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CONFISCATION AND EMANCIPATION.
forbearance towards them. But the legislation which we are now to enact, is to be enforced when the rebel is disarmed, and lies bound and helpless in our prison, to receive, in unquestioning silence, the blow we now list over him. Do not talk to me of the danger of stimulating his hatred, or of aggravating his hostility by threatened severity; he has been at his murderous work for a twelvemonth. Do not talk to me of making him desperate; but we may with profit contemplate his changed fortune and temper, when subdued and abject, he awaits in chains, our utterance of his doom. We can deal with the rebels in only two ways; collectively in States, and severally as individuals.
" I would free the slave of every man and woman engaged in this rebellion. The guilt of the master should inure at least to the benefit of the slave, and from this huge crime should spring a greater beneficence.”
Mr. Sedgwick, of New York, said :
“ As the purpose of this war is to perpetuate slavery, and as this institution is the cause of the war, we will break it down, destroy and overthrow the institution. I am for destroying this hostile institution in every State that has made war upon the Government, and if we have military strength enough to reduce them to possession, I propose to leave not one slave in the wake of our advancing armies not one !!”
The bills passed the House on the 26th of May, and on the 231 of June, were taken up for consideration in the Senate. Finally, the Senate adopted its own bill as a substitute, and passed it. On the 3d of July, the JIouse took up the confiscation bill as amended by the Senate, and refused to concur in the Senate amendment, and a conference committee was appointed. This committee reported a bill combining confiscation and emancipation in one bill. It provided that all slaves of persons who should give aid and comfort to the rebellion, who should take refuge within the lines of the army; all slaves captured from rebels, or deserted by rebels and being under the control of the Government, and all slaves of rebels found or being within places occupied by rebel forces, and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free and not again held as slaves; that fugitive slaves should not be surrendered to persons who had given aid and comfort to the rebellion; that no person engaged in the military or naval service should surrender fugitive slaves on pain of being dismissed from the service, and that the President should be authorized to employ persons of African descent to suppress the rebellion, and that he might organize and use them in such manner as he might deem best for the public welfare. The report was accepted, and the bill, on the 17th of July, 1862, received the approval of the President, and became a law. This approval of the President, however, was not obtained until a joint resolution had been adopted by Congress, as follows:
" That the provisions of the third clause of the fifth section of An Act to suppress insurrection, to punish treason and rebellion, to seize and confiscate the property of rebels, and for other purposes,' shall be so construed as not to apply to any act or acts done prior to the passage thereof; nor to include any member of a State Legislature, or judge of any State court who has not, in accepting or entering upon his office taken an oath to support the Constitution of the so-called Confederate States of America ; nor shall any punishment or proceedings under said act be so construed as to work a forfeiture of the real estate of the offender, beyond his natural life.”
This law has been justly characterized as the first great act of emancipation. Its importance has not been fully appreciated. How comprehensive its terms. It declares that every slave claimed or held by a rebel should be freed. There were comparatively few slaves other than those claimed by rebels. It declares that every slave who should flee to, or take refuge within the army, should be free. was to carry liberty to every man who came under the flag.
The President, on the day of the approval of this bill, sent to Congress a message, in which he stated that he considered the confiscation act, and the joint resolution explanatory of said act, as being substantially one, and he therefore approved and signed both. He also communicated to Congress the draft of a message stating his objections to the bill, without the explanatory resolutions. This act, on the part of Mr. Lincoln, was one of the same frank and
character which always marked his intercourse with Congress. It is known, however, that he subsequently modified l:is views of the powers of Congress upon the subject of confiscation, and
it is believed that a year later he would have signed the bill without the joint resolution explanatory thereof.
While Congress had been discussing the great questions of emancipation and confiscation, the President had been most carefully considering the same subjects.
The following resolution and action of the popular branch of the National Legislature, as well as the debates in both Houses of Congress, exhibit the rapid progress of public sentiment on the subject of slavery. On the 2d of December, 1861, Mr. Elliott offered a resolution:
"Resolved, 1. That in behalf of the people of these States, we do * again solemnly declare that the war in which we are engaged against the insurgent bodies now in arms against the Government, has for its object the suppression of such rebellion, and the reëstablishment of the rightful authority of the National Constitution and laws over the entire extent of our common country.
2. That while we disclaim all power under the Constitution to interfere by ordinary legislation with the institutions of the several States, yet the war now existing must be conducted according to the usages and rights of military service, and that during its continuance, the recognized authority of the maxim that the safety of the State is the highest law, subordinates rights of property, and dominates over civil relations. 3. That, therefore, we do hereby declare that, in our judgment, the President of the United States, as the commander-in-chief of our army, and the officers in command under him, have the right to emancipate all persons held as slaves in any military district in a state of insurrection against the National Government, and that we respectfully advise that such order of emancipation be issued wherever the same will avail to weaken the power of the rebels in arms, or to strengthen the military power of the loyal forces.”
Which resolution, after being amended so as to insert after the word “slaves,” the words “held by rebels,” was, on the 17th, referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. The varied and excited discussions, bills, and numerous resolutions on the subject of emancipation, have been already alluded to. It was obvious that as the war was being waged by the insurgent States to maintain slavery, and secure for it security, if slavery could be destroyed, and emancipation accomplished, the object and end of the war would be defeated, and the war itself cease. Besides, so long as slavery was unassailed, it was a source of strength to the rebels, but with emancipation and freedoin, the black population would flock to the National standard, and render it efficient aid.
It is very interesting to trace the gradual advance of opinion on the part of President Lincoln, which finally resulted in the settled conviction of the absolute necessity of emancipation. He entered upon the Presidency, a thorough, radical, anti-slavery man. IIe believed in the irreconcilable antagonism between · free and slave labor. But with these convictions, no man had a higher reverence for law; and he was by nature cautious, and a conservative reformer. He did not understand that the Presidency conferred upon him an unrestricted right to act upon his anti-slavery feelings. No man ever entered upon the Presidency with a more firm determination that his administration should be strictly constitutional. IIe deprecated violent or sudden changes. Inspired by these views, on the 6th day of March, 1862, he sent the following message to Congress, recommending compensated and gradual emancipation. Said he:
“I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honorable bodies, which shall be substantially as follows:
Resolved, That the United States ought to co-operate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconvenience, public and private, produced by such change of system.”
“If, said he, the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end; but if it does command such approval, I deem it of importance, that the States and people immediately interested, should be at once distinetly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to consider whether to accept or reject it. The Federal Government would find its highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-preservation. The leaders of the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this Government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say,
the Union for which we have
struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section. To deprive them of this hope, substantially ends the rebellion; and the initiation of emancipation completely deprives them of it, as to all the States initiating it. The point is not that all the States tolerating slavery would very soon, if at all, initiate emancipation; but that, while the offer is equally made to all, the more Northern shall, by such initiation, make it certain to the more Southern, that in no event will the former ever join the latter in their proposed Confederacy. I say 'initiation, because, in my judgment, gradual, and not sudden emancipation is better for all. In the mere financial or pecuniary view, any member of Congress, with the census tables and treasury reports before him, can readily see for himself, how very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named State. Such a proposition, on the part of the General Government, sets up no claim of a right by Federal authority to interfere with slavery within State limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the subject in each case, to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them.
“In the annual message last December, I thought fit to say the Union must be preserved ; and hence all indispensable means must be employed. I said this, not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made, and continues to be an indispensable means to this end. A practical re-acknowledgment of the National authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents which may attend, and all the ruin which may follow it. Such as may seem indispensable or may obviously promise great efficiency towards ending the struggle, must, and will come. “The proposition now made, though an offer only, I hope it may be
I csteemed no offence to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States, and private persons concerned than are the institution and property in it, in the present aspect of affairs ?
“While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not, within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope, that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God, and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.
“ ABRAHAM LINCOLN."