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Chapter 21: Emancipation proclamation.

The Executive usurpation of unconstitutional powers became conspicuous in 1862. One after another barrier had been passed without shocking the people. The session of the Maryland State Legislature had virtually been prorogued, some of its members arrested and imprisoned under circumstances of great outrage.

Men had been arrested at long distances from the seat of government, by lettres de cachet. The Secretary of State's bell called the emissary, and his signature was the only warrant. Drum-head courts — martial condemned civilians to death by the verdicts of military commanders. Domiciliary visits were made at all hours for unspoken suspicions. In fact, all civil rights were for the time suspended.

President Lincoln, reasoning by analogy, thought that the immense property in slaves possessed by the South might be the animating cause of the ardor and unanimity of the Confederates, and conceived the project of [212] liberating all the slaves by a proclamation of gradual emancipation. He hoped to compass the voluntary relinquishment by each State of the right to hold them, by the manner of their manumission. His plan was to make it subject to the decision of each State, and the compensation for the loss was to be decided upon by the State with the cooperation of the United States Government. He said: “The leaders of the existing rebellion entertain the hope that this government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave States north of such part will then say, ‘ The Union for which we struggled being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.’ To deprive them of this hope substantially ends the rebellion, and the initiation of emancipation will deprive them, and all States including it.”

President Lincoln hoped the love of gain would distract the counsels and alienate the rank and file of the Confederates, but feared that when slavery was abolished the Western States would find no further objection to a union with the Southern States, their natural allies, their neighbors and congeners in manners and tastes, and the Union would not be completely restored. The philanthropists and [213] agitators, however, very soon saw, after a general computation, that if the proposition should be accepted by the States, the Government could not assume the payment of four hundred billions for the manumitted slaves, even though this might be an inadequate compensation to their owners. So the project of legally emancipating the slaves by the consent of their owners, and by offering compensation for them was abandoned.

Of the Act of Confiscation, issued July 25, 1862, Mr. Lincoln wrote, July 17, 1862:

It also provides that the slaves of persons confiscated under these sections shall be free. I think there is an unfortunate form of expressing, rather than a substantial objection to this. It is startling to say the Congress can free a slave without a State, and yet, were it said that the ownership of the slave had first been transferred to the nation, and that Congress had then liberated him, the difficulty would vanish, and this is the real case. The traitor against the general Government forfeits his slave, at least as justly as he does any other property, and he forfeits both to the Government against which he offends.1 [214] The Government, so far as theie can be ownership, owns the forfeited slaves; and the question to Congress, in regard to them, is: Shall they be made free or sold to new masters? I see no objection to Congress deciding in advance that they shall be free.

On September 15th, Mr. Lincoln, to a deputation who urged him to issue the emancipation proclamation without compensation or restrictions, answered, with one of his pithy antitheses, “Such a proclamation would have no more effect than the Pope's tirade against the comet.”

When our army suffered defeat, he conciliated the Radicals; when we were victorious, he took counsel with the more conservative men. We were just at that time in the ascendant, but after Sharpsburg Mr. Lincoln felt that he was in position to issue his first proclamation, in which he declared slavery abolished in all States after the Ist of January succeeding, except in such States as had submitted to Federal authority. After a hundred days he issued his second proclamation, to take effect at once. [215]

Then was consummated the series of aggressions of the anti-slavery party of the North, extending over thirty years, which now sought at a single dash of the pen to annihilate four hundred billions of our property, to disrupt the whole social structure of the South, and to pour over the country a flood of evils many times greater than the loss of property.

The effect of the Emancipation Proclamation on the people of the South was unmistakable. It roused them to a determination to resist to the uttermost a power that respected neither the rights of property nor constitutional guarantees.

The authority under which this usurpation was to be accomplished was alleged to be derived first from a “military necessity,” and second, from the clause which gave to the Federal Government the right “to provide for the general welfare.”

The verdict rendered by the people in their next elections was, therefore, a protest not only against interference with slavery in the Confederate States, but against the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and the other usurpations of Mr. Lincoln's Administration.

The Confederates were willing to have peace, but not to yield their rights under the Constitution, and the projects for reconstruction [216] discussed by the North; none of them guaranteed our equality in the Union. The fatal policy of compromise was still adhered to by our enemies, and the South was in Mr. Webster's words on another occasion, to “get just what the North yielded, nothing.” Meanwhile, almost every family in the South had lost some dear defender of their honor, who had died for liberty's sake, and the bonds of the old loving Union had been wrenched asunder. Our people were unwilling to yield an inch to the aggressions of the North, for they no longer loved the Union as it had been distorted by our enemies, and as sincerely detested it as the abolitionists had before secession, though even then our people did not characterize it as “a compact with h .” The time had passed when a compromise of our rights would have been willingly made, that we might fight under the banner our fathers so manfully aided to make the ensign of freedom to all nations.

President Davis said: “The proclamation will have a salutary effect in calming the fears of those who have constantly evinced the apprehension that this war might end by some reconstruction of the old Union, or some renewal of close political relations with the United States. These fears have never been shared by me, nor have I been able to perceive [217] on what basis they could rest. But the proclamation affords the fullest guarantee of the impossibility of such a result. It has established a state of things which can lead to but one of three consequences — the extermination of the slaves, the exile of the whole white population of the Confederacy, or absolute and total separation of these States from the United States.”

Now the North bent its energies to the effort of subjugating the South, cast the Constitution to the winds, and kept their “powder dry.” But though the majority of the Confederates knew that, without a miracle, they must submit to the forces of the world arrayed against them, they felt,

Si cadere necessi est, occurrendum discrimini.

The condition of our servants began to be unsettled, and it was said that there were clubs of disaffected colored men in Richmond, generally presided over by a white man, who were furnished with two thousand dollars for each servant who ran off from our service; however, as we lost but two in that way, it was hoped the negroes did not sympathize with their abductors.

One young woman, who was an object of much affectionate solicitude to me, followed [218] her husband off, but systematically arranged her flight, made a good fire in the nursery, and came to warn me that the baby would be alone, as she was going out for a while. We never saw her afterward, and the following article copied in a Washington paper filled us with grave apprehensions for the poor creature's safety.

October 7, 1862.
There are thousands of contrabands in Alexandria, and such another set of miserable beings I have never seen in this country. Some entire houses are set apart for them, and into these the abandoned flock in droves. Others live in tents, and others in the open commons of the town.

There is already great mortality among them, and an Alexandria physician told me that the small-pox had already broken out, and would undoubtedly make great ravages in their midst as soon as the cold weather sets in. There is little or no occupation for these contrabands. They are, in nine cases out of ten, lazy, good-for-nothing vagabonds, who seem impressed with the idea that it is the duty of the Government to provide for them. It is certain that Cuffee finds small favor in the eyes of the troops who are now there, particularly since the issue of the emancipation decree. Every day negroes are unmercifully [219] beaten by white soldiers, and consider themselves lucky to get off with whole bones. Well-dressed darkies are the special aversion of the volunteers, and woe be unto them if they show themselves in fine feathers on King Street.

1 “How,” said Mr. Davis, “can a people who glory in a Declaration of Independence which broke the slumbers of a world, declare that men united in defence of liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness are ‘traitors?’ Is it henceforth to be a dictum of humanity that man may no more take up arms in defence of rights, liberty, and property? ... Is the highwayman henceforth to be lord of the highway, and the poor, plundered traveller to have no property which he may defend at the risk of the life of the high-wayman?”

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