After his surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, there was no war to fight, and no army to lead. The Union had been preserved. Shortly afterwards, in June 1865, Lee applied to General Ulysses S. Grant for pardon. Grant enthusiastically forwarded it to the President "with the earnest recommendation" that Lee's request be granted. The White House apparently received Lee's application, but failed to act on it. Some say, because the separate oath of allegiance to the United States was not attached.
Some rights of citizenship were restored on Christmas Day 1868 when the president declared a general amnesty for all Confederate officials. Lee's citizenship could not be restored because of a provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution barring certain rights to anyone who "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the U.S. Full citizenship could be restored only by a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress.
Actually Lee had never renounced his U.S. citizenship. That precious right was lost when he took up arms against the United States. Confederate General Robert E. Lee died without citizenship, a man without a country even though he had taken an amnesty oath of allegiance to the U.S. on October 2, 1865. More than a century after Lee's death the old general finally became a full citizen of the United States.
In 1970, a century after General Lee's death, a former school teacher unearthed a long lost paper that led to the restoration of U.S. citizenship for Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Elmer O. Parker found Lee's signed oath of amnesty that had been buried in a 12 inch cardboard box in the National Archives. The 100 year-old oath immediately became the efforts of Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, to restore Lee's citizenship, which became embroiled in acrimonious Congressional debates over amnesty for draft dodgers and Vietnam deserters. A second attempt to pass the bill also failed, but was passed on the third attempt. Support came from as far away as Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Puerto Rico. The bill also had cosponsors representing states that had fought on opposing sides of the war. Watching proudly from the visitors' gallery during the House debate was Robert E. lee IV, the general's great-grandson. He beamed as the electronic tally board in the House chamber flashed the final vote: 407 to 10.
THE AMNESTY OATH OF GENERAL ROBERT E. LEE, DATED OCTOBER 2, 1865, AFTER THE WAR.
I, Robert E. Lee of Lexington, Virginia, do solemnly swear in the presence of almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Union of the states there under, and that I will, in like manner, abide by and faithfully support all laws and proclamation which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God." Signed, Robert E. Lee
Source: An article extracted from The Glennville Sentinel, Glennville, Ga., dated October 22, 1998, and contributed to the Brantley County Historical Society by Wayne J. Lewis. Summarized for publication on the GAGENWEB by Thomas Earl Cleland.