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Chapter 36:

  • Efforts of the enemy to obtain our cotton
  • -- demands of European manufacturers -- thousands of Operatives resorting to the poor rates -- complaint of her Majesty's Secretary of state -- letter of Seward -- promise to open all channels of commerce -- series of measures adopted by the United States -- act of Congress -- unconstitutional measures -- President Lincoln an accomplice -- not authorized by a state of war -- case before Chief Justice Taney -- expeditions sent by the United States government to seize localities -- act providing for the appointment of special agents to seize abandoned or captured property -- views of General Grant -- Weakening his strength one third -- our country divided into districts, and Federal agents appointed.

A class of measures was adopted by the government of the United States, the object of which was practically and effectually to plunder us of a large portion of our crop of cotton, and secure its transportation to the manufacturers of Europe. The foreign necessity for our cotton is represented in these words of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on May 6, 1862, when speaking of the blockade of our ports:
Thousands are now obliged to resort to the poor-rates for subsistence, owing to this blockade, yet her Majesty's Government have not sought to take advantage of the obvious imperfections of this blockade, in order to declare it ineffective. They have, to the loss and detriment of the British nation, scrupulously observed the duties of Great Britain to a friendly state.

The severity of the distress thus alluded to was such, both in Great Britain and France, as to produce an intervention of the governments of those countries to alleviate it. Instead, however, of adopting those measures required in the exercise of justice to the Confederacy, and which would have been sustained by the law of nations, by declaring the blockade ‘ineffective,’ as it really was, they sought, through informal applications to Seward, the Secretary of State for the United States, to obtain opportunities for an increased exportation of cotton from the Confederacy. This is explained by Seward in a letter to Adams, the Minister at London, dated July 28, 1862, in which he writes as follows:

The President has given respectful consideration to the desire informally expressed to me by the Governments of Great Britain and France for some further relaxation of the blockade in favor of that trade. They are not rejected, but are [289] yet held under consideration, with a view to ascertain more satisfactorily whether they are really necessary, and whether they can be adopted without such serious detriment to our military operations as would render them injurious rather than beneficial to the interests of all concerned.

In the same letter Seward had previously said:

We shall speedily open all the channels of commerce, and free them from military embarrassments; and cotton, so much desired by all nations, will flow forth as freely as heretofore. We have ascertained that there are three and a half millions of bales yet remaining in the region where it was produced, though large quantities of it are yet unginned and otherwise unprepared for market. We have instructed the military authorities to favor, so far as they can consistently with the public safety, its preparation for and dispatch to the markets where it is so much wanted.

It has been stated elsewhere in these pages that “it became apparent that by some understanding, express or tact, Europe had decided to leave the initiative in all actions touching the contest on this continent to the two powers just named [Great Britain and France], who were recognized to have the largest interest involved.” By the preceding extracts the demands of the governments of Great Britain and France for increased facilities by which to obtain a greater supply of cotton are evident; at the same time the determination of the government of the United States to fulfill those demands is apparent, although it placed itself under the necessity of fitting out some military expeditions against those portions of our territory where it was supposed the foraging for cotton would be likely to meet with the greatest success.

By reference to the series of measures adopted by the government of the United States to secure possession of our cotton, it will be seen that it was inaugurated as early as July 13, 1861. This was within ten days after the commencement of the first and extra session of Congress, under the administration of President Lincoln. It is scarcely credible that that government, at so early a day, foresaw the pressing demand from Europe for cotton which would ensue a year later. Yet it would seem that we must suppose such to have been its foresight, or else conclude that the first of these measures was the inauguration of a grand scheme for the plunder of our cotton crop, to enrich whomsoever it might concern.

The act of the United States Congress of July 13, 1861, above mentioned, was entitled ‘An act to provide for the collection of duties on imports, and for other purposes.’ Under the ‘other purposes’ the important features of the act are contained. Section 5 provides that—

when said insurgents claim to act under the authority of any State or States, and such claim is not disclaimed or repudiated by the persons exercising the functions of government in such State or States, or in the part or parts thereof in which said [290] combination exists, or such insurrection suppressed by said State or States, then and in such case it may and shall be lawful for the President, by proclamation, to declare that the inhabitants of such State, or any section or part thereof, where such insurrection exists, are in a state of insurrection against the United States, and thereupon all commercial intercourse by and between the same and the citizens thereof and the citizens of the rest of the United States shall cease, and be unlawful, so long as such condition of hostility shall continue; and all goods and chattels, wares and merchandise, coming from said State or section into the other parts of the United States, and all proceeding to such State or section, by land or water, shall, together with the vessel or vehicle conveying the same, or conveying persons to or from such State or section, be forfeited to the United States: Provided, however, That the President may, in his discretion, license and permit commercial intercourse with any such part of said State or section, the inhabitants of which are so declared in a state of insurrection, in such articles, and for such time, and by such persons, as he, in his discretion, may think most conducive to the public interest; and such intercourse, so far as by him licensed, shall be conducted and carried on only in pursuance of rules and regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury. And the Secretary of the Treasury may appoint such officers at places where officers of the customs are not now authorized by law, as may be needed to carry into effect such licenses, rules, and regulations.

It was provided in section 9 as follows:

Proceedings on seizures for forfeitures, under this act, may be pursued in the courts of the United States in any district into which the property so seized may be taken, and proceedings instituted.

It will be seen, by reference to the provisions of this section, that the President of the United States was authorized to issue his proclamation, declaring the inhabitants of any of our states, or of a portion of any one of them, to be in insurrection, and thereupon all commercial intercourse became unlawful, and was required to cease, and all goods and chattels, wares and merchandise, on the way to, or from, the state or part of a state, were forfeited to the United States, together with the vessel or vehicle in which they were conveyed. Two effects follow this proclamation: first, the cessation of all commercial intercourse with the citizens of the United States; second, the forfeiture of all goods in transitu. When this condition has been reached, the act then authorizes the President, in his discretion, by license, to reopen the trade in such articles, and for such time, and by such persons, as he may think most conducive to the public interest. The articles of trade were to be chiefly cotton and tobacco; the time during which it might be continued was evidently so long as it could be used for the purpose in view; the persons were those who would most skillfully advance the end to be accomplished; the public interest was the collection and transportation of the cotton to the European manufacturers. [291]

One may search the Constitution of the United States in vain to find any grant of power to Congress by which it could be authorized to pass this act; much less to find any authority conferred upon the President to approve the act, or to justify him in a violation of the oath he had taken to support and maintain the provisions of the Constitution. Congress was guilty of a most flagrant usurpation by the passage of the act, and the President, instead of being a check upon their unconstitutional measures, for which object the veto power was granted to him, became, by his approval, an accomplice in their usurpation. For nothing is more evident than that it is one of the powers reserved to the states to regulate the commercial intercourse between their citizens, to the extent even of the establishment of inspection and quarantine regulations. The former of these is a benefit to commerce, and the latter, in some special cases, retards it only temporarily, to secure the health of a community.

Neither did a state of war authorize the government of the United States to interfere with the commercial intercourse between the citizens of the states, although under the law of nations it might be so justified with regard to foreign enemies. But this relation it persistently refused to concede to the Confederate States or to their citizens. It constantly asserted that they were its subjects, in a state of insurrection; if so, they were equally entitled to the provisions of the Constitution for their protection as well as to its penalties. Still less could the government make an absolute forfeiture of the goods seized, as has already been shown when treating of the Confiscation Act.

But that a state of war did not enlarge the powers of the government, as was assumed by this act, was expressly decided by Chief Justice Taney, in a case that arose under this act. The Secretary of the Treasury issued the regulations for trade, as the act assumed the power to authorize him to do so, in the section presented on a previous page. One Carpenter neglected or refused to obtain a permit required, and his goods were seized. He contested the right of seizure, and the Chief Justice gave a decision at Baltimore in May, 1863. He said:

If these regulations had been made directly by Congress, they could not be sustained by a court of justice, whose duty it is to administer the law according to the Constitution of the United States. For from the commencement of the Government to this day it has been admitted on all hands, and repeatedly decided by the Supreme Court, that the United States have no right to interfere with the internal and domestic trade of a State. They have no right to compel it to pass through their custom-houses, nor to tax it. This is so plainly set forth in the Constitution, that it has never been supposed to be open to controversy or question. Undoubtedly, the United States authorities may take proper measures to prevent trade or intercourse with the enemy. But it does not by any means follow that [292] they disregard the limits of all their own powers as prescribed by the Constitution, or the rights and powers reserved to the States and the people.

A civil war, or any other, does not enlarge the powers of the Federal Government over the States or the people beyond what the compact has given to it in time of war. A state of war does not annul the tenth article of the amendment to the Constitution, which declares that ‘the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.’ Nor does a civil war, or any other war, absolve the judicial department from the duty of maintaining with an even and firm hand the rights and powers of the Federal Government, and of the States, and of the citizens, as they are written in the Constitution, which every judge is sworn to support. Upon the whole the Court is of opinion that the regulations in question are illegal and void, and that the seizure of the goods of Carpenter, because he refused to comply with them, can not be sustained. The judgment of the District Court must, therefore, be reversed, and the goods delivered to the claimant, his agent, or proctor.

The proclamation of the President required by the act was issued on August 16, 1861, declaring certain states and parts of states to be in insurrection, etc. Under it some licenses were issued to places in Kentucky and Missouri where the United States forces were located, without any fruitful results. Some strong military and naval expeditions were fitted out to invade us and occupy the ports where cotton and other valuable products were usually shipped. An advance was made up the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers and down the Mississippi, as has been stated elsewhere. The ports of Beaufort, North Carolina, Port Royal, South Carolina, and New Orleans, Louisiana, were declared by proclamation of the President of the United States to be open for trade under the new system. Licenses were granted to foreign vessels by United States consuls and to coasting vessels by the Treasury Department, and the blockade was relaxed so far as related to those ports except as to ‘persons, property, and information contraband of war.’ Collectors were appointed at the above-mentioned ports, and a circular was addressed to the foreign ministers at Washington announcing the reopening of communication with conquered Southern localities.

Again, on March 3, 1863, an act was passed which authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to appoint special agents to receive and collect all abandoned or captured property in any state or portion of a state designated as in insurrection. Under this act a paper division of the whole of our territory was made into five special districts, and to each a special agent was appointed with numerous assistants. Abandoned property was defined to be that which had been deserted by the owners, or that which had been voluntarily abandoned by them to the civil or military authorities of the United States. Property which had been [293] seized or taken from hostile possession by the military or naval forces was also to be turned over to the special agents to be sold. All property not transported in accordance with the Treasury regulations was forfeitable. All expenses incurred in relation to the property were charged upon it.

The views of General Grant on the operation of this system of measures, as tending to retard the success of subjugation, which was the object of the war, were presented to the Secretary of the United States Treasury in a letter dated at Vicksburg on July 21, 1863. He writes:

My experience in West Tennessee has convinced me that any trade whatever with the rebellious States is weakening to us at least thirty-three per cent, of our force. No matter what restrictions are thrown around trade, if any whatever is allowed, it will be made the means of supplying to the enemy what they want. Restrictions, if lived up to, make trade unprofitable, and hence none but dishonest men go into it. I will venture to say that no honest man has made money in West Tennessee in the last year, while many fortunes have been made there during the time. The people in the Mississippi Valley are now nearly subjugated. Keep trade out for a few months, and I doubt not but that the work of subjugation will be so complete that trade can be opened freely with the States of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

On September 11, 1863, revised regulations were issued by the Secretary which divided the country into thirteen districts, from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Natchez on the Mississippi, and a complete system of trade and transportation was organized. In December, 1864, new regulations were issued which authorized the purchase of our products at certain points from any person with bonds furnished by the Treasury. The products were sold, transportation was allowed, and the proceeds were made to constitute a fund for further purchases. A vigorous traffic sprang up under these regulations, which were suspended by an order of General Grant issued on March 10, 1865, and revoked on April 11th by himself. On April 29, 1865, all restrictions upon internal, domestic, and coastwise commercial intercourse with all the country east of the Mississippi River were discontinued.

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