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United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army, and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States, and all slaves of such persons found or being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterward occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves."
We quote these provisions of the act, and especially the last, as showing the farthest limit reached as yet in the direction of emancipation by our public councils, — the highwater mark of antislavery sentiment, as inspiring and guiding the national policy. In this regard, it has an historical interest, apart from its practical effect on the fortunes of slaveholders, or on the result of the campaign. It is the extreme limit reached, or likely to be reached, in that direction, so long as the government is restrained by political precedents and constitutional forms. In regard to this very act, grave scruples held it back till the very close of the session, and made it difficult to be passed at all; and the singular course was taken of ingrafting certain amendments to anticipate a veto message which would have been sent in to Congress, embodying the President's objections, - which provisional veto was sent, in fact, along with his signature to the bill, and stands as its authentic commentary.
So long, we say, as the government is restrained by political precedents and constitutional forms. No tradition of our public policy has been more tenaciously kept, or more uniformly assented to, than that the national government has no jurisdiction over slavery within the States where it exists. This has been repeated as a sort of axiom, whenever the topic has come up for debate at all. It is affirmed just as emphatically in the Resolutions of the Chicago Convention, which nominated President Lincoln, and in the Inaugural Address which was the first spoken word of the Republican party in power, as it was ever claimed by Mr. Calhoun, or asserted in any Southern State-Rights Convention. The only qualifications that have ever been made in regard to it, so far as we know, are two, — the argument made in 1836, and again in 1842, by John Quincy Adams, that slavery may be abolished by the war power, overriding all State and municipal regulations, and limited only by the common law of nations; and, as in the present instance, where liberation of slaves is decreed as the penalty of a specific crime against the nation.
The argument was stated by Mr. Adams in these words:
“In the authority given to Congress by the Constitution of the United States to declare war, all the powers incidental to war are, by necessary implication, conferred upon the government of the United States. Now, the powers incidental to war are derived, not from their internal municipal source, but from the laws and usages of nations. ..... There are, in the authority of Congress and of the Executive, two classes of powers, altogether different in their nature, and often incompatible with each other, — the war power and the peace power. The peace power is limited by regulations and restricted by provisions prescribed within the Constitution itself. The war power is limited only by the laws and usages of nations. This power is tremendous: it is strictly constitutional; but it breaks down every barrier so anxiously erected for the protection of liberty, of property, and of life.”
“The pretensions of gentlemen to the sanctity of their municipal institutions under a state of actual invasion and of actual war, whether servile, civil, or foreign, is wholly unfounded, and the laws of war do, in all such cases, take the precedence. I lay this down as the law of nations. I say that military authority takes, for the time, the place of all municipal institutions, and slavery among the rest; and that, under that state of things, so far from its being true that the States where slavery exists have the exclusive management of the subject, not only the President of the United States, but the commander of the army, has power to order the universal emancipation of the slaves.” †
For near twenty years of peace and compromise, this argument, so stern in its wording, and so momentous in its results, has lain, as it were, on the shelf, and forgotten. We remember no allusion to it in the long series of debates that preceded the outbreak of this war. It is as if our public men, the boldest of them, shrank from looking in the face the consequences it seemed to invite. Only in these last few months it
* Speech on the Joint Resolution for distributing rations to the distressed fugitives from Indian hostilities, May 25, 1836. † Speech on War with Great Britain and Mexico, April 14, 15, 1842.
has been brought forth, as a sword too sharp for handling in common times, fit to be wielded only in the last, most terrible emergency. Either the crisis is not desperate enough, or the arm of government among us has not nerve enough, to draw it from its scabbard yet.
We do not propose to examine into the fitness of the penalty denounced against the specific crime of rebellion. To do so, would be to enter into the argument whether this rebellion is a crime at all. We assume the ground on which our government has acted from the first, – that it holds lawful jurisdiction, within its constitutional limits, over the national domain, which has never been lawfully divided or alienated. It has been assailed by a power whose first aim was to destroy the nationality known as the United States of America, and whose first boast was that it had done it. The assailants have neither asked nor given quarter. With the President's invitation, contained in his Inaugural Address, all unnoticed, — that the question in controversy should be referred to a convention of the people, — they inaugurated their work by an act of war. Or rather, many acts of war, the seizure of forts, and the appropriating of national money and arms, were followed up by a bombardment from batteries ostentatiously planted against the national garrison. Privateering - which, set on foot by an unrecognized power, is piracy — was threatened in February of last year, and organized in April ; and this was directly followed, in April and May, by the revolutionary measure of suspending, that is, in fact confiscating, all debts due to Northern citizens. Besides these acts of public authority, there is no need of recounting here the innumerable acts of violence and vengeance done with the sanction of the same authority. The tragedies of Eastern Tennessee will not let the world forget what are the penalties inflicted on simple loyalty to the old flag. The weakness and the scandal of our arms in the seceded States have been, that that flag protected equally its enemies and friends. So that the rebels have had the full benefit of Tertullian's famous dilemma to the heathen: Hold with us, and you are safe in either event; hold with them, and if we win, your damnation is sure.
Never was a stern measure of justice more loudly
called for than the act of confiscation, by those who had suffered so bitterly for their loyalty.
A measure of justice we call it, and not an act of retaliation, or vengeance. For fifteen months of actual fighting, besides the previous five months of conspiracy and defiance, the government has stood steadily in the attitude of protector of the territory it has invaded,- the restorer of order and security, the defender of property and peace, the upholder even of that hateful legal claim of ownership in slaves, which had been the motive, and had proved the effectual weapon, of the war so vindictively forced upon it. Such patience grew to be the butt and scorn of the conspirators. By field, flood, and river they felt the mailed hand of the Power they had defied; but this policy of mercy and peace gave them heart again. They saw their houses and plantations safely guarded by national troops, detailed to weaken our ranks, and sparing them to strengthen theirs. Their slaves they took to dig their intrenchments, or left to till their harvests, in the charge of women and children, trusting the strong arm of the Union to keep them so; and, with admirable effrontery, came to beg them back of our officers, when they escaped, in the name of the Constitution they were sworn to overthrow. With cheerful alacrity they took the oath of allegiance, at need,- the sternest penalty our government could bring itself to inflict, – for the sake of the liberty it gave them to make their treasons ripe. And, within hearing of the guns that beleaguered the rebel capital, their public prints spoke of the war as the revolt of their Northern vassals, whom they would bring to order again, as the Scythians did their slaves, by the mere flourish of their whips.
Such was the temper of our war policy for fifteen months, - incredible patience on one side, incredible insolence on the other. Considering the desperate nature of the thing we call
The inferior race,
* This paragraph, from the Richmond Whig of June 25, is worth preserving among the curiosities of Secession literature :—"This natural dominancy of the Southern people has had much to do in bringing on the war. grown strong in numbers and ambitious from prosperity, have revolted against, and now seek to overthrow and destroy, those whose superiority was a constant source of envy and self-reproach. There is no tiercer malevolence than that of caste, and it is this which has so long stirred the Yankee bile. Always in the presence of the
rebellion, — how it broods long in secret conspiracy, and sheathes its claws, panther-like, till it clutches at the throat; considering the experience of all human governments hitherto so assailed,- from Russian Poland to British India, where the ferocities of the conquest testify to the nature of the peril escaped quite as much as to any inherent barbarity in the victor, - the United States may well challenge respect for that proud confidence in the strength of justice and law. Says Count Gasparin : “Fighting there has been, it is true, but the horrors which have hitherto polluted civil wars have been scrupulously avoided. The progressive invasion of States has been marked neither by devastation nor pillage. Since the commencement of hostilities, the scaffold has not been once erected by the North. After the taking of Fort Sumter, when treason was everywhere, - after Bull Run, when the enemy was marching on Washington, — the United States had no days of September.” Such a sentence, after a year of such a strife, is a nobler thing than conquest which “makes a solitude, and calls it peace.
It takes the sting from temporary defeat. It almost excuses the criminal weakness of a government which will risk ruin rather than do a legal wrong.
One word more, and we have done with this partial vindication of the temper of our government policy, — its excessive anxiety to guard the forms of law. “ War, said my friend, is a little word, but it means a heap of things. It means murder. It means robbery and plunder. It means all sorts of violence and horror.” Our imagination is getting slowly educated to a sense of the tremendous agencies of mischief it unchains. A population of several millions, furious with passion at imaginary wrongs, afire with local pride and sectional loyalty, hot with the headlong courage that runs in the blood, and inspired with a religious fervor, many of them, as genuine as it is mistaken, have got thoroughly committed to the policy
Southern gentleman he has felt a strong and painfully repressed impulse to take off his hat. This conscious inferiority has galled the jealous and malignant creature, until he has broken out in servile insurrection. He has vainly concluded that his numbers can overwhelm and exterminate the objects of his envy, and that he, succeeding to the broad acres and liberal habitudes of the Southern gentry, will come to be looked upon as a gentleman too."