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Chapter 45: an antislavery policy.—the Trent case.—Theories of reconstruction.—confiscation.—the session of 1861-1862.

Sumner was in Washington ten days in the latter half of May, 1861, when he conferred with the President and General Scott, and was in his seat when the extra session opened, July 4, going to Washington a fortnight before it began. Forty-four senators were present, including those from Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Among the Southern senators were Breckinridge, who was soon to join the rebellion, and Andrew Johnson,1 who stood almost alone among them as a Southern man of positive loyalty. The seceded States were not represented. Among Northern senators were Wilson of Massachusetts, Morrill and Fessenden of Maine, Hale of New Hampshire, Foot and Collamer of Vermont, Preston King of New York, Wilmot of Pennsylvania, Trumbull of Illinois, Wade and Sherman of Ohio, and Chandler of Michigan. The presence most missed was that of Douglas, who died June 3.2 The committee on foreign relations consisted of Sumner (chairman), Collamer, Doolittle of Wisconsin, Wilmot, Browning of Illinois, Polk of Missouri, and Breckinridge. Sumner's frequent motions for executive sessions showed that the committee was busy with its appropriate work. There was a general disposition to limit the action of Congress during this session to measures directly related to the prosecution of the war, with which Sumner expressed his concurrence in presenting an antislavery memorial. Schemes of confiscation were started; and Sumner introduced two bills for the punishment of conspiracy against the United States and the confiscation of the property of persons engaged in it,—which, however, made no reference to slavery. [37]

The session closed August 6. Sumner on his way to Massachusetts made visits to Mr. Jay at Bedford and Mr. Fish at Garrison's. When he reached Boston his first duty—a deeply sad one—was to visit the home of Longfellow, from which had been removed by tragic death the poet's wife, a noble and accomplished woman, his own constant and loyal friend for twenty years. He wrote, July 11:—

Dearest Longfellow,—God bless and comfort you! I am overwhelmed with grief, and long to be with you. Nothing but duties here, which cannot be postponed, prevents me from going on at once!

And again, July 21:—

Dearest Longfellow,—Daily, hourly, constantly I think of you, and my thoughts end with myself; for I cannot forget my own great and irreparable loss. In all visions of life I have always included her, for it never occurred to me that I should be the survivor, and I counted upon her friendship to the last. How strong must be your grief, I know and feel in my heart. But your happiness has been great, and the memories which remain are precious. I long to talk with you, and to enter into all this experience so trying, and help you to bear it, if I can. I must go with you to Mount Auburn. I hear of the children with great interest; they will be to you a comfort and consolation. I wish Charley would write me about you, and tell me how you are doing. I have been unhappy away. I wish I had seen her once more; but duties here stood sentinel in the way. Mr. William Appleton and myself have been together a good deal to talk of this bereavement. He is well. God bless you!

To R. Schleiden, May 5:—

This generous uprising of the North is a new element of force, which foretells the subjugation of the rebels. I do not doubt the result. I never believed that the North would be practically divided when the conflict came; but I did not expect the ferocious unity and high-strung determination which are now witnessed. . . . I feel proud of the activity and vigor displayed by my State.

Again, June 2:—

I do not doubt that England will settle down into just relations to our government if she is not prevented by sinister influences. There has been precipitation on her part, caused naturally by our short-coming here, and also by the London Times. The two especial things on which the South relied were (1) division at the North and (2) recognition by the great powers. The failure with regard to the last will be as great as with regard to the first. What then will the South do? It must yield at last. The end is certain; and also the extinction of slavery.


To Lieber, June 23:—

I have no dread of Congress. The session will be very brief,—a week or ten days; both houses in secret session; everything prepared in advance: (1) An army bill; (2) Navy bill; (3) Loan bill and war taxes on the free list, with perhaps an income tax; (4) Bill for treason, and to arrest supplies for traitors; and (5) Bill of embargo and non-intercourse for the whole Southern coast in lieu of the blockade, which is a great mistake. Such at least is my programme which I have submitted to the President and his Cabinet; and I hope it will be carried out without a single speech, or one word of buncombe, so that our short session may be a mighty act. Our foreign relations especially concern me. The statement in the message will be “all's well.”

Prince Napoleon, who had come in his yacht to the United States, visited Washington in the last days of the extra session. His sympathies were with the cause of the Union and of the abolition of slavery; and he was greatly attracted to Sumner, both on account of common sentiments and the senator's interest in the public life and literature of France.3 Sumner was one of the guests at a banquet given to the prince in Boston in September, and late in the same day, as he was setting sail, bade him good-by on board his yacht.

The government abstained scrupulously during the early months of the Civil War from acts and declarations which implied an antislavery purpose, and even expressly disavowed such a purpose. This policy was thought necessary, not only to hold the border slave States, where what was called loyalty was largely lukewarm and uncertain, but also to retain in the free States the support of the masses hitherto opposed to the Republican party. There was a division, too, among the Republicans,—many of whom in the Middle States and the more southern of the Western States, sufficient in number to reduce the party by their defection to a minority, had no sympathy with antislavery opinions, and desired the war to be strictly one for the Union without interference with slavery. The army also, private soldiers as well as officers, was at the time far from being inspired by antislavery sentiments; and it was the common talk of the camp that the war was for the Union only, and that slavery would remain untouched.

During this period officers of the army in formal orders declared it to be their duty and purpose to suppress and crush out servile insurrections. Some were reported to have offered to [39] return fugitive slaves to their masters.4 The war department required McDowell to forbid the harboring of fugitive slaves in camps, or their accompanying the troops on a march; this was at the President's instance, though the fact of his interposition was at his request kept from the public.5 Negroes were forbidden to leave Washington except on proof of freedom. The Attorney-General, in a letter of instructions, recognized the duty of marshals to return fugitive slaves. The Secretary of the Interior at a public meeting denied the right of the government to interfere with slavery in South Carolina. The Secretary of War abstained from approving General Butler's doctrine that the slaves of rebels should be treated as ‘contraband of war,’ and cautioned him against interfering with the slaves of peaceable citizens, or preventing the voluntary return of fugitive slaves. The President himself revoked

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