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denial to the people of all right to participate in the selection of public officers except the legislative, boldly advocated, with labored arguments to prove that large control of the people in the government is the source of all political evil. Monarchy itself is sometimes hinted at as a possible refuge from the power of the people.” “In my present position I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against the approach of returning despotism.”1
Early in August Congress passed a law confiscating rebel property. It declared that whenever any person held to labor or service under the law of the States was permitted by the person to whom such labor or service was due to be employed in any way against the lawful authorities of the United States, that the owner's claim to service should thereby be forfeited. This law affected funtold millions of property, and, primarily, property in slaves. Thus, at the beginning of the war, the national government, for its own security, was compelled to make this form of property insecure, whenever it was used against the United States. Before the close of the month, the meaning of the act was tested, in an unexpected way, by a proclamation from General Fremont, declaring free all slaves, the property, real and personal, of persons in the State of Missouri who had taken up arms against the United States, or given its enemies aid or comfort.3 Three days later, the President, in a letter to Fremont, asked him to modify his proclamation, so as to conform to the act of August sixth; and, nine days later, he peremptorily ordered its modification. The order was obeyed. But Fremont's hasty act was a step toward emancipation which
1 Lincoln's Works, II, 104, 105. December 3, 1861.
SLAVES AS PROPERTY.
was never retraced. At this time, whatever the President thought of the principle, he was not persuaded of the expediency of emancipation. The people were not ready for it.
It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for an American, unaccustomed by birth and inheritance to a slaveholding community, to understand the meaning of the word property as applied to a slave. To the people of the South, slaves were human beings and property; but primarily, property. To anti-slavery people in the North, they were human beings held in bondage without cause. When Kentucky, in 1849, debated the question, whether to empower its legislature to emancipate slaves, and, when a year later, the same question was discussed in Maryland and in Virginia,the conclusion reached, in each State, was to deny the exercise of power without the consent of the owner, for the reason, that no man's property can be lawfully taken from him without his own consent and without compensation. This principle of government was interpreted by the supporters of slavery to apply to the slave, as much as to any other form of property; and the
1 For account of the discussion in Kentucky, see my Constitutional History of the American People, 1776-1850, II, Chapters i, iv, v, vi.
2 For the discussion in Maryland, see Debates in Proceedings of the Maryland Reform Convention to Revise the State Constitution as Adopted. Published by Order of the Convention, 2 Vols., Annapolis; William McNeir, Official Printer, 1851, 550 pp., 890 pp. Proceeding (Journal) of same, Annapolis; Riley & Davis, Printers, 850, 895 pp. x 8 x 3 pp. Journal, Acts and Proceedings of a General Convention of the State of Virginia, Assembled at Richmond on Monday, the fourteenth day of October, Eighteen Hundred and Fifty, Richmond; William Culley, Printer, 1850, 424 pp., with Appendix and Reports. Documents containing Statistics of Virginia ordered to be printed by the State Convention Sitting in the City of Richmond; William Culley, Printer, 1851; 8vo,
NOT A WAR AGAINST SLAVERY.
storm of passion, which the abolitionists provoked in the South, was merely a sign of unyielding opposition to being robbed.
The Government of the United States, in 1861, did not wage war to exterminate slavery. The hundreds and thousands of men who enlisted in response to the President's first call had no thought of fighting to free the negro. It was the supremacy of the national government, the Union of the people of the United States, that was to be saved. Had the President, or had Congress, then announced that the war was for the abolition of slavery, there is little doubt that the Union would have been dissolved. Fremont's proclamation, whatever its political purpose, was essentially a permit to commit robbery, even though the property stolen be changed in the transaction, from slave to freeman. In the border States, property in slaves was less secure than farther South, and many a slave owner in Kentucky and Maryland, convinced of its insecurity and unprofitableness, was ready to emancipate his slaves for a compensation. An argument for emancipation, heard occasionally in the Southern States, down to the time of the war, was now met by the reply, that for a State to encourage or allow emancipation was to invite a horde of free persons of color, whom the South, and indeed the North, considered the most undesirable population in the world. Therefore, on the ground of public policy, Southern legislatures were forbidden, by State constitutions, to enact general laws allowing the emancipation of slaves.? Emancipation was occa
1 For account of the treatment of free persons of color and the esteem in which they were held North and South, see my Constitutional History of American People, 1776-1850, I, Chap. XII.
2 The Provision of the Constitution of Virginia, 1850, respecting slaves and free negroes was typical of that found in other Southern constitutions at the time; “And all slaves hereafter emanci
SOCIAL CONDITIONS CHANGED.
sionally permitted as a favor to an individual, but it was not to be construed as a precedent."
But the war suddenly changed social conditions North and South. The North began to look upon the negro with more leniency; and, as the national armies moved into the slaveholding States, they became the rendezvous of thousands of negroes, who had escaped from their masters, or who had been seized under the act of confiscation. Though society in the South was thus demoralized, the great body of slaves, more than the majority, remained faithful to their masters. There were good negroes and bad on the old plantations, and it was mostly the bad ones who ran away to the national camps. Whether seized as property and confiscated, or remaining faithful to their masters, these contrabands were a source of embarrassment to the national government, which, under the Constitution and the laws was bound to protect slave property wherever found; yet now, amidst the throes of war, it was obliged to treat it as a munition of war. The President early began the solution of the difficulty. Slaves set free under the act of forfeiture were already dependent upon the United States and must, in some way, be provided for.
pated shall forfeit their freedom by remaining in the Commonwealth more than twelve months after becoming actually free, and shall be reduced to slavery under such regulation as may be prescribed by law."
"The general assembly may impose such restrictions and conditions as they shall deem proper with power of slave owners to emancipate their slaves; and may pass laws for the relief of the Commonwealth from the free negro population by removal or otherwise."
“The General Assembly shall not emancipate any slave, or the descendant of any slave, either before or after the birth of such descendant.” Article IV, Sections 19, 20, 21.
1 See Chap. 12, cited in note above, for reference to the prin. cipal laws of the States on emancipation, prior to 1860.
PRESERVATION OF THE UNION.
He recommended that Congress provide for accepting such persons from the States according to some mode of valuation, say in lieu of direct taxes, and hoped that some of the States might pass similar enactments for their own benefit. Once accepted by the United States, these persons were to be considered free, and steps should be taken for colonizing them. Perhaps free persons of color throughout the United States might be interested in colonization. The government might acquire suitable territory in South America, or elsewhere, and thus free itself of an embarrassing population.' Colonization would relieve the country of negroes, liberated either by act of Congress, or by an assembly.
But in his message, the President formally declared that the Union must be preserved, and that “all indispensable means must be employed.” Thus, as far as he was concerned, he left the question of means open, for future events to determine. Clearly, the ultimate means was the abolition of slavery; but in December, 1861, neither the President, nor many of the party to which he belonged, thought seriously of this extreme. Gradual emancipation had been tried in the Northern States;2 might it not be tried again especially in the border States ? If slave owners there were compensated, might it not be applied in other States the more easily? But emancipation by the United States, whether with, or without, compensation, raised many grave political questions. Delaware, the smallest State and having the fewest slaves, was naturally thought to be a favorable field in which to attempt the compensatory plan. The President drafted a
1 See Lincoln's Annual Message, December, 1861: Lincoln's Works, Vol. II, p. 102.
2 By Statute in Pennsylvania in 1780; in Connecticut and Rhode Island, 1784; in New York, 1789; and in New Jersey, 1804.