Report of the Senate committee on President Davis's late message.
The following is the report of the Senate Committee on the recent message of President Davis
It was read and adopted in secret session, and the seal of secrecy removed on the 16th instant:
The select committee to whom was referred so much of the President
's message of the 13th instant as relates to the action of Congress during the present session having duly considered the same, respectfully submit the following report:
The attention of Congress is called by the President
to the fact that, for carrying on the war successfully, there is urgent need of men and supplies for the army.
The measures passed by Congress during the present session for recruiting the army are considered by the President
inefficient; and it is said that the results of the law authorizing the employment of slaves as, soldiers will be less than anticipated, in consequence of the dilatory action of Congress in adopting the measure.
That a law so radical in its character, so repugnant to the prejudices of our people, and so intimately affecting the organism of society, should encounter opposition, and receive a tardy sanction, ought not to excite surprise; but if the policy and necessity of the measure had been seriously urged on Congress by an Executive message, legislative action might have been quickened.
The President, in no official communication to Congress, has recommended the passage of a law putting slaves into the army as soldiers, and the message under consideration is the first official information that such a law would meet his approval.
The Executive message transmitted to Congress on the 7th of November last suggests the propriety of enlarging the sphere of employment of the negro as a laborer, and for this purpose recommends that the absolute title to slaves be acquired by impressment, and, as an incentive to the faithful discharge of duty, that the slaves thus acquired be liberated, with the permission of the States from which they were drawn.
In this connection, the following language is used:
"If this policy should recommend itself to the judgment of Congress, it is suggested that, in addition to the duties heretofore performed by the slave, he might be advantageously employed as pioneer and engineer laborers;
and, in that event, that the number should be augmented to forty thousand. Beyond this limit and these employments it does not seem to me desirable, under existing circumstances, to go
In the same message the President
"The subject is to be viewed by us, therefore, solely in the light of policy and our social economy.
When so regarded, I must dissent from those who advise a general levy and arming the slaves for the duty of soldiers.
It is manifest that the President
, in November last, did not consider that the contingency had then arisen which would justify a resort to the extraordinary policy of arming our slaves.
Indeed, no other inference can be deduced from the language used by him; for he says:
"These considerations, however, are rather applicable to the improbable contingency of our need of resorting to this element of resistance than to our present condition.
The Secretary of War
, in his report, under date of November 3d, seemed to concur in the opinion of the President
when he said:
"While it is encouraging to know this resource for further and future efforts is at our command, my own judgment does not yet either perceive the necessity or approve the policy of employing slaves in the higher duties of soldiers.
At what period of the session the President
or Secretary of War
considered the improbable contingency had arisen, which required a resort to slaves as an element of resistance, does not appear by any official document within the knowledge of your committee.
Congress might well have delayed action on this subject until the present moment, as the President
, whose constitutional duty it is "to give to the Congress
information of the state of the Confederacy
," has never asked, in any authentic manner, for the passage of a law authorizing the employment of slaves as soldiers.
The Senate, however, did not wait the tardy movements of the President
On the 29th December, 1864, the following resolution was adopted by the Senate in secret session:
That the President
be requested to inform the Senate, in secret session, as to the state of the finances in connection with the payment of the troops; the means of supplying the munitions of war, transportation and subsistence; the condition of the army, and the possibility of recruiting the same; the condition of our foreign relations, and whether any aid or encouragement from abroad is expected, or has been sought, or is proposed, so that the Senate may have a clear and exact view of the state of the country, and of its future prospects, and what measures of legislation are required."
In response to this resolution, the President
might well have communicated to the Senate his views as to the necessity and policy of arming the slaves of the Confederacy
as a means of public defence.
No answer whatever has been made to the resolution.
In addition to this, a joint committee was raised by Congress, under a concurrent resolution adopted in secret session on the 30th December, 1864. That committee, by the resolution creating it, was instructed, "by conference with the President
, and by such other means as they shall deem proper, to ascertain what are our reliable means of public defence, present and prospective."
A written report was made by the committee on January 25th, 1865; and, although it had a conference with the President
, no allusion is made in the report to any suggestion by him that the necessities of the country required the employment of slaves as soldiers.
Under these circumstances, Congress, influenced, no doubt, by the opinion of General Lee
, determined for itself the propriety, policy and necessity of adopting the measure in question.
The recommendations of the President
to employ forty thousand slaves as cooks, teamsters, and as engineer and pioneer laborers, was assented to, and a law has been enacted at the present session for the purpose, without limit as to number.
All the measures recommended by the President
to promote the efficiency of the army have been adopted except the entire repeal of class exemptions; and some measures not suggested by him — such as the creation of the office of General-in-Chief
--were originated and passed by Congress, with a view to the restoration of public confidence and the energetic administration of military affairs.
On the subject of exemptions, the President
, in his message of November 7th, uses the following language:
"No pursuit nor position should relieve any one who is able to do active duty from enrollment in the army unless his functions or services are more useful to the defence of his country in another sphere.
But it is manifest that this cannot be the case with entire classes.
All telegraph operators.
workmen in mines, professors, teachers, engineers, editors and employees of newspapers, journeymen printers shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, millers, physicians, and numerous other classes mentioned in the laws, cannot, in the nature of things, be either equally necessary in their several professions, nor distributed throughout the country in such proportions that only the exact numbers required are found in each locality, "etc.
The casual reader would infer that the laws, as they stood at the date of the message, exempted the classes enumerated by the President
, as well as many other classes not mentioned by him. Such is not the fact.
The only class exemptions allowed by the laws then in force were the following: Ministers
of religion; superintendents and physicians of asylums for the deaf, dumb and blind, and of the insane; one editor for each newspaper, and such employees as the editor may certify on oath as indispensably necessary; the public printers of the Confederate
and State Governments, and their journeymen printers; one skilled apothecary in each apothecary store, who was doing business as such on the 10th of October, 1862; physicians over thirty years of age, and for the last seven years in practice; presidents and teachers of colleges, seminaries and schools, and the superintendents, physicians and nurses in public hospitals; certain mail contractors and drivers of post- coaches; certain officers and employees of railroad companies; and certain agriculturists or overseers.
of the State Governments
are not properly included among the exempted classes, because it is conceded that Congress has no constitutional power to conscribe them as soldiers. --Nor are Drunkards, Quakers, or other non-combatants, regarded as belonging to class exemptions, because, under the act of June 7, 1864, the exemption of these persons is subject to the control of the Secretary of War
The exemption of agriculturists or overseers between the ages of eighteen and forty-five has been repealed at the present session.--Tanners, shoemakers, millers, blacksmiths, telegraph operators, and workmen in mines, enumerated by the President
as among the classes exempted, are not now, and have not been since the passage of the act of 17th of February, 1864, exempted as a class.
If railroad officers and employees, and State officers, who are not constitutionally subject to conscription, be excluded, the classes now exempted east of the Mississippi river
embrace about nine thousand men--one-third of whom are physicians, and nearly another third are ministers of the gospel; the remaining third is principally composed of teachers, professors, printers and employees in newspaper offices, and apothecaries.
In remarkable contrast to the number of persons relieved from military service by the exemptions above mentioned, the report of the Conscript Bureau
exhibits the fact that, east of the Mississippi river
, twenty-two thousand and thirty-five men have been detailed by Executive authority.
In consequence of this abuse of the power of detail, Congress, at its present session, passed an act revoking all details and limiting the exercise of that power in the future.
The third section of this act, exempting skilled artisans and mechanics from all military service, which is excepted to by the President
, and which has since been repealed, was originally adopted in consequence of suggestions contained in the report of the Secretary of War
In alluding to the embarrassments encountered by the administrative bureaus, the Secretary
"In addition, they have been constrained, by the stringent legislation of Congress, to relinquish their most active and experienced agents and employees, and substitute them from more infirm and aged classes."
"Interferences of this kind are inevitably so prejudicial and disturbing that it is hoped a well-devised and permanent system of providing and retaining in continuous employment a sufficient number of artisans, experts and laborers, for all essential operations, may be devised and established."
The truth is, that the bill originally introduced into the Senate exempting skilled artisans and mechanics was actually prepared in one of the bureaus of the War Department.
Congress, therefore, had reason to suppose that it would meet the sanction of the Executive
To conscribe the ministers of religion, and require them to obtain details to preach the Gospel, would shock the religious sentiment of the country and inflict a greater injury on our cause than can be described.
The conscription of editors and of the printers necessary to the publication of newspapers would destroy the independence of the press, and subject it to the control of the Executive Department of the Government
railroad officers and employees are as necessary to the prosecution of the war as soldiers in the field.
Physicians and apothecaries are essential to the health of the people, and no complaint has reached Congress of abuses in this class of exemptions.
If the education of youth be regarded as conducive to the maintenance of society and the preservation of liberty, it is not perceived that the exemption of professors of colleges and teachers of schools can be justly censured.
The Senate passed a bill containing a section repealing the exemption allowed to mail contractors and drivers of post-coaches; but, at a subsequent stage of proceedings, and on the recommendation of a committee of conference, based on the urgent remonstrances of the Postmaster-General
, the section alluded to was stricken out.
The subject of class exemptions was called to the attention of Congress by the Executive
message of November last.
It was carefully considered, and an act was passed expressive of the views of the Legislative Department
of the Government
The message under consideration recurs to the same subject.
It is to be regretted that the views of the Legislative Department
of the Government
have not met the favor of the Executive
, and that he should deem it both necessary and proper to express dissatisfaction with the matured opinion of Congress.
It is true that Congress has failed to respond to the recommendation of the President
to enact a general militia law. The subject was considered, and the failure to act was the result of deliberation.
The conscription laws enacted by Congress have placed in the military service of the country all its able-bodied citizens between the ages of seventeen and fifty.
The whole military material of the country, so far as legislation is concerned, is absorbed by the conscription acts.
There is none left on which a militia law can operate except the exempted classes, and the boys under seventeen, and the men over fifty years of age. It was deemed expedient to allow this material to remain subject to the control of the State
authorities for the purposes of local police, to aid in the arrest of deserters, and to enforce the administration of State laws.
It is also true that the President
has recommended the passage of a law suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
This recommendation was the subject of a special message, in secret session.
It occupied the attention of Congress for four or five weeks.--After mature deliberation, the measure was laid aside as unimportant and inexpedient.
Spies can be arrested and tried summarily without suspending the writ of habeas corpus.
Conspiracies, tending in any manner to the injury of our cause, were provided for by a special act, passed at the present session, "to define and punish conspiracy against the Confederate States
." The States of North Carolina
, and Mississippi
, had expressed, through their Legislatures, great repugnance to the past legislation of Congress suspending the writ, and a large portion of the people throughout the country was arrayed against the policy of that legislation.
It was deemed wise and prudent to conciliate opposition at a time when dissensions are ruinous; and as the benefits to be derived from the suspension of the writ were conjectural, the deliberate judgment of Congress was expressed by its silence on the subject.
It is to be regretted that the Executive
does not concur in these views, and again calls on Congress to revise its action, and to suspend the writ of habeas corpus
as a measure "almost indispensable to the successful conduct of the war. " If the facts state in the Confidential Message
, alluded to by the President
, be the basis of the opinion that the suspension of the writ "is indispensable to the successful conduct of the war," the Congress
does not concur in that opinion.--The writ has not been suspended since August last.
It is not perceived that the military reverses of the country since that period were occasioned by the absence of the legislation asked for.
In regard to impressments, Congress, at the present session, has passed a bill declaring that the terms "just compensation," as used in the Constitution
, entitle the owner whose property is impressed to the market value thereof at the time and place of impressment.
This legislation was considered necessary, in consequence of judicial decisions in some of the States, and because of the difficulty of procuring supplies on any other terms.
Indeed, it was supposed that the Executive
had reached the same conclusion, as the Commissary-General
, on the 20th December, 1864, had advertised that he would pay for supplies the price fixed by local appraisement; which is, in fact, the market price.
The President, in his Annual Message of November last, did not call the attention of Congress to any difficulties attendant on the execution of the impressment laws.
The present message, for the first time during this session, suggests modifications of those laws; and the recommendations of the President
will doubtless receive the respectful consideration of Congress.
It may well be doubted, however, whether the present specie value, payable in the future, will induce the owner of property to part with it; and whether the passage of such a measure would not result in a general concealment of provisions, and consequent starvation of the army.
It is apprehended by the President
that some degree of embarrassment in the management of the finances will be felt in consequence of the inadequate provision made by Congress; and it is intimated that some of the measures recommended by him were so retarded as to lose much of their value; and others, after being matured, were, for the same reason, abandoned, because no longer applicable to our altered condition.
The only financial measure abandoned after being matured was the currency bill, recommended by the Secretary of the Treasury
and indorsed by the President
in his Annual Message.
It may be remarked that the failure to enact any fiscal measure, which has not sufficient vitality to render it valuable and applicable for the short period of four months, does not deserve much regret.
The currency bill was recommended to Congress, and based on the condition the finances presented by the President
in his message, and by the Secretary of the Treasury
in his report.
It was abandoned without regret, because, at a subsequent period of the session, it was ascertained that the arrears of public debt constituting cash demands on the Treasury exceeded, by nearly four hundred millions, the amount originally reported to Congress by the Secretary of the Treasury
The currency bill contemplated the reduction of the currency to one hundred and fifty millions by a conversion of treasury notes into tithe certificates, payable after the war, and by an annual application of a portion of the taxes in the nature of a sinking fund.
The treasury notes received for tithe certificates were to be canceled.
The military reverses, which impaired the credit of the Government
to such an extent as to destroy the salability of any of its bonds, left little hope that treasury notes would be exchanged for tithe certificates.
As soon as the enormous increase in the arrears of debt was discovered, as above mentioned, all idea of reducing the currency was abandoned as impracticable.
For these reasons, the committee of conference having charge of the currency bill agreed to abandon it as a useless pledge of future resources without corresponding present advantage.
Indeed, if the bill had been passed the first day of the session it would have expired from inanition on the 9th of January, 1865, the day on which the Secretary of the Treasury
reported to Congress the deficit of four hundred millions, and recommended an increase of taxation to meet it.
The tax bill is regarded by the President
as liberal, though inadequate.
No nation on earth ever conducted a protracted war by resources derived from taxation alone.
The message intimates a regret that the recommendation by the Secretary of the Treasury
of a tax on agricultural income equal to the augmented tax on other income, payable in treasury notes, was rejected by Congress.
This is evidently a mistake, as it assumes there has been an increase of taxes on other than agricultural incomes.
The present income taxes are those laid by the act of April, 1863, as amended and re-enacted on the 17th of February, 1864. To require the agriculturist to pay a tax on the income derived from his farm in addition to the one tenth of his gross productions, and the property tax of nine per cent. ad valerous,
would be manifestly unjust and oppressive.
After the delivery of his tithe, to tax the income of the agriculturist derived from the property producing the tithe, would leave little for family subsistence, for the purchase of supplies necessary for carrying on his agricultural operations, and for the payment of the ad valerous
tax on his property.
Congress, therefore, did not concur in the recommendation of the Secretary of the Treasury
, believing it to be highly inexpedient.
The recommendations of the Secretary of the Treasury
have, in the main, received the approbation of Congress, and every disposition has been manifested to co-operate with him. The tax bill adopted very nearly approximates the rate desired by him. He recommended ten per cent. On property.--Congress has imposed a tax of nine per cent. A new foreign loan was authorized in secret session, at his request, without any limitation on his authority except as to the amount.
A transfer of certain sterling funds abroad was, by joint resolution, directed to be made from the Navy to the Treasury.
Efforts were made to raise specie.
A bill was passed in the Senate, in secret session, to accomplish that object by the sale of certain licenses.
It is understood the bill was defeated in the House of Representatives by the acquiescence, if not at the instigation, of the Secretary of the Treasury
It appears from the correspondence submitted to Congress that the Secretary of War
, as early as the 18th of February, notified the President
of the embarrassed condition of his Department; and it is to be regretted that the Executive
deliberated on, and postponed for so long a period as nearly twenty days, the communication of that information to Congress.
If loss of time be a vice inherent in deliberative assemblies, promptitude is a great virtue in Executive action.
There is every disposition on the part of Congress to comply with the recommendations of the President
, and some means of raising the coin desired will, no doubt, be devised.
It is unfortunate that the necessity for coin in the Commissary Department was not made known until the message under consideration was received.
The use of coin in one department of the Government
is calculated to superinduce the necessity for its use in all other departments; and hence the policy of the proposed measure, in a financial view, is very questionable.
The necessity for supplies, however, overrides all other considerations.
If practicable, it would be wiser to employ the specie in the purchase of treasury notes, and then use the notes to obtain supplies.
Nothing is more desirable than concord and cordial co-operation between all departments of Government.
Hence your committee regret that the Executive
deemed it necessary to transmit to Congress a message so well calculated to excite discord and dissension.
But for the fact that the success of the great struggle in which the country is engaged depends as much on the confidence of the people in the Legislative
as in the Executive Department of the Government
, the message would have been received without comment.
Your committee would have preferred silence.
It has been induced to an opposite course, because they believe Congress would be derelict in its duty to permit its legitimate and constitutional influence to be destroyed by Executive admonitions, such as those contained in the message under consideration, without some public exposition of its conduct.