Tag Archives: U.S. Congress

The Wade-Davis Bill: Executive Response

July 4, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln was presented with a bill outlining the congressional plan for reconstructing the Union, and his reaction outraged many.

After the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill passed both chambers of Congress, Radical Congressmen Thaddeus Stevens, Elihu Washburne, and John L. Dawson visited Lincoln at the White House to urge him to sign it into law. They returned to the Capitol and informed their fellow Radicals there was a good chance that Lincoln would not. An old friend from Illinois, Radical Congressman Jesse O. Norton, felt the same way after speaking with Lincoln, but there was “no use trying to prevent it.”

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

On the last day of the congressional session, Lincoln went to his Capitol office to sign the last-minute bills into law. He signed several, including a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act and a repeal of the Enrollment Act provision allowing draftees to pay $300 to avoid conscription. But he set the Wade-Davis bill aside. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan asked him if he would sign it. Lincoln replied, “Mr. Chandler, this bill was placed before me a few minutes before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way.”

Chandler warned, “If it is vetoed, it will damage us fearfully in the Northwest. The important point is the one prohibiting slavery in the reconstructed states.” Lincoln said, “That is the point on which I doubt the authority of Congress to act.” Chandler countered, “It is no more than you have done yourself.” Lincoln replied, “I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress.” Chandler angrily left. Lincoln then explained to the remaining congressmen in the room his chief objection to the measure:

“This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced.

“If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House.

“I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war–a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.”

Leaving the Capitol, Lincoln was warned that failing to endorse the bill might cost him reelection in November. He responded, “If they choose to make a point upon this I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me and I don’t know that this will make any special difference as to that. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right; I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.” The congressional session ended without Lincoln’s signature on the Wade-Davis bill, thus killing the measure via a pocket veto.

On the 8th, Lincoln issued a public statement explaining why he refused to sign the bill into law. He wrote that he would not “be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration,” nor would he accept “that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort.”

Lincoln also refused to acknowledge “a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States,” instead “sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted.”

To appease the Radicals, Lincoln wrote that he was “fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the Bill, as one very proper plan for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it,” and he offered to provide “Executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State.”

This was meaningless because no state would voluntarily choose to adopt the punitive Wade-Davis bill on its own. Radicals already outraged by Lincoln’s veto became even more incensed by Lincoln’s empty pledge to enforce the bill in states that voluntarily adopted it. Thaddeus Stevens fumed, “What an infamous proclamation! The idea of pocketing a bill and then issuing a proclamation as to how far he will conform to it!”

The congressional recess would not stop the Radicals from plotting revenge against the president.

——

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-98; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464, 466; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33, 535; 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. 712-13; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

Advertisements

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Message to Congress

December 8, 1863 – The first session of the Thirty-Eighth U.S. Congress assembled in Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

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

In this new Congress, Republicans held majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats had made substantial gains due to their victories in the mid-term elections of November 1862. Also, the Republicans were becoming increasingly split between the Radicals (those who sought harsh subjugation of the South) and the conservatives (those who sought a more conciliatory conquest of the South).

The first order of business in the House was to elect a new speaker, as the previous speaker, Republican Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, had been voted out of office. The Radicals supported Schuyler Colfax, but the conservatives resisted; Lincoln led the conservatives in deeming Colfax “a little intriguer–plausible but not trustworthy.”

Lincoln and the conservatives looked for someone who could unify not only the Republican Party, but also ally with pro-war Democrats to form a “National Union” party dedicated to winning the war. As such, Lincoln supported Francis P. Blair, Jr., scion of the famous Blair political family (brother Montgomery Blair was Lincoln’s postmaster general). However, Blair had left politics to become a general in the Army of the Tennessee.

The conservatives next looked to Elihu Washburne of Illinois, but Washburne could not garner enough support in the House to make an effective run. Lincoln then sought a compromise by meeting with Colfax and having him pledge to stay neutral in the upcoming debates between the Radicals and conservatives. With Lincoln’s backing, Colfax became the House speaker.

Members quickly submitted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery, and debate opened later this month. Congress approved a resolution thanking Major General Ulysses S. Grant for his recent military victories and creating a gold medal in his honor. Washburne introduced a bill reinstating the army rank of lieutenant general, which had previously been held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott (Scott’s was a brevet rank). Washburne, one of Grant’s biggest supporters, clearly had Grant in mind for this new rank.

President Lincoln’s annual message to Congress was read in both chambers on the 8th. The opening included summaries of the reports submitted by the cabinet officers. Lincoln stated that foreign relations were peaceful: “The efforts of disloyal citizens of the United States to involve us in foreign wars, to aid an inexcusable insurrection, have been unavailing.”

He heralded a recent treaty signed with Great Britain ending the African slave trade between the two nations: “That inhuman and odious traffic has been brought to an end.” After noting affairs in other countries, he turned to the territories. Although “Indian disturbances in New Mexico have not been entirely suppressed,” Native American relations seemed stable following last year’s Sioux uprising. Lincoln expressed support for negotiating treaties–

“… extinguishing the possessory rights of the Indians to large and valuable tracts of land. It is hoped that the effect of these treaties will result in the establishment of permanent friendly relations with such of these tribes as have been brought into frequent and bloody collision with our outlying settlements and emigrants.”

Turning to the northern home front, Lincoln stated that those “dark and doubtful days” of a year ago had given way to a more hopeful time. He explained:

“The rebel borders are pressed still farther back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the emancipation proclamation, Maryland, and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.”

The president reported:

“Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”

Lincoln lauded the fact that, contrary to southern fears, “no servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks.” Unlike the previous year’s message, Lincoln did not reiterate any support or plans for colonizing blacks outside the U.S. This indicated the administration’s shift from deportation to emancipation.

Lincoln asserted that the recent state elections were “highly encouraging” in terms of war policy. As such, “we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union (i.e., Radicals, conservatives, and War Democrats) is past.”

He also announced that he would issue a proclamation related to bringing the Confederate states back into the Union, which he attached to his annual message. He provided a summary of this proclamation, which would be released to the public the next day. Lincoln concluded:

“Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; and it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom more than to others the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

The president omitted several items that other politicians thought worth noting. He did not touch upon his establishment of the first national Thanksgiving holiday, he did not note the significance of completing construction on the U.S. Capitol dome, and he did not mention the important role blacks were playing in turning the tide of the war.

Opposition newspapers naturally criticized Lincoln’s message. However, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that no message since George Washington’s had “given such general satisfaction.” The press would be even more vocal both for and against Lincoln when he issued his proclamation on restoring the Union the next day.

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 429; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9939-50, 9994-10037, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-45; 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. 688; 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), Q463

Final Legislation of the 37th U.S. Congress

March 3, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln reviewed several bills and signed many into law as the lame-duck session of the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress ended.

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

A measure was approved authorizing the president to appoint four major generals and nine brigadiers for the Regular Army, as well as 40 major generals and 200 brigadiers for the volunteer army. Thirty-three ranking Federal officers were dismissed from the military for various offenses. Other military measures included:

  • Authorizing the Medal of Honor for army soldiers; previously the Medal was only awarded to navy personnel
  • Appointing financier Jay Cooke to lead the effort to sell war bonds

Lincoln vetoed a bill authorizing letters of marque against ships transporting goods to or from the Confederacy. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, opposed this measure because allowing Federal privateers (i.e., “rovers of the sea”) to confront neutral ships suspected of working with the Confederacy would “involve us with the great neutral powers of the world.” Sumner also resented that Secretary of State William H. Seward, who supported this bill, bypassed Sumner to push it through Congress. Lincoln sided with Sumner in vetoing the measure.

Lincoln approved the following finance-related measures:

  • Establishing the means to prevent and punish revenue fraud
  • Authorizing the Treasury Department to collect all cotton, tobacco, rice, and sugar captured by Federal forces in Confederate states
  • Loaning the Federal government $300 million this year and $600 million next year
  • Replacing postage stamp currency with $50 million in greenbacks

General legislation approved by Lincoln included:

  • Increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 10
  • Establishing the Idaho Territory (present-day Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming, taken from parts of the Washington and Dakota territories)
  • Establishing the National Academy of Sciences

Under the Habeas Corpus Act, Congress sanctioned Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in September by authorizing, “That during the present rebellion, the President of the United States, whenever in his judgment the public safety may require it, is authorized to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in any case throughout the United States, or any part thereof.”

This retroactive congressional approval shifted the power over suspending the writ from Congress to the president. It also overrode the ruling by U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in Ex Parte Merryman (1861), which declared that the Constitution only empowered Congress, not the president, to suspend habeas corpus.

The act also canceled state court rulings by exempting Federal military officers from being sued for violating civil liberties: “It shall then be the duty of the State court to accept the surety (of the Federal court ruling on the matter) and proceed no further in the cause or prosecution, and the bail that shall have been originally taken shall be discharged.” To balance this provision, Federal officers were required to report all arrests made to the Federal judges presiding over the jurisdiction. Nevertheless, this led to a large increase in military arrests in the northern states.

This law drew intense opposition from the minority Democrats. Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware delivered a scathing (and possibly drunken) speech on the Senate floor in which he called Lincoln “an imbecile” who was “the weakest man ever placed in a high office.” Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, presiding over the Senate, called upon the sergeant-at-arms to subdue Saulsbury when he refused to yield; Saulsbury threatened the officer to “shoot you dead.”

Most Democrats in Congress, especially the Peace Democrats or “Copperheads,” vigorously opposed all these measures enacted by the Republican majority. War Democrats argued that the war-related measures went beyond merely defeating the Confederacy by violating civil liberties, inflating the size of the Supreme Court (thus assuring a Republican majority on the bench), and nationalizing institutions such as banking.

Some Democrats hid in cloakrooms to prevent a quorum when voting on key measures, others added outrageous amendments to bills, and some senators filibustered as long as they could to prevent voting. However, every Republican-driven piece of legislation ultimately passed by the time Congress adjourned on the 4th.

—–

References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17608-17, 19712-29; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 267; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 503-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 325; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 61; 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), Q163

The Enrollment Act

March 3, 1863 – The most controversial bill that President Abraham Lincoln signed into law during this congressional session was “An Act for enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other purposes,” also known as the Enrollment or Federal Military Draft Act.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Lincoln administration was facing a serious manpower shortage in the coming months, as 38 two-year regiments raised in 1861 and 92 nine-month regiments raised in 1862 were scheduled to disband. A new measure was approved to offset this, under which:

“… all able-bodied male citizens of the United States, and persons of foreign birth who shall have declared on oath their intention to become citizens under and in pursuance of the laws thereof, between the ages of 20 and 45 years, except as hereinafter excepted, are hereby declared to constitute the national forces, and shall be liable to perform military duty in the service of the United States when called out by the President for that purpose.”

The law required men to enroll at draft boards within their congressional districts. Provost marshals, assigned by a Provost Marshal Bureau within the War Department, managed the boards. The number of enrollees represented a district’s quota, and each district had 50 days to fill their quotas with volunteers. Quota shortfalls would be filled by a military draft, under which a lottery system would select the draftees. To discourage men from waiting to be drafted, generous bounties were offered to those who volunteered.

All Republican senators and representatives voted in favor of this bill, while 88 percent of congressional Democrats voted against. Unlike the Confederate Conscription Act, this law offered no exemptions for religious sects, such as Quakers or Mennonites, or other conscientious objectors who objected to warfare on moral grounds.

The law’s most divisive provision allowed men to buy their way out of the draft by either paying a $300 commutation fee or hiring substitutes to serve in their place. This was meant to give war dissenters an option to avoid service, but the provision sparked outrage because most men could not afford such a high fee.

Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania called this law “a rich man’s bill, made for him who can raise his $300, and against him who cannot raise that sum.” Lincoln argued that the fee actually helped the poor because the market would drive the price much higher without the fee cap. He tried setting an example by hiring a substitute, but that did little to satisfy the detractors. The provision was later repealed.

The Enrollment Act shifted the draft process from the states to the national government, making it more enforceable. It also made the act more resented. The law had its intended effect of inducing more men to volunteer for service, but it also helped spread a new corrupt practice called “bounty jumping,” in which men joined the army to collect the bounty and then deserted, moving to another district to repeat the process.

Regarding the substitution clause, most men who could afford to hire substitutes could also afford to bribe doctors into attesting that mentally or physically defective substitutes were fit for service. Conversely, the law did sometimes help working men who could hire substitutes to avoid military service and continue providing for their families. Future President Grover Cleveland and the fathers of future presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt hired substitutes.

Many northerners opposed the notion of a military draft as a whole. Workers feared their jobs would be given to freed slaves while they served. Angry immigrants contended that they came to America because of the promises of the Homestead Act, not to serve in the military. And many argued that compulsory military service violated civil liberties. Only six percent of Federal military personnel was drafted over the course of the war, and two-thirds of these draftees hired substitutes.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8986; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 635; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 267; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 44-45, 97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 325; 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. 591, 599-605, 608; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 35-37; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 242; 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), Q163

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.”

—–

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

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.

—–

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

Moving Toward Emancipation: The Border State Conference

July 12, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln held a conference with U.S. senators and representatives from the loyal slaveholding states to persuade them to accept a policy of compensating slaveholders for voluntarily freeing their slaves.

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

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

A group of 20 congressmen from Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri gathered in Lincoln’s White House office a week before Congress adjourned. Lincoln announced that “The unprecedentedly stern facts of our case” could no longer be denied. Despite the unpopularity of such a move, Lincoln urged the men to push their state legislatures to approve his plan for gradual, compensated slave emancipation.

Lincoln explained that when he revoked Major General David Hunter’s emancipation proclamation in May, “I gave dissatisfaction, if not offense, to many whose support the country cannot afford to lose. And this is not the end of it. The pressure, in this direction, is still upon me, and is increasing.”

Abolishing slavery benefited the border states because it would end southern attempts to bring those states into the Confederacy: “You and I know what the lever of their power is. Break that lever before their faces and they can shake you no more forever.”

Lincoln also warned them that slavery may soon be abolished anyway, and without compensation: “If the war continues long,” and if the congressmen did not make “a decision at once to emancipate gradually… the institution in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion–by the mere incidents of war… and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it.”

Citing his long-favored policy of black deportation, Lincoln said, “I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually. Room in South America for colonization can be obtained cheaply, and in abundance, and when numbers shall be large enough to be company and encouragement for one another, the freed people will not be so reluctant to go.”

He continued, “How much better for you and for your people to take the step which at once shortens the war and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event. As you would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world, I beseech you that you do in no wise omit this.”

Two days later, Lincoln submitted a message to Congress requesting legislation to compensate “any State which may abolish slavery within it’s (sic) limits.” This reiterated Lincoln’s request earlier in the year for state-controlled, gradually compensated slave emancipation. Under this bill, states would be paid in six-percent bonds for every slave within their borders according to the 1860 census. Payments would be distributed as the slaves were freed.

Meanwhile, seven border state congressmen expressed support for Lincoln’s request of July 12 while 20 “declined to comply.” Signing a manifesto urging Lincoln to “confine yourself to your constitutional authority,” the dissenting congressmen wrote:

“The right to hold slaves is a right appertaining to all the States of the Union. They have the right to cherish or abolish the institution, as their tastes or their interests may prompt, and no one is authorized to question the right, or limit its enjoyment. And no one has more clearly affirmed that right than you have. Your inaugural address does you great honor in this respect, and inspired the country with confidence in your fairness and respect for law.”

Contending that most southerners were fighting to preserve their individual rights, the congressmen stated, “Remove their apprehensions; satisfy them that no harm is intended to them and their institutions; that this Government is not making war on their rights of property, but is simply defending its legitimate authority, and they will gladly return to their allegiance.”

The congressmen argued that “emancipation in any form” would be a “radical change in our social system” that “would further consolidate the spirit of the rebellion in the seceded states and fan the spirit of secession among loyal slaveholders in the Border States.” Lincoln’s policy would unfairly punish loyal slaveholders by depriving them of slave labor while disloyal slaveholders in the South kept their slaves. And such a policy, the congressmen declared, violated states’ rights.

The men also noted that Congress could not afford such a program, which would cost nearly $500 million at a time when the Federal government was already spending millions a day to pay for the war. Moreover, the government bonds that would be used to compensate the states could lose value if the national credit fell. One congressman stated that Lincoln’s offer “was but the enunciation of a sentiment which could not or was not likely to be reduced to an actual tangible proposition.”

Rather than adopt Lincoln’s gradual abolition proposal, Congress approved a bill on July 16 appropriating $500,000 to colonize black people outside the U.S. While Lincoln had favored black deportation throughout much of his political career, he now began considering slave emancipation instead, despite opposition from loyal slaveholders.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 14984-92; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7646; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 537; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 181; 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. 239-40; 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. 502-04; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 351-52; 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