Tag Archives: Slavery

Reconstruction Gets Under Way in Tennessee

January 21, 1864 – Unionists assembled at Nashville and approved a resolution forming a constitutional convention to restore Tennessee to the Union.

17th U.S. President Andrew Johnson | Image Credit: learnnc.org

Military Governor Andrew Johnson, who attended the assembly, called upon the delegates to form a new government. He urged them, “Begin at the foundation, elect the lower officers, and, step by step, put the government in motion.”

Regarding who should be allowed to vote in the election for convention delegates, Johnson declared that anyone “who has engaged in this Rebellion has been, by his own act, expatriated” and thus had no right to suffrage “until he has filed his declaration and taken the oath of allegiance.” Johnson went further than other governors by equating Confederates with foreigners, but at the same time he opened a path for them to regain their rights as citizens.

Johnson hoped to encourage Confederates to lay down their arms and pledge loyalty to the Union by announcing that he was “for a white man’s Government, and in favor of free white qualified voters controlling this country, without regard to Negroes.”

As for the slavery issue, Johnson said, “Now is the time to settle it.” He alleged that the Confederates had “commenced the destruction of the Government for the preservation of slavery, and the Government is putting down the Rebellion, and, in the preservation of its own existence, has put slavery down, justly and rightfully, and upon correct principles.”

There was no need to debate emancipation, as it was already being done in Tennessee. According to Johnson, the main focus should now be on restoring a Unionist government while “leaving the Negroes out of the question.” After that, the next phase would be “assigning the Negro his new relation” to whites in society. And since slaves outnumbered free blacks in Tennessee, it should be as simple to “contain them in one condition as in another.”

Of the black man, Johnson asserted, “If he can rise by his own energies, in the name of God let him rise,” though he reminded his white Unionist audience that he did not “argue that the Negro race is equal to the Anglo-Saxon–not at all.” In keeping with President Abraham Lincoln’s policy of colonization, Johnson expressed hope that “the Negro will be transferred to Mexico, or some other country congenial to his nature, where there is not that difference in class or distinction, in reference to blood or color.”

After ranging over various other topics, Johnson returned to the task at hand of restoring Tennessee to the Union. He concluded, “Things have a beginning, and you have put the ball in motion.”

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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. 361; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 456

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Reconstruction Begins in Arkansas

January 19, 1864 – A legally dubious convention amended the Arkansas constitution to abolish slavery in the state.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Delegates assembled at Little Rock to consider constitutional changes, the most important of which was to end slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. The delegates were not popularly elected to represent the people of Arkansas, and as they debated, the popularly elected (pro-Confederate) state government continued functioning in southwestern Arkansas, which was not yet under Federal military occupation.

Under this amended Unionist constitution, Arkansas was now eligible to be restored to the U.S. Convention delegates approved submitting the constitution to a popular vote on March 14. Those eligible to vote would be white men who swore allegiance to the Union. Lincoln wrote Major General Frederick Steele, commanding the Federal occupation forces in the Department of Arkansas:

“Sundry citizens of the State of Arkansas petitioned me that an election may be held in that State, in which to elect a Governor; that it be assumed at that election, and thenceforward, that the Constitution and laws of the State, as before the rebellion, are in full force, except that the Constitution is so modified as to declare that there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…”

According to Lincoln, the legality of the constitutional convention was not to be questioned; as long as the delegates voted to abolish slavery, Steele was authorized to “fix the rest.” The delegates elected Isaac Murphy as provisional governor until the elections were held in March. Lincoln would leave Steele to work with civil authorities on the details of forming the new Unionist government for Arkansas, as long as those details included ending 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 16868-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 360-61; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10303; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 390-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 456-58; 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), Q164

Legislation of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

July 16, 1862 – The lack of southern opposition made the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress one of the most productive in history, as the Republican majority worked to enact nearly every plank of their party platform.

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

Regarding the war effort, Congress approved a measure authorizing the distribution of the Medal of Honor to Federal army personnel. The Medal had been established last year only for officers and men of the Federal Navy or Marine Corps. This later became known as the Congressional Medal of Honor, the only individual decoration for valor during the war besides a congressional vote of thanks.

The Federal Navy

President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law establishing that “… every officer, seaman, or marine, disabled in the line of duty, shall be entitled to receive for life, or during his disability, a pension from the United States, according to the nature and degree of his disability, not exceeding in any case his monthly pay.” This was intended to help wounded naval personnel, as well the widows and children of those killed in service. Another law appropriated money for the families of Federal sailors killed in action against the Confederate ironclad C.S.S. Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March.

Congress approved a measure stating that “… the spirit ration in the Navy of the United States shall forever cease, and… no distilled spirituous liquors shall be admitted on board vessels of war, except as medical stores… there shall be allowed and paid to each person in the Navy now entitled to the ration, five cents per day in commutation and lieu thereof, which shall be in addition to their present pay.” This law was sponsored by Republican Senator James Grimes of Iowa, at the request of Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox.

The Militia Act of 1862

Lincoln approved a bill that defined militias as consisting of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45, eligible to be called into Federal service for up to nine months. The president was to “make all necessary rules and regulations… to provide for enrolling the militia and otherwise putting this act into execution.”

This allowed for unprecedented Federal power over state militias, and it was the first step toward a military draft. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorized Federal officials to suppress any criticism of the Federal militia policy, including imprisoning anti-war protestors.

The law also authorized the president “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion, and for this purpose he may organize and use them in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.” This included “any military or naval service for which they may be found competent.”

This was the first time in American legislative history that blacks were allowed (albeit implicitly) to serve as military combatants. Blacks would receive less pay than whites, and they would initially be used only for manual labor, but abolitionists saw this as a good first step toward racial equality. A moderate Republican senator acknowledged that “the time has arrived when… military authorities should be compelled to use all the physical force of this country to put down the rebellion.”

These wartime measures marked a turning point in the Federal war policy. The war would take a much harsher turn in future months, as the Federals sought to fight on “different principles” and toss aside the “white kid-glove warfare” that had produced stalemate.

The Ironclad Oath

Lincoln approved a measure requiring all Federal officials or employees, elected or appointed, to take an “ironclad oath” declaring that they had never done anything to aid the Confederacy. Those who could not take this oath or refused to take it would lose their jobs.

This had generated intense debate in Congress, but Lincoln’s moderate approach to readmitting Confederate states to the Union meant that this was rarely enforced at first. However, the oath requirement was later extended to cover Federal contractors, attorneys, and jurors, along with residents of Confederate states under Federal military occupation.

Financial Legislation

Republicans approved more measures raising the already high protective tariffs on sugar, tobacco, and liquor. This made up for land sale revenue lost by the Homestead Act and helped garner party support from bankers and industrialists who lobbied for the high rates.

Congress approved the Second Legal Tender Act, which authorized printing another $150 million in paper currency, or greenbacks. Greenbacks were worth only 91 cents in gold by the end of July, but many people supported them, especially westerners who had limited access to specie. Confederates under Federal military occupation also used greenbacks because they were still worth more than the nearly worthless Confederate currency.

There were now $300 million in greenbacks in circulation, which inflated the cost of living in the northern states. However, this was somewhat offset by the new Federal income tax enacted this month, as well as the strengthening northern industry to bolster the economy.

Another bill addressed the problem of dwindling amounts of metal currency by authorizing the use of postage stamps as money.

Other Legislation

Lincoln signed a bill into law approving a treaty to work with Great Britain in suppressing the illicit African slave trade. The U.S. Senate approved a measure endorsing the secession of western Virginia from the rest of the state and admitting “West Virginia” into the Union as a new state. West Virginia had been created by a legally questionable legislature on May 23 on the condition that blacks would not be permitted there, slave or free.

Lincoln also signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act into law, which banned polygamy in U.S. territories. This was part of the Republican Party’s campaign pledge of 1860 to end polygamy within the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Utah Territory. Mormons argued that such a law violated their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion.

Conclusion

Members of this 37th U.S. Congress overhauled the nation’s financial system, distributed land to states and homesteaders, laid the groundwork for a transcontinental railroad, and took steps to abolish slavery. All these measures permanently changed the direction of America’s social and economic development. They also gave the Federal government unprecedented control over the states and the people, which was exactly what southerners had argued against (and were now fighting against) since the nation’s founding.

Before Congress adjourned, one last controversial measure would be enacted.

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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. 176, 193-94; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 323, 385; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 180-81; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 236, 238-41; 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. 303, 446, 450, 491-92, 499-50; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33; 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), Q362

The New Unionist Maryland

December 3, 1861 – The Maryland legislature assembled with most secessionists removed from office. This ensured that Washington would not be surrounded by Confederate states.

Maryland State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Maryland State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

In his final message to the legislature, Maryland Governor Thomas H. Hicks noted that legislators in the previous session had considered seceding:

“This continued until the General Government had ample reason to believe it was about to go through the farce of enacting an ordinance of secession, when the treason was summarily stopped by the dispersion of the traitors…”

Hicks stated that in the elections of June 13 and November 6, the people “declared, in the most emphatic tones, what I have never doubted, that Maryland has no sympathy with the rebellion, and desires to do her full share of the duty in suppressing it.” Hicks’s Unionist stance marked a major turnaround considering he had been strongly pro-Confederate before Federal forces entered Maryland.

The Unionist legislators approved a resolution declaring themselves “devoted” to the Federal government and expressing “confidence” in the Lincoln administration. The members repealed prior resolutions absolving Baltimore authorities of blame for the April 19 riot and appropriated $7,000 to compensate the families of those in the 6th Massachusetts who had been killed. They approved a measure to raise troops for the Federal army, to be paid for by a direct tax on the people, and passed a resolution declaring that the war would not interfere with slavery.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5899; 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

President Lincoln’s 1861 Message to Congress

December 3, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln submitted his first annual message to Congress, which described the current state of affairs and reiterated his view that the Union must be preserved by all necessary means.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

In accordance with the tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln did not appear in person before Congress, but rather submitted his message for a clerk to read. In it, Lincoln declared: “A disloyal portion of the American people have during the whole year been engaged in an attempt to divide and destroy the Union.”

Lincoln provided a status on all executive departments. In an unprecedented move, Lincoln announced that he supported extending diplomatic recognition to the only two black republics in the world, Haiti and Liberia: “If any good reason exists why we should persevere longer in withholding our recognition of the independence and sovereignty of Hayti and Liberia, I am unable to discern it.”

Regarding the Treasury department, Lincoln wrote, “It is gratifying to know that the expenditures made necessary by the rebellion are not beyond the resources of the loyal people, and to believe that the same patriotism which has thus far sustained the Government will continue to sustain it till peace and union shall again bless the land.” This did not reflect the growing financial difficulties facing the country at that time.

Regarding the navy, Lincoln wrote that “… it may almost be said that a navy has been created and brought into service since our difficulties commenced.” By this time, the two blockading squadrons in the Atlantic and the Gulf had grown so large that they became four. The navy, which had less than 9,000 officers and men before the war, now had 24,000.

Noting that the Supreme Court had three vacancies, Lincoln stated, “I have so far forborne making nominations to fill these vacancies (because)… I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward, thus disabling myself from doing justice to the South on the return of peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the North one which has heretofore been in the South would not, with reference to territory and population, be unjust.”

Lincoln reviewed the Confiscation Act, which enabled Federal commanders to seize slaves used “for insurrectionary purposes” and decreed that disloyal slaveholders “forfeited” their rights to own slaves. He expressed hope that the border states would “pass similar enactments,” and if so, Congress should “provide for accepting such persons from such States, according to some mode of valuation.” According to Lincoln, states that voluntarily freed their slaves should be compensated, “in lieu, pro tanto, of direct taxes, or upon some other plan to be agreed on with such States respectively.” And slaves in those states would “be at once deemed free” by the Federal government.

Addressing fears that freed slaves would compete with whites for jobs, Lincoln reiterated his support for black colonization (i.e., deportation) “at some place or places in a climate congenial to them. It might be well to consider, too, whether the free colored people already in the United States could not, so far as individuals may desire, be included in such colonization.”

Referencing Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln remarked that colonization may “involve the acquiring of territory… If it be said that the only legitimate object of acquiring territory is to furnish homes for white men, this measure effects that object, for the emigration of colored men leaves additional room for white men remaining or coming here.”

Turning to the war, Lincoln contended that “I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle” by making this a war to preserve the Union only. However, Lincoln stated, “The Union must be preserved, and hence, all indispensable means must be employed. We should not be in haste to determine that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as well as the disloyal, are indispensable.”

Lincoln boasted that Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri were now under Unionist control. Those states “have now an aggregate of not less than 40,000 in the field for the Union, while of their citizens certainly not more than a third of that number, and they of doubtful whereabouts and doubtful existence, are in arms against us.” However, Lincoln did not mention that Kentucky and Missouri had dual Unionist and secessionist governments.

Recounting the retirement of Winfield Scott, Lincoln stated, “The retiring chief repeatedly expressed his judgment in favor of General McClellan for the position, and in this the nation seemed to give a unanimous concurrence.” The president then paid a curious compliment to the new general-in-chief:

“It has been said that one bad general is better than two good ones, and the saying is true if taken to mean no more than that an army is better directed by a single mind, though inferior, than by two superior ones at variance and cross-purposes with each other.”

Lincoln noted the Confederacy’s tendency toward despotism without mentioning his own: “It continues to develop that the insurrection is largely, if not exclusively, a war upon the first principle of popular government–the rights of the people.” Arguing that only a small minority of southerners actually supported the Confederacy, the president stated, “Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.”

Lincoln then turned attention to labor, and the principle that any free person could rise to prominence in America:

“Many independent men everywhere in these States a few years back in their lives were hired laborers. The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all, gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and improvement of condition to all.”

Lincoln concluded his message with: “The struggle of to-day is not altogether for to-day; it is for a vast future also. With a reliance on Providence all the more firm and earnest, let us proceed in the great task which events have devolved upon us.”

Lincoln did not directly address or defend his suspensions of writs of habeas corpus and other violations of civil liberties. He also made no mention of the Trent affair, which prompted laughs from members of Congress; some even exclaimed, “Mr. Lincoln forgot it!” However, Lincoln did not want to publicly address the matter because the State Department still awaited the official British response.

Lincoln also did not include Simon Cameron’s original report on the War Department, which included the controversial passage: “Those who make war against the Government justly forfeit all rights of property… It is as clearly a right of the Government to arm slaves, when it may become necessary, as it is to use gun-powder taken from the enemy.” Lincoln was not ready to allow slaves to serve in the army in any capacity other than as laborers.

The president disappointed abolitionists by not using slavery as a weapon to destroy the Confederacy. Abolitionist Strubal York wrote to Senator Lyman Trumbull, both from Lincoln’s home state of Illinois:

“Such a Message! Not one single manly, bold, dignified position taking it from beginning to end—No response to the popular feeling—no battlecry to the 500,000 gallant soldiers now in the field, but a tame, timid, timeserving common place sort of an abortion of a Message, cold enough with one breath, to freeze hell over. I have not seen one intelligent man who approves of it. I take it there are none such in the limits of the Free States… Mr. Lincoln must have been facing southward when he wrote this thing.

Criticism and praise for Lincoln’s message to Congress continued throughout the month.

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References

Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6731-42; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 160; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 87; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 355 | 406-407; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 146; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 116-19; 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; Wikipedia: Trent Affair

Cameron Defines Federal Fugitive Slave Policy

August 8, 1861 – Secretary of War Simon Cameron responded to Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s request to clarify the administration’s policy on fugitive slaves escaping into Federal military lines, one day after Confederates burned a refuge for escapees.

U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Major General Benjamin F. Butler | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Butler commanded Federals at Fort Monroe on the tip of the Virginia peninsula between the York and James rivers. His forces had moved inland to occupy various points, including the town of Hampton. However, after the Federal defeat at Bull Run, Butler was compelled to send many of his men north to help defend Washington. This prompted him to withdraw much of his remaining force back to the fort, abandoning Hampton and other points.

Meanwhile, Confederate Brigadier General John B. Magruder had read a copy of Butler’s July 30 letter to Cameron stating that Hampton had become a refuge for “runaway slaves” (or what Butler called “contraband”) seeking Federal protection. Magruder responded by moving some 2,000 Confederates near the town “to capture and send up to the works at Williamsburg all the Negroes” there.

On August 7, two Confederate companies drove the Federals out of Hampton and allegedly gave residents just 15 minutes to evacuate; “the town was then fired in many places and burned to the ground.” Butler reported that not only did the Confederates seize the slaves there, but they also “took away with them most of the able-bodied white men.” Butler, who had refrained from firing on Hampton from Fort Monroe to avoid civilian casualties, charged Magruder with committing a “wanton act” by leaving the town in ruins.

The next day, Butler allowed many of the newly homeless elderly and infirmed into his lines and wrote once again to Cameron for clarification on the fugitive slave issue. Cameron responded that he had conferred with President Lincoln, who decided that the Fugitive Slave Act had no authority in states rebelling against the U.S. because enforcing that law relied on cooperation between Federal and state officials. Slaves should be returned to owners in loyal slave states (i.e., Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and the District of Columbia), but Federal officers were not obligated to return fugitives to slaveholders in Confederate states.

Regarding slaveholders in Confederate states who remained loyal to the U.S., Lincoln instructed Cameron to tell Butler that it was “quite clear that the substantial rights of loyal masters will be best protected by receiving such fugitives, as well as fugitives from disloyal masters, into the service of the United States, and employing them under such organizations and in such occupations as circumstances may suggest or require.” In other words, loyal masters should not mind surrendering their slaves to the Federal government if they would be used to help put down the rebellion.

Cameron wrote that after the war, “Congress will, doubtless, properly provide for all the persons thus received into the service of the Union, and for just compensation to loyal masters.” He directed Butler to refrain from molesting peaceful slaveholders or from encouraging slaves to escape.

While this answered the legal question of what to do with fugitives, it did not establish that those fugitives would be freed. It also led to the next question of how to care for all those coming into the Federal lines.

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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. 64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 106

The Confiscation Act

August 6, 1861 – President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly signed a bill into the law authorizing Federal military commanders to seize property, including slaves, from people “aiding, abetting, or promoting” rebellion against the U.S.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois, the law decreed in carefully worded language that “all such property is hereby declared to be lawful subject of prize and capture wherever found; and it shall be the duty of the (president) to cause the same to be seized, confiscated, and condemned.” The confiscated property “shall be condemned in the district or circuit court of the United States having jurisdiction.”

District attorneys were empowered to “institute proceedings of condemnation,” and any revenue gained from the confiscated property would be given to the Federal government. If a citizen brought a case for confiscation to the district attorney, that citizen would be eligible to receive half the confiscated property’s value; this incentivized informers. Property subject to seizure included land, homes, livestock, farm equipment, businesses, cash, stocks, bonds, and most importantly, slaves (although they were not referred to by that term).

Every slave owner aiding the Confederate military “shall forfeit his claim to such labor.” While this empowered Federal authorities to seize slaves as prizes of war, the law provided no explanation of what would be done to care for the slaves once confiscated. The law also did not provide for freeing those slaves; it only provided for taking them from disloyal masters.

Slaves as "contraband of war" | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Slaves as “contraband of war” | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Since this law mostly applied to slaves working in the Confederate armies as laborers, many assumed that those confiscated would be put to work at the same jobs for the Federal armies. This seemed to indicate that they would stay slaves, except now working for the Federal government rather than the Confederacy. Nevertheless, this law adopted the policy initiated by Major General Benjamin F. Butler at Fort Monroe, where he considered fugitive slaves to be “contraband of war” and refused to return them to their masters.

In the Republican-dominated Congress, all but six Republicans approved this measure. Supporters argued that confiscating property was an appropriate action to take against traitors. Many Radical Republicans saw this is a first step toward abolishing slavery, and they pushed this bill through Congress partly as a way to express disapproval of Lincoln’s moderate stance on the issue.

All but three members of the non-Republican parties in Congress (Democrats, Whigs, Constitutional Unionists, etc.) opposed this measure. Opponents argued that the law contradicted Lincoln’s stated war aims and the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution declaring that the war was about preserving the Union without interfering with slavery. Congressman John J. Crittenden, who co-sponsored the resolution, argued that legal precedent established the Federal government had no right to interfere with slavery during peace, and thus it should be the same during war.

Critics also argued that the logic of seizing property from traitors had no merit because under the Constitution, property could not be seized until the owner was convicted in court. Thus, property would be confiscated without constitutionally guaranteed due process. This law could also pave the way towards Federal military forces waging war on civilians.

While signing several last-minute bills in the Senate Chamber, Lincoln hesitated before signing this one because it interfered with slavery, something Lincoln had pledged not to do in his inaugural address. The partisan nature in which the bill passed troubled many because it indicated that if the conflict became a war against slavery, Republicans could expect no support from any other political parties to fight it. Partly to keep up bipartisanship in the struggle, this law was never fully enforced.

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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 12211-19; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6608; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 54; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 369; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 105-06; 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. 355-56; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 60; 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