African Americans and the Civil War
African Americans and the Civil War
AFRICAN AMERICANS ON THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR
Northern blacks took a keen interest in the campaign and election of 1860. The Republican party's presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), enjoyed wide support among the North's small free black population, although many blacks remained dissatisfied with that party's platform because it failed to call for emancipation. Others supported the Radical Abolition party candidate, Gerrit Smith (1791-1874). Although the Republican platform fell short of their wishes, blacks still welcomed the election of Abraham Lincoln as a step in the right direction.
Soon after Lincoln's election, slave states began to secede. Lincoln lamented their decision and strove to prevent others from following suit. Black leaders, however, tired of watching northern politicians make compromises with southern slaveholders, welcomed secession. Now that the two regions were separate, they reasoned, the North would no longer enforce the abhorrent fugitive slave law, and all slaves who escaped north would be free.
Blacks also welcomed the outbreak of war, seeing it as the first step toward the end of slavery, even though abolition was not a stated war aim."The American people and the Government at Washington may refuse to recognize it for a time," Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) wrote in May 1861, but nevertheless, he insisted, the "war now being waged in this land is a war for and against slavery."
SLAVERY DURING THE WAR
Southern blacks, largely illiterate and unfamiliar with the activities of northern abolitionists, observed the outbreak of war more cautiously. However, once they understood that the war could hasten their freedom, most grasped every opportunity to aid the Union army. Their reactions to the war's outbreak destroyed the myth of the happy slave. Apologists for the South's peculiar institution had long contended that slaves loved their masters and would not take freedom if it were offered. In fact, slaves fled to freedom when they had the opportunity;during the war, approximately five hundred thousand slaves escaped or came within Union lines.
The coming of war changed slaves' lives in several ways. Many plantations shifted from cash crops such as cotton to staples such as corn and wheat to feed the army and the civilian population. Families lost loved ones as able-bodied male slaves were forced to aid the war effort. Many experienced severe dislocation. As Union armies approached, masters often fled, taking their human property into the hinterland. In some cases, masters fled and left slaves behind. These slaves were emancipated and often continued to farm under the direction of the Union army.
Many slaves were pressed into service in the Confederate army. Although the Confederacy never officially conscripted or armed free blacks and slaves, slaves were forced to build defensive fortifications and to cook, clean, and perform other tasks in army camps. In the war's early stages, some went to battle as their masters' personal slaves. Some blacks, perhaps hoping to earn their freedom or to prove that they were the whites' equals, volunteered to serve in the army, but their numbers were very small.
SEE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT H. C. Chambers's Address Regarding the Use of Slaves in War
As the war dragged on and the need for more soldiers increased, several Southern generals discussed the possibility of pressing blacks into service. Although Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) concluded in early 1865 that arming blacks was a military necessity, most Confederate leaders were skeptical about the loyalty of free and enslaved blacks, especially as their desertion rate was high. After some deliberation, Confederate leaders decided against the idea.
From the war's onset, fugitive slaves were a difficult issue for the Union army. Lincoln had made clear that he believed secession was not legally possible. In his eyes, the Southern states were still a part of the Union and in rebellion against it. All federal laws regarding slavery were therefore still in effect, including the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. In keeping with this law, Union officers were supposed to return fugitive slaves who had taken refuge behind their lines.
In May 1861, three fugitives escaped to the Union army camped at Fortress Monroe, Virginia. The army's commander, Benjamin Butler (1818-1893), declared them contraband of war, meaning that they were property of the enemy that could be confiscated. Butler harbored the runaways because he recognized that they were of material aid to the Confederates. Despite his commitment to enforce the fugitive slave law, Lincoln approved Butler's decision. The fugitives continued to arrive, and by July 1861, over nine hundred contraband slaves had taken refuge with Butler's troops.
In early August, Congress passed an act providing for the confiscation of all property that aided the rebellion, including slaves. Slaves owned by those who were loyal to the Union or had not contributed to the war effort were to remain slaves. Later that same August, John C. Fremont (1813-1890), Union commander in the Western Department, declared martial law in Missouri. In violation of Congress's confiscation law, he issued a declaration that all slaves owned by rebels were to be freed. Lincoln sharply rebuked Fremont, fearing that this action would alienate the other loyal slave states. He ordered Fremont to comply with the confiscation act; when Fremont refused, Lincoln revoked Fremont's order and soon thereafter relieved him of his command.
The contraband issue became increasingly pressing as the war continued. More and more slaves flooded behind Union lines, often arriving as families, not just as able-bodied men who could claim that Confederates had put them to work in the war effort. In March 1862, General David Hunter (1802-1886) followed Fremont's example of the previous summer and declared the slaves of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to be free. As he had before, Lincoln overruled the emancipation order. The black press excoriated Lincoln on moral and strategic grounds, denouncing his failure to seize an opportunity to free the slaves and his apparent inability to see the immense value of emancipation for the Union cause.
The growing presence of slaves behind Union lines revealed the inherent link between the contraband and the war. Because of the confiscation act, the southward-moving Union troops were essentially armies of emancipation. In April 1862, Congress passed further laws prohibiting the return of fugitive slaves who had escaped to Union forces, prohibiting slavery in the territories, providing for a real end to the African slave trade, and abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia. In July 1862, Congress followed these legislative efforts with yet another confiscation act further guaranteeing the freedom of slaves held by rebels.
SEE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT Excerpt from Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley
AFRICAN AMERICANS AID THE WAR EFFORT
From the beginning of the war, black males throughout the North offered themselves as soldiers in the Union army, but their services were refused. A federal law barred them from serving in state militia, and in 1860, there were no blacks in United States Army.
Despite the army's refusal to enlist them, black men in Boston organized a drill company and repeatedly petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to allow them to fight. Similar companies were formed in other Northern cities. Abolitionists tried to pressure President Lincoln to allow white officers to lead companies of black soldiers, but their suggestion met with resistance. Because of their deep racism, few white soldiers wanted to fight alongside blacks, and few officers believed that blacks would make good soldiers.
In addition, many white politicians and editors insisted that the war was a white man's war for the preservation of the Union, not for the emancipation of the slaves. To allow blacks to fight would be to admit that emancipation was a war goal and perhaps to alienate whites who had no desire to free the slaves. In the early stages of the war, Abraham Lincoln had made this very clear. His attitude prompted some blacks to question whether or not they should continue to offer their services to a government that was hostile to them. Despite these reservations, however, numerous black men continued to organize and train, waiting for an opportunity to fight.
While they waited, black leaders in the North waged a war of words, demanding the abolition of slavery in both rebel and loyal states. Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass argued forcefully that the only way to put an end to the war against slaveholders was to put an end to slavery itself. Slavery was a source of immense military strength, black leaders argued, and emancipation would strike directly at the South's capacity for war.
By the summer of 1862, Lincoln had begun to agree. In the previous spring, he had encouraged Congress to offer compensation to any state that would adopt a policy of gradual emancipation. Although Congress enacted other legislative blows against slavery at this time, the border states vehemently opposed Lincoln's plan and secured its defeat in Congress. While Congress was making some strides toward emancipation, Lincoln began to draft the Emancipation Proclamation. He understood that emancipation had become a military necessity. The Union needed to deprive the South of its slaves and put them in Union uniforms. In July 1862, he presented the idea to his cabinet, which advised him to wait for a military victory before announcing his plan to the nation.
That victory came at Antietam in September 1862, and Lincoln issued a preliminary draft of the proclamation that same month. The proclamation decreed that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states would be forever free. Blacks rejoiced at Lincoln's decision and celebrated throughout the North. The black press praised Lincoln for taking the step, at the same time noting that the proclamation did not free slaves in the states that remained loyal to the Union. Nevertheless, after the proclamation was issued, the Union army officially became an instrument of emancipation.
The Emancipation Proclamation called on all freed slaves to join the army and fight for the Union. Black men immediately answered the call, forming numerous units, including the heralded Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts regiments and the First South Carolina Volunteers. Units of black soldiers fought under the leadership of white men, including the abolitionists Col. Robert Gould Shaw (1837-1863) and Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911). Black soldiers fought courageously in every theater of the war, but they were paid less than their white counterparts until 1864.SEE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT The Emancipation Proclamation
By the war's end, over 186,000 blacks had enlisted in the Union army. They served in all capacities, as soldiers, hospital surgeons, chaplains, and spies. A few attained high rank and were decorated for valor. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died in the war, almost a quarter of all who enlisted, a casualty rate 40 percent higher than that of whites. Blacks' contributions to the war effort proved undeniably that they had won their own victory and their own freedom.
In the South, slaves learned of Lincoln's proclamation by word of mouth and from Southern newspapers. When Union troops occupied an area, army commanders appointed a superintendent of freedmen's affairs to organize the freedmen. These superintendents put the ex-slaves to work on abandoned plantations or as laborers in camps. In theory, the former slaves were to receive wages for their labor, but in some cases, they lived and worked in conditions scarcely different from slavery.
Northerners organized numerous societies to aid the freedmen and sent men and women south to teach and train them. One of the most famous and successful of these programs was in the South Carolina Sea Islands. Among the teachers who went there was Charlotte Forten (1837-1917), granddaughter of the famous abolitionist James Forten. In the Sea Islands and elsewhere, the contraband camps demonstrated that, with assistance, blacks could make the transition from slavery to freedom.
The realization that the slaves were acquiring their freedom focused white attention on the blacks' future in the nation. Most whites believed that blacks were innately inferior to whites and loathed the idea of living in a biracial society. This racism gave new energy to the American Colonization Society, founded nearly a half century earlier by a small group of influential white men. The colonizationists had founded Liberia, but they had never successfully settled many free blacks in this West African colony.
Colonizationists assumed that whites and blacks could never live peacefully and prosperously together and that blacks would never be able to rise above white racial prejudice. Abraham Lincoln fully shared this view. When Lincoln met with five blacks at the White House in August 1862, he told his visitors that the differences between the Negro and the Caucasian made it impossible for them to live together as equals. Lincoln did not defend his characterization of the situation; he simply asserted that it was true. Separation, he argued, was the only remedy and would benefit both blacks and whites. He encouraged the visitors to organize families to emigrate to South America, where they could thrive undaunted by racism.
Lincoln's meeting with the small group was widely publicized. The black press harshly criticized the president and reminded him that blacks had the same rights as whites to live in the land of their birth. Fully cognizant of the weight of the white population's racism, they stated that their unequivocal goal was to elevate the black race in the United States.
Other Northern blacks, however, supported the idea of colonization. Although always a small group, they were a high-profile minority that included such famous critics of slavery as Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) and Martin Delany (1812-1885). Garnet and Delany participated in a plan to settle blacks in Haiti, and over the course of the war, more than a thousand blacks emigrated to that island nation. In the end, however, colonization failed during the Civil War because few blacks volunteered to emigrate.
THE CIVIL WAR ENDS
As civilians and soldiers, in the North and the South, blacks made significant contributions to the war effort and proved that they were the whites' equals. In a very real way, blacks freed themselves in the Civil War. Freedom did not come easily, despite the Emancipation Proclamation and later the Thirteenth Amendment. White prejudice remained strong after the war and seriously compromised the efforts of Reconstruction. The Civil War had ended, but the struggle for true freedom continued.
Berry, Mary Frances. Military Necessity and Civil Rights Policy: Black Citizenship and the Constitution, 1861-1868. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1967.
Emilio, Luis F. A Brave Black Regiment: The History of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.
Higginson, Thomas W. Army Life in a Black Regiment. Boston:Fields, Osgood, and Co., 1870.
McPherson, James M. The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted during the War for the Union. New York:Pantheon Books, 1965.
Nieman, Donald G., ed. The Day of the Jubilee: The Civil War Experience of Black Southerners. New York: Garland, 1994.
Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the Civil War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1953.
Wiley, Bell I. Southern Negroes, 1861-1865. Baton Rouge:Louisiana State University Press, 1938.
Williams, George W. A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman
Despite all of Harriet Tubman's activity, male fugitive slaves tended to receive more attention in the North. In this letter, Frederick Douglass concedes that his work has garnered him far more public acclaim than Tubman's bravery. She has gone down in history, however, as the greatest conductor of the Underground Railroad.
Rochester, August 29, 1868.
Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt "God bless you" has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
H. C. Chambers's Address Regarding the Use of Slaves in War
Late in the year 1864, as the Confederate government began contemplating the use of black troops in its war effort, H. C. Chambers of Mississippi rose in the Confederate House of Representatives to argue against such a policy. The Confederate army, which was losing ground to the Union army on several fronts, had been depleted through losses and desertions, yet Chambers maintained that "victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves. God grant that our noble army of martyrs may never have to drink of this cup!"
Chambers's speech is reprinted here in its entirety and is valuable for two reasons: it offers a detailed view of the war from a Confederate point of view, and it displays in full the racial attitudes of the slaveholding planter class which, it may be argued, were a central element to the demise of the Confederate army when confronted by the policies and war machine of the ideologically more malleable Lincoln administration and Union army.
Use of Slaves in Confederate Army Argued Against Policy of Employing Negro Troops, Speech of Hon. H. C. Chambers, Of Mississippi
In the House of Representatives of the Congress of the Confederate States, Thursday, November 10, 1864, on the special order for that day, being the resolution offered by him on the first day of the session, in the following words:
Resolved, That the valour, constancy and endurance of our citizen-soldiers, with the steady co-operation of all classes of population not in the field, will continue a sufficient guaranty of the Rights of the States and the Independence of the Confederate States.
Mr. Chambers said:
Mr. Speaker: This resolution which I had the honor to offer the first day of the session, a little in advance of the reception of the President's message, expresses an abiding faith in the continued ability of the citizen-soldiers of the country to defend the Rights of the States and the Independence of the Confederate States, without further assistance or guaranty than may be derived from the steady co-operation of all classes of population not liable to military duty;—without the aid of negro troops; without the aid of a convention to which we have been conditionally invited by a political party in the United States, on their own terms—that is to say, on a basis which excludes the idea of the permanent existence of this Government; and without the alternative of accepting such guaranties as that party, if it accede to power, may offer to secure our return to the old Union—guaranties which, if faithfully adhered to by that party during their four or eight years' possession of power, would certainly be repudiated by the party next succeeding—succeeding, as in all probability they would, on the special ground of their hostility to the bargain made with us. Thus, after a short interval of repose, our country would again have to choose between war and submission, and, choosing war, enter upon a new conflict, not less bloody, but, perchance, less hopeful than the contest in which we are now engaged.
On the introduction of this resolution, candour compelled me to advise the House that it had been drawn in such terms as would suggest important public questions; and requesting this day to be fixed for its consideration, an avowal was thus explicitly made by me that, in my opinion, those questions should be discussed now and here.
From over caution, from an excessive desire not to disturb the people with agitating questions, pending the war, Congress has, perhaps, too long forborne to consider, in public debate, the many profoundly interesting topics which have arisen out of the present struggle. The Representatives of the people have been silent or reserved until their constituencies are beginning to make themselves heard on delicate issues. We, who sit here, and who might have more fully advised them of the relations of all important questions to events as they arose, and so have assisted in forming and preserving a healthy tone of public sentiment, have, perhaps, too often sealed our lips or closed our doors—until the people, ceasing to look to us for instruction or sympathy, at last manifest no doubtful indications of finding conclusions without our assistance.
No man of observation can be unaware of the present anxious and unsettled condition of public sentiment. The popular mind is groping in a labyrinth of perplexity, seeking solutions for great questions, to some of which allusion has been made. How to increase our armies, how to bring about peace and independence, and in some quarters, let it be confessed, whether it might not be prudent to entertain even the project of reconstruction, these; Sir, are some of the enquiries that are arresting the attention of the country. It cannot be denied that at least one proposition of a startling character is forced upon our consideration. I allude to the employment of negro troops. Undoubtedly, as I think, if this question was not raised with evil design, it must have originated with timid or despairing patriots, who, ignorant of the relative numbers of the contending armies and the statistics of their loss and increase, imagine the worst. But, however or by whomsoever brought forward, it presents itself now with imposing sponsors, and must be met. The President in his message has not disdained to notice it, and distinguished gentlemen on this floor have pronounced it worthy of grave consideration. I shall barely allude to distinguished and influential personages currently reported as advocates of the measure, fearful, if I were to name them, of doing injustice to their views, or of smothering myself at once under the weight of their authority.
The proposition to employ negro troops proceeds upon the assumption that our armies, and the usual source from which they have been recruited, are approximating exhaustion. It is remarkable, however, that this question comes upon us near the close of the most successful campaign, vouchsafed to Confederate arms since the first year of the war—a campaign in which the efforts of the enemy have been unprecedentedly great, and his losses compared to ours unprecedentedly large; in which, if his reinforcements have been greater than ours, his original ranks have steadily diminished in a corresponding ratio: and the belligerents now find themselves approaching the fourth winter of hostilities with armies of nearly the same numerical relation as existed between them at the beginning. It may be safely asserted that, embracing the Trans-Mississippi Department in the account, the contending forces are as nearly equal now as they were a year ago.
And with reference to the territory lost and recovered, what has been the result of the campaign? Let the President tell the story. He says: "At the beginning of the year the State of Texas was partially in possession of the enemy, and large portions of Louisiana and Arkansas lay apparently defenceless. Of the Federals who invaded Texas, none are known to remain except as prisoners of war. In Northwestern Louisiana, a large and well appointed army, aided by a powerful fleet, was repeatedly defeated, and deemed itself fortunate in finally escaping with a loss of one-third of its numbers, a large part of its military trains, and many transports and gunboats. The enemy's occupation of the State is reduced to the narrow district commanded by the guns of his fleet. Arkansas has been recovered, with the exception of a few fortified posts, while our forces have penetrated into central Missouri, affording to our oppressed brethren in that State an opportunity, of which many have availed themselves, of striking for liberation from the tyranny to which they have been subjected. Nearly the whole of Northern and Western Mississippi, of Northern Alabama, and of Western Tennessee are again in our possession, and all attempts to penetrate from the coast line into the interior of the Atlantic and Gulf States have been baffled. On the entire Ocean and Gulf coast of the Confederacy, the whole successes of the enemy, with the enormous resources at his command, have been limited to the capture of the outer defences of Mobile bay. In Southwestern Virginia, successive armies, which threatened the capture of Lynchburg and Saltville, have been routed and driven out of the country, and a portion of Eastern Tennessee reconquered by our troops. In Northern Virginia, extensive districts formerly occupied by the enemy are now free from their presence. The main army, after a series of defeats, in which its losses have been enormous, is, with the aid of reinforcements, but with, it is hoped, waning prospect of further progress in the design, still engaged in an effort, commenced more than four months ago, to capture the town of Petersburg. The army of Gen. Sherman, although succeeding at the end of summer in obtaining possession of Atlanta, has been unable to secure any ultimate advantage from his success—compelled to withdraw on the line of his advance, without obtaining control of a single mile of territory beyond the narrow track of his march. "Such is the account of last year's operations. Strange, indeed, is it that under such encouraging results as these, a proposition should be made to employ negro troops; nor is it easy to avoid the suspicion that it must have originated in some oblique and unavowed design.
At the same time it must be admitted that our armies are not as large as they should be—not nearly so large as they might be with greater efficiency in the execution of the laws designed to increase them.
In 1862 there were 700,000 men between the ages of 18 and 45, in the cotton States, and over half a million more in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. With a large allowance for physical disability, exemptions and details, here were about one million of men liable to field service under the acts of conscription, exclusive of all recruits from Kentucky and Missouri. Allowing one-fifth of the whole to be now within the enemy's lines, there would still remain 800,000 men; and if one half of this number have been lost or disabled in service (which is impossible), there would still remain 400,000 a force more than sufficient to end this war soon and successfully, to say nothing of the Confederate Reserves and the Militia in the several States.
Sir, it is true the men are not all present with the army; but they exist and will continue with more or less rapidity to supply recruits. The President has told us (as I understand) in a recent speech, that one-third of the number liable to service in the field were absent, yet our armies have been able and are now able to cope with the enemy and even win territory from his grasp. Does this look like exhaustion? If it be, then the same exhaustion afflicts the foe; for after all his immense drafts or attempts at drafting, with huge bounties offered to recruits—with continual relays of foreign paupers to fill up his waning lines—still he finds his numerical relation to us little changed: still he finds himself unable to advance.
The history of nations often exhibits the fact, that there is a point of drain to the field beyond which no population can be forced to go and sustain itself in protracted war. There is besides a conservative instinct in every people, which teaches them when this point has been reached, and neither blandishment nor coercion will easily prevail with them to go beyond it. It is said that not more than four per cent. of the whole population, or the male adult head of every fifth family, can be spared to war. When he is taken from the number of producers and converted into a soldier, his family of four consumers remain to be supported by the producers of the four nearest families—a burden of one additional consumer to each male adult at home, which, added to the other exactions of war, has been ascertained to be as heavy as any nation can long sustain.
Now, sir, the North, with its population of some twenty millions at the beginning of the war, divided into four million families, might have spared nearly a million to the field; and it is believed that in the course of this unusually bloody and protracted struggle nearly that number of the enemy has been destroyed or disabled; even Foreign immigration does not enable him greatly to increase his aggregate force in the field, and all appearances, and all information received, indicate that the conservative instincts of the Northern people, admonishing them of approximate exhaustion of resources, rebel against the continuance of the war. But sooner or later, it is argued, the South must be exhausted. I might reply, sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. I choose, however, not so to evade the point.
The limit at which the war drain on population must be stopped, has been referred to. That rule applies only to free population—not to slaves. The number of laborers or producers among slaves is three times as great as among free people. With the former there are three in each family who labour a field, with the latter only one; and with the former, those who do not labor can hardly be called consumers. In the beginning the whole South had 4,000,000 slaves, divisible into 800,000 families of five, and including 2,400,000 labourers. The North, on the other hand, had about 20,000,000 whites, of which 12,000,000 would afford only 2,400,000 labourers, and the remaining 8,000,000 of her population were precisely the number of the white population of the South.
I shall not here stop to comment on the greater efficiency of slave labour over free in producing subsistence for armies; nor upon our more fertile soil and more propitious skies. Enough has been said to show that the disparity between the sections was originally much less than was generally supposed, and it may be safely asserted that the South, as a slave country, has the greater capacity to endure long war. True, a slave country, though not easily exhausted, is easily invaded. The slave produces abundantly the supplies for war; but cannot be employed in local defence. He cannot be made a minute man; and those who would employ slave troops in our large armies have not yet had the hardihood to propose a slave militia. Yet, if they can be relied on to fight for the country on the frontier, assuredly they could be relied on to fight for their immediate homes. This bare suggestion, however, gives an air of absurdity to the whole scheme.
Fortunately, we are not yet reduced to extremity. Although our territory is more limited, supplies of food are more abundant than ever; our soldiers suffer from disease much less than formerly; acting chiefly on the defensive and behind works, they must suffer much smaller losses in battle than the enemy, and being in their own country and climate, must suffer also much less from disease; and this day, I repeat, the South is displaying more of original vigor than the North. If exhaustion approaches, its advance is too slow to be alarming: the period of its arrival cannot be calculated; while in the North, potentous signs indicate no distant catastrophe. At least, we are still strong enough to afford to watch and wait, without hazarding experiments on our military, social and political systems, that may precipitate present disaster and entail future woe.
Still our army must be increased. It has already been said that fully one-third of those now liable to military service are absent from the field. This source of supply must be made to yield its proper fruits. Though there have been many, too many, desertions, and this evil will continue more or less to exist, yet it has not been so great in our army as in that of the enemy. The majority of the number improperly out of service have never been brought into it. Congress must assist in applying a remedy. New sanctions must be added to old laws, and new laws must be passed, for filling up the ranks. Above all, let appeals be made to the patriotism of the country—let a corrective be attempted from these halls, of that spirit of contempt for law—that lax obedience to authority—that slow and reluctant compliance with the behests of the legislative power, where those behests do not comport with individual ease or opinion—which, running down the whole official gamut, civil and military, from capital to camp, (with numerous exceptions, of course) accumulating abuses as it descends, paralyzes the fighting power of the country, and renders the law of the land too often a dead letter. Let every man, here or elsewhere, feel under obligation to point the finger of scorn at every one who shirks or skulks from his duty, at home or in the field; and especially at that officer, whoever he may be, who extends an unnecessary furlough to relative or favorite, or permits him to lie around his headquarters, or otherwise by his indulgence avoid the fight. As said in the beginning, much good may be done by free discussion here. Let us throw off the shackles of an over-caution as to criticism of men and measures; and freely confessing abuses, charge home the responibility for their existence, and invite both Government and people to hear. It is a great mistake to suppose our people cannot bear the whole truth on every and any question, social, political, military, and even diplomatic: and from our enemies there is no longer anything to be concealed. The strength of our armies, the number at home still liable to service, the extent of all our resources, the depth of every harbor, the navigable length of every river, the height of every mountain, the width of every plain, and almost the producing capacity of every acre, are already known to them; and it is to be hoped that none of these things are better known to them than to us. The particular measures of legislation which should be adopted to assist in the great work of bringing men to the field and keeping them there, it would be out of place now to discuss. Already other members have suggested, by bill or resolution, more than one salutary exactment.
But, sir, if all these calculations fail—if, as our despairing friends declare, we have approximated to final exhaustion, and must find some extraordinary source of re-inforcements—will negro troops answer the purpose—will the African save us? There is no moral, no pecuniary objection to employing them, if they can be made to serve the occasion. The question is not whether they have not been known to fight, but whether they can be relied on to fight successfully for us now in the present death grapple with our enemies. In what form of organization is it proposed to use them? It can hardly be designed to intermingle them in the same companies with our citizen soldiers; no one has yet had the audacity to propose that. Would it be safe to confide to negro troops so much of the line of battle as would be occupied by a regiment or a brigade—much less a division or a corps? And an entire lien so composed might by sudden flight or wholesale surrender involve the whole army in confusion and disaster. To surrender to them the duty of defending forts or outposts would be to place the keys of the situation in their hands. Then, but one alternative remains; it is to form them into companies and place these in alternation with white companies in the same regiments. The electric current of mutual confidence and devotion—the triumphant glance, the answering smile, the sympathetic cheer—no longer passes from company to company. The silence of distrust now broods along the line, which hesitates, halts, wavers, breaks, and the black troops fly—perhaps to the embraces of the enemy. Even victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves. God grant that our noble army of martyrs may never have to drink of this cup!
That our army will be recruited so as to maintain at least its present strength—and probably with a large increase of its present numbers—cannot be doubted. But even without another recruit, at the present slow rate of decrease of its veteran force, it would long maintain a defence of the country; long enough to wear out the resources of the enemy. Do gentlemen see no signs of exhaustion at the North? Do they derive no hope from the consideration of financial disasters impending there? How long they can carry on an aggressive war under a debt whose annual interest already equals that of the debt of Great Britain, accumulated during centuries marked by expensive wars—a debt still accumulating at the rate of over two millions a day—cannot be precisely calculated; but the end is certain and near. The intelligent Northern mind is already grasping the great fact that the entire property of the South, less the slaves, if confiscated and sold tomorrow, would not pay their present debt. The property of the thirteen Confederate States, exclusive of slaves, was, in 1860, estimated at about 4,000 millions of dollars, and the Northern debt, already audited, is about 2,500 millions. Allowing for the depreciation of values in the South, which would ensue on abolition and subjugation, it is obvious that our whole property would not discharge it. How long they may be able to put off the day of bankruptcy, when every hour but adds to the amount of Government obligations, which, with every hour, grow more worthless, and which soon must be valueless to hire even foreign mercenaries, cannot with certainty be foretold; but at least this can be said, and in the name of our brave army of citizen-soldiers I say it, that under such circumstances we can defend as long as they can strike.
This argument proceeds upon the presumption that the negro, whether slave or free, cannot be made a good soldier. The law of his race forbids it. Of all others the best adapted to slavery, he is therefore of all others, the least adapted for military service. Of great simplicity of disposition, tractable, prone to obedience, and highly imitative, he is easily drilled; but timid, averse to effort, without ambition, he has none of the higher qualities of the soldier. It is difficult to conceive a being less fit for plucking honor from the cannon's mouth. At the beginning of this war, he fled to the enemy to avoid work; his local attachment was not sufficient to retain him; now he remains to avoid military service in the Yankee army—his aversion to work being greater than his aversion to slavery, and only less than his aversion to war. Such is his character as it appears in history. It is not denied that, under the influence of revenge, of a desire for plunder, or other maddening or special excitement, he has been known to surrender himself to slaughter and to wade deep in blood; so in his native Africa, he surrenders himself a sacrifice to his gods; but history will be searched in vain to prove him a good soldier. In the revolution of 1776, Lord Dunmore proclaimed all the negroes of Virginia free, and invited them to join his standard; but less than three hundred accepted the invitation. They preferred slavery to military service. And in the battle he fought near Norfolk against the Virginia militia, we are informed by the historian (Botta) that his negro troops "behaved very shabbily and saved themselves by flight. "In St. Domingo, the English, in 1793, with less than 1,000 men, captured several fortified places from the French authorities, who had over 20,000 troops, chiefly negroes and mulattoes; and finally, with less than 2,000 men, captured Port au Prince, the capital of the island. The French, in extremity, offered freedom to the slaves, more than 400,000 in number, on condition of military service;but only 6,000 accepted the boon. Yet the hands of these slaves were still bloody with the massacres perpetrated in the memorable insurrection of 1790. Sir, on what motive is he to fight our battles? He is after all a human being, and acts upon motives. Will you offer him his freedom? The enemy will offer him his freedom, and also as a deserter, immunity from military service. Will you offer him the privilege of return home to his family, a freeman, after the war? That you dare not do, remembering it was the free negroes of St. Domingo, who had been trained to arms, that excited the insurrection of the slaves. And the enemy would meet even that offer with the promise of a return free to his southern home and the right of property in it. The amount of it all is, that in despair of achieving our independence with our own right arms, we turn for succor to the slave and implore him to establish our freedom and fix slavery upon himself, or at least upon his family and his race, forever. He, at least, after the expiration of his term of service, is to be banished to Liberia or other inhospitable shore, for the States could never permit an army of negroes to be returned home, either free or slave.
Sir, if the employment of negro troops should be attempted successfully, our army would soon contain only slaves. There are not less than 400,000 adult male slaves still in the Confederacy, physically capable of performing military service, and far less than this number of good troops would ensure our independence. If they will answer, the end is certain: they alone will be employed during the war, and as a standing army after peace. Promised their freedom for a certain term of service, as proposed by the President, they return free to their homes, or are deported; a new purchase or draft takes place to fill up the vacancies so occasioned; a continual drain is set up on the slave population at home to supply who army; the able-bodied are taken; the women and children, and the feeble, whose productive force is diminished one-third by the absence of the usual proportion of the able, are left an expense on the owner's hands; and ultimately the institution fails! Sir, this war is to be fought solely by white soldiers and black laborers, or white laborers and black soldiers: try to intermingle the two when you may, the attempt will fail; the strands will separate; when the negro enters the army the white soldier will leave it. He becomes the laborer—not reposing as a veteran upon his laurels—enjoying the repose of home after his long services: but the natural laborer of the country being absent in the military service, he supplies the place left void in the field; his labor must support himself, his family and the negro soldier. Sir, this scheme, if attempted, will end in rapid emancipation and colonization—colonization in the North by bringing up the slaves by regiments and brigades to the opportunity of escape to the enemy; emancipation and colonization abroad to those who render service to us for a specified period. I argue on the presumption that nothing of the kind will be attempted without the consent of the States, whether as to employing them on the promise of freedom, or as to returning them free and disciplined to their old homes. By means of the power of impressment or purchase, this Government could not safely be permitted, without the consent of the States, to inaugurate a system of emancipation that might end in the abolition of the institution, nor do I suppose that the President designed the contrary. In suggesting freedom as the motive to be offered to the slave, he performed a simple official duty, leaving to Congress if it adopted the suggestion, to provide by law all the conditions it might be proper to impose.
In any aspect of the case, this is a proposition to subvert the labour system, the social system and the political system of our country. Better, far, to employ mercenaries from abroad, if dangerous and impracticable expedients are to be attempted, and preserve that institution which is not only the foundation of our wealth but the palladium of our liberties. Make the experiment, of course, with negro troops as the last means to prevent subjugation; but when we shall be reduced to the extremity of exclaiming to the slave,"help us, or we sink," it will already have become quite immaterial what course we pursue!
But if the experiment must be made, let him be used still as a slave, without promise of special reward. Let him be made to fight as he has been made to work, as a duty exacted under the authority of his owner. So he has been accustomed to live and move and have his being, and so he will continue to render any service with less reluctance and with less inquiry.
The resolution under consideration expresses the fullest faith in the will and the power of the citizen soldiers of the country, not only to make a successful defence against the armies of the North, and to establish our independence, but under all circumstances to protect the Rights of the States whenever and by whomsoever menaced. They rushed to arms to protect those rights before this Confederacy existed, and they will still protect them with their valour, their constancy and their endurance, even should it cease to exist. I know it has been said that already the exigencies of this war have turned this Government into a military despotism, that our independence, if achieved, cannot be permanently secured, except under some other form of Government, better adapted to develop the greatest possible war power of the country. The conscript acts, the impressment acts, the currency and tax laws, and indeed, all the strong measures of the Government, have been denounced as unconstitutional, or at least as an abuse of power. If those who entertain these views had charitably reversed the argument, and given Congress, the Chief Executive and the Courts of the country, who have passed or approved these laws, due credit for ordinary patriotism and intelligence, and ordinary fidelity to their oaths of office, they might have reached the conclusion that, perhaps, these measures were consistent with this form of Government. If they be, then not only these acts themselves but their most happy effects in enabling us to make a glorious resistance to the superior forces and appliances of the invader, prove that we have a form of Government adapted to develop the greatest possible war power of the country. I admit it is a peace establishment in time of peace; but it is, nevertheless, a war establishment in time of war. Its rapid constitutional adaptation to these varying conditions, is one of the chief glories of its founders.
The original war powers possessed by the people of the several States, in their sovereign capacity—powers which embraced all the possible moral and physical forces of the country—have been transferred almost without limitation to the Confederate Government. Under the Constitution, it is authorized to raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, lay and collect taxes for the common defence, and to pay debt, regulate commerce, declare war, make rules for the government of the land and naval forces, provide for calling out the militia to suppress insurrection and repel invasion, impress private property for public uses on the payment of just compensation, coin money, suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and make all laws necessary and proper to carry these powers into execution. But this is not all. At this very moment, when some charge that the Government has not only exhausted but transcended its constitutional war powers, the President recommends the passage of a law, in compliance with the express words of the Constitution, namely, to provide for organizing, arming, disciplining, and governing the militia of the States.
When it is added, that this Government has also the exclusive right to make peace, and no State can enter into any contract or agreement with another State, or with a foreign Power, it is, indeed, difficult to perceive what war power is absent. The people, intelligent, brave, faithful to their institutions, attached to their Government, looking to their own welfare, to their common security against insurrection and invasion, and to guard against the hazards of controversies between the States, have with profound design devolved all the responsibility of their foreign relations, including making war and contracting peace, upon this Government, and invested it with all the powers necessary to execute the delegated trusts. Not the Czar of Russia, not even Peter the Great, who was restrained by no traditions and alarmed by no fears, could have brought into the field so promptly and thoroughly the entire war power of that despotism, as this Government has brought out the war power of the several States in defence of the rights of the States. For this purpose, the first gun fired at Fort Sumter summoned our citizens to arms; and they will be at all times ready to rush to the field in the same sacred cause. When the last man shall have sunk in his tracks—when the last steed shall have fallen beneath his rider—when the last morsel of food shall have vanished from the land—then, and not till then, will the war power of this Government be exhausted.
This Confederacy now exhibits to the world a spectacle instructive for the lovers of liberty in all future times—the spectacle of free institutions displaying the maximum war power possible in the number of its people. History will consider herself sufficiently accurate in asserting they rose as one man in defence of their rights, and shall be privileged to record that they endured till God crowned their efforts with success.
Complaints are made of the exercise of extreme power by the military authorities of the land. Let it be remembered that more than two thousand years ago it was proverbial that,"in the midst of arms the laws are silent. "If we are repeating history, in many respects, in this particular at least, we are repeating it with some improvement. The laws are not wholly silent here. The civil authorities of the States still exercise control over persons not in the military service of the Confederate States; life and property are, in the main, secure; schools and churches are open, under exemptions granted by this Government; charitable associations flourish; mobs and riots are unknown, and woman is still every where honoured and protected.
Mr. Speaker, we are furnishing to history only another example of severe trial and heroic endurance for civil and political rights. Let us not delude ourselves with the belief that ours is a peculiar case, or that our heroism is unparalleled. If we endure what other people have been known to suffer in defence of their liberties and independence, our efforts will be crowned with success, as have been the efforts of other nations. Before our time nations have been exhausted far more than we are likely to be, of all their fighting population—of all their material resources—when struggling against superior numbers.
Before our time it was said:
The harvests of Arretium,
This year old men shall reap;
This year, young boys in Umbro
Shall plunge the struggling sheep;
And in the vats of Luna,
This year, the must shall foam
Round the white feet of laughing girls,
Whose sires have marched on Rome.
Let not him complain of our present condition who has heretofore rendered the homage of a glowing admiration to the achievements of those heroic nations who, in times past, have fought for life and liberty in the midst of civil horrors unknown to us: when laws were not only silent, but dead; and liberty and law were at last seen to rise together from the ashes of a people consumed in the fires of war. It will be sufficient for our cause if we equal the great deeds of the past.
Romans, in Rome's quarrel,
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,
In the brave days of old.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
Excerpt from Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley
In her 1868 autobiography Behind the Scenes, Keckley discusses the activities of the Contraband Relief Association. In addition, she provides a portrait of what metropolitan life was like for a woman of color with powerful friends in the nation's capital on the eve of the Civil War.
Washington in 1862-3. In the summer of 1862, freed-men began to flock into Washington from Maryland and Virginia. They came with a great hope in their hearts, and with all their worldly goods on their backs. Fresh from the bonds of slavery, fresh from the benighted regions of the plantation, they came to the Capital looking for liberty, and many of them not knowing it when they found it. Many good friends reached forth kind hands, but the North is not warm and impulsive. For one kind work spoken, two harsh ones were uttered; there was something repelling in the atmosphere, and the bright joyous dreams of freedom to the slave faded—were sadly altered, in the presence of that stern, practical mother, reality. Instead of flowery paths, days of perpetual sunshine, and bowers hanging with golden fruit, the road was rugged and full of thorns, the sunshine was eclipsed by shadows, and the mute appeals for help too often were answered by cold neglect. Poor dusky children of slavery, men and women of my own race—the transition from slavery to freedom was too sudden for you! The bright dreams were too rudely dispelled; you were not prepared for the new life that opened before you, and the great masses of the North learned to look upon your helplessness with indifference—learned to speak of you as an idle, dependent race. Reason should have prompted kinder thoughts. Charity is ever kind.
One fair summer evening I was walking the streets of Washington, accompanied by a friend, when a band of music was heard in the distance. We wondered what it could mean, and curiosity prompted us to find out its meaning. We quickened our steps, and discovered that it came from the house of Mrs. Farnham. The yard was brilliantly lighted, ladies and gentlemen were moving about, and the band was playing some of its sweetest airs. We approached the sentinel on duty at the gate, and asked what was going on. He told us that it was a festival given for the benefit of the sick and wounded soldiers in the city. This suggested an idea to me. If the white people can give festivals to raise funds for the relief of suffering soldiers, why should not the well-to-do colored people go to work to do something for the benefit of the suffering blacks? I could not rest. The thought was ever present with me, and the next Sunday I made a suggestion in the colored church, that a society of colored people be formed to labor for the benefit of the unfortunate freedmen. The idea proved popular, and in two weeks "the Contraband Relief Association" was organized, with forty working members.
In September of 1862, Mrs. Lincoln left Washington for New York, and requested me to follow her in a few days, and join her at the Metropolitan Hotel. I was glad of the opportunity to do so, for I thought that in New York I would be able to do something in the interests of our society. Armed with credentials, I took the train for New York, and went to the Metropolitan, where Mrs. Lincoln had secured accommodations for me. The next morning I told Mrs. Lincoln of my project; and she immediately headed my list with a subscription of $200. I circulated among the colored people, and got them thoroughly interested in the subject, when I was called to Boston by Mrs. Lincoln, who wished to visit her son Robert, attending college in that city. I met Mr. Wendell Phillips, and other Boston philanthropists, who gave all the assistance in their power. We held a mass meeting at the Colored Baptist Church, Rev. Mr. Grimes, in Boston, raised a sum of money, and organized there a branch society. The society was organized by Mrs. Grimes, wife of the pastor, assisted by Mrs. Martin, wife of Rev. Stella Martin. This branch of the main society, during the war, was able to send us over eighty large boxes of goods, contributed exclusively by the colored people of Boston. Returning to New York, we held a successful meeting at the Shiloh Church, Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, pastor. The Metropolitan Hotel, at that time as now, employed colored help. I suggested the object of my mission to Robert Thompson, Steward of the Hotel, who immediately raised quite a sum of money among the dining-room waiters. Mr. Frederick Douglass contributed $200, besides lecturing for us. Other prominent colored men sent in liberal contributions. From England a large quantity of stores was received. Mrs. Lincoln made frequent contributions, as also did the President. In 1863 I was re-elected President of the Association, which office I continue to hold.
For two years after Willie's death the White House was the scene of no fashionable display. The memory of the dead boy was duly respected. In some things Mrs. Lincoln was an altered woman. Sometimes, when in her room, with no one present but myself, the mere mention of Willie's name would excite her emotion, and any trifling memento that recalled him would move her to tears. She could not bear to look upon his picture; and after his death she never crossed the threshold of the Guest's Room in which he died, or the Green Room in which he was embalmed. There was something super-natural in her dread of these things, and something that she could not explain. Tad's nature was the opposite of Willie's, and he was always regarded as his father's favorite child. His black eyes fairly sparkled with mischief.
The war progressed, fair fields had been stained with blood, thousands of brave men had fallen, and thousands of eyes were weeping for the fallen at home. There were desolate hearthstones in the South as well as in the North, and as the people of my race watched the sanguinary struggle, the ebb and flow of the tide of battle, they lifted their faces Zionward, as if they hoped to catch a glimpse of the Promised Land beyond the sulphureous clouds of smoke which shifted now and then but to reveal ghastly rows of new-made graves. Sometimes the very life of the nation seemed to tremble with the fierce shock of arms. In 1863 the Confederates were flushed with victory, and sometimes it looked as if the proud flag of the Union, the glorious old Stars and Stripes, must yield half its nationality to the tree-barred flag that floated grandly over long columns of gray. These were sad, anxious days to Mr. Lincoln, and those who saw the man in privacy only could tell how much he suffered. One day he came into the room where I was fitting a dress on Mrs. Lincoln. His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad. Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hands. He was a complete picture of dejection. Mrs. Lincoln, observing his troubled look, asked:
"Where have you been, father?"
"To the War Department," was the brief, almost sullen answer.
"Yes, plenty of news, but no good news. It is dark, dark everywhere."
He reached forth one of his long arms, and took a small Bible from a stand near the head of the sofa, opened the pages of the holy book, and soon was absorbed in reading them. A quarter of an hour passed, and on glancing at the sofa the face of the President seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone, and the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope. The change was so marked that I could not but wonder at it, and wonder led to the desire to know what book of the Bible afforded so much comfort to the reader. Making the search for a missing article an excuse, I walked gently around the sofa, and looking into the open book, I discovered that Mr. Lincoln was reading that divine comforter, Job. He read with Christian eagerness, and the courage and hope that he derived from the inspired pages made him a new man. I almost imagined that I could hear the Lord speaking to him from out the whirlwind of battle: "Gird up thy loins now, like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. "What a sublime picture was this! A ruler of a mighty nation going to the pages of the Bible with simple Christian earnestness for comfort and courage, and finding both in the darkest hours of a nation's calamity. Ponder it, O ye scoffers at God's Holy Word, and then hang your heads for very shame!
Frequent letters were received warning Mr. Lincoln of assassination, but he never gave a second thought to the mysterious warnings. The letters, however, sorely troubled his wife. She seemed to read impending danger in every rustling leaf, in every whisper of the wind.
"Where are you going now, father?" she would say to him, as she observed him putting on his overshoes and shawl.
"I am going over to the War Department, mother, to try and learn some news."
"But, father, you should not go out alone. You know you are surrounded with danger."
"All imagination. What does any one want to harm me for? Don't worry about me, mother, as if I were a little child, for no one is going to molest me;" and with a confident, unsuspecting air he would close the door behind him, descend the stairs, and pass out to his lonely walk.
For weeks, when trouble was anticipated, friends of the President would sleep in the White House to guard him from danger.
Robert would come home every few months, bringing new joy to the family circle. He was very anxious to quit school and enter the army, but the move was sternly opposed by his mother.
"We have lost one son, and his loss is as much as I can bear, without being called upon to make another sacrifice," she would say, when the subject was under discussion.
"But many a poor mother has given up all her sons," mildly suggested Mr. Lincoln,"and our son is not more dear to us than the sons of other people are to their mothers."
"That may be; but I cannot bear to have Robert exposed to danger. His services are not required in the field, and the sacrifice would be a needless one."
"The services of every man who loves his country are required in this war. You should take a liberal instead of a selfish view of the question, mother."
Argument at last prevailed, and permission was granted Robert to enter the army. With the rank of Captain and A. D. C. he went to the field, and remained in the army till the close of the war.
I well recollect a little incident that gave me a clearer insight into Robert's character. He was at home at the time the Tom Thumb combination was at Washington. The marriage of little Hop-o'-my-thumb—Charles Stratton—to Miss Warren created no little excitement in the world, and the people of Washington participated in the general curiosity. Some of Mrs. Lincoln's friends made her believe that it was the duty of Mrs. Lincoln to show some attention to the remarkable dwarfs. Tom Thumb had been caressed by royalty in the Old World, and why should not the wife of the President of his native country smile upon him also? Verily, duty is one of the greatest bug-bears in life. A hasty reception was arranged, and cards of invitation issued. I had dressed Mrs. Lincoln, and she was ready to go below and receive her guests, when Robert entered his mother's, room.
"You are at leisure this afternoon, are you not, Robert?"
"Ofcourse, then, you will dress and come downstairs."
"No, mother, I do not propose to assist in entertaining Tom Thumb. My notions of duty, perhaps, are somewhat different from yours."
Robert had a lofty soul, and he could not stoop to all of the follies and absurdities of the ephemeral current of fashionable life.
Mrs. Lincoln's love for her husband sometimes prompted her to act very strangely. She was extremely jealous of him, and if a lady desired to court her displeasure, she could select no surer way to do it than to pay marked attention to the President. These little jealous freaks often were a source of perplexity to Mr. Lincoln. If it was a reception for which they were dressing, he would come into her room to conduct her down-stairs, and while pulling on his gloves ask, with merry twinkle in his eyes:
"Well, mother, who must I talk with to-night—shall it be Mrs. D.?"
"That deceitful woman! No, you shall not listen to her flattery."
"Well, then, what do you say to Miss C.? She is too young and handsome to practise deceit."
"Young and handsome, you call her! You should not judge beauty for me. No, she is in league with Mrs. D., and you shall not talk with her."
"Well, mother, I must talk with some one. Is there any one that you do not object to?" trying to button his glove, with a mock expression of gravity.
"I don't know as it is necessary that you should talk to anybody in particular. You know well enough, Mr. Lincoln, that I do not approve of your flirtations with silly women, just as if you were a beardless boy, fresh from school."
"But, mother, I insist that I must talk with somebody I can't stand around like a simpleton, and say nothing. If you will not tell me who I may talk with, please tell me who I may not talk with."
"There is Mrs. D. and Miss C. in particular. I detest them both. Mrs. B. also will come around you, but you need not listen to her flattery. These are the ones in particular."
"Very well, mother; now that we have settled the question to your satisfaction, we will go down-stairs;" and always with stately dignity, he proffered his arm and led the way.
PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENT
The Emancipation Proclamation
Following the Union victory at Antietam inSeptember 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. The final version was proclaimed and took effect on January 1, 1863. While the document represents a watershed moment in the history of the nation, it is important to note the cautious language used by the president as he took this step—one widely regarded as a political move of a war-time president, rather than as a great announcement of moral intent regarding the fate of Africans in the United States.
January 1, 1863, by the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation Whereas on the 22d day of September, A.D. 1862, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit: That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then, be in rebellion against the United States shall be thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
That the executive will on the 1st day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State or the people thereof shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such States shall have participated shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States.
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the first day above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
The Emancipation Proclamation and President Lincoln's Wartime Politics
Unlike many in the abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln was willing to compromise on the issue of slavery. Because the Constitution protected it, President Lincoln was willing to allow it to continue in those states where it existed, though he opposed its extension into new territories. But with the coming of the Civil War, things changed. The Union army lost as many battles as it won in the first two years of the war, owing in large part to the services slaves provided to the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation freed those slaves within the Confederate states, and opened the Union army to African American soldiers. It left untouched, however, the status of slaves in slaveholding border states that remained within the Union, and in various other localities. Their bondage would end only with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.
The practical effect of the Emancipation Proclamation was to make the war truly a war about freedom. Though people were still held in slavery in the Confederacy, every inch of ground the Union army now won became free soil. Throughout the South, wherever they could, enslaved people escaped behind Union lines, many of them taking up arms against their old masters. As a result of Lincoln's proclamation, almost two hundred thousand African Americans took part in the Civil War.
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) and the Underground Railroad
Harriet Tubman was a field slave in Maryland. Frequently whipped as a child, she often asked God to give her the strength to fight back. In 1849, five years after her marriage to John Tubman, her master died. Learning that she and her brothers were to be sold and transferred to the Deep South, she chose instead to flee. Unable to convince her family to accompany her, Tubman set out alone. She arrived in Pennsylvania a fugitive, but free.
In 1851 she returned for her husband, John Tubman, only to learn he had taken another wife and would not leave. In the course of nineteen trips into slave territory, Tubman led out six of her brothers, their wives and fiancés, and her nieces, nephews, and elderly parents, becoming one of the most famous conductors on the Underground Railroad.
Tubman has become one of the legendary figures of the period. Putting herself in harm's way again and again, she exemplified the will of the enslaved not only to escape but to undo the injustice inherent in the plantation system. Figures like Tubman provided some of the best "public relations" for abolitionists in the last decades of slavery and left an enduring legacy that has become a part of American culture.
ABOVE: Harriet Tubman, former slave and one of the most famous "conductors" on the Underground Railroad. CORBIS-BETTMANN
Black Soldiers Proclaimed Criminals by Confederate Army
During the Revolutionary War, Lord Dunmore invited slaves to come to the side of the British. General Washington had proclaimed no blacks would be allowed to fight, but upon seeing the sizable advantage this provided the British, he reversed his order. In times of war, the aid of African Americans has often been the difference between victory and defeat—however, time and time again, many generals disdained the efforts of black Americans.
Historians speculate that the efforts of black soldiers fighting for the Union cause resulted in victory for the North in the Civil War. The Confederates were stubborn in this regard, and after banning blacks from their regiments, they proclaimed that any blacks who put on uniforms were criminals.
Elizabeth Keckley, Dressmaker to Lincoln's Wife, and the Contraband Relief Association
While stories of hardship and degradation tend to dominate the discussion of African American history in the Civil War years, there were also many figures already integrated into society and leading vibrant lives.
Elizabeth Keckley (1818-1907), a Virginia-born slave, bought her freedom and moved to Washington, D.C. There she opened a dressmaking shop where she employed twenty girls and served the wives of the city's white elite. Introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln the day after the president's inauguration, Keckley became the first lady's dressmaker and close friend.
Early in the Civil War, Keckley began to argue that wealthy African Americans should assist black contrabands in the city. Keckley's story provides a counterpoint to the tales of whippings and escapes on the Underground Railroad. Though not a member of "society," Keckley interacted with a range of people at the highest levels of government, assisting social functions not simply as a servant, but as a trusted confidante and renowned figure.