« PreviousContinue »
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
of the people in the slave States along the border. The course which he pursued at that time contributed largely, beyond doubt, to strengthen the cause of the Union in those Border States, and especially to withdraw Tennessee from her hastily formed connection with the rebel confederacy.
In the early part of November an incident occurred which threatened for a time to involve the country in open war with England. On the 7th of that month the British mail steamer Trent left Havana for St. Thomas, having on board Messrs. J. M. Mason and John Slidell, on their way as commissioners from the Confederate States to England and France. On the 8th the Trent was hailed from the U. S. frigate San Jacinto, Captain Wilkes, and brought to by a shot across her bows. Two officers and about twenty armed men from the latter then went on board the Trent, searched her, and took from her by force and against the protest of the British officers, the two rebel commissioners, with Messrs. Eustis and McFarland, their secretaries, who were brought to the United States and lodged in Fort Warren, the Trent being released and proceeding on her way. The most intense excitement pervaded the country when news of this affair was received. The feeling was one of admiration at the boldness of Captain Wilkes, and of exultation at the capture of the rebel emissaries. In England the most intense and passionate resentment took possession of the public mind. The demand for instant redress was universal, and, in obedience to it, the Government at once ordered troops to Canada and the outfit of vessels of war.
Our Government met the matter with prompt and self-possessed decision. On the 30th of November Mr. Seward wrote to Mr. Adams a general statement of the facts of the case, accompanied by the assurance that "in the capture of Messrs. Mason and Slidell Captain Wilkes had acted without any instructions from the Government," and that our Government was prepared to discuss the matter in a perfectly fair
and friendly spirit as soon as the ground taken by the British Government should be made known. Earl Russell, under the same date, wrote to Lord Lyons, rehearsing the facts of the case, and saying that the British Government was "willing to believe that the naval officer who committed the aggression was not acting in compliance with any authority from his Government," because the Government of the United States "must be fully aware that the British Government could not allow such an affront to the national honor to pass without full reparation." Earl Russell trusted, therefore, that when the matter should be brought under its notice the United States Government would, "of its own accord, offer to the British Government such redress as alone could satisfy the British nation, namely, the liberation of the four gentlemen and their delivery to the British minister, that they may again be placed under British protection, and a suitable apology for the aggression which has been committed." In a subsequent note Lord Lyons was instructed to wait seven days after its delivery for a reply to this demand, and in case no answer, or any other answer than a compliance with its terms, should be given by the expiration of that time, he was to leave Washington with the archives of the legation, and repair immediately to London.
On the 26th of December the Secretary of State, by direction of the President, sent a reply to this dispatch, in which the whole question was discussed at length, and with conspicuous ability. The Government decided that the detention of the vessel and the removal from her of the emissaries of the rebel confederacy, was justifiable by the laws of war and the practice and precedents of the British Government; but that in assuming to decide upon the liability of these persons to capture for himself, instead of sending them before a legal tribunal where a regular trial could be had, Captain Wilkes had departed from the rule of international law uniformly