Lincoln and Emancipation
Lincoln had laid aside his proclamation waiting for a victory. He waited two months, meanwhile giving out public statements based on his previous noncommittal attitude: then on September 22, after Lees invasion had been foiled at Antietam, he issued the preliminary proclamation. That this proclamation was far from an abolition document is shown by a careful reading of its provisions. The President began by reiterating that the purpose of the war was the restoration of the Union and reaffirming his intention still to labor for compensated emancipation. This was certainly a far cry from the Garrisonian program. He then declared that on January 1, 1863, slaves in rebellious states or parts of states should be "then, thenceforward, and forever free"; and he added, perhaps indiscreetly, that "the executive government of the United States . . . will do no act . . . to repress such persons . . . in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."
This clause was open to misinterpretation as an incitement to servile insurrection, and it was almost universally so interpreted in the South. The authors, however, have not found a shred of evidence that Lincoln actually sought to encourage social war or Negro uprisings among the Southern people; indeed in one of his public papers he referred to the massacre of noncombatants as among the "barbarous" methods that are excluded in time of war. The only method by which he meant for Negroes to fight for their freedom was as soldiers within the Union army acting within the rules of war. As to supporting their efforts toward actual freedom, he had in mind that a "promise, being made, must be kept," not in terms of encouraging servile war, but of guaranteeing freedom to Negro soldiers generally and to slaves finding their way into Union lines. To place the matter beyond doubt, he declared as follows in his final proclamation of January 1, 1863: "And I hereby enjoin upon the people ... declared free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self defence. . ."
The proclamation was not expressive of any general antislavery policy. Nowhere did it signify personal vindictiveness toward slaveholders: rather the President was still clinging to his compensated-emancipation scheme as the permanent solution; the reimbursement of Southern owners for the loss of their slaves was still part of his active policy. That the proclamation marked a departure in Lincoln's program toward slavery as announced at the outset of his administration is not to be interpreted as a breach of faith. It is the nature of wars to produce unforeseen measures. Lincoln's promise in his inaugural of 1861 that he would not touch slavery in the states was not a prediction of governmental policy in the event of civil war, but rather a pledge based on the assumption that the slave states should remain in the Union. No state remaining normally in the Union was affected by his proclamation when issued. That Lincoln, even in war, gave honest trial to his noninterference policy is shown by the following statement which he made in 1863: "There was more than a year and a half of trial to suppress the rebellion before the proclamation [was] issued. . . ."
On January 1, 1863, the definitive proclamation was issued, its chief provision being that in regions then designated as "in rebellion" (with certain notable exceptions) all slaves were declared free. So famous has this proclamation become, and so encrusted with tradition, that a correct historical conception of its actual effect is rarely found in the voluminous literature which the subject has evoked. The stereotyped picture of the emancipator suddenly striking the shackles from millions of slaves by a stroke of the presidential pen is altogether inaccurate. On this point one should carefully note the exceptions in the proclamation itself. The whole state of Tennessee was omitted; none of the Union slave states was included; and there were important exceptions as to portions of Virginia and Louisiana, those being the portions within Union military lines. In fact freedom was decreed only in regions then under Confederate control. "The President has purposely made the proclamation inoperative [declared the N. Y. World] in all places where we have gained a military footing which makes the slaves accessible. He has proclaimed emancipation only where he has notoriously no power to execute it. The exemption of the accessible parts of Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia renders the proclamation not merely futile, but ridiculous." As to the effect of the proclamation the World declared:
Immediate practical effect it has none; the slaves remaining in precisely the same condition as before. They still live on the plantations, tenant their accustomed hovels, obey the command of their master . . . , eating the food he furnishes and doing the work he requires precisely as though Mr. Lincoln had not declared them free. . . . [The state courts] do not recognize the validity of the decree on which he [the slave] rests his claim. So long . . . as the present . . . status continues, the freedom declared by this proclamation is a dormant, not an actual, freedom.
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The proclamation is issued as a war measure, as an instrument for the subjugation of the rebels. But that cannot be a means of military success which presupposes this same . . . success as the condition of its own existence. . . . A war measure it clearly is not, inasmuch as the previous success of the war is the thing that can give it validity.
"We show our sympathy with slavery," Seward is reported to have said, "by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." The London Spectator declared (October 11, 1862): "The government liberates the enemy's slaves as it would the enemy's cattle, simply to weaken them in the . . . conflict. . . . The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States." On the same date the Saturday Review, in a caustic article, denounced the proclamation as a crime, and declared that Lincoln's "desperate efforts to procure military support will probably precipitate the ruin of his cause." Earl Russell in England declared: "The Proclamation . . . appears to be of a very strange nature. It professes to emancipate all slaves in places where the United States authorities cannot exercise any jurisdiction . . . .but it does not decree emancipation . . . in any States, or parts of States, occupied by federal troops . . . and where, therefore, emancipation . . . . might have been carried into effect. . . . There seems to be no declaration of a principle adverse to slavery in this proclamation."
It will be noted that Lincoln justified his act as a measure of war. To uphold his view would be to maintain that the freeing of enemy slaves was a legitimate weapon of war to be wielded by the President, and that a proclamation for the purpose would be somewhat analogous to a presidential proclamation blockading an enemy's coast, the legal principle being that a state of war puts the whole enginery of belligerent measures within the control of the President. In the new attitude toward slavery which the war produced it was natural to find considerable support for the view that slavery was a legitimate target of the war power; but it is a matter of plain history that prior to the Civil War the United States had emphatically denied the "belligerent right" of emancipation. Indeed John Quincy Adams, who has been credited by his grandson with having originated the idea of the emancipation proclamation, declared officially while secretary of state in 1820 that "No such right [emancipation of slaves] is acknowledged as a Law of War by writers who admit any limitation."
A close study of the contemporary situation gives added point to Lincoln's concept of his proclamation as a war measure. That he really favored emancipation by state action with Federal compensation to owners has already been shown. The proclamation was by no means a touchstone for his whole abolition policy. In the period prior to the proclamation he had been "emphatic in denouncing any interference by the General Government with the subject." The cabinet agreed with him in considering slavery a local, domestic question; and the adoption of the proclamation in contrast to these conceptions of public policy could only be thought of in terms of an emergency or extraordinary measure. He issued the proclamation "by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy . . . and as a fit and necessary war measure." He characterized it as an act "warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity" This interpretation took the proclamation out of the pattern of normal constitutional procedure and gave it a certain irregularity for which the justification was to be found in the existing state of war, and more especially in Lincoln's interpretation of measures appropriate for such a state of war. It is pertinent therefore to remember that Lincoln's view of his war powers gave wide latitude to the Presidents choice of means for destroying enemy resistance. Interpreting his powers as wartime leader he once said: "I think the constitution invests its commander-in-chief, with the law of war, in time of war. . . . Armies, the world over, destroy enemies' property when they cannot use it; and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all in their power to help themselves or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel." To Lincoln's mind the war emergency justified things normally unconstitutional. "I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional," he said, "might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation."
This placing of the proclamation strictly on the basis of military necessity had embarrassing aspects. It seemed a confession that the proclamation lacked lawworthiness. It served to discountenance any extension of the area of the proclamation later in the war; for if military necessity did not require the inclusion of Tennessee and of certain portions of Virginia and Louisiana at the beginning of 1863, there was even less necessity of including them later. Yet as the struggle progressed and abolition came to be regarded as a major war aim, this extension of military emancipation was precisely what the antislavery element demanded. Furthermore, the appeal to military necessity as the legal justification of the proclamation caused Lincoln's act to smack of irresponsible dictatorial power, and this aspect of the matter gave him no little concern. All these embarrassing features of the edict in its legal aspects were noted by Lincoln in a draft of a letter to Chase which appears among his published writings under date of September 2, 1863. Referring to the difficulties in the way of extending the area of the proclamation, he said:
". . . . . The original proclamation has no . . . legal justification, except as a military measure. . . . If I take the step must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, without any argument, except . . . that I think the measure . . . expedient and . . . right? . . . Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? . . . Could it fail to be perceived that without any further stretch, I might do the same in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; and even change any law in any state? Would not many of our own friends shrink away appalled? Would it not lose us the elections, and with them, the very cause we seek to advance? "
To follow further the legal questions presented by the proclamation is impossible here. There were strong grounds for disputing its law-worthiness, whether under the Constitution or under the laws of war; and these grounds of dispute seem the more convincing when one remembers the expansiveness of Lincoln's theory of the presidential war power and the seriousness of his doubts as to the proclamation despite this expansive theory. In sum, the edict of freedom would seem to illustrate Lincoln's willingness, with prudent caution and on due provocation, to seize extralegal weapons.
Though the legal hearings of the proclamation are of historical interest, its actual effects are of greater significance. In this field a study of realities based upon contemporary sources must be substituted for offhand or obvious conclusions. One must consider not merely the language of the proclamation, but also the manner in which certain meanings were read into the document by the popular mind. Especially is this true as to the bearing of the proclamation upon war aims. According to the strict wording of the proclamation it would appear that no change in war aims was intended. Preservation of slavery in non-rebellious regions was clearly implied; and (to assume an outcome at variance with possibilities) if the Southern states had done all that Lincoln asked in September of 1862, i.e., if they bad come hack into the Union, there was nothing in the emancipating declarations of Lincoln to prevent the war ending with slavery still maintained. Thus it cannot be said that Lincoln's proclamations specifically made abolition a war aim of the North; indeed the September proclamation forbade such a construction, since it proclaimed restoration of the Union, not abolition, as the object of the struggle. Yet the truth of the matter was that the proclamation became a species of slogan or shibboleth; its dramatization in the popular mind was of more effect than its actual provisions. Despite the absence in the proclamation of any express design to produce such a result, it came to be pretty generally assumed that in September of 1862 the war somehow took a new turn, and that thenceforward it was being prosecuted as a war against slavery. It was with this interpretation that the abolitionists favored the edict, and that those indifferent or unfriendly to emancipation opposed it.
That Lincoln by no means regarded his edict as a solution of the slavery question is evident in his annual message to Congress of December 1, 1862, in which he argued at great length the adoption of a constitutional amendment making effective his compensated-emancipation scheme by the issue of Federal bonds to such states as should abolish slavery by a gradual process to become complete by the year 1900. The President turned the proposition over and examined it in all its facets, elaborately exploring its economic, cultural, financial, constitutional, and ethical aspects. Never was Lincoln more in earnest. Referring deferentially to the greater age and public experience of some of those in Congress, he said: "Yet I trust that in view of the great responsibility resting upon me, you will perceive no want of respect to yourselves in any undue earnestness I may seem to display."
It does not appear that Lincoln ever showed such enthusiasm concerning the proclamation. Late in the war he spoke of its legal inadequacy, saying: "A question might be raised whether the proclamation was legally valid. It might be urged, that it only aided those that came into our lines, and that it was inoperative as to those who did not give themselves up; or that it would have no effect upon the children of slaves born hereafter; in fact, it would be urged that it did not meet the evil."
Upon the Negroes of the South the proclamation itself had but little immediate effect. This is not to argue that slaves were indifferent to the course of the war. Though most of the Negroes in the interior sections of the Confederacy remained faithful to their masters and though there were cases of unfailing slave loyalty elsewhere, most Negroes, as Federal troops neared, began exhibiting increasing restiveness, became impudent to their masters, and refused to work or to submit to punishment for their misdoings. When the Union army actually appeared on the scene, Bell I. Wiley writes, the Negroes generally engaged in the "seizure and distribution of property, and a general celebration of the advent of freedom." But the emancipation proclamation did not initiate, or even notably stimulate, these reactions. It did not lead to a general servile insurrection in the South. The Confederates detected a few plots among the slaves, but "actual outbreaks were fewer still, and these were immediately suppressed." "That the slaves in the interior did not 'rise up against their masters," adds Professor Wiley, "is not surprising when one takes into consideration their lack of facilities for rapid communication and concerted action, the affection which the most intelligent ones had for their masters families, the fear inspired by the summary execution of those whose plots to rebel were detected, and the tremendous advantages which the whites had over them in every respect, save that of numbers."
Nor did the proclamation create the phenomenon of Negroes appearing within Union lines. Prior to its issuance fugitive slaves within their camps had been a familiar sight to Union commanders; and such Negroes were by law free. Indeed the proclamation added hardly at all to what Congress had done, at least on paper, by its acts freeing fugitive slaves within Union lines, emancipating slave-soldiers, and freeing "rebel"-owned slaves by the confiscation act of 1862. On the morrow of Lincoln's edict Union generals in the South did not suddenly face an entirely new problem: it was rather that they now found it necessary to provide more formally and elaborately for the increasing numbers of Negroes who were no longer to be regarded merely as self-invited guests within their midst.
Grants army in Tennessee and Mississippi found that, with the abandonment of plantations on the approach of Union forces, Negroes "flocked in vast numbers--an army in themselves--to the camps of the Yankees." Here was a slave population "springing from . . . barbarism, . . . forsaking its local traditions and all the associations . . . of the old plantation life, . . . with feet shod or bleeding, individually or in families . . . --an army of slaves and fugitives, pushing its way irresistibly toward an army of fighting men, perpetually on the defensive and perpetually ready to attack. The arrival among us of these hordes was like the oncoming of cities. There was no plan in this exodus, no Moses to lead it. Unlettered reason or the mere inarticulate decision of instinct brought them to us."
To deal with this problem Grant ordered Chaplain John Eaton of the Twenty-Seventh Ohio Infantry Volunteers to "take charge of the contrabands." As Grant explained, his own troops had to be protected from disease, and humane considerations dictated that care be given to these helpless folk. For these purposes Eaton established Negro camps, cared for the sick, organized the able-bodied for military labor, set them to work gathering and baling cotton, employed them as teamsters and in many other kinds of service, dealt with Negro exhorters, kept Negro families together as best he could, and made heroic efforts to transform shiftless bondsmen into self sufficing members of society. By July, 1864, Eaton had 113,650 freedmen under his supervision. Most of these were earning their own subsistence, 41,150 in military service as soldiers, laundresses, cooks, officers servants, or laborers, 62,300 in private employment as mechanics, draymen, hackmen, barbers, hired laborers, and the like; the remainder depended in whole or in part upon the government for support. General B. F. Butler in 1863 created a comparable system of Negro administration in parts of Virginia and North Carolina, appointing a "general superintendent of negro affairs" with a number of superintendents under him and directing these officials to take a colored census, provide shelter, medical care, and other charity to freedmen, supervise labor contracts, allot lands to Negroes, and attend to their training.
These are but a few of the many instances of military action to deal with the elaborate problems of the freedmen: they show clearly enough that, whether by reason of the proclamation or not, Union commanders had immense numbers of slaves (or ex-slaves) on their hands. As the armies advanced in the South, especially in 1864-1865, the problem became more pressing. The Negroes had but a hazy notion of the meaning of Lincoln's proclamation, in which haziness the whole country shared; but they soon knew of it and looked upon the Union military line as the line of freedom.
The advance of Sherman's army [wrote General H. W. Slocum] was known far and wide many miles in advance of us. It was natural that these poor creatures [the slaves], seeking a place of safety, should flee to the army, and endeavor to keep in sight of it. Every day, as we marched on we could see, on each side of our line of march, crowds of these people coming to us through roads and across the fields, bringing with them all their earthly goods, and many goods which were not theirs. Horses, mules, cows, dogs, old family carriages, carts, and whatever they thought might be of use . . . were . . . brought to us. They were allowed to follow in rear of our column, and at times they were almost equal in numbers to the army they were following.
In the process of military emancipation, however, Lincoln's proclamation was but one of various factors; nor was it an unmixed blessing. It encouraged the rush of Negro refugees into Union lines, stimulated military action in dealing with freedmen, promoted abolition measures in some of the Union slave states, and prepared the way for the final eradication of slavery by constitutional amendment. On the other hand it complicated military adjustments between the United States and the Confederate States (e.g., with reference to the exchange of prisoners), opened the way to Southern retaliation, launched an angry wave of resentment in the South at what was considered a capital grievance, and gave to Lincoln's prestige a setback among certain elements of Northern opinion which proved a serious loss to the President and his party.
At the South the proclamation produced a reaction of indignant hostility. The Richmond Whig (October 1, 1862) denounced the "fiends new programme," describing the proclamation as "a dash of the pen to destroy four thousand millions of our property, and . . . a bid for the slaves to rise in insurrection. . . " To the Richmond Examiner it seemed the "most startling political crime . . . yet known in American history." Servile insurrection seemed to this journal the "sole purpose" of the proclamation. Referring to the proclamation in his message to the Confederate Congress on January 12, 1863, President Davis declared that "a restitution of the Union has been rendered forever impossible by the adoption of a measure which . . . neither admits of retraction nor can coexist with union." The "entire newspaper press of the Confederacy," said a Richmond editor, "echoed the sentiment of the President."
E. A. Pollard described the proclamation as the "triumph of fanaticism under a false pretense." He declared that at first it had no effect, being worth "no more than the paper on which its hold iniquity was traced," but denounced its fundamental principle and referred to the "misrepresentation of the emancipation proclamation, as a deed of philanthropy" as "absurd." "A candid world," be said, interpreted it as "an act of malice towards the master rather than one of mercy to the slave." Animating the South to desperate exertion, he said, it "secured a new lease of war."
In the North there was no general unanimity of feeling. Sentiment varied from unqualified endorsement to dissatisfaction, doubt, and resentment. Wendell Phillips spoke of the liberation and arming of the slaves as the salvation of the republic; and Charles Sumner endorsed the proclamation in an elaborate speech at Boston. Abolitionists generally, while disappointed at the limitations of the proclamation, gave it their approval. By the firing of guns, mass meetings, and other demonstrations, the event was widely hailed as an occasion for jubilation. The New York Times (September 23, 1862) referred to the Presidents decree as the most far-reaching document ever issued by the government, saving its wisdom was unquestionable, its necessity indisputable. Commenting on the first month of the proclamation on October 22, 1862, the Times declared that it was well received in the loyal states, that the border states had not been alienated, that the army was not offended, that Southern leaders feared the new policy, and that the chord of approval had been struck in Europe. In the Northern Congress, though there were outbursts against the edict, the votes taken were mostly favorable to it. A resolution of C. H. Yeaman of Kentucky, denouncing the proclamation as not calculated to hasten peace and not well chosen as a war measure, was tabled in the House (94 to 45); and the resolution of S. C. Fessenden of Maine approving the resolution as well adapted to hasten peace was adopted, though by a narrower vote (78 to 51).
There was some effort in Congress to "give effect" to the proclamation, i.e., to enact it as a law. Representative Arnold of Illinois introduced into the House of Representatives a bill to carry the proclamation "into more immediate execution" by prohibiting the re-enslavement of any person whom the proclamation declared to be free.. When the Wade-Davis bill was under consideration Sumner moved an amendment providing that the emancipation proclamation "is hereby adopted and enacted as a statute of the United States, and as a rule . . . for the government of the military and naval forces thereof." "I wish to see emancipation of the rebel States," said Sumner, "placed under the guarantee of an act of Congress. I do not wish to see it left to float on a presidential proclamation." Willard Saulsbury of Delaware, one of the border-state moderates, seized upon Sumner's amendment as a confession that the proclamation was without legal effect in itself, adding that he had not supposed the Presidents friends would so soon make open confession that his acts were illegal. Though these proposals were not adopted, both houses of Congress did pass in the Wade-Davis bill of 1864 a provision that "all persons held to involuntary servitude . . . in the [seceded] states . . . are hereby emancipated and discharged therefrom, and they and their posterity shall be forever free." Owing to Lincoln's veto this bill never became law; indeed one of his objections was this very clause, for he did not believe that Congress possessed even in war the power to abolish slavery in the South by ordinary statute. In this respect he felt that the Presidents war power exceeded that of Congress.
Many Northern individuals either opposed the proclamation or expressed disappointment in it. Thurlow Weed declared: ". . . it has strengthened the South and weakened the North . . . ." The elder Francis P. Blair said that the President "had ruined himself by his proclamations, and it was necessary to do something to regain the confidence of the people." The effect of the proclamation upon Orville H. Browning of Illinois is of considerable interest. Opposed to slavery, Browning had enlisted enthusiastically with the anti-Nebraska movement of 1854 and had become one of the leading Republicans of Illinois. His character and public acts offer an excellent study of the effect of Lincoln's increasing radicalism upon Republican moderates. He vigorously opposed the drastic confiscation act of 1862 and was offended when Lincoln signed it: the emancipation proclamation met with his strong disapproval and made a marked difference in his attitude toward Lincoln's policies and toward the Republican party. In his diary he revealed his views as follows: "Had conversation [October 14, 1862] with Judge Drummond [Federal justice in Illinois] upon public affairs. He agrees fully with me in my views-- . . . Thought the Presidents proclamation unfortunate--He was not satisfied of its constitutionality but to say nothing of that, it was ill advised as it could do no possible good, and certainly would do harm in uniting the rebels more firmly than ever, and making them fight with the energy of despair."
This Republican senator was asked to address a Union meeting in his home town, Quincy, Illinois, on the night before the election of November 4, 1862. According to the Ouincy Whig he "appeared, began his speech by . . . pronouncing the issues more momentous tha[n] . . . in any election in this country and then astonished his hearers by the sage advice that they should . . . vote for the best ticket, leaving it to be inferred that he did not know which was the best ticket. Gov. Wright, a Democrat, had an opinion and gave it; Mr. Browning gave none, . . fell back into the confiscation rut, and wound up with a sneer at proclamations." It does not appear that Browning, friend of Lincoln though he was, ever again gave real support to the Republican party after the proclamation.
Many other examples of this dissent could be cited. Thomas Ewing "said the Presidents emancipation and Habeas Corpus proclamations ha(l ruined the Republican party in Ohio." The adverse verdict upon the Lincoln administration given in the election of 1862, and the part of tile proclamation in contributing to this verdict, will be noted later." As to the anti-Lincoln Democrats, their attitude was expressed by Vallandighams denunciation of a war to free the blacks and enslave the whites. In Illinois the proclamation was denounced by Democrats as a "gigantic usurpation," as "unwarrantable in military [and] civil law," and as properly called a war measure," for it would "protract the war indefinitely." Similar expressions could be repeated at great length. It should, however, be noted per contra that such support as came to the administration in Illinois in the election of 1862 was attributed by the Chicago Tribune to the emancipation proclamation and the removal of General Buell; that Grimes of Iowa considered the proclamation a source of strength in his state; and that a similar view as to Missouri was expressed by the Missouri Democrat.
As to the effect of the proclamation abroad it is not easy to generalize. It is true that there was in Europe and England an overwhelming antislavery sentiment and that enthusiastic applause was received from English abolitionists; but at the same time many felt that it was not the humanitarian motive which had actuated Lincoln and that the proclamation as issued was unfortunate. Various British newspapers scored the measure, declaring that it was without legal force, that it was a high-handed proceeding, and that it betrayed Lincoln's waning power. On the other hand there were many foreign expressions of opinion distinctly favorable to the Lincoln administration. John Bigelow wrote to Seward (October 10, 1862) that France was unanimously for emancipation" and that the Union cause would "daily grow in grace" in that country. Among humanitarians in England the proclamation produced, as Frederic Bancroft has said, a "surprising awakening," being hailed in public meetings addressed by prominent speakers. On January 29, 1863, an emancipation meeting in Exeter Hall, London, was so crowded that a second and a third meeting were held to accommodate the overflow. Telegrams were read reporting meetings in other places; the name of Lincoln was cheered and the cause of the South denounced. So greatly were the Confederate agents worried at this time because of "the universal hostility of Europe to slavery and the . . . warnings that Europe would never recognize . . . a slave-power" that Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate secretary of state, has been described as "in profound despair" and ready to concede that "spades were trumps." New instructions for the Confederate commissioners were prepared: they were now ready to propose Southern emancipation of the Negroes if they could thus improve their prospects of recognition. The fact that recognition was not obtained, though shortly previous to this it seemed highly probable, is in large part attributable to Lincoln's proclamation.
A natural accompaniment of emancipation was the use of colored men as Union soldiers. Though most Northerners were willing to accept Negroes as laborers in the army, there was, at the outset, much opposition to the idea of Negro troops, and even Lincoln "thought that the organization, equipment and arming of negroes, like other soldiers, would be productive of more evil than good." But after the emancipation proclamation sentiment for Negro soldiers grew. Indeed, several Federal commanders had not waited for the President to act but, on their own initiative, had for several months been recruiting colored troops. On April 12, 1862, General David Hunter in command of the Department of the South had organized the first official regiment of Negro troops, composed of former slaves from Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina; but this proved a bad beginning, for the blacks were, according to one account, "driven like cattle" into the regiment, "kept for several months in camp, and then turned off without a shilling, by order of the War Department." In July General John W. Phelps began outfitting "three regiments of Africans" in his Louisiana command, but friction with his superior officer, Benjamin F. Butler, soon led to his resignation. On August 22 Butler himself called on the free colored militiamen of Louisiana to enroll in the volunteer forces of the Union. In theory, all who joined Butlers regiments bad been free, but in practice, an observer remarked, "nobody inquires whether the recruit is (Or has been) a slave. As a consequence the boldest and finest fugitives have enlisted. . . ." Meanwhile, General James H. Lane in Kansas had, from the very beginning of the war, enrolled Negroes into his forces, and "small units and companies of Kansas colored troops fought in the first engagements in the Civil War in which American Negroes were permitted to fight for the Union."
On August 25, 1862, the war department gave official sanction to the policy of recruiting Negro soldiers by authorizing General Rufus Saxton in the Department of the South "to arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States, such number of volunteers of African descent as [he] may deem expedient, not exceeding 5,000." Lincoln's final emancipation proclamation of January 1, 1863, also sanctioned the newly freed Negroes being received into the armed force of the United States; and thenceforward the formation of colored military units became common. In August, 1864, Lincoln stated that there were nearly 150,000 colored men in the Union service; by the end of the war the number reached the high total of I78,895. On widely separated fronts these Negro warriors saw action--in South Carolina and Florida, at Port Hudson, at Olustee, at Petersburg, and elsewhere.
Cautious at first as to Negro troops, Lincoln came to speak of them in eulogistic terms. Writing to General Dix on January 14, 1863, be said that since the disadvantages of the emancipation proclamation had to be endured, its benefits should also be grasped. In March, 1863, he spoke of colored troops as "very important, if not indispensable." Soon after, he expressed satisfaction at the conduct of colored troops at Jacksonville, Florida; again he said, "The raising of colored troops . . . will greatly help every way." Some, he said, considered "the emancipation policy and the use of the colored troops . . . the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion . . . He pointed out that he could not give up these troops and could not abandon the forts garrisoned by black men; nor could he take 150,000 men from "our side" and let them be used "against us." He emphatically declared that these black soldiers should not be re-enslaved. "Should I do so," he said, "I should deserve to be damned in time and eternity."
Negro soldiers were generally under white officers. Perhaps the most famous of these was T. W. Higginson of Massachusetts, who in November, 1862, was invited to take command of the first regiment raised by General Saxton. "Had an invitation reached me to take command of a regiment of Kalmuck Tartars," wrote Higginson, "it could hardly have been more unexpected." Accepting the colonelcy of this slave regiment, which carried over the name of Hunters abortive organization and was known as the "First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers," Higginson trained it and led it in unimportant raiding operations up the St. Marys and Edisto rivers. He records this unique experience with enthusiasm and with extraordinary praise of these black soldiers. lie writes of the "absurdity of distrusting the military availability of these people," who were almost entirely black, with scarcely a mulatto among them. His enthusiasm, however, was that of an extremist who could write: "I had been an abolitionist too long, and had known and loved John Brown too well, not to feel a thrill of joy at last on finding myself in the position where he only wished to be."
Another son of Massachusetts who achieved fame in command of Negro troops was Robert Gould Shaw, youthful colonel of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, the "first colored regiment of the North to go to the war." In an ill-advised attack upon Battery Wagner, Charleston harbor (July 8, 1863), Shaw met death at the head of his troops, whose losses were heavy. Like Higginson, be had left a promising post in command of white troops in order to lead the blacks.
Throughout the war Negro soldiers were under discrimination in the matter of pay, bounties, and the like. According to Higginson, a definite assurance by the war department that colored soldiers should receive the same pay as white troops was violated. Up until 1864 even Negro noncommissioned officers were paid only $7 a month, precisely what colored privates received. As a result of "sustained effort by prominent officers of Negro troops, with help from governors, newspaper editors, and senators," a partial victory was achieved in the army appropriation act of 1864, but not until after the war was over did the Federal government fully abandon its "shortsighted and parsimonious policy toward the pay of colored troops."
Naturally the use of Negro troops produced sharp threats of retaliation at the South, where the practice was denounced as a departure from the laws of war and a measure of brutal barbarity. On August 21, 1862, President Jefferson Davis proclaimed that the Union generals Hunter and Phelps should be treated not as public enemies but as outlaws and should be executed as felons, on account of their use of slaves in armed service In his proclamation of December 23, 1862, Davis declared that in view, of the efforts of the President of the United States to "excite servile war within the Confederacy," slave soldiers and Federal commissioned officers serving with them should be turned over to the states of the South to be dealt with according to the laws of said states, which meant being put to death." A modified treatment was decreed by the Confederate Congress, which regarded the matter as a problem for the Confederacy, not the states, and which provided (April 30, 1863) that white officers commanding Negro soldiers should be "deemed as inciting servile insurrection" and should, if captured, he "put to death or be otherwise punished, at the discretion of the court."
Against these severe decrees an order of counter-retaliation was issued by Lincoln, who proclaimed (July 30, 1863) that for every Union soldier killed in violation of the laws of war, "a rebel soldier shall be executed," and for every one enslaved "a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor . . . and [so] continued . . . until the other shall . . . receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war."
It was not that these threats were put into effect: it appears rather that on both sides the retaliatory declarations were intended primarily to soften the war by putting an end to uncivilized practices; they are distinctly to be regarded as threats rather than as the basis of completed policy. Lincoln handled alleged Confederate atrocities against Negro soldiers with great caution and restraint, even the brutal affair at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, where on April 12, 1864, General N. B. Forrest was alleged to have refused quarter to surrendering Negro troops who constituted a part of that garrison and was reported to have massacred several hundred of them instead of taking them prisoners. A United States Senate investigating committee angrily charged that the Confederates had murdered 300 Union men "in cold blood after the post was in possession of the rebels, and our men had thrown down their arms." Despite the aroused state of Northern opinion, Lincoln remained calm. In a public statement made six days after the "massacre" he declared: "We do not to-day know that a colored soldier, or white officer commanding colored soldiers, has been massacred by the rebels when made a prisoner. . . . We are having the Fort Pillow affair thoroughly investigated. . . . If . . . it shall turn out that there has been no massacre at Fort Pillow, it will be almost safe to say there has been none, and will be none elsewhere." It is significant that, in spite of Northern indignation over this incident there was no retaliation by the Union government. As explained by Nicolay and Hay and by Rhodes, this may have been due to the rush of events, or, more probably, to the realization that the incident grew out of the heat of war, and that retaliation would only make the matter far worse.
The actual consummation of freedom in American law and practice was less a matter of presidential proclamation than of state action and constitutional amendment. In West Virginia a clause providing gradual emancipation was included in the new-state constitution of 1863 in order to fulfill one of the requirements of admission to the Union. Immediate abolition was provided by constitutional amendment in Tennessee in February, 1865. In Maryland liberation was provided by an ordinary law which merely "repealed" the slave code of the state concerning Negroes, this code being but an enactment of the legislature. A still different method was adopted in Missouri, where slavery was abolished by ordinance passed by a state convention (January 11, 1865). Two of the border states, however, Delaware and Kentucky, clung tenaciously to the dying institution; and the war ended with slavery still a state matter, though seriously interfered with by national authority.
For the final disposition of a problem which had been handled piecemeal by the President, the states, and Congress, and which in consequence was left in considerable confusion, it came to be recognized that a constitutional amendment was a legal necessity. Such an amendment was therefore reported from the Senate committee on the judiciary by Trumbull of Illinois. It was the first example of the use of the amending process to accomplish a specific reform on a nationwide scale, outside what may be called the strictly constitutional function of determining the composition and functions of government. There were grave doubts as to such use of the Constitution. Some felt that domestic institutions were so thoroughly a matter of state jurisdiction that a change such as the proposed thirteenth amendment should be resisted as a revolutionary alteration of the basic American federal system. There was also considerable doubt whether the national Constitution could be legally amended during the Civil War; and in this doubt Senator Trumbull himself, when discussing another matter, had shared. Such was the opposition to the amendment when first proposed that, though the Senate adopted it (April 8, 1864) by a vote of 38 to 6,2 the lower house (June 15, 1864) failed to muster the necessary two-thirds, the vote being 93 to 65, with 23 not voting. The representatives, however, were moved by the election of 1864 and the progress of the war to a change of heart; and on January 31, 1865, the amendment was carried, 119 to 56, 8 not voting.
The story of the ratification of the amendment is bound up with the early stages of postwar reconstruction under President Johnson. Of the thirty-six states in 1865, three-fourths of which were necessary for ratification, more than one-fourth (eleven) had been seceded states of the Confederacy, while two of the Union states, Delaware and Kentucky, refused to ratify. It was thus necessary to count in some of the seceded states in order to obtain ratification; and as a matter of fact Secretary Seward, in the proclamation which declared the amendment in force (December i8, 1865), did include eight of the former Confederate States, as shown in the table.
That these eight Southern states should be considered competent to ratify the antislavery amendment, such ratification being essential to its enactment, and yet be rejected by Congress and not considered states in the Union, is but one of the many anomalies of reconstruction. They were the "Johnson governments" of the South, brought into being under President Johnson's direction in compliance with his generous plan of restoration, but were denied recognition by the vindictives who controlled Congress. Some of the Radicals had suggested in 1865 that the Southern states be left out of the count in the matter of ratifying the amendment, and that only the Union states be considered to constitute the total, three-fourths of which would have to give their ratification. In fact, Lincoln's secretaries and biographers have fallen into the error of saying that the amendment was "ratified by 21 out of the 26 States," whereas it was actually ratified, as shown by Seward's proclamation of December 18, 1865, by twenty-seven of the thirty-six states. After the amendment was declared in force, various states added their ratifications, so that all doubts of its validity were removed.
Lincoln did not live to see emancipation legally consummated. Moreover, an important part of his emancipation policy was doomed to failure--
Adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment , December 18, 1865
(Stars indicate those states whose ratifications were counted in Seward's proclamtion of
December 18, 1865, Declaring the amendment in force)
Free States of the Union
Slave States of the Union
States of the Former Confederacy
*Va. (See Note Below)
Total of all States 36
Note. The United States government recognized the "restored government" of Virginia; and that state was, rather fictitiously, represented in the Federal Congress in the early part of the war. It was not, however, considered to be in the Union in 1865.
that of compensation to slaveholders. In passing the British emancipation act of 1833 the Parliament granted the amount of £20,000,000 as compensation for the destruction of slave property. Not only did the Parliament consider the cash value of the slaves, but it also considered such factors as the value of slave-worked land and the prospective value of children to be born. Lincoln labored valiantly for compensation to Southern owners. At the Hampton Roads Conference (February, 1865) he is reported to have said that he "would be willing to be taxed to remunerate the Southern people for their slaves"; that he "believed the people of the North were as responsible for slavery as the people of the South"; and that he would be in favor "of the Government paying a fair indemnity for the loss to the owners."
After the war, however, compensation for slaveholders not only received little thought but was opposed to the prevailing view. The joint resolution of Congress expressing a willingness in 1862 to compensate any state that would free its slaves represents simply a stage in a rapidly changing policy. It was natural to suppose that the offer should not hold good indefinitely, since promptness on the part of the states was desired in order to hasten peace. During the brief period when this compensation policy was presumably active, the border-state governments contributed their part to the burial of the project: otherwise such efforts as those of Maryland in 1865 to obtain compensation on the basis of the Federal pledge might be viewed with more sympathy. When at the end of the war a new policy-abolition by constitutional amendment-had been put forth, the claims of those few states whose independent abolition of slavery occurred just before the adoption of the nation-wide amendment were lost from sight. Finally the matter was settled by the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution, which declared that "neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay. . . . any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave"
Source: "The Civil War and Reconstruction" by Randall and Donald
This Page last updated 02/16/02