THE FIERY TRIAL: “I Must Have Kentucky”

“I Must Have Kentucky” – The Border Strategy

— Excerpt from Eric Foner’s “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery” —

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ON MARCH 11, 1861, a week after Lincoln’s inauguration and a month before the Civil War began, a canoe arrived at Fort Sumter carrying a “negro boy” who had heard that the new president intended to free the slaves. The commanding officer ordered him immediately turned over to the authorities in Charleston. The following day, four slaves appeared at Fort Pickens in Florida, “entertaining the idea,” according to Lieutenant Adam Slemmer, “that we were placed here to protect them and grant them their freedom.” Determined to “teach them the contrary,” Slemmer ordered the men delivered to the marshal at Pensacola (like Charleston, part of the Confederate States of America).1

The outbreak of the Civil War in April did nothing to change the army’s policy. “The Fugitive Slave Act,” Harper’s Weekly pointed out, “is not to be found in the Army Regulations.” Nonetheless, by the end of the month some thirty Florida slaves who had escaped to Fort Pickens suffered the same fate as the initial four. In April and May, as Union forces made their way through Maryland to protect Washington, hundreds of slaves flocked to their lines or took the occasion to escape to Pennsylvania. Seeking to ensure the loyalty of local whites, Union commanders in the border states, and in enclaves of Confederate territory where the army ventured, issued strict orders to their troops to respect private property and return runaway slaves, and assured residents that they harbored no “animosity” toward them or their institutions. Enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act continued. A week after the war began, the U.S. marshal appointed by Lincoln arrested several fugitives in Chicago. Three months into the conflict, a Maryland newspaper pointed out that more escaped slaves had been returned to their owners under Lincoln “than during the whole of Mr. Buchanan’s presidential term.”2

The flight of slaves should not have come as a surprise. Thousands had sought refuge with British forces during the struggle for independence and the War of 1812. Whatever the announced policies of the Lincoln administration, slaves, as a Kansas newspaper put it, viewed the Civil War as their “hour of opportunity,” the dawn of freedom. Acting on this belief, they took actions that placed the issue of slavery on the national agenda and helped to propel America down the road to emancipation.3

The war, the New York Times would observe a year and a half into the conflict, shattered many myths. Despite southern propaganda, slaves turned out to be “earnestly desirous of liberty,” possessed a keen understanding of “the questions at issue in this war,” and had “far more rapid and secret” ways of disseminating news among themselves “than ever was dreamed of at the North.” As the war progressed and Union armies occupied larger and larger portions of the South, the trickle of runaways became a flood. “Slave labor is disappearing so rapidly,” a member of Maryland’s legislature complained early in 1862, “that our lands must go untilled.” As the navy patrolled the southern coast to enforce the blockade, slaves came to the shore hoping to escape to their ships. Some succeeded in doing so. When a small Union flotilla sailed up the Stono River in South Carolina in May 1862, the crew observed cavalry pursuing a “stampede of slaves” fleeing to avoid relocation inland. After opening fire on the Confederate forces and dispersing them, the naval commander took more than seventy slaves on board. He settled them in a safe location near the coast. That same month, in one of the war’s most celebrated acts of individual daring, Robert Smalls, the slave pilot of the Confederate naval vessel Planter, brought on board his wife, child, and a dozen other slaves, guided the ship out of Charleston harbor, and surrendered it to the Union navy.4

By 1864, nearly 400,000 slaves had made their way to Union lines. Long before then, the escape of slaves powerfully affected both sides in the Civil War. Most slaves did not have the opportunity to flee, but the escape of those who did made those who remained “restless and discontented.” Fear of escape caused owners to remove slaves to the southern interior, far from the battle lines, and prompted the Confederate government to reinforce plantation discipline by exempting one adult male from military service for every twenty slaves. These measures disrupted the institution of slavery and caused serious dissension in southern white society. The situation also undermined discipline within the Union army, as some soldiers defied orders by encouraging fugitives and refusing to assist in “returning a poor wretch to slavery,” in the words of Colonel Harvey Brown, the commander at Fort Pickens.5

An 1860 campaign placard. The images and text emphasize Lincoln’s commitment to justice, the Union, the Constitution, and liberty. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
An 1860 campaign placard. The images and text emphasize Lincoln’s commitment to justice, the Union, the Constitution, and liberty. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

As the New York Herald explained at the end of 1861, the slavery question had been “forced upon the administration by these…negroes in our army camps.” The strategic importance of the four border slave states that remained in the Union, where most runaways originated in 1861, heightened the urgency of dealing with the issue. When Lincoln began to make policy about slavery, he drew on ideas he had long embraced, advancing a plan for gradual, compensated emancipation in these states, coupled with the colonization of the freed slaves outside the country. For Lincoln, as for most Republicans, the road to emancipation still ran through the border states.6

In retrospect, Congressman Isaac N. Arnold of Illinois commented in 1866, it seemed difficult to understand the administration’s initial reluctance to endanger slavery. But, he noted, for the nation’s entire history “the claim of the master to his slave had been protected by extraordinary guarantees,” embedded in the Constitution and recognized as lawful by almost every American. Most northerners, including Lincoln, desired to conduct the war, at least at the beginning, in a constitutional manner. Lincoln’s initial definition of the conflict, moreover, seemed to rule out action against slavery. Convinced that secession was a rebellion of individuals, not states, he insisted that the Union remained intact, with the states retaining all their constitutional rights. To be sure, the proclamation of a blockade and the decision to treat captured southerners as prisoners of war rather than criminals seemed to recognize the Confederacy as a belligerent power. And under the laws of war, many northerners argued from the outset, slavery in the Confederacy no longer enjoyed constitutional protection.7

Whatever the legal status of the seceded states, Lincoln appreciated the crucial importance to the Union war effort of securing the loyalty of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, where the Constitution undoubtedly still applied. These states had a white population of 2.6 million—a little less than half that of the Confederacy—and about 420,000 slaves. Maryland and Kentucky, with their diverse economies and key strategic positions, were especially crucial to Union prospects. “I hope to have God on my side,” Lincoln is said to have quipped, “but I must have Kentucky.” Lincoln took many steps early in the war to bolster Union control of the border states. He appointed opponents of secession to patronage posts without regard to their party affiliation. With the army occupying much of Maryland, he moved swiftly and forcefully to suppress disunion sentiment, allowing soldiers to arrest Confederate sympathizers and administer loyalty oaths to voters, steps that helped to produce a Unionist victory in the state’s June 1861 elections. He adopted a quite different approach in Kentucky, tacitly accepting its declaration of “armed neutrality” and keeping Union soldiers out of the state. His forbearance paid dividends when Confederate forces invaded Kentucky at the beginning of September 1861 and the legislature threw its support to the Union. Making emancipation a war aim, Lincoln believed, would drive the border to secession.8

Nonetheless, the status of escaping slaves could not be ignored, especially as the Confederacy set slaves to work for its armies. On May 23, 1861, three black men made their way to Fortress Monroe, where General Benjamin F. Butler had assumed command the previous day. Situated in Virginia at the mouth of the James River, Monroe was one of the largest forts in the United States. It stood near the spot where twenty slaves had been landed from a Dutch ship in 1619, marking the beginning of slavery in England’s North American colonies. Until the outbreak of war, nearby Norfolk was a fashionable resort and “gay promenaders” had crowded the fort’s parapets every evening.

The three fugitives told Butler that they were about to be sent “to Carolina” to labor for the Confederate army. Other slaves, Butler ascertained, were building Confederate fortifications in Virginia. Having “great need” for manpower himself, Butler decided not to return the men; instead, he put them to work. Shortly thereafter, an agent of Colonel Charles K. Mallory, their owner and the Confederate commander in the area, arrived under a flag of truce asking for the return of his human property. Butler replied that the Fugitive Slave Act “did not affect a foreign country, which Virginia claimed to be.” But if Mallory took an oath of allegiance to the United States, Butler would return the men. This offer Mallory declined.9

Butler called the escaped slaves “contrabands of war.” He claimed to be drawing on international law, even though the term “contraband” means goods used for military purposes that a neutral country ships to one side in a conflict, and which the other combatant may lawfully seize. Butler’s legal reasoning broke down further as escaping slaves who had not labored for the Confederate military, including women and children, joined male fugitives. Nonetheless, Butler had introduced a new word into the political lexicon. Soon, there would be contraband camps, contraband schools, and extended debate about the status and future of “the contrabands.” His policy won wide support in the North, including, wrote the Boston Radical Edward L. Pierce, among those who “would be repelled by formulas of broader and nobler import.” Butler’s actions did not imply a broad attack on slavery. He recognized the fugitives as property but used that very status to release them from service to their owners. Since it deprived the Confederacy of manpower, the strongly anti-abolitionist New York Herald approved of Butler’s order. But, the Chicago Tribune predicted, “if the war continues one year or more, ‘what shall we do with the slaves?’ will…become the question of the day.”10

Butler was an unlikely initiator of a new policy regarding slavery. A well-to-do Massachusetts lawyer and staunch Democrat, he had run unsuccessfully for governor in 1859 and the following year voted for John C. Breckinridge, the most pro-southern of the four candidates for president. When he marched into Maryland in April, Butler assured the state’s governor that his troops would help to suppress any slave insurrection. Nonetheless, word of his action at Fortress Monroe spread quickly among local slaves. On May 27, forty-seven more, including a three-month-old infant, arrived at what blacks now called the “freedom fort.” Butler set as many to work as servants or laborers as he could and requested instructions from Washington. “As a political question and a question of humanity,” he asked, could he continue to receive runaway slaves? “Of the humanitarian aspect I have no doubt. Of the political one, I have no right to judge.” Thus, less than two months into the war, the actions of runaway slaves had created a “political question” for the Lincoln administration.11

Stampede of Slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe, a depiction of slaves seeking refuge at the Virginia fort where General Benjamin F. Butler initiated wartime emancipation by declaring fugitives “contraband of war” and refusing to return them to their owners. (Provided courtesy HarpWeek, LLC.)
Stampede of Slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe, a depiction of slaves seeking refuge at the Virginia fort where General Benjamin F. Butler initiated wartime emancipation by declaring fugitives “contraband of war” and refusing to return them to their owners. (Provided courtesy HarpWeek, LLC.)

Postmaster General Montgomery Blair reported to Butler that Winfield Scott, the Union’s southern-born general in chief, wanted to overturn his contraband policy. Blair himself felt it should apply only to able-bodied fugitives, leaving nonworking slaves as a financial burden on Confederate owners. But Lincoln approved of what Butler had done. He laughingly called the order “Butler’s fugitive slave law,” adding, however, that the question required further consideration because of the large numbers the Union army would soon “have on hand in virtue of this new doctrine.” On May 30, 1861, in a convoluted letter that reflected the complexities of the situation, Secretary of War Simon Cameron informed Butler that his policy “is approved” (he did not say precisely by whom). Butler could employ slaves as workers, but he should keep a record of the value of their labor and the expense of their maintenance. Their “final disposition,” Cameron wrote, would be left for future determination. The letter said nothing about Butler’s offering refuge to women and children. And no public announcement followed, in order, Blair explained, to “escape responsibility from acting at all at this time.” (Predictably, reports of the cabinet discussion appeared immediately in the press anyway.) Lincoln, according to the New York Herald’s Washington correspondent, preferred to leave the issue to local commanders. As a result, some officers continued to return fugitives, while others refused to do so.

By the end of July, over 850 blacks had escaped to Fortress Monroe. “Are these men, women, and children slaves?” Butler wondered. “Are they free?” For the moment, no answer was forthcoming. “Where we are drifting, I cannot see,” the abolitionist Lydia Maria Child would write a few months later, “but we are drifting somewhere; and our fate, whatever it may be, is bound up with these…‘contrabands.’”12

I

FOR NEARLY THREE MONTHS after the firing on Fort Sumter, Lincoln and the executive branch, in effect, were the national government. But once Congress assembled for the special session Lincoln called to begin on July 4, 1861, he had to share power with other politicians, many of whom had far more experience in national affairs than he and thought of themselves as equally attuned to northern public sentiment and the interests of the nation, and equally qualified to judge military and political strategy. Thanks to the departure of the seceded states, Republicans now held substantial majorities in both houses. Throughout his presidency, Lincoln strove to forge as close a working relationship with congressional Republicans as possible. Generally, he ceded economic matters to the lawmakers, while attempting to retain control over the issues he believed fell within the rubric of presidential power—especially the conduct of the war. Eventually, he became convinced that he, not Congress, possessed authority over the slavery question. Yet Congress persistently tried to shape national policy regarding slavery. The special session of the Thirty-seventh Congress was no exception.

Lincoln greeted the legislators with a long message detailing his actions since the outbreak of war and offering a philosophical and legal justification for the Union cause. Acknowledging that some of his actions might not have been “strictly legal,” he insisted that all had been demanded by “public necessity.” To critics, he posed a pointed challenge: “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?” He asked for retroactive approval of his conduct. This was soon forthcoming for all of Lincoln’s military measures, although Congress notably failed to endorse his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. This did not stop Lincoln from continuing to suspend the writ when he thought proper.13

Lincoln’s message reiterated arguments from his inaugural address about the permanence of the Union, the nation’s supremacy over the states, and the illegality of secession. He rejected the idea that any seceded state except previously independent Texas had ever been a sovereign entity, which he defined as “a political community without a political superior”—a description so “terse and complete,” the lawyer and political essayist Sidney George Fisher wrote in his diary, “that it deserves a place in the science of politics.” Northern newspapers, as well as many ordinary soldiers, had already insisted that the effort to maintain the Union embodied “the cause of self-government throughout the world.” Lincoln offered a powerful affirmation of this understanding of the war’s meaning:

This issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy—a government of the people, by the same people—can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes.

Lincoln went on to link the idea of democracy directly with the familiar free-labor ethos, which he had not mentioned in his inaugural. Democracy was not simply a structure of government but a promise of economic opportunity and social justice:

This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men—to lift artificial weights from all shoulders—to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all—to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.14

Lincoln’s celebration of free labor implicitly conveyed a critique of its opposite, slave labor. But apart from a reference to “slave states,” the message to Congress contained no reference to slavery as a cause of the war or to abolition as a potential result. Indeed, Lincoln promised that after the conflict ended, the states would enjoy all their traditional constitutional rights. “Any one reading that document, with no previous knowledge of the United States,” Frederick Douglass complained, “would never dream…that we have a slaveholding war waged upon the Government…. Thus do we refuse to see even what it is impossible to hide.” To be sure, many northern newspapers praised the message for precisely this reason. But Harper’s Weekly greeted the assembling lawmakers with an editorial entitled “The Slavery Question.” “This,” it declared, “without doubt, will be the most difficult problem with which Congress will have to grapple.” The disposition of runaway slaves, the editors continued, could not be left to individual military commanders—the government must adopt a “uniform policy.”15

A uniform policy, however, proved difficult to arrive at. Indeed, during the five-week session, Congress adopted measures that seemed patently contradictory. Five days into the session, Owen Lovejoy presented to the House a resolution declaring it “no part of the duty of the soldiers of the United States to capture and return fugitive slaves,” and calling for repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. The resolution was tabled, but the following day, after the second part had been omitted, the House approved it 93 to 55, with nearly every Republican voting in favor and Democrats and border Unionists opposed. The resolution never came before the Senate and did not have the force of law, but it indicated widespread Republican dissatisfaction with military commanders who returned runaway slaves.16

On the other hand, shortly after the battle of Bull Run on July 21, the war’s first significant encounter and a shocking defeat for the Union army, both houses approved by overwhelming margins a resolution affirming that the war was being waged solely to maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and not “for the purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of these states.” Introduced in the House by John J. Crittenden of Kentucky and in the Senate by Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, the lone senator from a seceded state to remain in his seat, and supported by Lincoln, it passed the House, 117 to 2, on July 22, and the Senate, 30 to 5, three days later. According to James G. Blaine, the resolution accurately reflected “the popular sentiment throughout the North” in mid-1861. Presumably for this reason, James Ashley, George W. Julian, Owen Lovejoy, Thaddeus Stevens, and Charles Sumner, the leading Radicals in Congress, abstained rather than opposing it (a decision Ashley later called “the most cowardly act of my life”).17

The Dis-United States, a cartoon published the day after the attack on Fort Sumter, shows a black man, depicted in the racist imagery common at the time, tearing a map of the United States, suggesting that slavery is the cause of the nation’s disintegration. (Provided courtesy HarpWeek, LLC.)
The Dis-United States, a cartoon published the day after the attack on Fort Sumter, shows a black man, depicted in the racist imagery common at the time, tearing a map of the United States, suggesting that slavery is the cause of the nation’s disintegration. (Provided courtesy HarpWeek, LLC.)

The special session mainly concerned itself with fiscal and military matters. The question of “the future relations of the government with slavery,” Harper’s Weekly observed when Congress adjourned in August, had “by general consent” been postponed to December, when the members would reconvene. Yet the debates in July and August indicated that if Republicans did not see emancipation as the war’s “purpose,” many believed it might well become a consequence. Senator James H. Lane of Kansas warned that when “the army of freedom” penetrated the South, “it will be the tocsin…for an insurrection of the slaves.” To the alarm of border-state Unionists, even moderate Republicans like Senator James Dixon of Connecticut declared that if slavery interfered with the success of the war effort, “let slavery perish.” No one sought abolition, said the moderate Henry S. Lane of Indiana, but emancipation might well be “one of the results of the war.” This, he added, was “precisely the position of the administration.” Even Garrett Davis, the Unionist senator from Kentucky, who described himself as having “always been a pro slavery man,” informed Lincoln that if it came to a choice between preserving slavery or saving the Union, he would sacrifice slavery even if it meant that “another fibre of cotton should never grow in our country.”18

Especially after the fiasco at Bull Run, constituents inundated members of Congress with letters calling for invigoration of the war effort, a demand echoed in northern newspapers. Even moderate journals like the New York Times hinted that emancipation might become necessary to win the war. Reports also circulated of slaves “by the thousands” employed by Confederate armies. As the session neared adjournment, Congress on August 6 responded to this pressure by passing the Confiscation Act. Enacted over the objections of Democrats and border Unionists, it confiscated property (including slaves) utilized for Confederate military purposes and declared that the owner would “forfeit his claim” to any slave so employed.19

“This bill,” John J. Crittenden complained, “will be considered as giving an anti-slavery character and application to the war.” To be sure, as a measure of abolition it was extremely limited. The act confiscated individual slaves but did not affect the law of slavery. It said nothing about the status of the large majority of slaves within Union lines, who had not been employed by Confederate armies. An early version described confiscated slaves as “discharged from service”—that is, emancipated—but this clause did not make it into the bill as passed. Undoubtedly, slaves to whom the law applied thought of themselves as freed. But their legal status remained unclear. They no longer owed labor to their owners, but the act did not explicitly emancipate them.

For all its limitations, however, the Confiscation Act represented an early turning point in the relations of the federal government to slavery. It treated slaves as persons “held to labor,” rather than chattel property. The confiscation of other property required a court proceeding, but the termination of the master-slave relationship did not—that was meant to be self-executing. The law, moreover, applied not only in the seceded states but also in the loyal border if owners allowed the Confederacy to utilize their slaves. Fearing it would alienate the border states (and possibly violate the Constitution’s prohibitions against the seizure of property without due process of law and confiscation beyond the lifetime of the owner), Lincoln signed it “with great reluctance,” according to the New York Times. But given that virtually every Republican member of Congress had voted for the bill, he felt he had no alternative.20

When Congress adjourned in early August, the administration still lacked a consistent policy regarding slavery, as Lincoln no doubt preferred. Immediately after the passage of the Confiscation Act, Secretary of War Cameron, claiming to speak for the president, advised Butler that while the army could not receive fugitives from states that remained in the Union, the rights of slaveholders in the Confederacy must be “subordinated to the military exigencies created by the insurrection.” Butler himself had already decided to treat arriving slaves as “free,…never to be reclaimed.” All this went well beyond the letter of the Confiscation Act. But early in August, Lincoln suddenly appointed General John E. Wool commander at Fortress Monroe, dispatching Butler to New England to raise troops. Butler assumed that this insulting demotion arose from “my views on the negro question.” In fact, it resulted from a debacle in which he had sent untrained troops to try to capture a Confederate outpost.

Wool continued Butler’s contraband policy, paying wages to both male and female fugitives employed by his forces. Military commanders elsewhere, however, still barred runaways from entering their lines and returned them to their owners. In the nation’s capital, Ward Hill Lamon, an old friend from Illinois whom Lincoln had appointed U.S. marshal, enforced the Fugitive Slave Act, jailing blacks who sought refuge from nearby Virginia and Maryland. “Thus far,” complained Francis E. Spinner, the treasurer of the United States, “our army has been but an armed police, whose duty has seemed to be to arrest and return runaway slaves to their rebel masters.” Spinner consoled himself with the reflection that “this will work itself out. There can be but one result to this contest, and it is only a question of time, and the manner of its being done.”21

II

ALLOWING INDIVIDUAL military commanders to make policy about dealing with slaves had the advantage of enabling the administration in Washington to avoid the issue. But since every such decision unavoidably made a political statement, it could lead to unanticipated problems. The disadvantages became strikingly evident at the end of August 1861, when John C. Frémont, commanding Union forces in Missouri, issued an order declaring martial law in the state, providing for the summary execution of rebels, and confiscating the property and emancipating the slaves owned by Confederates. Frémont had been dispatched in May to bring Missouri firmly under Union control. He found the state, he reported to Lincoln, “in disorder, nearly every county in an insurrectionary condition.” Frémont believed the administration had given local commanders a free hand. But his order went well beyond both Butler’s contraband policy, which applied only to fugitives, and the recently enacted Confiscation Act, which dealt with slaves employed for military purposes. Although it freed only slaves of rebels, not those of Unionists, Frémont’s was the war’s first proclamation of emancipation.22

Military emancipation—liberating slaves as a means of weakening a foe in wartime—was hardly a new idea. As early as the seventeenth century, Spain had used it as a weapon against other slaveholding powers in the New World. The British had done so during the War of Independence. In the Second Seminole War, the U.S. Army itself had offered freedom to black Seminoles, most of them fugitive slaves from Florida, who surrendered to its forces. Nonetheless, Frémont’s proclamation, issued at the very moment that the Kentucky legislature was considering throwing in its lot with the Union, raised a furor throughout the border. Lincoln’s old friend Joshua Speed, now a prosperous Kentucky slaveholder, had opposed Lincoln’s election but in 1861 helped to rally his state’s Unionists. Speed warned the president that Frémont’s order would inspire border slaves to “assert their freedom” and would “crush out every vestige of a union party” in Kentucky. Freeing the slaves of Confederates would destroy Unionists’ hold on their own slaves: “You cannot declare my neighbor’s negroes free—without affecting mine.” After all, Speed pointed out, slaves differed from every other kind of property: “It is the only property in the world that has locomotion with mind to control it.” Other Kentucky Unionists also pleaded with the president, including Robert Anderson, the former commander of Fort Sumter, who warned that unless the order were immediately reversed, “Kentucky will be lost to the Union.”23

Lincoln, who was born in Kentucky, who married a Kentuckian, and who had lived among migrants from Kentucky in Illinois, paid a great deal of attention to opinion in that state. (Critics accused him of being “president of Kentucky.”) Even before receiving Speed’s letter, Lincoln, “in a spirit of caution and not of censure,” asked Frémont to modify his order. Lincoln wanted him to seek presidential approval before executing Confederates (otherwise the enemy would “very certainly shoot our best man in their hands in retaliation”) and to modify the provisions relating to property, including slaves, to conform to the Confiscation Act. If he did not, “our rather fair prospect for Kentucky” would be ruined. Frémont, a man of considerable stubbornness, refused. If the president wanted the order modified, he replied, he should do it himself. Frémont dispatched his wife, Jessie, the daughter of former senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, to plead his case. Lincoln received her coolly. When she made the point that emancipation would win the support of Great Britain, which otherwise might recognize the Confederacy, he called her, according to her later account, “quite a female politician.” The next day, Lincoln directed Frémont to modify his proclamation in the ways he had earlier requested. Six weeks later, Lincoln removed Frémont from his command.24

John C. Frémont.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
John C. Frémont.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Lincoln must have been surprised by the enthusiasm Frémont’s proclamation aroused. To Radicals, it represented a telling blow against slavery; to others, a justified punishment of rebels and a legitimate means of weakening the Confederate war effort. Senator William P. Fessenden of Maine, a moderate Republican, noted its “electric effect” on public opinion in “all parts of the country.” “It is wonderful to see the general approval of the act,” James Bowen, the police commissioner of New York City, wrote. “I have not yet seen the man democrat or republican who doubts its wisdom.” In the Northwest, Senator James W. Grimes of Iowa reported, “everybody of every sect, party, sex, and color approves it.” Orestes Brownson, the philosopher and educator who had strongly opposed abolitionism before the war, now wrote that Frémont had forced the government to confront the question of slavery, which “everybody knows…is at the heart of the whole controversy.” Perhaps, he added, in a sentiment that Lincoln himself would later echo, “all-wise Providence” had brought about the war because of the country’s long indifference to “the cry of the enslaved.”25

Frémont’s order and its modification inspired more letters to Lincoln than any other event of his presidency. Many Democrats, including those who had initially welcomed the proclamation, applauded Lincoln’s action. So did the New York Times, although it had to admit that Frémont’s action was “in harmony with public sentiment throughout the North.” Lincoln’s correspondence bore this out. Charles Reed, who had served as a Whig legislator alongside Lincoln in the 1830s, informed the president that his instructions to Frémont had “produced the deepest sadness and consternation among all parties and classes” and “put a decided check upon men’s volunteering for the war.” Many writers presented cogent arguments against Lincoln’s action. “No wonder Europe looks on the struggle with indifference,” read a letter from Delaware, “while we fight the slave interest…and sustain slavery.”26

No one knows which letters Lincoln actually read—his secretaries screened his voluminous correspondence and passed along only a small sampling. But one that he probably saw since it came from John L. Scripps, his 1860 campaign biographer who had recently been appointed postmaster of Chicago, must have arrested his attention:

“This nation cannot endure part slave and part free.”…To you sir has been accorded a higher privilege than was ever before vouchsafed to man. The success of free institutions rests with you. The destiny not alone of four millions of enslaved men and women, but of the great American people…is committed to your keeping. You must either make yourself the great central figure of our American history for all time to come, or your name will go down to posterity as one who…proved himself unequal to the grand trust.27

Years earlier, in his Lyceum speech, Lincoln had warned of the emergence of a tyrant who would seek to outdo the achievements of the founders by emancipating the slaves. Yet Lincoln had always wanted to make his mark on history. How better to do so than by completing the founders’ work by placing slavery on the road to extinction?

Whatever thoughts he may have harbored along such lines, in September 1861 Lincoln had more immediate concerns: the war effort, Kentucky, and civilian control of the military. Among the letters praising Frémont, one arrived from Lincoln’s conservative friend Orville H. Browning. Twenty-five years earlier, Browning had written the Illinois legislative resolutions affirming owners’ “sacred” right to their slave property, from which Lincoln had dissented. Now he wrote from his home in Quincy, Illinois, that Frèmont’s proclamation had “the unqualified approval of every true friend of the Government…. I do not know of an exception.” The administration, he charged, had shown “too much tenderness toward traitors and rebels.” Lincoln took the time to draft a long response justifying his decision. Browning’s letter, he wrote, “astonished me.” Congress, Lincoln pointed out, had determined the limits of action against slavery in the Confiscation Act. A general could seize property, including slaves, used for military purposes, but it was up to Congress to “fix their permanent future condition” (something the Confiscation Act had failed to do). To allow a general—or a president—to go beyond the law and “make permanent rules of property by proclamation” would turn the government into a “dictatorship.” Moreover, in a more practical vein, he had reason to believe that Frémont’s order would irrevocably alienate Kentucky. “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game,” Lincoln wrote. “Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us.” But, he insisted, he had not acted “because of Kentucky.” The “liberation of slaves” was a “political” question, and he would not allow generals to make political decisions.28

Lincoln’s letter to Browning offered the most elaborate explanation of his thinking on the war’s relationship to slavery in the late summer of 1861. Later, his outlook would change. He would end up doing what the letter indicated he could not do—abolish property in slaves “by proclamation” in the absence of legislative authority. All this proves is that five months into the Civil War, Lincoln, like the vast majority of his countrymen, had not yet arrived at a coherent policy regarding how to deal with slavery.

The controversy over Frémont’s order opened the floodgates of public discussion of slavery. As William O. Stoddard, one of Lincoln’s three secretaries, wrote in a New York newspaper, it reconfigured northern politics, dividing it “as by a saber cut, permanently, into the new shape of ‘conservatives’ and ‘radicals.’” For the moment, Stoddard added, the conservatives, led by Lincoln, had things “their own way.” Yet, he noted, the distinction was less rigid than heated rhetoric sometimes suggested. “For the most part,” the two groups sought “the same ends but by different means.”29

Nonetheless, this difference was significant. Radicals and abolitionists, many of whom had refrained during the summer from direct criticism of the administration, condemned Lincoln’s modification of Frémont’s order. “Where is the war power now?” wondered the Weekly Anglo-African. Some comments included disdainful remarks of a kind that would resurface again and again during Lincoln’s presidency. Benjamin F. Wade wrote of Lincoln’s “imbecility and perverseness,” claiming he had done “more injury to the cause of the Union…than [General IrvinMcDowell] did by retreating at Bull Run.” Lincoln’s action, Wade added, “could only come of one born of ‘poor white trash’ and educated in a slave state.”30

For months, abolitionists had insisted that the war could not be won without emancipation. Now they embarked on a campaign to persuade the administration and the northern public. A group in Boston formed the Emancipation League to present the case for abolition in terms that would attract the widest support. “I have been advocating of late,” wrote the abolitionist editor Charles G. Leland, “emancipation for the sake of the Union—and of free white labor,” not the slaves. On October 1, Charles Sumner, who to the surprise of many constituents had said nothing about slavery during the special session of Congress, called for emancipation in a speech at the Republican state convention in Massachusetts.

Even in Massachusetts, however, most Republicans had no desire to break with the president. The moderate Republican press denounced Sumner’s speech, and the delegates rejected a resolution that advocated freeing all slaves within Union lines, with compensation for loyal owners. Yet Sumner also received many letters of support, not all of them from Radicals. Even Montgomery Blair praised his remarks: “Your speech is noble, beautiful, classical, sensible. I would have timed it differently, but I will take it now.” In any event, the debate had become public, and it would not go away. In October, his former congressional colleague Richard W. Thompson reported to Lincoln from Indiana that “public sentiment” had reached a “peculiar” condition, marked by “a very free examination and discussion of the policy of the administration.” No president, he added, had “ever been subjected to a severer or more searching scrutiny.” People of all parties strongly supported the war effort, but they demanded “vigorous policy—decided and prompt action” against the South. Ironically, Thompson observed, Lincoln’s strongest support came from his former opponents, while “Republicans, thus far, complain the most.”31

III

LINCOLN WAS unquestionably thinking seriously about slavery in the fall of 1861. In November, George Bancroft, the noted historian and former member of James K. Polk’s cabinet, conveyed to Lincoln his conviction that “Divine Providence” had brought on the war as a way to “root out social slavery.” Lincoln replied that the matter “does not escape my attention.” He promised to deal with it “in all due caution, and with the best judgment I can bring to it.”32

In fact, Lincoln had already settled on tiny Delaware as the place where emancipation could be launched with the greatest prospect of success. The state’s population in 1860 included 90,500 white persons (only 587 of them slaveowners), 19,800 free blacks, and just under 1,800 slaves. Even this last figure was something of an exaggeration, as Delaware had created a legal category of half-freedom whereby slaves whose owners agreed to manumit them served a term as indentured servants before being liberated. Alone among the slave states, Delaware had barred the sale of slaves outside its borders, resulting in a decline in the value of its human property since excess labor could not be shipped farther south. Abolition, Senator James A. Bayard had told the Senate several months earlier, would have no effect on his state’s prosperity. Delaware, moreover, had a significant Quaker population and, in the northern part of the state, a long antislavery tradition. In 1847, a bill for gradual emancipation had failed in the legislature by one vote. On the other hand, the state had also enacted harsh black codes. Free blacks could not vote, testify in court, or send their children to public schools, and the law presumed all black persons to be slaves unless they could demonstrate their free status. The main obstacle to abolition in the state, according to Bayard, was fear it would lead to “the equality of races.”33

Early in November 1861, Lincoln met at the White House with George P. Fisher, Delaware’s lone member of the House of Representatives, and Benjamin Burton, whose twenty-eight slaves made him the state’s largest slaveholder. Both were strong Unionists. Lincoln pressed them to initiate a process of gradual, compensated emancipation, which the federal government would finance. Once Delaware acted, other border states would follow, shattering the Confederacy’s hope of weaning them from the Union and leading to the end of the war in the “cheapest and most humane” manner. Their state, the two men told Lincoln, would be delighted to rid itself of slavery in this manner, whereupon Lincoln drafted two bills that could be introduced in the Delaware legislature. One abolished slavery in five yearly stages, culminating in 1867, with slave children to serve apprenticeships until adulthood. The second bill immediately freed slaves above the age of thirty-five but extended the process of emancipation for the remainder all the way to 1893. Both bills required the federal government to compensate owners with about $400 per slave, and both barred the sale of soon-to-be-emancipated slaves out of state. In keeping with his long-established preference for gradual emancipation, Lincoln noted, “on reflection, I like No. 2 the better.”34

The idea of compensated emancipation had a long lineage. Even though abolitionists had attacked such plans for surrendering the “great fundamental principle that man cannot hold property in man,” the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment distinctly required “just compensation” if the federal government appropriated private property. In one form or another compensated emancipation had been implemented in the British West Indies and most of Latin America. Even as Americans debated the question, the Netherlands early in 1862 adopted a plan for compensated emancipation in its Caribbean colonies. Lincoln had included compensation in his 1849 proposal for abolition in the District of Columbia. All these plans shared an essential characteristic—recognition of the local laws that defined slaves as property.35

During the 1850s, the “learned blacksmith” and veteran reformer Elihu Burritt had organized a Compensated Emancipation Convention in Cleveland. Unlike most such proposals, Burritt’s plan would provide money not only to owners, but, in smaller amounts, to emancipated slaves as well. Burritt lectured widely on the scheme in the northern and border states, including twice in Springfield, where he conferred with William Herndon, Lincoln’s law partner. (There is no record of Lincoln having met Burritt or attending his lectures.)36

In August 1861, with the war now under way, Daniel R. Goodloe, an abolitionist from North Carolina who was working in Washington, D.C., as a reporter for the New York Times, published a pamphlet urging the federal government to propose compensated emancipation to the loyal border states. The editor of the Times, Henry J. Raymond, published and distributed it without charge. To counter white concerns about the creation of a large free black population, Goodloe predicted that the emancipated slaves would voluntarily migrate to the Deep South, which would become their “Eldorado.” It is not known if Lincoln saw this pamphlet, but he later appointed Goodloe to chair the commission that allocated compensation to slaveowners after Congress abolished slavery in the District of Columbia.37

Compared with later developments, Lincoln’s proposal to Delaware, which envisioned slavery surviving for thirty additional years, seems cautious indeed. Yet in November 1861, when no significant military action had yet taken place, it was a bold initiative. Never before had a president committed the federal government to promoting abolition. Moreover, in aiming not simply to free individual slaves but to abolish the institution, it advanced well beyond Butler’s contraband policy and the Confiscation Act. And, in Lincoln’s view, it was constitutionally unassailable since it relied on the action of state authorities and did not seize property without compensation. In effect, the plan made slaveholders partners in, rather than opponents of, emancipation, and offered a way of ending the institution without violence or social revolution.

Lincoln’s proposal for Delaware, which he soon extended to the entire border, should not be viewed simply as an attempt to outflank the Confederacy. It represented a continuation of prewar Republican plans to promote the demise of slavery in the border region. And when it came to the future status of the freed slaves, Lincoln also thought along prewar lines. When he presented his proposal to Fisher in November 1861, Lincoln did not mention colonization. But he told Orville H. Browning, who had been elected to the Senate from Illinois, that colonization “should be connected with it.” Lincoln was well aware that, as Joshua Speed had warned him from Kentucky, white public opinion in the border would never countenance “allowing negroes to be emancipated and remain among us.” “You might as well,” Speed commented, “attack the freedom of worship in the North or the right of a parent to teach his child to read, as to wage war in a slave state on such a principle.”38

Once Fisher prepared a bill, under whose terms slavery in Delaware would end in 1872 with apprenticeship until adulthood for slave children, debate began in the state’s newspapers. Opponents warned that emancipated slaves would demand citizenship rights and that the end of slavery would lead to “equality with the white man.” Fisher went to great lengths to fend off this charge, insisting that not equality but colonization, of blacks already free as well as emancipated slaves, would follow abolition. But by February 1862 it had become apparent that the bill could not pass, and it was never actually introduced in the legislature. Slavery survived in Delaware until December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution (and the owners received no monetary compensation).39 The outcome in Delaware offered an early indication that Lincoln’s hope of border owners voluntarily surrendering their slaves was doomed to failure. It also demonstrated that proponents of emancipation needed to have a persuasive answer to the inevitable question of what would happen to slaves once freed. This brought to the fore, once again, the prospect of colonization.

For years, colonization had been one element of a strategy for promoting gradual abolition in the border states pressed by the Blair family and their followers and embraced, although without their fervor, by Lincoln. His cabinet included three strong advocates of the idea: Edward Bates, Montgomery Blair, and Caleb B. Smith. From the very beginning of his administration, Lincoln considered ways of laying the groundwork for colonization. In March 1861, a month before the outbreak of the war, Elisha Crosby, the new minister to Guatemala, departed for his post carrying secret instructions “conceived by old Francis P. Blair” and endorsed by Lincoln, to secure land for a colony of blacks “more or less under the protection of the U.S. Government.” Crosby found the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras unreceptive. One asked why the Lincoln administration did not settle blacks in its own western territory, “a question,” Crosby related, “which I must confess I found very difficult to answer.” On April 10, even as the crisis at Fort Sumter reached its climax, Lincoln found time to meet at the White House with Ambrose W. Thompson, who claimed to have acquired several hundred thousand acres of land in Chiriqui on the Isthmus of Panama, then part of New Granada (today’s Colombia). Thompson touted the region’s suitability for a naval station because of its fine harbor and rich coal deposits, which colonized blacks could mine.40

After fighting began, the Blairs pressed the colonization initiative. The increasing numbers of “contrabands” who could neither be returned to their owners nor be brought to the North given prevailing prejudices there, increased their urgency. They hoped to use as guinea pigs the refugees at Fortress Monroe. “I am in favor of sending them straight to Hayti,” Montgomery Blair wrote to General Butler on June 8, 1861. “Suppose you sound some of the most intelligent, and see how they would like to go with their families to so congenial a clime.” Lincoln apparently agreed. On July 8, Browning, a longtime advocate of colonization, recorded in his diary that he and the president had discussed “the negro question” at the White House. Both agreed, Browning wrote, that the government should not send fugitives back to slavery and that at the end of the war they should be colonized. Around the same time, Blair approached Matías Romero, the Mexican chargé d’affaires in Washington, about establishing a black colony in the Yucatán. But given that Mexico had recently surrendered one-third of its territory to the United States, the prospect of further intrusions on its soil aroused insurmountable opposition.41

Chiriqui seemed to offer a more promising prospect. Lincoln, according to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, was “much taken” with Ambrose W. Thompson’s proposal and pressed Welles to look into the matter. The secretary responded that the navy had no interest in a coaling station in Chiriqui, that there was “fraud and cheat in the affair,” and that he doubted blacks desired to become coal miners. Undeterred, Lincoln turned the matter over to Secretary of the Interior Caleb B. Smith. In October 1861, he authorized Smith to agree to a contract for “coal and privileges” in Chiriqui, which, Smith hoped, would not only benefit the federal government but also help “to secure the removal of the negroes from this country.” Lincoln also asked Mary Lincoln’s brother-in-law Ninian Edwards and Francis P. Blair Sr. to look into the Chiriqui matter. Both reported positively. Edwards seemed mainly interested in saving the government money on coal. Blair waxed enthusiastic about Chiriqui as the “pivot” for an American empire in the Caribbean and a site for the “deportation” of the “African race,” thus “removing the element that convulses the whole system.” Soon after meeting with Congressman Fisher, Lincoln informed Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase that he was anxious to have the “Chiriqui coal contract…closed.” But in view of Welles’s opposition, the project was shelved. It would be revived in 1862.42

Any doubt that at this point colonization remained part of Lincoln’s plan for dealing with slavery and its aftermath was dispelled when Congress reassembled. In his annual message, sent to the lawmakers on December 3, 1861, Lincoln urged them to provide funds for the colonization of slaves freed under the Confiscation Act or whom the border states decided to emancipate, as well as blacks already free who might desire to emigrate. He asked them to consider acquiring new territory for the purpose. A Washington newspaper suggested that the proposed black colony be called Lincolnia. Lincoln also called for extending diplomatic recognition to Haiti and Liberia, partly, it is plausible to assume, to improve prospects for black emigration to these countries. (The New York Herald objected that such recognition would result in a “strapping negro” arriving in Washington as an ambassador.)43

Overall, commented the Washington correspondent of the New York Times, the message took “the ancient ground of Henry Clay in regard to slavery…combined with the plan of Frank P. Blair, Jr.” “No plan of emancipation,” the reporter added, “unless accompanied by a practical scheme for colonization, will ever meet the President’s assent.” Editorially, however, the Times viewed colonization as thoroughly impractical. The country, it insisted, could not afford to lose so much labor, and “perfectly harmonious relations” between the races could be established once slavery ended. But other voices of Republican moderation praised this part of the message. And colonization societies were overjoyed by the president’s embrace of their program.44

In the annual message, Lincoln approached the future of slavery cautiously. John J. Crittenden had urged him to say nothing at all about it: “It is a topic which has been the bane of our country, and it must be wise, therefore to shut off” discussion. Lincoln reiterated that the war’s “primary object” was to preserve the Union. He reminded the lawmakers that he had avoided “radical and extreme measures.” Nonetheless, the message contained a subtle expansion of his position regarding slavery and the war. It built on the Delaware plan to offer financial aid to any state that agreed to gradual emancipation. Payment would take place in a curious manner, as an offset against “direct taxes” owed to the federal government as if, the Chicago Tribune remarked, slaves could “be used as currency by the State.” The message also included the startling statement that slaves covered by the Confiscation Act had been “liberated”—a description that went beyond the letter of that ambiguous law. Lincoln mentioned the possibility of Congress passing a “new law” regarding slavery, perhaps inviting it to do so. And he included a passage celebrating the strength of border-state Unionism that inadvertently, perhaps, suggested that future policy need not be tailored to border sensibilities.45

Reactions to Lincoln’s annual message underscored divisions among Republicans over the relationship of slavery to the war as well as their bases of unity. Moderate and conservative Republicans praised the president’s sagacity. A policy of general emancipation would destroy the “unanimity of public sentiment” essential for prosecution of the war, the New York Times declared, and lead to border secession and the disbandment of half the army. Not surprisingly, abolitionists and Radicals found the message “sorely disappointing.” Lincoln “has evidently not a drop of antislavery blood in his veins,” William Lloyd Garrison commented. “I shudder at the possibility of the war terminating without the utter extinction of slavery.” Lyman Trumbull received numerous letters from constituents complaining about the absence of a “battle cry” in the message. “It would seem that Mr. Lincoln had his face Southward when he wrote this thing,” one observed. “If this struggle ends with slavery still in existence, the Battle of Liberty has been only half fought.”46

Radicals were further dismayed by what Charles H. Ray of the Chicago Tribune called a “horrible fiasco” regarding the annual report of Secretary of War Simon Cameron. This related to the extremely delicate issue of enlisting blacks in the Union army. Black men had served in the navy before the war, but had been barred from the militia by a federal statute dating back to 1792, and from the regular army by tradition even though no law required it. Throughout 1861, northern free blacks offered their services, only to be turned away. So did runaway slaves. Early in the war, Henry Jarvis, who escaped to Fortress Monroe, offered to enlist. General Butler, Jarvis later recalled, “said it wasn’t a black man’s war. I told him it would be a black man’s war before they got through.” Disgusted, Jarvis emigrated to Africa. He returned two years later and, federal policy having changed, enlisted in the Union army. In fact, the Confederacy raised black soldiers before the Union did. New Orleans had a long tradition of free black militia service, dating back to the period of French rule. Early in 1862, officials there began to enroll black soldiers into the First Native Guards to help defend the city. (When federal forces captured New Orleans, these soldiers proclaimed their allegiance to the Union, saying they had been coerced into serving the Confederacy.)47

Lincoln said nothing when Secretary Welles in September 1861 authorized the navy to begin enrolling blacks at its lowest rank, “boy.” But in October, when Cameron allowed General T. W. Sherman to utilize the “services” of blacks in any capacity he saw fit in the expedition to the South Carolina Sea Islands, Lincoln added a sentence that this did not include “a general arming of them for military service.” Lincoln left intact the rest of Cameron’s language, which seemed to imply that if necessary, some blacks could be armed. But Lincoln feared reaction in the border states and the army itself to a policy of welcoming black recruits. Undeterred, Cameron included in his annual message a recommendation for freeing the slaves and enlisting blacks in the army. Lincoln ordered Cameron to remove the offending passage, and government censors tried to block publication of the original draft. Both versions of the report from the Secretary of War appeared in the press, to Lincoln’s considerable annoyance. In January 1862, Lincoln replaced Cameron with Edwin M. Stanton, a far more capable secretary of war.48

Clearly, no consensus about dealing with slavery as yet existed within the Republican party. Justin S. Morrill, a moderate Republican member of the House from Vermont, illustrated how constitutional scruples and doubts about blacks’ readiness for freedom counterbalanced the widespread desire for action against slavery. “I hope and pray,” he wrote, “that the institution of slavery may receive its deathblow in this great struggle, and I believe it will.” But Congress should “make haste slowly.” Morrill approved acting against the slaves of rebels, but the idea of freeing those of “loyal men,” even with monetary compensation, struck him as “a wild and utterly impracticable scheme,” far beyond the lawmakers’ constitutional authority. Moreover, loose talk about emancipation might arouse “the passions of these poor degraded Africans,” with consequences no one could foresee. Nevertheless, as the correspondent of the New York Times in the capital noted, even moderates who praised the president favored “a very radical treatment of the disease” (slavery). This, he added, “cannot fail to influence the policy of the administration.”49

IV

APART FROM the capture in February of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee by Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant, the winter of 1861–62 witnessed little significant military action. But public discussion of slavery intensified. In part, this resulted from frustration at the lack of military progress, in part from renewed agitation by the abolitionists. Lincoln’s secretary John Hay ridiculed the “little handful of earnest impracticables” clamoring for a policy of emancipation. But their efforts began to have an impact in the North. By early 1862, petitions with thousands of signatures calling for action against slavery began piling up in Washington. “Rousing anti-slavery meetings” took place at the Smithsonian Institution. Lincoln himself sat on the podium during Horace Greeley’s talk there on January 3, to the dismay of one Democratic congressman, who demanded an immediate halt to these “abolition lectures.” While abolitionists remained a small minority, they were increasingly treated with respect, their meetings now covered extensively by mainstream Republican newspapers. Orestes Brownson, who called for emancipation as the only way to establish a “permanent Union of freedom,” spoke for many when he reconsidered his prewar sentiments. Abolitionists, he wrote, had been justly criticized for giving too little consideration to “political expediency,” but “we who have opposed them are, perhaps, even more chargeable with having made too little account in our political calculations of justice.”50

That winter, Wendell Phillips received almost 200 invitations to lecture on the war and emancipation. He may have been heard by as many as 50,000 people, and via publication in newspapers and pamphlets, his words reached many more. When he spoke at Cooper Institute, people lined up for hours and many had to be turned away. Even John Hay, who held the abolitionists as responsible as the “slavery propagandists” for bringing on the war, noted that listeners who had hissed Phillips a year earlier now applauded him, an example, Hay wrote, of “the progress of ideas in a revolution.” Again and again, Phillips hammered home his message: the war must not only destroy slavery but create a new nation that “knows neither black nor white,…[and] holds an equal sceptre over all.” Phillips criticized Lincoln’s reluctance to act against slavery and called on Congress to take the lead. In March 1862, for the first time in his life, Phillips lectured in Washington. Charles Sumner introduced him on the floor of the Senate, he spoke at the Capitol in the presence of Vice President Hamlin and many members of Congress, and had an interview with Lincoln. Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and other abolitionists also lectured to large audiences.51

Left: CHARLES SUMNER, leader of the Radical Republicans in Congress who pressed for emancipation from the outset of the Civil War. (Chicago History Museum, ICHi-52582) ✦ Right: WENDELL PHILLIPS, the celebrated abolitionist orator and Lincoln’s frequent critic, who met with Lincoln in March 1862 to argue the case for emancipation. (Chicago History Museum, ICHi-52581)
Left: CHARLES SUMNER, leader of the Radical Republicans in Congress who pressed for emancipation from the outset of the Civil War. (Chicago History Museum, ICHi-52582) ✦ Right: WENDELL PHILLIPS, the celebrated abolitionist orator and Lincoln’s frequent critic, who met with Lincoln in March 1862 to argue the case for emancipation. (Chicago History Museum, ICHi-52581)

As part of their campaign to influence public opinion, proponents of abolition defended the results of prior emancipations. They made a particular effort to refute the “prevailing notion,” as Harper’s Weekly put it, that emancipation in the British West Indies had been a “failure” because it had been followed by a sharp decline in sugar exports. They publicized William G. Sewell’s Ordeal of Free Labor in the British West Indies, a series of letters that originally appeared in the New York Times and was published in book form in 1861. Sewell blamed poor management by planters for post-emancipation economic problems and insisted that “freedom, when allowed fair play,” benefitted black and white alike. Freedpeople in the British Caribbean, John P. Hale of New Hampshire assured the Senate, had become “an industrious, contented and prosperous peasantry.” Advocates of emancipation also pointed to the South Carolina Sea Islands, where the 10,000 or so slaves who remained behind when their masters fled the approach of the Union navy appeared eager for education and understood that they must “work for a living.” After a visit to the islands to investigate prospects for resuming cotton production, John Murray Forbes proclaimed himself convinced that “the negro has the same selfish element in him which induces other men to labor.”52

“The rebellion,” Gideon Welles later recalled, “rapidly increased the anti-slavery sentiment everywhere, and politicians shaped their course accordingly.” Pressure for more dramatic action against slavery came not only from abolitionists and Radicals but also the Republican mainstream. Members of all wings of the party viewed Lincoln as too cautious and irresolute. The president, wrote James C. Conkling, the former chair of the Illinois Republican party, “does not seem disposed to assume any responsibility.” Even the attorney general, Edward Bates, feared the president “lacked will and purpose.”53

When Congress assembled in December 1861, journalists predicted a “stormy session” in which “the slave question” would occupy “the most prominent part in…discussion.” It was clear from the outset that sentiment about slavery had shifted. Three days into the session, the House killed a motion to reaffirm the Crittenden-Johnson resolution of the previous July, which had disavowed the idea that interference with slavery was a “purpose” of the war. Radicals launched a campaign for vigorous action. Anyone who doubted that slavery was “the very sole cause of the war,” wrote Horace White, the Washington correspondent of the Chicago Tribune, was a “lunatic.” Martin F. Conway of Kansas offered a penetrating critique of the legal “fiction” under which the administration continued to operate. Lincoln’s insistence that the seceded states remained in the Union, he declared, “binds us to slavery.” Unless this understanding of the conflict changed, Union victory would restore the “slave power” to its former domination.54

In the early days of the session, Radicals introduced numerous measures dealing directly or indirectly with slavery. Thomas Eliot of Massachusetts presented a resolution urging Lincoln, under the war power, to emancipate the slaves in areas under rebellion. John P. Hale called for abolishing the current Supreme Court and replacing it with another one. Owen Lovejoy advocated enlisting black men in the Union army. Proposals circulated for abolition in the nation’s capital, repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, and the confiscation and emancipation of the slaves of Confederates. Lyman Trumbull, who introduced a confiscation bill early in December, received numerous letters of support. “I honestly believe,” declared a writer from Cairo at the southern tip of Illinois, “that the people are far ahead of the leaders today in their readiness to take the proper steps to put down this rebellion.” Throughout December debate continued. The New York Herald urged members to devote themselves to war measures “instead of wasting their precious time, by day and night, upon fruitless discussions upon the negro.”

One contentious issue concerned the status of fugitive slaves who sought refuge in the nation’s capital. Following complaints about conditions in the city jail, where marshal Ward Hill Lamon had incarcerated some sixty escaped slaves to await return to their masters, Secretary of State Seward, stating that he acted on instructions from Lincoln, reminded civil and military authorities in the District that runaways should not be arrested merely “upon presumption arising from color.” Those who had been employed by Confederate forces, he pointed out, were entitled to protection under the Confiscation Act. An embarrassing power struggle followed. After the Senate launched an investigation, Lamon ordered that no senator should be allowed access to the jail without his permission. The lawmakers responded with a unanimous vote declaring the marshal “in contempt of its rightful authority.” When senators asked Lamon to justify his policy toward runaways, Lincoln, who may have feared the situation was needlessly complicating the administration’s relationship with Maryland, where many fugitives originated, drafted for the marshal an evasive response stating that he acted “upon an old and uniform custom here.” (The District’s laws required free blacks to carry certificates of freedom or face arrest, and slaves to have the permission of their owners when away from home.) The situation led to considerable resentment in Congress. Senator James W. Grimes, who had been refused permission by the jailor to enter the premises, called Lamon a “foreign satrap, who has been brought here from the State of Illinois and fastened upon the seventy thousand people of this District.”55

The consideration of antislavery measures continued throughout the winter and spring of 1862. These prolonged and widely reported debates, eagerly listened to by black and white visitors in the galleries, helped to educate the northern public about the relationship of slavery to the rebellion. Democrats, including staunch supporters of the war effort, were appalled by the tenor of Republican sentiment. “The conservative men of the country must make themselves felt in Congress and without a moment’s delay,” wrote General John A. Dix, one of the numerous Democrats Lincoln had appointed to key military positions. Border-state Unionists, too, expressed increasing alarm at the Republicans’ overtly antislavery tone. Congress, they insisted, had no more power to interfere with slavery “than with the common school system, or any other local institution.” Talk of abolition, declared Augustus W. Bradford, the Unionist governor of Maryland, amounted to “treason.”56

The debates also exposed fissures within the Republican majority. Moderate Republicans—the majority of the party—deplored what they considered Radical “fanaticism.” William P. Fessenden of Maine spoke with annoyance of the “gentlemen on this floor” who seemed to think “that they are the representatives of all righteousness.” What was clear, however, as Senator Timothy O. Howe of Wisconsin advised his nephew, a colonel in the Union army, was that change had become the order of the day: “Don’t hitch yourself to any measure. Don’t anchor yourself to any policy. Don’t tie up to any platform. The very foundations of the government are cracking…. No mere policy or platform can outlast this storm.”57

Recognizing that the war had created a fluid and unpredictable situation, Lincoln tried to keep track of public opinion. He read newspapers and some of the letters that poured into the White House, and inquired about popular sentiment from the innumerable individuals and delegations who waited on him. He resented Radical attacks on his policies, at one point referring to “the Jacobinism in Congress.” But he also did what he could to avoid a split in the party. He used patronage to try to solidify the new and still-fragile Republican coalition, adhering to the motto “justice for all.” Recognizing the importance of winning antislavery opinion abroad to the Union cause, Lincoln appointed veteran Radicals and abolitionists to diplomatic positions. Zebina Eastman, the most prominent Illinois abolitionist, Lincoln told Secretary of State Seward, was “just the man to reach the sympathies of the English people.” Seward named Eastman the U.S. consul at Bristol. Radical Republican appointments included Joshua R. Giddings as consul general in Canada, William Slade as consul at Nice, and ambassadors Charles Francis Adams in Britain, Carl Schurz in Spain, Cassius M. Clay in Russia, George G. Fogg in Switzerland, and Anson Burlingame in China.58

Lincoln appears to have used his conversations with the stream of visitors who came to the White House to hear various points of view without committing himself. Regardless of their position on the political spectrum, most came away persuaded that Lincoln was on their side. George Bancroft reported that Lincoln told him during a conversation in early December 1861 that slavery had already “received a mortal wound.” In January, the abolitionist Moncure D. Conway called on Lincoln along with W. H. Channing, the chaplain of the Senate, to promote compensated emancipation. Four years later, he recalled Lincoln saying that “when the hour comes for dealing with slavery, I trust I shall be willing to act.” But by the same token, the banker and railroad entrepreneur Henry D. Bacon, a far more conservative man than Conway, reported after a conversation with the president, “Lincoln thinks just as I do about the disposition of the slaves of the rebels.” Sometimes, as a member of one delegation that pressed him for action against slavery related, Lincoln simply “told us a lot of stories.” One of his favorites concerned a group of travelers in Illinois who debated for hours how to cross a distant river until one declared, “I never cross a river until I come to it.”59

Despite heated criticisms of the administration (Frederick Douglass’s lead editorial for January 1862 bore the title “The Slave Power Still Omnipotent at Washington”), important parts of the abolitionist press recognized Lincoln as “drifting” toward further action against slavery. One sign was the administration’s reinvigoration of efforts to suppress the illegal slave trade from Africa. On assuming office, Lincoln instructed Secretary of the Interior Smith to enforce federal laws to this effect, which, despite increased enforcement by the Buchanan administration, had essentially remained dead letters under his predecessors. In February 1862, ignoring numerous pleas for clemency, including one from the Republican governor of New York, Lincoln refused to intervene to prevent the execution of Captain Nathaniel Gordon, an illicit slave trader whose ship carrying nearly 900 slaves had been captured off the coast of West Africa by a U.S. naval vessel. A week after Lincoln’s election, a New York jury had convicted Gordon of international slave trading, a crime legally equivalent to piracy and punishable by death. Gordon became the first and only American to be hanged as a slave trader. (President Buchanan had pardoned the only man previously sentenced to death in 1857.) Meanwhile, Secretary of State Seward negotiated a new treaty with Britain to strengthen enforcement of the ban. It provided for American participation in the international courts that tried slave traders, in which the United States had previously refused to take part. And for the first time, it allowed the British navy to stop and search ships flying the American flag, a practice traditionally resented by Americans—half a century earlier it had helped to bring on the War of 1812. These actions sent a strong antislavery message. The hanging of Gordon, wrote the Weekly Anglo-African, offered “the most solid indication of character” Lincoln had yet displayed.60

Lincoln and Congress also reached agreement about the status of slaves who escaped to Union lines. The Washington correspondents of both the New York and Chicago Tribunes reported in January 1862 Lincoln’s view that the government had no obligation to return fugitive slaves and that in any event public opinion would not allow it to do so. Nonetheless, the problem cried out for a consistent official policy. It could not be solved, Harper’s Weekly noted, “by the whim of this General, and the prejudice of that. There can not be thousands, and presently millions of people who have no recognized status, hanging around and within the lines of the army.” Some commanders refused to return fugitive slaves; others still sent them back to their owners. Major General Henry Halleck, who had replaced Frémont in Missouri, explained that the Fugitive Slave Act remained on the books and it was up to Congress, not the army, to change the law.61

In February 1862, Francis P. Blair Jr. reported from the House Committee on Military Affairs a new article of war that forbade army and navy officers from returning fugitive slaves under threat of court-martial. It received congressional approval, with virtually unanimous support from Republicans, and Lincoln signed it on March 13, 1862. The session’s first significant antislavery measure, the new article of war established for the first time a uniform policy regarding runaways and fundamentally altered the army’s relationship to slavery. In effect, it superceded the Fugitive Slave Act, even though that law would not be repealed until 1864. It made no distinction between fugitives from loyal and disloyal owners, or between those who escaped in Union and Confederate states. It did not explicitly free any slaves. But enacted just as the army was expanding its presence in the Mississippi Valley, it made Union lines a safe haven for fugitives. Since it did not offer compensation to the owners of fugitives sheltered by the army, it underscored how respect for the property right in slaves was declining. Henceforth, said Trumbull, an army officer must treat a fugitive slave not as property but “as a person,” exactly like “other persons whom he may meet in the country.”62

V

PREOCCUPIED WITH military matters and the long illness of his young son Willie, who died on February 20, 1862, Lincoln nonetheless pressed ahead with the idea of compensated emancipation in the border states. At the end of November 1861, Lincoln had told Charles Sumner that “in a month or six weeks we should all be together” on the question of slavery. A month later, Sumner reported Lincoln alerting him to expect an “early message” proposing that the federal government purchase the slaves of the loyal border states. On March 6, Lincoln sent the promised message to Congress.

Lincoln asked Congress to adopt a joint resolution pledging to provide financial compensation to any state that enacted a plan for the “gradual abolishment of slavery.” Such a measure, he argued, would help to preserve the Union, since Confederates continued to expect the border states to join them. “To deprive them of this hope,” which the adoption of a plan of emancipation would accomplish, “substantially ends the rebellion.” Lincoln made clear his preference for “gradual, and not sudden emancipation.” He reiterated that the federal government had no right to “interfere with slavery within state limits,” and that the border states had complete “free choice” whether to accept or reject his idea. Yet he also included a not-too-veiled warning: so long as the war continued, no one could foresee the consequences.63

Determined to keep leading Radicals on his side, Lincoln called Sumner to the White House and read the message aloud before sending it to Congress. To everyone else, the announcement came as a complete surprise, as “unexpected,” Wendell Phillips said, “as a thunderbolt in a clear sky.” If Lincoln had “not entered Canaan,” Phillips told one audience, “he has turned his face Zionward.” Other abolitionists were even more enthusiastic. On the day Lincoln dispatched his message to Congress, a New York meeting sponsored by the Emancipation League greeted word of his action with “transports of joy.” “We could hardly believe the news,” declared the Weekly Anglo-African. “Who could have prophesized this three months ago?”64

Lincoln seemed to have gauged the state of public opinion precisely. All the major New York newspapers, including the radical Tribune, Democratic World, anti-abolitionist Herald, and ever-cautious Journal of Commerce, applauded his plan. The Tribune’s correspondent in the capital called the message “perhaps the most important document ever addressed to Congress.” Conservatives saw the message as a counter to “the drift of abolition schemes” in Congress. They praised Lincoln for envisioning gradual, not immediate, emancipation, and for acknowledging the states’ exclusive power to determine slavery’s future. Many northern Democrats, to be sure, criticized his plan as unwarranted by the Constitution. But for the moment, Lincoln had “given the Republican party a policy,” presenting “ground where all might stand, the conservative and the radical,” declared Owen Lovejoy. Lovejoy and other Radicals remained determined to press for further action against slavery. But Lincoln’s proposed resolution quickly won congressional approval, with virtually every Republican voting in favor (but not Thaddeus Stevens, who abstained, thinking the plan far too weak). Overshadowed by later events, Lincoln’s March 6 message marked an important milestone on the road to abolition. While Lincoln had privately been promoting border emancipation since the previous November and had asked Congress to provide funds for this purpose in his annual message of December, he now publicly made the eventual end of slavery a national goal, and claimed a new national authority to promote it. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly explained why it considered Lincoln’s message important enough to publish in full, rather than providing only a summary, its usual practice with public documents: gradual emancipation had become “the policy of the nation.”65

Owen Lovejoy, brother of the murdered abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, leader of the Illinois Radical Republicans, and Lincoln’s political ally during the 1850's and Civil War. (Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 111-BA-1128)
Owen Lovejoy, brother of the murdered abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, leader of the Illinois Radical Republicans, and Lincoln’s political ally during the 1850’s and Civil War. (Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 111-BA-1128)

Lincoln moved to drum up support for his proposal when he met with Wendell Phillips at the White House late in March. The meeting lasted an hour, with Lincoln doing most of the talking. He seemed to feel that Phillips did not appreciate “quite enough” the March 6 message. According to Phillips, Lincoln affirmed his hatred of slavery and that he “meant it should die.” Lincoln assured the abolitionist that runaways would not be returned: “The Negro who has once touched the hem of the government’s garment shall never again be a slave.” The words sound more like Phillips than Lincoln, but the sentiment was the president’s.66

More important to the success of the initiative was the response in the border states. Four days after sending his message to Congress, Lincoln met with a delegation of border congressmen. Shortly afterward, John W. Crisfield of Maryland wrote a summary of Lincoln’s remarks. Lincoln, Crisfield recorded, stated that he was “constantly annoyed by conflicting and antagonistic complaints” about how to deal with the slaves who kept coming into Union lines. Were the border states to embrace his proposal, this “irritation” would be removed and the war shortened. Crisfield, himself a large slaveholder, replied that white Marylanders would be willing to give up slavery if provision were made so that “they could be rid of the race.” Asked what would happen if the border rejected his proposal, Lincoln replied that he had no further “designs” on slavery. The delegation asked Lincoln to state this publicly, to which he responded that he could not do so without getting into a “quarrel” with the Radicals. He “did not pretend to disguise his antislavery feeling,” Lincoln added, but he “recognized the rights of property which had grown out of it, and would respect those rights.”67

Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass had written, “Our rulers do not yet know slaveholders.” Lincoln would quickly learn that he had considerably overestimated the willingness of the border states to embrace emancipation. Some border Unionists did support Lincoln’s plan, including George P. Fisher, his ally in promoting abolition in Delaware. The majority, however, rejected it. Kentucky seemed especially adamant. The legislature voted to disenfranchise any resident who “may advocate the doctrine of the abolition or emancipation of slavery” in the state. In Maryland, even officeholders appointed by Lincoln denounced anyone who supported the plan as an “abolitionist and not worthy of the confidence of any gentleman.” When Congress passed the resolution Lincoln had requested, border members voted against it with “almost perfect unanimity.” The border, wrote the New York Times, had proved “unequal to the occasion.”68

On one thing border Unionists agreed: emancipation, gradual or not, must be accompanied by the removal of the black population. On the day before Lincoln sent his message to Congress, Montgomery Blair urged him to include a provision for “colonizing the blacks.” Even though he had mentioned the idea in his annual message of the previous December, Lincoln did not do so. But his border supporters immediately linked the two ideas. Blair himself published a letter in a Baltimore newspaper claiming that Lincoln’s plan included “the separation of the races.” A meeting in Missouri to endorse the president offered its “hearty support” to “the gradual emancipation and colonization of the slaves.” Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware voted against the resolution, but noted that he would be happy to see slavery ended in his state if the government would “take the free negroes off our hands.”69

The Liberator charged Lincoln with bringing forth his gradual emancipation proposal to forestall more radical action by Congress.70 This hardly seems likely. Numerous antislavery measures were about to reach the floor, and there was no reason to believe that Congress would abandon them because of Lincoln’s initiative. In fact, less than a week after Congress approved the resolution offering financial aid to states that agreed to abolish slavery came passage of another historic measure, the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C.

When Lincoln arrived as president in 1861, the District of Columbia, with Georgetown, had a population of 75,000, including 11,100 free blacks and a little under 3,200 slaves. The United States, Lot Morrill of Maine told the Senate, was the only “civilized nation” to tolerate slavery in its capital. Lincoln himself, it will be recalled, had advanced a plan for abolition in the District during his term in Congress. At the opening of the December 1861 session, Henry Wilson of Massachusetts introduced an emancipation bill, which came before Congress the following March. It received final approval on April 11, but not before spirited debate over its method and consequences. Taking the two houses together, every northern Republican voted for the bill, and all but five northern Democrats against. Most representatives of the border states strenuously opposed it, charging that it would drive Unionist southerners to embrace the Confederacy, lower the wages of white workers, and produce “a war of extermination between the two races.” Blacks, they insisted, had only one understanding of freedom, “freedom from labor,” and would become “lazy, indolent, thievish vagabonds,” in the words of Garrett Davis of Kentucky.71

To avert this supposed fate, Davis proposed an amendment for the compulsory colonization outside the United States of all persons freed under the act. This touched off a debate on colonization that revealed sharp disagreement between Radical and moderate Republicans. Orville H. Browning, probably the most conservative Republican senator, said that compulsory deportation might become necessary. Many moderates believed, as Senator John Sherman of Ohio declared, that given the strength of prevailing prejudice, emancipation would grant blacks a freedom “stripped of everything but the name.” Colonization, Sherman believed, should be voluntary, but every antislavery bill should include a provision making it possible for blacks who so desired to “seek freedom elsewhere.” Most Radicals agreed with James Harlan, who told the Senate, “I am disposed to leave them where they are.” Davis’s compulsory colonization amendment failed, as, initially, did a substitute offered by James R. Doolittle to provide $100,000 to promote voluntary black emigration. Later, some Radicals changed their votes for fear Lincoln would veto the measure without it, and Doolittle’s proposal became part of the bill. “My amendment saved and carried through” the abolition of slavery in the nation’s capital, Doolittle claimed.72

Lincoln exerted little direct influence on the deliberations. “I do not talk to members of congress on the subject,” he wrote, “except when they ask me.” He feared, however, that immediate abolition in the District would arouse opposition to his border policy. Privately, he expressed the hope that one or more border states might move toward gradual emancipation before Congress acted. If this did not happen in a “reasonable time,” he preferred that the bill have “three main features—gradual—compensation—and vote of the people” (like his 1849 draft legislation and, in part, his 1837 legislative “protest”). But Congress disregarded Lincoln’s preferences. The measure did provide for compensation to loyal owners, up to a maximum of $300 per slave (well below their market value, critics charged). But emancipation was immediate, not gradual, and the law made no provision for a popular vote on the subject.

For a few days, Lincoln hesitated. “I really sympathize with him,” Congressman John W. Crisfield of Maryland wrote to his wife. “He is surrounded [by] immense difficulties.” Crisfield claimed after a meeting at the White House that while Lincoln “greatly” objected to some of the bill’s features, he felt a veto would do more harm than good. He hoped Maryland would understand. Lincoln feared that immediate abolition might result in chaos. He told Browning that he had qualms about disrupting the lives of white families and about whether blacks could truly make their way in freedom. According to Browning’s account, Lincoln remarked, “Now families would at once be deprived of cooks, stable boys, etc., and [slaves] of their protectors without any provision for them.” On April 16, Lincoln finally signed the D.C. emancipation measure into law, informing Congress of his gratification that “the two principles of compensation, and colonization, are both recognized, and practically applied.” “Only the damnedest of ‘damned abolitionists’ dreamed of such a thing a year ago,” wrote the New York diarist George Templeton Strong on hearing the news.73

Lincoln soon appointed a three-man commission, headed by Daniel R. Goodloe, to allocate federal compensation payments. Their proceedings were rife with irony. Unsure how to assess the market value of slaves, the commission hired a slave trader from Baltimore to advise them. To ascertain slaveholders’ loyalty or lack thereof, the commission turned to the emancipated slaves (barred by District of Columbia law from testifying in court against whites), who reported conversations they had overheard in their owners’ homes. The commissioners worked quickly by Washington standards, and awarded compensation for slightly over 3,000 slaves, who ranged in age from infants to a ninety-three-year-old. At the end of January 1863, hundreds of former slaveholders lined up at the Treasury Department to receive their checks, amounting in total to around $900,000. When Goodloe informed the president that the commission had completed its labors, Lincoln replied that he was “glad to know that somebody had finished something.”74

But if the allocation of compensation was resolved expeditiously, the future status of the emancipated slaves was not. Some Republicans believed colonization would solve (or avoid) the problem. But the $100,000 appropriation, with a maximum of $100 for any individual, would have paid for the emigration of only 1,000 of the 14,000 black residents in the Districts. In any event, this part of the law proved to be an abject failure. Immediately after passage, the American Colonization Society offered to assist potential emigrants. “The number known to entertain that desire,” it discovered, “was one. The colored people…are waiting, in the hope of changes which will make their condition here as good as that of white men.” And soon after passing the emancipation act, Congress repealed the District’s black code, which had barred free blacks from certain occupations, required them to post bonds for good behavior, and limited their freedom of assembly. It soon directed local authorities to establish schools for black children, financed from black property tax payments. Early in May, Lincoln’s secretary William O. Stoddard commented perceptively that the District’s black residents “begin, the best of them, to feel and cherish the notion of their nationality…. The blacks refuse to regard themselves as Africans.”75

The first federal statute to grant immediate freedom to any group of slaves, the law ending slavery in Washington, D.C., fulfilled a long-standing abolitionist dream and marked a significant change in federal policy. It abolished slavery as an institution, rather than releasing individual slaves from their obligations to their owners as the Confiscation Act had done, and freed the slaves of loyal as well as disloyal owners. It ended the anomalous situation that had existed since the beginning of the century in which the civil and criminal laws, including slave codes, of Virginia and Maryland continued in force in the parts of the District these states had ceded to the government to create the national capital. It offered one example of how the war was inexorably expanding federal power.

Abolition in Washington further undermined slavery in nearby Virginia and Maryland, inspiring a new wave of runaways. One Maryland congressman complained to Lincoln that his constituents were “hourly suffering great losses from their slaves being entered into this District.” He demanded to know if Lincoln planned to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. The situation remained unclear and volatile. James S. Wadsworth, the military governor of the District and a strong opponent of slavery, sent troops to arrest the city jailor and release blacks from prison, whereupon Marshal Ward Hill Lamon organized a posse to apprehend the military detachment. Lincoln tried to persuade civil and military authorities to come to some sort of accommodation, but to no avail. In July 1862, Washington’s mayor ordered a Maryland fugitive “remanded to his legitimate claimant,” whereupon soldiers rescued the man and brought him before a provost marshal, who freed him, stating that henceforth no escaped slave would be arrested in the District. “This policy,” one owner complained, “will be tantamount to issuing an Emancipation Proclamation” in the counties surrounding Washington.76

With abolition in the District of Columbia, however, the antislavery initiative in Congress temporarily ground to a halt. When the Indiana Radical George W. Julian introduced a resolution in June calling for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, the House tabled it by a vote of 66 to 41. Charles Sumner pressed for repeal of an 1825 law limiting employment as mail carriers to white persons. The Senate approved the measure, but the House rejected it, with Republicans divided among themselves.77

Congress also failed to reach agreement on the enlistment of black troops in the Union army. The employment of slave soldiers was hardly unfamiliar. Britain had established a Caribbean slave army numbering more than 10,000 men during the wars of the Age of Revolution, and Parliament in 1807 emancipated them, paying compensation to the owners. Spain had also used slave soldiers in Caribbean wars. Black soldiers had served under George Washington in the War of Independence and Andrew Jackson at the battle of New Orleans. “Why [is it] offensive to employ colored men to fight for the Union,” Senator James Harlan asked in January 1862, “any more than for independence?” Harlan’s Iowa colleague James W. Grimes believed black enlistment would mean “the end of slavery.” Other Republicans supported the idea on purely military grounds. “When a negro rushes in to save the life of my brother or my son from the bayonet of a traitor,” said Lyman Trumbull, “I will say ‘God speed.’” Democrats were appalled. Blacks, they insisted, were unfit to be soldiers. Armed slaves would commit barbarous acts against their owners yet flee the first sign of combat, said Robert Mallory of Kentucky. How was it, Thaddeus Stevens responded, “that they are so dangerous to their masters, when a single cannon shot will put ten thousand to flight?”78

Martin R. Delany, an abolitionist whom Lincoln called “this most extraordinary and intelligent black man.” Delany visited the White House early in 1865 and became the army’s first black commissioned officer. (Ohio Historical Society)

Martin R. Delany, an abolitionist whom Lincoln called “this most extraordinary and intelligent black man.” Delany visited the White House early in 1865 and became the army’s first black commissioned officer. (Ohio Historical Society)

Even more contentious was the debate that raged throughout the session over further confiscation of Confederate property. This raised thorny political, legal, and constitutional questions. Early in December 1861, Lyman Trumbull introduced a bill for the “absolute and complete forfeiture forever” of “every species of property” of “rebels,” including their slaves, who would be “made free.” Trumbull’s proposal envisioned a far more radical attack on slavery than the first Confiscation Act, which applied only to slaves used for military purposes. Most members of the Republican caucus, the New York Herald reported, favored passage of a confiscation measure, but “the general shape of such a law was not agreed on.” This was, to say the least, an understatement. During the course of the next seven months, Congress spent more time debating confiscation than any other question. Radicals pressed for sweeping confiscation as a means of liberating the vast majority of the slaves in the Confederacy. Rebels, declared one congressman, “are entitled to no rights whatever, and least of all to the right of domination over others.” But many moderates held back, fearing that Trumbull’s bill violated the Constitution’s bar on bills of attainder—legislative acts declaring a person guilty of a crime and punishing him without benefit of a trial—as well as its provision limiting forfeiture of property for treason to the lifetime of the offender. Property rights, moderates insisted, were inviolable, even for rebels, unless the property was used directly to support the southern war effort.79

The leading Republican opponent was Lincoln’s old friend Orville H. Browning, who delivered interminable speeches outlining the legal objections to confiscation. Slavery, Browning told the Senate, was “the sole, original cause” of the war and were it “blotted from the American continent,” the conflict could not last another thirty days. But under the Constitution, he insisted, only the president, as military commander in chief, possessed the authority to act against the institution. “From hour to hour,” Benjamin F. Wade complained, Browning held the floor arguing “that the President has all power in war, and we none.” At one point John Sherman exclaimed, “I am sick and tired of this debate.” Grassroots Republicans seemed to agree. “Do let us have some kind of confiscation measure, and that speedily,” wrote a constituent of Trumbull’s. “By the way, does it never occur to Congress that…they are frittering away month after month in bickerings and twaddle unworthy of a country-school debating society?”80

In fact, in the two months after the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C., only one further piece of antislavery legislation won approval. In May 1862, Isaac N. Arnold of Illinois introduced a bill to abolish slavery in all places of exclusive federal jurisdiction—the territories, forts, dockyards, federal buildings, and American vessels on the high seas. The purpose, said Arnold, was “to render freedom national, and slavery sectional.” But moderates considered the bill too broad. Owen Lovejoy quickly proposed a substitute narrowing its scope to slavery in the territories, the issue that had always united the Republican party. This passed the House on May 12 and the Senate on June 9. The breakdown of votes had by now become familiar. Every Republican was in favor, while every Democrat and nearly all the border Unionists voted against.81

Abolition in the territories, which directly repudiated the Dred Scott decision, affected only a handful of slaves. The Census of 1860 counted fifteen in Nebraska and twenty-nine in Utah. (New Mexico had already repealed its slave code in December 1861, freeing the few slaves within its borders.) Nonetheless, the measure had great symbolic importance. It finally settled the question that, as Congressman William D. Kelley put it, “has kept the nation boiling with agitation for the last thirty years.” The bill provided for immediate abolition and made no mention of compensation to owners or the colonization of those freed. Nonetheless, on June 19 Lincoln signed it into law. Together with other measures of this session—the Morrill Act, which provided states with public land grants to fund the establishment of agricultural colleges; the Homestead Act, which offered free public land to settlers; and the Pacific Railroad Act—abolition in the territories sought to implement the free-labor vision of the American West, as a region free from the presence of slavery and populated by small farmers engaged in forward-looking market agriculture.82

All in all, the first sixteen months of Lincoln’s presidency—the period from March 1861 through June 1862—witnessed noteworthy changes in the government’s relationship to slavery. Lincoln had become the first American president to send to Congress a plan for abolition and had signed measures ending slavery in the nation’s capital and territories and superseding the Fugitive Slave Act. At this point, however, the course of future policy remained uncertain. The war and its consequence, the flight of slaves to Union lines, had weakened but by no means dissolved slavery’s traditional legal protections. The Confiscation Act of 1861 and the additional Article of War dealt with slaves in terms of their relationship to the military situation. Other measures, such as the resolution offering assistance to states that adopted emancipation plans and abolition in the District of Columbia and the territories, operated within the well-established constitutional framework. They attacked slavery either through action by slave states themselves or in places where Republicans believed the federal government enjoyed undisputed authority. Thus far, federal actions had no bearing on slaves in the Confederacy other than those set to work for the military or who managed to escape to Union lines. Nonetheless, the presidential initiatives and congressional enactments of the spring of 1862 portended large changes in American life. “Hereafter,” declared a writer for a northern periodical, “the thinking on the subject of American Slavery will be only in one line—how shall it be done away?”83

Abe Lincoln’s Last Card, a cartoon in the English magazine Punch, depicts the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as the last card of a desperate gambler. (Chicago Historical Museum, ICHi-22094)
Abe Lincoln’s Last Card, a cartoon in the English magazine Punch, depicts the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation as the last card of a desperate gambler. (Chicago Historical Museum, ICHi-22094)

That outcome, however, depended on Union victory. And in the spring of 1862, this by no means appeared inevitable. In April, General George B. McClellan began the laborious process of moving the immense Army of the Potomac from the vicinity of Washington down to the Virginia Peninsula, from which he planned to march on Richmond, the Confederate capital. A two-month campaign began early in May, culminating in the Battles of the Seven Days at the end of June. A staunch Democrat, McClellan never developed an understanding of the relationship between politics and the war effort. He strongly opposed talk of abolition and insisted that the war could and should be won without touching slavery.84 Had McClellan defeated the Confederate army and captured Richmond, the war might have ended then and there, with slavery weakened but intact. McClellan’s failure inspired Lincoln and Congress to rethink the Union’s military and political strategy, opening the door to general emancipation.


FOOTNOTES

✦❖✦︎

  • Excerpt from Eric Foner’s “The Fiery Trial”
    • Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York: W W Norton & Co Inc, 2011.
  1. OR, ser. 1, 1: 195; ser. 2, 1: 750.
  2. Harper’s Weekly, May 4, 1861; Milton Meltzer and Patricia G. Holland, eds., Lydia Maria Child: Selected Letters, 1817–1880 (Amherst, Mass., 1982), 380; Michael Burlingame and John R. Ettlinger, eds., Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay (Carbondale, Ill., 1997), 12; Nicholas B. Wainwright, ed., A Philadelphia Perspective: The Diary of Sidney George Fisher Covering the Years 1834–1871 (Philadelphia, 1967), 387; Stephen V. Ash, When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861–1865 (Chapel Hill, 1995), 26–32; New York Tribune, May 14, 1861; Springfield Weekly Republican, April 20, 1861; Easton Gazette (Maryland), July 13, 1861.
  3. Howard C. Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession (2 vols.; New York, 1942), 2: 834; Armstead L. Robinson, Bitter Fruits of Bondage: The Demise of Slavery and the Collapse of the Confederacy, 1861–1865 (Charlottesville, 2005), 41–43.
  4. New York Times, September 28, 1862; John H. Bayne to Lincoln, March 17, 1862, ALP; Craig Symonds ed., Charleston Blockade: The Journals of John B. Marchand, U.S. Navy, 1861–1862 (Newport, R.I., 1976), 175–81, 192; Craig Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals (New York, 2008), 157–59.
  5. Steven Hahn, The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom (Cambridge, Mass., 2009), 61–64; Ira Berlin et al., eds., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867 (New York, 1982–), ser. 1, 3: 77–80; ser. 1, 1: 11–14; Robinson, Bitter Fruits, 184–87; OR, ser. 1, 51, pt. 2: 278–81; ser. 2, 1: 755–57.
  6. New York Herald, December 4, 1861.
  7. Isaac N. Arnold, The History of Abraham Lincoln and the Overthrow of Slavery (Chicago, 1866), 207–8; David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York, 1995), 302; Burrus M. Carnahan, Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War (Lexington, Ky., 2007), 43–49, 61.
  8. William E. Gienapp, “Abraham Lincoln and the Border States,” JALA, 13 (1992), 13–25; Richard H. Abbott, The Republican Party and the South, 1855–1877: The First Southern Strategy (Chapel Hill, 1986), 21–22; Charles L. Wagandt, The Mighty Revolution: Negro Emancipation in Maryland, 1862–1864 (Baltimore, 1964), 9–18; William D. Foulke, Life of Oliver P. Morton (2 vols.; Indianapolis, 1899), 1: 134–35.
  9. OR, ser. 2, 1: 752; Louis S. Gerteis, From Contraband to Freedman: Federal Policy toward Southern Blacks, 1861–1865 (Westport, Conn., 1973), 11–13; Harper’s Weekly, February 9, 1861; Edward L. Pierce, Emancipation and Citizenship (Boston, 1898), 20–23.
  10. Pierce, Emancipation and Citizenship, 20–23; Harper’s Weekly, June 8, 1861; Kate Masur, “‘A Rare Phenomenon of Philological Vegetation’: The Word ‘Contraband’ and the Meanings of Emancipation in the United States,” JAH, 93 (March 2007), 1054–59; Silvana R. Siddali, From Property to Person: Slavery and the Confiscation Acts, 1861–1862 (Baton Rouge, 2005), 51–53; Christopher Dell, Lincoln and the War Democrats (Rutherford, N.J., 1975), 65; New York Herald, May 30, 1861; Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1861.
  11. Pierce, Emancipation and Citizenship, 24–25; OR, ser. 2, 1: 750, 755; Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler during the Period of the Civil War (5 vols.; Norwood, Mass., 1917), 1: 112–13.
  12. Private and Official Correspondence, 1: 116–17, 183–88; Montgomery Blair to Benjamin F. Butler, May 30, 1861, Benjamin F. Butler Papers, LC; Cleveland Gazette, May 30, 1861; New York Herald, May 31, 1861; OR, ser. 2, 1: 754–55; Meltzer and Holland, Lydia Maria Child, 401–
  13. William E. Gienapp, “Abraham Lincoln and Presidential Leadership,” in James M. McPherson, ed., “We Cannot Escape History”: Lincoln and the Last Best Hope of Earth (Urbana, Ill., 1995), 71–73; CW, 4: 421–41; Philip S. Paludan, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Lawrence, Kans., 1994), 81–82.
  14. Wainwright, Philadelphia Perspective, 396; Springfield Weekly Republican, June 22, 1861; Henry F. Brownson, ed., The Works of Orestes A. Brownson (20 vols.; Detroit, 1882–87), 17: 143; Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York, 2007), 40–41; CW, 4: 421–41. This, it is worth noting, was one of the very few times in his career that Lincoln used the word “democracy” other than to refer to the rival political party, the Democracy. Almost always, Lincoln spoke not of democracy but self-government.
  15. Douglass’ Monthly, 4 (August 1861), 497; New York Herald, July 7 and 9, 1861; Harper’s Weekly, July 6, 1861.
  16. CG, 37th Congress, 1st Session, 24, 32.
  17. CG, 37th Congress, 1st Session, 222, 265; William E. Gienapp, Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America (New York, 2002), 88; James G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress (2 vols.; Norwich, Conn., 1884), 1: 341; Michael S. Green, Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War (New York, 2004), 145.
  18. Harper’s Weekly, August 17, 1861; CG, 37th Congress, 1st Session, 119, 141, 143, 186, 190; Garrett Davis to Lincoln, August 4, 1861, ALP.
  19. Siddali, From Property to Person, 3; New York Times, June 1, 1861; CG, 37th Congress, 1st Session, 217–19; Blaine, Twenty Years, 341–43; George P. Sanger, ed., The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 12 (Boston, 1863), 319. The Confederacy had already acted to confiscate debts due to northerners. In response to the Union’s Confiscation Act, the Confederate Congress authorized the seizure of all property of enemy aliens, which included citizens of the United States and southerners loyal to the Union. Daniel W. Hamilton, The Limits of Sovereignty: Property Confiscation in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War (Chicago, 2007), 86–92.
  20. CG, 37th Congress, 1st Session, 412; Siddali, From Property to Person, 78–81; Robert Fabrikant, “Emancipation and the Proclamation: Of Contrabands, Congress, and Lincoln,” Howard Law Review, 49 (Winter 2006), 322–25; Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States during the Great Rebellion (2nd ed.; Washington, D.C., 1865), 195; New York Times, September 16, 1861.
  21. Benjamin P. Thomas and Harold M. Hyman, Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln’s Secretary of War (New York, 1962), 231–32; OR, ser. 2, 1: 760–62; Private and Official Correspondence, 1: 185–87, 207, 215; CW, 4: 478; Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie: Ben Butler in New Orleans (Baton Rouge, 1971), 35; John E. Wool, Special Order on Payment of Colored Contrabands, October 14, 1861; Charles Calvert to Lincoln, August 3, 1861, both in ALP; Edna Medford, “Abraham Lincoln and Black Wartime Washington,” in Linda N. Suits and Timothy P. Townsend, eds., Papers from the Eleventh and Twelfth Annual Lincoln Colloquia (Springfield, Ill., n.d.), 120–22; Sarah J. Day, The Man on a Hilltop (Philadelphia, 1931), 254.
  22. John C. Frémont to Lincoln, July 30, 1861, ALP; Frederick J. Blue, No Taint of Compromise: Crusaders in Antislavery Politics (Baton Rouge, 2005), 256; Paludan, Presidency, 86–88.
  23. Carnahan, Act of Justice, 7–8, 12–13, 16–18; David Herbert Donald, “We Are Lincoln Men”: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends (New York, 2003), 58; Joshua F. Speed to Lincoln, May 19, 1860, and September 1 and 3, 1861; Robert Anderson to Lincoln, September 13, 1861; J. F. Bullitt et al. to Lincoln, September 13, 1861, all in ALP; CP, 3: 92–93.
  24. Paludan, Presidency, 125; CW, 4: 506, 518; Montgomery Blair to Lincoln, September 4, 1861, ALP; Pamela Herr and Mary Lee Spence, eds., The Letters of Jessie Benton Frémont (Urbana, Ill., 1993), 245–46. In her recollection of the meeting written in 1891, Frémont also claimed that Lincoln remarked that the war was for the Union and her husband “should never have dragged the negro” into it. Ibid., 264–67.
  25. Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine (Syracuse, 1962), 138; John Bigelow, Retrospections of an Active Life (5 vols.; New York, 1909–13), 1: 362–63; William Salter, The Life of James W. Grimes (New York, 1876), 153; Brownson, Works of Orestes A. Brownson, 17: 173–74; Frank Freidel, ed., Union Pamphlets of the Civil War, 1861–1865 (2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1967), 1: 162–63.
  26. James M. McPherson, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (New York, 2008), 52; New York Herald, October 6, 1861; New York Times, September 16, 1861; Henry Jones to Lincoln, September 24, 1861; Charles Reed to Lincoln, September 24, 1861; W. McCaully to Lincoln, September 20, 1861, all in ALP.
  27. John L. Scripps to Lincoln, September 23, 1861, ALP.
  28. Orville H. Browning to Lincoln, September 17, 1861, ALP; CW, 4: 531.
  29. Michael Burlingame, ed., Dispatches from Lincoln’s White House: The Anonymous Civil War Journalism of Presidential Secretary William O. Stoddard (Lincoln, Neb., 2002), 33–34.
  30. Springfield Weekly Republican, September 21, 1861; Walter M. Merrill, ed., The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison (6 vols.; Cambridge, Mass., 1971–81), 5: 17, 35; Liberator, September 20, 1861; Weekly Anglo-African, September 22, 1861; Benjamin F. Wade to Zachariah Chandler, September 23, 1861, Zachariah Chandler Papers, LC.
  31. James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Princeton, 1964), 51–63, 75–80; Freidel, Union Pamphlets, 1: 102–4; William Dusinberre, Civil War Issues in Philadelphia, 1856–1865 (Philadelphia, 1965), 131–33; David Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (New York, 1970), 15–16, 29; The Works of Charles Sumner (15 vols.; Boston, 1870–83), 6: 12, 38–39, 56; Richard W. Thompson to Lincoln, October 6, 1861, ALP.
  32. George Bancroft to Lincoln, November 15, 1861, ALP; CW, 5: 26.
  33. J. Thomas Scharf, History of Delaware, 1609–1888 (2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1888), 1: 329–30; William H. Williams, Slavery and Freedom in Delaware, 1639–1865 (Wilmington, 1996), xiii–xvii, 88–89, 173; Patience Essah, A House Divided: Slavery and Emancipation in Delaware, 1638–1865 (Charlottesville, 1996), 6, 105–11; CG, 36th Congress, 2nd Session, 1488.
  34. Williams, Slavery and Freedom, 174–75; H. Clay Reed, “Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan and Its Relation to Delaware,” Delaware Notes, 7 (1931), 38–40; CW, 5: 29–30.
  35. Margaret M. R. Kellow, “Conflicting Imperatives: Black and White American Abolitionists Debate Slave Redemption,” in Kwame A. Appiah and Martin Bunzl, eds., Buying Freedom: The Ethics and Economics of Slave Redemption (Princeton, 2007), 200–12; Baltimore Sun, May 29, 1862.
  36. Peter Tolis, Elihu Burritt: Crusader for Brotherhood (Hamden, Conn., 1968), 245–61; Chicago Tribune, August 27, 1857; Merle Curti, ed., The Learned Blacksmith: The Letters and Journals of Elihu Burritt (New York, 1937), 118–21.
  37. Stanley Harrold, The Abolitionists and the South, 1831–1861 (Lexington, Ky., 1995), 119, 129; Daniel R. Goodloe, Emancipation and the War: Compensation Essential to Peace and Civilization (Washington, D.C., 1861), 1–5; Autobiography, Daniel R. Goodloe Papers, Manuscripts Department, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  38. BD, 1: 512; Joshua F. Speed to Lincoln, September 3, 1861, ALP.
  39. Reed, “Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan,” 38–55; New York Tribune, February 11, 1862; Peninsular News and Advertiser (Milford, Del.), January 31 and February 14, 1862; Essah, House Divided, 167–69; Williams, Slavery and Freedom, 175.
  40. Albert Mordell, ed., Lincoln’s Administration: Selected Essays by Gideon Welles (New York, 1960), 234, 250; WD, 1: 150; Charles A. Barker, ed., Memoirs of Elisha Oscar Crosby (San Marino, 1945), 76–90; Ambrose W. Thompson to Lincoln, April 11, 1861, ALP. The majority of Lincoln scholars have found it difficult to take seriously Lincoln’s embrace of colonization; they either ignore the subject or simply deny that Lincoln actually meant what he said. For a discussion of the place of colonization in his career, see Eric Foner, “Lincoln and Colonization,” in Eric Foner, ed., Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World (New York, 2008), 135–66.
  41. Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1861; Private and Official Correspondence, 1: 130; BD, 1: 478; Thomas Schoonover, “Misconstrued Mission: Expansionism and Black Colonization in Mexico and Central America during the Civil War,” Pacific Historical Review, 49 (November 1980), 611–12.
  42. Mordell, Lincoln’s Administration, 102–3; Ninian W. Edwards to Lincoln, August 9, 1861; Francis P. Blair Sr. to Lincoln, November 16, 1861, both in ALP; CW, 4: 547, 561; Roy F. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: First Supplement, 1832–1865 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1974), 112; WD, 1: 150.
  43. CW, 5: 39, 48; G. S. Boritt, “The Voyage to the Colony of Lincolnia: The Sixteenth President, Black Colonization, and the Defense Mechanism of Avoidance,” Historian, 37 (August 1975), 619; Alfred N. Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America (Baton Rouge, 1988), 186; New York Herald, December 4, 1861.
  44. New York Times, December 4, 5, and 7, 1861; Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, December 21, 1861; African Repository, 37 (December 1861), 12.
  45. John J. Crittenden to Lincoln, November 26, 1861, ALP; CW, 5: 48–50; Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1861.
  46. New York Times, December 4 and 5, 1861; Blaine, Twenty Years, 1: 352–53; Merrill, Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, 5: 47, 53; S. York to Lyman Trumbull, December 5, 1861; John H. Bryant to Trumbull, December 8, 1861, both in LTP.
  47. C. H. Ray to Trumbull, December 6, 1861, LTP; Mary F. Berry, Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy (Port Washington, N.Y., 1977), 29–30, 37; Levin Tilmon to Lincoln, April 8, 1861, ALP; Hahn, Political Worlds,
  48. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals, 165–66; OR, 2 ser., 1: 773; Arnold, History of Abraham Lincoln, 236; Chicago Tribune, December 7 and 9, 1861.
  49. William B. Parker, The Life and Public Services of Justin Smith Morrill (Boston, 1924), 127; New York Times, December 4, 1861.
  50. Michael Burlingame, ed., Lincoln’s Journalist: John Hay’s Anonymous Writings for the Press, 1860–1864 (Carbondale, Ill., 1998), 176; McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 93; Allen T. Rice, ed., Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (New York, 1888), 60; Washington Star, January 4, 1862; James A. Cravens to Lincoln, January 5, 1862, ALP; Brownson, Works of Orestes A. Brownson, 17: 261.
  51. Freidel, Union Pamphlets, 1: 295; James B. Stewart, Wendell Phillips: Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge, 1986), 227–38; Burlingame, Lincoln’s Journalist, 233–35; Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters (Boston, 1863), 419; McPherson, Struggle for Equality, 83–85.
  52. Harper’s Weekly, April 20, 1861; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1266, 3132; William G. Sewell, The Ordeal of Free Labor in the British West Indies (New York, 1861), 324; Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1862; Sarah F. Hughes, ed., Letters and Recollections of John Murray Forbes (2 vols.; Boston, 1899), 1: 309–13.
  53. Gideon Welles, Lincoln and Seward (New York, 1874), 132; James C. Conkling to Trumbull, December 16, 1861, LTP; Howard K. Beale, ed., The Diary of Edward Bates, 1859–1866 (Washington, D.C., 1933), 220.
  54. Springfield Weekly Republican, December 7, 1861; New York Times, December 3, 1861; Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1861; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 15, 36, 82.
  55. OR, ser. 2, 1: 783; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 10, 26, 264, 310, 762; CW, 5: 72; Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, December 21, 1861.
  56. Arnold, History of Abraham Lincoln, 251–53; John Bigelow, ed., Letters and Literary Memorials of Samuel J. Tilden (2 vols.; New York, 1908), 1: 164–65; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 182, 355; appendix, 28; Reverdy Johnson to Lincoln, January 16, 1862, ALP; Wagandt, Mighty Revolution, 36.
  57. New York Times, December 17, 1861; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 2203, 3002; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Nonmilitary Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville, 1968), 58–59; Timothy O. Howe to James H. Howe, December 31, 1861, Timothy O. Howe Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  58. Henry J. Raymond, The Life and Public Services of Abraham Lincoln (New York, 1865), 773; Harold Holzer, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860–1861 (New York, 2008), 121; William Slade to Lincoln, November 22, 1864, ALP; CW, 4: 494; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 vols.; Baltimore, 2008), 2: 92; Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, 276–77.
  59. Richard Carwardine, Lincoln (London, 2003), 196–97; James R. Gilmore, Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (Boston, 1898), 99; M. A. De Wolfe Howe, The Life and Letters of George Bancroft (2 vols.; New York, 1908), 2: 147; Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, eds., Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford, 1996), 118; Henry D. Bacon to Samuel L. M. Barlow, January 20, 1862, Samuel L. M. Barlow Papers, HL; Allan Nevins and Milton H. Thomas, eds., The Diary of George Templeton Strong (4 vols.; New York, 1952), 3: 204–5. In his autobiography, published in 1904, Conway considerably embellished his account of his meeting with Lincoln, writing that the president urged him to “go home and try to bring the people to your view, and you may say anything you like about me, if that will help.” Moncure D. Conway, Autobiography: Memories and Experiences (2 vols.; Boston, 1904), 1: 345–46.
  60. Douglass’ Monthly, 4 (January 1862), 577; Liberator, January 3, 1862; Independent, January 23, 1862; Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln: First Supplement, 69; W. E. B. Du Bois, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870 (New York, 1896), 109; William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman (New York, 2008), 244–52; Jenny Martinez, “Antislavery Courts and the Dawn of International Human Rights Law,” Yale Law Journal, 117 (January 2008), 550–642; Karen F. Younger, “Liberia and the Last Slave Ships,” CWH, 54 (December 2008), 424–42; Weekly Anglo-African, March 1, 1862.
  61. Fehrenbacher and Fehrenbacher, Recollected Words, 123; Harper’s Weekly, February 22, 1862; W. A. Gorman to Henry Wilson, December 22, 1861, Henry Wilson Papers, LC; Berlin, Freedom, ser. 1, 1: 17–18; Arnold, History of Abraham Lincoln, 261; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 76.
  62. CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 944, 955, 958–59, 1143; Fabrikant, “Emancipation,” 403.
  63. Beverly W. Palmer, ed., The Selected Letters of Charles Sumner (2 vols.; Boston, 1990), 2: 85–93; CW, 5: 144–46.
  64. Donald, Charles Sumner, 346; Liberator, March 14, 1862; Carl Schurz, The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz (3 vols.; New York, 1907–8), 2: 320; Weekly Anglo-African, March 22, 1862.
  65. Harper’s Weekly, March 22, 1862; Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1862; New York Tribune, March 7, 1862; Baltimore Sun, March 8, 1862; Winfield Scott to William H. Seward, March 8, 1862, ALP; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1149, 1179, 1198, 1496, 1815–18; Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, March 22, 1862.
  66. Irving H. Bartlett, ed., “New Light on Wendell Phillips: The Community of Reform,” Perspectives in American History, 12 (1979), 8; Fehrenbacher and Fehrenbacher, Recollected Words, 356.
  67. McPherson, Political History, 210–11; New York Tribune, July 14, 1862.
  68. Philip S. Foner, The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (5 vols.; New York, 1950–75), 3: 123; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1172, 1175, 2917; Harper’s Weekly, April 12, 1862; Francis S. Corkran to Montgomery Blair, May 20, 1862, ALP; New York Times, April 3, 1862.
  69. Montgomery Blair to Lincoln, March 5, [1862], ALP; Wagandt, Mighty Revolution, 62; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1359.
  70. Liberator, March 28, 1862.
  71. Holzer, Lincoln President-Elect, 409; Robert Harrison, “An Experimental Station for Lawmaking: Congress and the District of Columbia, 1862–1878,” CWH, 53 (March 2007), 32; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1191, 1300, 1523, 1526.
  72. CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1191, 1266, 1300–1301, 1333–34, 1359, 1492, 1520–23; Curry, Blueprint, 39–41.
  73. CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1336; John W. Crisfield to Mary Crisfield, April 25, 1862, John W. Crisfield Papers, Maryland Historical Society; BD, 1: 541; CW, 5: 169, 192; Nevins and Thomas, Diary of George Templeton Strong, 3: 216–17.
  74. Michael J. Kurtz, “Emancipation in the Federal City,” CWH, 24 (September 1978), 256; Independent, June 26, 1862; Daniel R. Goodloe, “Emancipation in the District of Columbia,” South-Atlantic, 6 (1880), 245–70; Noah Brooks, Washington in Lincoln’s Time (New York, 1895), 201; Washington Star in New York Times, December 27, 1887.
  75. African Repository, 38 (August 1862), 243; Harrison, “Experimental Station,” 33; Burlingame, Dispatches, 78.
  76. Annapolis Gazette in Easton Gazette (Maryland), May 10, 1862; Charles B. Calvert to Lincoln, May 6, 1862; John H. Bayne to Lincoln, July 3, 1862, both in ALP; Ward Hill Lamon, Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847–1865, ed. Dorothy Lamon (Chicago, 1895), 249–54; Henry G. Pearson, James Wadsworth of Genesco (New York, 1913), 134–40; Wagandt, Mighty Revolution, 119–20.
  77. CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 2623, 2231.
  78. Roger N. Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats: The British West India Regiments, 1795–1815 (New Haven, 1979); Christopher L. Brown and Philip D. Morgan, eds., Arming Slaves: From Classical Times to the Modern Age (New Haven, 2006); Berry, Military Necessity, 29–33; Jonathan Brigham, James Harlan (Iowa City, 1913), 170; Salter, Life of James W. Grimes, 196; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 2971; James G. Smart, ed., A Radical View: The “Agate” Dispatches of Whitelaw Reid, 1861–1865 (2 vols.; Memphis, 1976), 2: 71–72.
  79. New York Herald, December 10, 1861; New York Times, February 24, 1862; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 18, 2243; appendix, 194; Hamilton, Limits of Sovereignty, 7–9; Siddali, From Property to Person, 139–41.
  80. CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 1137, 2917–20, 2929, 2999; Jason Marsh to Trumbull, May 26, 1862, LTP.
  81. Arnold, History of Abraham Lincoln, 259–60; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 2042–44, 2068, 2618.
  82. Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Population of the United States in 1860 (Washington, D.C., 1864), 557, 575; John A. Clark to Elihu B. Washburne, December 8, 1861, Elihu B. Washburne Papers, LC; CG, 37th Congress, 2nd Session, 2527.
  83. William Aikman, The Future of the Colored Race in America (New York, 1862), 10. This essay originally appeared in the Presbyterian Quarterly Review for July 1862, and subsequently in pamphlet form.
  84. George B. McClellan to Samuel L. M. Barlow, November 8, 1861, Barlow Papers, HL; Gienapp, Abraham Lincoln, 97–98.

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