1974 September 16

President Ford Offers Conditional Amnesty to Vietnam War Protesters


A little more than a month after becoming president, Gerald Ford offered a plan for conditional amnesty to Vietnam War protesters. He had initially announced his intentions in a speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. That took considerable courage, given the anger at Vietnam War protesters among many, if not most military veterans. For those men already convicted by a military or civilian court, Ford proposed a clemency review board that would review their cases and make recommendations for changes based on the principles of forgiveness, equity, and impartiality. Ford cited the examples of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman, who took steps to heal the wounds following the Civil War and World War II.

There is a long history of presidents granting pardons or amnesty to men still in prison following major wars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on December 23, 1933, granted amnesty of young men still in prison Espionage Act convictions during World War I. President Harry Truman, on December 24, 1947, granted pardons to 1,523 men still in prison for refusing to cooperate with the draft in World War I. And President Jimmy Carter, who succeeded Gerald Ford, went even further in the direction of amnesty for war protesters in one of his first acts as president (see January 21, 1977).

Ford:In my first week as President, I asked the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense to report to me, after consultation with other Governmental officials and private citizens concerned, on the status of those young Americans who have been convicted, charged, investigated, or are still being sought as draft evaders or military deserters…

“The program also deals with cases of those already convicted by a civilian or military court. For the latter purpose, I am establishing a clemency review board of nine distinguished Americans whose duty it will be to assist me in assuring that the Government’s forgiveness is extended to applicable cases of prior conviction as equitably and as impartially as is humanly possible.

“The primary purpose of this program is the reconciliation of all our people and the restoration of the essential unity of Americans within which honest differences of opinion do not descend to angry discord and mutual problems are not polarized by excessive passion.”

Read Ford’s speech: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=4713

Learn more: James Dickerson, North to Canada: Men and Women Against the Vietnam War (1999)

Read: Gerald Ford, A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford (1979)

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