December 3, 1861 (Tuesday)
At least two members of Lincoln’s Cabinet wanted to arm the freed slaves. Both Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles had suggested such a move. While Lincoln rejected Cameron’s suggestion that they be brought into the Army, he allowed Welles’ proposal for the Navy to stand. In his own annual speech to Congress, however, Lincoln took a different path.
According to the Confiscation Act, all slaves who labored for the Confederate Government and escaped into Union lines were to be employed by the United States Government. The work would mostly be the same, digging entrenchments, cooking, hard labor, etc., and though the escaped slaves wouldn’t technically be free, they would be receiving some sort of compensation.
In his speech, Lincoln reiterated the Act, hoping that some of the states, such as Maryland or Delaware, might “pass similar enactments.” If the border states would free their slaves, he recommended “that Congress provide for accepting such persons from such States, according to some mode of valuation.” He suggested that the states that freed their slaves be compensated, “in lieu, pro tanto, of direct taxes, or upon some other plan to be agreed on with such States respectively.” States that freed their slaves would receive tax breaks.
These slaves, released from bondage by the individual states would “be at once deemed free.” To any abolitionist worth his salt, this sounded like a giant step in the right direction. For the citizen sitting on the proverbial fence in a border state, however, freeing the slaves, even with compensation, would mean less jobs for the his own race.
Lincoln had a solution for this, as well. The President put forth that “steps be taken for colonizing both classes [the already freed slaves and the potentially freed slaves], … at some place or places in a climate congenial to them.”
It was not only the freed slaves who could be colonized, however. “It might be well to consider, too, whether the free colored people already in the United States could not, so far as individuals may desire, be included in such colonization.”
This was a general tenant of the colonization movement, which usually suggested some random Caribbean island be used to house all black people. Lincoln suggested that more territory be acquired for colonization. He reminded that new territories weren’t just for the white man to live upon. Besides, “the emigration of colored men leaves additional room for white men remaining or coming here.”
At this point in his life, Lincoln saw the colonization of the black race as “absolute necessity — that, without which the Government itself cannot be perpetuated.”1
Neither the colonization of blacks, nor the compensation for emancipation were new ideas. For the past month or so, Lincoln had been working on bills that would compensate Delaware if they freed their 1,800 slaves to the tune of $400 per head.
It was, however, a gradual emancipation, freeing all slaves over the age of thirty-five and all other slaves when they reached that age. Slavery would then be abolished by 1893. All children who were born after the passage of the bill would be considered automatically free.
Delaware, hoped Lincoln, would be the proving ground. The state, however, had already begun edging away from slavery, banning the sale of their slaves to parties outside of their borders, and creating a half-free category where slaves could work for their freedom.
Nevertheless, a Delaware Congressman was nearly ready to propose such a bill to the state legislature. His bill would free the slaves by 1872, rather than Lincoln’s 1893. The proposal was printed and unofficially distributed to Delaware’s thirty legislates. Though never officially introduced, it would be debated throughout the months of December and January.
Lincoln’s speech would be debated in the press almost immediately.2
Arkansas Pacifists Forced to Fight and/or Die
After marching 125 miles over six days, the seventy-seven prisoners, many of whom were pacifist members of an Arkansas peace society, arrived in Little Rock. Though many were conscientious objectors, they were arrested for being Unionists. Desiring only to remain peaceful, they had not taken up arms against the Confederacy.
“Arriving there fatigued, worn out, and still in chains,” related Albert W. Bishop, Lt. Colonel of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry (US), “they were marching into the hall of the House of Representatives, and addressed by Governor Rector.”
The Governor gave them two choices. They could either “volunteer” in the Confederate Army or be charged with treason. If they accepted the latter, they would remain in jail and the Governor would see to it that their trials would not be had for another four to six months. He was also very confident that they would hang for their supposed crimes.
Needless to say, all but two chose to enter the Confederate Army. Eventually, those two were released after a few months, when the furor died down. The other seventy-five were formed into a company and marched to Memphis and then to the front in Kentucky.
Over the winter, the original band of pacifists had been reduced through sickness, escaping and death to a mere ten men. The officers in charge of the pacifists had “converted discipline into cruelty” and had “made the lives of these men miserable mockeries of existence.”
When the regiment finally saw battle, “the remaining ten men were placed in the front rank in line of battle, officers plainly avowing that they had no confidence in them, but that they would probably be of some service in warding off Federal bullets from loyal Southern men. With such encouragement they went under fire, and a few hours later eight of the ten were either killed or wounded.”3
McClellan Tries to Save the Eastern Tennesseans
Two letters, both from Union Col. Samuel P. Carter, a former Naval officer, currently near London, Kentucky, to Horace Maynard, Congressman from East Tennessee who was instrumental in planning the bridge burnings, had found their way to General McClellan in Washington by way of President Lincoln, who attached the note, “Please read and consider this letter,” to each.
On this date, McClellan wrote to General Buell, commander of the Department of the Ohio, headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. He sent along both letters and gave some advice of his own. Since the bridge burnings in Eastern Tennessee, Unionists had risen up against the Confederates, fully expecting the Union Army to come to their aid. Though both Lincoln and McClellan wanted it, General Sherman and now General Buell seemed to refuse it.
McClellan pleaded with Buell that he “overlook all mere matters of form, and that you will devote all your energies towards the salvation of men so eminently deserving our protection.” Knowing that the Rebels were incensed and out for blood, McClellan urged Buell to “preserve these noble fellows from harm; everything urges us to do that—faith, interest, and loyalty.”
“For the sake of these Eastern Tennesseeans who have taken part with us,” closed McClellan, “I would gladly sacrifice mere military advantages; they deserve our protection, and at all hazards they must have it.”4