Confiscation Acts 12 Stat. 319 (1861) 12 Stat. 589 (1862)

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CONFISCATION ACTS 12 Stat. 319 (1861) 12 Stat. 589 (1862)

Congress enacted the Confiscation Acts "to insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion." Both statutes liberated the slaves of certain rebels and authorized the confiscation of other types of property by judicial procedures based on admiralty and revenue models. Both statutes were compromise measures, influenced by the progressive goal of emancipation of slaves and by a respect for the rights of private property.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the acts in the 6–3 decision of Miller v. United States (1871), finding congressional authority in the war powers clauses of Article I. The majority shrugged off Fifth and Sixth Amendment objections on the grounds that the statutes were not ordinary punitive legislation but rather were extraordinary war measures.

The acts were indifferently and arbitrarily enforced, producing a total of less than $130,000 net to the Treasury. Property of Confederates was also virtually confiscated in proceedings for nonpayment of the wartime direct tax, under the Captured and Abandoned Property Act of 1863, and through President abraham lincoln's contraband emancipation policies.

William M. Wiecek


Randall, James G. 1951 Constitutional Problems under Lincoln. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.