Page images
PDF
EPUB

554

SLAVERY CONSIDERED IN CONGRESS.

CHAPTER XXI.

SLAVERY AND EMANCIPATION.—AFFAIRS IN THE SOUTHWEST.

HE Army of the Cumberland was compelled by absolute necessity to remain at Murfreesboro' until late in 1863. That necessity was found in the fact that its supplies had to be chiefly drawn from Louisville, over a single line of railway, passing through a country a greater portion of whose inhabitants were hostile to the Government. This line had to be protected at many points by heavy guards,

for Bragg's cavalry force continued to be far superior to that of Rosecrans, and menaced his communications most seriously. But during that time the Army of the Cumberland was not wholly idle. From it went out important expeditions in various directions, which we shall consider hereafter.

We have now taken note of the most important military operations of the war to the close of 1862, excepting some along the Atlantic coast after the capture of Fort Pulaski, the land and naval expedition down the coasts of Georgia and Florida, in the spring of 1862, and the departure of Burnside from North Carolina in July following, to join the Army of the Potomac. The immediately succeeding events along that coast were so intimately connected with the long siege of Charleston, that it seems proper to consider them as a part of that memorable event.

Let us now take a brief view of civil affairs having connection with military events, and observe what the Confederate armed vessels were doing in the mean time.

The second session of the Thirty-seventh Congress commenced on the 2d of December, 1861. It was a most important period in the history of the country. A civil war of unparalleled magnitude and energy was raging in nearly every slave-labor State of the Republic, waged on the part of the insurgents for the destruction of the old Union, that the slave system might be extended and perpetuated; and on the part of the Government for the preservation of the life of the Republic and the maintenance of its constitutional powers. The people and the lawgivers had been much instructed by

current events during the few months since the adjournment of a Aug., 1861.

Congress, and when that body now met both were satisfied that, in order to save the Republic, Slavery, the great corrupter of private and public morals, and the fuel of the fiery furnace in which the nation was then suffering, must be destroyed. Therefore much of the legislation of the

[graphic]

1 See chapter XII.

CONFISCATION AND EMANCIPATION PROPOSED.

555

session then commenced was upon the subject of that terrible evil, for it was resolved to bring all the powers of the Governinent to bear upon it, positively and negatively: positively, in the form of actual emancipation, under certain conditions and certain forms, such as confiscation; and negatively, by withholding all restraints upon the slave. Introductory to this legislation was a notice of Senator Trumbull, of Illinois, given as soon as Congress was organized, that he should ask leave to introduce "a bill for the confisca

“ tion of the property of rebels, and giving freedom to persons they hold in slavery.” Such bill was accordingly introduced on the 5th of December, when the conspirators and the opposition immediately sounded the alarumbell of " unconstitutionality," so often heard during the struggle, and warned the people of the designs of the Government party to destroy their liberties by revolution and despotism. The enlightened people, perfectly comprehending the alarmists, calmly responded by their acts, “ We will trust them.They agreed with Madison, one of the founders of the Republic, and called “the Father of the Constitution,” that in a time of public danger such as then existed, the power conferred upon the National Legislature by the grant of the Constitution for the common defense had no limitation upon it, express or implied, save the public necessity. They remembered his wise words: “It is in vain to oppose constitutional barriers to the impulse of selfpreservation : it is worse than vain,” and acted accordingly.

For a long time the public mind had been much excited by the common practice of many of the commanding officers of the army of capturing and returning fugitive slaves to their masters. The bondsmen generally had the idea that the Union army was to be their liberator, and with that faith they flocked to it, when it was in camp and on its marches,' and it seemed specially cruel to deny them the kindness of hospitality. But that denial was a rule, and so early as the 9th of July, at the extraordinary session of Congress, Mr. Lovejoy, of Illinois, had called the attention of the House of Representatives to the subject, in a resolution which was passed by a vote of ninetythree yeas against fifty-five nays, that it was “no part of the duty of soldiers of the United States to capture and return fugitive slaves.” On the 4th of December following he introduced a bill, making it a penal offense for any officer or private of the army or navy to capture or return, or aid in the capture or return, of fugitive slaves. On the same day, Mr. Wilson of Massachusetts gave notice in the Senate of his intention to introduce a bill for a similar purpose.

[ocr errors]

1 That faith has been alluded to on page 124, and illustrated in note 1. page 125. It was almost universal, and had been engendered unwittingly by the slave-holders themselves. As a rule, there was very little attention paid to the presence of a slave during conversation, it seeming to be the practical idea that they understood but little more than a horse or a dog. When the Republican party was formed, in 1856, the slave-holders everywhere, when they inet, agreed that the election of Fremont to the Presidency inight lead to the abolition of slavery. This was said at the tables, in the presence of waiting-servants. These repeated it to those of the kitchen, and they, in turn, to those of the plantations. It was also vehemently avowed at political gatherings, where the colored people were generally numerous. Such opinion was more positively stated when Mr. Lincoln was elected, and the story, on the authority of the masters, that slavery was now to be abolished, went from lip to lip throughout the domain of the slave-labor States. The bondmen believed it, and they regarded Mr. Lincoln as their temporary Messiah, and the armies that carne in his name as the power that was to make them free. Such was the visible origin of their wonderful faith. That faith was finally justified by events, and the consequence is, that the freedinen are universally loyal to the Government that asserts their manhood.

? Perceiving the general lack of knowledge of the laws of war, particularly as touching the subject of the slaves of the country, Dr. Francis Lieber, the eminent publicist, suggested to General Halleck when he became General-in-Chief, in July, 1862, the propriety of issuing, in some form, a code or set of instructions on international rules of war, for the use of officers of the army. Dr. Lieber had already issued an important pamphlet on the subject of Guerrilla Warfare, which had attracted much attention. Halleck pondered the suggestion, and finally summoned its author to Washington City, when Secretary Stanton, by a general oriler, appointed a cominission for the purpose, of which Dr. Lieber was chairman. Their labor resulted in the production of the celebrated code written by the chairman, which was published in April, 1963, by the War Department, as “General Order No 100." It was a new thing in literature, and suggested to an eminent European jurist, Dr. Bluntschli, the idea of codifying, in a similar manner, the whole law of nations. In the portion of his work on the Modern Law of War, soon afterwand published, nearly the whole of this American coile found a place.

556

PROPOSED COMPENSATION FOR FREED SLAVES.

It is not the province of this work to record in detail the legislation upon this important subject.' Suffice it here to say, that measures, having a tendency to the great act of final emancipation, offered more as necessary means for suppressing the rebellion than as acts of justice and righteousness, were pressed with earnestness by the party in Congress known as Republicans, and were as earnestly opposed by the party in that body known as Demo crats. The former, having a majority, usually carried their favorite measures; while the President, wise, cautious, and conciliatory, although sympathizing with the Republicans, stood as a balance between the two extremes. He saw clearly that the people were not yet educated up to the lofty point of justice which demanded, on moral as well as political grounds, the instant and universal emancipation of the slaves, and he therefore interposed objections to extreme measures, and proposed partial and gradual emancipation, in forms that would conciliate the slave-holders of the border slave-labor States. With this spirit he recommended Congress to pass a joint resolution that the Government, in order to co-operate with any State whose inhabitants might adopt measures for emancipation, should give to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by it at its discretion, to co mpensate it for the inconvenience, public and private, produced by such change of system. It was also proposed to colonize the freedmen somewhere on the American continent.

This emancipation proposition was commended to Congress more as a test of the temper of the slave-holders, and especially of those of the border States, and to offer them a way in which they might escape from the evils and embarrassments which emancipation without compensation (a result now seen to be inevitable, without the plan proposed) would produce, rather than as a fixed policy to be enforced, excepting with the strong approval of the people. A joint resolution in accordance with the President's views was passed by both houses, and was approved by the Executive on the 10th of April; but the conspirators, their followers, and friends everywhere rejected this olive-branch of peace, while the more strenuous advocates of Confiscation and Universal Emancipation did not give it their approval. In the mean time Congress had taken an important practical step forward in the path of justice by abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia, over whose territory it had undisputed control."

"A comprehensive view, in succinct detail, of ineasures concerning this subject, inay be found in a volume entitled Anti-Slavery Measures in Congress, by Henry Wilson, of the National Senate.

? This bill was passed by a vote in the House of eighty-nine yeas against thirty-one nags, and in the Senate by thirty-two yeas against ten nays. The President resolved to give the experiment a fair trial. As indicative of that determination, when General Hunter, in command of the Department of the South, issued an order, on the 9th of May following, declaring all the slaves within that department to be thenceforth and forever free, without any apparent military necessity for such an act, the President issued a proclamation reversing the oriler, and declaring that he reserved to himself the power proposed to be exercised hy a commander in the field by such proclamation. This manifesto silenced a great clamor which Hunter's proclamation bad raised, and demonstrated the good faith of the Executive toward the slave-holders.

• The bill for this purpose was passed by a vote of ninety-two yeas against thirty-eight nays in the Houso of Representatives, and in the Senate by twenty-nine yeas against fourteen nays. It was approved by the President on the 16ih of April, 1862.

TEMPER OF BORDER SLAVE-LABOR STATES.

557

1902,

Mr. Lincoln believed his proposition to pay for emancipated slaves would detach the border slave-labor States from an interest in the Confederacy, and thus speedily put an end to the war. Anxious to consummate it, he invited the Congressmen of those States to meet him in conference in the Executive Chamber. They did so,' and he presented to them a

a July 12, carefully prepared address on the subject. But he was forcibly taught by that conference, and its results, that the policy which had been so long tried, of withholding vigorous blows from the rebellion out of deference to the border slave-labor States, was worse than useless. A majority of the Congressmen submitted a dissenting reply, and told the President plainly that they considered it his duty" to avoid all interference, direct or indirect, with slavery in the Southern States.” A minority report concurred in the President's views; but their slave-holding constituents, generally, scouted the proposition with scorn, and the authorities of not one of the States whose inhabitants were thus appealed to responded to him. And a draft of a bill which he sent into Congress on the day of the conference was

6 July 12. not acted upon by that body. It was evident that the majority of the people, and their representatives in the National Legislature, were not in a mood to make any further compromise with the great enemy of the Republic, or concessions to its supporters.

Meanwhile a bill providing for the confiscation of the property of rebels, which involved the emancipation of slaves, had been passed by Congress and approved by the President,' entitled " An Act to make an Additional Article of War,” to take effect from and after its passage. It prohibited all officers or persons in the military or naval service of the Republic from using any force under their commands for the purpose of restoring fugitive slaves to their alleged masters, on penalty of instant dismissal from the service. Congress had also recently passed " An Act to Suppress Insurrection, to Punish Treason and Rebellion, to Seize and Confiscate Property of Rebels, and for other purposes,” which the President approved on the 16th of July, and which declared the absolute freedom of the slaves of rebels under certain operations of war therein defined.'

This gave the President a wide field for the exercise, of Executive power, not only in freeing a large portion of the slaves in the country, but in employing them against their former masters in the suppression of the rebellion; and he was vehemently importuned to use it immediately and vigorously. The patient President held back, hoping the wiser men among

- March 18.

1 It provided that all persons, after the passage of the bill, who should commit treason against the Republic should suffer death, and all his slaves, if he had any, should be free; or suffer a fine of $10,000, with the loss of his slaves: that any person found guilty of aiding treason should be subject to a fine of $10,000 and the loss of his slaves by their being made free; and that both classes of traitors should be forever excluded from office under the Government; that it should be the duty of the President to seize the property of all oflice-holders, civil an: military, in the so-called “ Confederate States," or persons who, having property in the loyal States, should aid the rebellion: that all persons who, engaged in the rebellion, should not, within sixty days after the President should duly proclaim tho law, desist from their crimes, their property of every kind should be confiscated: that all fugitive slaves from rebellious masters, or persons who should give aid and comfort to rebels, and all slaves captured from such persons, or who had deserted from the rebel army, or from any territory deserted by the rebels, should be deemed captives of war, and should be forever freo: that the President should have authority to employ such freedmen, with their own consent, for the suppression of the rebellion, and to inake provision for colonizing them; and that he should be authorized to extend a pardon and amnesty to such rebels as, in his judgment, should be worthy of mercy,

558

THE PEOPLE IMPATIENT FOR EMANCIPATION.

1862.

the insurgents might heed the threats contained in the muttering thunders of Congress, in which were concentrated the tremendous energies of the people against these cherished interests. This hesitancy produced great disquietude in the public mind. The more impatient of the loyal people began to accuse the President of not only faint-heartedness, but whole-heartedness in the cause of freedom, and charged him with remissness of duty. Finally a committee, composed of a deputation from a Convention of Christians of all

of the denominations of Chicago, waited upon him, and presented • Sept. 13, him with a memorial, requesting him at once to issue a proclama

tion of Universal Emancipation. The President, believing that the time had not yet come (though rapidly approaching) when such a proclamation would be proper, made an earnest and argumentative reply; saying, in allusion to the then discouraging aspect of military affairs under the administration of McClellan in the East and Buell in the West, “What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated ? I do not want to issue a document that the whole world would see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the Comet! Would my word free the slaves, when I cannot even enforce the Constitution in the rebel States?” He concluded by saying:-“I view this matter as a practical war measure,' to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.” But before the departure of the Committee the President assured them of his sympathy with their views. “I have not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves,” he said, “but hold the matter under advisement. And I can assure you that the subject is on my mind, by day and night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do."3 The President prayerfully considered the matter, and within a week

after the battle of Antietam he issued a preliminary proclaSept. 22

mation of emancipation, in which he declared it to be his purpose, at the next meeting of Congress, to again recommend pecuniary aid in

[ocr errors]

1 On the 9th of Angust Horace Greeley addressed an able letter to the President on the subject, throngh his journal, the New York Tribune, to which Mr. Lincoln made a reply, it giving him a good opportunity to deine his position. In that reply he declared it to be his “paramount object to sure the Union, and not either to 811ve or destroy slavery." "If I could save the Union without freeing a slave. I would do it," he said. ** If I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I wonld do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the l'nion; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."

? While there was great doubt and perplexity in the minds of all as to what were the real powers of the Government, and especially of the President, underthe Constitution, and the ablest jurists disagreed in opinion, Mr. William Whiting, a latr yer in extensive practice in Boston, wrote a most lucid and conclusive treatise on the subject, entitled, " The War Pourers of the President and the Legislative Porrers of Congress in relation to Rebellion, Treason, and Slarery," which was accepted as sound and conclusive. It was principally written in the Spring of 1862, with the exception of the chapter on the operation of the Confiscation Act of July 17, 1562. This able treatise caused Mr. Whiting to be called into the service of the Government, as Solici. tor to the War Department. It is proper to add that Mr. Whiting, whoso Bule desire in preparing the treatise and in responding to the call to Washington was to serve his country, remained there until the close of the war, steadily refusing all compensation for his services, or even the reimbursement of his expenses. His treatise and his name will erer hold a deservedly conspicuous place in the annals of the war; the first as an nnan. swerable argument in defense of the acts of the President and Congress in saving the Republic, and the latter as that of an unselfish patriot.

3 It has been the popular belief that Mr. Lincoln's preliminary proclamation was forced from him by outside pressure, and especially by the delegation from Chicago. The late Owen Lovejoy, M. C., has left on record the following statement, the substance of which he had from the President's own lips :—" le had written the proclamation in the summer, as early as June, I think, and called his Cabinet together, and informed them that he had written it, and he meant to make it; but wanted to read it to them for any criticism or remarks as to its features or details. After having done so, Seward suggested whether it would not be well to withhold its pub

« PreviousContinue »