Political Apologies Archive

AHDA Political Apology

How does the act of apologizing enable societies to come to terms with their past?

Political apologies can be a powerful tool in the re-examination of a nation's history, and the significance this history has on democratic processes. The project includes a working list of political apologies throughout history that political scientist Graham Dodds has researched and compiled.

This is a working list of major political apologies and related events. The selection criteria for compiling the list are somewhat loose, but the intent is to include any and all apologies that involve states, nations, or major political groups and actors, generally for significant public wrongs. Thus, apologies by individual politicians for more narrow matters (e.g., alleged personal or criminal failings) are generally excluded.

Should you wish to add to the list, please e-mail ahda@columbia.edu.

Date of Apology Title Summary Source
1077 Church-State Conflicts

Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV apologizes to Pope Gregory VII for church-state conflicts by standing barefoot in the snow for three days.

 

 

“Once More, With Feeling.” Time. September 21, 1998.
1403 1403 Proclamation Apologizing to the Peasantry

Queen Margaret I of Denmark issues a proclamation apologizing to the peasantry for the “great burden and much toil” caused by the “wantonness, greed and willfulness” of her clerks, bailiffs, and herself.

Moberg, Vilhelm A. A History of the Swedish People. University of Minnesota, 2005. Vil. 1, p208. I am indebted to Steven Pinker for this reference.
1697 Salem witch trials of 1692

One judge and twelve jurors apologize for the Salem witch trials of 1692, as the colony declares a day of fasting and prayer to atone for the injustices.

Norton, Mary Beth. “The Called It Witchcraft.” New York Times. October 31, 2002. A27.
1697 1697: Salem witch trials

One judge and twelve jurors apologize for the Salem witch trials of 1692, as the colony declares a day of fasting and prayer to atone for the injustices.

Norton, Mary Beth. “The Called It Witchcraft.” New York Times. October 31, 2002. A27
1711 1711 compensation for the families of the victims of the Salem witch prosecutions

Massachusetts compensates the families of the victims of the Salem witch prosecutions.

Norton, Mary Beth. “The Called It Witchcraft.” New York Times. October 31, 2002. A27.
June 1731 1731 Benjamin Franklin-“Apology for Printers,”

In the U.S., Benjamin Franklin responds to criticisms about printing controversial essays by various authors in his Pennsylvania Gazette by issuing an “Apology for Printers,” which he then regularly reissues.

Brands, H.W. The First American. Anchor Books, 2000. p115.
1811 1807: Leopard-Chesapeake

Britain apologizes to the U.S. for the 1807 Leopard-Chesapeake incident and makes restitution.

Dickson, Charles. The Foreign Burial of American War Dead. Mcfarland, 2011. p13
1859 1859: The U.S. signs a treaty with Paraguay

 The U.S. signs a treaty with Paraguay, in which Paraguay apologizes for firing on the USS Water Witch in 1855.

“The Treaty with Paraguay.” New York Times. April 18, 1859
1863 1863: USA- Thanks giving to commemorate the Civil War

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issues a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday, enjoining the nation to repent for “our national perverseness and disobedience” to God during the Civil War and asking forgiveness for the sins that led to so many deaths.

“How the Story Goes.” (Editorial.) New York Times. November 28, 2002; Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher.
16 January 1865 1865: U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman - newly frees slaves in South Carolina to receive forty acres of land

U.S. General William Tecumseh Sherman issues Special Field Order #15, calling for newly frees slaves in South Carolina to receive forty acres of land

Weiner, Brian A. Sins of the Parents. Temple, 2005. p166.
1865 1865 First Mother’s Day celebration in West Virginia

Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis organizes the first Mother’s Day celebration in West Virginia, as a way of bringing together people of different political beliefs to benefit Civil War veterans

Tabler, David. “The WV family that brought us Mother’s Day.” www.appalachianhistory.net. May 5, 2011.
1871 1871 Britain pays monetary compensation to the US

 Britain pays monetary compensation for the use of its warships by the South to harass Union shipping lanes in the U.S. Civil War.

Bowering, George. Stone Country. Penguin, 2003. p155
27 January 1892 1892: Chile - U.S. indemnity for soldiers killed or injured by a mob in Valparaiso

Chile officially apologizes and agrees to pay an indemnity for U.S. sdiers killed or injured by a mob in Valparaiso in October, 1891.  (U.S. President Benjamin Harrison had threatened to seek a declaration of war over the incident in December, 1891.

Taylor, Tim. The Book of Presidents. Arno Press, 1972. p267.
2 August 1894 1894: Japan -Great Britain compensation for sinking the British ship Kow Shing.

Japan reportedly apologizes and offers to pay compensation to Great Britain for its cruiser Naniwa mistakenly firing upon and sinking the British ship Kow Shing.  Japanese officials in London deny the report.

Japan Makes Apology.” New York Times. August 2, 1894; “The Kow-Shing Affair Again.” New York Times. October 2, 1894
19 July 1911 1911: Spain -France regret for the arrest of a consular agent

Spain expresses regrets to France for the arrest of a consular agent in Morocco.

“Spanish Apology to France.” New York Times. July 20, 1911
November 1911 1911: Russia demands an apology from Persia

 Russia demands that Persia apologize for the treatment of it Consul in Teheran, and Persia offers an apology, but Russia deems it unsatisfactory.

“Russian Ultimatum Is Sent to Persia.” New York Times. November 6, 1911; “Persia’s Apology.” The Register. November 28, 1911.
1914 1914 USA dissatisfied with a Mexican general’s apology

1914:  U.S. President W. Wilson expresses dissatisfaction with a Mexican general’s apology for arresting American sailors in Tampico.

Blum, John Morton. The Progressive Presidents. Norton, 1980. p84. See also Clements, Hendrick A. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Kansas, 1992. p98.
9 April 1914 1914: USA negotiates a treaty with Colombia

U.S. President W. Wilson negotiates a treaty with Colombia that provides an indemnity and an apology for Theodore Roosevelt seizing Panama.

Blum, John Morton. Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality. Little, Brown, 1956. p86.
February 1916 1916: Germany-USA Regret for loss of lives on the Lusitania

Germany expresses regret and offers to pay an indemnity for the loss of American lives on the Lusitania and other vessels.  President Wilson had requested an apology and reparation.

Blum, John Morton. Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality. Little, Brown, 1956. p103
9 May 1916 1916: Germany- France Germany apologizes for sinking the Sussex

Germany apologizes for sinking the Sussex, an unarmed French vessel in the English channel on March 24.



 

 

Taylor, Tim. The Book of Presidents. Arno Press, 1972. p335.

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