Page images



field Scott is ordered to be placed, and heroby is placed, upon the list of retired officers of the army of the United States, without reduction of his current pay, subsistence, or allowances.

The American people will hear with sadness and deep emotion that General Scott has withdrawn from the active control of the army, while the President and unanimous Cabinet express their own and the nation's sympathy in his personal affliction, and their profound sense of the important public services rendered by him to his country during his long and brilliant career, among which will ever be gratefully distinguished his faithful devotion to the Constitution, the Union, and the Flag, when assailed by parricidal rebellion.


The command of the army then devolved by appointment upon Major-General McClellan, who had been recalled from Western Virginia after the battle of Bull Run, and had devoted himself to the task of recruiting the army in front of Washington, and preparing it for the defence of the capital, and for a fresh advance upon the forces of the rebellion.

It cannot have escaped attention that thus far, in its policy concerning the war, the government had been very greatly influenced by a desire to prevent the Border Slave States from joining the rebel confederacy. Their accession would have added immensely to the forces of the rebellion, and would have increased very greatly the labor and difficulty of its suppression. The administration and Congress had, therefore, avoided, so far as possible, any measures in regard to slavery which could needlessly excite the hostile prejudices of the people of the Border States. The Confiscation Act affected only those slaves who should be "required or permitted" by their masters to render service to the rebel cause. It did not in any respect change the condition of any others. The President, in the executive department, acted upon the same principle. The question first arose in Virginia, simultaneously at Fortress Monroe and in the western part of the state. On the 26th of May, General McClellan issued an address to the peo

ple of the district under his command, in which he said to them, "Understand one thing clearly not only will we abstain from all interference with your slaves, but we will, on the contrary, with an iron hand crush any attempt at insurrection on their part." On the 27th of May, General Butler, in command at Fortress Monroe, wrote to the Secretary of War that he was greatly embarrassed by the number of slaves that were coming in from the surrounding country and seeking protection within the lines of his camp. He had determined to regard them as contraband of war, and to employ their labor at a fair compensation, against which should be charged the expense of their support the relative value to be adjusted afterwards. The Secretary of War, in a letter dated May 30th, expressed the approval by the Government of the course adopted by General Butler, and directed him, on the one hand, to " 'permit no interference by the persons under his command with the relations of persons held to service under the laws of any state," and on the other, to "refrain from surrendering to alleged masters any such persons who might come within his lines."

On the 8th of August, after the passage of the Confiscation Act by Congress, the Secretary of War again wrote to General Butler, setting forth somewhat more fully the views of the President and the administration upon this subject, as follows:

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 Union and for the preservation of all constitutional rights of States and the citizens of the States in the Union. Hence 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 proceeding, which must be respected by military and civil authorities alike, will suffice for the enforcement of all legal claims. But in States wholly or partially under insurrectionary control, where the laws of the United States are so far opposed and resisted that they cannot be effectually enforced, it



is obvious that rights dependent on the execution of those laws must temporarily fail; and it is equally obvious that rights dependent on the laws of the States within which military operations are conducted must be necessarily subordinated to the military exigencies created by the insurrection, if not wholly forfeited by the treasonable conduct of parties claiming them. To this general rule rights to services can form no exception.

The act of Congress approved August 6th, 1861, declares that if persons held to service shall be employed in hostility to the United States, the right to their services shall be forfeited, and such persons shall be discharged therefrom. It follows of necessity that no claim can be recognized by the military authorities 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 services of such fugitives can be claimed, must needs be wholly, or almost wholly suspended, as to 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 inconveniences, embarrassments, and injuries.

Under these circumstances it seems quite clear that the substantial rights of loyal masters will be 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 name and description of the fugitives, the name and the character, as loyal or disloyal, of the master, and such facts as may be necessary to a correct understanding of the circumstances of each case after tranquillity 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 just compensation to loyal masters. In this way only, it would seem, can the duty and safety of the Government, and the just rights of all, be fully reconciled and harmonized.

You will therefore consider yourself as instructed to govern your future action, in respect to fugitives from service, by the principles herein 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 peaceful citizens, in house or field, nor will you, in any way, encourage such servants to leave the lawful service of their masters; nor will you, except in cases where the public safety may seem to require it, prevent the voluntary return of any fugitive to the service from which he may have escaped.

The same policy was adopted in every part of the country, All interference with the internal institutions of any state was expressly forbidden; but the Government would avail itself of the services of a portion of the slaves, taking care fully to provide for compensation to loyal masters. On the 16th of August, Hon. C. B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior, in a speech made at Providence, R. I., took occasion to declare the policy of the administration upon this subject. Its theory, said he, is that "the states are sovereign within their spheres; the Government of the United States has no more right to interfere with the institution of slavery in South Carolina than it has to interfere with the peculiar institution of Rhode Island whose benefits I have enjoyed."

On the 31st of August, General Fremont, commanding the western department, which embraced Missouri and a part of Kentucky, issued an order "extending and declaring established martial law throughout the state of Missouri," and declaring that "the property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken an active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men." The President regarded this order as transcending the authority vested in him by the Act of Congress, and wrote to General Fremont, calling his attention to this point, and requesting him to modify his proclamation so as to make it conform to the law. General Fremont, desiring to throw off from himself the responsibility of changing his action, desired an explicit order—whereupon the President thus addressed him :



WASHINGTON, D. C., September 11, 1861.

Major-General JOHN C. FREMONT:

SIR: Yours of the 8th, in answer to mine of the 2d inst., was 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 said proclamation be so modified, held 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 the said act be published at length with this order. Your obedient servant,


These views of the Government were still farther enforced in a letter from the Secretary of War to General T. W. Sherman, who commanded the expedition to Port Royal, and in orders issued by General Dix in Virginia on the 17th of November, and by General Halleck, who succeeded General Fremont in the western department, prohibiting fugitive slaves from being received within the lines of the army. During all this time strenuous efforts were made in various quarters to induce the President to depart from this policy, and not only to proclaim a general emancipation of all the slaves, but to put arms in their hands and employ them in the field against the rebels. But they were ineffectual. The President adhered firmly and steadily to the policy which the then existing circumstances of the country, in his judgment, rendered wise and necessary; and he was sustained in this action by the public sentiment of the loyal States, and by the great body

« PreviousContinue »