Short History of the American Negro - Benjamin Brawley


71. Steps Leading to the Proclamation.—For a long time Abraham Lincoln as President debated the advisability of issuing his proclamation emancipating the slaves in the Southern states, pressure from radical anti-slavery sources all the while being brought to bear upon him. He delayed until he was sure that the sentiment of his support was fully with him, and until he could act with grace to the Northern arms. After McClellan's unsuccessful campaign against Richmond, however, he felt that the freedom of the slaves was a military and a moral necessity for its effects upon both the North and the South; and Lee's defeat at Antietam, September 17, 1862, furnished the opportunity for which he had been waiting. Accordingly on September 22nd he issued a preliminary declaration giving notice that on; January 1, 1863, he would free all slaves the states still in rebellion, and asserting as before that the object of the war was the preservation of the Union.

72. Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation as finally issued January 1st is one of the most important public documents in the history of the United States, ranking only below the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself. Its full text is as follows:—

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing among other things, the following, to-wit:

That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, 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 then, 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 first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the states and parts of states, if any, in which the people thereof 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 state 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 first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the date first above mentioned, order and designate as the states and parts of states wherein the people thereof respectively on this day are in rebellion against the United States, the following to-wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemine, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terre Bonne, Lafourche, St. Marie, 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 henceforth 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.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my name, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.

By the President,

Secretary of State, William H. Seward.

73. Effects of the Proclamation.—It is to be observed that the Proclamation was merely a war measure resting on the constitutional power of the President. Its effects on the legal status of the slaves gave rise to much discussion; and it is to be noted that it did not apply to what is now West Virginia, to seven counties in Virginia, and to thirteen parishes in Louisiana, which districts had already come under federal jurisdiction. All questions raised by the measure, however, were finally settled by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and as a matter of fact freedom actually followed the progress of the American arms from 1863 to 1865. The moral effect of the Proclamation was such as Lincoln had foreseen, and the more radical elements in the North that had criticised his delay now rallied to his support.

74. The Negro in the Civil War.—Negroes were used by the Confederates long before they were used by the Union forces. Even before the war actually began they were employed in making redoubts and in other rough work. Before the war was over, plans for the formation of Negro regiments in the Confederate armies were seriously proposed, and General Robert E. Lee was one of the strongest advocates of such a policy. All such effort was of course at variance with the main influences of the period, and the Negro is naturally remembered most quickly in connection with the Union armies. In May, 1861, while in command at Fortress Monroe, Major-General Benjamin F. Butler came into prominence by receiving fugitive slaves within his lines. He put these men to work and justified their retention on the ground that, being of service to the enemy for purposes of war, they were like guns, powder, etc., "contraband of war," and could not be reclaimed, On August 30th of this same year Major-General John C. Fremont, in command in Missouri, placed the state under martial law and declared the slaves there emancipated. The administration was embarrassed, Fremont's order was annulled, and he was relieved of his command.

On May 9, 1862, Major-General David Hunter, in charge of the Department of the South (that is, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida) issued his famous order freeing the slaves in his department, and thus brought to general attention the matter of the employment of Negro soldiers in the Union armies. The Confederate government outlawed Hunter, Lincoln annulled his order, and the grace of the nation was again saved; but in the meantime a new situation had arisen. While Brigadier-General John W. Phelps was taking part in the expedition against New Orleans, a large sugar-planter near the city, disgusted with federal interference with affairs on his plantation, drove all the slaves away, telling them to go to their friends, the Yankees. The Negroes came to Phelps in great numbers, and he attempted to organize them into troops. Accordingly he too was outlawed by the Confederates, and his act was disavowed by the Union, that was not ready to take this step.

It was not until a great many men had been killed, and until the Emancipation Proclamation had changed the status of the Negro, that steps were really taken by the Union for his employment as a soldier. Opinion in his favor gained force after the Draft Riot in New York, when Negroes in the city were persecuted by the enemies of conscription. Soon a distinct bureau was established in Washington for the recording of all matters pertaining to Negro troops, a board was organized for the examination of candidates, and recruiting stations were set up in Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee. By the end of 1864 nearly 200,000 Negroes had been enrolled in the army. The Confederates were furious when they had to meet black men on equal footing, and refused to exchange Negro soldiers for white men. How such action was met by Stanton, Secretary of War, may be seen from the fact that when he learned that three Negro prisoners had been placed in dose confinement, he ordered three South Carolina men to be treated likewise, the Confederate leaders being informed of his action. Such was the general progress of the Negro in the armies of the United States. Those Negroes who individually rose to distinction in the war, and the valor of the troops generally at Fort Wagner, Petersburg, and elsewhere, will receive more detailed consideration in our chapter on "The Negro as a Soldier."

75. Shaw and Higginson.—Of the commanders of Negro troops there were two who call for special notice. In January, 1863, Robert Gould Shaw, a young Harvard man in the Union army, was offered the colonelcy of the 54th Massachusetts, the first regiment of Negro troops raised in a Northern state. Although he knew that he would subject himself to severe criticism, he accepted. After taking part in an expedition to Florida, he was attacked by the forces operating against Fort Wagner, near Charleston, S. C., and on July 18, 1863, he was killed upon the parapet of the fort while leading an assault. Thus died at the age of twenty-six a young man who represented the fine flower of New England culture, and who should ever be honored for his noble faith and heroism. Edmonia Lewis, a sculptor of whose work we shall have more to say, attracted attention by a bust she made of him; and Saint-Gaudens designed a monument which now stands at the head of Boston Common just in front of the Massachusetts State House.

The other distinguished commander of Negro troops was Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Already captain of a Massachusetts regiment of volunteers, this man became colonel of the first regiment of freed slaves raised in the United States. The ranks of this regiment included many men who had been slaves on Pierce Butler's plantation on St. Simon's Island, Georgia. By a wound received in a campaign in Florida in 1863 Colonel Higginson was forced to retire from the service; and after the war and until his death he devoted himself to literature and public affairs.