Category Archives: Slavery

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 Siege of Yorktown: Johnston Prepares to Retreat

May 3, 1862 – As Major General George B. McClellan prepared to bombard Yorktown with siege artillery, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston began planning to retreat.

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Gens G.B. McClellan and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

By May 1, McClellan had 70 heavy guns in place to bombard the Confederate works on the Virginia Peninsula between the York and James rivers. Johnston, commanding the Confederate defenders at Yorktown, informed President Jefferson Davis that he planned to abandon the town the following evening. Davis replied:

“Accepting your conclusion that you must soon retire, arrangements are commenced for the abandonment of the navy-yard and removal of public property both from Norfolk and Peninsula. Your announcement to-day that you would withdraw to-morrow night takes us by surprise, and must involve enormous losses, including unfinished gunboats. Will the safety of your army allow more time?”

Davis then sent Secretary of War George W. Randolph and Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory to assess the situations at Yorktown and Norfolk to see if Johnston’s evacuation could be delayed.

At Yorktown, the Confederates continued trying to improve their defenses even as Johnston planned to pull out. Major General John B. Magruder, commanding a division in Johnston’s army, issued a proclamation asking locals to volunteer their slaves for digging trenches and building works:

“Under these circumstances, I am sure that no patriotic citizen, with the issue truly at heart, would hesitate to respond most cheerfully to the call which I now make, viz, one negro man, with his ax or spade, to be furnished at once by each proprietor.”

Magruder also addressed charges that the slaves already in the army were being worked too hard: “It is quite true that much hardship has been endured by the negroes in the recent prosecution of the defensive works on our lines, but this has been unavoidable, owing to the constant and long-continued wet weather.”

Magruder argued that the soldiers “have been more exposed and have suffered far more than the slaves,” who “have always slept under cover and have had fires to make them comfortable, whilst the men have been working in the rain, have stood in the trenches and rifle pits in mud and water almost knee-deep, without shelter, fire, or sufficient food.” There had been “sickness among the soldiers and the slaves, but far more among the former than the latter.”

Johnston backed Magruder’s request for more slave labor by asking the Confederate government at Richmond for another 800 slaves, which “can be returned when others are sent in their place.” But Richmond had none to give, as General Robert E. Lee, President Davis’s top military advisor, asked Johnston for “a portion of your negro force” to help build defenses along the James River.

On the Federal side, with McClellan having 70 guns and asking Washington for even more, President Abraham Lincoln sent a troubled response: “Your call for Parrott guns… alarms me–chiefly because it argues indefinite procrastination. Is anything to be done?” McClellan replied, “All is being done that human labor can accomplish.”

Lincoln had allowed McClellan to embark on the Peninsula campaign with the expectation that it would end the war faster than advancing on Richmond from northern Virginia. But McClellan’s request for more guns meant that he was settling in for a siege, which could last indefinitely depending on Confederate resistance. In addition, sending more guns to the Peninsula meant that there would be fewer guns to defend Washington.

By this time, McClellan had about 112,000 Federals on the Peninsula, or nearly double Johnston’s 57,000 Confederates. However, McClellan’s intelligence sources estimated Johnston to have about 100,000 men behind strong defenses, ready to repel any head-on assault. Thus, McClellan relied on his artillery, confident that the Federals’ superior firepower would tip the scales in his favor.

Once the Federal guns were in place, they could hurl 7,000 pounds of shell in every combined volley. But rather than begin firing each gun as it was emplaced, McClellan opted to wait until all the guns were emplaced before beginning his bombardment. And extensive construction was required to build roads, structures, and platforms sturdy enough to transport, house, and fire the heavy guns.

As the Federals continued preparing their siege, Randolph and Mallory arrived at Norfolk. Learning that Johnston had ordered Major General Benjamin Huger, commanding the Confederates there, to abandon the town and the vital navy yard, Randolph postponed the order “until he (Huger) could remove such stores, munitions, and arms as could be carried off.” Mallory issued similar orders to the navy commandant at Norfolk.

Johnston received orders to postpone his evacuation from the Peninsula until May 3. Lee explained that the Confederates needed more time to evacuate Norfolk and save the naval fleet there. By that date, McClellan had 114 siege guns facing Johnston at Yorktown, along with another 300 smaller field guns. Not only was Johnston faced with overwhelming firepower on the Peninsula, but another Federal army on the Rappahannock River threatened him from the north.

As McClellan planned to begin the great bombardment on May 4, Johnston spent the 3rd trying to disengage from the Federal Army of the Potomac just a few hundred yards in his front. Even though the Confederates lacked adequate transportation for their guns and equipment, Johnston instructed General D.H. Hill, commanding the Confederate left, “Nothing but an actual attack of columns of infantry need interfere with the movement of your main body soon after dark.”

Johnston planned to fall back to Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital, 12 miles west of Yorktown. McClellan was informed of Johnston’s movement by fugitive slaves, but he refused to believe that the Confederates would retreat. His refusal was partly based on a report from his intelligence chief, Allan Pinkerton, stating that accounts from “spies, contrabands, deserters, refugees, and prisoners of war” provided a medium estimate of 100 to 120,000 Confederates in Johnston’s army. Of this, it could “safely be assumed that the medium estimates stated are under rather than over the mark of the real strength of rebel forces at Yorktown.”

McClellan responded by calling up his reserves and requesting the navy to send gunboats up the York River to destroy the Confederate batteries and bombard their defenses from the rear. Before the Federals could act, the Confederates opened a heavy bombardment of their own to hide their evacuation of the Yorktown-Warwick River line.

The Confederates withdrew in two columns, slowly moving through the night until all the defenses were abandoned by morning. They escaped McClellan’s grand bombardment by a day. The fact that the Confederates had held Yorktown for over a month in the face of such overwhelming enemy numbers was amazing in itself. Since McClellan had been unable to unleash his heavy artillery, in a sense the siege of Yorktown ended before it truly ever began.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., Forward to Richmond: McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 107; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13540-46, 13552-61, 15260-70; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 410; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 145-46; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3382; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 206-07; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 829, 847; Wert, Jeffry D, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 241-42

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

Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan

March 6, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln submitted a message asking Congress to consider a plan of gradual, compensated slave emancipation.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In his message, Lincoln called for a joint resolution declaring “that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in it’s (sic) discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences public and private, produced by such a change of system.” No U.S. president had ever submitted such an extraordinary legislative proposal to Congress before.

Lincoln asserted that the plan would help keep border slave states (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) from seceding. He wrote that “the leaders of the existing rebellion entertain the hope that this Government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say, ‘The Union for which we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.’ To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion, and the initiation of emancipation deprives them of it and of all the States initiating it.”

If the border states would “surrender on fair terms their own interest in Slavery rather than see the Union dissolved,” Lincoln believed it would hasten the war’s end. In this way, Lincoln argued for ending slavery not for moral reasons, but to preserve the Union and destroy the “proposed confederacy.”

To those concerned that such a plan would be too expensive, Lincoln argued that “less than one half-day’s cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at four hundred dollars per head,” and 87 days’ worth of expenses would compensate for all the remaining slaves in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Lincoln maintained that such a plan was constitutional because it served the “general welfare,” with each state being able to decide for itself whether or not to take part. Opponents quickly countered that individual states could not enter into special relationships with the Federal government, such as one that would give the slave states a financial benefit that free states could not enjoy, even though they would be helping to fund said benefit.

The president urged the border state congressmen to support this measure because it was “impossible to foresee all the incidents, which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it.” This was an implied warning that if they rejected the plan, involuntary emancipation without compensation might someday be imposed.

In a meeting with Lincoln four days later, the border state congressmen questioned the constitutionality of the plan, inferred that Federal coercion toward emancipation would be resisted, and expressed fears that freeing slaves would harm race relations.

Lincoln countered that the plan “would not be half as onerous, as would be an equal sum, raised now, for the indefinite prossecution (sic) of the war.” In a letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Lincoln stated that “we should urge it persuasively, and not menacingly, upon the South.” Nevertheless, congressmen from the border slave states maintained strong opposition to any Federal interference with slavery.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14906-32; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7306-17; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 117; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 459-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 179, 184-85; 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. 498-99; 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), Q162

The Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

December 2, 1861 – The second session of the first Republican-dominated Congress opened amid growing discontent with the way the Lincoln administration was prosecuting the war.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Republican majority in this Congress included an unprecedented number of New Englanders, most of whom belonged to the party’s Radical faction. Of the 22 Senate committees, 16 were chaired by senators either from New England or born in New England but representing other states. The two most powerful members of the House of Representatives, House Speaker Galusha Grow and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Thaddeus Stevens, represented Pennsylvania but had been born and raised in New England.

Debate quickly focused on more effective means to wage the war. For the Radicals, this meant transforming the conflict from preserving the Union by destroying the Confederacy to destroying the southern way of life by crusading against slavery. This was evidenced by the House rejecting a motion to reaffirm the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution of July 25, which had declared that the war was being waged solely to preserve the Union.

Members of Congress introduced several petitions and bills emancipating slaves, especially those belonging to masters “in rebellion.” Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois introduced a bill providing “for the confiscation of the property of rebels, and giving freedom to the persons they hold in slavery.” This would expand the Confiscation Act by seizing and freeing the slaves of anyone supporting the Confederacy (the current act only provided for seizing slaves actively serving the Confederacy and placing them under Federal supervision).

Trumbull had once been a close political ally of President Lincoln, but they had since clashed on the slavery issue, prompting Trumbull to declare that the president lacked “the will necessary in this great emergency.”

Aside from slavery, financing the war dominated debates. It was estimated that by the end of the fiscal year of June 30, 1862, the Federal debt would be $750 million, with only $165 million in revenue generated by taxation. Unprecedented tax increases were proposed, along with other measures such as increasing import tariffs on coffee, tea, sugar, and molasses. More proposals would be forthcoming upon receiving the Treasury Department’s annual report.

Regarding the military, Congress authorized the navy secretary to award the Medal of Honor to enlisted men in the Navy and Marine Corps. Creation of the Medal came about due to pressure from servicemen and the public. This was the highest military award ever granted by the U.S. Congress also approved an official thanks for “the gallant and patriotic services of the late Brig Gen Nathaniel Lyon, and the officers and soldiers under his command at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.”

In addition, the Senate held a memorial service for Edward D. Baker of Oregon, a fellow senator-turned-colonel, killed at Ball’s Bluff in October. In an unusual occurrence, President Lincoln visited the Senate chamber to attend the service.

The Senate addressed the defection of John C. Breckinridge to the Confederacy by approving a motion: “Whereas John C. Breckinridge, a member of this body from the State of Kentucky, has joined the enemies of his country, and is now in arms against the Government he had sworn to support,” it was resolved “that said John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate.”

Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan, had attended the special congressional session the previous summer but had since disavowed the Union and accepted a military commission as a Confederate brigadier general. Senators unanimously voted to expel him from the chamber, 36 to 0.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 99; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6818-29; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 88, 92; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145-48, 151; 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. 358, 495-96; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 267-68; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751-52; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 213-14; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; 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), Q461

The Fremont Controversy: Fremont’s Retort

September 8, 1861 – After six days, Major General John C. Fremont finally responded to President Lincoln’s request to modify clauses in his controversial proclamation.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West, admitted that he had consulted with nobody, including his superiors, before issuing his decree, which imposed martial law in Missouri and freed all slaves belonging to disloyal masters. Fremont took full responsibility for the order, which he called “as much a movement in the war as a battle,” and like a battle, he would “have to act according to my judgment of the ground before me.”

Regarding Lincoln’s request to change the slave emancipation order, Fremont wrote: “If upon reflection your better judgment still decides that I am wrong in the article respecting the liberation of slaves, I have to ask that you will openly direct me to make the correction,” otherwise, “to retract of my own accord, it would imply that I myself thought it wrong, and that I had acted without the reflection which the gravity of the point demanded.” He asserted that he acted “upon the certain conviction that it was a measure right and necessary, and I think so still.”

Fremont also defended his order to execute armed Missourians suspected of disloyalty: “The shooting of men who shall rise in arms against an army in the military occupation of a country is merely a necessary measure of defense,” and according to Fremont, it was valid “according to the usages of civilized warfare.” Since Lincoln had defined this conflict as an insurrection and not a war against an independent nation, the rebels “have no ground for requiring that we should waive in their benefit any of the ordinary advantages which the usages of war allow to us.”

Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Mrs. Jessie B. Fremont | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Fremont then asked for Lincoln’s permission to enforce the proclamation, “hoping that my views may have the honor to meet your approval.”

In an unprecedented move, Fremont assigned his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, daughter of the legendary Senator Thomas Hart Benton, to personally deliver this response from his St. Louis headquarters to the president at Washington. Mrs. Fremont arrived on the 10th not only to deliver her husband’s letter, but to persuade Lincoln to withdraw his objections to Fremont’s proclamation. Radical Republicans had emboldened the Fremonts, ardent abolitionists, by advising them that turning this conflict into a war against slavery would prevent Great Britain from recognizing Confederate independence.

Lincoln, a moderate Republican, sought to not only maintain harmony within the party but also maintain the delicate wartime alliance between the Republicans and Unionist Democrats. As such, Fremont’s proclamation had gone too far, and while Fremont’s defiance had amused the Radicals, Lincoln did not share their amusement when he met with Mrs. Fremont in the Red Room at 9 p.m. on September 10.

Without offering the lady a seat, Lincoln took Fremont’s letter from her and read it, dissatisfied that the general had refused to modify his order. Mrs. Fremont told Lincoln that he needed to consider liberating slaves to garner European support. Interrupting her, Lincoln said, “You are quite a female politician. It was a war for a great national idea, the Union, and… General Fremont should not have dragged the Negro into it.”

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

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

Lincoln said that he would write a reply and let Mrs. Fremont know when it was ready for delivery. Irritated, Mrs. Fremont defended her husband’s wisdom and prestige, which she contended were “above and beyond” most military officers. Lincoln later said that she “left in anger, flaunting her handkerchief before my face.”

The next day, Lincoln gave Mrs. Fremont his reply. He explained that although he “perceived in general no objection” to Fremont’s proclamation, he could not allow military commanders to override official policies mandated by Congress. Lincoln stated that the order regarding freeing slaves exceeded the Confiscation Act. Therefore, Lincoln expressed his “wish that that clause should be modified.”

Lincoln would take responsibility for removing those non-conforming portions of the decree so that Fremont would not have to admit to any mistake. Lincoln wrote:

“Your answer, just received, expresses the preference on your part that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very cheerfully do. It is therefore ordered that the said clause of said proclamation be so modified, held, and construed, as to conform to, and not to transcend, the provisions on the same subject contained in the act of Congress entitled ‘An Act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes’ Approved, August 6. 1861; and that said act be published at length with this order.”

While Mrs. Fremont awaited Lincoln’s response, she was visited by Francis P. Blair, Sr., whose family was old friends with the Fremonts. However, that friendship quickly dissolved when Blair informed her that his son, Frank Jr., had written to his other son, Montgomery, recommending that General Fremont be removed from command. This prompted Mrs. Fremont to angrily declare that her husband could kill Frank Jr. in a duel.

Lincoln’s letter arrived shortly afterward, and Mrs. Fremont promptly returned to St. Louis to deliver it to the general. In addition, Lincoln granted Fremont’s request to issue an “open order” to change the proclamation by submitting the letter’s contents to the press for publication throughout the country.

While Fremont’s emancipation proclamation may have been morally just, it threatened to divide the U.S. since most politicians and soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. It also threatened to undermine Lincoln’s policies as well as those of Congress. Nevertheless, Fremont remained firm that he would not “change or shade” his proclamation because it “was worth a victory in the field.”

After sending Mrs. Fremont on her way, Lincoln wrote to her denying “being understood as acting in any hostility” toward her husband. Lincoln then addressed the increasing complaints about Fremont’s leadership by dispatching Postmaster General Montgomery Blair (Frank Sr.’s son and Frank Jr.’s brother) to assess Fremont’s command at St. Louis. Blair traveled with Major General David Hunter and Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, arriving at Fremont’s headquarters early on the 12th.

Two days later, both Blair and Meigs agreed in recommending Fremont’s removal. Meigs reported that “great distress and alarm prevail,” and Fremont “does not encourage the men to form regiments for defense.” Blair stated that Fremont seemed “stupefied and almost unconscious and is doing absolutely nothing.” Both men left St. Louis that day, but the Fremont controversy would continue.

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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. 74-75; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6618-30; Faust, Patricia L, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 291-92; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 96-97; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 64; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 389-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 117-18; 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. 353; 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), Q361