Category Archives: Slavery

President Lincoln’s 1862 Message to Congress

December 1, 1862 – The second session of the lame duck Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress assembled at Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this month, many northerners had condemned Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Democratic victories in the midterm elections, opposition to the war effort, and temperamental military commanders added to the president’s problems.

Democrats in Congress quickly condemned the Lincoln administration for violating civil liberties, especially the suspension of habeas corpus in September. Congressman S.S. Cox of Ohio introduced a resolution on the first day of the new session calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners and declaring that their imprisonment had been “unwarranted by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and… a usurpation of power never given up by the people to their rulers.”

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In his message, Lincoln reported that foreign relations were satisfactory, adding a statement provided by Secretary of State William H. Seward: “If the condition of our relations with other nations is less gratifying than it has usually been at former periods, it is certainly more satisfactory than a nation so unhappily distracted as we are, might reasonably have anticipated.”

Commerce was adequate, and Federal receipts exceeded expenditures. Lincoln urged Congress to give “most diligent consideration” to the nation’s finances. According to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, there should be “a return to specie payments… at the earliest period compatible with due regard for all interests concerned,” and Congress should authorize the creation of a national banking system.

Lincoln also noted the Post Office’s “much improved” efficiency, the Interior Department’s successful suppression of the Sioux uprising, and the perceived benefits of having a new Department of Agriculture, which Congress recently created as a bureau within the executive branch. Lincoln also reported that the Navy Department now consisted of an unprecedented 427 warships, with 1,577 guns and a total capacity of 240,028 tons.

He avoided mentioning the politically volatile Emancipation Proclamation, instead reiterating support for his original plan of compensating slaveholders for gradually, voluntarily freeing their slaves. To that end, Lincoln proposed three constitutional amendments that would supersede his constitutionally dubious emancipation decree:

  • States abolishing slavery prior to 1900 would receive Federal subsidies
  • Slaves gaining freedom during the war would remain free, and if those slaves belonged to slaveholders loyal to the Union, those slaveholders would be compensated for their loss
  • Congress would provide for the colonization of free blacks outside the U.S. with their consent

These amendments were intended to prevent “vagrant destitution” that would result in the immediate liberation of all slaves.

Lincoln concluded:

“As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free–honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.”

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 237; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8366-99, 8810; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 120; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 234; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 501; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 292; 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), Q462

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The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

September 22, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued his decree stating “that all persons held as slaves” within rebellions areas “are, and henceforward shall be free” if those areas did not submit to Federal law by January 1.

By the 20th, Lincoln had gathered enough information to convince him that the Battle of Antietam had been a Federal victory. As such, he returned to the decree he had drafted in July. He also received a letter from Congressman Robert Dale Owen, an Indiana abolitionist who reminded the president that he had threatened the Confederates with slave confiscation if they did not stop rebelling against the U.S. within 60 days. Owen wrote:

“The twenty-third of September approaches, the date when the sixty-day notice you have given to the rebels will expire–expire without other reply to your warning than the invasion of Maryland and a menace to Pennsylvania. Is it to rest there? Patiently we have waited the time. Is nothing to follow? Are our enemies to boast that we speak brave words–and there an end of it?”

Owen argued that an emancipation decree would be “the very turning point in the nation’s fate! A day to the rebels of despair, to every loyal heart of exultant rejoicing! A day of which the anniversary will be celebrated with jubilee while the American Union endures! A day to be remembered not on our land alone, but wherever humanity mourns over the wrongs of the slave, or rejoices in his liberation!”

Lincoln summoned his cabinet to a noon meeting at the White House on September 22, one day before his 60-day deadline expired. He began by reading a passage called “High-Handed Outrage at Utica” from a new book sent to him by popular humorist Artemus Ward. Lincoln then reminded the members of the proclamation draft he shared with them in July. He had waited since then for military success, and although the Federal victory at Antietam had not been as decisive as hoped, Lincoln told them:

“When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a proclamation of emancipation, such as I thought most likely to be useful. I said nothing to anyone, but I made the promise to myself and to my Maker. I think the time has come now. I wish it were a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have best liked. But the rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfill that promise.”

Lincoln said he would not seek his cabinet’s advice on the matter, but he would accept suggestions to correct the document’s language or “any other minor matter.” The members unanimously agreed with emancipation. But Postmaster General Montgomery Blair feared that it could cause rebellion in the loyal slave states, demoralize the army, and give the Democrats “a club… to beat the Administration” in the upcoming midterm elections.

Lincoln said that he had exhausted every effort to get the loyal slave states to begin their own voluntary emancipation programs. Since they refused, “we must make the forward movement” without them. Lincoln believed, “They (will) acquiesce, if not immediately, soon.” And the prospect of losing the midterm elections “had not much weight with him” because the Democrats’ “clubs would be used against us take what course we might.”

The Emancipation Proclamation | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The original draft ordered the military to adhere to the laws passed in March and July to “recognize the freedom” of slaves escaping into Federal lines. Secretary of State William H. Seward suggested the passage be changed to “recognize and maintain the freedom.” Lincoln agreed, thus assuring slaves that once freed, they would not be returned to bondage.

The proclamation only freed slaves in seceded states, so it technically freed no one since those states considered themselves part of a separate nation beyond Federal authority. The decree exempted the loyal slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, as well as southern regions under Federal occupation, mostly in Louisiana. Seceded states would also be exempted if they renounced secession and returned to the Union within 100 days (i.e., January 1), otherwise they would lose their human property.

Lincoln cited “military necessity” under his power as “President of the United States of America, and Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy thereof” to issue such a proclamation. He also cited provisions of the two Confiscation Acts, even though this decree actually avoided enforcement of the Second Confiscation Act, which called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves within a conquered region (this order allowed slavery to continue in the conquered regions).

The proclamation made no mention of a moral or ethical obligation to free humans in bondage. It served solely as a weapon to cripple the Confederacy’s ability to fight the war. The decree’s first two paragraphs explained that Lincoln’s main goal remained reunion, not abolition, and he repeated his frequent calls to compensate loyal slaveholders who voluntarily freed their slaves and to encourage the voluntary deportation of blacks from America, “upon this continent or elsewhere.”

A crowd led by the Marine Corps Band gathered at the White House to serenade Lincoln when the proclamation went public on September 24. Lincoln appeared in an upstairs window and told them:

“What I did, I did after a very full deliberation, and under a very heavy and solemn sense of responsibility. I can only trust in God I have made no mistake. I shall make no attempt on this occasion to sustain what I have done or said by any comment. It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment and, maybe, take action upon it.”

Lincoln then lauded the troops, saying this was “scarcely so great as the difficulties of those who, upon the battle field, are endeavoring to purchase with their blood and their lives the future happiness and prosperity of this country. Let us never forget them.” He then concluded, “In my position I am environed with difficulties.”

Northerners had a mixed reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation. Abolitionists, especially in New England, celebrated its release. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It makes a victory of our defeats. Our hurts are healed; the health of the nation is repaired.” Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts declared that “the skies are brighter and the air is purer, now that slavery has been handed over to judgment.” Some Radical Republicans, such as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, hoped this would inspire the slaves to be “incited to insurrection and give the rebels a taste of real civil war.”

But for some abolitionists, the proclamation did not go far enough. Horace Greeley, who had long urged Lincoln to free the slaves, opined in the New York Tribune that Federal defeats over the past few months would discourage freed slaves from joining the military:

“There was a time when even this bit of paper could have brought the negro to our side; but now slavery, the real rebel capital, has been surrounded by a Chickahominy swamp of blunders and outrages against that race which no paper spade can dig through.”

Other northerners expressed deep resentment and joined in angry protest. The Washington Daily National Intelligencer stated, “Where we expect no good, we shall be only too happy to find that no harm has been done by the present declaration of the Executive.” The Washington Evening Star called Lincoln’s edict “void of practical effect.”

Some northerners feared that freed slaves would migrate to the northern states and compete with them for jobs. This fear seemed confirmed when Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered “contraband” slaves in Illinois to replace farm laborers who had joined the army. Even some Republicans began breaking from their party, reminding Lincoln that their goal had been to stop the expansion of slavery, not stop slavery altogether. Northern Democrats predicted the decree would “render eternal hatred between the two sections” and embolden the Confederates to put up even stronger resistance.

Outraged southerners viewed this as an unconstitutional attempt to overturn established law, a power belonging only to Congress. They also noted that Lincoln issued the proclamation out of “military necessity,” even though the Federal war capabilities far exceeded the Confederacy’s, with plenty of resources to continue turning out war materiel while using the world’s third most powerful navy to block those same resources from reaching the South. And it confirmed initial southern fears that the Republicans’ main goal was not to preserve the Union, but to destroy the southern way of life.

Many southerners believed this aimed to encourage slaves to rebel against their masters, which they considered particularly despicable since most masters had gone to war, leaving women and children to fend for themselves against potentially hostile slaves. Even some northerners expressed concern about Radicals cheering for “the prospect that it will inaugurate a negro insurrection in the South.” The London Times asserted that the unconstitutional edict would spark “arson, the slaughter of innocents, and a host of unmentionable horrors.” However, no mass slave uprisings occurred after the publication of this decree.

Knowing that the proclamation would be overturned in Federal courts and could not be enforced without military success, Lincoln hoped to serve two purposes. First, he sought to turn European opinion against the South by making the war a moral struggle between a slaveholding nation and a nation taking the first steps to end slavery. Second, Lincoln hoped to motivate slaves to escape their masters and support the Federal cause.

The second purpose received help from civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass, who encouraged blacks to enlist in the Federal military; two of Douglass’s sons joined the war effort. By month’s end, the 1st Regiment Louisiana Native Guards, calling themselves the “Chasseurs d’Afrique,” became the first formally recognized black regiment. Soon black volunteers from other southern states began moving north to join the army and navy.

The Emancipation Proclamation drastically changed the scope of the war and subsequent American history. Although it had no real legal authority, it ultimately paved the way for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery in America.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 85-86; Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157-59; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 59; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15039-47; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 217; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7927-50, 7960, 8027, 8832-8843; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 704, 707; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 214; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 4925; Gara, Larry, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 242; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 481-82; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 95-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 269-71; 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. 556-57; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: C.B. Richardson, 1866; revised version New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 529-31; 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), Q362

Lincoln Ponders Colonization and Emancipation

September 11, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln approved a contract to deport slaves to Central America. He later hosted a delegation urging him to abolish slavery.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln endorsed a government contract with the Chiriqui Improvement Company, under which slaves would be sent to the Chiriqui Lagoon area in Panama to mine coal. Republican Senator Samuel Pomeroy of Kansas “was to be the sole judge of the fitness of the Chiriqui site,” with power to allocate up to $50,000 for finding a ship and collecting slave volunteers. According to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, this was part of Lincoln’s larger effort to deport slaves, which had been ongoing “for months, almost from the commencement of this administration…”

Lincoln followed in the footsteps of his political hero, Henry Clay, by supporting black colonization as a means of “returning to Africa her children.” Earlier this year, Congress had appropriated $600,000 for the colonization of all blacks, slave or free, who agreed to leave. Interior Secretary Caleb Smith and Postmaster General Montgomery Blair had urged Lincoln to approve the contract. Anticipating the prospect of freed slaves after he issued his Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln made the deal.

Welles was skeptical of the idea because there was no guarantee that coal would be there to mine. It was also unclear how many freed slaves would be willing to move to Central America. But Lincoln pushed the plan by asking if a treaty could be negotiated between the U.S. and Costa Rica (which owned the land) to make the region a slave refuge. Welles wrote that Lincoln “thought it essential to provide an asylum for a race which we had emancipated, but which could never be recognized or admitted to be our equals.”

Attorney General Edward Bates supported the plan but urged Lincoln to impose mandatory deportation because he believed no freed slave would voluntarily leave the U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase opposed deportation but liked the idea of expanding U.S. interests into Central America. Secretary of State William H. Seward opposed deportation because he believed the labor of freed slaves would still be needed in the South. Ultimately all members of Lincoln’s cabinet except Welles and Chase supported negotiating treaties with nations to import freed American slaves.

As Lincoln pondered what to do with the slaves once they were freed, those who were unaware that Lincoln was about to issue an emancipation decree continued pushing for abolition. A group of Chicago clergymen of all Christian denominations met the president at the White House and urged him order the freedom of all slaves. They feared that since Lincoln had reinstated George B. McClellan, he might also revert to his original policy of not interfering with slavery where it already existed.

Lincoln agreed that “slavery is the root of the rebellion,” and freeing slaves would “weaken the rebels by drawing off their laborers” and “would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition.” However, he noted that the Second Confiscation Act had not “caused a single slave to come over to us,” and said:

“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 will 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? Is there a single court or magistrate or individuals that would be influenced by it there?…

“I will mention another thing, though it meet only your scorn and contempt. There are 50,000 bayonets in the Union armies from the border slave states. It would be a serious matter if, in consequence of a proclamation such as you desire, they should go over to the rebels. Do not misunderstand me because I have mentioned these objections… I have not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves, but hold the matter under advisement… I can assure you that the subject is on my mind, by day and night, more than any other. It is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it!”

Lincoln shrewdly declined to issue an order but left open the possibility that he may do so in the future. One of the ministers said, “What you have said to us, Mr. President, compels me to say to you in reply, that it is a message to you from our Divine Master, through me, commanding you, sir, to open the doors of bondage that the slaves may go free.”

Lincoln replied, “That may be, sir, for I have studied this question by night and by day, for weeks and for months. But if it is, as you say, a message from your Divine Master, is it not odd that the only channel he could send it by was the roundabout route by way of that awful wicked city of Chicago?”

The clergymen left unsatisfied and unaware that Lincoln was simply waiting for some type of military success before he published his Emancipation Proclamation.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7905-16; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15013-23; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 705-06; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 271; 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. 510; 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), Q362

The Prayer of Twenty Millions

August 20, 1862 – Horace Greeley published an editorial in his influential New York Tribune that challenged President Abraham Lincoln to enforce the newly enacted laws against slavery to preserve the Union. This prompted a rare public response from the president.

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Horace Greeley | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Sioux uprising, combined with recent Confederate victories and rumors of slave emancipation, harmed the Lincoln administration’s popularity in the North. One of Lincoln’s most prominent critics was Greeley, who wrote an open letter on August 19 and published it the next day in his newspaper under the title “The Prayer of Twenty Millions.”

Claiming to represent the sentiments of his readers, Greeley alleged that many who had voted for Lincoln were “sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of the Rebels.” He wrote:

“We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS… We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss in the discharge of your official and imperative duty with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new (Second) Confiscation Act. Those provisions were designed to fight Slavery with Liberty.”

Greeley accused Lincoln of being “unduly influenced by the counsels, the representations, the menaces, of certain fossil politicians hailing from the Border Slave States… We ask you to consider that Slavery is everywhere the inciting cause and sustaining base of treason: the most slaveholding sections of Maryland and Delaware being this day, though under the Union flag, in full sympathy with the Rebellion. It seems to us the most obvious truth, that whatever strengthens or fortifies Slavery in the Border States strengthens also Treason, and drives home the wedge intended to divide the Union.”

Greeley declared, “We complain that the Union cause has suffered… from mistaken deference to Rebel slavery… On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested, determined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel that all attempts to put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause are preposterous and futile…” He concluded:

“As one of the millions who would gladly have avoided this struggle at any sacrifice but that Principle and Honor, but who now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well being of mankind, I entreat you to render a hearty and unequivocal obedience to the law of the land.”

Lincoln, bothered by Greeley’s accusations, took the time two days later to publicly respond to Greeley’s letter. Lincoln reiterated the goal he had explained in his 1861 inaugural address:

“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save 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 Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I don’t believe it would help to save the Union.”

Lincoln had written another line but chose to omit it before publishing the rebuttal: “Broken eggs can never be mended, and the longer the breaking proceeds the more will be broken.”

By this time, Lincoln had already decided to issue an emancipation proclamation, and he hoped that this moderate letter would lay the groundwork for what he knew would be a controversial, unpopular, and unconstitutional decree. On the other hand, abolitionists unaware of Lincoln’s plan condemned this response as too conciliatory toward slavery.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Civilwarhome.com/lincolngreeley.htm; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 6-7; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7781; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 470-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 252-54; 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. 509-10; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 600; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 150

Slave Emancipation or Slave Colonization

August 14, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln hosted a conference of black men at the White House, where he reiterated his desire that they voluntarily leave America.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

This month, the demand for emancipating the slaves continued increasing among congressional Republicans, especially the Radicals. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley wrote to Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the leading Radical abolitionist in the Senate, complaining about Lincoln’s inactivity regarding emancipation: “Do you remember that old theological book containing this: ‘Chapter One–Hell; Chapter Two–Hell Continued.’ Well, that gives a hint of the way Old Abe ought to be talked to in this crisis.”

Unbeknownst to most politicians, Lincoln was preparing the public for an emancipation edict, but he wanted to wait for military success before announcing it. In the meantime, Lincoln continued to publicly champion his longtime commitment to black colonization (i.e., deportation) out of America.

On August 14, Lincoln became the first U.S. president to invite and receive a delegation of black people at the White House. A group of free blacks and former slaves came to hear Lincoln discuss his proposals. Lincoln hoped to garner support for his idea so the delegates could explain and promote the benefits to fellow blacks.

Announcing to the delegates that he favored deportation, Lincoln asked rhetorically, “Why should people of your race leave the country?” then answered, “You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races… This physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffers very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side.”

While Lincoln acknowledged that “slavery was the greatest wrong inflicted on any people,” he asserted that whites would not tolerate emancipation. He said, “But even when you cease to be (enslaved), you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race… On this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours.” A delegate tried to object, but Lincoln stopped him:

“I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it, if I would… I need not recount to you the effects upon white men growing out of the institution of slavery… see our present condition–the country engaged in war–our white men cutting one another’s throats, none knowing how far it will extend… But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated… There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you to remain with us.”

Lincoln announced that Congress had appropriated the funds to set up a colony in Central America, and he needed educated black men to encourage other blacks to join the program. Lincoln noted a similarity to Africa in climate, and he suggested that the deportees work in the lucrative coal fields until “they got ready to settle permanently in their homes.” If the pilot colonies succeeded, they could pave the way for thousands of former slaves to start new lives outside America.

Although the political climate was volatile in Central America, Lincoln said the people “are more generous than we are here… To your race, they have no objections. Besides, I would endeavor to have you made equals… I ask you then, to consider seriously not pertaining to yourselves merely, nor for your race, and ours, for the present time, but as one of the things, if successfully managed, for the good of mankind—not confined to the present time, but… ‘Into eternity.’”

The delegates agreed to pass Lincoln’s plan on to their constituents, but they could not make any promises that it would be accepted. Almost immediately, most black civil rights leaders vehemently rejected the plan and denounced Lincoln for devising it. Frederick Douglass declared that Lincoln had “contempt for Negroes” and “canting hypocrisy.” He asserted that Lincoln’s plan would encourage “ignorant and base” whites to commit “all kinds of violence and outrage upon the colored people.”

Douglass stated that blacks were just as much American citizens as whites and should not be manipulated into leaving their homeland. The Pacific Appeal, influential among blacks, opined that Lincoln’s proposal made it “evident that he, his cabinet, and most of the people, care but little for justice to the negro. If necessary he is to be crushed between the upper and nether millstone–the pride and prejudice of the North and South.” Even Lincoln’s own treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, wrote, “How much better would be a manly protest against prejudice against color!—and a wise effort to give free(d) men homes in America!”

However, some activists agreed to promote the plan in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Reverend Henry Highland Garnet led the minority in supporting Lincoln’s effort to save “our emancipated brethren from being returned to their former condition of slavery,” calling colonization “the most humane, and merciful movement which this or any other administration has proposed for the benefit of the enslaved.” And a prominent abolitionist conceded that deportation “is a damn humbug, but it will take with the people.”

While Lincoln had long supported black deportation, he had already begun leaning toward favoring emancipation when this conference took place. As such, this was a clever political tactic on Lincoln’s part to prepare the nation for slave liberation. It could also help Republicans’ chances in the upcoming midterm elections. Lincoln’s suggestion of deporting blacks made emancipation more appealing to the slaveholding border states, and it helped calm northern fears that massive waves of freed slaves would flood into their states.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 321; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7758-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 192; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 469-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 247, 251, 254-55; 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. 505, 508; 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), Q362

The Growing Clamor for Black Military Recruitment

August 4, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln ordered the drafting of militia into the Federal armies but remained reluctant to allow blacks to serve as combatants.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln invoked the terms of the newly enacted Militia Act by calling for 300,000 state militiamen to serve nine months. This was on top of the 300,000 three-year volunteers that Lincoln had called for last month. Lincoln decreed that states unable to meet their three-year volunteer quota had to make up for it with more nine-month enlistments, and if any state would not or could not raise their militias, the War Department would take control of the process. This was never effectively carried out.

That same day, two congressmen and a group of “Western gentlemen” presented two Indiana regiments of black men to Lincoln. Congressional Republicans, primarily the Radicals, had long supported freeing slaves and sending them into the military, both to deprive the Confederacy of labor and to increase Federal military strength. Also, the newly passed Confiscation Act authorized the president to arm slaves for combat duty. However, most northerners opposed such a move.

Lincoln upheld popular opinion by declining the offer for the black regiments to serve as armed units. He explained that “to arm the negroes would turn 50,000 bayonets against us that were for us,” meaning that the loyal slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri could join the Confederacy. Lincoln said he was not ready to allow the men to serve in any capacity other than army laborers, for which they would be paid. Major General Ulysses S. Grant used this policy to make laborers out of fugitive slaves in his military department.

The disappointed men and their sponsors were unaware that Lincoln was in the process of modifying his position on this issue. In a recent cabinet meeting, Lincoln had officially opposed arming blacks for military service, but, according to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, “he was not unwilling that commanders should, at their discretion, arm, for purely defensive purposes, slaves coming into their lines.”

In fact, the 1st South Carolina (African descent) was already armed and trained in Major General David Hunter’s Department of the South. They were even dispatched by Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, military governor of the South Carolina Sea Islands, to St. Simons Island in Georgia to fight local Confederates.

Saxton wrote Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton requesting authority to organize another “5,000 able-bodied men from among the contrabands in this department… to be uniformed, armed, and officered by men detailed from the Army.” They would be paid $8 to $10 per month and given full rations.

Saxton explained that such a move was necessary because the slaves “suffer greatly from fear of attack by their rebel masters, in the event of which they expect no mercy at their hands.” Saxton also predicted that “the rebellion would be very greatly weakened by the escape of thousands of slaves with their families from active rebel masters if they had such additional security against recapture as these men, judiciously posted, would afford them.” He concluded:

“Thus organized, disciplined, and constantly employed, the men would escape demoralization among themselves, and working with and for the soldiers whenever their health or efficiency demanded it, a happy reciprocal influence upon the soldiers and these earnest and ready helpers would almost necessarily be the result.”

Saxton’s letter was delivered to Washington by Robert Smalls, a boat pilot and escaped slave who had delivered the C.S.S. Planter to Federal blockaders. While in transit, Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commanding Federal occupation forces in New Orleans, authorized the recruitment of free blacks as soldiers. Butler argued that such an order did not defy administration policy, which only prohibited the recruitment of slaves.

On August 25, Stanton issued a reply to Saxton that changed the nature of the war:

“In view of the small force under your command and the inability of the Government at the present time to increase it, in order to guard the plantations and settlements occupied by the United States from invasion and protect the inhabitants thereof from captivity and murder by the enemy, you are also authorized to arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States such number of volunteers of African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000, and may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline, and duty, and to command them. The persons so received into service and their officers to be entitled to and receive the same pay and rations as are allowed by law to volunteers in the service.”

This was the first official Federal authorization to recruit blacks into the military for combat service, and while it was issued only due to the unique needs within Saxton’s jurisdiction, the order would ultimately be expanded throughout all military departments. This deprived the Confederacy of labor, increased Federal military strength, appeased Radical Republicans, and most importantly, empowered former slaves to fight for their own freedom.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 202; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 188, 191, 195-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 247, 250, 254-55; 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. 492, 564

The Second Confiscation Act

July 25, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation warning southerners to “cease participating in, aiding, countenancing, or abetting the existing rebellion, or any rebellion, against the Government of the United States, and to return to their proper allegiance to the United States, on pain of the forfeitures and seizures” of their property under a controversial law enacted the week before.

Just before adjourning, Congress enacted an amended version of the Confiscation Act of 1861. Unlike the original law, which only provided for freeing slaves actively employed in the Confederate military, this version included provisions for freeing all slaves belonging to anyone with Confederate sympathies.

The law classified all Confederates as “traitors” in accordance with a 1790 statute. These “traitors” had 60 days to stop “aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion, and return to his allegiance to the United States.” If not, “all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.” This amounted to 90 percent of the slaves in the Confederate states and, to many southerners, validated their accusation that Republicans had sought to free their slaves all along.

According to the measure’s ninth provision:

“That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the 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 person found on (or) being within any place 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 of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.”

This finally resolved the issue of whether Federal commanders should allow fugitive slaves to come into their camps.

The freed slaves received no guarantees that their rights would be protected; rather, the president was authorized to deport them to “some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States… such persons of the African race, made free by the provisions of this act, as may be willing to emigrate, having first obtained the consent of the government of said country to their protection and settlement within the same, with all the rights and privileges of freemen.”

Furthermore, if a Confederate did not submit to Federal authority, “the estate and property, moneys, stocks, and credits of such person shall be liable to seizure” by the Federal government for the rest of his life in what was called a “bill of attainder.” Radical Republicans pushed for taking the land “beyond the lives of the guilty parties,” but Lincoln made it known that such a provision would be unconstitutional and spiteful, and he would veto the entire bill if this was not modified.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln insisted on restricting property confiscation to just a person’s lifetime and then allowing ownership to revert to the person’s descendants. Congressional Republicans responded by passing an accompanying resolution declaring that the law was not a bill of attainder, which was prohibited by the Constitution, even though it clearly was.

Slaves escaping from bondage in the loyal slave states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) would continue to be returned to their masters (if they could prove their loyalty to the U.S.) in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act. Lincoln hoped this assurance would keep these states in the Union, and that a promise of gradual, compensated emancipation might persuade Virginia and Tennessee to return to the Union.

The House of Representatives estimated that this law could affect six million people and result in the confiscation of $5 billion in property. But it had no effective enforcement mechanism, and its conflicting references to the Confederacy as both a region rebelling against the Federal government (i.e., Confederates were “traitors”) and an independent nation (i.e., slaves were “captives of war”) made its constitutionality extremely dubious. Moreover, Lincoln was in the process of formulating his own emancipation plan under his wartime powers as commander-in-chief, which he believed to be more constitutional than a congressional decree and would do less to hinder Republicans’ chances in the midterm elections. Therefore, several of this law’s provisions went unenforced.

Congressmen speculated that Lincoln might veto the bill. Some feared that the measure would drive the loyal slave states out of the Union. Lincoln submitted a list of objections to the original bill, and the law passed after bitter debate. It was strongly opposed by Democrats and some moderate Republicans, but they could not overcome the majority of other moderate and Radical Republicans in favor.

Senator William P. Fessenden of Maine persuaded Lincoln to sign the bill into law and then send his proposed veto message to Congress, to be recorded for when the law was tested in the courts. This unprecedented move enabled Lincoln to curry favor from both factions of Republicans. In the message, Lincoln stated that “the severest justice may not always be the best policy.” Referring to the provision freeing slaves of Confederates after 60 days, Lincoln declared:

“It is startling to say that Congress can free a slave within a State, and yet, if it were said the ownership of the slave had first been transferred to the nation, and Congress had then liberated him, the difficulty would at once vanish. And this is the real case. The traitor against the General Government forfeits his slave at least as justly as he does any other property; and he forfeits both to the Government against which he offends. The Government, so far as there can be ownership, thus owns the forfeited slaves, and the question for Congress in regard to them is, ‘Shall they be made free or sold to new masters?’”

Lincoln argued that freeing slaves within the states contradicted the Republican Party platform to which Lincoln and the Republicans owed their election. Members of Congress, particularly the Radical Republicans, laughed at the message, confident that Lincoln did not have the nerve to oppose them any longer.

The 60-day countdown began on the 25th, when Lincoln issued his warning for southerners to cease and desist their rebellion. The language was derived from the first draft of Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, which he had agreed not to release in its entirety until the Federal military gained a victory.

The Second Confiscation Act highlighted the growing political rift between Lincoln and the Radical Republicans in Congress. It also set the stage for later Federal efforts to preserve and reconstruct the Union by destroying the southern way of life.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14721-30, 14753-62; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7701; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 157; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 539-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 182; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 460-61; Jackson, Donald Dale, Twenty Million Yankees: The Northern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 143; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 241, 244; 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. 500; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 351; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33; 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), Q362