Category Archives: Politics

The Homestead Act

May 20, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law giving away 160-acre plots to settlers who agreed to tend to the land for five years.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Politicians had debated whether to give free land to settlers since before the U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787. Southerners had generally opposed free land grants because they would expand the farm base and undercut the value of goods harvested on southern farms. Northerners, particularly Republicans, favored land grants because they encouraged immigration and westward expansion. Now that southern opposition in Congress was gone, the Republican majority approved “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain.”

This law allowed U.S. citizens or immigrants, male or female, who were at least 21 years old to claim 160 acres if they pledged to live on it, improve upon it, and cultivate it for at least five years. The claimants could be under 21 if they were heads of households or had served at least two weeks in the military. The available land ranged from Michigan to the Dakota Territory (present-day North and South Dakota, and most of Montana and Wyoming).

Confederates or northerners who had “given aid or comfort” to the Confederates were not eligible to claim a homestead. Some argued that southerners should be included because the land being given away had been secured, at least partly, by southern efforts. Others saw it as a missed opportunity to encourage soldiers to desert the Confederate army in exchange for free land.

The claimants, or homesteaders, had to pay an $18 filing fee, or $10 to temporarily hold a plot. They were allowed to sell the land at $1.25 per acre if they fulfilled a six-month residency that included making some improvements. The terms would go into effect on January 1, 1863.

The Homestead Act fulfilled a key plank in the Republican Party’s platform, and it was strongly supported by Lincoln. It also received some support from key Democrats such as Senator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who saw it as a way for poor southern whites to escape from the rigid class structure in the South. Horace Greeley, prominent editor of the New York Tribune, praised the measure because he believed it would “give every poor man a home.”

Opponents argued that giving land away deprived the Federal Treasury of what could have been a large source of revenue to pay for war. Republicans opted to make up for the revenue shortfall by raising taxes and import tariffs. Anti-war politicians contended that the law aimed to entice immigrants into coming to the U.S. primarily so they could be unwittingly recruited into military service.

Within two years, homesteaders had claimed 1,261,000 acres under this law. This increased to three million acres by the war’s end, and 80 million acres claimed by nearly 600,000 homesteaders overall. This led to the agricultural and industrial development of future states west of the Mississippi River, and it helped encourage the great westward expansion (and large-scale immigration) after the war.

However, 420 of the 500 million acres given away went to speculators, cattlemen, miners, lumbermen, and railroad tycoons. Most urban laborers lacked the agricultural knowledge or the money to either pay the $10 temporary hold fee or buy farm equipment. Long-term military enlistees tried claiming homesteads after being discharged but found that the best land was already gone.

The children of homesteaders often claimed plots of their own and connected them to create large plantation-like farms like those in the South, at the expense of the small farmers. Ignorance of the landscape on the Great Plains also hindered settlement, as it was later discovered that at least 1,500 acres were often needed to successfully farm the arid region.

In the short-term, the Homestead Act increased the popularity of Lincoln and the Republicans, which had waned due to military setbacks and questionable war policies.

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References

“About the Homestead Act,” National Park Service (retrieved June 29, 2012); “AMERICAN HISTORY The Homestead Act – Creating Prosperity in America,” (Legends of America, retrieved June 29, 2012); Bolton, Charles C., Poor Whites of the Antebellum South: Tenants and Laborers in Central North Carolina and Northeast Mississippi (1993), p. 67; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 173; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 367-68; Foner, Eric, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War, 1970; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 154-55; Hansen, Zeynep K., and Libecap, Gary D., “Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” Journal of Political Economy (Volume: 112(3), November 21, 2003), p. 665-94; “Homesteader,” The Free Dictionary By Farlex (retrieved June 29, 2012 ); “Horace Greeley,” (Tulane University, August 13, 1999, retrieved 11-22-2007); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 214; McElroy, Wendy, “The Free-Soil Movement, Part 1,” (The Future of Freedom Foundation, 2001), p. 1; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 450-51; Phillips, Sarah T., “Antebellum Agricultural Reform, Republican Ideology, and Sectional Tension,” Agricultural History (74[4], 2000), p. 799–822; “The Florida Homestead Act of 1862,” Florida Homestead Services (2006, retrieved November 22, 2007), paragraphs 3, 6 and 13 (Includes data on the U.S. Homestead Act ); Trefousse, Hans L., Andrew Johnson: A Biography (Norton, 1989), p. 42; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 127; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

Lincoln Revokes Slave Emancipation

May 19, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln revoked Major General David Hunter’s order freeing all slaves in his military department. Lincoln also announced for the first time that he had the wartime power to free slaves if necessary.

Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Gen David Hunter | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Hunter, commanding the Federal Department of the South (i.e., South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida), occupied a section of the Atlantic coast between Charleston and Savannah. About 12,000 fugitive slaves had gathered in that area for Federal protection. Fearing that the Confederates were planning a massive effort to take the region back, Hunter declared martial law on April 25 and then set about recruiting the fugitives into the army.

Hunter informed a Treasury agent handling the fugitive slaves that he planned “to organize in squads and companies, and perhaps into a regiment, a portion of the negroes that have escaped bondage and have come into our lines… (and) to have them paid, fed, and clothed, as well as drilled, in the same manner with our other troops.” Hunter assured the agent that the War Department had granted him permission to do this.

When slaves still in bondage learned of Hunter’s plan, their masters told them that the Federals planned to ship them to Cuba. Consequently, few slaves risked escaping their plantations to volunteer for the army. In response, Hunter modified his plan by making army service for slaves mandatory. He notified General Isaac Stevens, commanding the Federals at Port Royal, South Carolina:

“I am authorized by the War Department to form the negroes into ‘squads, companies, or otherwise,’ as I may deem most beneficial to the public service. I have concluded to enlist two regiments to be officered from the most intelligent and energetic of our non-commissioned officers; men who will go into it with all their hearts.”

Hunter asserted that he was acting in accordance with President Lincoln’s order to General Thomas W. Sherman, Hunter’s predecessor, authorizing the department command to organize freed slaves into “squads, companies, or otherwise.” But Hunter ignored the condition Lincoln had placed on the order: “This, however, not to mean a general arming of them for military service.”

On May 9, Hunter issued General Orders No. 11:

“Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these States — Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina — heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.”

To force slaves off the plantations and into the army, Hunter ordered his six district commanders “to send immediately to these headquarters, under a guard, all the able-bodied negroes capable of bearing arms within the limits of their several commands.”

Thus, Hunter became the first military commander of the war to not only free slaves and but to draft men into the army as well. Federal troops quickly set about seizing slaves from nearby plantations and forcing them into Federal service. Many slaves fled from the troops, prompting Hunter to relent and allow slaves not wanting to join the army to stay on their plantations.

Meanwhile, news of Hunter’s order made its way to Washington, where Hunter’s superiors had not authorized him to issue such a directive. Treasury agent Edward L. Pierce in Hunter’s department wrote to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase informing him of Hunter’s decree. Chase notified Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who tacitly approved Hunter’s order by ignoring it.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln learned about the order from the newspapers. This was the third time that a subordinate had tried issuing an emancipation edict without first consulting him (Major General John C. Fremont and former Secretary of War Simon Cameron had done so in 1861). Lincoln objected because Hunter had not asked for approval beforehand. And even though Hunter enjoyed political support from the influential Radical Republicans in Congress, they would not back his order because he had not sought their permission beforehand either.

Stanton and Chase remained on Hunter’s side. Chase wrote Lincoln on the 16th that it was “of the highest importance… that this Order not be revoked. It has been made as a military measure, to meet a military exigency…” Stanton worried that with major military campaigns looming, black recruitment may become a necessity. When he asked Massachusetts Governor John Andrew for four new regiments, Andrew replied that he could not persuade men to volunteer who had not already done so. He added:

“But, if the President will sustain General Hunter, recognize all men, even black men, as legally capable of that loyalty the blacks are waiting to manifest, and let them fight, with God and human nature on their side, the roads will swarm if need be with multitudes whom New England would pour out to obey your call.”

Despite the political pressure, Lincoln responded to Chase, “No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me.” Lincoln feared that northern sentiment would quickly turn against the war if its cause changed from preserving the Union to freeing slaves. However, he reserved the right as commander in chief to liberate slaves as a war measure.

On the 19th, Lincoln publicly ordered Hunter to rescind his proclamation, calling it “altogether void.” Lincoln stated that he had no prior “knowledge, information, or belief of an intention on the part of General Hunter to issue such a proclamation,” and no military officer could “make proclamations declaring the slaves of any State free.” He explained:

“I further make known that, whether it be competent for me as commander-in-chief of the army and navy to declare the slaves of any State or States free, and whether at any time or in any case it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the Government to examine such supposed power, are questions which under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I can not feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field.”

This marked a significant change from Lincoln’s first year in office, in which he consistently maintained that he had no authority as president to free slaves. Now Lincoln asserted that he may have the power if it would “become a necessity indispensable.” Lincoln told Hunter that the general “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”

As Lincoln voided Hunter’s edict, he issued another call for the border states to voluntarily free their slaves. This included an even stronger warning that the time may come when Lincoln would free their slaves whether they liked it or not:

“I do not argue–I beseech you to make arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as in the providence of God it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it.”

Border state politicians continued ignoring Lincoln’s pleas to voluntarily accept gradual, compensated emancipation. Some argued that the Federal government had no constitutional authority to invoke such a program. Others gambled on George B. McClellan capturing Richmond and ending the war before freeing the slaves became a military necessity.

Still, Hunter believed that Lincoln had privately supported the proclamation, even if he had to publicly repudiate it. Hunter later wrote, “I believe he rejoined in my action.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14942; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7657-69, 9117; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 703; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 535-56; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 150, 154; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 435; Keefer, Kimberly A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 376; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 209, 213-14; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 499; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

The Partisan Ranger Act

April 21, 1862 – The Confederate Congress approved a measure authorizing the organization of guerrilla forces to help combat the Federal invasion.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

Since the war began, partisan rangers (i.e., guerrillas) had operated throughout the Confederacy, but the Confederate government did not officially consider them to be legitimate military units. According to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, “Guerrilla companies are not recognized as part of the military organization of the Confederate States, and cannot be authorized by this department.”

However, the tremendous Federal manpower advantage, along with the deepening Federal thrusts into Confederate territory, prompted the government to look for new ways to motivate military enrollment. Virginia had taken the lead the previous month by approving a law creating at least 10 companies of “rangers and scouts” to operate against Federal occupation forces within the state and “give the greatest annoyance to the enemy.”

The Confederate Congress finally approved the Partisan Ranger Act, which consisted of three provisions:

  1. The president could grant commissions to officers to recruit men for partisan companies, battalions, and regiments; those recruited would be subject to presidential approval
  2. The partisans would receive the same uniforms and pay as regular soldiers, and they would be granted rations and other allowances in the same allotments as regular soldiers
  3. The partisans would be compensated by the government for any Federal arms or ammunition that they captured and delivered to the Confederate quartermaster

Within five months of this law’s passage, the Confederate War Department reported that six partisan regiments, nine battalions, and 24 companies had begun operations in various areas of the Confederacy under Federal occupation, including Virginia and the coastal regions. John H. McNeill and John S. Mosby were among the most prominent of the partisan leaders.

This law did stimulate recruitment as hoped. But it encouraged more men to join the irregular units and not the armies, thus ensuring that the armies would continue experiencing manpower shortages.

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References

Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 141; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 561; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 107-08; Wikipedia: Partisan Ranger Act

The Confederate Conscription Act

April 16, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis signed a bill into law requiring all able-bodied white men between the ages of 18 and 35 to serve at least three years in the Confederate military. This was the first national draft in American history.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

By this time, Federal forces were closing in on Richmond, New Orleans, and vital points along the Mississippi River and Atlantic coast. The Confederates had just lost thousands of men in the largest battle ever fought in America up to that time, and many men who had enlisted in the Confederate army for 12 months at the beginning of the war were about to go home.

All these factors led to a growing call for conscription, which had been intensely debated in the Confederate Congress. Opponents argued that it violated the same civil liberties southerners had seceded to uphold. Some claimed that forcing men into the army showed weakness by indicating that volunteerism alone was no longer enough to maintain the war effort.

Supporters invoked the same arguments they had rejected when northerners made them before the war, citing the constitutional powers of Congress “to raise and support armies” and “provide for the common defense, as well as to make laws “necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” They also contended that conscription would provide the military with the manpower desperately needed to secure Confederate independence.

Ultimately, new Secretary of War George W. Randolph persuaded enough congressmen to approve the bill, and then he persuaded Davis to sign it into law. Thus, the Confederacy took the first and most expansive step toward centralizing state and national armies.

State officials would administer the draft, and draftees would be allowed to elect their own company, battalion, and regimental officers. The number of draftees would be proportional to the number of residents in each state and county. A regular recruiting system was also introduced to counter battlefield losses with continuous recruitment.

Soldiers preparing to return home after serving 12 months were now told they had to stay on for another two years or the war’s end, whichever came first. The three total years of service began on the soldiers’ original enlistment dates. Davis initially resisted extending one-year enlistments to three years, but he finally resolved that it was a necessary measure.

Politicians hopeful that the prospect of a draft would stimulate more volunteerism added a provision giving draftees 30 days to volunteer instead. Men could also pay a $500 commutation fee to evade the draft. This clause applied to pacifists such as Quakers and Mennonites; it also aimed to enable skilled laborers and the wealthy to continue serving the Confederacy in non-military capacities.

Another provision allowed for men to hire substitutes to serve in their place from “persons not liable for duty,” usually those outside the specified age range or foreigners. The substitute clause was based on the English tradition of assuming that those who could afford to hire a substitute could be more useful to the war effort outside the army. “Substitute brokers” became a lucrative profession as a result. This provision caused such widespread resentment among those who could not afford to hire a substitute that it was eventually repealed.

The original Conscription Act offered no exemptions from the draft other than commutation or substitution. Realizing that this could deplete the southern workforce, Congress enacted an amendment five days later that included exemptions for many classes and professions, including government workers, war industry laborers (i.e., those working in textiles, mines, foundries, etc.), river ferrymen and pilots, telegraph operators, hospital employees, apothecaries, printers, clergymen, and educators.

These exemptions invited fraud, as many new schools quickly opened, along with pharmacies that featured “a few empty jars, a cheap assortment of combs and brushes, a few bottles of ‘hairdye’ and ‘wizard oil’ and other Yankee nostrums.”

Men who owned 20 or more slaves were also exempted from the draft so they could maintain supervision of farm production and defend against potential slave uprisings. This became known as the “Twenty Negro Law.” It only applied to states that had laws requiring white men to oversee and police their slaves. Many criticized this provision as favoring plantation owners.

Governors Joseph E. Brown of Georgia and Zebulon Vance of North Carolina were among the most virulent critics of the Conscription Act. Brown declared that no “act of the Government of the United States prior to the secession of Georgia struck a blow at constitutional liberty… as has been struck by the conscription act… at one fell swoop, (the act) strikes down the sovereignty of the States, tramples upon the constitutional rights and personal liberty of the citizens, and arms the President with imperial power.”

It was not surprising that Georgia and North Carolina accounted for 92 percent of all exempted government workers in the Confederacy. Even Davis’s own vice president, Alexander H. Stephens, became an outspoken opponent of this measure.

Many who supported the Conscription Act blamed Davis for making it necessary because of his strategy to stay on the defensive and protect many static points at once. Davis countered that “without military stores, without the workshops to create them, without the power to import them, necessity not choice has compelled us to occupy strong positions and everywhere to confront the enemy without reserves.”

The Confederate press generally supported the new law but did not hesitate to expose its weaknesses. Despite resentment to government coercion, many saw this as necessary to meet the wartime emergency. The law affected nearly every Confederate family in some way, even though nearly half of those drafted never served.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 484-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 158, 160, 163; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 155-56, 245, 767; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 394-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 136, 139; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3310; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 73-74; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 197, 200; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 430-32; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 372-73; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 129; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

The District Emancipation Act

April 16, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia.

The seat of the Federal government, located between the two slaveholding states of Maryland and Virginia, had permitted slavery since its creation over half a century before. For a time, slaves had even been held in stockades and auctioned off near the U.S. Capitol. The 1850 ban on slave trading in the District ended that practice, but slavery remained legal there nonetheless.

Unlike the states, the District was under Federal jurisdiction, meaning that Congress could regulate its domestic affairs. Measures to free slaves in the District had been repeatedly introduced in Congress over the past generation; Lincoln himself had drafted an emancipation bill as a U.S. representative from Illinois in 1848. All these bills had been rejected, largely due to southern opposition to the Federal government infringing on property rights. But since the war began, most slaveholders had left the District, and the Republican-controlled Congress introduced the measure once again.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, the original measure would appropriate $1 million to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor if they could prove loyalty to the U.S. The 1860 census had counted 3,185 slaves in the District worth an estimated $2 million, but since many slaveholders had gone south and others may not be able to prove loyalty, the $1 million was a more reasonable figure to pay.

Most congressmen from the loyal slave states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) opposed this measure because the payoff amount equated to just $300 per slave, far less than current market value. Washington city aldermen also resisted the idea out of fear that letting blacks live free in the city could spark racial violence. They lobbied Congress to add a provision expanding the capital’s police force. Congress responded with a provision earmarking $100,000 to deport freed slaves to other countries if they agreed to go.

The Senate approved the bill on April 3 by a vote of 29 to 14. The House of Representatives followed eight days later by a vote of 93 to 39. With both chambers approving the measure by over two-thirds, Lincoln signed it into law and submitted a message of approval to Congress:

“I have never doubted the constitutional authority of Congress to abolish slavery in the District, and I have ever desired to see the national capital freed from the institution in some satisfactory way. Hence there never has been in my mind any questions upon the subject, except those of expediency, arising in view of all the circumstances.”

Celebrating abolition in D.C. | Image Credit: aaihs.org

Celebrating abolition in D.C. | Image Credit: aaihs.org

A commission was created to attach value to each slave, with no slave worth more than $300. Slaveholders had 90 days to submit a list of their slaves’ names, ages, and descriptions for the commissioners to review and compensate accordingly. About 1,000 slaveholders submitted claims to the commission and received compensation. A small number were rejected, usually due to questionable ownership rights or suspected Confederate sympathies.

Freed slaves in the District received full civil rights except the right to vote or serve on juries. In neighboring Maryland and Virginia, slaveholders began selling their slaves to points farther south out of fear that they would try escaping to freedom in the nearby District. However, these slaves were still subject to be returned to their masters under the Fugitive Slave Act.

The District Emancipation Act was a partial victory for Lincoln, who had sought to impose a compensated emancipation program throughout the country. But freeing slaves in the District where the Federal government had jurisdiction was far different than trying to free them in states that had legal control over their own domestic institutions. This also marked the first step toward Lincoln’s supplemental plan of deporting freed slaves; Lincoln considered colonization to be the best way to address the issue of freed slaves competing with resentful whites for jobs.

Abolitionists hailed this measure as a first step toward full emancipation. Slaveholders in both North and South condemned the law for the same reason.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 82; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (16 Apr 1862); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14796-805; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 148, 160; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7352; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 221; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 536-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 130, 136, 139; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 431-32; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 192, 198-200; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

Lincoln Approves Compensated Emancipation

April 10, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution pledging Federal compensation to states that implemented programs to free slaves.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Lincoln had asked Congress to endorse his plan by which the loyal slave states (Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, as well as western Virginia) would receive “pecuniary aid” if they voluntarily agreed to plans for gradual emancipation. The states would then use the funds however they saw fit, including to pay for freed slaves’ job training, education, welfare, or deportation; or to compensate slaveholders for their loss of labor and property.

Since the Federal government had no right to regulate slavery within the states, this measure sought to encourage the slave states with money to decide on a process to end the institution themselves. Lincoln had implicitly warned the political leaders of these states that if they did not accept this Federal offer, wartime exigencies could someday force him to free slaves involuntarily and without compensation.

The Republican press in the northern states overwhelmingly supported this resolution. An article in the New York Tribune declared, “This message constitutes of itself an epoch in the history of our country. It is the day-star of a new National dawn.” However, the more moderate New York Times questioned the large costs of such a program.

Some Radical Republicans in Congress argued that this plan was too lenient toward slaveholders. Abolitionists contended that bribing states to end slavery was immoral. Constitutionalists asserted that paying slave states to end slavery upset the Federal requirement to deal with all states equally, as the slave states would receive special treatment at the expense of the free states.

In the end, the resolution was approved by a vote of 88 to 31 in the House of Representatives, and 32 to 10 in the Senate. It was rejected by 85 percent of the Democrats and slave-state Unionists in Congress. This discouraged Lincoln because it demonstrated no change in their stance against it since he had met with the slave state congressmen in March. Moreover, this resolution was never enforced because none of the slave states would voluntarily end slavery.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 81-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 158; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7352; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 536; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 136; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 192, 197-98; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 499; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 270; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q262

The Peninsula Campaign: Confederate Reaction

March 31, 1862 – As the Federal Army of the Potomac headed for the Virginia Peninsula, Confederates scrambled to determine their landing point. Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln and Major General George B. McClellan disagreed on manpower.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

While McClellan continued loading his Federals on transports at Alexandria, General Joseph E. Johnston continued withdrawing his Confederate army (also unofficially called the Army of the Potomac) southward. Johnston intended to put two rivers–the Rappahannock and the Rapidan–between himself and McClellan.

The Confederate high command still did not know where McClellan would strike, but a strong clue came on the 24th when Major General Benjamin Huger, commanding the Confederate department at Norfolk, reported that 20 steam transports had moved down Chesapeake Bay and were debarking Federal troops at Old Point Comfort.

Major General John B. Magruder, defending the area between the York and James rivers with his small 7,500-man Army of the Peninsula, confirmed Huger’s message and estimated that 35,000 Federals were now in the vicinity. He urgently called on Richmond for reinforcements.

President Jefferson Davis’s military advisor, General Robert E. Lee, believed that these Federals would either reinforce Brigadier General Ambrose E. Burnside in North Carolina, reinforce the 10,000 Federals already at Fort Monroe to attack Norfolk while McClellan threatened Richmond from the north, or directly advance up the Peninsula.

Lee asked Johnston if he could spare any troops for Magruder and instructed him, “It will be necessary for you to organize a part of your troops to hold your present line, and to prepare the remainder to move to this city, to be thrown on the point attacked.” Lee explained that since the Federal intentions were still unknown, if he received “a dispatch saying ‘Move at once,’ you will understand that you are to repair immediately to this city, where you will be informed to what point you are to direct your course.”

That dispatch came on March 27, when Lee ordered Johnston to send 10,000 troops to Magruder via Richmond. This order came due to concern that Federal troops could be moved via transport up the York River and landed behind Magruder’s lines.

Johnston argued that relinquishing 10,000 men would make him unable to defend his line on the Rappahannock near Fredericksburg line if attacked. And 10,000 was not enough for Magruder to hold his ground against an attack on the Peninsula. Johnston recommended that he either stay intact where he was or move his entire army to reinforce Magruder. Johnston wrote, “We cannot win without concentrating. Should my suggestion be approved say so by telegraph, and the movement will be made with all expedition from Fredericksburg and this place.”

Meanwhile, President Lincoln faced mounting pressure from Radicals in his party to focus more on their darling, Major General John C. Fremont. Lincoln had recently put Fremont in charge of the new Mountain Department, and now Fremont and his allies asked for just 10,000 more men to invade eastern Tennessee and capture Knoxville.

Fremont specifically requested the 10,000-man division in the Shenandoah Valley led by General Louis Blenker. This division, mostly comprised of German immigrants who supported Fremont’s abolitionism, belonged to McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Lincoln had met with McClellan at Alexandria and assured him that he would not send Blenker to Fremont because the only reason for it would be political. But by the end of March, Lincoln apparently changed his mind (“Stonewall” Jackson’s recent activity in the Valley may have played a part). Lincoln wrote McClellan:

“This morning I felt constrained to order Blenker’s division to Fremont; and I write this to assure you that I did so with great pain, understanding that you would wish it otherwise. If you could know the full pressure of the case I am confident that you would justify it, even beyond a mere acknowledgement that the Commander in Chief may order what he pleases. Yours very truly, A. Lincoln.”

McClellan immediately complained that losing 10,000 men would compromise his plans, especially now that nearly his entire army was on its way to the Peninsula. He met with Lincoln on the 31st, where (according to McClellan) the president promised that “nothing of the sort should be repeated.” McClellan also claimed that Lincoln told him that he “might rest assured that the campaign should proceed with no further deductions from the force upon which its operations had been planned.”

With this in mind, McClellan left Alexandria for the Peninsula the next day.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 92; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 273, 397; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 128-29; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3184-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 189-90; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 293