« AnteriorContinuar »
component parts so that one could be taken and the other could be left. The union of the two issues meant the disunion of the people of the Middle and even of the Northern States.
In the Border States a considerable proportion of the people was both pro-slavery and pro-Union. These men wished to retain their servile laborers under their feet and the shelter of the Union over their heads. At first they did not see that they might as well hope to serve both God and Mammon. Yet for the moment they seemed to hold the balance of power between the contestants; for had all the pro-slavery men in the Border States gone over in a mass to the South early in the war, they might have settled the matter against the North in short order. The task of holding and conciliating this important body, with all its Northern sympathizers, became a controlling purpose of the President, and caused the development of his famous "border-state policy,” for which he deserved the highest praise and received unlimited abuse.
The very fact that these men needed, for their comfort, reiterated assurances of a policy not hostile to slavery indicated the jeopardy of their situation. The distinct language of the President alleviated their anxiety so far as the Executive was concerned, but they desired to commit the legislative branch to the same doctrine. Among all those who might have been Secessionists, but were not, no other could vie in respect and affection
with the venerable and patriotic John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky. This distinguished statesman now became the spokesman for the large body of loyal citizens who felt deeply that the war ought not to impinge in the least upon the great institution of the South. In the extra session of Congress, convened in July, 1861, he offered a resolution pledging Congress to hold in mind: “That this war is not waged upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor with any purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those [the revolted] States; but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired.” After the example of the Constitution, this resolution was carefully saved from the contamination of a certain offensive word; but every one knew its meaning and its purpose; and with this knowledge all the votes save two in the House of Representatives, and all save five in the Senate, were given for it. “It was,” says Mr. Blaine, “a fair reflection of the popular sentiment throughout the North.” So Mr. Lincoln's inaugural was rati
But events control. The Northern armies ran against slavery immediately. Almost in the very hours when the resolution of Mr. Crittenden was
1 Also, in the House Thaddeus Stevens and Lovejoy, and in the Senate Sumner, did not vote.
gliding so easily through the House, thousands of slaves at Manássas were doing the work of laborers and servants, and rendering all the whites of the Southern army available for fighting. The handicap was so severe and obvious, that it immediately provoked the introduction of a bill freeing slaves belonging to rebels and used for carrying on the
The Democrats and the men of the Border States generally opposed the measure, with very strong feeling. No matter how plausible the reason, they did not wish slavery to be touched at all. They could not say that this especial bill was wrong, but they felt that it was dangerous. Their protests against it, however, were of no avail and it became law on August 6. The extreme antislavery men somewhat sophistically twisted it into an assistance to the South.
The principle of this legislation had already been published to the country in a very fortunate way by General Butler. In May, 1861, being in command at Fortress Monroe, he had refused, under instructions from Cameron, to return three fugitive slaves to their rebel owner, and he had ingeniously put his refusal on the ground that they
“contraband of war.” The phrase instantly became popular. General Butler says that, “as a lawyer, [he] was never very proud of it;” but technical inaccuracy does not hurt the force of an epigram which expresses a sound principle. “Contraband” underlay the Emancipation Proclamation.
Thus the slaves themselves were forcing the issue, regardless of politics and diplomacy. With a perfectly correct instinctive insight into the true meaning of the war, they felt that a Union camp ought to be a place of refuge, and they sought it eagerly and in considerable numbers. Then, however, their logical owners came and reclaimed them, and other commanders were not so apt at retort as General Butler was. Thus it came to pass that each general, being without instructions, carried out his own ideas, and confusion ensued. Democratic commanders returned slaves; Abolitionist commanders refused to do so; many were sadly puzzled what to do. All alike created embarrassing situations for the administration.
General Fremont led off. On August 30, being then in command of the Western Department, he issued an order, in which he declared that he would "assume the administrative powers of the State.” Then, on the basis of this bold assumption, he established martial law, and pronounced the slaves of militant or active rebels to be “free men.” The mischief of this ill-advised proceeding was aggravated by the “fires of popular enthusiasm which it kindled." The President wrote to Fremont, expressing his fear that the general's action would "alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them against us; perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect in Kentucky.” Very considerately he said: “Allow me, therefore, to ask that you will, as of your own motion, modify that paragraph so as to conform to” the Act of August 6. Fremont replied, in substance, that the President might do this, but that he himself would not! Thereupon Mr. Lincoln, instead of removing the insubordinate and insolent general, behaved in his usual passionless way, and merely issued an order that Fremont's proclamation should be so modified and construed as “to conform with and not to transcend” the law. By this treatment, which should have made Fremont grateful and penitent, he was in fact rendered angry and indignant; for he had a genuine belief in the old proverb about laws being silent in time of war, and he really thought that documents signed in tents by gentlemen wearing shoulder-straps were deserving of more respect, even by the President, than were mere Acts of Congress. This was a mistaken notion, but Fremont never could see that he had been in error, and from this time forth he became a vengeful thorn in the side of Mr. Lincoln.
Several months later, on May 9, 1862, General Hunter proclaimed martial law in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, and said: “Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these States, heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free."
At once, though not without reluctance, Mr. Lincoln revoked this order, as unauthorized. He further said that, if he had power to “declare the slaves of any State or States free,” the pro