« PreviousContinue »
As early as May 27th, 1861, General Butler, in command at Fortress Monroe, had informed the War Department as to his views relative to the fugitive slaves—that they were to be regarded as “contraband of war"_and Secretary Cameron, under date of May 30th, had instructed that commander neither to permit any interference by persons under his command with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of any State ; nor, on the other hand, while such States remained in rebellion, to surrender such persons to their alleged masters, but to employ them in such service as would be most advantageous, keeping an account of the value of their labor and the expenses of their support—the question of their final disposition to be reserved for future determination.
At about the same time, General McClellan, advancing into Western Virginia to the aid of the loyal men of that section, used this language in his address to the people :
“ Notwithstanding all that has been said by the traitors to induce you to believe that our advent among you will be signalized by interference with your slaves, understand one thing clearly-not only will we abstain from all such interference, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand, crush any attempt at insurrection on their part."
On the 8th of August, Secretary Cameron, in reply to a second letter from General Butler upon the same subject, said :
“GENERAL:--The important question of the proper disposition to be made of fugitives from service in the States in insurrection against the Federal Government, to which you have again directed my attention, in your letter of July 20th, has received my most attentive consideration. It is the desire of the President that all existing rights in all the States be fully respected and maintained. The war now prosecuted on the part of the Federal Government is a war for the Duion.
Sec. Cameron's Letter.
Slaves of Loyal Masters
for the preservation of all the Constitutional rights of the States and the citizens of the States in the Union; hunce no question can arise as to fugitives from service within the States and Territories in which the authority of the Union is fully acknowledged. The ordinary forms of judicial proceedings must be respected by the military and civil authorities alike for the enforcement of legal forms. But in the States wholly or in part under insurrectionary control, where the laws of the United States are so far opposed and resisted that they can not be effectually enforced, it is obvious that the rights dependent upon the execution of these laws must temporarily fail, and it is equally obvious that the rights dependent on the laws of the States within which military operations are conducted must necessarily be subordinate to the military exigencies created by the insurrection, if not wbolly forfeited by the treasonable conduct of the parties claiming them. To this the general rule of the right to service forms an exception. The act of Congress approved August 6, 1861, declares that if persons held to service shall be employed in hostility to the United States, the right to their services shall be discharged therefrom. It follows of necessity that no claim can be recognized by the military authority of the Union to the services of such persons when fugitives.
“A more difficult question is presented in respect to persons escaping from the service of loyal masters. It is quite apparent that the laws of the State under which only the service of such fugitives can be claimed must needs be wholly or almost wholly superseded, as to the remedies, by the insurrection and the military measures necessitated by it; and it is equally apparent that the substitution of military for judicial measures for the enforcement of such claims must be attended by great inconvenience, embarrassments and injuries. Under these circumstances, it seems quite clear that the sub
antial rights of loyal masters are still best protected by
receiving such fugitives, as well as fugitives from disloyal masters, into the service of the United States, and employing them under such organizations and in such occupations as circumstances may suggest or require. Of course a record should be kept showing the names and descriptions of the fugitives, the names and characters, as loyal or disloyal, of their masters, and such facts as may be necessary to a correct understanding of the circumstances of each case.
“After tranquility shall have been restored upon the return of peace, Congress will doubtless properly provide for all the persons thus received into the service of the Union, and for a just compensation to loyal masters. In this way only, it would seem, can the duty and safety of the Government and just rights of all be fully reconciled and harmonized. You will, therefore, consider yourself instructed to govern your future action in respect to fugitives from service by the premises berein stated, and will report from time to time, and at least twice in each month, your action in the premises to this Department You will, however, neither authorize nor permit any interference by the troops under your command with the servants of peaceable citizens in a house or field, nor will you in any manner encourage such citizens to leave the lawful service of their masters, nor will you, except in cases where the public good may seem to require it, prevent the voluntary return of any fugitive to the service from which he may have escaped."
The Act of Congress to which allusion has already been made, as providing for the confiscation of the estates of persons in open rebellion against the Government, limited the penalty to property actually employed in the service of the rebellion, with the knowledge and consent of its owners; and, instead of emancipating slaves thus employed, left the disposition to be made of them to be determined by the United States Courts, or by subsequent legislation
General Fremont, in command of the Department of Missouri, in an order dated August 30th, declaring martial law established throughout that State, used the following language:
“Real and personal property of those who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to bave taken an active part with their enemies in the field, is declared confiscated to public use, and their slaves, if any they bave, are hereby declared free men.”
This order violated the above-named act, and could only be justified upon the ground of imperative military necessity Some correspondence which passed between the President and General Fremont upon this topic, resulted in the following official letter, dated Washington, D. C., Sept. 11, 1861:
“ MAJOR GENERAL JOHN C. FREMONT :
SIR,—Yours of the 8th, in answer to mine of the 2d: inst., is just received. Assured that you, upon the ground, could better judge of the necessities of your position than I could at this distance, on seeing your proclamation of August 30, I perceived no general objection to it; the particular clause, however, in relation to the confiscation of property and the liberation of slaves, appeared to me to be objectionable in its non-conformity to the Act of Congress passed the 6th of last August, upon the same subjects, and hence I wrote you, expressing my wish that that clause should be modified accordingly. Your answer just received expresses the preference on your part that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very cheerfully do. It is, therefore, ordered that the said clause of the said proclamation be so modified, beld and construed, as to conform with, and not to transcend the provisions on the same subject contained in the Act of Congress entitled 'An Act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes,' approved
August 6, 1861, and that said Act be published at length with this order. “ Your obedient servant,
In the instructions from the War Department to General Sherman, in command of the land forces destined to operate on the South Carolina coast, that commander was directed to govern himself relative to this class of persons, by the principles of the letters addressed to General Butler, exercising, however, his own discretion as to special cases. If particular circumstances seemed to require it, they were to be employed in any capacity, with such organization in squads, companies, or otherwise, as should be by him deemed most beneficial to the service. This, however, not to mean a general arming of them for military service. All loyal masters were to be assured that Congress would provide just compensation to them for any loss of the services of persons so employed.
This phase-varying and indefinite—at that time did that question present, which was at a later period to take, under the moulding band of the President, body and form clearly defined and unmistakable.
The battle of Ball's Bluff-the first under the direction of the new commander on the Potomac-fought October 21st was but Bull Run repeated; happily, however, on a somewhat smaller scale. A convenient scapegoat upon whom to throw the responsibility-General Stone—was found, and the indignation of the country was measurably, and for the time, appeased.
Directly after this affair, the veteran Scott having asked to be relieved from active service, his request was granted in the following highly complimentary order :
" Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 1, 1861. “On the 1st day of November, A. D., 1861, upon his own application to the President of the United States, Brevet