Publish date:
Updated on

Truman considers amnesty for draft dodgers

On this day in 1946, President Harry S. Truman appoints an amnesty board to review cases of conscientious objectors (CO’s) who were imprisoned after refusing to serve during World War II.

Truman’s predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, had pardoned select World War I “draft dodgers” in 1933. In preparation for the Second World War, Roosevelt tried to avoid jailing CO’s by offering them the opportunity to participate in a domestic civil-service program instead that included work on farms and in hospitals. Although approximately 25,000 men did take FDR up on his offer or joined the military and served in non-combat roles, 15,000 more chose not to support the war effort at all–some of these were charged with violating federal conscription law and imprisoned. Truman, in the spirit of forgiveness, appointed the board to review individual cases of those who were jailed, with the idea that anyone who had been unjustly punished would be pardoned.

A year later, the board reported back to Truman. Of the 15,000 violators of the World War II Selective Service Act, only 1,500 were considered entitled to full amnesty. Most were members of historically “pacifist” religious sects such as the Quakers and Mennonites. On December 23, 1947, Truman granted pardons to those 1,500 and restored their political and civil rights. (Those who had originally been jailed as convicted “felons” lost voting rights, and even after their release were prevented from obtaining certain jobs or holding public office.) As the board was given the power to define what constituted a legitimate “religious organization,” hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses were not considered, nor were those who protested the war for personal reasons other than religion, including the belief that the draft violated the U.S. Constitution.

In 1948, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, then a human rights activist, was approached by several religious and civil rights organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee, the Federal Council of Churches and the American Civil Liberties Union to advocate on their behalf for broader amnesty. Eleanor wrote to Truman and asked for a review of the thousands who had yet to be considered for pardons. Truman wrote back, admitting that he had little sympathy for the majority of conscientious objectors; in fact, he viewed them with contempt, believing them to be “just plain cowards or shirkers.” Truman believed that many CO’s used religion as an excuse to avoid service and told Eleanor that he thought all the “honest” conscientious objectors had been identified by his Amnesty Board. Truman was not the only president to grant clemency to draft dodgers: Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter offered pardons in 1974 and 1977 respectively.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


“Balloon Boy” parents sentenced in Colorado

On this day in 2009, Richard Heene, who carried out a hoax in which he told authorities his 6-year-old son Falcon had floated off in a runaway, saucer-shaped helium balloon, is sentenced to 90 days in jail in Fort Collins, Colorado. Heene’s wife Mayumi received 20 days of jail more

Voyager completes global flight

After nine days and four minutes in the sky, the experimental aircraft Voyager lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California, completing the first nonstop flight around the globe on one load of fuel. Piloted by Americans Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, Voyager was made mostly of more

Japanese war criminals hanged in Tokyo

In Tokyo, Japan, Hideki Tojo, former Japanese premier and chief of the Kwantung Army, is executed along with six other top Japanese leaders for their war crimes during World War II. Seven of the defendants were also found guilty of committing crimes against humanity, especially more

Operation Linebacker II continues

The East German Embassy and the Hungarian commercial mission in Hanoi are hit in the eighth day of Operation Linebacker II. Although there were reports that a prisoner of war camp holding American soldiers was hit, the rumor was untrue. President Nixon initiated the full-scale more

Harris makes Immaculate Reception

On December 23, 1972, in a controversial play that is known as the “Immaculate Reception,” rookie running back Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers grabs a deflected pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw to score a touchdown, winning the game for the Steelers 13-7 over the more

Bernhard Goetz goes on the lam

Bernhard Goetz, who shot four young black men on a subway car the previous day, flees New York City and heads for New Hampshire after becoming the central figure in a media firestorm. On the afternoon of December 22, Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey, and James Ramseur more

Crew of USS Pueblo released by North Korea

The crew and captain of the U.S. intelligence gathering ship Pueblo are released after 11 months imprisonment by the government of North Korea. The ship, and its 83-man crew, was seized by North Korean warships on January 23 and charged with intruding into North Korean waters. more

Davis declares Butler a felon

On this day in 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis declares Union General Benjamin Butler a felon and insists that he beexecuted if captured. Butler had earned few friends in New Orleans; indeed, his treatment of the city’s residents outraged most Southerners. The Union more