accept and abide by all the results of the late unhappy contest. I now respectfully tender to you my honest and loyal submission to the authority and laws of the United States.

Such was my intention before my arrest, and when arrested at Key West I was only awaiting the arrival of a ship in which I might take passage to New York for that purpose.

My antecedents are well known to Gov. Holden of No Carolina to whom I respectfully refer your Excellency for information that can attest that I never advocated secession, but strenuously opposed it. Until the adjournment of the Peace Conference in February 1861 when it became apparent to me that I must choose whether I must choose to sustain the South against the Union or the Union against the South. Having chosen my part with upright motives, I abided in it faithfully to the end.

Permit me to indulge the hope that you will generously accept a submission which is as honest and true as the faith I formerly pledged to the United States.

I desire nothing now but to devote myself in private life to a quiet obedience to the laws of my country, and to providing for the necessities of my children.

I respectfully appeal to your Excellency for the exercise of your clemency on my behalf; and humbly pray that I may be pardoned for my offenses committed against the peace and dignity of the United States.

I have the honor to be,
Very Respectfully
Your obt sevt
Geo. Davis
Late attorney General of the Confederate States

Bibliography

Patrick, Rembert, W. Jefferson Davis and His Cabinety. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1944.

Powell, William, S. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. Vol 2. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

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Citation

Davis, George, Amnesty Petition of George Davis, November 22, 1865, Civil War Era NC, accessed December 14, 2017, https://cwnc.omeka.chass.ncsu.edu/items/show/864.