American Abolitionists and Antislavery Activists:
Conscience of the Nation

Updated April 4, 2021

l to r: Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips

Encyclopedia of Slavery and Abolition in the United States - F

FEE, Reverend John Gregg, 1816-1901, American Missionary Association, clergyman, educator, abolitionist.  Founder of Berea College, Madison County, Kentucky.  Became active in the abolitionist movement in 1844.  Founded two anti-slavery churches.

(Filling, 1960, pp. 213, 222, 247, 272; Goodell, 1852, p. 492; Mabee, 1970, pp. 141, 142, 157203, 220, 228, 229, 232, 236, 238, 241, 258, 326, 339, 376; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 166, 380; Autobiography of John G. Fee, Berea, Kentucky, 1891; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 310, Vol. 7, p. 786)


FESSENDEN, Samuel, 1784-1869, Portland, Maine, lawyer, jurist, soldier, abolitionist.  Vice president, 1833-1839, and founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, December 1833.  Leader, active member of the Liberty Party.  Early member of the Republican Party.  Father of Treasury Secretary William Pitt Fessenden and Congressman Samuel Clement Fessenden. 

(Dumond, 1961, p. 301; Abolitionist, Vol. I, No. XII, December, 1833; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 443; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 346)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FESSENDEN, Samuel, lawyer, b. in Fryeburg, Me., 16 July, 1784; d. near Portland, Me., 13 March, 1869. His father, the Rev. William Fessenden, graduated at Harvard in 1768, was the first minister of Fryeburg, and frequently a member of the Massachusetts legislature. He also served as judge of probate. Samuel received his early education at the Fryeburg academy, and was graduated at Dartmouth in 1806. He studied law with Judge Dana, of Fryeburg, was admitted to the bar in 1809, and began practice at New Gloucester, where he rose to distinction in his profession. In 1815-'16 he was in the general court of Massachusetts, of which state Maine was then a district, and in 1818-'19 represented his district in the Massachusetts senate. For fourteen years he was major-general of the 12th division of Massachusetts militia, to which office he was elected on leaving the senate, and to which he gave much attention. He removed to Portland in 1822, and about 1828 declined the presidency of Dartmouth. He was an ardent Federalist, and one of the early members of the anti-slavery party in Maine. In 1847 he was nominated for governor and for congress by the Liberty party, receiving large votes. For forty years he stood at the head of the bar in Maine. He was an active philanthropist. He published two orations and a treatise on the institution, duties, and importance of juries. The degree of LL. D. was conferred upon him by Bowdoin in 1846. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 443.


FESSENDEN, Samuel Clement, 1815-1881, Maine, lawyer, jurist, U.S. Congressman, Maine 37th, Congress 1861-1863, abolitionist.  Father was Samuel Fessenden (1784-1869). 

(Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 443-444)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FESSENDEN, Samuel Clement, lawyer, b. in New Gloucester, Me., 7 March, 1815; d. in 1881, was graduated at Bowdoin in 1834, and at Bangor theological seminary in 1837, and was pastor of the 2d Congregational church in Thomaston (now Rockland) from then till 1856. In that year he established the “Maine Evangelist,” and in 1858 studied law, was admitted to the bar, and began practice. He was elected judge of the municipal court of Rockland, and was a representative from Maine to the 37th congress, serving from July, 1861, till March, 1863. Until the rise of the Republican party he was an abolitionist. In 1865 he was appointed a member of the board of examiners of the U. S. patent-office. In 1879 he was U. S. consul at St. John's, N. B. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 443-444.


FESSENDEN, William Pitt, 1806-1869, lawyer, statesman, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.  Elected to Congress in 1840 as a member of the Whig Party opposing slavery.  Moved to repeal rule that excluded anti-slavery petitions before Congress.  Strong leader in Congress opposing slavery.  Elected to the Senate in 1854.  He opposed the Kansas-Nebraska bill as well as the Dred Scott Supreme Court Case.  Co-founder of the Republican Party.  Prominent leader of the anti-slavery faction of the Republican Party in the U.S. Senate.  As U.S. Senator, voted for Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery.  Father was abolitionist Samuel Fessenden.

(Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 443-444; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 368; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 7, p. 861; Congressional Globe)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FESSENDEN, William Pitt, senator, b. in Boscawen, N. H., 16 Oct., 1806; d. in Portland, Me., 8 Sept., 1869, was graduated at Bowdoin in 1823, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1827. He practised law first in Bridgeton, a year in Bangor, and afterward in Portland, Me. He was a member of the legislature of that state in 1832, and its leading debater. He refused nominations to congress in 1831 and in 1838, and served in the legislature again in 1840, becoming chairman of the house committee to revise the statutes of the state. He was elected to congress as a Whig in 1840, serving one term, during which time he moved the repeal of the rule that excluded anti-slavery petitions, and spoke upon the loan and bankrupt bills, and the army. He gave his attention wholly to his law business till he was again in the legislature in 1845-'6. He acquired a national reputation as a lawyer and an anti-slavery Whig, and in 1849 prosecuted before the supreme court an appeal from an adverse decision of Judge Story, and gained a reversal by an argument which Daniel Webster pronounced the best he had heard in twenty years. He was again in the legislature in 1853 and 1854, when his strong anti-slavery principles caused his election to the U. S. senate by the vote of the Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats. Taking his seat in February, 1854, he made, a week afterward, an electric speech against the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which placed him in the front rank of the senate. He took a leading part in the formation of the Republican party, and from 1854 till 1860 was one of the ablest opponents of the pro-slavery measures of the Democratic administrations. His speech on the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, in 1856, received the highest praise, and in 1858 his speech on the Lecompton constitution of Kansas, and his criticisms of the opinion of the supreme court in the Dred Scott case, were considered the ablest discussion of those topics. He was re-elected to the senate in 1859 without the formality of a nomination. In 1861 he was a member of the Peace congress. By the secession of the southern senators the Republicans acquired control of the senate, and placed Mr. Fessenden at the head of the finance committee. During the civil war he was the most conspicuous senator in sustaining the national credit. He opposed the legal-tender act as unnecessary and unjust. As chairman of the finance committee, Mr. Fessenden prepared and carried through the senate all measures relating to revenue, taxation, and appropriations, and, as declared by Mr. Sumner, was “in the financial field all that our best generals were in arms.” When Sec. Chase resigned in 1864, Mr. Fessenden was called by the unanimous appeal of the nation to the head of the treasury. It was the darkest hour of our national finances. Sec. Chase had just withdrawn a loan from the market for want of acceptable bids; the capacity of the country to lend seemed exhausted. The currency had been enormously inflated, and gold was at 280. Mr. Fessenden refused the office, but at last accepted in obedience to the universal public pressure. When his acceptance became known, gold fell to 225, with no bidders. He declared that no more currency should be issued, and, making an appeal to the people, he prepared and put upon the market the seven-thirty loan, which proved a triumphant success. This loan was in the form of bonds bearing interest at the rate of 7·30 per cent., which were issued in denominations as low as $50, so that people of moderate means could take them. He also framed and recommended the measures, adopted by congress, which permitted the subsequent consolidation and funding of the government loans into the four and four-and-a-half per cent bonds. The financial situation becoming favorable, Mr. Fessenden, in accordance with his expressed intention, resigned the secretaryship in 1865 to return to the senate, to which he had now for the third time been elected. He was again made chairman of the finance committee, and was also appointed chairman of the joint committee on reconstruction, and wrote its celebrated report, pronounced one of the ablest state papers ever submitted to congress. It vindicated the power of congress over the rebellious states, showed their relations to the government under the constitution and the law of nations, and recommended the constitutional safeguards made necessary by the rebellion. Mr. Fessenden was now the acknowledged leader in the senate of the Republicans, when he imperilled his party standing by opposing the impeachment of President Johnson in 1868. He gave his reasons for voting “not guilty” upon the articles, and was subjected to a storm of detraction from his own party such as public men have rarely met. His last service was in 1869, and his last speech was upon the bill to strengthen the public credit. He advocated the payment of the principal of the public debt in gold, and opposed the notion that it might lawfully be paid in depreciated greenbacks. His public character was described as of the highest type of patriotism, courage, integrity, and disinterestedness, while his personal character was beyond reproach. He was noted for his swiftness of retort. He was a member of the Whig national conventions that nominated Harrison (1840), Taylor (1848), and Scott (1852). For several years he was a regent of the Smithsonian institution. He received the degree of LL.D. from Bowdoin in 1858, and from Harvard in 1864. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 443-444.


FEW, William, 1748-1828, soldier, statesman, political leader, founding father, abolitionist.  Representative of Georgia at the Constitutional Convention.  U.S. Senator.  Soldier in the Revolutionary War. 

(Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 352)


FIELD, Dr. Nathaniel, 1805-1888, Jeffersonville, IN, physician, legislative representative, clergyman, abolitionist.  Vice President, American Anti-Slavery Society, 1835-1839.  Aided fugitive slaves.  He inherited slaves from his relatives and immediately emancipated them.  He also aided fugitive slaves in the Underground Railroad. 

(Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 450)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FIELD, Nathaniel, physician, b. in Jefferson county, Ky., 7 Nov., 1805; d. in Jeffersonville, Clark co., Ind., 28 Aug., 1888. His father served. in the Revolutionary war, and emigrated to Kentucky in 1784. Nathaniel was educated in the best schools, and was graduated at Transylvania medical school, Lexington, Ky. He first settled in northern Alabama, and practised there three years, when he returned to Kentucky. In the autumn of 1829 he removed to Jeffersonville, Ind., where he afterward resided. He was a member of the legislature from 1838 till 1839. In the spring of the latter year he organized the city government of Jeffersonville, under a charter that he drafted and had passed by the legislature. In 1830 he established the first Christian (or Campbellite) church in that city, and in 1847 the Second Advent Christian church. He served as pastor of the former for seventeen years, and of the latter for forty years, without compensation, believing it to be wrong to earn a livelihood by preaching, or to “make merchandise of the gospel.” He voted against the entire township, in 1834, on the proposition to expel the free negroes, and was compelled to face a mob in consequence. He was one of the original abolitionists of the west, and emancipated several valuable slaves that he had inherited. He held a debate, in 1852, with Elder Thomas P. Connelly on the “State of the Dead,” and the arguments were published in book-form. He also published a humorous poem, entitled “Arts of Imposture and Deception Peculiar to American Society” (1858). Dr. Field was the author of a monograph on “Asiatic Cholera,” contributed many essays to medical journals, and prepared in manuscript lectures on “Capital Punishment,” “The Mosaic Record of Creation,” “The Age of the Haman Race,” and “The Chronology of Fossils.” Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 450.





Chapter: “Fifteenth Amendment,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

The great defect of the Fourteenth Amendment, as freely charged during its discussion, was its at least tacit recognition of the right of States to disfranchise the ex-slaves, should they so elect. True, they could not do it without sacrificing so much in the basis of their representation in Congress; but if they were willing to make that sacrifice, there was nothing in the amendment to prevent such discrimination. To remedy that defect, so palpable and so dissonant from the doctrine of human rights, the proclaimed equality of mankind, and the two amendments already adopted, and at the same time to rescue the freedmen from the almost uncontrolled domination of the late slavemasters, with their bitter determination to keep them from the full enjoyment of their newly found liberty, and to put into their hands a weapon for their own defence, it was resolved to incorporate into the organic law a new provision for their protection, and to supplement the amendments of the Constitution already adopted by another. There were accordingly introduced into both houses, almost simultaneously, measures for that purpose.

It should be premised, and it may be appropriately mentioned in this connection, that from the first the thought of negro suffrage, as one of the logical results of the Rebellion, was entertained. Rid, by their treason, of all constitutional claims of the slave-masters, hitherto recognized and respected, many at once coupled the looked-for freedom of the slaves with the gift of citizenship and the rights, immunities, and perquisites thereof. And when that freedom was assured, there were not wanting those who were prepared to make it thus effective by at once invoking Congress to adopt measures for that purpose. As, therefore, the general government had exclusive jurisdiction over the District of Columbia and the Territories, and could not be estopped by any fancied or real infringement of State rights from any legislation deemed expedient, the idea of clothing the newly made freedmen with the right of voting took the form of resolutions early introduced into both houses of Congress to that effect. Not un aware of the risks involved, or rather of the fact that there were risks to be taken in such a venture and new departure, probably, indeed, not quite adequately impressed with all that was involved in so great and radical a change, they deemed it wise, for the good hoped for, to accept the chances, and trust to the natural workings of just action and the favor of an overruling Providence for desirable results and a safe deliverance. Thus freed from constitutional entanglements and State complications, these early debates on the suffrage question partook more largely of the enunciation of general principles and of the nature of the policy itself than was observable later, when those State and constitutional issues were brought forward and so earnestly pressed.

No sooner, therefore, had the XXXIXth Congress come together at its first session than Mr. Wade introduced, on the 4th of December, 1865, into the Senate a bill giving each male person of the age of twenty-one years, a citizen of the United States, and a resident in the District of Columbia six months, the elective franchise without distinction of race, color, or nationality. A similar bill was introduced into the House the next day by Mr. Kelley of Pennsylvania, referred, reported on the 18th, and made the special order for the 10th of January, 1866. In the reported bill the word "white" was stricken out from all laws prescribing the qualifications of voters. The mover spoke of "the responsibility that rests upon this Congress, and of the gravity of the questions which mark the era in which we live." Without, however, following the debates in either house, or noting the various propositions that were made, the spirit of the discussions that sprung up from time to time on the general subject, as well as the general line of argument pursued and the general tone of feeling which prevailed, will be revealed by a few extracts from the speeches made. Mr. Wilson of Iowa, who reported the bill in the House, spoke of it as in exact harmony with the spirit and purpose of the Constitution, which recognized no class distinctions. "Looking into its bright face," he said, "as into a mirror, each individual sees himself reflected a citizen; and of this there is never a failure. This is the crowning glory of our Constitution. The whitest face can draw nothing from that mirror but the image of a citizen, and the same return is given to the appeal of the black face. If ever aught else appears, be sure you are not looking into the broad, bright surface of the real Constitution, for it never varies, never lies." Mr. Farnsworth of Illinois, affirming that the framers of the Constitution made it for "man as man," asked: "Will some gentleman in God's name tell me why this body of men who are under the government have not the same right as I have to participate in it? What business have I to elbow another man off, and to say to him that he has no right here? Has God made me better than he has made him? We might as well partition off the atmosphere, collect the rays of the sun, and withhold them from the men we may conceive to be inferior to ourselves." "Sir," said Mr. Julian of Indiana, "justice is safe. The right thing is the expedient thing. Democracy is not a lie. God is not the Devil."

Perhaps it was the injustice of calling upon the black man to help save the nation in its peril, and then refuse him all participation in its affairs, that was most eloquently insisted on. To the taunt that the negro had not struck for his freedom in the melee of the war, Mr. Bingham of Ohio well replied, adding: "Yet, sir, the moment that the word ' Liberty ' ran along your ranks, the moment that the word ' Emancipation ' was emblazoned upon your banners, those men who, with their ancestors, had been enslaved through five generations, rose as one man to stand by this Republic, the last hope of oppressed humanity upon the earth, until they numbered one hundred and seventy-five thousand in arms under your banners, doing firmly, unshrinkingly, and defiantly their full share in securing the final victory of our arms." "When," said Mr. Boutwell, "we proclaimed the emancipation of the slaves, and put their lives in peril for the defence of this country, we did in effect guarantee to them substantially the rights of American citizens and a Christian posterity, and heathen countries will demand how we have kept that faith…. What will be said of us, not by Christian, but by heathen nations even, if, after accepting the blood and sacrifices of these men, we hurl them from us and allow them to be the victims of those who have tyrannized over them for centuries? I know of no crime that exceeds this; I know of none that is its parallel; and if this country is true to itself it will rise in the majesty of its strength and maintain a policy, here and everywhere, by which the rights of the colored people shall be secured through their own power, — in peace the ballot, in war the bayonet."

The measure encountered Democratic opposition, based on the usual postulates of that class of politicians, — that this is a white man's government, that the negro is inferior, that slavery is his natural status, and that to introduce him into the body politic on terms of political and social equality would be to war against nature and inflict great injury on both. Their position was well summarized by Mr. Rogers of New Jersey. "When you," he said, "introduce into the social system of this country the right of the African race to compete at the ballot-box with the intelligent white citizens of this country, you arc disturbing and imbittering the whole social  system, — you rend the bonds of a common political faith, you break up commercial intercourse and the free interchanges of trade, and you degrade the people of this country before the eyes of the envious monarchs of Europe, and fill our history with a record of degradation and shame."

When the subject was up in the Senate, Mr. Davis of Kentucky contended that the measure was against the "teachings of nature and the traditions of the past"; while of the African he said, "Freedom with ignorance and barbarism, or slavery with civilization, is his destiny." The proposed measure he petulantly stigmatized as an experiment, a skirmish, an entering wedge to prepare the way for a similar movement in Congress to confer the right of suffrage on all the negroes of the United States, liberated by the recent amendment to the Constitution, the power to be claimed under its second clause."

Between these extremes there were those who were anxious to do justice to the black man, but who feared to clothe him at once with that supreme right of sovereignty embodied in the ballot, and who would annex some conditions thereto. Among the advocates of a qualified suffrage was Mr. Kasson of Iowa. "Let the blacks," he said, "who gallantly fought, go and vote, let the white men who gallantly fought go and vote, let all these who did go and fight, and who can read and write, and thus understand the system of our government, who can read the ballot with which they are attempting to control our country, — let all these men go and vote if you will, and aid in the government of our country." This idea, which was proclaimed by other members in both houses of Congress, was also that of President Lincoln, who, in a communication made but three days before his death, declared it to be his preference that "the elective franchise were now conferred on the very intelligent of the colored men and on those of them who served our cause as soldiers." "When the subject was in the Senate, Mr. Willey from West Virginia offered a similar amendment, and made a very calm and candid speech in its behalf. Claiming a desire and purpose to do justice to the negro, and avowing his willingness that those who had fought the battles of the country, and those who could read might vote, he contended, however, that " suffrage is not a natural and absolute right." "The order and economy of Providence," he said, had indicated that "citizen ship must necessarily be subject to limitations." Though he would not discriminate against race or color, he would dis criminate in favor of some sort of personal fitness on the part of those who are to be clothed with the supreme prerogative of making the laws and choosing the rulers of the realm. Affirming that "every community may rightfully exclude from political authority all persons whose incorporation in it would imperil its prosperity and security," he contended that a large proportion of the freedmen had not the "mental or moral condition" that fitted them for the high trust, and that it would be unjust to the people of the District to place in their hands a power they knew so little how to use, and would be so liable to abuse. Describing their savage origin, and the unfriendly influence of slavery upon the character of its victims, he asked: "Are these safe depositaries of the political power of any community? . . . . Would you intrust to them any private business or personal interest of importance? " And yet he reminded the Senate of the pregnant issues before them, of the new duties imposed upon them, and of the obligation resting upon the nation to " recognize the authority of the heavenly precept uttered by the divine Lawgiver, which has sounded down through successive centuries: ' Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' " Mr. Foster of Connecticut, referring to the claim that the ballot would be a protection, asked: " If he cannot read the ballot, what kind of protection is it to him? A written or printed slip of paper is put into the hands of a man, black or white, and if he cannot read it, what is it to him? What does he know about it? What can he do with it? How can he protect himself by it? As well might be put in the hands of a child who knew nothing of firearms a loaded pistol with which to protect himself against his enemies."

Against what was called the educational amendment, Mr. Wilson entered his most earnest protest; and he contended that many men who could not read loved their country, loved justice, and had " made a better record for the last thirty years for country, for liberty, for justice and humanity, than have some of the most learned men in the land." "I regard this amendment," he said, "as a proposition against schoolhouses for the education of the colored men of this District; if not to tear down the school-houses for the education of the black man, it is to prevent the erection of the school-house for the education of the black man. Who is to pass upon this qualification of reading and writing? The man who has voted that the black man shall not vote at all? It is proposed here in Congress to allow the man who has voted that the black man shall not vote at all to say whether he can read and write well enough to vote." The educational amendment was, however, rejected, and the bill was passed over the President's veto, on the 7th of January, 1867, in the Senate, by a vote of twenty-nine to ten, and the next day in the House by a vote of one hundred and thirteen to thirty-eight. Only a few days later a bill applying the same principle to the Territories passed Congress by about the same vote.

In the House, on the 11th of January, 1869, Mr. Boutwell reported from the Committee on the Judiciary a joint resolution proposing an amendment which provided that the right to vote of no citizen should be abridged by the United States or any State by reason of race, color, or previous condition of slavery. The subject came up for discussion on the 23d, and the debate was opened by Mr. Boutwell of Massachusetts in an elaborate and able speech. He began with the assertion that the measure was the last of a series of great measures growing out of the Rebellion and necessary for the organization and pacification of the country. "If," he said, "we secure to all the people of the country, without distinction of race or color, the privilege of the elective franchise, we have then established upon the broadest possible basis of republican equality the institutions of the country." The committee had coupled in their report two measures, the proposed amendment and a resolution, designed to secure equal privileges and immunities to all citizens of the United States, with the enforcement of the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. While confining his remarks mainly to the latter, he expressed the opinion of the former that the right of suffrage was too important and essential to be a mere matter of simple legislation, that would be subject to popular caprice, and to all the possible changes of public opinion. It should be made, he contended, the subject of organic law, and be incorporated in the Constitution.

He considered at length, and with careful elaboration of authorities, the objection, then and since urged with so much pertinacity, that the right of conferring suffrage belonged to the States alone, and that the general government could not interfere without infringement of such reserved rights. He contended that the proposed measure is defensible from no less than four distinct lines of argument, — on "the original text of the Constitution"; from the provision that guarantees a republican form of government to each State ; from the Fourteenth Amendment ; and from the fact that it " is essential to the existence and preservation of the government itself, and was so regarded by the men who framed the Constitution in 1787."

These positions of the Representative from Massachusetts were, however, vigorously controverted, and his constitutional argument sharply impugned, by Mr. Eldridge of Wisconsin, a Democratic member of the committee that had reported the measures under discussion. By a like array of authorities, he attempted to show that no such power was delegated to the general government. From both the Constitution and contemporaneous history, he deduced reasons, he deemed conclusive, that his, and not that of his colleague, was the true reading of these authorities. He closed his speech by a sharp arraignment of what he was pleased to term "the infernal spirit of party that has controlled, sunk, and degraded so much of the legislation of Congress during and since the war." He invoked that spirit of enlarged patriotism that could forget party in its paramount regard for the country and the sacredness of the Constitution. During the same and succeeding days, elaborate speeches were made in the same vein, pursuing the same line of argument, by Mr. Kerr of Indiana and Beck of Kentucky."

This debate," said Mr. Boutwell, near its close, "has demonstrated two facts: one is, there is a very general agreement that it is desirable to submit an amendment to the Constitution; and the other is that there is a very great difference of opinion as to the details of the amendment." This appeared from the several amendments that were offered. One offered by Mr. Bingham of Ohio extended the suffrage to all male citizens of suitable age and "sound mind," excepting only those who might "hereafter engage in rebellion." Mr. Ward of New York presented an amendment allowing the right of suffrage to all except such as have been convicted of treason or other crimes, with certain provisions concerning registration and naturalization. Mr. Shellabarger of Ohio offered an amendment extending the right to all, except those "who have engaged or may hereafter engage" in rebellion, but it contained no reference to registration or naturalization.

On the 29th Mr. Shellabarger addressed the House in support of the measure and in behalf of his amendment. Speaking of the mooted point of authority, he contended that that was and could be "no government at all that has not in itself power to control the question as to who shall make the rulers of that government," quoting the words of Hamilton in support of his position. He objected to the proposed amendment of the committee because the prescribed restrictions were limited to "three grounds, — race, color, or previous condition of slavery. "If these three limitations be all, he said, "other qualifications of intelligence and property " may be prescribed, which shall as effectually debar the ex-slaves from the right of suffrage. And he contended that the evidence was "overwhelming and ocean-like," that "the master white race will submit to negro enfranchisement not an hour longer than compelled by Federal coercion. He forewarned the House that, if this liberty was granted, "a loyal State government in the late Confederate States is instantly made to be impossible." Mr. Bingham of the same State, in a brief but exceedingly earnest and eloquent speech, while indorsing his colleague's amendment as the "same in substance" as his own, with "one exception," took issue upon that. That exception was to the clause, " who have engaged, or may hereafter engage," in rebellion. He would make the restriction prospective, and apply only to those who might hereafter engage in insurrectionary measures. Against the proposition to exclude all who had participated in the late Rebellion he entered his earnest protest, because in some of the States it would be disfranchising "a majority of its male adults"; because to include all who were forced into the Rebel armies by coercion and " a cruel conscription, which entered the homes of hundreds of thousands," would be an outrage on the enlightened conscience and common-sense of mankind "; and because in reconstructing those States, " we shall so frame the fundamental law that we will not take vengeance for the past, but security for the future." He pleaded earnestly for conciliation and peace, and contended that duty, interest, and patriotism called upon them to "summon back to the standard of the country and the support of the government the whole multitude of men who but yesterday were in arms against us." "Let us have peace," he said in closing, "that by our sublime example we may teach the whole world ' how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,' "

Mr. Ward, in speaking for the measure and his amendment, said that it differed from that of Mr. Shellabarger mainly in that it required a residence of three months, and made some provision in the matter of registration and naturalization. He contended for the right and duty of adopting the amendment proposed, and that the time had come when its undoubted power should be exercised by the country, and this right should be secured by organic law. He said that there were in the border States and many of the Northern States one hundred and fifty thousand loyal male citizens, "unconvicted of crime, untainted with treason, who are paying taxes and are subject to military duty," who are deprived of the right of suffrage. In addition, there were in other States six hundred thousand whose right "depends upon the volition of those States," so that, he contended, the question actually before Congress is this: "Will you secure to a million of loyal men, who are willing to discharge their duties to the government, the right of suffrage? He contended that to do it would be " the capstone in the great temple of American freedom." He opposed with great vigor Mr. Bingham's proposition to extend the suffrage to all, or the universal amnesty it involved. He contended, with too much truth, as events have shown, that it would be only a question of time when the Rebel leaders would be back again in Congress, " booted and spurred from the Rebel service to make laws for the widows and orphans they have helped to make." He contended that past clemency had been abused. Citing instances of recent outrage in Georgia, Arkansas, and Louisiana, as fruits of the "loyalty" there existing, he said: "Clemency to such men is crime; it is unjust to the dead who fell in our cause, and to the living who survive the contest"; and he expressed himself as "weary of this sickly sentimentalism which strikes hands with traitors and criminals at the expense of justice and the public safety."

It transpired during the debate that the amendment offered by Mr. Shellabarger was the expression of the sentiments and wishes of several of the Ohio delegation, who wished to guard against the imposition by the States of intelligence and property qualifications, as also of a religious test. In response to these and other considerations of a like tenor, Mr. Boutwell, while admitting the possibility of such action, expressed his disbelief in its probability, gave it as his opinion that the progress of the discussion had convinced him of the danger of undertaking to "wipe out every minute test or distinction which may have been established by the States," and that it would be wise to restrict their legislation to the three specifications of the proposed amendment. Insure the classes there in specified, he said too sanguinely, against the discriminations contemplated, and the rest might be safely left to the sense of justice, the interests of all, and the gradual working out of principles already recognized and vindicated. Mr. Butler of Massachusetts presented the same view. "I think," he said, "we had better stand by the proposition of the committee, and apply the amendment precisely where the great trouble lies, and the great disgrace of the country is at present"; and he augured the best results from its adoption as it came from the committee. With the full privilege of expressing their views accorded to black and white alike, and "peace, security, and safety" existing notwithstanding, he would then " be ready to relieve everybody from all disabilities because of rebellion, but not until then." He also objected to the amendments because it would so hamper the States that they could not in any way protect the ballot-box by even the most obviously required restrictions.

The previous question was moved on the 30th of January; the amendments were rejected by very decisive votes, and the joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States giving suffrage to all "without distinction of color, race, or previous condition of servitude," was adopted by a vote of one hundred and fifty to forty-two, or more than the required two-thirds majority.

The charge, so freely made by the Democratic members, that the action of the Republicans in pressing the claims of the freedmen for still further guaranties for their protection was prompted by only partisan motives and the purpose to add to their party strength, finds little support from any internal evidence afforded by the debates. Mere disavowals of any such designs might well be looked upon with suspicion, but no candid reader of these debates can fail to be impressed with the sincere and earnest purpose evinced to ascertain, if possible, the best methods of grappling with the great and admitted dangers and difficulties of the situation. If their manifest spirit and purpose did not reveal it, the great diversity of sentiment and the sharpness of their criticisms upon each other preclude the idea that they were seeking mere party advantage. They were too intent on securing what had not yet been fully attained, of finishing up the work on which they had been so long and strenuously engaged, to justify such impeachment of their motives. The earnestness which had carried them through the shock, the stress and strain of four years of a war of such gigantic dimensions and cost had not forsaken them. It was patriotism and not party, the country and not Republicanism, that were the watchwords and inspiration of their course. They sought, no doubt, to retain Republican ascendency; as why should they not? They saw no safety for that country but in such ascendency; and why should they not seek to maintain it? But the same jealousy that sought to avert the re-enthronement of the Democracy was equally impatient of Republican mistakes. Therefore it was that, fearful of such mistakes, they were cautious and critical of each other. Sailing on unknown waters, they were anxious that in shunning one danger they should not fall into others; that in giving the general government the needful power to protect all its citizens, the State governments should not be needlessly hampered or deprived of any power that rightfully belonged to them, or that could be safely left in their hands. That earnest and able men, under such circumstances, should differ upon the details of a measure upon whose general principles and purposes they were agreed, was not strange. Without a miracle it could not have been otherwise. It was, however, far more noticeable in the Senate than in the House, to which the debate on the resolution was now transferred.

During the debate in the House there had been proceeding in the Senate a similar discussion on a resolution introduced by Mr. Henderson, and reported from the Committee on the Judiciary, on the 13th of January, with an amendment. The resolution was in these words: "No State shall deny or abridge the right of its citizens to vote and hold office on account of race, color, or previous condition." The amendment in the form of a substitute was as follows: "The rights of citizens of the United States to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Mr. Stewart of Nevada, on introducing the discussion, remarked that it was "the culmination of a contest which has lasted for thirty years, the logical result of the Rebellion, the abolition of slavery and of the conflicts in this country during and before the war." Quoting a striking sentence from the Swiss address to the people of the United States recently published, that "undetermined questions have no pity for the repose of mankind," he said, "it is the only measure that will really abolish slavery, the only guaranty against peon laws and against oppression." Ordinary legislation, he contended, was liable to change; this should be organic. "Let it be made," he said, "the immutable law of the land, let it be fixed, and then we shall have peace. Until then there is no peace." Saying that he would not occupy time, he added: "The proposition is more eloquent than man can be. It is a declaration too high, too grand, too noble, too just, to be ornamented by oratory." The subject was discussed from day to day, and several amendments were offered, though both the debate and the motions to amend were directed more to matters of detail than to the great principle involved and the main object sought. A vote was reached on the 17th of February, and the resolution was carried, — ayes thirty-five, nays eleven, absent twenty.

The House resolution was reported by Mr. Stewart, amended chiefly in its phraseology. The earnestness and anxiety felt were exhibited in the promptitude and number of amendments that were at once offered. Mr. Williams moved to insert before the word "citizens" the words "natural born." Mr. Buckalew moved that the proposed amendment should be submitted to the legislatures, " the numerous branches of which shall be chosen next after the passage of this resolution." Mr. Howard proposed to substitute for the second section, as reported, the words, "Citizens of the United States of African descent shall have the same right to vote and hold office as other citizens." Mr. Corbett proposed to add: " But Chinamen not born in the United States and Indians not taxed shall not be deemed or made citizens." Mr. Fowler of Tennessee proposed a substitute, the gist of which was that "all citizens of the United States," excepting those guilty of insurrection or other infamous crimes, shall have the right of suffrage, the State being allowed to fix "the period of residence " required for such privilege. Mr. Sawyer moved a resolution essentially similar, but reserving to the States the "conditions of residence and age and registration laws"; but they must be "uniformly applicable to all male citizens." Mr. Dixon of Connecticut moved as an amendment that the word "conventions" should be substituted for the word "legislatures" in the resolution. Mr. Pomeroy of Kansas moved, as a substitute, the proposition that the right to vote and hold office should not be "denied or abridged by the United States or any State for any reason not equally applicable to all citizens."

On the next day Mr. Ferry of Connecticut, who had the floor upon the Senate resolution, but for which that of the House was now substituted, addressed the Senate. He began with the remark that his purpose to consider " the merits of the proposed amendment of the Constitution " was made " in a degree superfluous" by the course of the opposition, in seemingly yielding the point that suffrage should be extended, and only objecting to the mode presented. "Every Senator," he said, " who has spoken against the resolution has placed his opposition not upon its merits, but upon the particular mode of submission to the people provided for, or upon other technicalities surrounding the subject, instead of upon the subject itself." His speech was mainly directed to two of these "technicalities." He first referred to the alleged inconsistency of the Republicans in accepting the article of the Chicago platform, and yet supporting the amendment. He maintained, though there might be a seeming departure from its words, that it was only carrying out the underlying ideas on which the platform was based, "the principle of the extension of suffrage," which had been "indorsed fairly and squarely by the people of the United States in the recent presidential election." The other was suggested by the amendment of his colleague, Mr. Dixon, proposing to substitute "conventions" for legislatures, to whom the proposed amendments should be submitted. In a long and sharp discussion, he maintained, and his colleague denied, that the general government had the right to "control this question" of suffrage. Mr. Warner followed in a brief speech, accepting the proposed amendment, but expressing the idea that it would be improved by enlarging its scope with the guaranty to woman of her right to vote.

Mr. Morton declared it to be his purpose to vote for the Senate or House resolution, differing in nothing, he said, but "somewhat in phraseology"; though neither was satisfactory, because, he said, "it tacitly concedes" that the States may disfranchise for other considerations than the three mentioned, 'race, color, or previous condition of servitude," leaving "existing irregularities and incongruities " untouched. Notwithstanding its restrictions, Louisiana and Georgia, he instanced, might establish conditions that would disfranchise forty-nine out of every fifty of the colored population of those States. Even the amendment offered by Mr. Howard which provided that "the African race shall have the same right to vote and hold office as other citizens " would, he contended, not debar States from establishing "an educational and property test " that would cut off the great mass of colored men. Mr. Williams proposed to meet the difficulty by an amendment, he offered, that " Congress shall have power to abolish or modify any restrictions prescribed by any State." In an elaborate speech, in connection with his argument, he expressed the conviction that the experiment of female suffrage would not prove very satisfactory to women themselves, and his deprecation, with reasons, of admitting Chinamen to the privileges of citizenship.

On the same day Mr. Sumner made an earnest and elaborate speech against the amendment. He needed, he said, no dis claimer of lack of interest in the purposes of the measure, for his whole life had spoken more loudly than any words he could have uttered in disproval of any such imputation. He opposed it because he deemed it unnecessary; because of its implications; and because of the reflections the adoption of such an amendment would cast upon the Constitution, whose spirit, provisions, and scope he deemed perfectly competent for all that was aimed at therein. Indeed, he had, on the first day of the session, introduced a bill to enforce the several pro visions of the Constitution abolishing slavery, declaring the immunities of citizens, and guaranteeing a republican form of government by securing the elective franchise to all. It had, however, been reported on adversely and was not made the subject of direct discussion. He expressed his sense of "sadness" as greater in being compelled to vindicate the Constitution from the charge of sanctioning that spirit of caste, involved in excluding any from the right of suffrage, on account of color and race under the pretence of State rights, than bad been the task of vindicating that sacred instrument from the charge of sanctioning slavery, " Others may be cool and in different," he said, "but I have warred with slavery too long not to be aroused when this old enemy shows its head under another alias. It was once slavery; it is now caste; and the same excuse is assigned now as then." Speaking of the Constitution, "especially since its additional amendments," he said that it was beyond all question true that "anything for human rights is constitutional." "No learning in books," he said, "no skill acquired in courts, no sharpness of forensic dialectics, no cunning in splitting hairs, can impair the vigor of the constitutional principle which I announce. Whatever you enact for human rights is constitutional. There can be no State rights against human rights, and this is the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." And he proceeded to establish, with great vigor of reasoning and copious citations, the "principle" he had enunciated. He noticed the "two reasons" assigned for the necessity of an amendment, the doubtfulness of the power of Congress to enact such a law, and the more "permanent character" of an amendment than an act of Congress. To the first he replied by saying that " the power is too clear for question." Of the latter he said, "On this head I have no anxiety…. In harmony with the Declaration of Independence and in harmony with the national Constitution, it will become of equal significance, and no profane hand will touch its sacred text. It will never be repealed. The elective franchise once recognized can never be denied; once conferred, can never be resumed." Alluding to the " delays, uncertainties, and provocations to local strife "to be apprehended from an attempt to secure the adoption of the amendment, he contended that they were all "unnecessary." "The same vote of two thirds," he said, "required for the presentation of the amendment, will pass the act over the veto of the President. Once adopted, it will go into instant operation, without waiting for the uncertain concurrence of State legislatures and without provoking local strife so wearisome to the country. The States will not be turned into political caldrons, and the Democratic party will have no pudding-stick with which to stir the bubbling mass." And he closed by saying, triumphantly, "Party, country, mankind, will be elevated, while the equal rights of all will be fixed on a foundation not less enduring than the Rock of Ages." In all this Mr. Sumner, though no doubt sincere, was unquestionably mistaken, and nothing which has since transpired has given either color or support to such sanguine anticipations. His opposition to the proposed amendment, and his refusal to vote for it, were sources of great regret to his friends and the friends of the freedmen, which nothing in the conduct of the late slaveholding States and the present aspect of affairs has served to modify or lessen.

He was followed the next day by Mr. "Willey of West Virginia, who contended that suffrage was "the only sure guaranty the negro can have in many sections of the country of the enjoyment of his civil rights"; that it would be "a safer shield than law"; and that his enfranchisement was required " by the demands of justice, by the principles of human liberty, and by the spirit of Christian civilization." This unequivocal statement and assertion by a Senator of a border State acquired additional force from the section he represented. He made a good point on those who criticised so sharply the Republicans for departing from the policy of their platform which proposed to leave the matter of suffrage to the States. "Well, sir," he replied, "this is precisely what this bill proposes to do. It refers the question to the States in the manner prescribed by the fundamental law. It is not a law; it is only a proposition. It does not create negro suffrage in any State; it simply asks the States, in a manner prescribed by fundamental law, whether or not they desire negro suffrage."

In addition to the Democrats who opposed the measure by voice and vote were three Senators who had been chosen as Republicans, — Dixon of Connecticut, Doolittle of Wisconsin, and Norton of Minnesota, — who had gone over to the policy of President Johnson, and who coupled their opposition to the resolution with contumelious epithets for the negro, denial of his equality, and ridicule for the principles and policy that would place him on the same level with the whites; and there were few Democrats who went farther in this direction, or that used severer or more caustic language.

The debate on the 8th was very excited and protracted, continuing nearly twenty-four hours. During the day a very large number of amendments were offered, and many sharp discussions upon subsidiary points and inferential inquiries occurred. During the day Mr. Wilson spoke. He alluded to the "two distinctly defined classes of public men" in the Senate, holding antagonistic views on the great question of human rights, of the long and fierce conflict between them, and of the final “discomfiture" of the champions of slavery. He spoke of the invectives, arraignments, impeachment of motives, and charges of partisanship that had been showered upon the friends of freedom, — charges, he continued, which had been equally pronounced in connection with all the measures for the suppression of the Rebellion, the Proclamation of Emancipation, and the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments; and he expressed his willingness to leave to the country, to the present and future ages, "the question of partisanship." Alluding to the argument of Mr. Norton that the social ban under which the negro rested furnished a reason against his enfranchisement, he said: “It outrages humanity and dishonors the spirit of the age. The poorer he is, the greater is our obligation; the more society averts its face from him, the more God bids us stand by, shield, and protect him." Against the aspersions so freely uttered against the negro, he spoke of the character and culture of many, whom he entered high on his "list of friends." Referring to the criticism that the Republicans were estopped by the Chicago article, he said that the article did not fully represent the opinions of "large masses of Republicans"; but that, whatever may have been true on that point, Congress was free to submit such an amendment and the legislatures of the States might accept it if they chose. The Republican party, so fully committed to "equality of rights and privileges," he contended, was bound, in consistency, to "seize every opportune occasion to make the Constitution and laws of the country in harmony with its sublime creed." Saying that the march of events and the clear conception of duty impelled to action, he added: "Better far that political organizations and public men should be right with the lights of to-day than consistent with the errors of yesterday." He spoke of the sacrifices the party had already made by its past fealty to its principles, that the timid and weak had faltered and slunk away, and that it had "lost a quarter of million of voters" because of this adherence. But though such might leave, the party would still struggle on in the same sublime endeavor to "protect the rights of others and thus assure our own" He proposed an amendment, adding to the specifications of race and color those of " nativity, property, education, or creed." He spoke of his amendment as "comprehensive, just, and therefore strong." It excited a spirited discussion and the warm commendations of Senators, but failed of securing a majority. The next day he presented it in a modified form, and proposed to substitute for the second section these words: "No discrimination shall be made in any State among the citizens of the United States in the exercise of the elective franchise, or in the right to hold office in any State on account of race, color, nativity, property, education, or religious creed," and it was adopted. An amendment, offered by Mr. Morton, making provision for choice of presidential electors, was also adopted. Mr. Sumner offered an amendment in the form of a bill, expressive of the views enunciated in his speech; but it received only nine votes. After all the amendments, fifteen in number, had been disposed of, the resolution was adopted by a vote of thirty-nine to sixteen.

When the resolution was reported to the House, a motion to nonconcur and ask for a committee of conference was made by Mr. Boutwell, and a motion to concur was made by Mr. Bingham. After a brief and sharp discussion, the motion to nonconcur was carried, and a committee of conference was asked for. Boutwell, Shellabarger, and Eldridge were chosen managers. Reported to the Senate, a motion was made that it recede from its amendment, and it was carried by a vote of thirty-six to twenty-four. But a motion to adopt the House resolution, after a long and exciting debate, was lost by a vote of thirty-one to twenty-seven, not two thirds voting for it. The Senate then resumed the consideration of its own resolution, which had been laid aside on the reception of the House resolution, and after several hours of sharp discussion, with several amendments proposed and rejected, and various dilatory motions for adjournment and reconsideration, it was carried by a vote of thirty-five to eleven. It was reported to the House, a motion to suspend the rule for its consideration was carried, several amendments were proposed and rejected, and an amendment, offered by Mr. Bingham, adding the words, "nativity, property, creed," was adopted, and the resolution, as thus amended, was carried by a vote of one hundred and forty to thirty-seven. The resolution adopted by the House was in these words: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged by any State on account of race, color, nativity, property, creed, or previous condition of servitude." This action of the House being reported to the Senate, a motion was carried disagreeing with its amendment and asking for a committee of conference, and Stewart, Conkling, and Edmunds were appointed conferees. The House insisted on its amendment, agreed to the committee of conference, and appointed Boutwell, Bingham, and Logan managers. The committee agreed upon a report recommending that the House recede from its amendment, and that the words "to hold office" be stricken out. Both houses accepted the recommendation, and the resolution, as thus amended, was, on the 25th of February, carried by the necessary two-thirds vote, and the proposed amendment of the Constitution was submitted to the legislatures of the States. The Fifteenth Amendment as finally adopted was as follows: —

"1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

"2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

The amendment received the votes of twenty-nine States, constituting the requisite three fourths, and thus became a part of the organic law. On the 30th of March, 1870, President Grant communicated the fact to Congress in a special message. "The measure," he said, "which makes at once four millions of the people voters who were heretofore declared by the highest tribunal in the land not citizens of the United States nor eligible to become so, with the assertion that at the time of the Declaration of Independence was fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race, and regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, that black men had no rights which white men are bound to respect, is indeed a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present time. Institutions, like ours, in which all power is derived directly from the people, must depend mainly upon their intelligence, patriotism, and industry. I call the attention, therefore, of the newly enfranchised race to the importance of their striving in every honorable manner to make themselves worthy of their new privilege. To a race more favored heretofore by our laws I would say, withhold no legal privilege of advancement to the new citizens."

Into these few unstudied words the President, with his usual felicity of conception and purpose, compressed the great argument of the occasion. Grasping measurably at least the subject in hand, and sounding the keynote of the great reform in progress, he suggested the only really adequate remedies for the evils deplored, for whose removal such anxiety was felt, and the new amendment had been adopted. To secure such an amendment of the Constitution in face of prejudices so inveterate and of traditions so long standing, and in spite of the numerous obstacles thrown in the way from its first introduction into Congress until its final ratification by the people, was indeed a grand achievement, and hardly explicable on any other theory than that God willed it. But its value depends mainly on its being supplemented by "the intelligence, patriotism, and industry" to which the President called the attention of "the lately enfranchised race," and for the attainment of which he bespoke the favoring aid that should he prompted by the humanity and sense of justice of the "race more favored." Without such preparation the right to vote becomes a questionable gift, full of peril to both the freedmen and the nation as well, not only, as roughly expressed by the Pennsylvania Senator, "multiplying the chances for having his head broken at the polls in a contest with a stronger race," but through his ignorance becoming the tool of the designing, to be used for his own detriment and his country's harm. That the latter has been so remiss in this supplemental work no doubt in a measure explains, or accounts for, the little advantage suffrage has been to the former in the past, the unsatisfactory situation of affairs at the present, and the still discouraging outlook for the future.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 661-683.




FINLEY, Robert, Reverend, 1772-1817, Princeton, New Jersey, clergyman, founding officer and Vice President, American Colonization Society, 1816. 

(Burin, 2005; Campbell, 1971, pp. 12, 18, 38-40, 42, 80, 94, 97, 131, 189; Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 460; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p., p. 391; Staudenraus, P. J. The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 15-35 passim, 26, 30, 33, 69)


FINLEY, Robert Smith, 1804-1860, Cincinnati, Ohio.  Member and Secretary of the Cincinnati auxiliary of the American Colonization Society (ACS).  Son of ACS founder Robert S. Finley.  Traveling agent for the Society.  Organized numerous societies in Ohio. 

(Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 460; Staudenraus, P. J. The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 140, 144-145, 147, 210, 227, 231-232, 234)


FINNEY, Reverend Charles Grandison, 1792-1875, clergyman, advocate of social reforms, author, publisher, president of Oberlin College, Ohio, 1851-1866, abolitionist.  Manager, American Anti-Slavery Society, 1840-1841.  American Presbyterian Minister and leader in the “Second Great Awakening” in the United States.  Also considered one of the “fathers of modern revivalism,” 1825-1835, in upstate New York and Manhattan.

(Dumond, 1961, pp. 154, 158-159, 163; Goodell, 1852, p. 492; Mabee, 1970, pp. 130, 151, 153, 218, 253, 291, 339, 403n25; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 511, 518; Sorin, 1971, pp. 12, 55, 67, 69, 97, 111-112; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 461; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 394; American Reformers: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary, New York, 1985, pp. 290-292; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 7, p. 935)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FINNEY, Charles Grandison, clergyman, b. in Warren, Litchfield co., Conn., 29 Aug., 1792; d. in Oberlin, Ohio, 16 Aug., 1875. He removed with his father to Oneida county, N. Y., in 1794, and when about twenty years old engaged in teaching in New Jersey. He began to study law in Jefferson county, N. Y., in 1818, but, having been converted in 1821, studied theology, was licensed to preach in the Presbyterian church in 1824, and began to labor as an evangelist. He met with great success in Utica, Troy, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. On his second visit to the last city, in 1832, the Chatham street theatre was bought and made into a church for him, and the New York “Evangelist” established as an advocate of the revival. His labors here resulted in the establishment of seven “free Presbyterian” churches, and in 1834 he became pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle, which had been built especially for him. Mr. Finney accepted, in 1835, the professorship of theology at Oberlin, which had just been founded by his friends, and retained it until his death. Here he assisted in establishing the “Oberlin Evangelist,” and afterward the “Oberlin Quarterly.” He also became pastor of the Congregational church in Oberlin in 1837; but continued at intervals to preach in New York and elsewhere. He spent three years in England as a revivalist, in 1849-'51 and 1858-'60, adding to his reputation for eloquence, and in 1851-'66 was president of Oberlin. Prof. Finney relied greatly on doctrinal preaching in his revivals, as opposed to animal excitement, and his sermons were plain, logical, and direct. He was an Abolitionist, an anti-mason, and an advocate of total abstinence. His chief works are “Lectures on Revivals,” which have been translated into several foreign languages (Boston, 1835; 13th ed., 1840; enlarged ed., Oberlin, 1868); “Lectures to Professing Christians” (Oberlin, 1836); “Sermons on Important Subjects” (New York, 1839); and “Lectures on Systematic Theology” (2 vols., Oberlin, 1847; London, 1851). After his death were published his “Memoirs,” written by himself (New York, 1876). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 461.


FISHER, Miers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, lawyer, abolitionist, Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS), founded 1775.  Represented PAS in legal cases opposing slavery.  Founding member, Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Abolition of Slavery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1787.

(Basker, 2005, pp. 80, 92)


FITZHUGH, Carroll Ann, 1805-1875, abolitionist, women’s rights activist.  Active in aiding fugitive slaves in her home, along with her abolitionist husband, Gerrit Smith.  Prominent supporter of the abolitionst movement.



Chapter: “Admission of Florida,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

In the acquisition of Texas the Slave Power had compelled the nation to adopt and proclaim the principle that slavery had become a national interest, to be cherished by national legislation, cared for by national diplomacy, and defended by national arms. Having dragooned the government into the adoption of the principles and policy involved in the act of annexation, it became, from that time onward, more pronounced and aggressive. The slave-masters used the advantage, thus gained, in defiance of the laws of God, regardless of the rights of man, reckless of consequences, and seemingly indifferent to the requirements, or even the reputation, of consistency. Everything was made to yield to the exigencies of the system. Instead of the principle of the old Roman patriotic adjuration, that the Republic should receive nothing of detriment, putting slavery in the nation's stead, they made everything bend to that.

They had long pretended that the equilibrium between the free and slave States must be preserved at all hazards, and twice had they resorted to the violent device of arbitrarily linking two measures that had nothing in common for that purpose, -in 1820 combining the bills for the admission of Missouri and Maine, and in 1836 those for the admission of Michigan and Arkansas. In pursuance of the same purpose and line of policy, they were now unwilling to receive without a consideration the free State of Iowa, which had framed a constitution in the autumn of 1844, and was asking for admission. Some makeweight must be found before this application could be complied with. This they managed to discover in an old constitution, framed by the Territory of Florida five years before. Though Florida was greatly deficient in numbers, and her constitution was very objectionable in some of its features, they seized this occasion to press its claims, and to make its admission a condition precedent to their consent that Iowa. should be received. The House Committee on Territories reported in favor of the admission of the two in a single measure. In the closing hours of the XXVIIIth Congress the bill came up for consideration. Making the proposition still more odious, it was moved, in anticipation that the then unorganized portions of Nebraska would ask admission as a free State, that when the population of Florida, east of the Suwanee River, should exceed thirty-five thousand, a new State, called East Florida, should be created therefrom. A motion was made by Mr. Pettit of Indiana to strike out that proviso. The delegate from Florida, Mr. Levy, pronounced the motion a violation of the treaty with Spain, “a flagrant breach of trust," as well as a cruel piece of injustice to the people of Florida. The motion, however, prevailed, and the proviso was stricken out by a majority of forty-six.

This constitution of Florida not only expressly denied to the legislature the power to emancipate slaves, but gave it the authority to prevent free colored persons from immigrating into the State, or from being discharged from vessels in her ports. Mr. Belser of Alabama, whose district bordered upon Florida, justified these inhuman provisions as simply precautionary measures, necessary for the safety of his State. . He maintained, too, that no slave State was safe without such provision, as "free negroes would go there,'' he said, "with no peaceable intentions, but with firebrands in their hands, to excite disaffection among the slaves.'' Washington Hunt of New York, afterward governor of that State, characterized those provisions of the Florida constitution as not only violating the rights of the slave, put those of the master himself. Deprecating the recent action of the South by which she had abandoned her former position that slavery was local, and was predicating its action on the theory that the government was bound to aid in extending and perpetuating that system, he declared that it “betokened the approach of a period when harmony was forever to depart from our national councils."

Mr. Morse of Maine moved that so much of the act as related to Florida should not take effect until after a convention of delegates shall have stricken out these provisions. But the proposition was vigorously resisted by Southern members. Mr. Bayly of Virginia was especially arrogant and vituperative, as well as sarcastic and insolent. He said that they were indebted for this proposition to the “wisdom" of the gentleman from Maine, who “was not," he insultingly declared,” very remarkable for his statesmanship.'' He denounced the amendment as “an unblushing attempt “of one who had never set foot on the soil of Florida to dictate to the people of that Territory. He characterized it as a bold assumption of superiority, which was "neither more nor less than unqualified arrogance." To this specimen of plantation manners Mr. Morse replied with dignity and effect, .assuming the entire responsibility of his proposed amendment, and vindicating its pertinence, its justice, and its wise statesmanship. Though few came to his support in the debate, yet, when the vote was taken, his motion was defeated by only a majority of eight. An effort was then made by Preston King to amend the bill by striking out the proposition respecting Florida; but that was a point not to be yielded. The South was persistent, and, as usual, prevailed.

When the bill came up in the Senate Mr. Evans of Maine took occasion to refer to the laws of some of the Southern States for the arrest and imprisonment of free people of color; and he pronounced the operation of those laws to be harassing to the people of the North. He said that he had known voyages to be broken up when colored seamen learned that they were destined to Southern ports, where they would be imprisoned on account of their race. The clauses in the Constitution prohibiting the immigration, or the discharge from vessels in port, of persons of color, he pronounced clearly unconstitutional. But Robert J. Walker defended the Southern view, characterizing these colored seamen as “dangerous persons," possibly coming from San Domingo and ready for any crime. Referring to the black laws of Ohio, he made the strong points that if a State had a right to restrict, it had the right to exclude, and that “if Florida had a right to exclude colored persons by law, she had a right to exclude them by her constitution."

Mr. Evans then proposed that Florida should be required to, amend her constitution before admission. But his Democratic colleague, Mr. Fairfield, though admitting that these provisions were unconstitutional and that they ought to be changed, avowed his determination to vote for her admission, because, he contended, if she had a right to be admitted at all, she was entitled to admission on an equal footing with the original States.

But the opposition to the amendment was not as significant as were the reasons given therefor and the sentiments avowed therewith. Mr. Archer of Virginia contended that such a provision “belongs to that form of law which overrides all forms of political institutions or constitution, -the law of self-preservation." He curtly asked Mr. Evans, if a ship-load of “pestilent fellows " came into Virginia or South Carolina to stir up rebellion, whether the authorities should not seize them.” Yes, yes," replied Mr. Evans, " seize them, try them, and punish them, to your hearts content; we do not complain of that; but what we of the North complain of is, that when one or two of our citizens go there in pursuit of their lawful business, and with no thought of stirring up rebellion, you seize and imprison them, not for the evil intents of their hearts, but for the complexion of their faces."

The same provisions were justified by Mr. Henderson of Mississippi, who rebuked Massachusetts for her “great outcry of unconstitutional injustice." Mr. Berrien of Georgia also defended them, and even avowed his readiness to cut all party bonds if necessary to defend Southern rights. On the other hand, Mr. Choate of Massachusetts not only condemned them, but also the Southern laws concerning colored seamen, as unconstitutional, giving, at the same time, his unqualified support to the proposition of Mr. Evans. After much debate a vote was reached, and only twelve senators, all Northern Whigs, were found ready to support the amendment. The bill was then passed with only nine dissenting votes and Florida, with these inhuman, oppressive, and admitted unconstitutional provisions in her organic law, became, on the 3d of March, 1845, a member of the Union. All opposition had been unavailing. All scruples, either constitutional or moral, made little impression on a Power that recognized its ability as the only limit of its endeavor, and with which might was ever tantamount to right.

Indeed, this very debate revealed the insincerity of the leading advocates of slavery and of its demands, --their lack of fealty, not only to party, but to the nation itself. Doctrines not only fatal to party control and success, but revolutionary and premonitory of rebellion and treason, were openly and vauntingly proclaimed. Thus the very men who had clamored so strenuously and unceasingly for an "equilibrium " in the Senate, as a national necessity, and who now insisted on linking the destiny of the fresh and youthful Iowa, instinct with life and energy, with that of Florida, old, effete, already bearing the marks of decay, and with none of the conditions of a republican State, either in the number and character of its population or in the form of its constitution, found in the very next session no scruples in the way of a policy exactly the reverse. Then they saw no insuperable obstacle to the admission of Texas as a slave State, coupled though it was with the singular and unprecedented provision for making four additional States, probably slave, and no counterbalancing consideration against any slave-holding preponderance that would result therefrom.

But the speeches on the occasion were more ·significant and suggestive than their acts, especially those of Archer and Berrien, Southern Whigs, and generally noted for their moderate and conservative views. When such men appealed, in vindication of measures and usages clearly unconstitutional and violative of good faith, to "the law of self-preservation," which " overrides all forms of political institutions or constitution," and when they avowed their " readiness to cut all party bonds, if necessary to defend Southern rights," is there wonder that the Whig party melted away under such influences ? Even then the Rebellion was but a question of time.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 1-6.



See also Indian Policy and Slavery

Chapter: “The Florida War, - Slavery its Cause,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The citizens of Florida and the adjoining States continued to make demands upon the Seminoles for the surrender of negroes residing among them. Unscrupulous adventurers, too, entered that territory, and in violation of treaty stipulations, of law, justice, and humanity, sought to re-enslave not only those who had escaped from their masters since the close of the war, but the exiles and their children. The Indians were incensed by these claims and this lawless violence, and it became apparent that peace could not be long maintained.

By treaty it had been provided that several of the Seminole chiefs should visit the reservation occupied by the Creeks west of the Mississippi. It was intended, if the Seminoles were satisfied with the country and such prospective arrangements as might be made, that they should be removed and become an integral portion of the Creek nation. Whether or not it was the intention of President Jackson by this arrangement to enable the Creeks to enslave the exiles that would certainly have been the practical effect of this proposed removal. Of course, as that purpose became known, the exiles were alarmed and the Seminoles became suspicious. Being pressed, too, by the commissioners, the chiefs, though unauthorized by their nation, entered, in 1833, into what was termed the “additional treaty," by which a tract of land was secured for the use of the Seminoles forever. When the chiefs returned to Florida they desired a meeting of the head men of the nation to whom they might make report of the results of their visit. But the Indian agent peremptorily refused to have such a. meeting called, and demanded that immediate preparations should be made for removal. 

The citizens of Florida also presented a protest to the President against allowing the Indians to remain longer in the Territory. They alleged that the Seminoles did not recapture fugitive slaves; and that unless they did, no slave property would be safe. Although the treaty had not been ratified by the Seminoles, and it was known that they were nearly unanimous in their opposition to it, President Jackson indorsed on the back of this protest an order to the Secretary of War " to inquire into the alleged facts, and if proved to be true, to direct the Seminoles to prepare to remove West and join the Creeks.” In assuming this responsibility the President was consistent with his usual policy wherever the demands of slavery were involved. Notwithstanding his traditional personal courage and independence of character, he, either from sympathy with the spirit and purposes of the Slave Power, or from fear of its displeasure, ever showed himself forward not to say unscrupulous, in any service, it required.

By the treaty of Indian Spring two hundred and fifty thousand dollars had been reserved to pay the slaveholders of Georgia for slaves lost prior to 1812. These claims had been audited, and one hundred and nine thousand dollars had been paid, leaving one hundred and forty-one thousand dollars, which justly belonged to the Creeks. These slave claimants, with a grasping cupidity which bespoke its origin, made a new claim for this unexpended balance. Nor did an obsequious Congress refuse to allow the singular claim “for the loss of the offspring which the exiles would have borne to their masters had they remained in bondage." Having paid the slaveholders of Georgia this enormous sum, the Creeks claimed that the exiles became their slaves, and demanded of the Seminoles that they should be surrendered. While, on the one hand, the Creeks were claiming the exiles as slaves, the President, on the other, was requiring that the Seminoles and exiles should be sent to the Indian reservation in the West, where the former would have the power to enforce their demands.

By the treaty of Camp Moultrie certain Seminole chiefs, having ·slaves with whom the exiles had intermarried, were authorized to name certain persons who should reside among thein and who should be responsible for their conduct, while the United States were to be responsible for the safety of the agents thus employed. One of these chiefs held about twenty slaves, and there resided on his land several exiles who had never been slaves. Slave-dealers ill Georgia desiring to get both the slaves and exiles into their possession, one of their number claimed to have purchased several of a Creek. This claim, having been pronounced fraudulent and void by ithe judge of the District Court, was sold to other traders more daring and reckless than himself. They provided themselves with fetters and bloodhounds, descended the river, and landed on the reservation. Finding that the negroes were prepared to defend themselves they retired, and with cowardly and mendacious effrontery raised the cry that the Indian chief had armed his slaves and was about to make war. A military force was sent to the reservation; and, although the chief had explained to the officer that his people had taken arms only against those who had come to rob them of their liberties, their weapons and ammunition were taken from them. The next day the slave-traders returned, seized the, slaves and exiles, manacled them, carried them to Georgia, and sold them into bondage. The chief petitioned Congress for redress, but could obtain none either for his own or his people's wrongs. Power was on the side of the oppressor, and not on that of his victim. 

Another chief had upon his plantation slaves and exiles. The slave-stealers came and carried away both bond and free. Knowing that a band of slave-stealers was watching his plantation, another chief armed his people, and when the marauders came they fired upon and drove them away. He then propounded to the Indian agent this pertinent inquiry: “Are the free negroes and the negroes belonging to this town to be stolen in face of law and justice, carried off, and sold to fill the pockets of those who are worse than land pirates? " and he demanded protection according to treaty stipulations, but none was afforded. The slave-stealers returned, seized their victims, carried them to Alabama, and sold them into perpetual slavery.

These lawless deeds exasperated the Indians and alarmed the negroes. If the exiles remained in Florida, they saw that they were to be reduced to slavery by violence; if they removed to the West, they feared that they would be enslaved by the Creeks. Mr. Thompson, Indian agent; General Clinch, who had twenty years before commanded the troops at the Fort Blunt massacre; Governor Eaton, late Secretary of War; and other officials, --represented to the government the wrongs of these people in Florida, and the probabilities that they would be enslaved by the Creeks if sent to the West. But the administration was not to be moved from its purpose. General Cass, then Secretary of War, characterized appeals made in behalf of the Seminoles and negroes as “the promptings of a false philanthropy." He persisted in the demand that they should go to the West, join the Creeks, and subject themselves to their authority.

Intent on getting these negroes into their possession, the slave-traders applied for admission to enter Florida for the purpose of purchasing slaves of the Indians. This application was referred to Mr. Grundy, Attorney-General, who reported that he saw “no good reason why the white people should not be permitted to purchase slaves of the Indians." President Jackson gave the permission asked for. The Indian agent, knowing that the Indians, when in a state of intoxication, would give bills of sale of negroes pointed out to them, whether owning them or not, and that the policy would be most disastrous, remonstrated So great, indeed, was the indignation excited against this infamous order, that it was soon countermanded. But these acts of violence, this constant pressure upon them to go to the West, unite with the Creeks, and become subject to their authority, alarmed both Indians and negroes, and they resolved to defend themselves.

At that time the number of slaves held by the Seminoles was estimated at two hundred, and the exiles and free negroes at six times that number. Many of the latter had intermarried with the, Indians. Osceola, a young chief, had married the daughter of another chief, whose wife had been one of these exiles. This young chief with his wife visited Fort King for trading purposes. While there his wife was seized as a slave and carried off into hopeless bondage. Frantic at this cruel wrong, Osceola himself was seized, manacled, and put in prison, where he remained for six days. Vowing vengeance on those who had committed this outrage, he lay for weeks with his followers near Fort King, keeping watch upon the movements of the agent. Mr. Thompson and Lieutenant Smith were walking some distance from the fort, when he was fired upon by Osceola and his party, and Thompson fell, pierced with fourteen balls. The few soldiers at Fort King were in no condition to follow them, and Osceola hastened to join his companions.

In November General Clinch ordered Major Dade, then near Tampa Bay, to prepare for a march to Fort King, about one hundred and thirty miles distant. As his march would be through an unsettled forest, with swamp and lake and hommock, he obtained for a guide Lewis, slave of Antonio Pacheco, who spoke and wrote with facility the English, French, and Spanish languages, and also the Indian dialect. Knowing the persecutions and outrages inflicted upon his race, he determined to embrace this opportunity to avenge their wrongs. He communicated to the Indians and exiles the information that Major Dade was to go to Fort King, that he was to act as guide, and that he would conduct them near the great Wahoo swamp. Hostilities had commenced, and the Indians and exiles had gathered near the designated place. The memories of past wrongs and the fear of impending evils gave them a purpose and courage to strike a blow for safety and revenge. Entering the defile into which he and his hundred and ten men had been lured, Major Dade was fired upon, and himself and more than half of his command were killed at the first discharge. Only two soldiers escaped. The murder of the Indian agent and the massacre of Dade's command, both on the 28th of December, 1835, inaugurated a war, which proved to be costly in both blood and treasure.  But the Indians and exiles had been forced into it by the sordid and all-grasping avarice, the hatred and contempt of the slave-hunters of Florida and the adjacent States.

The people of Florida, assuming that the war was fought in their interest, attempted to interfere and to dictate the policy and movements of General Scott. Refusing to yield to this dictation, he was bitterly assailed and his removal was demanded. Influenced by these feelings, and perhaps by his own desire for power, General Jessup wrote to Francis P. Blair, sharply criticising General Scott's policy. This letter was placed in the hands of President Jackson, who immediately ordered General Scott to report at Washington, and placed General Jessup in command. But that officer found that he had entered upon a struggle, to be stubbornly contested, with red men fighting for their homes and black men fighting for their freedom.

Early in the spring of 1837 a conference was held with some of the Indian chiefs. With a magnanimity and self-abnegation in strange contrast with the sordid and unfeeling policy of the government and of those whose cause it championed, they refused to enter into any arrangements that did not guarantee to the exiles equal protection with themselves. Hostilities had then continued sixteen months, blood and treasure had been lavishly expended, and the question of giving the exiles equal protection with the Indians remained the chief obstacle in the way of peace. At length yielding to the pressing exigencies of the situation, General Jessup agreed, in behalf of the United States, that the Seminoles and their allies who would emigrate to the West should be secured their lives, liberty, and property. Under this treaty the exiles secured that promise of protection for which they had so bravely battled. Abraham, perhaps the ablest man among them, entered upon the task of persuading them to remove to the West, where they would be free from their persecutors. A region of country ten miles square, near Tampa Bay, was marked out as a place of rendezvous for the Indians and negroes preparatory to their Western journey. Even Osceola avowed his purpose to emigrate. Twenty-six vessels were brought for their transportation. General Jessup announced that the war was ended, dismissed the volunteers, and asked leave to retire from active duty.

But this treaty, though it involved an enforced emigration ·of the Seminoles from their homes to an untried country, and that, too, against their wishes, contained too much of justice and humanity to be acceptable to the slaveholders of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Accordingly they addressed a communication to the Secretary of War, stating the fact that it contained no provision for indemnity or the restitution of negroes, and that unless the Indians were compelled to perform the stipulations of the treaty of Camp Moultrie, "owners may never regain their slaves."

In pursuance of this same settled purpose, slave-hunters desired permission to go among the Indians and negroes who were coming in preparatory to their emigration to the West, for the purpose of identifying and reclaiming fugitives. Their request was indeed refused, but for reasons of policy rather than of principle. “Any interference with the negroes," it was said,” will produce alarm on their part, and inevitably deprive us of all the advantages we have gained." Writing to Colonel Warren of the Florida militia, General Jessup affirmed that while there was no disposition among the Indians to renew hostilities, any attempt to interfere with their negroes would be followed by an instant resort to arms. In a general order of the 5th of April he declared that he had reason to believe the interference of unprincipled white men with “the negro property of the Seminoles would prevent their emigration and lead to a renewal of the war."

Pressed by the clamorous demands of the slave-jobbers, he made an arrangement,· not with those with whom he had negotiated the treaty, but with Co-had-jo, an unimportant chief, who acted without authority, that the Indians should surrender the negroes of whites, particularly those who were taken during the war. Though this arrangement had no binding force upon the Indians, it created the greatest alarm, and General Jessup was forced soon after to admit that the premature attempts of the Citizens of Florida to obtain possession of slaves and prevented the Indians from coming in, and also that it had caused many of those who had come in to leave the camp. But the legislature of Florida affirming the right of the masters to regain their slaves, and popular meetings resolving that the recapture of their slaves constituted an object hardly less important than the peace of the country, General Jessup modified his order, allowed citizens to enter a portion of the Territory, and, though he had repeatedly stated that any attempt to interfere with the negroes would defeat the treaty and cause an immediate resort to arms, he weakly consented, and allowed them to range the country in pursuit of slaves, and to use the army in that  infamous work. On the 25th of May General Jessup wrote to Colonel Harvey: " If you see Osceola again, I wish you to tell him that I intend to send exploring parties into any part of the country during the summer, and I shall send out and take all the negroes that belong to the white people, and he must not allow Indians arid Indian negroes to mingle with them. Tell him I am sending to Cuba for bloodhounds to trail them, and I intend to hang every one that don't come in." Whether this message was ever communicated to the Indian chieftain or not, the re-enslavement of those who had taken refuge with the Seminoles created great alarm. Blacks who had come in fled, though ninety of them, confined within the pickets of Tampa Bay, were immediately, on the 2d of June, sent to New Orleans. This act so alarmed the Indians, who had come in for the purpose of emigrating, that they fled into the interior, resolved to defend themselves. Two weeks after this, General Jessup wrote to General Gadsden that he had captured ninety negroes, the property of citizens, and had sent them to St. Mark's and St. Augustine; and also that he had seized and sent off ninety Indian negroes ta New Orleans, and held seventeen then. But his vigilant efforts: in the service of the slaveholders and slave-catchers had defeated his treaty of peace, and, in the same letter, he wrote, “All is lost."

Hostilities were renewed. The guilt and dishonor rest on General Jessup. At least he was the instrument, though slavery was the inspiration. He had promised the Creeks the "plunder," understood by both parties to include slaves, they might capture. He now held out the same kind of inducement to the Florida militia. In a letter to Colonel Warren he promised that the negroes of the Indians should belong to the corps that captured them. Field officers were to have three shares, company offices two shares, and privates one share each. Documents published by the XXVth Congress reveal the dishonorable fact that the war, which had been renewed, was to be stimulated by the hope of sharing the profits or spoils of forays into the Indian country, including captured negroes. Even the Indians west of the Mississippi were thus appealed to, and the same disgraceful motives held out, and some of the Choctaws and Delawares actually entered the service of this great and magnanimous Christian nation, for the purpose of harrying and distressing this handful of Indians and negroes, with the pledge that negroes taken, instead of being held as prisoners of war, might be sold as their reward or the price of their service. And to make the thing more disgraceful still, on their expressing some discontent at the amount of pay realized, General Jessup sought to pacify them with an additional offer, though admitting that he had transcended his authority and the law in what he had already “stipulated." He, however, promised that he would pay them “fifty dollars for every negro” captured.

But the Cherokees, instead of furnishing slave-catchers, sent a delegation of twelve influential men, who bore to the Seminoles an address, written by John Ross, assuring them that they might confide in the justice and honor of the United States. This assurance of the Cherokee chief was undoubtedly made in good faith, though, in view of the general course and policy of the government, it sounds like the bitterest irony. Indeed, Mr. Ross himself soon had occasion to expostulate with the officials for their breach of faith towards those who, yielding to his suggestions, had placed themselves within the power and reach of United States troops.

 King Philip, an aged chief, was captured by General Hernandez; of the Florida militia, with eleven others of his tribe. He sent a message to Wild Cat, his son, one of the most active of the Seminole chiefs, requesting a visit, As the Cherokee delegation had laid before them the assurance of John Ross that they could confide in the honor of the general government, it was determined that Wild Cat should visit his father and bear with him a peace totem. Becoming thus a messenger to his people, he visited them, and, after the space of ten days, returned with the assurance that Osceola and about a hundred Indians and as many Indian negroes were on their way to St. Augustine for the purpose of negotiating peace. By direction of General Hernandez" they encamped a few miles from that place, keeping the white flag flying. The General met, them at their encampment for the purpose of escorting them into St. Augustine. But instead of doing so, as the Indians expected, he read to Osceola a paper from General Jessup asking these questions: “Are you prepared at once to deliver up the negroes taken from the citizens? Why have you not surrendered them already, as promised by Co-had-jo at Fort King? Have the chiefs of the nation acted in relation to the talk: at Fort King? "

The Indian chief exhibited great emotion and astonishment at these questions. Turning to Co-had-jo, he said: "You must answer, I am choked." The Indians were instantly surrounded, disarmed, taken into St. Augustine, and imprisoned. The negroes were sent to Tampa. Bay for safe keeping. Wild Oat, who had been innocently used as an instrument for the betrayal of Osceola and his friends, was also imprisoned, though after some weeks lie succeeded in effecting his escape. A few weeks after Micanopy, regarded as one of the most important chiefs of the nation, through the influence-of the Cherokee delegation, which had come more than a thousand miles on their mission of peace, accompanied by a portion of that delegation, seventy-five Indians and forty exiles, bearing a flag of truce, came to General Jessup's camp. A few days after their arrival, they too were seized, disarmed, made prisoners of war, and sent to St. Augustine. 

Readers of history must go far and peruse many volumes before they can find a parallel to these transactions, in which the principles of humanity, honesty, and fair dealing have been so completely ignored and trampled underfoot. When it is remembered that the Indian's only alleged fault in this controversy was his extension of' the rites of hospitality to the trembling fugitive, and his unwillingness to rudely repel those who sought that hospitality from his door; that his was the pagan and his pursuers the professedly Christian nation can language be too strong that justly characterizes such conduct? Is it possible to exaggerate? Does Carthage alone deserve the unenviable distinction involved in its "Punic faith"? No wonder that the Cherokees remonstrated against this violation of the flag of truce. Nor should the wonder be less that their remonstrances were without avail. The poor boon of making an explanation to the deceived Seminoles, to assure them that they were not parties to the cruel fraud, though, at first denied but finally permitted, can only be regarded as an exception to the usual course of violence, deception, and wrong. With good reason, though a most damaging reflection upon the government, the Cherokees returned to their homes, refusing to have further communication with men so oblivious of the commonest principles of honor and fair dealing.

The war went on, and General Jessup continued to employ the military power of the nation in seizing and returning fugitives. While the officers and soldiers of the United States army deemed the work odious and degrading, the Florida volunteers were adepts. Early in 1838 General Jessup made a campaign into the country, and had a skirmish with the Indians and their allies. He erected a stockade which he called Fort Jupiter, and, by the ad vice of his officers, sent a proposition to the Indians to make peace on condition that· they and their allies should remain in the southern portion of · the Territory. His messenger, whom he designated as a " Seminole negro," returned accompanied by· several Indians, who expressed a strong desire to remain in the Territory On the 8th of February, 1838, the principal chief of that region met General Jessup, by appointment. The latter agreed to recommend peace upon the basis. of allowing the negro allies to remain-and occupy a portion of the southern part of Florida, and permitting in the mean while the Indians to occupy the Territory near the place of negotiation, until the views of the President could be ascertained. Writing to the Secretary of War, the next day, General Jessup expressed the opinion that the prospect of terminating the war by employing an army to explore the country to remove a band of savages from one part of the country to another was not very, flattering; that he did not consider the country south of the Chick-a-so-hatchie worth the "medicines" they would expend in driving the Indians from it ; and that, unless the idea of " immediate emigration " was abandoned, the war would continue many years at great expense.

But the Indians were doomed to fresh disappointment. The; Secretary replied that removal was the settled policy of the: government, and he could not sanction any arrangement which, would assign any portion of Florida as the future residence of the Indians and their allies. Supposing, however, that the proposed arrangement would be carried out, five hundred and thirteen Indians and one hundred and sixty-five negroes had assembled near the encampment. They had met there to negotiate a peace on the idea of remaining in the country. Four days after he received the decision of the Secretary of War he directed the Indian chiefs to meet him in council. They did not do so, however, in consequence, as it was believed, of this decision having become known to them. He at once ordered General Twiggs to seize them and hold them as prisoners. Fourteen of the negroes were represented to be slaves of citizens of Florida, and were treated as such. The remainder were hurried off to Tampa Bay, and there confined. General Hernandez captured several Indians, and restored more than three hundred negroes to the citizens. How many: were fugitives and how many were free negroes and exiles will never be known.

John Ross addressed a letter to the Secretary of War demanding the release of the prisoners who had come in with a flag of truce through the influence of the Cherokee delegation. The House of Representatives, on motion of Mr. Everett of Vermont, called for information concerning this violation of the flag of truce. The Secretary of War attempted to justify this act of treachery by alleging that the Indians had shown bad faith to the United States. His attempt, however, to transfer the charge from the criminal to the victims only committed the administration more fully to the disgraceful policy pursued towards the Indians, and prompted Mr. Everett to make: a most thorough exposure of the outrage in an able speech, calling public attention and greatly exciting the indignation of' the country at this persistent policy of the government against humanity, justice, and the most manifest claims of equity and fair dealing.

After General Taylor, however, took the command, there was a great improvement. Discarding his predecessor's policy, the army was no longer employed to chase down and seize women and children, to be delivered into slavery. He denied the right of any citizens to inspect those captured or to meddle with his prisoners. He no longer separated the Indians from the negroes, but treated both as prisoners of war. Under his more humane and dignified· policy many came in and were sent to their homes in the West. In the spring of 1839 General McComb went to Florida. After consulting with the Indians, he issued an order setting apart a portion of this Territory for their future residence; at the same time forbidding any white persons to enter upon it without permission. The people of Florida, understanding that in the war with the Indians the negroes were to be given up to them, protested for this reason against the peace.

The war had continued for nearly eight years. During that time several hundred persons had been seized and enslaved, nearly forty million dollars had been expended, and hundreds of lives had been lost. The exiles who had been sent West, 'fearful that they would be reduced to slavery by the Creeks, remained in the Cherokee country, hoping that there would be ·assigned to them a territory, as stipulated in the "additional treaty."' Their ·expectations and disappointments were represented to the general government, but no action was taken. The Cherokees, too, were dissatisfied at the refusal of the government to set apart territory for the Seminoles and exiles. But the President adhered to his ·policy of having the Seminoles and their allies removed to the jurisdiction of the Creeks; while the Creeks held firmly to their purpose to re-enslave the exiles whenever they should come under their jurisdiction,

In 1845 a treaty was made with the Creeks and Seminoles, in which it was agreed that all contested cases between the tribes in regard to rights of property should be subject to the decision of the President. The Creeks agreed that the Seminoles should settle as a body or separately in their country, and no discrimination should be made between the two tribes; and the Seminoles agreed to move to the Creek reservation. But no sooner were they settled on their reservation, than the Creeks claimed the exiles as their slaves. The Seminoles and exiles appealed to the President, according to the terms of the treaty, to determine the question. The President not making a decision, the Creeks became impatient of delay, and threatened violence unless their demands were acceded to. The exiles, repairing to Fort Gibson and demanding protection of General Arbuckle, its commander, were directed to encamp on the reservation near the fort, and were promised protection there. The President, who had supposed that the matter would be easily settled when the exiles were placed under Creek jurisdiction, referred the matter to General Jessup. That officer reported that he had solemnly pledged the nation's faith that they should not be separated, nor any of them sold to white men; that they were free and under the protection of the United States, and that this had been promised them. The matter was then referred to the Attorney-General, another Virginia slaveholder. He decided that the exiles were entitled to their freedom; that the President could not interfere; and that they must return to their towns in the Indian country, where they had a right to remain.

Informed of this decision the exiles returned to their villages, .and for a short time were unmolested. But a slave-dealer, who appears by documents in the War Department to have been previously engaged in kidnapping, went among the Creeks and offered them one hundred dollars for any exile taken and delivered to him, he assuming all risks of titles. Two hundred Creeks assembled, entered the negro villages, and seized several of the exiles. Those, however, having arms offering resistance, they retired with their captives, delivered them to the slave-dealer, and received the stipulated price. The Indian agent obtained a warrant from the nearest judge in Arkansas, and the captured exiles were brought before him. He urged in their behalf the promises of General Jessup, the opinion of the Attorney-General, and the action of the President, as evidence that they were free. But the judge decided that the Creeks had obtained a title to them by their contract; that their title was good; and, having sold them to the claimant, his title was also good. By this strange and wicked decision these manacled victims were thus suddenly and hopelessly bereft of .freedom, taken to the New Orleans market, and sold into perpetual bondage.

Alarmed for their safety, and losing all confidence in the ,government that had thus betrayed them, more than three hundred of these exiles left the United States and went to Mexico, while one or two hundred, connected with the Seminoles by marriage, remained behind. Stimulated by the slave-dealers, the Creeks pursued them. Overtaking them, a battle was fought, and the exiles under the lead of Wild Cat, drove back the slave-catching Creeks, who left their dead upon the field. Directing their course southwesterly the exiles crossed the Rio Grande and settled on a rich and productive soil, where, at length, they found for themselves homes, which had been so cruelly and persistently denied them in the United States. Was the truthfulness of Wesley's characterization of  slavery as" the sum of all villanies" ever more completely verified and illustrated than in this sad and strange story of the conduct of the citizens and governments of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and the United States towards these Indians and exiles? 

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 512-527.

Chapter: “Demand for the Recognition of Property in Slaves,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

In 1845 the subject of property in man was again forced upon public attention by appeals made to the XXVIIIth Congress for its practical recognition. The way in which this was sought, with its antecedents, was still more degrading, the necessary recital of which may well make any American ear tingle with shame, as thus reminded of the base uses to which the government lent itself in its ignoble service to the slave-mongers.

On assuming the command of the army in Florida in 1836, General Jessup, without authority of law, entered into a contract with the Creeks by which they were to receive such plunder as they might capture; and this unauthorized contract was approved by the President and Secretary of War. .Among this “plunder" were one hundred negroes which they claimed as coming within the meaning of the contract. This understanding was approved by the President and his Secretary of War, and this Christian republic stood before the world as recognizing the principle that prisoners of war might be held as slaves.

Complicating matters still more, he gave orders that eight thousand dollars should be paid for these negroes, and that they be sent to Fort Pike and held as the property of the United States. And even this order was approved by the President, and, so far as his authority could effect it, the nation became the purchaser of slaves. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, however, suggested to the Secretary of War a doubt as to the willingness of Congress, in the then state of the public mind, to appropriate the funds to carry into effect General Jessup's order. For thirteen months this question remained unsettled, and it was finally determined to abrogate General Jessup's order, though it had been approved, and to declare that the Creek Indians were the owners of the negroes sent to Fort Pike.

In this exigency it was suggested, he says, by government officials, to James C. Watson, a Georgia slaveholder, to purchase these negroes, pay for them the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, and receive a bill of sale, on the condition that the Secretary of War should issue an order to the officers of the army to deliver them to him or to his agent. This sale was effected on the 7th of May, 1838. While the government officials were the active parties in the negotiation, the sale was effected in the name of the Creeks. One Collins, brother-in law of Watson, was appointed an agent, and furnished with written instructions by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to repair to New Orleans and receive the negroes.

But a few days before these slaves had been purchased by Watson, General Gaines had issued an order directing Major Clark to make arrangements for the embarkation of the Seminoles and" black prisoners of war," then in Louisiana, for their place of destination in the Indian country. At the same time, as if to make the whole transaction more complicated, the claim of a slave-dealer was allowed by the Louisiana courts to sixty of these negro prisoners. Having secured a favorable decision of the court, he demanded them of General Gaines. But that officer, to his great credit, refused assent, and ordered that they should be confined in the barracks for their safe keeping. He also resisted the requisition of the sheriff of New Orleans, on the ground that they were prisoners of war. Familiar with both the facts and the law of the case; knowing, too, that the most intimate domestic and social relations, from intermarriage and the ties of friendship, existed between them, he was willing to assume the personal responsibility of the costs, to appear before the courts, and to plead the laws of nations and of war in vindication of the position that these negroes were, and should be treated as, prisoners of war. He assured the court that they were not captured from the white people in that or any previous war. Professing to act from his convictions, he said: "I have not learned, while acting in my official capacity on oath, to take the responsibility of doing what is repugnant to law, unjust, and iniquitous, as, I verily believe, any favor shown to this claim would be." The judge, however, assuming, under the laws of Louisiana, that negroes were slaves to someone, discharged the rule, and affirmed the order of sequestration.

Lieutenant Reynolds, leaving thirty-one of the negroes behind, embarked with the Seminoles and negro prisoners of war for the Indian country. But the next day Watson's agent arrived, and, finding that Reynolds had started, immediately followed and overtook him at Vicksburg. Convinced by the evidences of sorrow and mutual interest and attachment exhibited between the Indians and negroes at parting at New Orleans that he must proceed with caution, Lieutenant Reynolds persuaded the agent to accompany him. Arriving at Little Rock, he called upon the government officials for assistance. Governor Roane, though a slaveholder, declared that there were no witnesses to identify the negroes, expressed the apprehension that to enforce the claim would endanger the frontier settlers of Arkansas, and, instead of rendering assistance, ,urged him to proceed at once to his point of destination. Arriving at Fort Gibson, Lieutenant Reynolds enclosed to General Arbuckle the order of the Indian Commissioner to surrender the negroes to Watson's agent, with the request that he would give him an adequate force to carry his· instructions into effect. The request was refused, however, on the ground that there was no evidence to indicate who were included in the claim.

But the War Department, having been a party to the sale of these “prisoners of war," sought to carry out that slave-dealing bargain so far as the thirty-one negroes remaining at New Orleans were concerned. General Taylor's co-operation was sought in a letter from the Adjutant-General. BlJ.t that honest and straightforward man would be party to no such arrangement. In his letter of reply he said; "I know nothing of the negroes in question, nor of the subject further than what is contained in the communication; but I must state distinctly for the information of all concerned, that, while I shall hold myself ever ready to do the utmost in my power to get the negroes and Indians out of Florida, as well as to remove them to their new homes west of the Mississippi, I cannot, for a moment, consent to meddle with this transaction, or to be concerned for the benefit of Collins, the Creek Indians, or anyone else." This noble letter no more inured to the credit of its writer than it reflected upon the action of General Jessup, of the War Department, and of the President of the United States.

Collins returned to New Orleans, but Major Clark refused to turn the negroes over to him as Watson's .agent. They were at once despatched to their Western home, but only to find new proof of the bad faith of the government. Though it had been stipulated with them, as an inducement for them to go west, that a .separate tract should be assigned them, they found on their arrival that they were to be taken to territory assigned to the Creeks, where they would be subjected to Creek laws. The Cherokees had used their influence to persuade the Seminoles to go west, and they felt that they were in honor bound to fulfil their pledges as far as in their power, and so they consented that they should remain on their reservation until the United States government could be persuaded to discharge its obligations to this aroused and scattered people. 

Without country, the victim' of grasping slaveholders, these Indians and exiles appealed for redress to the same government which had already proved so faithless to its promises. But President Van Buren and Mr. Poinsett, his Secretary of War, instead of regarding these appeals, were renewing their efforts to secure for Watson the negro prisoners of war he had purchased. General Arbuckle, who had been directed to investigate the case, replied that not one of them could be obtained without force. Of course the slave-dealer grew restive and impatient under these delays, and wrote to the Indian Commissioner, severely arraigning the military authorities. Lieutenant Reynolds was under the necessity, therefore, of explaining away these charges. The demands being still pressed, the government made further but ineffectual attempts to meet them. The Seminoles refused to surrender the exiles, and the Creeks would hold no further communication on the ·subject either with Watson or the officials.

Baffled in all these efforts, he turned his attention to Congress, petitioning that body for what he failed to obtain from the officers of the government; and at the commencement of the session in 1839 the petition was referred to the Committee on Claims. Mr. Dawson of Georgia called to it the attention of Mr. Giddings, its chairman; but he reported against it. At the next session it was referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs. A bill was reported; but it failed to become a law. In the XXVIIIth Congress ex-Governor Vance of Ohio was made chairman of the Committee on Claims, in place of Mr. Giddings, who had thus far prevented favorable action, and Mr. Howell Cobb was placed on the committee for the purpose of securing a favorable report. Such a report and bill being presented, it was advocated by Mr. Cobb, Mr. Stephens, and Mr. Belser of Alabama, each alleging that it did not involve the question of property in human flesh; opposed by Mr. Giddings and Mr. Adams; and no vote was reached. Not discouraged, Watson persisted in pressing his claim; though he was again defeated, in 1848, notwithstanding a favorable report from Mr. Daniel of North Carolina.

In February, 1852 Daniel; reported again in its favor. A long debate arose, in which several members took part, a favorable vote was reached, and the bill passed by a majority, of twenty-six, one member alone from the slave States, William R. Cobb of Alabama, voting against it. In the Senate it met but little opposition. Thus was consummated, after a delay and struggle of thirteen years, that infamous bargain between a slave speculator and the United States, by which prisoners of war were sold as slaves, and in which were ignored not only the laws of God and humanity, but the laws of the nation and the laws of war.

Another case involving this idea of property in man was that of Antonio Pacheco, who presented in 1848 a petition to Congress for the loss of the slave Lewis, whom he had let to Major Dade as a guide, who had been captured by the Indians, surrendered to General Jessup, and sent west of the Mississippi. It appeared from the testimony of General Jessup that Lewis was a man of extraordinary talents, who had kept up a correspondence with the Seminoles, and had been sent west as “a dangerous man." The petition was referred to the Committee on Military Affairs, Mr. Burt of South Carolina being chairman; and a bill was reported in accordance with the prayer of the petitioner. Mr. Dickey of Pennsylvania, assisted by Mr. Giddings, drew up an adverse report. At the meeting of the committee the four Democratic members signed the report of the chairman; and Marvin of New York, Wilson of New Hampshire, and Fisher of Ohio signed that of Mr. Dickey. The majority held that slaves were property; and the minority contended that “one man could not hold property in another." No action, however, was taken.

Coming up at the next session, Mr. Dickey and Mr. Wilson of New Hampshire spoke against it, while Mr. Brown of Mississippi and Mr. Cabell of Florida followed on the other side. Mr. Burt closed the debate with the assertion that the simple question involved in the bill is, Are slaves property? The motion to lay it on the table was rejected by nineteen majority. Mr. Giddings moved a reconsideration, in support of which he made a very able speech, accepting the issue tendered by Mr. Burt, and boldly enunciating the doctrines -of · human rights. . By a mistake of the clerk it appeared that the casting vote of the Speaker would be necessary, which would have been cast against the bill. Subsequently, however, it appeared that one vote had not been counted, and the bill was lost by that majority. A reconsideration was moved and carried, and the bill was passed by a majority of six. By that majority the House of Representatives declared that slaves were property; but the bill was not acted upon by the Senate, and it failed of becoming a law.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 1.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 538-545.


FOLLEN, Charles Theodore, 1796-1840, Massachusetts, educator, professor, writer, clergyman, Unitarian minister, abolitionist.  Fired from Harvard University for his anti-slavery oratory.  Wrote Lectures on Moral Philosophy, which strongly opposed slavery.  Influenced by abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier and abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, he became active in the New England Anti-Slavery Society.  American Anti-Slavery Society, Vice President, 1834-1835, 1836-1837, Member Executive Committee, 1837-1838, 1860-1863.  Counsellor of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, 1859-1960.  Wrote anti-slavery Address to the People of the United States, which he delivered to the Society’s first convention in Boston.  Supported political and legal equality for women. 

(Goodell, 1852, pp. 418, 469; Pease, 1965, pp. lxi, 224-233; Rodriguez, 2007, p. 288; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 491-492; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 492; American Reformers: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary, New York, 1985, pp. 301-302)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FOLLEN, Charles Theodore Christian, educator, b. in Romrod, Germany, 4 Sept., 1796; d. in Long Island sound, 13 Jan., 1840. He was the second son of Christopher Follen, an eminent jurist. He was educated at the preparatory school at Giessen, where he distinguished himself for proficiency in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, and Italian. At the age of seventeen he entered the University of Giessen, and began the study of jurisprudence, but presently, on hearing the news of Napoleon's defeat at Leipsic, he enlisted in a corps of riflemen. A few weeks after enlisting, his military career was cut short by an acute attack of typhus fever, which seemed for a time to have completely destroyed his memory. After his recovery he returned to the university, where he took the degree of doctor of civil law in 1817. In the following year he lectured on the pandects in the University of Jena. Here he was arrested on suspicion of complicity with the fanatical assassin, Sand, in the murder of Kotzebue. The suspicion was entirely groundless. After his acquittal he returned to Giessen, but soon incurred the dislike of the government through his liberal ideas in politics. His brother had already been thrown into jail for heading a petition begging for the introduction of a representative government. Dr. Follen, perceiving that he was himself in danger, left Germany and went to Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Lafayette. In 1820 the French government ordered all foreigners to quit France, and Dr. Follen repaired to Zurich, where he became professor of Latin in the cantonal school of the Grisons. He was soon afterward transferred to the University of Basel, as professor of civil law, and here. in association with the celebrated De Wette, he edited the literary journal of the university, and published an essay on the “Destiny of Man,” and another on “Spinoza's Doctrine of Law and Morals.” In 1824 the governments of Russia, Austria, and Prussia demanded of the Swiss government that Dr. Follen should be surrendered to “justice” for the crime of disseminating revolutionary doctrines, and, finding the Swiss government unable to protect him, he made his escape to America, and, after devoting a year to the study of the English language, was appointed instructor in German at Harvard. He studied divinity with Dr. W. E. Channing, began preaching in 1828, and also served as instructor in ecclesiastical history in the Harvard divinity-school. In 1830 he was appointed professor of German literature at Harvard. There was no regular foundation for such a professorship it was merely continued from time to time by a special vote of the corporation. About this time Dr. Follen became prominently connected with the anti-slavery movement, which was then extremely unpopular at Harvard, and in 1834 the corporation refused to continue his professorship. Thrown thus upon his own resources, after nearly ten years of faithful and valuable service at the university, Dr. Follen supported himself for a time by teaching and writing, living at Watertown, Milton, and Stockbridge. In 1836 he was formally ordained as a Unitarian minister, and preached occasionally in New York, Washington, and Boston. He continued conspicuous among the zealous advocates of the abolition of slavery. In 1840 he was settled over a parish in East Lexington, Mass., but while on his way from New York to Boston he lost his life in the burning of the steamer “Lexington.” He published a “German Reader” (Boston, 1831; new ed., with additions by G. A. Schmitt, 1858); and “Practical Grammar of the German Language” (Boston, 1831). His complete works, containing lectures on moral philosophy, miscellaneous essays and sermons, and a fragment of a treatise on psychology, and a memoir by his widow, were published after his death (5 vols., Boston, 1842). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 491-492.


FOLLEN, Eliza Lee Cabot, 1787-1860, co-founder, leader, Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS) in 1833, writer, church organizer. American Anti-Slavery Society, Executive Committee member, 1846-1860.  Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, Counsellor, 1846-1860.  Wrote “Anti-Slavery Hymns and Songs” and “A Letter to Mothers in the States.” 

(Hansen, 1993; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 42, 288; Sterling, 1991; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 491-492; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 492)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FOLLEN, Eliza Lee Cabot, author, b. in Boston, 15 Aug., 1787; d. in Brookline, Mass., 26 Jan., 1860, was the daughter of Samuel Cabot, of Boston, and married Dr. Follen in 1828. After her husband's death she educated their only son, whom, with other pupils, she fitted for Harvard. She edited the “Child's Friend” in 1843-'50. Mrs. Follen was an intimate friend of William Ellery Channing, and was a zealous opponent of slavery. Besides the memoir of her husband, mentioned above, she published “The Well-Spent Hour” (Boston, 1827); “The Skeptic” (1835); “Poems” (1839); “To Mothers in the Free States” (1855); “Anti-Slavery Hymns and Songs” (1855); “Twilight Stories” (1858); and “Home Dramas” (1859). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 491-492.


FOOT, Solomon, 1802-1866, lawyer, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator.  Opposed war with Mexico.  Opposed slavery and its extension into new territories.  Founding member of the Republican Party.  Elected to Congress in 1842; served until 1847.  Elected to the Senate in 1850 and served until he died in 1866.  Voted for Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery.

(Congressional Globe; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 495; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 498)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FOOT, Solomon, senator, b. in Cornwall, Addison co., Vt., 19 Nov., 1802; d. in Washington, D. C., 28 March, 1866. He was graduated at Middlebury in 1826, was principal of Castleton, Vt., seminary in 1826-'8, tutor in Vermont university in 1827, and in 1828-'31 held the chair of natural philosophy in the Vermont academy of medicine, Castleton. He was admitted to the bar in the latter year, and began practice in Rutland, where he lived until his death. He was a member of the legislature in 1833, 1836-'8, and 1847, speaker of the house in 1837-'8 and 1847, delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1836, and state attorney for Rutland in 1836-'42. He was then elected to congress as a Whig, and served from 1843 till 1847. He was an unsuccessful candidate for clerk of the house in 1849, was then chosen U. S. senator from Vermont, and served from 1851 till his death, becoming a Republican in 1854. He was chairman of important committees, and was president pro tempore of the senate during a part of the 36th congress and the whole of the 37th. Senator Foot was prominent in debate, and took an active part in the discussions on the admission of Kansas to the Union in 1858. He was chosen president of the Brunswick and Florida railroad company about 1854, and visited England to negotiate the bonds of the company. Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 495.


FORBES, John Murray, 1813-1898, industrial entrepreneur, abolitionist, philanthropist, American railroad magnate.  President of the Michigan Central Railroad and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.  Opposed the introduction of slavery into Kansas and supplied money and weapons to the cause.  Forbes was an elector for Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

(Hughes, Sarah Forbes, ed. Life and Recollections of John Murray Forbes. Houghton, Mifflin, 1899.  Pearson, Henry. An American Railroad Builder: John Murray Forbes. Houghton, Mifflin, 1911.  Pease & Pease, 1972)


FORTEN, Charlotte, 1837-1914, free African American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, abolitionist leader, women’s rights activist, writer, intellectual.

(Billington, 1953; Mabee, 1970, pp. 105, 161, 162, 308; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 289, 410, 416, 482; Stevenson, 1988; Yellin, 1994, pp. 69, 94, 98-99, 116, 116n, 164)


FORTEN, James, Sr., 1766-1842, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, businessman, social reformer, free African American community leader, led abolitionist group. Co-founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Organized first African American Masonic Lodge in 1797. Petitioned Congress to pass law to end slavery and the changing of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793.  Opposed Pennsylvania Senate bill that would restrict Black settlement in the state.  Supported temperance and women’s rights movements. American Anti-Slavery Society, Vice President, 1834-1835, Manager, 1835-1840. 

(Basker, 2005, pp. 296-317; Billington, 1953; Douty, 1968; Dumond, 1961, pp. 170-171, 328, 340; Mabee, 1970, pp. 93, 104, 105, 161, 308; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 34, 105, 290; Winch, 2002; American Reformers: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary, New York, 1985, pp. 305-306; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 536; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 8, p. 276; Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., & Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds. African American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2013, Vol. 4, p. 446)




FOSTER, Abby Kelley, 1810-1887, Worcester, Massachusetts, reformer, orator, abolitionist leader, women’s rights activist, temperance reformer, member Massachusetts and American Anti-Slavery Societies, co-founded abolitionist paper, Anti-Slavery Bugle in Ohio. Activist in the Underground Railroad.

(Drake, 1950, p. 158; Sterling, 1991; Dumond, 1961, p. 281; Mabee, 1970, pp. 42, 77, 199, 213, 224, 266, 300, 323, 328, 329, 336; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 162, 169, 290-291, 465; Van Broekhoven, 2002, pp. 42, 49, 63, 73, 149, 189-191, 210-211, 214, 216; Yellin, 1994, pp. 19, 26, 27, 31, 43, 148-149, 154, 170, 173, 175, 176, 223, 231-248, 267-268, 280-281, 286, 288, 289, 292, 294, 296, 332; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 515; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 542; American Reformers: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary, New York, 1985, pp. 308-310; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 8, p. 289; The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. II. New York: James T. White, 1892, pp. 323-324; Sterling, Dorothy. Ahead of Her Time: Abby Kelley and the Politics of Antislavery. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991.)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FOSTER, Abby Kelley, reformer, b. in Pelham, Mass., 15 Jan., 1811; d. in Worcester, Mass., 14 Jan., 1887. Her parents, who were descendants of Irish Quakers, removed to Worcester while she was an infant. Her education was finished at the Friends' school in Providence, R. I., after which she taught for several years in Worcester and Millbury, and in a Friends' school in Lynn, Mass. She resigned her post about 1837, and began lecturing as an anti-slavery advocate, being the first woman to address mixed audiences in favor of abolition. Though sincere in her convictions and womanly in her delivery, she suffered many indignities in Connecticut during her lectures, While speaking in Pennsylvania, she met Stephen S. Foster, whom she married in New Brighton, Pa., 21 Dec., 1845. The two continued their public addresses, and on one tour in Ohio Mrs. Foster spoke every day for six weeks. They settled on a farm near Worcester, which was their home up to the time of Mr. Foster's death. About 1850 Mrs. Foster began to be actively interested in the cause of woman suffrage, making many speeches in its advocacy, and that of prohibition. She took an extreme view of these questions, and in argument was pronounced and aggressive. Alike in their belief regarding woman suffrage and their protests against taxation without representation, both Mr. and Mrs. Foster refused to pay taxes on their home estate because the wife was not permitted to vote, and this resolution was followed by the sale of the home for two consecutive years, but it was bought in by friends, and finally redeemed by Mr. Foster. Mrs. Foster's last public work was an effort made to raise funds to defray the expenses of securing the adoption of the 15th amendment in the doubtful states. In June, 1886, she attended an anti-slavery reception in Boston. The day preceding her fatal illness she finished a sketch of her husband for this work. Personally Mrs. Foster was amiable and unassuming, but never lacked the courage to proclaim and defend her advanced opinions. James Russell Lowell pays this tribute to Mrs. Foster:       

“A Judith there, turned Quakeress,  

  Sits Abby in her modest dress.        

  No nobler gift of heart or brain.      

  No life more white from spot or stain,       

  Was e'er on freedom's altar lain      

  Than hers—the simple Quaker maid.”

Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 515.


FOSTER, Stephen Symounds, 1809-1881, divinity student, radical abolitionist, women’s rights activist.  Founded New Hampshire Anti-Slavery Society.  Manager, 1843-1845, Amiercan Anti-Slavery Society.  Husband of abolitionist and women’s rights activist Abby Kelly Foster.  Their home was a station on the Underground Railroad.  Wrote The Brotherhood of Thieves; Or a True Picture of the American Church and Clergy, in 1843, an anti-slavery book.  Close friend and advisor to abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison.

(Drake, 1950, pp. 158, 176-177; Mabee, 1970, pp. 223, 250, 251, 262, 266, 270, 272, 279, 297, 323, 324, 327, 329, 378, 394n24, 419n8; Pease, 1965, pp. 134-142, 474-479; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 169, 290; Stevens, 1843; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 514-515; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 558; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 8, p. 307)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FOSTER, Stephen Symonds, abolitionist, b. in Canterbury, N. H., 17 Nov., 1809; d. near Worcester, Mass., 8 Sept., 1881. He learned the carpenter's trade, then studied with the intention of becoming a minister, was graduated at Dartmouth in 1838, and studied theology in the Union theological seminary, New York; but, because he was precluded from advocating abolition in the pulpit, he deserted that profession in order to engage in the anti-slavery contest. He was an earnest orator, a master of denunciation and invective, and was frequently the victim of mob violence. He is described in one of Lowell's anti-slavery poems as “A kind of maddened John the Baptist, To whom the harshest word comes aptest, Who, struck by stone or brick ill starred, Hurls back an epithet as hard, Which, deadlier than stone or brick, Has a propensity to stick." While in the theological seminary he induced some of his classmates to join with him in a meeting to protest against the warlike preparations then going on, arising from the dispute with Great Britain over the northeastern boundary. The refusal of the faculty to allow the chapel to be used for such a meeting made him dissatisfied with the churches because they countenanced war, and when he became an anti-slavery agitator of the moral-force school, instead of a Congregational minister, he directed his attacks chiefly against the church and the clergy, because they upheld slavery. Since the people of the New England towns could not be induced to attend anti-slavery lectures, he was accustomed to attend church meetings and claim there a hearing for the enslaved, and was often expelled by force, and several times imprisoned for disturbing public worship. Other abolitionists adopted the same plan of agitation, which was very effective. He lived for many years on a farm in the suburbs of Worcester. He published articles in periodicals on the slavery question, and in 1843 a pamphlet entitled “The Brotherhood of Thieves, a True Picture of the American Church and Clergy,” in the form of a letter to Nathaniel Barney, a reprint of which was issued by Parker Pillsbury (Concord, 1886). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 514-515.



Chapter: “Fourteenth Amendment,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished chattel slavery and rendered that form of oppression impossible; but, as has been shown, it did not prevent the fact of oppression, and that the most cruel and unendurable. The action of the State governments, restored by what was called the "Johnson policy," clearly revealed the necessity of further legislation to prevent the Rebels from regaining by fraud and finesse at home what they had failed to secure by their appeal to arms. Consequently, the friends of freedom in both houses were prompt in bringing the subject before Congress, and weeks and months were occupied in considering the various propositions which were presented to remedy what was seen to be so flagrantly unjust and indefensible. Nor will the annals of that body afford a parallel for the earnestness, depth of feeling, and intensity of purpose exhibited in the debates on the subject, which have extended over years and commanded the highest exercise of the ablest talent employed thereon. The results finally reached were changes in the organic law and ordinary legislation, or amendments of the Constitution, acts for their enforcement, and what were popularly termed civil rights bills. Before noticing the latter, though some of them were in point of time anterior thereto, some account will be given of the former.

On the 30th of April, 1866, Mr. Stevens, from the Committee on Reconstruction, introduced into the House a joint resolution to amend the Constitution; the proposed amendment consisting of five sections: —

"Sec. 1. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens; nor deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person the equal protection of the laws.

"Sec. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons, excluding Indians not taxed. But whenever, in any State, the elective franchise shall be denied to any male citizens not less than twenty-one years of age, or in any way abridged except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of representation in such States shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens not less than twenty-one years of age.

"Sec. 3. Until the fourth day of July, in the year 1870, all persons who voluntarily adhered to the late insurrection shall be excluded from the right to vote for Representatives, and for President and Vice-President of the United States.

"Sec. 4. Neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation already incurred, or which may be incurred, in aid of insurrection against the United States, or any claim for compensation for loss of involuntary service.

"Sec. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

These sections, slightly modified and amended, were finally adopted by Congress and the requisite number of States, and constituted the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Mr. Stevens's speech, which was brief and exceedingly caustic, expressed very fully and forcibly the views and feelings of that section of the Republican party which recognized him as a leader. He spoke of " the magnitude of the task imposed on the committee" of suggesting "a plan for rebuilding a shattered nation, — not dissevered, yet shaken and riven" by the Rebellion; of the people "educated in an error for a century on the subject of slavery," and of the difficulty of unlearning a lesson thus learned "in a day"; of the duty of adopting a plan, though it fell short of his own wishes, because, speaking for the committee, he said, "upon a careful survey of the whole ground we did not believe that nineteen of the loyal States could be induced to ratify any proposition any more stringent than this," adding that he would "not throw away a great good because it is not perfect." He commented with great severity upon the failure in the Senate of the two joint resolutions, proposing amendments, fixing the basis of representation and repudiating the Rebel debt, which had passed the House, but which, he said, were "then wounded in the house of their friends," — "defeated by the united forces of self-righteous Republicans and unrighteous Copperheads. It was slaughtered by a puerile and pedantic criticism, by a perversion of philological definition which, if when I taught school, a lad who had studied Lindley Murray had assumed, I would have expelled from the institution as unfit to waste education upon." He repeatedly admitted that the measure did not come up to his ideas of true policy. Speaking of the third section, he said he would have had it more stringent, though he added, with biting sarcasm of the President's former views and subsequent course, "I might not consent to the extreme severity denounced upon them by a provisional governor of Tennessee, — I mean the late lamented Andrew Johnson, of blessed memory, — but I would have increased the severity of this section."

The amendment to which he referred as having been "wounded in the house of their friends " had been reported from the same committee on the 22d of January, providing that " representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed: Provided, "That whenever the elective franchise shall be denied or abridged in any State on account of race or color, all persons of such race or color shall be excluded from the basis of such representation." The purport or gist of this amendment was well expressed by Mr. Buckalew, in the Senate, who opposed it because, he said, "one of two things must happen in a State, in case this amendment be adopted. Negro or Asiatic suffrage must be accepted, or the State will be stripped of a portion of the power she now holds under the Constitution." It became, therefore, he contended, "a penal amendment," because it took from States the principle of three-fifths representation hitherto allowed for their slaves; so that that class of population could be counted in the basis of representation only as it was allowed the right of suffrage. The proposition led to a very able and vigorous debate, and passed the House by a decisive majority, but was defeated in the Senate. Various other propositions and proposed amendments were introduced into both houses; but they were either rejected or failed to come to a vote, not for want of a purpose to adopt some measure, but from inability to agree on any particular line of policy.

Indeed, as stated above, the measure now proposed by Mr. Stevens was far from satisfactory to either the mover or those he represented. For it has since transpired that another plan had been submitted to him and others by Robert Dale Owen, who, though not a member of Congress, was, as chairman of a government commission in 1863 to inquire into the condition of the freedmen, prepared to speak with some knowledge upon the subject. This plan had received Mr. Stevens's assent and earnest advocacy, and had been adopted by the Committee on Reconstruction, but was withheld for a few days on account of the illness of Mr. Fessenden, chairman of the Senate portion of the committee. Its provisions were: —

"Sec. 1. No discrimination shall be made by any State, nor by the United States, as to the civil rights of persons, because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

"Sec. 2. From and after the fourth day of July, 1876, no discrimination shall be made by any State nor by the United States as to the enjoyment, by classes of persons, of the right of suffrage, because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

"Sec. 3. Until the fourth day of July, 1876, no class of persons, as to the right of any of whom to suffrage discrimination shall be made by any State, because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, shall be included in the basis of representation.

"Sec. 4. Debts incurred in aid of insurrection or of war against the Union, and claims of compensation for loss of involuntary service or labor, shall not be paid by any State nor by the United States.

"Sec. 5. Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." In connection with this proposed article, Mr. Owen submitted a joint resolution, providing that any State adopting it, and conforming its laws thereto, should be admitted into the Union again, in the persons of Senators and Representatives duly elected thereby, excluding only those who were members of the executive, legislative, military, and naval departments of the government at the time of their secession, though they, too, should be eligible "after the fourth day of July, 1876." It also proposed the repeal of all laws confiscating property or imposing penalties or disabilities on any participating in the Rebellion. The prominent features of this plan were its simplicity and clemency, its repeal of all confiscatory and penal laws enacted against those who had joined in the insurrection; remission of all disabilities in the way of holding office from any except those who were in the actual service of the United States at the time of their secession; restriction of the basis of representation to those only who were allowed the right of suffrage; and its provision that, after the 4th of July, 1876, the right of suffrage should be withheld from none on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The main significance of this plan and its importance as a matter of history lie in the facts that it at first commanded the support of the Committee on Reconstruction, though it was afterward rejected, with the reasons given for that final rejection. The latter, according to the testimony of Mr. Stevens to its author, were that caucuses of the Republican members of the States of New York, Illinois, and Indiana had decided that, for fear of its influence upon the pending elections, it would not be safe to incorporate into the avowed policy of the party the idea of negro suffrage, even prospectively, at the end of ten years, and the fact that the committee so far yielded to the clamor as to reconsider its action, and submit the article as reported, hastily drawn up, and so far defective and so far inferior to that it rejected as to render necessary the subsequent adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment. So fearful, not to say cowardly, were even Republicans of that day, so faintly did they discern the issues of the war and the necessities of the situation, and so afraid, in the slang parlance employed on the occasion, were they of the "nigger in the wood-pile."

The discussion did not differ materially from what had already taken place on the two proposed amendments of the Constitution which had failed in the Senate, except that members exhibited a growing unanimity of sentiment, and the gradual elimination of the more crude and vague ideas that naturally, not to say necessarily, characterized the earlier stages of the debates. And yet the staple of debate was ever substantially the same. For, turn the matter whichever way by which it could be examined, view it in any light in which it could be presented, its salient points stood out and could not be concealed or blinked out of sight. The practical questions that clamored for answer were imperious in their demands, and must be answered, and they could not be evaded or answered other than wisely without great damage and danger to members personally as well as to their constituents and to the nation they were called to represent. At once the abstractions of the schools became clothed with the flesh and blood of actual life, and the glittering generalities that had figured so largely in conventions and on platforms assumed a point and pith that forbade the cool and careless handling of former years.

The great and pregnant fact of the case was that eleven States, which had once belonged to the Federal system, revolving obediently around the general government, had shot madly from their spheres. Those States must be brought back into their former orbits, — to obey again the authority they had thus contemned. They had been conquered as enemies, they must be restored as friends; civil must take the place of military force; the reign of law must be substituted for the reign of the sword. Whatever may have been the constitutional theories entertained, whatever may have been deemed the effect of secession upon the condition of the States seceding, whether they were dead States within the Union, or only "wayward sisters" wandering at will without, all desired and demanded. Democrats as well as Republicans, their return to their former place and fealty. Another great fact was the presence of four million emancipated slaves, who must be protected in and prepared for their new but critical condition. Another fact still was the necessity of guarding against a similar outbreak in the future. If there could not be adequate punishment and indemnity for past crimes and losses, as it was generally conceded there could not be, all agreed there should be, if possible, some security for the future.

The Democrats urged their usual protest against the proposition as "a revolutionary scheme," an infringement upon the rights of the States, and an infraction of the Constitution; counselled conciliatory measures, those that would the soonest invite back the recusants and soonest cover with the mantle of oblivion the unhappy past. "Every hour," said Mr. Boyer of Pennsylvania, "during which we govern the eleven States with their twelve million people as conquered provinces, carries us further away from the original landmarks of the Constitution, and brings us nearer to centralization and military despotism." Mr. Eldridge had faint hopes of such a consummation, and yet, he said, "the sooner we forget and forgive, the better it will be for the nation." Mr. Rogers spoke of the "wicked, odious, and pestilent despotism" to which these States were to be subjected, and exclaimed: "God save the people of the South from the degradation by which they would be obliged to go to the polls and vote side by side with the negro!"   The Republicans who advocated it gave it their support for various and dissimilar reasons. Mr. Schenck of Ohio made special mention of the provision excluding Rebels from participation in the government as a reason therefor; while Mr. Raymond of New York, though supporting the amendment as a whole, expressed his disapproval thereof, because, he said, opinions could not be controlled by force, and that " with any people fit to be free or to be the countrymen of men who are free, all such efforts defeat themselves and intensify and perpetuate the hostilities sought to be overcome." Massachusetts spoke earnestly for the amendment, and placed its advocacy on the higher plane of principle and of the importance of building aright as they were building anew the institutions of the land. Mr. Eliot pleaded for a policy that would make the restored Union "perpetual." He spoke of the fearful, but glorious responsibility resting upon them. "Never," he said, "had any Congress such questions to determine. They enter into the whole future life of the Republic. We have seen the false corner-stone knocked from beneath the temple. It must be replaced by a corner-stone of righteousness, solid and square and true. And that work is in our hands, and it must be done." Mr. Boutwell spoke of the "substantial justice" demanded for the Union they were restoring, and of the fact that "every traitor of the South and sympathizer with treason in the North" sustained the policy of the President and of the Democratic party. Mr. Dawes gave it his "hearty support," though he did not approve of the section disfranchising Rebels. Mr. Banks said that no policy would meet his approval which "left the basis of political society in the South unchanged." Speaking of the Southern States, he said, "They do not seek to govern by opinion. They do not rely on ideas for success. They govern by force. Their philosophy is force. Their tradition is force." Though he avowed his purpose to support the amendment, he frankly expressed the conviction that it did not fully "meet the emergency."

During the debate the policy of President Johnson came up for sharp and searching review, being both warmly defended and as warmly condemned. On the 5th of May Mr. Phelps of Maryland made a most elaborate and eulogistic speech in de fence of the President and his policy, and also a defence of the returning loyalty of the seceded States, which, he con tended, they had shown by the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery. Though confessing his detestation of treason, which he branded as "crime," and from which he shrunk as from "pollution," disowning, too, all sympathy with the leaders, who had "fired the Southern heart," and deeming them worthy of punishment, he still contended that they had been punished by the results of the war, and that they had given sufficient guaranties by adopting the Thirteenth Amendment. What was involved by that act he formulated in the four particulars, — a surrender of the cause of the war; a pledge of sincerity in accepting the results of the war; a guaranty of future loyalty; a punishment for treason by confiscation, involved in this loss of property in vested in their slaves, besides the other losses of the war.

He was immediately followed by Mr. Ingersoll of Illinois, who sharply arraigned the policy of the President, and questioned the purity and ingenuousness of his motives in adopting it. Though using specious words, he said, lie was cloaking ulterior purposes; and he surmised that his haste in hurrying the States into the Union resulted more from his desire for personal advancement than for the public good. "The dearest object of his heart," he contended, looked no higher than their support in the presidential election of 1868. "Under a pretence of restoring the Union," he said, "he is playing a game for the 'succession,' otherwise he would demand guaranties from the South that the commonest prudence would declare necessary before they are clothed with full political power." Referring to the contested point concerning "the status of States," the great question is not, he said, whether "technically speaking these States are in or out of the Union," but whether the Rebels in them should be "allowed to vote with reference to the restoration of those States." Speaking of the difficulties of the situation, he said, the old battles between liberty and justice and slavery and tyranny "are on us again." The clash of arms has ceased, the physical battle has ended, " but the old battle of ideas is upon us still." He admitted that there had been advancement, but there was still a great work to be accomplished. "The Rebels," he said, "were not made Rebels in a day, and they cannot be made patriots in a day. They were the legitimate offspring of slavery after an incubation of at least half a century, and now some are so crazy as to suppose that they can be turned into patriots in an hour. In my opinion they must be born again." Mr. Stevens closed the debate with earnest deprecation of the haste of restoring men "who had slaughtered half a million of our countrymen, until their clothes are dried." Alluding to the fact that it was " but six years ago "when they went forth "in one yelling body," he said, "I do not wish to sit side by side with men whose garments smell of the blood of my kindred." He expressed his gratification at the degree of unanimity finally reached among the Republicans upon the measure, though he regretted the number who opposed the exclusion of Rebels from the right of suffrage, saying he would not give the snap of his fingers for it without that provision. The resolution then passed by a vote of one hundred and twenty-eight to thirty-seven.

Its introduction into the Senate on the 27th of May was the signal for a large number of amendments. Mr. Wade offered a substitute, in which the provision excluding Rebels from suffrage until 1870 was left out, and all class discrimination in the requirements made by the States was forbidden. Mr. Wilson moved to strike out the word "property" as a qualification for suffrage, and instead of the provision excluding Rebels from suffrage until 1870, to insert one excluding from office, national or State, all who abandoned any United States office to engage in the Rebellion. Mr. Clark of New Hamp shire offered an amendment not differing essentially from that of Mr. Wilson. Mr. Buckalew moved to amend by a provision that the amendment should be submitted to legislatures hereafter chosen. Mr. Sherman submitted an amendment basing representation on suffrage. In the mean time the Republican members held a caucus at which a series of resolutions were adopted to be offered in the Senate as a substitute for the House resolution, and Mr. Howard of Michigan was chosen to present them. The consequence was that the debate in that body partook more of particular discussion of these and other proposed amendments than of the general subject, though the latter received consideration. It continued many days, and the amendments, modifications, and suggestions were very numerous. Some were accepted, but most were rejected, when on the 8tli of June the series, as amended, were adopted by a vote of thirty-three to eleven. The resolution was returned to the House, and with very little opposition the amendments of the Senate were concurred in by a vote of one hundred and twenty to thirty-two. The following is the text of the amendment as it passed both houses of Congress, received the approval of the President, and was ratified by the requisite number of the States: —

"Sec. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

"Sec. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a State, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

"Sec. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two thirds of each house, remove such disability.

"Sec. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations, and claims shall be held illegal and void.

"Sec. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." The amendment, having passed the fiery ordeal of congressional debate and action, was to be subjected to the hostile criticism of the President and to run the gantlet of the States. It passed Congress on the 18th of June, 1866, and on the 22d the President sent in a message in which, after alluding to "the paramount importance" of amending the Constitution under any circumstances, spoke of the enhancement of that importance "by the fact that the joint resolution was not submitted by the two houses to the approval of the President, and that of the thirty-six States which constitute the Union, eleven are excluded from representation in either house of Congress, although, with the single exception of Texas, they have been entirely restored to all their functions as States, in conformity with the organic law of the land, and have appeared at the national capital by Senators and Representatives who have applied for, and have been refused, admission to the vacant seats." Referring to his doubts " whether the action of Congress was in harmony with the sentiments of the people," " waiving the question of its constitutional validity, as also of " the merits of the article " to be submitted to the people, and expressing his belief that no amendment should be submitted until these States are represented in Congress, he informed that body that, in submitting it for the ratification of the States, his action and that of the Secretary of State were " purely ministerial and in no sense whatever committing the executive to an approval or a recommendation of the amendment to the State legislatures or to the people."

The opposition it encountered from the people was more protracted, if not more violent; for more than two years were consumed in the struggle, and it was not until the 20th of July, 1868, that Mr. Seward made public proclamation of his certificate that the requisite number of States had ratified the amendment. Reciting the facts and quoting the laws that prescribed his duty in the premises, he continued: — "And whereas it appears, from official documents on file in this Department, that the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed as aforesaid, has been ratified by the legislatures of the States of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Tennessee, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, New York, Ohio, Illinois, West Virginia, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Iowa;

"And whereas it further appears, from documents on file in this Department, that the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed as aforesaid, has also been ratified by newly constituted and newly established bodies avowing themselves to be, and acting as, the legislatures, respectively, of the States of Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama;

"And whereas it further appears, from official documents on file in this Department, that the legislatures of two of the States first above enumerated, to wit, Ohio and New Jersey, have since passed resolutions, respectively, withdrawing the consent of each of said States to the aforesaid amendment; and whereas it is deemed a matter of doubt and uncertainty whether such resolutions are not irregular, invalid, and therefore ineffectual for withdrawing the consent of the said two States, or of either of them, to the aforesaid amendment ; . . . .

"And whereas the twenty-three States first hereinbefore named, whose legislatures have ratified the said proposed amendment, and the six States next thereafter named, as having ratified the said proposed amendment by newly constituted and established legislative bodies, together constitute three fourths of the whole number of States in the United States:

"Now, therefore, be it known that I, William H. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States, by virtue and in pursuance of the second section of the act of Congress, approved the twentieth of April, eighteen hundred and eighteen, herein before cited, do hereby certify that if the resolutions of the legislatures of Ohio and New Jersey ratifying the aforesaid amendment are to be deemed as remaining in full force and effect, notwithstanding the subsequent resolutions of the legislatures of those States which purport to withdraw the consent of said States from such ratification, then the aforesaid amendment has been ratified in the manner hereinbefore mentioned, and so has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States."

The next day Congress adopted a concurrent resolution, in the Senate without a count, and in the House by a vote of one hundred and thirty-six to thirty-two, declaring the Fourteenth Amendment to be a part of the Constitution.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 647-660.


FRANKLIN, Benjamin, 1706-1790, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, statesman, inventor, diplomat, lawyer, publisher, author, philosopher, opponent of slavery. President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, 1787-1790. 

            Franklin wrote: “The unhappy man, who has long been treated as a brute animal, too frequently sinks beneath the common standard of the human species.  The galling chains that bind his body do also fetter his intellectual faculties, and impair the social affectations of his heart.  Accustomed to move like a mere machine, by the will of a master, reflection is suspended; he has not the power of choice; and reason and conscience have but little influence over his conduct, because he is chiefly governed by the passion of fear.  He is poor and friendless; perhaps worn out by extreme labor, age, and disease.

            “Attention to emancipated blacks, it is therefore to be hoped, will become a branch of our national policy; but, as far as we contribute to promote this emancipation, so far that attention is evidently a serious duty incumbent on us, and which we mean to discharge to the best of our judgment and abilities.

            “To instruct, to advise, to qualify those who have been restored to freedom, for the exercise and enjoyment of civil liberty; to promote in them habits of industry; to furnish them with employments suited to their age, sex, talents, and other circumstances; and to procure their children an education calculated for their future situation in life,--these are the great outlines of our annexed plan, which we have adopted, and which we conceive will essentially promote the public good, and the happiness of these our hitherto too much neglected fellow creatures.”

(Basker, 2005, pp. v, 5, 76, 80, 82, 85, 92, 101, 128, 133, 217, 219, 239, 247, 322; Bruns, 1977, pp. 5, 31, 46, 137, 195, 236, 267, 269, 376, 394, 510; Drake, 1950, pp. 39, 43, 46, 69-70, 85, 94, 101, 104; Dumond, 1961, pp. 126-127; Goodell, 1852, pp. 30, 40, 54, 96, 100; Hammond, 2011, pp. 32, 34-36, 50, 61-65, 170-174, 254, 268; Locke, 1901, pp. 25, 48, 50, 57, 58, 93, 98, 114, 136; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 14, 15, 17, 21, 25-26, 27, 94, 97; 103, 456, 547-551; Zilversmit, 1967, pp. 164-165, 166; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 526-533; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 3, Pt. 2, p. 585; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 8, p. 395; Encyclopaedia Americana, 1830, Vol. V, pp. 290-294)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FRANKLIN, Benjamin, statesman and philosopher, b. in Boston, Mass., 17 Jan., 1706; d. in Philadelphia, Pa., 17 April, 1790. […]

His last public act was the signing of a memorial addressed to congress by an anti-slavery society of which he was president. This petition, which was presented on 12 Feb., 1790, asked for the abolition of the slave-trade, and for the emancipation of slaves. The southern members of congress were very indignant, and Mr. Jackson, of Georgia, undertook to prove, with the aid of texts from Scripture, the sacredness of the institution of slavery. On 23 March, Franklin wrote an answer, which was published in the “National Gazette.” It was an ingenious parody of Jackson's speech, put into the mouth of a member of the “divan of Algiers,” and fortified by texts from the Koran. This characteristic article, one of the most amusing he ever published, was written within four weeks of his death. […]

Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 526-533.

Biography from National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans:

[…] [DR. FRANKLIN] continued in his retirement to ponder deeply on the condition of man, and to seek by every means in his power to promote the interest of his fellow creatures. Several of his writings at this period, and later, when entirely disabled from going abroad by his infirmities, are evidence of this fact. Many societies, the philosophical, of which he was president, that for political inquiries, for alleviating the miseries of public prisons, and for promoting the abolition of slavery, held their meetings at his house, to enjoy the benefit of his council. […]


Source: National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, 1839, Vol. 2.



Not so wide was the gulf between Lazarus and Dives as that which yawned between the whites of every class and the negroes; the one, however poor and powerless, was a member of the ruling element of society, with all the potentialities of freemen; the negro belonged to a servile race, and the best that even the free negro could hope was an inferior, imperfect, and unstable status. No legal distinctions were made between the quick negro and the stupid, the coal-black and the mulatto, the son of a planter and the son of a field-hand.

Yet there were many varieties of character, of capacity, and even of race among the negroes. Most of them were descended from the tribes of the west coast of Africa; but members of many inferior tribes reached the coast. On the same plantation could be found Guinea negroes, very black and uncouth; brown or bronze races, almost European in feature; a few individuals of the "copper color" type; and an occasional Arab. None of the African races persisted in America, their language almost entirely disappeared, and except "Buckra" hardly a word of any African dialect got a permanent lodgment in the language of the masters. The only visible influence upon the spoken language was a shortening of vowels and economy of consonants, which outsiders observed also in the speech of the white people.1 So far as speech and traditions of African life were concerned, they passed away with the individuals who brought them.

A strong influence to break up the negro race was its mixture with the whites. Some recent writers allege that this process did not begin on a large scale under slavery; the few available statistics, however, perfectly agree with the statements of all candid observers, to the effect that the mulattoes were from the first very numerous. The certainly incomplete census of 1860 showed five hundred and eighteen thousand mixed bloods, which was about a seventh of the negro population; and the births were in about the same proportion. Under the principle of partus sequitur ventrem, which was universal in North America, every child of a slave mother was born the slave of her owner, without inquiry as to the father. Of course, many of the mulattoes were children of mulattoes, but they all went back to white ancestors. Far too many were children of overseers, especially on the lonely plantations of absentee landlords.2 Others were the

1 Eggleston, Transit of Civilization, 11. 

2 Kemble, Georgian Plantation, 140, 162, 199, 208-210.

children of their own masters.1 An example is the case of Brazealle, a Mississippi planter, who from gratitude and affection to a mulatto woman who had nursed him through a dangerous illness took her to Ohio, educated her, emancipated her, and married her, and attempted by will to transfer his property to their son; but the Mississippi courts adjudged both mother and child to be slaves of a distant relative of the testator.2 Frederick Douglass supposed himself to be the son of his master.3 In Louisiana, and, indeed, throughout the south, it was not unusual for young men to keep negro mistresses, commonly of mixed blood.4 The quadroon balls were visited by most travellers, and somewhat resembled the similar resorts of the Parisian grisettes.5 Some visitors predicted that the "future inhabitants of America will inevitably be mulattoes.''6

So notorious were these relations that even semi-official defenders of slavery found it hard to square them with the prevailing notions as to morality, and one of them winds up an attempt to explain the thing away by saying that "a people whose men

1 Child, Anti-Slavery Catechism, 17.

2 Hinds vs. Brazealle, 2 Howard Miss. Reports, 837.

3 Douglass, Narrative,  2; cf. Kemble, Georgian Plantation, 227-229; Stuart, North America, II., 64; Rhodes, United States, I., 341-343.

4 Olmsted, Seaboard Slave States, 595-600; cf. Rhodes, United States, I., 339-341.

5 Featherstonhaugh, Excursion, 141; Buckingham, Slave States, I., 358; Saxe-Weimar, Travels, II., 61.

6 Abdy, Journal, I., 353; Lyell, Second Visit, I., 221.

are proverbially brave, intellectual and hospitable, and whose women are unaffectedly chaste, devoted to domestic life and happy in it, can neither be degraded nor demoralized, whatever their institutions may be." 1

 The result of these relations was a considerable body of slaves who made the color line seem almost imperceptible. The number of such very light slaves may be guessed from the numerous advertisements for negroes with blue eyes, fair skin, or nearly white. When a negro had reached the point where white people were easily deceived into thinking him one of themselves, 2 one of the greatest hardships of slavery became apparent; for not only could a person three-fourths or even thirty-one thirty-seconds white be legally held as a slave, but if set free he was only a free negro.

 The disabilities of free negroes were serious, and their effect extended far beyond the boundaries of the slave-holding states. In 1830 there were 137,781 free negroes in the north, the greater number of them in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. In legal status the free negro had lost ground since the Revolution, as was shown by the limitations upon his suffrage. Besides Georgia and South Carolina, which continued the distinction made in colonial times, between 1792 and 1834 the four border states of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky

1 Hammond, in Pro-Slavery Argument, 120.

2 Lyell, Second Visit, I., 221.

absolutely forbade suffrage to negroes; and every other slave state admitted by Congress came into the Union with a constitution prohibiting negroes from voting. In the remaining slave state, North Carolina, every freeman who paid a public tax was entitled to vote, and it was notorious that negroes could and did take part in elections, 1 till, in 1835, a new constitution excluded them from the suffrage. Such action had a ground in states where the negro vote might conceivably affect slavery; but it was repeated in several northern communities where there was no such excuse. New Jersey in 1807, Connecticut in 1814, and Pennsylvania in 1838 took away the suffrage from negroes and New York in 1821 1 required from them an unusually high property qualification.

These exclusions branded the negroes as of a different caste, even in the north, and it was backed up by other unfriendly legislation. Ohio began in 1803 to build up a black code, proceeding to a demand for a bond of five hundred dollars for negroes who might come into the state, and denying to the negro the right of testimony in cases in which a white man was a party, or admission to the public schools. Similar provisions were enacted by Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa when they came into the Union; Illinois even prohibited the coming of negroes into the state on any terms.2

1 Livermore, Historical Research, 11.

2 Hurd, Law of Freedom and Bondage; McKinley, Suffrage in the Colonies; Hart, in Am. Polit. Sci. Assoc., Proceedings, 1905.

The negroes, thus placed upon an inferior political and legal stand-point, were further subject to an un 1 yielding social prejudice. In 1830 the Park Street Church in Boston excluded from its house a colored family which had legal title to a pew; 1 the annual day when the Massachusetts state government was organized was called "nigger 'lection," as being a public occasion when negroes were allowed to appear on Boston Common; when the Boston & Providence Railroad was first opened, a special compartment was set apart for negroes.2 White men frequently refused to work with negroes on the same jobs. 3 Nevertheless, throughout the north, and especially in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, there were many thriving, respectable, and well-educated negroes who keenly felt the humiliation of their condition.

The negro in the north was at least free to move about and engage in such employment as he could find, free to bring up his family without forcible separation. Not so with his brother in the south, to whom manumission brought not freedom, but a half-way status having many of the sorrowful incidents of slavery. In many directions the free negro was steadily losing ground. As late as 1814, General Jackson, by a formal proclamation, promised "to every noble hearted generous freeman of color

1 May, Recollections, 269; Garrisons, Garrison, I., 253.

2 Quincy, Figures of the Past, 341.

3 Abdy, Journal, I., 358.

volunteering to serve during the present contest " We same bounty, "monthly pay, and daily rations and clothes furnished to any American soldier." 1 But soon after 1830 he was excluded from the opportunity to serve in the state militia, and in some states from fire companies and similar organizations, though negro musical bands were common. There seems little doubt that in most of the southern colonies free negroes were considered citizens.2 But Judge Daggett, of Connecticut, in 1833 held that the free negro was a person and not a citizen.3 The laws of the United States expressed a doubt on the subject, by recognizing no right of any other than a free white person to acquire citizenship by naturalization. The free negro was clearly not a full citizen in the eyes of the negro codes of the slave-holding states, which in wearisome detail distinguished between whites and free negroes, while frequently placing the free negro with the negro slaves. A few examples will show the character of these codes. In four states free negroes must have official guardians; in eight states they must be registered; in general, the testimony of negroes was not accepted against white men. They were forbidden in some places to sell drugs; in others, to sell wheat and tobacco; in others, to peddle market produce or to own a boat; in several states, from entering the commonwealth from elsewhere;

1 Livermore, Historical Research,

2 Ibid., 19-110

 3 Jay, Miscellaneous Writings, 42-45. 2 Ibid., 19-110.

in others a negro, if set free, must forthwith remove from the state.1 

Well-behaved and industrious free negroes were probably little disturbed, and laws were not too hardly administered against them; but there was a fearful potentiality of punishment. Free negroes were especially forbidden to hold meetings or to teach one another to read and write. They could commonly inherit, hold, and transmit real and personal property, but a free colored man was not allowed to testify against a white man, so that he could neither be witness against an aggressor nor even identify him before the court. In at least one state, by a whimsicality, a free negro was subject to a special poll-tax, the proceeds to be applied to colonization of his race in Africa.2

The ground for these discriminations, as stated by the leading literary man of the south in 1837, was that "by emancipation and the pettings of philanthropy the coarse and uneducated negro became lifted into a condition to which his intellect did not entitle him, and to which his manners were unequal;--he became presumptuous, accordingly, and consequently offensive." In contradiction to his own argument, the same writer a few pages further says: "They feel their inferiority to the whites, even when nominally freemen; and sink

1 Hurd, Law of Freedom and Bondage, II., chaps. xvii.-xix.

2 Simms, in Pro-Slavery Argument, 207; Stuart, North America, II., 80.

into the condition of serviles, in fact, if not in name.'' 1

To be at the same time presumptuous and servile, ambitious and deficient, was an illogical fate. A more frequent charge was that the free negro was a criminal, '' the very drones and pests of society.'' 2 In the northern as well as in the southern states the petty and even aggravated crimes committed by negroes were far above their proportion in the population; and in the south there was the additional feeling that they were a standing incentive to the slave to abjure his allegiance to his master. In many cases, however, the free negroes were the best of the race, set free because of faithfulness and character, reasons which led Roger B. Taney, later chief-justice, to free his own slaves; and he testified years after that he had not been disappointed.3 In hundreds of cases they were the children of their masters, sometimes petted, indulged, and educated children; in others they belonged to that small but desperately industrious class which bought its own freedom. On the other hand, there were many cases of freemen married to slave women, whose children - went to the master of the mother. Whether or not it was the desire of the free negro to support himself and his family respectably, he rarely had the opportunity; dislike and suspicion were against him

1 Simms, in Pro-Slavery Argument, 212, 220.

2 Dew, in ibid., 422.

3 Mass. Historical. Society, Proceedings, 1871-1873, p. 447.

everywhere, and the moment he got away from the place where he was known he found himself in danger of kidnapping.

For it must not be forgotten that if a slave could become free, a free negro could also become a slave, and that without fault or neglect on his own part. This reversion to slavery came about in many different methods, all acting steadily and effectively. In the first place, persons who had been set free for years and had no reason to suppose that they were anything else, might be seized upon for defects in the legal process of manumission. There were instances where successful suits were brought for the possession of families who had lived in freedom unmolested for thirty years. 1

The second 'method was by kidnapping, which was frequent in the north and south throughout the slavery period. One of the most striking cases, that of Peter Still, was revealed in all its enormity by the return of the stolen person to Philadelphia after more than twenty years' captivity.2 Of course, a grown man or woman thus kidnapped might find means of communicating with his friends; but Solomon Northup was in bondage twelve years before he could attract the attention of the legal authorities to his undoubted claim to freedom. 3 

1 E. g., Rhame vs. Ferguson and Dangerfield, in Buckingham, Slave States, II., 32; Adams, y 154.

2 Pickard, Kidnapped and Ransomed: 248.

 3 McDougall, Fugitive Slaves, § 38; Chambers, Am. Slavery and Colour, 192.

In the south the offence was a little more dangerous, because it was closely akin to slave stealing, which was one of the most atrocious of all crimes against slave property.

A still more common case was the sale of free negroes for their jail fees, a thing which could hardly be believed but for the accumulation of evidence. In several of the southern states a negro who incurred a fine which he could not pay might be sold as a slave. In Maryland a free negro under certain circumstances might be sold as a perpetual slave, simply for the offence of coming into the state.1 The practice attracted great attention in the north because of the revelation in 1829 that it was steadily going on in the District of Columbia. 2 The practice of the District authorities was to arrest any colored person who could not give an account of himself, to advertise him, and, if nobody appeared to establish a claim, to sell him in order to reimburse the jailers their fees; In five cases reported the marshal had not only recovered his fees, but about three hundred dollars more. The desperate injustice of condemning a man to slavery because of a failure to prove him a slave was one of the most effective arguments of the abolitionists. The effects of these methods of re-enslavement are hard to calculate; but for some

1 Case of Ned Davis in Maryland, 1851, Chambers, Am. Slavery' and Colour, 186-188.

2 Debates of Congress, 20 Cong., 2 Sess., 167, 175-187, 191; House Reports, 20 Cong, 2 Session, No. 60; Niles' Register, XXXIV., 191; Tremain, Slavery in District of Columbia, 42-49.

cause there was a steady diminution of free negroes in several southern states. Either free negroes could not keep up the natural increase of their race or they were forced back into slavery. In some instances, freemen for various reasons sought and obtained the status of the slave; and some states authorized any free negro thus to choose him a master who, if he accepted the relation, became responsible for the negro; but upon no point in the history of slavery is there less evidence than of a desire by the free negro for the comforts of a slave home. The whole system of slavery and slave codes was grounded upon the a priori belief that every slave desired to be free and every free negro desired to remain free. In the midst of poverty, degradation, and suspicion, some free negroes came to be persons of consideration in the southern community. Solomon Humphries, a slave who had bought his own freedom, was a well-known business man in Georgia, readily trusted by white merchants.1 Lundy found at San Antonio a Louisiana negro who had bought the freedom of his family and himself, owned several houses and lots, and his sister was married to a Frenchman.2 The aggregate property of the two hundred and sixty-two thousand free negroes in the south in 1860 has been estimated at twenty-five million dollars. Some of these people found means

1 Buckingham, Slave States, I., 211.

2 Life of Benjamin Lundy, 54.

to make their way into the northern states, hoping for better opportunities, for the more prosperous  they were in the south the more striking was their silent argument against slavery. That nearly ten per cent of the southern negroes should have been free in 1830 was a tribute to the humanity of the southern people, for everyone was practically a denial of the principle that slavery was a good thing for the negroes; and every thriving one disproved the argument that if the negro were set free he would starve rather than support himself.

Source:  Hart, Albert Bushnell, Slavery and Abolition. In Hart, Albert Bushnell, ed., The American Nation: A History, Vol. 16, 79-91. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1906.



The Free Soil Party was founded August 9-10, 1848, in Buffalo, New York.  It included members of the “Conscience Whigs” Party, Democrats and members of the Liberty Party.  The motto was, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men.”  It was a third party, whose main purpose was opposing the expansion of slavery into the Western territories acquired after the war with Mexico.  The party argued that free men on free soil was a morally and economically superior system to slavery.  The party agreed with the Wilmot Proviso, and tried to remove existing laws that discriminated against freed African Americans.  The party was active from 1848 to 1852.  The party’s support came largely from the areas of upstate New York.  The party membership was absorbed by the Republican Party at its founding in 1854.

(Blue, 1987; Blue, 1973; Blue, 2005, pp. 3, 4, 7, 9-13, 35, 54-55, 66, 68-75, 121, 123, 139, 142, 144-145, 146, 170-171, 184, 198-205, 212, 214, 218-219, 236, 245; Duberman, 1968; Dumond, 1961; Earle, 2004; Filler, 1960, pp. 108, 122, 132, 182, 187, 189, 200, 213, 219, 223, 228, 233, 237, 253; Foner, 1995; Maybee, 1970, pp. 98, 110, 161, 173, 178, 247, 253, 261, 278, 279, 391n29; Mitchell, 2007, pp. 4, 7, 9, 19, 22, 26, 35, 44-47, 53-56, 60-73; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 50, 133-136, 173, 225, 297-298, 354, 514, 650-651; Sernett, 2002, pp. 124-127, 152; Smith, 1897  Wilson, 1872)

Chapter: “Coalition in Massachusetts. Election of Mr. Sumner,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

In the year 1848 there were thousands of Democrats who sympathized, for various reasons, with the Free Soil movement, though they gave a reluctant support to General Cass. But when the election was over, and the government had passed from Democratic rule, and the Southern pressure was in some measure lifted by both the removal of the responsibility of power and what was deemed Southern recreancy in deserting General Cass for General Taylor, there were many who hoped that their party would place itself in better position. This was specially manifested in Ohio in the organization of its legislature, in the election of judges, and also in the election of Mr. Chase as United States Senator. In Connecticut the Democrats and Free-Soilers combined in the election of members of Congress; Mr. Booth, who had voted the Free Soil ticket, Mr. Cleveland and Mr. Waldo, who had publicly indorsed the Free Soil platform, being chosen members of the House. In Vermont, too, a similar fusion was effected, and the Democrats passed antislavery resolutions.

The Massachusetts Democratic State convention met in Springfield on the 19th of September, 1849. It consisted of about six hundred members, who adopted with hardly a dissenting voice, and with general applause, resolutions avowing opposition "to slavery in every form and color" ; pronouncing "in favor of freedom and free soil wherever man lives throughout God's heritage"; and declaring that "slavery is a mere municipal regulation," that it " does not exist in the Territories by municipal law," that " Congress has no power to institute it," that " the local laws of our State can never be transported there," that it " can never exist there but by local law sanctioned by Congress." They also declared their opposition to the extension of slavery to the Territories, and in favor of restricting it to the limits within which it exists by the local laws of the States. Those resolutions were drawn up by Benjamin F. Hallett. On his way to the convention he read them to Charles C. Hazewell, then editor of the Boston “Times," and to Mr. Wilson, then editor of the Boston “Emancipator and Republican." Mr. Hazewell was a gentle man of vast historical acquisitions, of extraordinary memory, and of progressive views. He approved of the sentiments of the resolutions; but he asked Mr. Hallett what the Southern Democrats would say to them. To this question that gentleman promptly replied: "I do not care what they say. We have risked everything for them. They deserted General Cass and elected General Taylor. They can take care of themselves and we can take care of ourselves." They were indorsed by the Boston “Post “on the morning after the convention, and the opinion was expressed that the two minority parties could act together on State affairs. There was cooperation in many of the senatorial and representative districts, but it was mainly for local purposes. In Wisconsin, too, there was a like co-operation between the Free-Soilers and the Democrats, the Democratic State convention passing a series of resolutions of the most thorough antislavery character.

The New York Democratic State committee invited the Free Soil State committee to unite with them in calling a union convention for the nomination of a union ticket. In response the committee reiterated their convictions concerning slavery, declared it to be a social and political evil, avowed their attachment to the ordinance of 1787, and stated that they could form no combinations that would require its abandonment. They expressed their gratification that Democrats in other States were taking ground against slavery extension. Not withstanding this reply, the two parties met simultaneously in convention at Rome on the 16th of August. The Democratic convention passed resolutions in favor of the power of Congress to prohibit slavery in the Territories and in the District of Columbia, but would not pass any making slavery a test question. The Free Soil convention adopted resolutions embodying the principles of the Buffalo platform. Committees of conference were appointed, but the Democratic convention refused to accept the resolutions of the Free Soil body. And yet the latter, under the lead of John Yan Buren, proposed to merge the two conventions in one. But the proffer was declined, and the two adjourned. The Free-Soilers immediately issued an address to the public in which they arraigned with much severity the course of the Democratic convention.

The Democratic State convention was held at Syracuse on the 5th of September, nominated a State ticket, and, singularly enough in view of what had transpired and of their hitherto unsuccessful efforts at union, proposed that the Free-Soilers should name a portion of the candidates to be voted for, providing, however, that they should be well-known Democrats, and that they should " impose no principle or test " upon the candidates " inconsistent with the resolutions " adopted at Rome by the Democratic convention, conditions that effectually disfranchised the old members of the Liberty party and the forty thousand Whigs who had voted with the Free Soil party.

In the Free Soil, or Barnburner, convention at Utica, both the resolutions and the speeches were antislavery in character, and strong hopes were expressed that the Democratic Party would soon be found occupying that ground. In one of the resolutions adopted it was declared to be “dishonorable to New York if the Democracy of this great Commonwealth should reject the teachings of her Tompkins and her Wright, and refuse to assist in this great work of regeneration, the foundations of which were laid by Thomas Jefferson." “We expect to make the Democratic party of this State," said John Yan Buren, “the great antislavery party of this State, and through it to make the Democratic party of the United States the great antislavery party of the United States." Said Henry B. Stanton: " Here and to-day we are doing up the work of centuries, and God help us to do it well!” He expressed the belief that the people, the masses, could be “trusted on the question of slavery."

But, notwithstanding these distinct and loudly proclaimed avowals of antislavery sentiments, the convention proceeded to the acceptance of the Syracuse proposition for the union of the parties in the ensuing election. Without any security that the sentiments they had just avowed should become the principles of the united party, or any assurance other than their professed ability to convert the Democratic organization to their faith, they entered into an organic union with a party whose past history and current policy were in direct antagonism with the avowed principles and purposes of their own. As might have been expected, the only effect was disastrous. Instead of converting the Democratic Party, they themselves apostatized from their loudly proclaimed faith, accepted the compromise measures of 1850, helped elect and sustained Franklin Pierce, whose administration was the most intensely proslavery on record.

When the Whig majority in the Massachusetts legislature rejected Mr. Wilson's proposition to request Mr. Webster to vote against the pending compromise measures, he declared his determination to co-operate with anybody of men to drive the dominant party from power, and to send to the Senate a statesman who would fitly represent the cherished and distinguishing opinions of the Commonwealth. Avowing himself as opposed to the fusion of parties except on “the basis of the full and complete recognition of the principles embodied in the Buffalo platform," he advocated a “coalition” between the Free Soil and Democratic parties, each party to retain its distinctive organization, principles, and policy. He kept the pledge thus made on the floor of the House of Representatives, and during the spring and summer of 1850 did what he could to secure the co-operation of the masses of these parties. The death of President Taylor, the reactionary course of Mr. Fillmore, the activity of Mr. Webster, the defection of Northern Whigs, and the assured triumph of the com promise measures, seemed to him to make a coalition a necessity and its success a duty. To aid that result he, as chairman of the State committee of the Free Soil party, invited one hundred of the leading Free-Soilers of the State to meet with the committee on the 10th of September. The meeting was held at the Adams House in Boston. Some fifty or sixty were present. It was a meeting remarkable for its large proportion of thoughtful and cultivated men, and men, too, of irreproachable character and unblemished integrity. They were persons who would very naturally think independently, and differ, too, on the new questions that were pressing their claims and clamoring for answers. Mr. Wilson presided, and stated that the purpose of the meeting was to consider the policy of co-operating with the Democrats at the coming election. He expressed the belief that a large majority of the Free Soil party were in favor of a coalition for the purpose of securing a United States Senator for six years, and that, if the State committee and other leading Free-Soilers united upon that policy, it would be successful. It was for the purpose of canvassing the question and ascertaining their views that he had called them together.

The discussion was opened by John G. Palfrey, who ex pressed his decided opposition to the proposed movement. He thought the value of electing a United States Senator had been exaggerated, that there were doubts of their ability to carry out such a programme, and that the proposed coalition might prove disastrous to their own organization. Charles Francis Adams expressed a similar opposition in language very decided and unequivocal. With similar emphasis and decision did Richard H. Dana, Jr., Samuel Hoar, and Stephen H. Phillips also oppose the proposed coalition. On the other hand, Marcus Morton, William Jackson, Dr. Caleb Swan, and

John B. Alley favored it, and augured the best results there from. But, at the suggestion of Mr. Adams, William A. White moved that no action should be taken committing the State committee or the party, but that each member should be left to act according to his sense of duty. His motion received the concurrence of the meeting. A majority of those present were unquestionably opposed to the plan, but a minority believed it could be made a success, and were determined to make the trial. There can be no doubt, however, that, though these men differed in regard to the proposed policy, they were actuated by a common purpose. Among those who favored the proposed action was William Jackson, who had been long an antislavery man, a prominent member of the Liberty party, but who held all parties as matters of secondary importance, to be subordinated to the paramount claims of freedom. He made an earnest speech. Though, he said, he did not expect to live to see the day when the Liberty or Free Soil party would have a majority in the State or the nation, he was anxious that they should throw their votes so that they should be felt, that they should be as faithful to liberty as the slaveholders were to slavery. “I want to make my vote tell," he said, " and it will not do to be too straight and perpendicular for the sake of principle." Dr. Swan, too, a veteran and earnest antislavery man, strenuously advocated the proposed coalition. A campaign paper was started, called the "Free-Soiler," edited by Francis W. Bird, John B. Alley, and Horace E. Smith. It advocated the proposed union on the distinct ground of censuring the action of Mr. Webster, repudiating the compromise measures and the administration, and electing a Free Soil senator. The " Emancipator and Republican," edited by Mr. Wilson, the Dedham " Gazette," by Mr. Keyes, the Worcester " Spy," by Mr. Earle, the Lowell " American," by William S. Robinson, the Northampton " Courier," by Mr. Gere, advocated a coalition upon the same basis.

The Free Soil State convention met in Boston on the 3d of October. The convention was called to order by Mr. Wilson, Amasa Walker was made temporary chairman, and Joseph T.Buckingham was made permanent president. Both Stephen C. Phillips and John Mills sent letters declining to be again candidates for governor and lieutenant-governor. These letters and the question of candidates were referred to a committee of one from each county. The committee reported the names of Mr. Phillips and Mr. Walker as candidates, and they were nominated by acclamation and a rising vote. These nominations were very satisfactory to the party and commanded a hearty support. Mr. Phillips was among the earliest advocates of antislavery in the ranks of the Whig party. He was a successful merchant, of liberal education and culture, a ready, earnest, and forcible speaker, eminently conscientious and practical, and always ready to make personal sacrifices for the cause he espoused. Mr. Walker was also a merchant. Though he belonged to the Democratic Party he was an early and earnest antislavery man. With wealth, practical sagacity, mental culture and acumen, he was an earnest and effective worker in the ranks of the new party.

Charles Francis Adams reported a series of resolutions in which the compromise measures were declared to be " shocking to the best feelings of the human heart," and the Fugitive Slave Act " an insult to humanity, a disgrace to free America, and a dishonor to the civilization of the age "; that to " such a law no obedience can spring from the heart;" and that " no duty is more imperative than that of laboring from this time forward for its immediate and unconditional repeal." Brief and eloquent speeches were made by Julian of Indiana, Free Soil member of Congress, Sumner, Adams, Burlingame, Keyes, Leavitt, Bradburn, and White.

Horace Mann had been selected by the Whigs of the Eighth District to succeed John Quincy Adams. His antislavery opinions were well known when elected, and he had never exhibited any faltering in Congress from the position he had maintained at home. His severe criticism and condemnation of Mr. Webster and his course were, however, very distasteful to his Whig constituents, and he was rejected as their candidate for the pending election. But what had so grievously offended the Whigs recommended him to the Free-Soilers. A District convention was held at Dedham, over which Mr. Adams presided. In his address he said that " there was no question that the striking down of the Representative in this District would be considered by the slaveholders as the greatest triumph yet achieved, because he had the courage to do what no other public man had done. He had boldly taken the great traitor by the throat and held him up to the view of the people of Massachusetts." He said that the present afforded a fine opportunity to “overlook the rigid lines of party," and to extend the hand of fellowship to the men of other parties who agreed with them in “support of great principles." As for himself, he declared his determination never to be a candidate for office "upon a ticket formed by any combination of parties unless it was founded on Free Soil principles." Speeches were made by Edward L. Keyes, Francis W. Bird, and Edwin Thompson. Mr. Mann received the unanimous vote of the convention, and was triumphantly elected by the people.

The Free Soil and Democratic conventions of Middlesex County were held at Concord for the nomination of six Senators on the same day; George F. Farley presiding over the former, and Benjamin F. Butler over the latter. Mr. Farley, on taking the chair, gave a searching review of the Whig party, vindicated the principles of the Free Soil organization, and justified the proposed union of forces for the triumph of the principles of the new party. A committee of conference with the Democrats was appointed. John A. Bolles, William A. White, Chauncy L. Knapp, James M. Stone, and S. P. Adams vindicated the proposed policy for local purposes, for the condemnation of the administration, and the election of a United States Senator pledged to freedom. Mr. Stone gave pertinent expression to the great thought of the movement by saying that he would “use the weapon of the Whig party to strike power out of the grasp of the Democratic Party, and the weapon of the Democratic party to strike power out of the grasp of the Whig party."

Mr. Wilson defined the grounds on which he favored the proposed union. Not State issues, but liberty, afforded the motive that influenced him in his action. By temporarily uniting with the Democrats he hoped to secure the balance of power, and place the Free-Soilers in a position to direct the policy of Massachusetts and place the Old Commonwealth “in the van in the great contest to rescue the government from the grasp of the Slave Power." He wished, above all, to send a true and tried champion of freedom to the Senate of the United States, “to stand side by side with Hale, Seward, and Chase, to fight the battles of liberty for the next six years." Whatever measures might be needful for the glory of the State would receive their support; “but all these measures," he said,” must be subordinate to the great question of the age." In the nomination of Mann and Fowler the Free-Soilers had shown their readiness to unite with Whigs whenever by so doing they could advance their principles. The proffer was accepted by the Democratic convention, the desired arrangement was made in the senatorial and representative Districts, and the nominations, thus made, secured the almost unanimous support of the Free Soil and Democratic parties.

The Free Soil speakers and presses placed their appeal for popular support on the same basis. The views of the masses of the party were well expressed by Mr. Sumner, a few days before the election, in a speech in Faneuil Hall. " It is because," he said, " I place freedom above all else that I cordially concur in the different unions and combinations throughout the Commonwealth, in Mr. Mann's District, of Free-Soilers with Whigs ; also in Mr. Fowler's District, of Free-Soilers with Whigs ; and generally in senatorial Districts, of Free-Soilers with Democrats. By the first of these, two good men may be secured in Congress, while by the latter the friends of freedom may obtain a controlling influence in the legislature of Massachusetts during the coming session, and thus advance our cause. They may arbitrate between both the old parties, making freedom their perpetual object, and in this way contribute more powerfully than they otherwise could to the cause which has drawn us together." These sentiments, thus fully and frankly expressed by Mr. Sumner, not only embodied the sentiments of the great body of the Free Soil party, but unquestionably contributed largely to his selection as candidate for the senatorship after its success. The coalition triumphed. There was no choice for governor, and decisive majorities were secured in both houses of the legislature. When it assembled in January, 1851, committees of conference were appointed by the Free Soil and Democratic caucuses. With entire unanimity, the Free Soil members authorized their committee, at the head of which was placed the venerable John Milton Earle, to express their entire readiness to elect Mr. Boutwell governor, and to allow Democratic candidates to fill the other State offices, on the sole condition that a Free-Soiler, selected by Free-Soilers, should be elected for the long term to the Senate of the United States. For this they had fought the battle, and for this they were willing to sacrifice everything else. The Democrats acquiesced in the arrangement, though they expressed a preference that Free-Soilers should fill some of the State offices.

But this arrangement was not made without opposition. Mr. Palfrey addressed a letter to the Free Soil members of the legislature in deprecation of the proposed measure, expressing similar sentiments to those he had avowed at the conference. He reiterated the idea that they were overestimating the importance of having a Senator, who must necessarily be in a lean minority, while the risks to the Free Soil party were great, -- too great to be wisely run for a boon of such questionable value. He expressed the conviction that they were on the eve of great changes, and of new combinations in the political world, and that they should keep themselves free from entangling alliances, and hold themselves in a position to profit by any new developments which might be, at any time, expected. Mr. Adams wrote a letter to the Boston “Atlas," expressing concurrence in the views maintained by Mr. Palfrey. He expressed confidence in “the purity of purpose” of the Free Soil party, and, though he might not agree with the majority in the means to the end, he believed “the end we mean to reach is one and the same, -- the predominance of the principles of freedom in the national policy." He confessed that he felt almost as strongly as any of his party the temptation to overlook the difficulties in his desire to secure the results. “Most especially should I be reconciled," he said, " to everything short of the dissolution of the party into old-line Democracy, if it could ring the political knell of one whose course has done more, in my humble judgment, to shake the wavering principles and unsettle the highest policy of Puritan New England than that of any man known in its history."

The Free Soil proposition was accepted. Henry Wilson was made president of the Senate, and Nathaniel P. Banks, Jr., speaker of the House; Mr. Boutwell was chosen governor, Mr. Cushman was made lieutenant-governor, Amasa Walker, the Free Soil candidate for lieutenant-governor, was made Secretary of State, the Free-Soilers had four of the nine councillors, and Robert Rantoul, Jr., proposed by the Democrats, was accepted and elected to the United States Senate for the remainder of the time ending March 4, 1851. Mr. Simmer was unanimously selected by the Free-Soilers, receiving eighty-two votes as their candidate for Senator for the long term, and after a somewhat exciting debate his nomination was accepted by the Democratic caucus. A few Democrats, under the lead of Caleb Gushing, opposed his nomination, as also did the "Morning Post," the organ of the party, and several other Democratic papers. Samuel D. Bradford addressed a letter to the Democratic members of the legislature, in which he warned them of the peril to the party the proposed coalition would bring; and he told them they were standing " on the very brink of political annihilation," and implored them not to disturb the country by sending " a firebrand into the councils of the nation."

Robert C. Winthrop was selected as the Whig candidate for Senator. In the Senate Mr. Sumner received twenty-three votes, Mr. Winthrop fourteen, and Henry W. Bishop one. On the first ballot in the House Mr. Sumner received one hundred and eighty-six votes, Mr. Winthrop one hundred and sixty-seven. As one hundred and ninety-three votes were necessary for a choice, Mr. Sumner lacked five of the requisite number. The recusant Democrats gave twenty-three votes, and there were a few scattering ballots cast. This failure to elect Mr. Sumner caused a deep feeling of disappointment both in and out of the legislature. Conferences and caucuses were held by the Free Soil members almost daily. A committee on organization was appointed, of which Mr. Wil son was chairman. This committee labored with tireless zeal and unfaltering faith. They insisted from the beginning that their candidate could be elected and should be elected, and that no change or compromise should be made. They were sustained by the Free Soil masses and presses and by leading Free-Soilers in and out of the State. Adams, Dana, and Phillips, and others who opposed this alliance with the Democracy, were gratified with the selection of Mr. Sumner as the candidate, hoped for his election, and were opposed to his withdrawal or abandonment.

But, after weeks spent in unsuccessful struggles, some of the Free-Soilers, hoping that some other candidate would be more acceptable, counselled a change. Some of the seceding Democrats intimated that another candidate would command votes that Mr. Sumner had failed to receive. Indeed, Mr. Gushing took occasion to say that Mr. Sumner's cause was “a lost cause." Governor Boutwell, also believing that the contest was hopeless, counselled a change from Mr. Sumner to Stephen C. Phillips. On the 22d of February, Mr. Sumner wrote to Mr. Wilson, requesting him to communicate to the Free Soil members his desire that they should not hesitate to transfer their support to some other candidate faithful to their cause, if success could be thus achieved. In this letter he said: “Abandon me, then, whenever you think best, without notice or apology. The cause is everything; I am nothing."

But the great body of the Free-Soilers were firm, and, not withstanding the fierce opposition arrayed against their candidate, the timidity of friends, the counsels of the governor, and the inflexibility of the “indomitables," as the twenty-three Democrats styled themselves, they still adhered to their candidate. The contest continued until the 24th of April, when, on the twenty-sixth ballot, Mr. Sumner received just the requisite number, and was elected. With that majority was Nathaniel B. Borden of Fall River, an antislavery Whig and former member of Congress, who gracefully yielded to the wishes of a majority of his Whig constituents, as expressed in a memorial, circulated through the tireless efforts of James Buffinton. Of the twenty-three Democrats, it is believed that Israel Haynes of Sudbury finally gave his vote for Mr. Sumner.

The result of the vote was hailed with marked demonstrations of delight, and the Free-Soilers who had doubted the wisdom of the arrangement rejoiced in its success. In the evening an immense meeting was held in State Street, at which congratulatory speeches were made by Thomas Russell, Joseph Lyman, and Henry Wilson. This meeting then moved to the house of Mr. Sumner, but he had retired to the home of a friend in Cambridge, preferring to avoid the anticipated demonstrations of victory. The joyous crowd then went to the house of Mr. Adams, who addressed them, saying: "I am glad of the opportunity to congratulate my friends upon the glorious triumphs of liberty in the election of Mr. Sumner." But Mr. Sumner was by no means ungrateful to his friends for their long and persistent support. In a letter to Mr. Wilson, written on the day after his election, he disowned and warmly expressed his deprecation of the idea of seeming " cold and churlish in thus withdrawing from all the public manifestations of triumph to which our friends are prompted," saying that by so doing he was only following " the line of reserve " he had pursued throughout the contest. To Mr. Wilson's share in the contest he thus referred: “To your ability, energy, determination, and fidelity our cause owes its present success. For weal or woe, you must take the responsibility of having placed me in the Senate of the United States. I am prompted to add, that while you have done all this I have never heard from you a single suggestion of a selfish character, looking in any way to any good to yourself; your labors have been as disinterested as they have been effective."

Opprobrious epithets were plentifully bestowed upon those who planned and participated in the coalition. But the results abundantly vindicated both the principle and the policy of that movement. By it was placed in the Senate of the United States one who has borne a conspicuous part in the councils of the nation and rendered large service to the cause of freedom. By it was elected to the same high station, though for a brief period, Robert Rantoul, Jr., who, though a member of the Democratic Party, was a gentleman of recognized ability and clearly pronounced antislavery convictions, so pronounced that he lost caste with his party and was discarded therefor. It sent, too, or aided in sending, Charles Allen, Horace Mann, Orrin Fowler, and Robert Rantoul, Jr., to the House of Representatives for the XXXIId Congress. Conscious of the purity of their motives and aims, and gratified arid satisfied with the result, the advocates of the coalition turned from the hasty and harsh denunciations of the present, and appealed with assured confidence to the calmer judgments of the future. To those charges of “bargain and corruption " that were then so freely made against the Free Soil leaders Horace Mann replied. Referring to a similar charge, which had been made against the administration of John Quincy Adams, he said : " I believe the same charge against the Free Soil party will have come twenty years hence to the same result, that of conferring honor upon its object and infamy upon its authors."

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 338-351.



Please note that this entry includes two chapters:

·        Wilson, “Freedmen's Bureau,” 1878

·        Wilson, “Workings of the Bureau,” 1878

Chapter: “Freedmen's Bureau,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Though there was much in Northern efforts for the freedmen, individual and combined, highly creditable to human nature, there were revelations less worthy of commendation. Though the rapid and wide-spread multiplication of freed men's associations, with their prompt and generous contributions; the numbers of cultivated men and women leaving their pleasant homes for the war-bestead South, with its discomforts and dangers, furnish examples of thoughtful sympathy and heroic sacrifices which greatly relieve the otherwise dark picture of those days, there were exhibited examples of personal self-seeking and weakness less pleasant of review. While, too, there were many army officials who were earnest and prompt in co-operation, others at best looked coldly on, if they did not actively oppose. Sharing in the prevailing prejudice against color, and fully committed to the assumption that the war was for the Union and not for Abolition, and that it was no part of their business to "fight for the nigger," they did not accept kindly anything that pointed in the opposite direction. And as the presence of fugitives harbored in their camps, cared for and instructed by organized Northern efforts, seemed a practical refutation of their oft-repeated dogma, they did not look with favor upon either them or the policy that would protect and provide for them.

From these combined causes resulted both waste and friction. The self-seeking and incompetence of some of the pro fessed workers for the freedmen, the differences of opinion and policy of others, with their not infrequent conflicts of jurisdiction and rival claims, could not but interfere with the successful prosecution of the purpose in hand. It became, therefore, increasingly manifest, as the work widened in its dimensions and increased in its difficulties, that the agency of the government should become authoritative as well as eleemosynary, and that the arm of the military should guide somewhat as well as protect the efforts made in behalf of these wards of the nation. None felt this more than those brought by official relations in close contact with the work itself.

On the 19th of July, 1864, there assembled in Indianapolis, Indiana, a convention of delegates from seven Western freed men's associations. Its sessions continued two days, and its utterances, if not authoritative, revealed the general aspect of the work at the time, and the attitude of those connected with it. Its call, after mention of its purpose to increase their sympathies and to promote a better mutual understanding, "to prevent friction in our operations, and disagreements among our representatives in the field,"— "the most extended field that ever invited humane and benevolent effort," and still increasing, — adds: "Its very magnitude demands the most efficient application of the contributions of which we are made almoners. Difficulties arising from the nature of the work, the condition of society in the South, our relation to officers and agents of the government, and other circumstances have embarrassed us from the first, and will continue." One of the results of the convention was the adoption of a memorial to President Lincoln. After speaking of the general purposes of their association, and recognizing the aid and protection afforded by the government and officers in charge "at many points," they still complain that they had been "thwarted in some instances by the negligence, and in others by the opposition, of officers having charge of posts where the freed people were collected." They thus illustrate and intensify this general charge: "In many instances our schools have been interrupted by what seemed to be unnecessary and uncalled-for changes in the camps; in some cases, they have been entirely broken up by military orders, expelling the colored people from towns and cities, and herding them in corrals even, when many of the victims had been living in their own habitations, and supporting themselves." They therefore urge upon the President, as commander-in-chief, to require, by military order, officers in charge "to give to our agents and teachers all necessary aid and co-operation, to enable us to effect the purposes of our organization." Though admitting that in most instances they had been " able to co-operate pleasantly and with some efficiency with the agents of the War and Treasury Departments," they had "at all times been conscious that there was no person in the field to represent both the government and our associations." They therefore respectfully request the President to appoint a "supervising agent of freedmen's affairs in the "West, who, clothed with proper military authority, should represent both." They further urge such appointment, because, they add, " of the failure, on the part of Congress, to establish a bureau of freedmen's affairs, to which the management of their interests would have properly belonged."

Though this convention was held subsequently to most of the discussions referred to in this chapter, it revealed very distinctly the facts, and the necessities of the case as seen and comprehended at the time by men with the largest opportunities for understanding them, and with the most honest purpose and desire that the wisest course should be adopted.

As from the first the popular thought and anxieties were turned to the subject by the early escape of slaves to the Union lines, and the subsequent legislation of Congress concerning colored soldiers and their families, this problem of the nation's duty was early brought to the notice of Congress. Only twelve days after the Proclamation of President Lincoln, making the slaves free on the 12th of January, Mr. Wilson presented in the Senate a memorial of the Emancipation League of Massachusetts, praying the immediate establishment of a bureau of emancipation. On the 19th of the same month Mr. Eliot, in the House, introduced a bill to establish a Bureau of Emancipation, and it was referred to the Select Committee on Emancipation. In the following December he introduced a similar bill, and it was referred to a select committee of nine, consisting of himself, Kelley, Knapp, Orth, Boyd, Kalbfleisch, Cobb, Anderson, and Middleton, — five Republicans, three Democrats, and one (Anderson of Kentucky) Union. A bill was reported, recommitted, reported again with an amendment, and a minority report signed by Kalbfleisch and Knapp; and on the 10th of February it came up for consideration.

The act provided for the appointment of a Commissioner of Freedmen's Affairs, to whom should be referred, under direction of the Secretary of War, all questions arising under the act that created the office, and all laws then existing and afterward to be enacted concerning freedmen. He was also empowered to make all needful rules and regulations for their general superintendence and management. The act also provided that all officers, military or civil, intrusted with freed men's affairs, should report to him. It also provided that, under the direction of the Secretary of War, he should have the general oversight and control of measures needful for the protection and preservation of the freedmen, to the end that they and the government of the United States should be "mutually protected and their respective rights and interests duly determined and maintained." He was also empowered to create "departments of freedmen," to be under the control of assistant commissioners, who should report quarterly to him. It was also made a part of the duty of these assistant commissioners, under such rules and regulations as the Commissioner might prescribe, to allow such freedmen to "occupy, cultivate, and improve " such abandoned lands as lay within the States in rebellion; to advise and aid the freedmen, when needful, to organize and direct their labor, and to adjust with them their wages. They were, too, allowed and empowered to act "as arbitrators," in all difficulties between them, "except when a resort to a provost judge or other legal tribunal became necessary."

The report of the minority began with four questions; Has Congress the legal power to establish a bureau "for the purposes contemplated in the bill"? Has Congress the constitutional power to impose a tax on the inhabitants of one State to support the indigent freedmen of another? " Will the bill produce the effects desired," or is there not danger of its introducing " a new system of vassalage," " only differing in appellation " from the system of slavery itself? Should it not be under the control of the Department of the Interior, instead of the War Department? The first three questions were answered in the negative; the fourth in the affirmative. It was contended that, however humane the purpose, there was no more right to establish a bureau for the African than for the Caucasian race. It also complained that, though "the bill embraces the essential features of the administration of justice," it was "destitute of the machinery necessary to secure" it. If these are really freedmen, it said, and not free only in name, then the jurisdiction proposed in the bill should be "vested in the judiciary." It complained, too, that under the operations of the bill the freedman might be stripped of the proceeds of his labor by an "avaricious superintendent," as, before his freedom, by his owner. It contended, too, that there was no good reason why territory "paid for by the blood of white men should be set apart for the sole benefit of the freedmen of African descent."

Mr. Eliot made a very able and exhausting speech, replete with information, logical in its deductions, and earnest and eloquent in its appeals. Sketching rapidly the progress of events from the inauguration of the Rebellion and "the great facts which exist in our country," he came to the "three million persons, held as slaves, who had become and are becoming free." Saying that Mr. Lincoln's Proclamation of Emancipation could not become effective unless vindicated by military success and appropriate legislation, and that the first had been vouchsafed, he said that they were then called upon for the latter. He referred to the one hundred thousand colored soldiers in the army, who would not fight, and who ought not to fight if the government allowed their families "to be oppressed and suffer." He spoke of the several commissions of the Quakers and of various associations who had visited the South and from personal examination had reached the conclusion that something must be done. "Upon one proposition," he said, "we have formed a decided opinion," and that is "the imperative and immediate necessity of such a bill." He spoke of the wrongs inflicted, not by Southerners alone, but by Northern men, "harpies," "white bloodhounds," who under the cover of government authority so oppressed the bondman that he "sighs to return to his former home and master," for he "at least fed, clothed, and sheltered him." Speaking of the colored soldiers, he said every one of them "stands for a son, a brother, or a friend…. By just so many men our homes are made happier."

Saying that "the nation had no right to decree freedom and not to guarantee safe guidance and protection," and that it was "incumbent on us to lead them gently into the land of promise, and not to permit them to wander through the wilder ness until a generation had died by the way," he added, with severe and searching logic, "it would be an act of meanness which no language can fitly describe, and for which no national suffering could fitly atone, if we should leave those men, freshly freed after a life of servitude, children of the nation as they are, to grope their way into the light without parent or guardian or friend. Why, sir, we freed them for our own selfish ends. It was to weaken our enemy. It was a means of crushing the Rebellion. It was because they were made to work while the rebels fought. It was because we wanted their strong arms on our side. It was because we began to see that we must fight them or free them. Let us not be too self-righteous, for ' even the publicans ' would have done ' the same.' Look back and recall the arguments upon which the constitutionality of all our legislation has been defended. Sound arguments they were, and by slow degrees they have commended themselves to magistrates and to men, until now the heart of the nation rests contentedly upon the logic of their conclusions. But they were arguments drawn from the arsenal of military necessity. They were hurled by the power of the laws of war against a national iniquity, it is true, but against it, not because it was a sin, but because it was a strength to the enemy which we had a right to annihilate and destroy. Well, sir, we have destroyed, and as our armies march on, its destruction becomes more certain and more universal, and now a great national duty looks us in the face."

He examined the report of the minority at length, and showed how, constitutionally, by the laws of war, and by the higher laws of humanity and of the Golden Rule, there was abundant warrant for both the principle and the provisions of the bill. He referred with eloquent pathos to the trust of the freedman in the flag under whose protecting folds he had fled for succor, "with the faith of the mariner who holds his helm," although the darkness was deep and the tempest raged, " for he knows right well that above the storm the north star is shining and will guide him safely to his home." Speaking of the providential features of the war, of the fact that "nobody had been able to anticipate events," and that "nothing had occurred as the wisest seer had predicted," and that great generals had failed, and men unknown to fame had conducted them to victory, he said: "Battles have been won in the valleys, and ' above the clouds,' by a rank and file bravery which the annals of military history cannot rival. Who of us has not had occasion to say, ' Not unto us, but unto Thee, God, be rendered praise '? " Saying that the emancipation of the slaves had been secured by the. Divine hand, through the mad ambition of the slave-owners, which "no power in Constitution, in President, or in people outside of the rebel States, could have secured," he added: "Our duty He has assigned us now."

The measure, of course, encountered fierce Democratic op position, with which condemnation of the proposed bureau were largely mingled adverse views of the negro, his emancipation, and the general policy of the administration upon the subject. Perhaps no debate of the session ever revealed more clearly the spirit and purpose of those who still arrayed themselves against the new party of freedom. Among the first to speak was S. S. Cox of Ohio. With his usual smartness and wit, he mingled sarcasm and cynicism with his censure, while he made the most of the intrinsic difficulties of the situation and of any mistakes or extravagances of the professed friends of freedom. Consequences, which by the stern logic of events were inevitable in a state of rebellion and war, he charged to the sins and shortcomings of the administration; and the opinions of any who claimed to be Abolitionists, however extravagant and grotesque, he averred were but the legitimate inference and outcome of antislavery sentiments. He expressed great sympathy for the "poor black, houseless, clothesless, medicineless, and friendless," cast upon the cold world by "the improvident and barbarous philanthropy now in vogue." But he found no "warrant in the Constitution for this eleemosynary system for the blacks," and he remanded them to "the honey-tongued humanitarians of New England" to "lift them out of the mire into which their improvident and premature schemes had dragged them." "The humanity," he said, "which so long pitied the plumage should not forget the dying bird. "Nor did he fail to proclaim the cardinal doctrine of the Democratic faith, the negro's essential inferiority. "No government farming system," he said, "no charitable black scheme, can wash out the color of the negro, change his inferior nature, or save him from his inevitable fate. The irrepressible conflict is not between freedom and slavery, but between black and white; and, as De Tocqueville prophesied, the black will perish." The greater portion of the speech, however, was taken up with the reproduction and ridicule of certain views in favor of amalgamation, or miscegenation, which had recently been promulgated, and which he contended were the natural and necessary outgrowth of Abolitionism. He contended that the Democracy had no love for slavery, "dying or dead," but it had been striving for "local and personal liberty," by leaving all questions concerning it to the States themselves. "When," he said, "the party in power, by edict and bayonet, by sham election and juggling proclamation, drag down slavery, they drag down in the spirit of ruthless iconoclasm the very genius of our civil polity, local self-government." Mr. Kalbfleisch spoke briefly, defending the minority report he had presented. He spoke of the measure as one of the results of "ultra-Abolitionism," as a part of a policy which was attempting " the impossible thing of bringing up the negro race to a participation with the white in the privileges and duties of citizens"; of the project as "a disloyal and unpatriotic impediment in the way of restoring this once happy Union." Mr. Brooks of New York spoke of the bill as "vast " in its territory, objects, purposes, and intentions, and "illimitable in its expense." He spoke sarcastically of Massachusetts as "the leading power in this country "; of her "inexorable, inappeasable, demoniac energy." "It is written," he said, as if sarcasm was argument, as if the stern demands of justice and the pleadings of humanity could be met by a joke, " it is ordained. It is a Massachusetts thunderbolt. I listen, I tremble before the decree, I hear now from the steeples, the spires, the pulpits of Massachusetts, ' There is but one God, and Massachusetts is his prophet.' " Mr. Pendleton of Ohio also opposed the measure. He said that the freedmen "long for the repose and quiet of their old homes, and the care of their masters; that freedom has not been to them the promised boon; that even thus soon it has proven itself to be a life of torture, ending only in certain and speedy death." The bill was then passed by a vote of sixty-nine to sixty-seven.

In the Senate it was referred to the Select Committee on Slavery, of which Mr. Sumner was chairman. On the 25th of May the chairman reported it back with an amendment, an important feature of which was that the proposed bureau should be subordinate to the Treasury rather than the War Department. Coming up for discussion on the 8th and 14th of June, a motion made to defer action till December was defeated. It was debated for several days, and several amendments were offered, among them one by Mr. "Wilson substituting the word "War" for "Treasury" in Mr. Sumner's proposed bill. The substitute was accepted, and the bill as thus amended was reported to the Senate. A sharp debate then sprang up, in which Davis of Kentucky, Hendricks, Buckalew, and McDougall spoke warmly in opposition, and in denunciation of the policy of which it was a part. Among those who spoke in its behalf was Mr. Chandler of Michigan, who expressed the opinion that loyalty, though ignorant, was to be preferred to educated treason. "A secession traitor," he said, "is beneath a loyal negro. I would let a loyal negro vote; I would let him testify; I would let him fight; I would let him do any other good thing; but I would exclude a secession traitor." The bill was then passed by a vote of twenty-one to nine. In the House, a motion was made to non-concur in the Senate amendment; pending which a motion was made and carried postponing the whole subject to the "next session."

Coming up on the 20th of December in the House, after an unsuccessful motion to lay it on the table, a vote of non-concurrence with the Senate amendment was carried, and a committee of conference was asked for. The Senate granted the request, and chose, on its part, Sumner, Howard, and Buckalew; the conferees on the part of the House being Eliot, Kelley, and Noble. This committee did not report until the 2d of February, 1865, when it recommended that the Senate recede from its amendment. The two Democrats, Buckalew and Noble, refused to sign the report. Instead of attaching the bureau to either of the departments of War or the Treasury, as the Senate and House bills had done, the substitute proposed by the committee of conference recommended a department of freedmen and abandoned lands, though, in the language of Mr. Eliot, "every provision contained therein was substantially in one or the other of the above-mentioned bills." The discussion which arose upon the proposed measure in both the House and the Senate revealed not only Democratic opposition but Republican solicitude. Traversing ground never before travelled or explored, without map, chart, or landmark, there was inevitable diversity of judgment in matters of detail, though perfect and hearty agreement in the underlying principle of the bill. Thus, in the House, Mr. Wilson of Iowa doubted the wisdom of certain provisions of the bill involving too much of authority and control, on the ground that the less of restraint, the sooner the ex-slaves would become men. "There is not," said Mr. Eliot, in reply, "in this bill, from beginning to end, one word that looks like control. They are to be aided; they are to be assisted."

Near the close of the debate, Mr. Kelley of Pennsylvania spoke earnestly and ably of the duty of caring for these victims of the combined atrocities and accidents of their former condition of servitude and the subsequent fortunes and vicissitudes of war, and of the responsibilities involved in the position Congress then occupied. "It is not often," he said, "given to a legislature to perform an act such as we are now to pass upon. We have four million people in poverty, because our laws have denied them the right to acquire property; in ignorance, because our laws have made it a felony to instruct them; without organized habits, because war has broken the shackles which bound them, and has released them from the plantations which were destined to be their world. We are to organize them into society; we arc to guide them, as the guardian guides his ward, for a brief period, until they can acquire habits, and become confident and capable of self-control; we are to watch over them: and, if we do, we have, from their conduct in the field and in the school, evidence that they will more than repay our labor. If we do not, we will doom them to vagrancy and pauperism, and throw upon another Congress, and perhaps upon another generation, the duty or the effort to reclaim those whose hopes we will have blasted, whose usefulness we will have destroyed." The debate was closed, and the bill was passed by a vote of sixty-four to sixty-two.

Coming up in the Senate, Mr. Sumner made a brief explanation of its provisions, and it became the subject of debate. On the 14th Mr. Davis of Kentucky spoke in opposition to its adoption. On a subsequent day Mr. Hendricks opposed it and the policy of which it was a part. Mr. Grimes of Iowa expressed his doubts of the wisdom of the plan proposed, and gave as his preference a bill, introduced into the House by Mr. Schenck of Ohio, proposing a bureau in the War Department for the relief of freedmen and refugees, for the white as well as black. He accordingly moved a postponement of the subject till the next day, and a sharp colloquy sprang up between him and Mr. Sumner upon the motion. Mr. Sumner, regarding it as a " motion to kill," expressed his regret at this opposition. "It is," lie said, "out of season. I am pained by it especially from the Senator from Iowa. I do not judge him. But he will pardon me if I say, that, from the beginning, he has shown a strange insensibility to this cause. He is for liberty; but he will not help us assure it to those who have for generations been despoiled of it. Sir, I am in earnest. Seriously, religiously, I accept emancipation as proclaimed by the President, and now, by the votes of both houses of Congress, placed under the sanction of constitutional law."

Mr. Grimes replied with some acerbity, denying the justice of the inference, because he was opposed to the conference report, that he was "opposed to any freedman's bill." Saying that he wanted the bill changed and, for that purpose, was desirous of having it referred to another conference committee, he said: "Does the Senator claim that the work of his committee of conference is immaculate? Can it not be rectified? Is it not possible to be bettered? Is all judgment and wisdom in this world, as well as all antislavery sentiment, and the spirit of freedom, confined to this committee of conference? I am just as much in earnest as the Senator from Massachusetts is; I am just as much in favor of protecting these freedmen as he is; I will go just as far; and spend just as much of my own money, or of the money of my constituents, as he will spend; but I want to be satisfied, that, when I am doing it, it is going to reach the objects of my bounty; and I want to be satisfied that all their rights will be protected under the law which I am going to adopt, and vote for."

Other Republicans opposed the bill or voted hesitatingly for it, in doubt whether the policy proposed was the best for the freedmen. Thus Mr. Henderson of Missouri doubted its bene fit to them and expressed the fear that in the end it would "re-enslave them." "The better policy," he said, "is to regard them as free; have it understood that we ourselves regard them as freemen, and that they are to be treated as such upon every occasion; and that they need no guardians, no superintendents, no overseers." Even Mr. Hale strongly opposed several of its sections. Mr. Harlan of Iowa spoke against the report and asked for another conference. "I am opposed," said Mr. Lane of Indiana, "to the whole theory of a Freedmen's Bureau. I would make them free under the law; I would protect them in the courts of justice; if necessary, I would give them the right of suffrage, and let loyal slaves vote their Rebel masters down, and reconstruct the seceded States; but I wish to have no system of guardianship and pupilage and overseership over these negroes." Mr. Conness of California expressed the belief that both black and white persons, "in good health and of certain ages, could take care of themselves." Mr. Morrill of Maine expressed his purpose to vote for the bill, though he doubted its necessity or its improvement over existing laws. But Mr. Sumner appealed earnestly to the Senate to adopt the report "to carry forward that great act of emancipation which you have already sanctioned." But he failed of securing the requisite majority. On motion of Mr. Wilson, another conference committee was chosen, consisting, on the part of the Senate, of himself, Harlan, and Willey; and on the part of the House, of Schenck, Boutwell, and Rollins, which reported on the 28th a new bill.

This bill provided that there should be established in the War Department, to continue during the war of the Rebellion, and for one year thereafter, a Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, to which should be committed the supervision and management of all abandoned lands, and the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen from Rebel States, or from any district of country within the territory embraced in the operations of the army ; that the Secretary of War should direct such issues of provisions, clothing, and fuel as he might deem needful for the immediate and temporary shelter and supply of destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen, and their wives and children, under such rules and regulations as he might direct; that the commissioner, under the direction of the President, should have authority to set apart for the use of loyal refugees and freedmen such tracts of land within the insurrectionary States as had been abandoned, or to which the United States had acquired title by confiscation, sale, or otherwise. It also embraced other specifications as to the amount (forty acres), rent, time, and privilege of purchasing land at the end of three years.

Mr. Howard of Michigan opposed it on the ground that it was made "a simple appendage to the War Department." Mr. Powell of Kentucky characterized it as a most "offensive" bill, creating, he said, a "multitude of office-holders" like the locusts of Egypt. "The men," he said, "who are to go down there, and become overseers and negro-drivers, will be your broken-down politicians and your dilapidated preachers; that description of men who are too lazy to work, and just a little too honest to steal. That is the kind of crew that you propose to fasten on these poor negroes." And he expressed his astonishment that Mr. Sumner, who had "preached so much for negro equality and intelligence," should think so meanly of them "as to, put masters over them to manage them." Motions for postponement and adjournment were made and defeated, when the final vote was reached and it was carried without a division. When it was reported to the House it still encountered Democratic opposition; but motions to prevent action were defeated, the report of the committee of conference was adopted without division, the bill received the approval of the President on the same day, and thus the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau became an assured fact and the law of the land.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 472-485.

Chapter: “Workings of the Bureau,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

Major-General O. O. Howard was selected by the President as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freed men, and Abandoned Lands, and on the 12th of May, 1865, an order was issued from the War Department assigning him for duty in his new and untried field of labor and control. The same order directed the quartermaster-general to furnish him and his assistant commissioners suitable quarters and apartments; also the adjutant-general to detail for his service the necessary clerks authorized by the act that created the new department.

General Howard's record as a soldier and Christian philanthropist, with his urbane and gentlemanly qualities, not only directed public attention to him as a suitable person for the grave and arduous responsibilities of the new office, but afforded much satisfaction when it was known that President Johnson had selected him therefor. His training and distinction as a soldier and his long identification with the cause of antislavery gave promise of an administration demanded by the peculiar exigencies of the situation. Distinguished by the generalship displayed at the battle of Gettysburg, in which he led what was regarded as a movement that did much to give victory to the Union forces on that eventful day, afterward commander of the Army of Tennessee, and selected by Sherman to lead one of his columns in his famous "March to the Sea," there was great confidence felt in his ability as well as assurance of his purpose to administer the duties of his new office in the interests of humanity as well as of good order, to protect the freedmen in their rights as well as to maintain the authority of the government.

Entering immediately on the duties assigned him, he issued, only three days after his appointment, his first circular to the superintendents who had abandoned lands under their super vision for the use of freedmen, and to department commanders, calling for information in respect to the work, with its subjects, he had undertaken. In it he said: "The negro should understand that he is really free, but on no account, if able to work, should he harbor the thought that the government will support him in idleness." On the 19th he issued another and more general circular, setting forth the same in specific form and more in detail. In it he announced the immediate appointment of commissioners, to whom, or their agents, application should be made by those needing aid, advice, or redress, and to whom reports should be made; not to supersede, but to co-operate with benevolent organizations in their work among the freedman; to "introduce a practical system of compensated labor"; to secure as far as possible good feeling and fair dealing among all concerned; to see that while the old, sick, and infirm should be provided for, "the able bodied should be encouraged, and, if necessary, compelled, to labor for their own support"; to give the assurance that "the educational and moral condition of the people would not be forgotten," but that the "utmost facility" would be afforded to benevolent and religious organizations in efforts in that direction, with a reiteration of the purpose not to supersede but "to systematize and facilitate them."

On the 30th he issued a still more elaborate circular, designating the nine headquarters he had fixed upon for the same number of assistant commissioners, and specifying more in detail the purposes of the new department and the rules by which it and its agents were to be governed. The headquarters were fixed for Virginia, at Richmond; for North Carolina, at Raleigh; for Georgia and South Carolina, at Beaufort; for Alabama, at Montgomery; for Kentucky and Tennessee, at Nashville; for Missouri and Arkansas, at St. Louis; for Mississippi, at Vicksburg; for Louisiana, at New Orleans; and for Florida, at Jacksonville.

In laying down the principles and regulations for the guidance and control of the assistant commissioners in the dis charge of their duties, he was in effect giving rules for the government of a new empire, or what without a figure of speech might be called such; formed, too, of the most unpromising materials, and surrounded by the most unfavorable circumstances. Large powers were placed in his hands, and much, very much, was left to his discretion. Referring to the second section of the act creating the Bureau which committed to it "the control of all subjects relating to refugees and freedmen from Rebel States under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by the head of the Bureau and approved by the President," General Howard thus expressed the idea in one of his reports: "This almost unlimited authority gave me great scope and liberty of action, but at the same time it imposed upon me very perplexing and responsible duties. Legislative, judicial, and executive powers were combined in my commission, reaching all the interests of four millions of people, scattered over a vast territory, living in the midst of another people claiming to be superior, and known to be not altogether friendly." Saying that at the outset he " could only lay down a few general principles," and leave it to them to work out "the details of organization," according to the different states of affairs in their respective districts, he added, referring to the circular just mentioned: "I therefore set forth clearly the objects to be attained and the powers which the Bureau could legally exercise, and left to my subordinates to devise suitable measures for effecting these objects." These objects were in the highest degree benign and paternal. There was no discrimination between black and white, between loyal refugees who had been driven from their homes and who wished to return, and found their homes destroyed and themselves penniless, and the ex-slaves who, of course, had nothing they could call their own. To relieve all of the " calamities of their situation"; to smooth the passage from slavery to freedom; to soothe asperities of situation and compose the differences that could not but exist after the war; to relieve suffering, but in no such way as to lead to pauperism or to interfere with self-support, — these were the "objects" proposed, and these were the modes by which they were to be secured. Everything like coercion, or anything like slavery under any guise, however deceptive, was discarded, and everything that was needful to introduce them into the new order of things then just opening was encouraged.

On the 7th of June President Johnson issued an order, requiring " all officers of the Treasury Department, all military officers, and all others in the service of the United States, to turn over to the authorized officers of said Bureau all abandoned lands and property," and "all funds collected by tax or otherwise, or accruing from abandoned lands or property set apart for their use."

Without larger than human wisdom to direct in their construction, acts and laws, rules and regulations, framed for the purposes for which the Bureau was created, could hardly be other than imperfect, experimental; requiring modification and improvement as, on trial, their workings should reveal such deficiencies. Then, again, the Bureau, as first organized, was designed only for those States which were engaged in the Rebellion and were embraced in the Proclamation of Emancipation. But, after the close of the war, and when slavery had been abolished by constitutional amendment, then the powers and range of its operations required a corresponding enlargement. From the start, too, it had encountered a bitter and implacable opposition. It was strictly watched and captiously criticised. Men waited for its halting, and if anything was worthy of censure, or even questionable, and especially if mistakes were made, through the wickedness or weakness of any of its agents, they made the most of it, and turned all such into weapons of warfare against the institution itself.

Accordingly, on the assembling of the XXXIXth Congress, motions and resolutions, by both friend and foe, were introduced into both houses, some calling in question its action, and some proposing modifications and the necessary improvements that experience and the changes that had taken place had rendered and shown to be necessary. The most important, however, and that which led to the main debate and final action, was a bill offered in the Senate by Mr. Trumbull, on the 5th of January, 1866, to enlarge the powers of the Freedmen's Bureau. It came up for consideration on the 12th, when the mover briefly explained its provisions and the several amendments, mostly verbal, of the bill of March 3, 1865. The main points of divergence and improvement, as compared with the one in operation, were, that it should continue until otherwise provided by law, instead of terminating by its own limitations; that it should embrace the whole country, wherever there were freedmen and refugees; that the President should reserve from sale or settlement, under the homestead laws, public lands in Florida, Mississippi, and Arkansas, not to exceed three millions of acres; that the possessory titles granted in pursuance of General Sherman's special field-order, January 16, 1865, in South Carolina and the islands adjacent thereto, should be made valid; and that, in any State where any disabilities were made or allowed, on account of race, or color, or previous condition of servitude, it should be the duty of officers and agents to take jurisdiction of offences com mitted against this provision.

In the debate which followed there was little objection urged to the main arguments for the proposed changes and enlargement demanded by the altered circumstances of the situation and the purpose to adopt any modifications and improvements which experience might suggest. That was so obvious that those who were favorable to the continuance of the Bureau at all approved of any legislation which was necessary to adapt it most perfectly to the purposes of its creation. The main debate, however, exhibited the usual characteristics of discussion whenever and wherever the negro and his emancipation became the subject of consideration. On the one side were those who would do justice to the black man, minister to his pressing necessities, and carry out by appropriate legislation, and to their legitimate results, the policy of emancipation; on the other were those who brought to the discussion the still dominating influences of caste, belittling the negro and his wants, and, with cruel insensibility, resisting his claims upon either their sympathy, their humanity, or their sense of justice.

On the 19th Mr. Hendricks of Indiana, though a member of the Committee on the Judiciary which reported the bill, made a long speech in opposition to the measure. He condemned what lie unfairly represented to be its " perpetual and permanent " character. "The measure," he said, "demanded by the exigencies of war is not required in the times of peace. Civil governments have been restored to the States lately in rebellion, and therefore there is no need for this novel and extra-judicial mode of procedure." He referred to the criticisms and censures which had been made concerning its administration, and contended that, instead of enlarging its scope and powers, they should be curtailed and "more clearly defined." He objected, too, to the feature that confined its agencies no longer to the South, saying that it might embrace Indiana in the wide sweep of its operations. He spoke deprecatingly of the expense. Under the old bill it had cost the nation twelve million dollars, and now, with its enlarged purposes and range, "comes," he said, "the proposition to buy homes, asylums, and schools for this people." He objected, too, and that very strenuously, to the provision that empowered the Bureau to protect the freedmen against any unfriendly discrimination "by any local law, ordinance, or other regulation," "custom," or "prejudice "; with the provision that, if "any of the civil rights or immunities belonging to white persons "were denied them on account of color, they should be "taken under the military protection of the government." "I regard the bill," he said, "as very dangerous legislation. It proposes to establish a government within a government, — not a republic within a republic, but a cruel despotism within a republic." He spoke sarcastically of the undue interest felt for the negro. "I have not heard," he said, "since Congress met, that any colored man has done a wrong in this country for very many years; and I have scarcely heard that any white man coming in contact with colored people has done right for a number of years."

Mr. Trumbull replied. After saying that many of the Senator's positions had "no foundation in fact," he added: "He has argued against provisions not contained in the bill, and he has argued also as if he were entirely forgetful of the condition of the country and of the great war through which we have passed." The great thought of his elaborate and able reply was, that they were under circumstances peculiar and abnormal; that principles that would have obtained and held control before the war lost that control then; and that the maxim that the laws are silent in the midst of arms did not cease its application on the mere cessation of open hostilities. "Sir," he said, "the war-powers of the government do not cease with the dispersion of the Rebel armies. They are to be continued and exercised until the civil authority of the government can be established firmly and upon a sure foundation, not again to be disturbed or interfered with. Nor is it," he added, "intended as a permanent institution. It is only designed to aid these helpless, ignorant, and unprotected people until they can provide for and take care of themselves. "Pointing to the abject, forlorn, helpless, and hopeless condition of the four million freedmen, he argued their right to be heard before a more august tribunal than any United States court, and to have their claims adjudged by a higher law than that of the infracted Constitution; at least, that they who had done their worst to destroy that instrument could not success fully plead its authority to override the claims of humanity and the decisions of conscience.

The remainder of the debate did not add much to the argument on either side. It revealed other considerations of a secondary or subsidiary character, but it expressed rather the individuality of the speaker, with the aspect and attitude of the great subject as it appeared to him. Thus Mr. Stewart of Nevada, though a Republican, voting for the emancipation of those still remaining slaves and not embraced in President Lincoln's proclamation, and avowing his anxiety to do the negro justice, expressed apprehension that they were doing too much for him. "What race," he asked, "since the foundation of the earth, ever sacrificed the money, the lives, and the peace of a great country for the elevation of another, as the Americans have done?" To this vaunt Mr. Howe of Wisconsin made reply: "It was to save our own imperilled national existence, and only for that purpose, that the late President of the United States was induced to issue that proclamation and, as the Senator says, to make us stronger, not weaker, to make our sacrifices less, not greater."

Mr. Cowan, though from a free State, showed himself, by both speech and vote, among the most bitter opponents of the measure. Among these evidences was a proposed amendment that the Bureau should be confined in its operations to such States "as have been in the Rebellion," saying that he had "no idea of having this system extended over Pennsylvania." Indeed "no feature of the bill excited more special and earnest remonstrance. Mr. Guthrie of Kentucky inquired why his State should be embraced in the provisions of the bill. "Is it because," he asked, "Kentucky has stood by the Union during the strife, is it because she has been desolated as she has been in this contest, that the Freedmen's Bureau is to be extended to her?...I did hope that this last cup of bitterness and trial would not be put to the lips of a State that had suffered as much as Kentucky by her loyalty to the Union." Mr. Saulsbury, saying that Delaware was the first to enter the Union, strangely added: "She has been the very last to obey a mandate, legislative or executive, for abolishing slavery. She has been the last slaveholding State, thank God, in America, and I am one of the last slaveholders, in America." Mr. Trumbull expressed his gratification that Delaware "did not enter the wicked Rebellion"; but added, "it is necessary to protect the freedmen in that State as well as elsewhere; and that is the reason for extending the Freedmen's Bureau beyond the limit of the rebellious States."

Reverdy Johnson expressed the belief that it was not needed in Maryland because, in his judgment, the negro was " as safe in Maryland as in Massachusetts." "There may be," he said, "occasionally horrible outrages perpetrated upon him, as there are occasionally in Massachusetts upon white men and white women; but I think they are exceptions to the general rule." Mr. Creswell, from the same State, expressed the conviction that the exact reverse was true. He gave information and ex pressed apprehensions that were typical and prophetic of very much which has since so largely disgraced and disturbed the country. From letters received, he had learned that "returned Rebel soldiers" had already formed combinations "for the express purpose of persecuting, beating most cruelly, and in some cases actually murdering the returned colored soldiers of the Republic." He expressed further the apprehension that, unless the " government interposes," they would be driven from the State, which, he said, would be "a lasting and burning shame to the State in which I live, as well as to the government that has heretofore profited by their services."

But in no one did the spirit of caste and undying hostility to "negro suffrage and negro equality" find a more outspoken and acrimonious exponent than in Mr. Cowan. He spoke, with more truth than credit to large numbers, both North and South, of "an antipathy that never sleeps, that never dies, that is inborn down at the very foundations of our natures, and which will tell to-day, to-morrow, some day, in spite of all attempts to the contrary." He said what subsequent events have shown to be but too true, that giving the ballot to the negro was only "multiplying his chances for having his head broken at the polls in a contest with a stronger race." To give him office, he said, was to " crown with flowers the victim for the sacrifice," — "to inscribe upon the cross an empty title, when upon that cross the victim is crucified." He also dwelt at length upon the want of the constitutional power to adopt such a measure.

Mr. Wilson replied at length, calling attention to Mr. Cowan's claim of being friendly to the negro with his persistent opposition to every measure designed for his improvement and elevation, and to his contemptuous sneers at his personal peculiarities of mind and body. He expressed his belief that, in spite of the Senator's assertions to the contrary, the antislavery measures of the government had helped to win the victory; that the course of humanity was onward, that the policy on which they had entered would be carried forward to a successful issue, and that the rights of the humblest would yet be vindicated.

Mr. McDougall opposed the bill because, he said, if the negro had been made free, he must, like the rest, work out his own destiny. But he and the large number who then and since have sympathized with him take no thought of the fearful disabilities under which the freedman labors, and fail to see how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for the white man similarly circumstanced to work deliverance and a successful issue from such straits. Mr. Davis spoke of the " national insanity" which rested in "the two houses of Congress, with fatal mischief to the nation and the people; .... of the vagabond negroes that are hovering over the capitol like a dark cloud, having been allured from labor to idleness by the measures of Congress." Mr. Saulsbury predicted that such a policy would be the means of returning the Democrats to power; to which Mr. Fessenden replied that he did not know that he should hesitate to do what was "right and just even in view of such a calamity." Several amendments were proposed and lost, and, on the 25th, the bill was passed by a vote of thirty-seven to ten.

It was reported in the House, on the 31st, with an amendment in the form of a substitute. Mr. Eliot, on reporting it, gave a resume of the legislation of Congress upon the subject, and explained briefly the provisions of the new bill. But it encountered the same opposition in the House it had met in the Senate, with little change in language or tone, and with like revelation of the spirit and purposes of those who still disdained and were ready to oppress the negro. It was declared "unconstitutional and unnecessary"; it was said to "usurp powers fatal to a representative government"; and that the people would be unwilling to intrust such an enormous    and unlimited fund to the untrammelled discretion of any officers of the government, to be used by partisans for partisan purposes." Mr. Kerr denied that the government had any right to put its hands into the pockets of the people " to take therefrom their hard earnings in order to distribute them as charity." Mr. Ritter of Kentucky said sneeringly that they were to erect school-houses, then there must be " preachers or teachers," who "will," he said, "teach them to spell a little and read a little; and then, I suppose, they will be taught a little of the Lord's will, and a great deal of the wiles and wickedness of the devil."

There were, however, those who, rising above mere technicalities, pleaded the equities of the case, and took the members of the House into the forum of conscience, and urged and vindicated the claims of justice and humanity. "I feel proud of my country," said Mr. Hubbard of Connecticut," when I behold it stretching out its strong arm of power to protect the poor, the ignorant, the weak and oppressed." "We must hold our faith," said Mr. Donnelly of Minnesota; "we made great vows to God when the fury of the tempest smote us, and night and darkness seemed settling down upon our frail bark forever." "We must," said Mr. Garfield of Ohio, "recognize the stupendous facts of history. In the very crisis of our fate God brought us face to face with the alarming truth that we must lose our freedom or grant it to the slave. In the extremity of our distress we called upon the black man to help us save the Republic, and amid the thunder of battle we made a covenant with him, sealed both with his blood and ours, and witnessed by Jehovah, that when the nation was redeemed, he should be free, and share with us the glories and blessings of freedom. In the solemn words of the great Proclamation of Emancipation we pledged the faith of the nation to ' maintain their freedom.' .... Have we done it? What is freedom? Is it a mere negation; the bare privilege of not being chained, bought and sold, branded and scourged? If this be all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion, and it may well be questioned whether slavery were not better."

The amendment reported by the committee limited its operation to "those sections of country within which the writ of habeas corpus was suspended on the first day of February, 1866,"which included Kentucky with the States lately in rebellion. Mr. Smith of Kentucky moved to amend by excepting his State; but it was lost. Another substitute was offered and rejected, when the substitute of the committee was agreed to by a vote of one hundred and thirty-six to thirty-three.

When the bill, as thus amended, was reported to the Senate, the House amendment was stricken out, so that the law would operate in all parts of the country, though it was strenuously opposed by members from the border slave States. The bill, as thus amended, was reported to the House, the Senate amendment was agreed to, and the bill was sent to the President.

On the 19th President Johnson returned it without his signature, and with a message setting forth his objections. The veto was but a recapitulation of the general line of argument which had been pursued by the opposition. It was, he contended, "unnecessary," "unconstitutional," "extra-judicial," placing eleven States under military jurisdiction, expensive, exciting groundless hopes in the freedmen, who should, with their freedom assured them, be left to work out their own destiny. The message was sustained by Mr. Davis of Kentucky in a long and characteristic speech, and replied to by Mr. Trumbull, and then the bill received a vote of thirty to eighteen. It failed, however, of becoming a law, there not being two thirds.

On the 22d of May Mr. Eliot introduced into the House another bill "to continue in force and amend the act for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees." In explaining its provisions Mr. Eliot pointed out in what it differed from both the act of 1865 and that which the President had vetoed. It differed from the latter in limiting its duration to "two years," instead of an indefinite period. It differed from the previous act, in that its provisions were extended to all refugees and freedmen. It reduced the lands, to be reserved, from three million to one million acres. It altered, too, the provisions in regard to the possessory titles under Sherman's order, so that the lands should be restored to their former owners, and other lands should be procured by the commissioner for the freedmen thus dispossessed. There were other changes, but these were the most material. When it came up for debate, a motion was made to amend so that the lands granted by Sherman's order should not be surrendered, and an amendment substituting hiring for purchasing buildings for school purposes. Various other amendments were proposed and rejected, and the bill was passed by a vote of ninety-six to thirty-two.

In the Senate Mr. Wilson reported it with amendments on the 11th of June, and on the 26th its consideration was entered upon. The most material amendment pertained to the lands embraced in Sherman's order; the substance of which was that those lands should be given up to their former owners, but that those who might be dispossessed might be allowed to acquire titles to other lands in possession of the United States, besides having the benefit of all betterments, and the "present crop." Mr. Fessenden thought "a pretty extensive power" was provided for in the bill;  but, in deference to the fact that others, in whose judgment he had confidence, had given it their consideration and indorsement, he should vote for it. Mr. Hendricks said, as he despaired of defeating the measure, he should make no factious opposition; and the bill was passed without a division.

The House voted to non-concur in the Senate amendments, and asked for a committee of conference, choosing Eliot, Bingham, and McCullough managers. The Senate concurred, and appointed Wilson, Harris, and Nesmith as conferees. On the 2d of July Mr. Wilson made a conference report, the essential point of which was to strike out the provision restoring the lands referred to in Sherman's order, and to place the responsibility of their disposition in the hands of the President. The report was accepted, and the House, without special opposition, adopted it by a vote of one hundred and four to thirty-three. The President again vetoed it; but it was passed over his veto and became a law; and the Freedman's Bureau, with enlarged powers, wider range, and a longer period of duration, continued its benign and needful work in the interests of justice and humanity.

That no mistakes were made, no abuses allowed, and that no Bureau officer ever consulted his own interests more than those of the freedmen, need not be affirmed. It was a new and untried work, beset with difficulties. Its agents had few rules, no precedents, and much was left to their discretion; and they were but human and liable to err. But that General Howard and his nine assistant commissioners were mainly and honestly intent on fulfilling the purposes of the organization intrusted to their charge, and that a vast amount of good was effected, suffering and loss relieved and prevented, they who knew most of its workings were most ready to admit and claim. That thousands of lives were saved, many wrongs redressed, and much injustice prevented, and that many found in it safe guidance in walking along the untrod path from slavery to freedom, is already a matter of grateful history. But the attempt to estimate aright the results of the Freedmen's Bureau encounters the difficulty of giving precise statements and tabulated figures, arising from the confused and mixed state of affairs in which it began its work, and for a long time continued it. Already had military protection been granted, and commissary stores been furnished for relief; already had individual and associate benevolence done much, and Northern charity had been pouring, through various channels, its missionaries and its missionary gifts. The work of the Bureau was supplemental, co-operative, and authoritative. A few statements and isolated facts will serve rather as in dices of that history than as the history itself.

In his report submitted in October, 1869, the commissioner presents a resume of the work attempted and performed, with reference to winding up its operations, as it was about to expire by its own limitations, or "a general review of the work done and a condensed report of the results attained." Alluding at the outset to the action of the government and of voluntary associations for the relief of the destitute and suffering, and also to successful attempts to systematize these charitable efforts and connect them with plans of self-support, he states that "during the first year of the operations of the Bureau the death-rate among freedmen was reduced from thirty per cent to less than four per cent." The number "receiving medical treatment" during the first year was, in round numbers, about two hundred thousand, gradually diminishing until, during the year his report was made, it had been reduced to some sixty-six thousand. The whole number receiving such treatment at that time since the organization of the Bureau was over half a million, or, in exact numbers, five hundred and eighty-four thousand one hundred and forty-nine, for whom " no provision was made by local authorities, and who had no means themselves." In the month of August, 1865, one hundred and fifty thousand were relieved by the commissary department; during the month succeeding the systematizing of such assistance by the Bureau, less than half that number was thus aided. And this supply was so diminished that, during the year ending September 1, 1867, the number supplied in "all the Southern States" was less than twelve thousand. In March, 1867, Congress appropriated half a million dollars for the support of the suffering and destitute, which was distributed by the Bureau, "no distinction being made between whites and blacks, loyal and disloyal."

But the great work of the Bureau was the guidance and protection of the "able-bodied" freedmen in the matter of labor. By circulars, public addresses, and visits to plantations, they were instructed as to both their "rights" and "duties," the system of "written contracts" was introduced with the happiest results, and in which the freedmen "learned the first practical business lessons of life," and were also protected against "the numerous crafty devices that dishonest villany imposed upon confiding ignorance." The hopes inspired by the possessory titles to lands, promised by Sherman's order, were greatly disappointed by the order of the President restoring them to their former owners. " Some relief and compensation were given " by the act of Congress setting apart public lands in several of the Southern States; but the commissioner adds, "Want of teams and farming implements, as well as opposition from their white neighbors, prevented many from taking the benefit of the homestead act." Something was done in that direction, and transportation was furnished for some four thousand to their "new homes."

The protection, however, of the freedmen, the composing of strifes, and the adjustment of differences between them and the whites, and between themselves, constituted a large and perplexing part of the work of the Bureau and its officers. To so great an extent was this demand carried, that he estimates that they heard and acted upon a hundred thousand complaints each year. The reports of outrages, assaults, and murders were so many and so horrible that, he said, "at times one was inclined to believe that the whole white population was engaged in a war of extermination against the blacks." He rejects that explanation by another, more charitable perhaps, but yet revealing a state of society far from inviting for the then present, or reassuring for the future, by attributing them to "small bands of lawless men organized under various names," which, in the absence of "civil government with strength enough to arrest them," overawed and held in terror the more quiet citizens "who were disposed to treat the freedmen with fairness and humanity." To protect the freedmen from such agencies of violence and danger, he said that "several officers and agents have been severely wounded, and some have lost their lives in this service."

After saying that the Bureau had been intrusted with the service of paying to the colored soldiers the bounties due them, and had thus saved them from the rapacity of sharpers who were willing to prey on their ignorance and credulity, the commissioner gave a succinct statement of what the Bureau had accomplished, subsidiary and helpful to other agencies in the cause of education.

There were no discussions in Congress during the war, nor acts of the people that better stand as indices of the real nature or character of the great struggle, than were those suggested by and connected with the necessities of the freedmen. As it had been before the war " the everlasting negro," as he was sometimes petulantly, but suggestively, styled, who had been the disturbing element and controlling factor in the history of the Republic, albeit resulting entirely from the determined purpose to degrade and enslave him, so in the Rebellion, designed to destroy that Republic, and in the war fought to save it, his dusky form is the prominent figure in the terrible strife. Though prostrate and helpless, his presence could not be ignored, nor his claims be disregarded. Indeed, his very helplessness added volume to his voice, and made his cries for help more piercing and harder to be stifled. Stricken and poor, he could not only plead the high authority of the Golden Rule, but he could intensify that claim by the fact that he lay there the victim of the gross injustice and inhumanity of the American people. Not his virtues, nor his necessities even, but his wrongs did " plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against the deep damnation of " that long and persistent policy which, for mere greed of gain at the South, and from mere motives of policy at the North, had robbed him of his manhood, and made him, in the eye of the law at least, a chattel personal, a mere beast of burden, without even the poor compensation of a right of protest against such egregious injustice, — such sore inhumanity. And that cry, though not essentially unlike what had been for long, long years coming up from the prison-house of Southern bondage, was beginning to be heard. Hitherto it had fallen on ears dull of hearing, and on souls lulled to rest by the sorceries of trade and the siren song of compromise. But now the scene had changed. Slavery had laid its cruel hand on the North, and she felt the pang. Her loved ones had been torn from home; thousands were dead; other thousands, less fortunate, were dragging out suffering days in the terrible slave-pens of the South; and others, still, were exposed to the rough and hazardous experience of the camp, the march, and the battlefield. The shock of war startled, and the same truths — only the same — which had hitherto passed by unheeded were now heard. Its storms had so far purified the air; its thunders had so alarmed, that men saw portents now that, though seen by the few before the war, had been un heeded by the many. Nemesis was on their footsteps, and they began to fear the sweep of her avenging arm.

Hitherto, when antislavery men had spoken of the " higher law " and of the danger of its infraction, when they drew arguments for justice to the black man from the unsafeness to white men involved in injustice, they were stigmatized as alarmists and fanatics, as invading the realms of religion for the illegitimate purpose of drawing from another world arguments to affect the conduct of this. When, in one of the debates on the Fugitive Slave Act, as noted in a previous volume, Mr. Sumner referred to this phase of the great conflict between freedom and slavery, reminded Senators that the movement against the latter was "from the everlasting Arm," and that by putting their ear to the ground they might hear "the incessant and advancing tread of its gathering forces," and when he repeated the beautiful Oriental proverb, "Beware of the wounds of the wounded souls; oppress not to the utmost a single heart, for a solitary sigh has power to overset a whole world," he was answered, by a Southerner, that the "ravings of a maniac may sometimes be dangerous, but the barking of a puppy never did any harm, "while he was told by one Northerner that he was "panting" for the introduction "of black-skinned, flat-nosed, and woolly-headed Senators and Representatives," and by another, that his language was "inflammatory," leading to bloodshed, and that on his "hands must rest the blood of these murdered men." But a change had now come over the spirit of their dream, and for prudential, if no higher, motives, they were in favor of doing justice to the long abused, down-trodden, and still prostrate race; and, if their purpose and performance were yet at best superficial and inadequate, they were moving in the right direction, and in some degree were making amends for previous injustice and injury.

That their measures were inadequate and fell far short of the full demands of the occasion subsequent events have clearly shown. Friend and foe both miscalculated. While the latter remained willing to perpetuate injustice, give voice to the still cruel prejudice against color, utter the insolent demands of caste, and prate of the "Constitution as it was," the former as evidently misunderstood the case, underestimated its necessities, and overestimated the value and efficacy of means, right in themselves, yet fearfully disproportioned to the work demanded. They had labored long and earnestly for the freedom of the slave, and marvellously had it been secured; but, that attained, they had not fully gauged the magnitude of what was necessary to supplement that great achievement and prepare the freedman for its full and satisfactory enjoyment. They did not, for they could not, fully comprehend the situation. Time was a factor in the problem, for which no a priori reasoning could stand. Nothing else could reveal the extent of the horrible demoralization which two centuries of slavery had produced upon Southern society and character, to be tested by the new circumstances and subjected to the new strain produced by the violent breaking of fetters, the emancipation of slaves, and the wholesale destruction of the old order of things that followed in its train. Besides, for the time, men were bewildered, enslavers and enslaved alike, by the astounding events that were transpiring around them. For not only did they stand in the presence of a gigantic war, its thunders reverberating through their vast solitudes, its lurid flames lighting up their dark places of cruelty, and its mighty armies marching and countermarching, but they knew not what to expect. The former, appalled by disasters experienced and apprehended, and the latter, dazed by the sudden light of liberty flashed upon them and the new-born hopes and expectations thus begotten, were neither in a condition to be thoroughly understood by others nor to understand themselves. Their real elements of character were hidden or obscured by these strange and startling surroundings. Time alone could tear away the veil and reveal what existed within. This it has done, and the revelations have been more terrible and discouraging than were apprehended, and the picture is darker than any ever painted by the wildest Abolitionist.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 486-504.



Chapter: “Northern Aid for Freedmen,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

The slave, like others, was the creature of circumstances, and he became substantially what slavery made him. By simple diet, enforced temperance, and hard work he was generally healthy and strong. With well-developed physique, inured to toil, he was capable of endurance and continuous labor. Under the stern discipline of slavery he was generally docile and obsequious, if not always truthful and trustworthy. But he was ignorant, because ignorance was a necessity of slavery. He had little or no self-assertion, care, forethought, because everything about slavery was unfriendly to such traits of character. When, therefore, through the exigencies of war he found himself suddenly freed from his master's control and within the Union lines, he was substantially the same man. His change of position had not changed him. He had the same brawny arm, the same strength to use it, the same powers of endurance, the same docility of disposition, and the same willingness to obey; for all tins he had learned in the stern school from which he had just emerged. But he lacked the ability to use these faculties, to set himself to work, or to take suitable care of himself, for these were lessons he had not learned; at least this was the general Tule, to which there were now and then exceptions more or less marked. He needed, therefore, at the hands of others what he lacked in himself, —this service in return for the service he was willing to render. And this was the lesson soon learned and the conclusion soon reached by those who were first brought in contact with the "contrabands" at Fortress Monroe.

"Abandoning one of these faithful allies, who, if delivered up, would be reduced to severer servitude because of the education he had received and the services he had performed, probably to be transported to the remotest slave region as now too dangerous to remain near its borders, we should be accursed among the nations of the earth. I felt assured that from that hour, whatsoever were the fortunes of the war, every one of those enrolled defenders of the Union had vindicated beyond all future question, for himself, his wife, and their issue, a title to American citizenship, and become heir to all the immunities of Magna Charta, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States." These words appeared in the " Atlantic Monthly " for November, 1861, under the title "The Contrabands at Fortress Monroe." They were furnished by E. L. Pierce, Esq., of Boston, whose name deserves honorable mention as the first, or among the first, to entertain and give a practical solution of the vexed question, the momentous problem, "What shall be done with and for those made free by the exigencies of rebellion and war?" Their chief significance, perhaps, and main interest are due to the time and circumstances under which they were written. Though the sentiments, however true and important, seem now familiar and obvious, it is to be remembered that they were written within a very few months of the opening of hostilities, when everything was dark and in the highest degree uncertain, and when the most sagacious could only guess what the outcome would be. 

Mr. Pierce, in his own words, had been "specially detailed, from his post as private in Company L of the Third Regiment, to collect the contrabands, record their names, ages, and the names of their masters, provide their tools, superintend their labor, and procure their rations." Federal troops having entered Hampton, from which the white inhabitants had fled, setting on fire not only the village but the bridge leading thereto, it was found necessary to throw up intrenchments. It having been suggested that the "contrabands" might very properly be employed for such work. General Butler was interrogated. He gave his assent, and on Monday morning, July 8, they were thus employed. "That was the first day," says Mr. Pierce, "in the course of the war, in which the negro was employed upon the military works of our army. It therefore marks a distinct epoch in its progress, and in its relations to the colored population." A soldier's ration was given to each contraband thus employed, and a half-ration for each dependant. Of the new policy this little experiment inaugurated, and of the vast results to which it led, previous chapters have made mention. The regiment ("three months") soon returning home, Mr. Pierce was compelled to leave the care of his novel charge to other hands, though he was soon to be recalled to enter upon work for the freedmen on a larger scale and in another part of the field. Meanwhile there were other eyes upon the "contrabands at Fortress Monroe," other hearts to sympathize with them, and other hands to help.

On the 21st of August, 1861, a chaplain of a regiment stationed at Newport News addressed a letter "to the Young Men's Christian Association of the City of New York," urging the employment of a missionary "among the slaves that had been liberated in Virginia." That letter was carried to the rooms of the American Missionary Association, an antislavery organization for the prosecution of missions in both this country and foreign lands. Rightly deeming this a call of Providence to the performance of a service in the very line of its self-selected work, the executive committee at once determined to respond thereto. Rev. Lewis C. Lockwood was accordingly commissioned to proceed at once to this new field of labor. Repairing to Washington and making his errand known to the officials there, he received letters to General Wool, in command at Fortress Monroe. He was kindly received by the general, who gave him authority to enter at once upon the work, promising him such facilities as the military authorities could consistently render.

In a letter to the Association, dated September 4, 1861, after stating that "arrangements have been made for three services on the Sabbath," one being "in the house of ex-President Tyler," and that, "so far as now appears, we shall soon enter upon Sabbath-school instruction as well as week-day instruction," Mr. Lockwood adds: "There will be, I think, a sufficient number of soldiers and other persons to assist in Sabbath-school instruction. General Wool is actively concurring with us in arrangements for places, etc." Thus suddenly was inaugurated, and from such simple and small beginnings arose, a work which at that point soon assumed large dimensions, employing scores of teachers, giving instruction to hundreds of pupils, and finally resulting in the establishment of an institution of a higher grade, upon a permanent foundation, receiving State patronage, and designed, through a normal department, to send forth teachers properly qualified, mainly, though not exclusively, among the freedmen. A few statistics introduced subsequently will indicate more clearly the extent and value of the work thus informally and providentially begun.

Nor was the government or the military indifferent to the pressing necessities of this new class of beneficiaries. Suddenly deprived of even the meagre care of their former masters, and thrown at once upon their own resources, without any provision or preparation for self-support, the army officials could not but see their need of both guidance and help; and they acted promptly in their behalf. Evidence of this is afforded by a report, made to the XXXVIIth Congress, in an answer to a resolution of the House, on the 25th of March, 1862, on “Africans in Fort Monroe Military District." The report was made by General Wool, and covers several "general orders," and the report of a commission, appointed by him, and consisting of Colonel T. J. Cram and Majors L. B. Cannon and W. P. Jones, "for the purpose of making a critical examination of the condition of persons known as vagrants or 'contrabands,' who are employed in this department, in reference to their pay, clothing, subsistence, medical attendance, shelter, and treatment, physical and moral." "In order," he said, "to do justice to the claims of humanity, in a proper discharge of the grave responsibility thrust upon the military authorities of this department in consequence of numerous persons (men, women, and children) already congregated and daily increasing, being abandoned by their masters, or having fled to this military command for protection," he called upon all "chiefs of the several departments, their subordinates and employees" to afford the commission all information and facilities needful for the faithful accomplishment of the purposes of their appointment. Reminding it of the rumor that these persons "had not been properly treated in all cases," he instructed its members that they could not be "too rigid in the examination, in order that justice may be done to them as well as to the public service." It was also instructed to accompany its report "with such suggestions as the commission may deem proper for the improvement of the treatment and management of these persons."

This "general order" was made on the 30th of January, 1862, and on the 20th of March the commission made report. It was elaborate and gave the facts developed in detail, grouping the information communicated under the heads of clothing, subsistence, shelter, medical attendance, pay, treatment, physical and moral, economy of this labor to the government, census, suggestions for the improvement of their condition. Under the latter head very suggestive statements were made and plans proposed. Saying that it was " a new thing to all, beset with difficulties and antagonisms on all sides; but, like all systems, requiring practical results to develop its weak points, and time to remedy its errors," it made several recommendations of a practical or prudential character needful for the protection and support, employment and control, of these people. Under the head of moral treatment it referred to schools already in "successful operation at Camp Hamilton, under the charge of a clergyman, assisted by other teachers; .... also religious instructions and meetings on Sunday and stated evenings during the week." After saying that there had been "no regular school established in and around the fort," it adds, "the commission recommend the temporary use, by some proper teacher, of the quarters of the contrabands for children's schools" for specified hours, "and for Divine service at proper hours on Sunday." It also recommended the appointment by government " of a person, always subordinate to the military authorities though unconnected with the military service, — a man of elevated moral character, high social position, and intelligence, who would consent to serve from motives of philanthropy," to inculcate the virtues of life, and to be protected by the military "in all proper efforts to improve these people physically, morally, and religiously." Saying that it had been assured" by educated and philanthropic gentlemen that there is no necessity for any governmental charity to these people; that societies at the North will undertake to provide for all their proper wants, in connection with their moral and intellectual culture," it added: "We earnestly recommend that it be left, as government leaves all similar demands, to the intelligence and generosity of the people." Charles B. Wilder, a merchant of Boston, whose well-known probity and philanthropy, earnestness of character and stirring energy, suggested his name as that of one well answering the recommendations of the commission, was appointed superintendent; and to him, by General Orders, No. 22, issued March 18, 1862, the chiefs of the several departments and others employing " these people "were required to report. The admirable administration of his department by Mr. Wilder indicated the wisdom alike of the policy inaugurated and of his selection for the post he so acceptably and successfully filled.

This report is interesting and historically important, not only on account of its subject and the time of its appearing, but from its origin and purpose. It is not the report of a company of missionaries enclosed in a letter from the secretary of some religions association, but of a commission of army officers covered by a "Letter from the Secretary of War in answer to a Resolution of the House," and published as "Ex. Doc. No. 85, of the XXXVIIth Congress, 2d Session." It is therefore an official document of the government of the United States, and reveals the solicitude of some at least of its high officials for the lowly and helpless class thus suddenly dispossessed of their homes and turned shelterless and penniless upon the world. Though the President and his advisers, mainly intent on the one supreme purpose of maintaining the Union, had seemingly given little thought or care to what so soon proved to be one of the great questions of the war, there was one member of the Cabinet, and large numbers in subordinate stations, who did comprehend the situation, recognize the new duty, and the importance of its prompt and intelligent as well as its conscientious performance. In the mean time, while these efforts were in progress at Fortress Monroe and vicinity, the same problem was clamoring for and receiving solution farther South. Through the capture of Hilton Head and Bay Point by the Federal navy, November 7, 1861, the Sea Islands on the coast of South Carolina were occupied by Union troops. Of course the slaves of those islands were freed from their masters' control, and their numbers were considerably increased by those who were escaping thereto from the mainland. The government, aware of large amounts of the choicest cotton to be found on the plantations, despatched agents for its collection. But Mr. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, though not indifferent to the pecuniary value of the cotton, was prepared, by his antislavery antecedents and convictions, to be more solicitous for those, with their dependent families, who had raised it, and who had been left by their traitorous and vagrant masters without means of their own, and without any to guide them in their dispersed and demoralized condition.

With the heart of a philanthropist and the forecast of a statesman, he comprehended, in a measure at least, the situation, and saw that there was work to be done that could not with safety or without wrong-doing be neglected. He accordingly deputed Mr. Pierce to visit the islands, examine and report the condition of the negroes, and suggest some means by which they might be organized, their labor utilized, and such arrangements made as would promote their general wellbeing. He sailed from New York on the 13th of January, and was absent just one month. During his stay he visited a large number of the plantations, observed carefully the state of affairs, conversed very freely with the negroes, ascertained very generally their habits, thoughts, wishes, and expectations, and from the results of these observations formed a plan of effort for the future guidance of those to whom should be intrusted the management of affairs. His plan embraced summarily the appointment of superintendents who should act also as local magistrates, with an adequate corps of teachers and the other needful appliances of an educational work. These men were to take charge of these abandoned lands and the freedmen thereon, cultivating the former and caring for the latter.

In his report, which was long and elaborate, giving in interesting detail the results of his explorations, he makes mention of two others, clergymen from the North, who were thus early in the field, — Rev. Solomon Peck, D, D., of Massachusetts, and Rev. Mansfield French of New York. Dr. Peck was a distinguished Baptist clergyman, formerly a professor in Amherst College, and subsequently connected with the mission-work of his denomination. He early repaired to Beaufort, and there not only preached to the people, but had at that time established a school of some sixty pupils. " Of narrow means," writes Mr. Pierce, " and yet in the main defraying his own expenses, this man of apostolic faith and life, to whose labors both hemispheres bear witness, left his home to guide and comfort this poor and shepherdless flock; and to him belongs, and ever will belong, the distinguished honor of being the first minister of Christ to enter the field which our arms had opened.” "Mr. French," he wrote, "whose mission was authenticated and approved by the government, prompted by benevolent purposes of his own, and in conference with others in the city of New York, has been here two weeks, during which time he has been industriously occupied in examining the state of the islands and their population, in conferring with the authorities and laying the foundation of beneficent appliances with reference to their moral, educational, and material wealth. These, having received the sanction of officers in command, he now returns to commend to the public, and the government will derive important information from his report." He closed with reference to an order of General Sherman, dated February 6, 1862, of which he says: "It is evidence of the deep interest which the commanding general takes in this subject, and of his conviction that the exigency requires prompt and vigorous action."

The Secretary accepted the report and its recommendations, and entered heartily into the adoption of measures requisite for its execution. But though the Secretary of the Treasury and so many other officers of the government saw, or thought they saw, the need of prompt and adequate action in the premises, neither the President nor the other members of his Cabinet entered very heartily into the measure proposed; and the former, if not reluctantly, almost petulantly gave an order to Mr. Chase to "give Mr. Pierce such instructions in regard to Port Royal contrabands as may seem judicious." In his letter of instructions the Secretary informed Mr. Pierce that, though his power to act, without further legislation of Congress, was at best constructive, yet he deemed the improvement of the abandoned lands and the employment of their laborers so important, that he should continue his agency in "the general superintendence and direction" of the work, with the understanding that the salaries of the agents would be assumed by Northern associations, "while subsistence, quarters, and transportation only will be furnished by the government."

Such was the general outlook near the beginning of 1862. By the action of individual philanthropy and the co-operation of official agents a new work, little calculated upon or provided for, of rapidly increasing and large prospective dimensions, had been rolled at once upon the loyal North. To perform this work most effectively and completely it was seen that there must be both governmental and popular action, the one supplementing the other, — voluntary beneficence aided and protected by governmental authority, agencies, and agents. These were the small but experimental beginnings of a great and widely extended work, covering the whole land, counting its agents by thousands, and numbering the givers and recipients of its bounty by millions. As a work it was unique and without its parallel, and constitutes a most important part and feature of the great civil war. Nothing less than a volume could contain anything like an adequate account of this combination of Northern and governmental beneficence in behalf of its victims. What has been given here is but a hint of its origin and a sample of what it was designed to effect. For the rest, all that space gives room for are a few historical facts and statistics which may in some degree, though faintly, indicate its extent and amount.

On the return of Mr. Pierce and Mr. French to the North, appeals were at once made to the philanthropy and patriotism of their fellow-citizens. Large meetings -were held in Boston and New York, at the call and under the auspices of leading men associations were immediately formed, and vigorous measures were promptly taken to hurry teachers and supplies of books and clothing to the islands. In Mr. Pierce's second report to Secretary Chase, dated June 9, 1862, after speaking of the formation of the Educational Commission of Boston, the National Freedman's Relief Association of New York, and the Port Royal Relief Commission of Philadelphia, he adds: "On the morning of March 9th forty-one men and twelve women, accepted for the above purposes, and approved by the first two of the above associations, disembarked at Beaufort… The men were of various occupations, — farmers, mechanics, tradesmen, teachers, physicians, clergymen, — ranging from twenty-one to sixty years." Subsequent additions increased the numbers, so that at the date of the report there were, he states, on the ground "seventy-four men and nineteen women." Indications of the practical character of the purpose, and of the vigorous measures proposed, were afforded by the consignment of ninety mules and ten horses, which made up a part of the inventory sent for the improvement of those islands and their inhabitants. There is, of course, no room for the mention of results, except to add that Mr. Pierce, in an article in the "Atlantic Monthly" of September, 1863, says: "The enterprise, begun in doubt, is no longer a bare hope or possibility. It is a fruition and consummation. The negroes will work for a living. They will fight for their freedom. They are adapted to society." But the sanguine hopes thus raised were not to be realized. President Lincoln's death, the change of policy by his successor, not only remanding those islands to their former owners, but encouraging those owners and all the slave masters of the South to believe that they might yet regain in fact what they had lost in form, broke up the system and deferred for long years what it was too confidently hoped was near at hand.

The enterprise, however, inaugurated on the Sea Islands was exceptional and experimental. Combining the culture of the land with care for the negroes, thus mingling profit and philanthropy, it was hoped, not only that relief might be afforded for present necessities, but also data for the solution of those great problems of reconstruction it was foreseen were near at hand. Elsewhere the work among the freedmen was less comprehensive, temporary, and more restricted. Its purpose was to seek out the colored population left destitute and dependent by the war and minister to such necessities as were left unsupplied by the government, or, as tersely expressed by the Duke of Argyle, at a public meeting in London in its behalf, "to assist in the clothing and education of free negroes." It was also designed to succor and guide them along the uncertain way between slavery and freedom, to bridge the chasm between what had been so dark and distressful in the past and what was at best doubtful and obscure in the future, and to prepare them for their new and, as yet, unfixed status in the body politic. Nor was the appeal any louder or more urgent than was the response prompt and generous. Indeed, for months, not to say years, the contributions transcended the opportunities for wise disbursement, not to speak of occasional rivalries, not always seemly, between different organizations for the occupancy of inviting and promising fields. As at the outset there was the great uprising of the people, sending their sons to fight the battles of the war, so now there seemed to be like response, and their daughters went forth by hundreds, not to say thousands, to achieve those equally important victories of peace.

Doubtless there was mingled with these appeals and zealous responses much that was sentimental and extravagant, statements that had no sufficient foundations in fact, hopes that could not but fail. Representations too rose-colored were often made, and expectations far too sanguine were not seldom encouraged. There were visionaries, if not fanatics, who seemed to have forgotten their own teachings of a generation concerning the dehumanizing influence of slavery upon its victims, and to feel that a race which had been subject to its malign power for two hundred years could almost, by a single bound, spring from the midnight of chattelhood into the noon day of citizenship. Or if it was admitted that, dazzled by the new light and the novel circumstances in which they found themselves, they might make mistakes concerning the duties their new-born rights had brought, and that some preparation would be necessary, it was claimed that they comprehended in a wonderful manner their needs, and were strangely anxious to supply their conscious deficiencies. Reports were sent home of their eager thirst for knowledge, and marvellous accounts were given of the evening schools thronged by the middle-aged and the aged, too, the Uncle Toms and Aunt Chloes, slowly but persistently mastering their alphabets and primers in order that they might spell out the story of the Saviour's love in the blessed Bible of which they had known, but in which they had never been permitted to read. But with all the abatements which the truth demands, there was much in the circumstances of the ex-slaves to invite and reward effort. And though there was much that was immature and unskilful in the instruction given, superficial and soon forgotten in the lessons learned, great good was accomplished though these voluntary efforts in behalf of the freedmen. 

Mere educational statistics, always more or less unreliable, would, if attainable, be especially unreliable here. Tables sim ply giving account of the amount of funds contributed, of the number of teachers sent out, of schools opened and scholars enrolled, even if perfectly accurate, would convey but a very imperfect estimate of either the quantity or the quality of the education acquired. For this afforded no exception to the general rule that a good work is often hindered and not helped by in competent and unfaithful workers, and the desirable results from worthy laborers greatly, if not entirely, neutralized by those of the unworthy. In answer to the call from this new field, many responses came, and it was not strange that some unbidden presented themselves. To these drawbacks was added the fact that the great work of education, always difficult and delicate, even under the most favorable circumstances and with appliances best adapted and most complete, was to be prosecuted under circumstances the exact reverse, generally in buildings extemporized for the occasion, often most unsuitable and uncomfortable, in communities not only not in harmony and kindly disposed thereto, but actively hostile to both the teacher and his work, and tolerating neither only as the arm of the military protected ; with pupils generally from dwellings with all the discomforts of poverty the most abject, and with surroundings so foreign and hostile to either culture or virtue that it seemed hardly possible that the eighteen hours at home should not undo and neutralize all that the six hours at school could effect.

So much is due to the truth of history and in answer to the cavil often heard, that there has been no adequate return for the large amounts expended and the labors performed; that the harvest is meagre compared with the seed sown and culture bestowed, betokening failure either in the nature of the soil cultivated or on the part of those who cultivated it. For other reply or explanation than that already given, it may be said that here, no more than elsewhere, can be accurately estimated or weighed all the good accomplished. That much suffering was relieved, that many were rescued from a life of ignorance and vice, of helplessness and failure, and started and prepared for a life of usefulness and success for both worlds, admits of no doubt, while they who gave, and they who became almoners of, this vast bounty no doubt found verified the Divine declaration that it is more blessed to give than receive.

The work was coextensive with the objects of its charity. Wherever the Union armies advanced thither the freedmen flocked, and there was extended its hand of friendly succor, north and south, east and west. In addition to these associations, formed at first in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, there were formed, subsequently, the New England Freedmen's Aid Society, the American Freedmen's Aid Commission, the Freedmen's Union Commission, the American Union Commission, the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association, Friends' Relief Association, the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Educational Improvement of the Colored People, Delaware Association, the Freedmen's Aid Association of Western Pennsylvania and adjacent parts of Ohio and Western Virginia, the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission, the North western Freedmen's Aid Commission, the American Missionary Association. The number and names of these associations indicate the wide-spread interest felt and the extended sweep of their operations. There may have been others of local character whose names escape recollection or mention; but these were the main agencies employed, and the aggregate of their contributions of money must have reached millions; the number of men and women sent forth exceeding three thousand. There were several similar associations in Great Britain, whose aggregate contributions to the work Mr. Garrison places at eight hundred thousand dollars. There was a meeting of the representatives of these associations at London, May 17, 1865, at which Sir Thomas Foxwell Buxton presided, for the purpose of forming a National Committee, " to consolidate and extend the action already taken for the relief of the freed negroes of America." A similar combination of the various local associations above mentioned was effected in New York by the formation, on the 19th of September, 1865, of the American Freedmen's Aid Commission. It was during this year that the American Union Commission was formed on a somewhat enlarged basis, embracing the white refugees. It was "organized to aid in the restoration of the Union upon the basis of freedom, industry, education, and Christian morality," and was designed to promote the interests of patriotism, as well as of charity. The next year it was united with the National Freedmen's Aid Commission, and it became the American Freedmen's Union Commission. These different associations and the frequent changes referred to indicate the lively interest felt in the subject, and the evident anxiety that existed to profit by any mistakes that may have been made, and to adapt the action taken to the ever-varying and progressive exigencies of the situation. All the above organizations, except the American Missionary Association, were from the start designed to be temporary, to continue only so long as there existed the special work to be performed. Accordingly, the American Freedmen's Union Commission in this country and the corresponding association of Great Britain and Ireland formally dissolved their organizations in 1869, and discontinued their operations.

But the disbandment did not imply either the completion of the work on which they had been engaged, or the exhaustion of Northern sympathy and resources. The former had indeed lost something of its freshness, there was less enthusiasm, and many who had at first entered into the movement with alacrity and zeal had become discouraged. But there were others who saw in |t a life-work, believing that at least a generation must pass before the process of emancipation could be fully complete, and that the triumphs of war must be supplemented by the victories of peace. This was specially true of those who regarded what was called the Southern problem mainly in its moral aspects, who felt that the freedmen had other than material or even educational necessities, and that there could be no adequate preparation for this life that did not embrace a preparation for the life to come. Accordingly, most of the Christian denominations adopted it as a part of their missionary work and incorporated a department for freedmen with the other departments formed for the prosecution of their various forms of benevolent effort.

Among them, the most prominent and the most extensively engaged in the work, is the American Missionary Association, sustained mainly, though not exclusively, by the Congregationalists, with its headquarters at New York. Beginning at Fortress Monroe, it opened, on the 17th of September, 1861, the first freedmen's school ever opened in America. It took its share in the work on the Sea Islands, and early opened a school in Norfolk, Virginia. Before the close of 1862, it had flourishing schools at Fortress Monroe, Hampton, and Newport News, at Norfolk and vicinity, at Washington, D. C, and at Cairo, Illinois. Generously sustained by the sympathy and contributions of the people, it followed closely the advancing armies of the Union, and held itself in readiness to occupy any eligible position, not occupied by others, where schools could be established; its working force some years reaching as high as five hundred teachers and missionaries, and its receipts three or four hundred thousand dollars. At this writing it reports its cash expenditures for the freedman to have exceeded two and three quarters million dollars, besides an incalculable amount of clothing, books, and other supplies. Latterly the character of its work has been somewhat changed. Though it has not entirely discontinued its primary schools among the freedmen, it has devoted its efforts more to schools and institutions of a higher grade and more permanent character, designed rather to raise up and qualify teachers for the freedmen than to commission and sustain, as at first, teachers among them. In a "History of the American Missionary Association," published in 1874, there is an account and list given of eighteen "Graded and Normal Schools," in the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas, with one hundred and eighty-five teachers, over five thousand pupils, and property estimated at one hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars. It also gives the names of seven "chartered institutions," — Berea College, Kentucky; Normal and Agricultural Institute, Virginia; Fisk University, Tennessee ; Atlanta University, Georgia; Tougaloo University, Mississippi ; Talladega College, Alabama; Straight University, Louisiana. These institutions, though as yet hardly answering to the imposing names given them, and still in their infancy and compelled to labor amid many discouragements and against many opposing obstacles, are not without cheering results already attained. But their chief significance and historical importance lie in their promise of good when these hindrances shall be removed. When better counsels prevail, when the cruel reign of caste shall be broken, when the hitherto dominant class shall cease their persecutions, when all accept the situation, and with honest and earnest purpose seek to rebuild what has been so ruthlessly destroyed, and repair the places made waste by the triple scourge of slavery, rebellion, and war, then will these institutions become the most potent agencies in the work of improvement, the important factors in solving the difficult and momentous problem of Southern reconstruction.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 455-471.



Chapter: “Making Free the Families of Colored Soldiers,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

The President in his annual message, December, 1863, had estimated the colored soldiers in the service at " nearly one hundred thousand." They were mostly from the border States, and the slaves of loyal masters. While they were fighting the battles of the country, their masters, who were generally opposed to their enlistment, could sell into perpetual slavery their wives and children. To deter slaves from enlisting, or to punish them when they did enlist, slave-masters made merchandise of the wives and children of colored soldiers, and often sold them into a harsher bondage.

To put an end to a practice so cruel, unjust, injurious, and dishonorable to the country, Mr. Wilson introduced into the Senate on the 8th of January, in his bill to promote enlistments, a provision declaring that when any man or boy of African descent, owing service or labor in any State, under its laws, should be mustered into the military or naval service of the United States, he, and his mother, wife, and children, should be forever free. When the Senate proceeded to the consideration of the bill, Mr. Powell of Kentucky, pronouncing the section giving freedom to the wife, mother, and children of the soldier "clearly unconstitutional," because it deprived "the loyal men of loyal States of their property by legislative enactment of Congress," moved to strike out that section.

It was then moved by Mr. Henderson of Missouri to strike out the words " his mother, wife, and children," and insert that "his mother, wife, and children" should be free if they owed service to any person who gave aid and comfort to the Rebellion. He avowed that he did not offer this amendment to protect slavery, and declared his readiness to abolish it throughout the country. He expressed the opinion that no State "will again take its place in the Union without first, by the action of its own people, abolishing slavery," and that when the Rebellion should be put down, "slavery forever dies."

The amendment was strenuously opposed by Mr. Grimes. He was unwilling that a man who had perilled his life for the institutions of his country should be taken off to slavery by any persons. He thought that the proposition would meet the approval of the country, and rejoiced that an opportunity had been given for the Senate to record their votes in its favor.

But the amendment was sustained by Mr. Johnson of Maryland. He thought no member of the Senate was more anxious than himself to have the country composed entirely of free men and free women. "The bill provides," he said, "that a slave enlisted anywhere— no matter where he may be, whether he be within Maryland or out of Maryland, whether he be within any other of the loyal States or out of the loyal States altogether — is at once to work the emancipation of his wife and children. He may be in South Carolina; and many a slave in South Carolina, I am sorry to say it, can well claim to have a wife, or perhaps wives and children, within the limits of Maryland. It is one of the vices, and the horrible vices, of the institution, — one that has shocked me from infancy to the present hour, — that the whole marital relation is disregarded. They are made to be, practically and by education, forgetful or ignorant of that relation. When I say they are educated, I mean to say they are kept in absolute ignorance; and out of that, immorality of every description arises; and among other immoralities is, that the connubial relation does not exist." This admission of the distinguished Senator from Maryland revealed the inhuman and demoralizing tendencies of the slave system. It was for the perpetuation of such a system the land was reddened with the blood of civil war.

Mr. Sherman addressed the Senate upon the general question of employing colored men as soldiers, and of emancipation. "On the subject of emancipation," he declared, "I am ready now to go as far as any one. Like all others, I hesitated at first, because I could not see the effect of the general project of emancipation. I think the time has now arrived when we must meet this question of emancipation boldly and fearlessly. There is no other way. Slavery is destroyed, not by your act, sir, or mine, but by the act of this Rebellion. I think, therefore, the better way would be to wipe out all that is left of the whole trouble, — the dead and buried and wounded of this system of slavery. It is obnoxious to every manly and generous sentiment. From the beginning, we should have armed the slaves; but before doing so, in my judgment, we ought to secure them by law, by a great guaranty, in which you and I, and all branches of the government, would unite in pledging the faith of the United States, that forever thereafter they should hold their freedom against their old masters." Mr. Carlile followed Mr. Sherman, in opposition to the bill. He emphatically declared, that, " if it shall become necessary in this struggle for the confederates to arm their slaves, they will arm and emancipate them too."

Mr. Doolittle of Wisconsin opposed the bill, but favored an amendment of the Constitution. "Slavery," he said, "is dying, dying all around us. It is dying as a suicide dies. It is dying in the house, and at the hands, of its own professed friends. The sword which it would have driven into the vitals of this Republic is parried and thrust back into its own." In opposing the bill, Mr. Richardson of Illinois asserted that Senators who were struggling for the rights of the negro forgot the rights of the white race.

Mr. Brown of Missouri moved to strike out the section making free the wife, mother, and children of the colored soldier, and to insert an amendment reaffirming the President's proclamation of emancipation, and providing by it for the abolition of slavery throughout the United States. He affirmed, in an elaborate speech of rare beauty and force, "that slavery yet liveth, the discussion which has attended every measure introduced here trenching upon it sufficiently attests. Neither dead, nor willing to die, but struggling for being, by joint and ligature and tissue and nerve, that some centre of future growth may lurk under proviso or exception, its vitality is upheld in this hour by appeal to the same constitutionalisms and local countenance that will be swift to maintain it here after if this epoch shall pass without its utter extinction. The soldier who has worn our uniform and served under our flag must not hereafter labor as a slave. Nor would it be tolerable that his wife, his mother, or his child should be the property of another. The instinctive feeling of every man of generous impulse would revolt at such a spectacle. The guaranty of freedom for himself, his mother, his wife, and his child, is the inevitable incident of the employment of a slave as a soldier. If you have not the power, or do not mean, to emancipate him, and those with whom he is connected by domestic ties, then, in the name of God and humanity, do not employ him as a soldier! "

Mr. Brown having withdrawn his amendment, Mr. Wilson, on the 18th of March, moved to strike out the entire bill and insert, " that when any person of African descent, owing service or labor, should be mustered into the military or naval service, his wife and children should be forever free, and that it should be the duty of the Commission appointed under section 24 of the act to amend the act for enrolling and calling out the national forces, to award to each loyal person to whom such wife and children might owe service, a just compensation therefor." " I propose," he said, " in this amendment, to make the soldier's wife and children free, no matter to whom they belong. We have provided in the Enrolment Act, that a slave enlisted into the military service of the United States is free when he is mustered into the service. We have exercised that great power to strengthen the government in putting down the Rebellion. We have enlisted many thousands of colored men, and we are continuing to enlist colored men, in all parts of the country. But, sir, the enlistment of colored men causes a vast deal of suffering; for a great wrong is done to their families, and especially is that so in the State of Missouri. Those wives and children who are left behind may be sold, may be abused; and how can a soldier fight the battles of our country when he receives the intelligence that the wife he left at home, and the little ones he left around his hearth, were sold into perpetual slavery, — sold where he would never see them more ? If there be a crime on earth that should be promptly punished, it is the crime of selling into slavery, in a distant section of the country, the wives and children of the soldiers who are fighting the battles of our bleeding country. Now wife and children plead to the husband and father not to enlist, — to remain at home for their protection. Pass this bill, and the wife and children will beseech that husband and father to fight for the country, for his liberty, and for their freedom."

Mr. Wilkinson moved to strike out so much of the amendment as proposed to pay the estimated value of the wives and children of colored soldiers; and Mr. Pomeroy proposed so to amend it as to " settle the account between each person made free and his or her owner, and to award to each party such just compensation as may be found due." It was then moved by Mr. Sherman to postpone the bill for the purpose of acting on the amendment to the Constitution to abolish slavery throughout the United States. Mr. Wilson opposed delay. "I think it is a measure to fill up our armies," he said, "and ought not to be postponed an hour. Then, as a matter of justice, how can you ask a man to enlist and fight the battles of his country, when he knows that the moment his back is turned his wife and children will be sold to strangers?" Mr. Sumner said the main question was to hit slavery wherever and whenever it could be found; and Mr. Lane of Kansas declared that this was a bill that should be voted upon at the very earliest day, or else " we should stop enlisting black men." The postponement was opposed by Mr. Grimes, who knew of no bill before the Senate, or that was likely to come before it, that deserved the immediate and careful attention of Congress more than did that bill.

Mr. Sherman maintained that there were grave questions of constitutional power involved in this bill, and he thought it wiser to defer all the propositions touching slavery until they could, by constitutional amendment and legislation, " wipe out the whole system." This idea was combated by Mr. Wilson, who declared it to be sound policy to strike slavery whenever and wherever they could get a blow at it. "It is to perish," he said, "if it perish at all, by hedging it around by every enactment, breaking down every barrier that surrounds it, and defeating the three hundred thousand bayonets behind which it is intrenched."

Mr. Conness moved to recommit the bill to the special Committee on Slavery and Freedom. The recommitment was opposed by Mr. Clark of New Hampshire. He said the country was desirous of putting colored men at the earliest moment into the army, and that those men had wives and children. The slavemasters who were in sympathy with the Rebellion, and who were opposed to the colored man going into the service, said in effect to him: " If you go into the army and fight the battles of your country, I will sell your wife. Not only shall your wife and children have no care, no food, no protection, but they shall be sold into slavery; and when you return from fighting the battles of the Union, you shall find your home desolate, your wife gone, no one knows where, into slavery, and your children all sent away." The recommitment was also opposed by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Howard. It was admitted by Mr. Fessenden that there were serious difficulties connected with the question of putting colored men into the army and emancipating themselves, their wives and children, but he was convinced they could do anything that was necessary to be done "to accomplish the purpose that we have in view, and which is not only a legal, but a necessary purpose, — the salvation and perpetuation of the Republic."

It was maintained by Mr. Davis that slaves were property, and could only be taken for public use by paying a just compensation. The party in power are grinding us to the dust by the weight and tyrannies of an organized military despotism. These usurpers and oppressors are seizing upon our able-bodied negro slaves, and organizing them into a standing army already numbering nearly one hundred thousand men, and to be augmented far beyond those figures, to hold us in hapless and hopeless political, social, and commercial servitude to themselves. Belshazzar and his host are now drunk and feasting; but Cyrus and the Persians will soon be upon them. The aroused American freemen will effect their own deliverance at the ides of next November." "This bill," said Mr. Wilkinson, "is to give freedom to the wives and children of the soldiers who fight our battles for the government and for freedom. It has been claimed that if this bill shall pass, it will work the emancipation of the whole negro race within the United States. While the noblest and the best sons of the loyal States were reddening every rivulet in Virginia with their blood, and almost every sod of the Old Dominion was pressing upon the grave of a blue-eyed soldier of the North, we turned our backs coldly upon the only friends we had in the rebellious States, and said to them, ' You are black, and are not worthy to suffer and die for freedom; we would rather lose our own liberties than to give freedom to a nation of slaves.' "

Mr. Willey of West Virginia maintained that the cases of vindictive cruelty to which allusion had been made were more attributable to the pending universal emancipation in Missouri than to the exasperation of the masters growing out of the enlistment of the slaves. He thought the enactment would lead to very distressing difficulties, and made the strange point and argument, for a Christian gentleman, that there could be "in Virginia, between slaves, no legal marriage; there can be no wife in the eye of the law; there can be no children of slaves in the eye of the law."

Failing to bring the bill to a vote, Mr. Wilson, on the 18th of May, introduced a joint resolution to encourage enlistments by making free the wife and children of any person who had been, or who might be, mustered into the military service. The provisions embodied in the resolution were reported from the Committee on Military Affairs, moved as amendments to several bills, but failed to be brought to the test of a vote of the Senate, and Congress adjourned without making free the wives and children of tens of thousands of men who were fighting the battles of the country.

At the next session, on the 13th of December, 1864, Mr. "Wilson introduced his joint resolution to make free the wives and children of persons who had been, or might be, mustered into the service of the United States. Coming up for consideration a few days thereafter, Mr. Davis of Kentucky moved its reference to the Committee on the Judiciary. Mr. Wilson opposed the reference of the resolution to any committee. "The needs of the country," he said, "more than justice or humanity, have weaponed the hand of the slave…. Whenever the slave enlists, he is a freeman forevermore; and thousands of them have enlisted since we passed that beneficent act…. It is estimated that from seventy-five to one hundred thousand wives and children of these soldiers are now held in slavery. It is a burning shame to this country; it is an indecency for the American people to hold in slavery the wives and the children of men who are perilling their lives before the Rebel legions…. Wasting diseases, weary marches, and bloody battles are decimating our armies. The country needs soldiers, — must have soldiers. Let the Senate, then, act now. Let us hasten the enactment of this beneficent measure, inspired by patriotism and hallowed by justice and humanity; so that, ere merry Christmas shall come, the intelligence shall be flashed over the land, to cheer the hearts of the nation's defenders and arouse the manhood of the bond man, that on the forehead of the soldier's wife and the soldier's child no man can write 'slave.' " The reference was advocated by Mr. Hendricks of Indiana, who was "not able to see how, under the Constitution of the United States, Congress can free the servant who is held to service by the laws of a State." Mr. Powell of Kentucky thought the resolution was "palpably unconstitutional." "Senators," he exclaimed, "if you pass this measure, you will have to do it by walking over the plain provisions of the Constitution of your country." The reference was advocated by Mr. Doolittle, who doubted the constitutionality of the measure, and who preferred to wait for the adoption of the constitutional amendments, which would finally settle the question forever by the supreme judgment of the American people.

It was maintained by Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware, that Congress had no power to decree the freedom of the wives and children of negro volunteers in the army, nor could they give permanent freedom to the negro volunteer himself. "All must confess," said Mr. Sumner, "the humanity of the proposition to enfranchise the families of colored persons who have borne arms for their country.

All must confess the hardship of continuing them in slavery…. But every argument, every consideration, which pleads for the enfranchisement of the slave, pleads also for the enfranchisement of the family. There is the same practical necessity for doing it, and the same unutterable shabbiness in not doing it Concede that the soldier may be enfranchised, and it follows that by the same constitutional power his family may be admitted to an equal liberty. Any other conclusion would be as illogical as inhuman; discreditable alike to the head and the heart. There is no argument, whether of reason or humanity, for the enfranchisement of the soldier, which does not plead equally for that of his family. Nay, more: I know not how we can expect a blessing on our arms while we fail to perform this duty."

Failing by four majority to secure the reference of the resolution to the Committee on the Judiciary, Mr. Davis moved so to amend it as to make its operation prospective. He made the singular confession that it was the first time that he had ever ventured to utter a voice in the name of humanity in the Senate; but, in the name of humanity, he did protest that a degraded and helpless race of beings, who were unable to support themselves, should not be deprived of the support of their masters, and thrown helpless upon the world, without the means of supporting themselves. To this suggestion Mr. Pomeroy replied that he had seen the effects of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the border counties of Missouri, and these freedmen had manifested a wonderful facility for taking care of themselves and adapting themselves to any condition.

Mr. Wade of Ohio made an earnest and effective speech in favor of the immediate passage of the measure. He had been in Kentucky, and knew that "the great objection everywhere is, that the negro will not enlist unless you free his wife and children…. I will state, in connection with this subject, that I visited Camp Nelson last summer. General Burbridge was the commanding officer. I rode there with General Burbridge from Lexington, in order to see a review that was about to take place there; and a sight greeted me such as I never beheld in the world, and hope I never shall again. As soon as I had arrived in the camp, we had scarcely alighted from the carriage, before a colored woman, whom I should suppose to be thirty years of age, appeared before us, all bruised to pieces. Her face was all whipped to a jelly. She had a child with her, which she said was twelve years old; one of whose eyes had been gouged out, and the other attempted to be, as they stated, by their mistress, the father being in the army. Her head was all cut to pieces by what appeared to be a sharp instrument; her skull was laid bare almost, and her back perfectly mangled by the torture to which she had been subjected. All this was done, as we were informed, because her husband had enlisted in the army of the United States; and she and her child were compelled to flee to this camp the best way they could, in that condition. And yet gentlemen stand up here and talk about constitutional law in exculpation of such infernal acts as these! Sir, I tell you that slavery is an organized rebel, and you can have no peace as long as that relation exists in the United States; and, as God is my judge, I hope you will have no peace until you abolish it. I ask for no peace until slavery is extinct in these United States."

Mr. Wilson said that Mr. Davis, when he declared that the wives and children of colored soldiers would be turned out on the world without support, "forgets that we pay the husband and father sixteen dollars a month to support his wife and children. We clothe and feed the colored soldier, and we pay him sixteen dollars a month, and with that pay he can support wife and children. Make them free, and not only will his wages go to their support, but the labor of their own hands will go to their support."

Mr. Davis's amendment, to make the bill prospective, was rejected, and Mr. Powell then moved that no slave should be emancipated by virtue of the resolution, until the owner should be paid a just compensation. He emphatically declared that those who looked upon African slavery as the cause of the war were sadly mistaken; that it was the distempered and fanatical ideas of men who had "negro on the brain," and who were prominent among "the old maiden ladies who get up societies, and those white-cravatted preachers who go about, and instead of preaching Christ crucified, preach Sambo in chains."

Mr. Powell's amendment was rejected, and so was Mr. Saulsbury's amendment providing that the resolution should not be operative in any State that had not assumed to secede from the Union.

Mr. Carlile emphatically denied "all power to put a negro, the property of his master, into the service of the United States in any capacity, with the power to liberate him." Mr. Trumbull agreed with all the appeals that had been made in favor of the measure for humanity's sake. If he could give the vote or utter the word, consistently with his oath, he would free every human being "on God's earth." But believing that there could be no genuine liberty except liberty regulated by law, and no government worth preserving unless they stood by the Constitution, he declared that he must vote against the resolution. The joint resolution to make free the wives and children of colored soldiers passed the Senate by a vote of twenty-seven to ten.

In the House of Representatives the resolution was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. On the 22d of February Mr. Wilson of Iowa reported it without amendment. "Does the gentleman believe," inquired Mr. Mallory of Kentucky, "that Congress has the constitutional power to pass such a law?" "I have always believed," replied Mr. Wilson, "that the Congress of the United States, in time of war", when it was necessary to make our population most effective for the purposes of war, has the power; and has the power to liberate slaves by congressional enactment." Mr. Harris of Maryland was fully convinced that this measure was presented and pressed, not to get soldiers, but "for the purpose, and that only, of interfering with and abolishing the institution called slavery." Mr. Wilson would tell the gentleman the purpose of this act. "To-day, in the forefront of your army, are thousands of colored men risking everything for the salvation of this Republic. Upon the fields once cursed by slavery, resounding with the clank of the slave's chains and the crack of the overseer's whip, now tread the colored soldiers of the Republic, under the ensign of the nation, striking sturdy blows for freedom and free government. And, sir, this Re public cannot afford to disgrace itself in the eyes of the civilized world by sending these men out to fight its battles, and chaining at home their wives and children in that bondage which is worse than death. It would be a disgrace never to be wiped from the face of this nation, if we should permit this wrong to continue." Mr. Mallory asked why this measure, in view of the passage of the proposed constitutional amendment, should be pressed now. Mr. Wilson replied that the amendment might not be ratified by three fourths of the States for two years to come, and he did not wish to have the bondage of these women and children resting on him. The question was taken, and it was decided in the affirmative, — yeas seventy-four, nays sixty-three. So the joint resolution making free the wives and children of colored soldiers passed; and received, on the 3d of March, the approval of the President.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 403-414.


FRELINGHUYSEN, Theodore, 1787-1862, Franklin, Somerset Co., Newark, New Jersey, attorney, jurist, statesman, opposed slavery.  U.S. Senator, 1829-1836.  Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.  Chancellor of the University of New York.  Whig Vice Presidential candidate.  American Colonization Society, Vice-President, 1833-1841.  As Senator, he opposed the removal of Cherokee and other Southern tribes from territories west of Mississippi.  Member of the board of the African Education Society. 

(Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 543-544; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 4, Pt. 1, p. 16; Staudenraus, P. J. The African Colonization Movement, 1816-1865. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 16, 86, 128, 189-190, 207, 225, 228)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FRELINGHUYSEN, Theodore, lawyer, b. in Franklin, Somerset co., N. J., 28 March, 1787; d. in New Brunswick, N. J., 12 April, 1861, was sent at the age of eleven to the grammar-school connected with Queen's college (now Rutgers), where he remained two years, but, on the resignation of the rector of the school, returned to his home at Millstone. Having no great disposition to apply himself to study, he persuaded his father to give him the privilege of remaining at home and becoming a farmer. But consent to this plan had been only partially obtained when his father was called away on public business. His step-mother, a wise and estimable woman, believing that this arrangement would not be a judicious one, packed young Theodore's trunk and sent him to the classical academy recently established at Baskingridge, N. J., by the Rev. Dr. Robert Finley. Here he completed his preparatory studies, and in 1802 was admitted to the junior class of the College of New Jersey, at Princeton, from which he was graduated with high honors in 1804. In the mean time, his father having died, his elder brother, John, a lawyer, had taken charge of the homestead at Millstone. In the office of this brother he began the study of law, and, after being admitted to the bar, removed to Newark, N. J., where he married, and entered upon the practice of his profession, in which he soon attained eminence. In 1817 he was appointed attorney-general by a legislature whose majority was opposed to him in politics. Twice afterward he was reappointed on the expiration of his term of office, and finally resigned it in 1829, having been elected a senator of the United States. Prior to this, however, he had declined the office of justice of the supreme court, tendered to him in 1826. The first important matter on which he addressed the senate was the bill for the removal of the Indians beyond the Mississippi river. This speech availed nothing, however, except to bring its author prominently before the nation, and to give to him the title of the “Christian statesman.” He also took an active part in the discussion of the pension bill, the president's protest, the removal of the deposits from the U. S. bank, the compromise, and the tariff. His senatorial term expired in 1835, when he resumed his professional labors in Newark. In 1836 Newark was incorporated as a city. In the following year Mr. Frelinghuysen was elected its mayor, and in 1838 he was re-elected to the same position. In 1839 he was unanimously chosen chancellor of the University of New York, and while in the occupancy of this office was, in May, 1844, nominated by the Whig national convention at Baltimore for the vice-presidency of the United States on the same ticket with Henry Clay. He continued in the discharge of his duties as chancellor of the university until 1850, when he accepted the presidency of Rutgers college, and in the same year was formally inducted into that office, continuing in it until the day of his death. Mr. Frelinghuysen was an earnest advocate of the claims of organized Christian benevolence, and it is said of him that no American layman was ever associated with so many great national organizations of religion and charity. He was president of no less than three of these during some period of their existence, while his name may be found on the lists of officers of all the rest with scarcely an exception. For sixteen years he was president of the American board of commissioners for foreign missions. From April, 1846, till his death he was president of the American Bible society; from 1842 till 1848, of the American tract society; from 1826 till near the close of his life, vice-president of the American Sunday-school union; and for many years vice-president of the American colonization society. In the work of all these institutions he took an active part. His remains were buried in the grounds of the 1st Reformed Dutch church in New Brunswick, N. J. See a memoir of him by Rev. Talbot W. Chambers, D.D. (1863).  Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1888.


FRÉMONT, Jessie Benton, 1824-1902, writer, political activist, opponent of slavery.  Wife of John Charles Frémont. 

(Denton, 2007)


FRÉMONT, John Charles, 1813-1890, California, Army officer, explorer.  In 1856, Frémont was the first candidate for President from the anti-slavery Republican Party.  Lost to James Buchanan.  Early in his career, he was opposed to slavery and its expansion into new territories and states.  Third military governor of California, 1847. First U.S. Senator from the State of California, 1850-1851.  He was elected as a Free Soil Democrat, and was defeated for reelection principally because of his adamant opposition to slavery.  Frémont supported a free Kansas and was against the provisions of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.  On August 30, 1861, Frémont issued an unauthorized proclamation to free slaves owned by secessionists in his Department in Missouri.  Lincoln revoked the proclamation and relieved Frémont of command.  In March 1862, Frémont was given commands in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

(Blue, 2005, pp. 8, 10, 12-13, 58, 77, 78, 105, 131, 153, 173, 178, 206, 225, 239, 245, 252, 261-263, 268-269; Chaffin, 2002; Mitchell, 2007, pp. 89, 93, 94-95, 97-98, 138, 139, 145, 149, 159, 161, 172, 215, 219-225, 228-230, 243; Nevins, 1939; Rodriguez, 2007, pp. 59, 65, 140, 242-243, 275, 369, 385, 687; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 545-548; Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1936, Vol. 4, Pt. 1, p. 19; American National Biography, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, Vol. 8, p. 459; Chaffin, Tom, Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire, New York: Hill and Wang, 2002; Eyre, Alice, The Famous Fremonts and Their America, Boston: The Christopher Publishing House, 1948; Nevins, Allan, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West, Volume 1: Fremont the Explorer; Volume 2: Fremont in the Civil War, 1939, rev ed. 1955)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FRÉMONT, John Charles, explorer, b. in Savannah, Ga., 21 Jan., 1813. His father, who was a Frenchman, had settled in Norfolk, Va., married Anne Beverley Whiting, a Virginian lady, and supported himself by teaching his native language. After his death, which took place in 1818, his widow removed with her three infant children to Charleston, S. C. John Charles entered the junior class of Charleston college in 1828, and for some time stood high, especially in mathematics; but his in attention and frequent absences at length caused his expulsion. He then employed himself as a private teacher of mathematics, and at the same time taught an evening school. He became teacher of mathematics on the sloop-of-war “Natchez” in 1833, and after a cruise of two years returned, and was given his degree by the college that had expelled him. He then passed a rigorous examination at Baltimore for a professorship in the U. S. navy, and was appointed to the frigate “Independence,” but declined, and became an assistant engineer under Capt. William G. Williams, of the U. S. topographical corps, on surveys for a projected railroad between Charleston and Cincinnati, aiding particularly in the exploration of the mountain passes between North Carolina and Tennessee. This work was suspended in 1837, and Frémont accompanied Capt. Williams in a military reconnaissance of the mountainous Cherokee country in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, made rapidly, in the depth of winter, in anticipation of hostilities with the. Indians. On 7 July, 1838, while engaged with Jean Nicolas Nicollet in exploring, under government authority, the country between the Missouri and the northern frontier, he was commissioned by President Van Buren as 2d lieutenant of topographical engineers. He went to Washington in 1840 to prepare his report, and while there met Jessie, daughter of Thomas H. Benton, then senator from Missouri. An engagement was formed, but, as the lady was only fifteen years of age, her parents objected to the match; and suddenly, probably through the influence of Col. Benton, the young officer received from the war department an order to make an examination of the river Des Moines on the western frontier. The survey was made rapidly, and shortly after his return from this duty the lovers were secretly married, 19 Oct., 1841. In 1842, Frémont was instructed by the war department to take charge of an expedition for the exploration of the Rocky mountains, particularly the South pass. He left Washington on 2 May, and in four months had carefully examined the South pass and explored the Wind River mountains, ascending their highest point, since known as Frémont's peak (13,570 ft.). His report of the expedition was laid before congress in the winter of 1842-'3, and attracted much attention both at home and abroad. Immediately afterward, Frémont determined to explore the unknown region between the Rocky mountains and the Pacific, and set out in May, 1843, with thirty-nine men. On 6 Sept., after travelling over 1,700 miles, he came in sight of Great Salt lake. His investigations corrected many vague and erroneous ideas about this region, of which no accurate account had ever been given, and had great influence in promoting the settlement of Utah and the Pacific states. It was his report of this expedition that gave to the Mormons their first idea of Utah as a place of residence. After leaving Great Salt lake, he explored the upper tributaries of the Columbia, descended the valley of that river to Fort Vancouver, near its mouth, and on 10 Nov. set out on his return. His route lay through an almost unknown region leading from the Lower Columbia to the Upper Colorado, and was crossed by high and rugged mountain-chains. Deep snow soon forced him to descend into the great basin, and he presently found himself, in the depth of winter, in a desert, with the prospect of death to his whole party from cold and hunger. By astronomical observation he found that he was in the latitude of the bay of San Francisco; but between him and the valleys of California was a snow-clad range of mountains, which the Indians declared no man could cross, and over which no reward could induce them to attempt to guide him. Frémont undertook the passage without a guide, and accomplished it in forty days, reaching Sutter's Fort, on the Sacramento, early in March, with his men reduced almost to skeletons, and with only thirty-three out of sixty-seven horses and mules remaining. Resuming his journey on 24 March, he crossed the Sierra Nevada through a gap, and after another visit to Great Salt lake returned to Kansas through the South pass in July, 1844, having been absent fourteen months. The reports of this expedition occupied in their preparation the remainder of 1844. Frémont was given the double brevet of 1st lieutenant and captain in January, 1845, at the instance of Gen. Scott, and in the spring of that year he set out on a third expedition to explore the great basin and the maritime region of Oregon and California. After spending the summer in exploring the watershed between the Pacific and the Mississippi, he encamped in October on the shore of the Great Salt lake, and after crossing the Sierra Nevada with a few men, in the dead of winter, to obtain supplies, left his party in the valley of the San Joaquin while he went to Monterey, then the capital of California, to obtain from the Mexican authorities permission to proceed with his exploration: This was granted, but was almost immediately revoked, and Frémont was ordered to leave the country without delay. Compliance with this demand was impossible, on account of the exhaustion of Frémont's men and his lack of supplies, and it was therefore refused. The Mexican commander, Gen. Jose Castro, then mustered the forces of the province and prepared to attack the Americans, who numbered only sixty-two. Frémont took up a strong position on the Hawk's peak, a mountain thirty miles from Monterey, built a rude fort of felled trees, hoisted the American flag, and, having plenty of ammunition, resolved to defend himself. The Mexican general, with a large force, encamped in the plain immediately below the Americans, whom he hourly threatened to attack. On the evening of the fourth day of the siege Frémont withdrew with his party and proceeded toward the San Joaquin. The fires were still burning in his deserted camp when a messenger arrived from Gen. Castro to propose a cessation of hostilities. Frémont now made his way northward through the Sacramento valley into Oregon without further trouble, and near Tlamath lake, on 9 May, 1846, met a party in search of him with despatches from Washington, directing him to watch over the interests of the United States in California, there being reason to apprehend that the province would be transferred to Great Britain, and also that Gen. Castro intended to destroy the American settlements on the Sacramento. He promptly returned to California, where he found that Castro was already marching against the settlements. The settlers flocked to Frémont's camp, and in less than a month he had freed northern California from Mexican authority. He received a lieutenant-colonel's commission on 27 May, and was elected governor of California by the American settlers on 4 July. On 10 July, learning that Com. Sloat, commander of the United States squadron on that coast, had seized Monterey, he marched to join him, and reached that place on 19 July, with 160 mounted riflemen. About this time Com. Stockton arrived at Monterey with the frigate “Congress” and took command of the squadron, with authority from Washington to conquer California. At his request Frémont organized a force of mounted men, known as the “California battalion,” of which he was appointed major. He was also appointed by Com. Stockton military commandant and civil governor of the territory, the project of making California independent having been relinquished on receipt of intelligence that war had begun between the United States and Mexico. On 13 Jan., 1847, Frémont concluded with the Mexicans articles of capitulation, which terminated the war in California and left that country permanently in the possession of the United States. Meantime Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, with a small force of dragoons, had arrived in California. A quarrel soon broke out between him and Com. Stockton as to who should command. Each had instructions from Washington to conquer and organize a government in the country. Frémont had accepted a commission from Com. Stockton as commander of the battalion of volunteers, and had been appointed governor of the territory. Gen. Kearny, as Frémont's superior officer in the regular army, required him to obey his orders, which conflicted with those of Com. Stockton. In this dilemma Frémont concluded to obey Stockton's orders, considering that he had already fully recognized that officer as commander-in-chief, and that Gen. Kearny had also for some time admitted his authority. In the spring of 1847 despatches from Washington assigned the command to Gen. Kearny, and in June that officer set out overland for the United States, accompanied by Frémont, whom he treated with deliberate disrespect throughout the journey. On the arrival of the party at Fort Leavenworth, on 22 Aug., Frémont was put under arrest and ordered to report to the adjutant-general at Washington, where he arrived on 16 Sept., and demanded a speedy trial. Accordingly a court-martial was held, beginning 2 Nov., 1847, and ending 31 Jan., 1848, which found him guilty of “mutiny,” “disobedience of the lawful command of a superior officer,” and “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline,” and sentenced him to be dismissed from the service. A majority of the members of the court recommended him to the clemency of President Polk. The president refused to confirm the verdict of mutiny, but approved the rest of the verdict and the sentence, of which, however, he remitted the penalty. Notwithstanding this, Frémont at once resigned his commission, and on 14 Oct., 1848, set out on a fourth expedition across the continent, at his own expense, with the object of finding a practicable passage to California by way of the upper waters of the Rio Grande. With thirty-three men and 120 mules he made his way through the country of the Utes, Apaches, Comanches, and other Indian tribes then at war with the United States. In attempting to cross the great Sierra, covered with snow, his guide lost his way, and Frémont's party encountered horrible suffering from cold and hunger, a portion of them being driven to cannibalism. All of his animals and one third of his men perished, and he was forced to retrace his steps to Santa Fe. Undaunted by this disaster, he gathered another band of thirty men, and after a long search discovered a secure route by which he reached the Sacramento in the spring of 1849. He now determined to settle in California, where, in 1847, he had bought the Mariposa estate, a large tract of land containing rich gold-mines. His title to this estate was contested, but after a long litigation, it was decided in his favor in 1855 by the supreme court of the United States. He received from President Taylor in 1849 the appointment of commissioner to run the boundary-line between the United States and Mexico, but, having been elected by the legislature of California, in December of that year, to represent the new state in the U. S. senate, he resigned his commissionership and departed for Washington by way of the isthmus. He took his seat in the senate, 10 Sept., 1850, the day after the admission of California as a state. In drawing lots for the terms of the respective senators, Frémont drew the short term, ending 4 March, 1851. The senate remained in session but three weeks after the admission of California, and during that period Frémont devoted himself almost exclusively to measures relating to the interests of the state he represented. For this purpose he introduced and advocated a comprehensive series of bills, embracing almost every object of legislation demanded by the peculiar circumstances of California. In the state election of 1851 in California the Anti-slavery party, of which Frémont was one of the leaders, was defeated, and he consequently failed of re-election to the senate, after 142 ballotings. After devoting two years to his private affairs, he visited Europe in 1852, and spent a year there, being received with distinction by many eminent men of letters and of science. He had already, in 1850, received a gold medal from the king of Prussia for his discoveries, had been awarded the “founder's medal” of the Royal geographical society of London, and had been elected an honorary member of the Geographical society of Berlin. His explorations had gained for him at home the name of the “Pathfinder.” While in Europe he learned that congress had made an appropriation for the survey of three routes from the Mississippi valley to the Pacific, and immediately returned to the United States for the purpose of fitting out a fifth expedition on his own account to complete the survey of the route he had taken on his fourth expedition. He left Paris in June, 1853, and in September was on his march across the continent. He found passes through the mountains on the line of latitudes 38° and 39°, and reached California in safety, after enduring great hardships. For fifty days his party lived on horse-flesh, and for forty-eight hours at a time were without food of any kind. In the spring of 1855 Frémont with his family took up his residence in New York, for the purpose of preparing for publication the narrative of his last expedition. He now began to be mentioned as an anti-slavery candidate for the presidency. In the first National Republican convention, which met in Philadelphia on 17 June, 1856, he received 359 votes to 196 for John McLean, on an informal ballot, and on the first formal ballot Frémont was unanimously nominated. In his letter of acceptance, dated 8 July, 1856, he expressed himself strongly against the extension of slavery and in favor of free labor. A few days after the Philadelphia convention adjourned, a National American convention at New York also nominated him for the presidency. He accepted their support in a letter dated 30 June, in which he referred them for an exposition of his views to his forthcoming letter accepting the Republican nomination. After a spirited and exciting contest, the presidential election resulted in the choice of Mr. Buchanan by 174 electoral votes from nineteen states, while Frémont received 114 votes from eleven states, including the six New England states, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Maryland gave her eight electoral votes for Mr. Fillmore. The popular vote for Frémont was 1,341,000; for Buchanan, 1,838,000; for Fillmore, 874,000. In 1858 Frémont went to California, where he resided for some time. In 1860 he visited Europe. Soon after the beginning of the civil war he was made a major-general of the regular army and assigned to the command of the newly created western department. After purchasing arms for the U. S. government, in Europe, he returned; he arrived in St. Louis on 26 July, 1861, and made his headquarters there, fortifying the city, and placing Cairo in security by a demonstration with 4,000 troops. After the battle of Wilson's Creek, on 10 Aug., where Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was slain, Frémont proclaimed martial law, arrested active secessionists, and suspended the publication of papers charged with disloyalty. On 31 Aug. he issued a proclamation assuming the government of the state, and announcing that he would emancipate the slaves of those in arms against the United States. President Lincoln wrote to him, approving all of the proclamation except the e20mancipation clause, which he considered premature. He asked Frémont to withdraw it, which he declined, and the president annulled it himself in a public order. In the autumn Frémont moved his army from the Missouri river in pursuit of the enemy. Meanwhile many complaints had been made of his administration, it being alleged that it was inefficient, though arbitrary and extravagant, and after an investigation by the secretary of war he was, on 2 Nov., 1861, relieved from his command just as he had overtaken the Confederates at Springfield. It is claimed by Frémont's friends that this was the result of a political intrigue against him. On leaving his army, he went to St. Louis, where he was enthusiastically received by the citizens. In March, 1862, he was given the command of the newly created “mountain district” of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In the early part of June his army engaged a superior force under Gen. Jackson for eight days, with constant sharp skirmishing, the enemy retreating slowly and destroying culverts and bridges to cause delay. The pursuit was terminated with a severe engagement on the evening of 6 June, in which Jackson's chief of cavalry, Gen. Ashby, was killed, and by the battle of Cross-Keys on 8 June. It is claimed by Gen. Frémont that if McDowell's force had joined him, as promised by the president, Jackson's retreat would have been cut off; as it was, the latter made good his escape, having accomplished his purpose of delaying re-enforcements to McClellan. On 26 June the president issued an order creating the “Army of Virginia,” to include Frémont's corps, and giving the command of it to Gen. Pope. Thereupon Frémont asked to be relieved, on the ground that he could not serve under Gen. Pope, for sufficient personal reasons. His request having been granted, he went to New York to await further orders, but received no other command during the war, though, as he says, one was constantly promised him. On 31 May, 1864, a convention of Republicans, dissatisfied with Mr. Lincoln, met at Cleveland and tendered to Gen. Frémont a nomination for president, which he accepted. In the following September a committee of Republicans representing the administration waited on him and urged his withdrawal, as “vital to the success of the party.” After considering the matter for a week, he acceded to their request, saying in his letter of withdrawal that he did so “not to aid in the triumph of Mr. Lincoln, but to do my part toward preventing the election of the Democratic candidate.”

Since 1864 Gen. Frémont has taken little part in public affairs, but has been active in railway matters. He procured from the Texas legislature a grant of state land in the interest of the Memphis and El Paso railway, which was to be part of a proposed trans-continental road from Norfolk to San Diego and San Francisco. The French agents employed to place the land-grant bonds of this road on the market made the false declaration that they were guaranteed by the United States. In 1869 the senate passed a bill giving Frémont's road the right of way through the territories, an attempt to defeat it by fixing on him the onus of the misstatement in Paris having been unsuccessful. In 1873 he was prosecuted by the French government for fraud in connection with this misstatement. He did not appear in person, and was sentenced by default to fine and imprisonment, no judgment being given on the merits of the case. In 1878-'81 Gen. Frémont was governor of Arizona. He has published “Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1842, and to Oregon and North California in 1843-'4” (Washington, 1845; New York, 1846; London, 1849); “Col. J. C. Frémont's Explorations,” an account of all five of his expeditions (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1859); and “Memoirs of my Life” (New York, 1886). See also the campaign biographies by John Bigelow (New York, 1856), and Charles W. Upham (Boston, 1856). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 545-548.





BY their persistency the statesmen representing the Slave Power secured from the framers of the Constitution the provision for the rendition of fugitive slaves. Having obtained the incorporation of this provision into the fundamental law, they early and eagerly sought its enforcement.

In the Senate, in November, 1792, .Mr. Johnston of North Carolina, Mr. Cabot of Massachusetts, and Mr. Read of Delaware were appointed a committee for the consideration of matters relating to fugitives from justice, and slaves escaping from their masters. The committee reported a bill in December, and on the 28th of the same month it was recommitted, and Mr. Taylor of Virginia and Mr. Sherman of Connecticut were added to the committee. On the 3d of January, 1793, Mr. Johnston reported the original bill, with amendments. It was considered several days, and passed without a division. On the 4th of February the House proceeded to its consideration, and the next day it passed by a vote of 48 to 7. Thus this act which gave the slave-masters and their agents summary power to seize, hold, and return to slavery their fugitive bondmen, passed the Senate without a dissenting voice; and in the House there were found only seven members to record their votes against that dishonoring act, by authority of which so many inhuman and wicked deeds have been committed.

Under this Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 many arrests of persons alleged to have escaped from servitude were made, and much alarm among free persons of color was created. Many free negroes, especially in the States of Pennsylvania and Delaware, were kidnapped and sold into slavery. At the first session of the Fourth Congress a memorial was presented from the legislature of Delaware, asking the protection of the general government against this kidnapping. It was referred to the Committee on Commerce, which made a report asking for instructions. ·

In December, 1796, on motion of Mr. Swanwick of Pennsylvania, the report of the previous session was taken up for consideration. Mr. Coit of Connecticut, a member of the Committee of Commerce, thought the laws of the several States fully adequate without further provisions. He did not wish the United States to “intermeddle" in the case. To this Mr. Swanwick replied that the State laws were 'broken with impunity. He was for obliging masters of vessels when they took negroes on board to have certificates of their freedom. Mr. Murray of Maryland asked if the idea of preventing kidnapping meant the taking of "free negroes and selling them as slaves, or the taking of slaves and making them free?” To this question Mr. Swanwick replied that it was “intended to prevent both evils." Any action of Congress was opposed by Mr. Smith of South Carolina, because the matter was a municipal regulation, which should be left to the State legislatures. The House was reminded by Mr. Smith of New Jersey that negroes had in many instances been taken upon ships at night, and then carried to the West Indies and other parts of the world and sold; and that the existing State laws could not prevent that fraudulent practice.

Mr. Sitgreaves and Mr. Swanwick earnestly urged immediate action for the protection of unfortunate negroes and mulattoes exposed, by their color, to insult and injury. Mr. Smith of South Carolina feared that the “use of the word ' emancipation'" by Mr. Swanwick would spread alarm through some of the States. He would drop the subject altogether. Mr. Nicholas of Virginia expressed the hope that the subject would not be dismissed; for if they of the Southern States "unfortunately held slaves, they ought not to contribute to make slaves of free men." After further debate the report was recommitted to the Committee on Commerce; and on the 18th of January, 1797, Mr. Swanwick, by the instructions of the committee, though against his own opinion, reported that it was not expedient to interfere with the existing laws of the .States on that subject.

In January, 1797, Mr. Swanwick presented a petition from persons of African descent, natives of North Carolina, who had been emancipated and re-enslaved.  These persons set forth that they had been liberated " under the hand and seal of conscientious masters," by authority of a law pronounced constitutional; that another law had been enacted under which men of " cruel disposition and void of principle " were seeking to re-enslave them ; that they were reduced to the necessity of separating from their nearest and most tender connections, and of seeking refuge in other parts of the country, always liable to be seized and reduced to bondage again, under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act. "To you only," they say, " under God, can we apply, with any hope of effect, for redress of our grievances.'' 

Mr. Swanwick desired that the petition should be referred to a select committee; but Mr. Blount of North Carolina hoped the petition would not be received. A committee on the Fugitive Slave Act had been appointed, and Mr. Thatcher of Massachusetts thought this petition should be referred to that committee. He asserted that they were free people, and had an undoubted right to petition and be heard. Mr. Swanwick animadverted on the atrocity of a reward of ten dollars offered for one of them if taken alive, and fifty dollars if found dead, and no questions to be asked. He denounced that” horrid reward," which gentlemen could not hear without a" shudder," as an encouragement to put an end to that man's life. Heath and Madison of Virginia were in favor of letting the petition lie on the table; but Mr. Rutherford of the same State favored the reference of the memorial to a committee, as the “great hardships" represented in the petition appealed closely to the nicest feelings of the heart, and he “hoped humanity would dictate a just decision." Mr. Gilbert of New Jersey thought the petition “laid claim to the humanity of the House “; hut Mr. Smith of South Carolina was in favor of sealing it up and sending it back to the petitioners.

Mr. Thatcher said the Fugitive Slave Act had no authority over that set of men who claim the protection of that House, which ought "always to lean toward freedom." Though they could not give freedom to slaves, yet he hoped gentlemen would not refuse to lend their aid to secure freemen against tyrannical imposition. Mr. Varnum of Massachusetts said the petitioners had received injury under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act, as well as under the laws of North Carolina, and they had an undoubted right to the attention of the general government. If it should appear that they were free, and had received injuries under the Fugitive Slave Act, that Act ought to be amended. Mr. Kitchell of New Jersey maintained that the question was not whether they were or were not slaves, but whether a committee should inquire into the improper enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act in their case. But the House refused to receive the petition, thirty-three voting for it and fifty against it.

In December, 1799, Robert Waln of Pennsylvania presented a petition from colored men in Philadelphia, praying for the revision of the Fugitive Slave Act and the laws relative to the slave-trade, and for the adoption of such measures as should in the course of time emancipate their brethren. Its reference was earnestly opposed by Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, who contemptuously observed that the gentlemen who formerly came forward with their petitions had now put them into the hands of the "black gentlemen." These petitioners reminded the House that black people were in slavery. He “thanked God that they were; if they were riot, dreadful would be the consequences." Mr. Smilie of Pennsylvania said that these colored people were " a part of the human species, equally capable of suffering and enjoying, equally the objects of attention, and they had a claim to be heard."

Harrison Gray Otis had never seen a petition presented under a more dangerous aspect; and he opposed the reference. Henry Lee of Virginia, father of Robert E. Lee, the rebel general, would have the petition returned to the gentleman who presented it, "as Congress had no power over slavery but to protect it." Mr. Brown of Rhode Island hoped that Northern men would see the impropriety of encouraging slaves to come from Southern States to “become thieves and vagabonds." He was not a slaveholder, but he considered "slaves as much property as a farm or a ship." John Randolph, who had just entered Congress, desired that the action of the House should be so decided as to deter persons from petitioning on that subject thereafter ; and Mr. Christie of  Maryland hoped the petition would go " under the table, rather than on it." He was in favor of taking up the Fugitive Act, and, instead of weakening it, "making it stronger." Robert Goodloe Harper thought the temper of revolt was more perceptible among the slaves; and Mr. Jones of Georgia hoped the petition would be treated with " the contempt it merited, and thrown under the table."

In the course of the debate Mr. Thatcher fitly characterized the remarks of his colleague, Mr. Otis, "as pitiful, mean, virulent." Mr. Edmond of .Connecticut said it was unjust in the House, instead of giving a patient attention, to treat the complaints of the petitioners with “an inattention that passion alone could dictate." It was then proposed by Mr. Goode of Virginia that the petition should receive the pointed disapprobation of the House. To this proposition Mr. Thatcher replied that this was the first time he had ever known a petition, or a part of a petition, to receive the marked disapprobation of the House. If a petition in favor of objects so worthy was not heard, it would be "a national indignity." Mr. Rutledge, perhaps the ablest, certainly the most devoted and outspoken of the champions of the slaveholding interest, emphatically proclaimed that the abolition of slavery would never take place. “There is," he said,” one alternative which will save us from it, --but that alternative I deprecate very much, --that is, that we are able to take care of ourselves ; and, if driven to it, we will-take care of ourselves." The House then resolved that those parts of the petition praying Congress to legislate on subjects from which the government is precluded by the Constitution had a tendency to create disquiet and jealousy, and ought therefore to receive no countenance or encouragement. This resolution received the votes of eighty five members, the inflexible Thatcher alone voting in the negative. 

This hesitating and timid action seems a lame and impotent conclusion of a debate so imbued with the spirit of humanity, justice, and freedom on the one part, though revealing on the other an utter disregard of the rights of man and the claims of Christian morality. But is it, after all, when viewed in the light of the compromises of the Constitution, a matter of surprise? The concessions then made were, and ever have been, the weak and vulnerable points in all the conflicts between freedom and oppression. The framers of the fundamental law, avoiding the name of slavery, admitted into that instrument “the guilty fantasy that man can hold property in man." The slaveholders in their struggles ever claimed that “it was so nominated in the bond," and persistently demanded their "pound of flesh." And so the integrity, honor, and even the Christianity of the nation were invoked, -and too often successfully, to sanction the schemes of inhumanity and the injustice of men determined to make the most of advantages surrendered by those fatal concessions. Severe as were the provisions of this act, complaints were continually made by slave-masters that it did not afford adequate facilities for the recapture of their escaped slaves. More stringent provisions and a more rigid enforcement of the law were still demanded.

In the House, in December, 1817, Mr. Pindall of Virginia, Mr. Beecher of Ohio, and Mr. Anderson of Kentucky were appointed a committee to devise more effectual means for the reclamation of fugitive slaves. A bill for this purpose was reported; and the House, on the 26th of January, 1818, proceeded to its· consideration. Its provisions were explah1ed by the chairman of the committee. It was moved by Mr. Rich of Vermont so to amend it as to prevent the transportation of any person claimed as a slave without taking such person before a court of record and furnishing sufficient proof that such person was a slave, and the property of the person attempting to remove him, under a penalty of ten thousand dollars. Mr. Storrs of New York moved to amend the bill by substituting, in lieu of the amendment of Mr. Rich, a new section, providing that, if any person, without a colorable claim, should procure a certificate or warrant to arrest or transport any person not held as a slave, he should himself be punished by imprisonment not exceeding fifteen years, or by fine not exceeding five thousand dollars. Mr. Pindall united with Mr. Storrs in supporting his amendment, and Mr. Rich vindicated his own amendment on the ground of the enormity of the crime of kidnapping; but Mr. Storrs's amendment was adopted by a large majority.

It was maintained by Mr. Claggett of New Hampshire that existing laws secured to the claimants all the rights that the Constitution guaranteed to them. If any legislation was necessary, it was to restrain the claimants from the abuse of power. Mr. Pindall maintained that the duty of delivering up fugitive slaves was imposed on the States, and that Congress could by law define and regulate the action of State officers in the performance of that duty. Mr. Fuller of Massachusetts moved to strike out the first section of the bill, because it transcended the provisions of the Constitution; and Mr. Strong spoke earnestly in opposition to the measure. Mr. Cobb of Georgia vindicated the rights of the holders of slaves as “inalienable and inviolable." Mr. Hopkinson of Pennsylvania thought that freemen might be apprehended, unless proper means of redress were provided. John Holmes of Massachusetts, afterward senator from Maine, expressed the opinion that the bill could be so worded as to be "unobjectionable” to anyone. The nature of slave property, its evils, and the rights of its possessors were ·stated, defined, and illustrated by Mr. Clay. Mr. Baldwin of Pennsylvania, a native of Connecticut, a lawyer of eminence, 

and afterward a judge of the Supreme Court, maintained that the Constitution conferred upon Congress the power so to legislate as to afford the fullest protection to the holders of slaves. The amendment proposed by Mr. Fuller was-rejected.

It was then moved by Mr. Rich to recommit the bill to the committee to which was referred the memorial of the Quakers of Baltimore, to report such action as would protect the free people of color. The motion to recommit was defeated without a division. John Sergeant of Pennsylvania, one of the most distinguished advocates and statesmen of that day, then moved to amend the bill by empowering the judges of the State in which the person should be arrested, rather than the judges of the State from which it was alleged he had escaped, to determine whether such person owed service or labor. But this amendment was defeated by a large majority. Mr. Rich offered several other amendments to guard the rights of freemen, but they were rejected. It was then, by a large majority, ordered to a third reading.

The passage of the bill was strenuously opposed by Benjamin Adams of Massachusetts, because it contained provisions " dangerous to liberty and to the safety of free persons of color" ; and Mr. Livermore of New Hampshire opposed it because it provided that alleged fugitives were not to be identified until they reached the State where the persons claiming them resided. This provision would expose free persons of color to be dragged from one part of the country to another. Jonathan Mason of Massachusetts --who had served in the Senate from 1800 to 1803, and who, though a Federalist, had been elected to the House over Mr. Ritchie, son-in-law of Harrison Gray Otis, by a few Federalists and by the Democratic party, and who afterward betrayed his constituents by voting for the Missouri Compromise --spoke at length in approval of the measure. He thought the tribunals of the South would decide more correctly than those of the North. So great was the leaning against slavery in Massachusetts, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred juries would decide in favor of the fugitive. He did not wish, by denying just' facilities for the recovery of fugitive slaves, to have the town where he lived "infested with the runaways of the South." 

He was sustained by John Holmes, who did not think it "competent in Massachusetts to try a question between a Southern master and his slave," and he expressed the opinion that the freedom of no man in the North would be affected by the passage of the bill. Mr. Storrs of New York followed, and expressed his pleasure at the liberality manifested; and he hoped to see more of it displayed by gentlemen from the North, as an assurance that they “were willing to sacrifice some old prejudices to the spirit of harmony and mutual benefit." Mr. Whitman of Massachusetts denied the authority of Congress to compel State officers to perform the duty of arresting and returning fugitive slaves, and Mr. Williams of Connecticut opposed that provision under which a freeman might be dragged to another part of t'1e country, and have his liberty endangered, if not destroyed. "In attempting," he said, "to guard the rights of property to one class of citizens, it was unjust that the rights of another class should be put in jeopardy."' The bill was then passed by fifteen majority.

In the Senate it was referred to a committee, of which John J. Crittenden of Kentucky was chairman. He reported it with amendments. The question was debated with much earnestness. Mr. Smith of South Carolina spoke in its advocacy, and sharply criticised the action of the Northern States. Mr. Morrill of New Hampshire spoke at length in opposition to its provisions; and it was also strongly opposed by Mr. Roberts of Pennsylvania and by Mr. Burrill of Rhode Island. It passed by four majority, --Mr. Otis of Massachusetts, Mr. Sanford of New York, and Mr. Taylor of Indiana, voting for it; Mr. Horsey and Mr. Van Dyke, representing the slave State of Delaware, voting against it. It went back to the House for concurrence in amendments, and, though efforts were made to take it up, it was suffered to lie on the table. Northern members who had voted for it began to be alarmed at their own inconsiderate action, and shrank from the consummation of that cruel measure. Four years afterward, in 1821, Mr. Wright of Maryland introduced a resolution into the House of Representatives for the appointment of a committee to consider the expediency of providing by law more effectually to secure the rendition of fugitive slaves. He warmly deprecated the interference of Quakers and others to prevent their reclamation, and significantly hinted that, if effectual means were not taken to secure the rights of Southern States, they might be driven to take up arms in support of their rights. The House; on motion of Mr. Campbell of Pennsylvania, referred the resolution to the Judiciary Committee, and a bill was reported. It was moved by Mr. Colden of New York so to amend it as to limit the power exercised under it to judges of courts of record. It was maintained that the law of 1793 was “inadequate," and a bill was "indispensably necessary." Mr. Colden then withdrew his proposed amendment, and moved as a test question to strike out the enacting clause. He declared that he was " not one of those visionary philanthropists who would contend for immediate and universal emancipation," but he believed the bill inconsistent with the principles of liberty, and would have a direct agency in promoting the traffic of selling free blacks for slaves which had been carried on to a great extent. On motion of Francis Johnson of Kentucky the bill was recommitted to a select committee, and again reported back with amendments; but no action thereupon was taken. Efforts to secure a law more stringent than the act of 1793 were continued, however, till they were crowned with success in the inhuman act of 1850.



Please note that this entry includes two chapters:

·        Wilson, “Fugitive Slave Act in the Country,” 1872

·        Wilson, “Proposed Supplementary Legislation to the Fugitive Slave Act,” 1872

Chapter: “Fugitive Slave Act in the Country,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act was the signal for a general commotion throughout the land. It involved both a wrong and a peril that menaced, if they did not actually reach, every individual in the Republic. Its uplifted hand was directed first against the fugitives, of whom it was estimated that there were more than twenty thousand in the free States. Nor was the full force of the blow expended on them alone; for beside them there were large numbers of free persons with whom these fugitives had intermarried, and to whom they were joined in the various relations of social and religious life. Its arbitrary and summary provisions, in the hands of base and unscrupulous men, impelled by greed of gain and love of revenge, struck terror upon the whole colored population and their sympathizing friends. These were base and brutal men at hand, willing to become agents of slaveholders in both following those recently escaped and in ferreting out those who had for a longer time eluded the search of the pursuer. Nor were they slow to act.

Only eight days after the passage of the law, one of these agents appeared in New York, armed with the power of attorney from Mary Brown of Baltimore, and a certified copy of the act itself, cut from a common newspaper, in search of James Hamlet, a husband and father, a member of the Methodist Church, and resident in the city some three years. He was seized while at work, hurried into a retired room, tried in hot haste, delivered to the agent, handcuffed, forced into a carriage, and taken by the son of the marshal to Baltimore and lodged in the prison of the notorious Hope H. Slatter; his wife and children being denied the poor satisfaction of bidding him farewell. A few days afterward another similar scene was enacted in Philadelphia.

The colored people were greatly alarmed. Nor did they fail to give expression to their feelings, and to call upon God and their friends for relief. Soon after these occurrences a large meeting was held by them in New York, and an earnest appeal was made to their fellow-citizens to take immediate measures to secure the repeal of the fearful statute.

Early in October a meeting of the colored people of Boston was held in Belknap Street church. An address, in the name of fugitive slaves, to the clergy of Massachusetts, was adopted, urging them, by every motive of patriotism, humanity, and religion to “lift up their voices like a trumpet against the Fugitive Slave Bill." “Thus will you exalt," said the address, "the Christian religion, oppose the mightiest obstacle that stands in the way of human redemption, exert such a moral influence as shall break the rod of the oppressor, secure for yourselves the blessings of those who are ready to perish, and hear the thrilling declaration in the great Day of Judgment: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.' ‘Appeals like these could not fail to evoke responses, and they came with a strength and heartiness which gave promise of larger results than were actually realized.

Only eight days after the signature of the bill a call was issued for a public meeting in Syracuse, New York, and on the 4th of October the City Hall was crowded with an excited and indignant multitude. Both political parties were represented in the meeting and on its list of officers. Its president gave the key-note of the proceedings of this and a subsequent meeting when he said: “The colored man must be protected; he must be secure among us, come what will of political organizations." A series of thirteen resolutions was adopted, and a vigilance committee of thirteen persons was appointed to see that no person should be deprived of liberty “without due process of law." In the resolutions and speeches the unconstitutionally, the “diabolical spirit," and the “cruel ingenuity "of the law were denounced in the strongest terms. Charles B. Sedgwick, afterward member of Congress, pro claimed his purpose to resist it; and he called on all who heard him to resist to the utmost of their power. Mr. Raymond, a Baptist clergyman, asked: “Shall a live man ever be taken out of our city by force of this law?” “No! no! “was the unanimous response.” I will take the hunted man to my own house," he said,” and he shall not be torn away and I be left alive." Judge Nye of Madison County, after ward Senator in Congress, said: “I am an officer of the law. I am not sure that I am not one of those officers who are clothed with anomalous and terrible powers by this bill of abominations. If I am, I will tell my constituency that I will trample that law in the dust; and they must find another man, if there be one, who will degrade himself to do this dirty work." Such were the utterances of those two crowded meetings, and such the sentiments and feelings of Central New York under the pressure of that iniquitous statute.

At an immense Free Soil meeting, held in Lowell on the 3d of October, over which William S. Robinson presided, a resolution introduced by Chauncy L. Knapp was unanimously and enthusiastically adopted, inviting back residents of that city who had fled to Canada for protection. Mr. Wilson, of Natick, said it was a burning shame that colored men were flying from families, homes, and country to find refuge among strangers beneath the flag of England. He commended the action of the meeting in inviting back their citizens who were wandering houseless and homeless. He would say to the colored men of Massachusetts: “Be calm, cautious, firm, and determined. The man-hunters are in the land. Your house, however humble, is your castle. You have a moral and a legal right to defend its sanctity against prowling man-stealers. Do it at any cost, at any sacrifice." He held Daniel Webster responsible for the consummation of that act which would have disgraced any age or any people. When he announced, on the 7th of March, that he would vote for Mason's Fugitive Slave Bill, he then breathed into it the breath of life. “Massachusetts," he said, “owed it to the cause of liberty and humanity to exert every power to secure the immediate and unconditional repeal of this act of shame and infamy. We should make a public sentiment that should consign to political graves the unprincipled men who passed that measure, where the sternest rebukes of a free people should follow them."

On the 14th of October a large and highly important meeting was held in Faneuil Hall " for the denunciation of the law and the expression of sympathy and co-operation with the fugitive." Charles Francis Adams presided, and made a speech of signal force and indignant emphasis. He counselled no violence, but called upon his fellow-citizens to devise " such a course of measures " as shall give effective security to the houses of many of our citizens whose hearts have been filled with anguish, and to nerve themselves to the duty of laboring for the repeal of an odious law that " fills us all with mingled sensations of astonishment and horror." Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and Theodore Parker gave to the meeting and its object the aid of their fervid and effective eloquence. A series of resolutions, offered by Richard H. Dana, Jr., was adopted by acclamation. Alluding in the preamble to the state of doubt and the terror of the colored people, in consequence of the act, it was declared that the moral sense revolted against a law not only violative of " the golden rule of Christianity "and the specific command " not to deliver unto his master the servant that hath escaped," but contradictory to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the right of habeas corpus. The resolutions expressed the belief that no citizen would take part in returning fugitives; and they pledged the sympathy and co-operation of those present to their colored fellow-citizens, whom they counselled to remain, and not to flee from their homes. Instant repeal of the obnoxious statute was demanded. A vigilance committee of fifty was appointed to take all needful measures to protect the colored people from the new and imminent dangers to which they were exposed.

Meetings were also held in other portions of the free States, in which the unwavering purpose was avowed never to assist in the recapture of fugitives. Men expressed their willingness to meet the penalties imposed for the performance of the duties which Christianity enjoined, rather than to evade them by the violation of the sacred obligations due their fellowmen.

On the 6th of November, on the eve of the annual election, Mr. Sumner addressed the citizens of Boston in Faneuil Hall. He spoke of the Fugitive Slave Bill, and declared that it “sets at naught the best principles of the Constitution and the very laws of God." In his early professional life he had been designated by Judge Story a commissioner, but he could not forget, he said, that he was a man, although a commissioner, and that he would forego any consideration rather than become an agent for enslaving his brother man. Expressing the belief that the Fugitive Slave Bill would not be executed in Massachusetts, he said that there were many who would offer the fugitive " the shelter of their houses, and, if need be, will protect his liberty by force But let me be under stood," he added. “I counsel no violence. There is another power, stronger than any individual arm, which I invoke: I mean that irresistible Public Opinion inspired by love of God and man, which, without violence or noise, gently as the operations of nature, makes and unmakes laws. Let this Public Opinion be felt in its might, and the Fugitive Slave Bill will become everywhere among us a dead letter. No lawyer will aid it by counsel, no commissioner will be its agent; it will die of inanition, like a spider beneath an exhausted receiver. Oh! it were well that the tidings should spread throughout the land that here in Massachusetts this accursed bill has found no servant."

On the eve of the same election, Mr. Burlingame addressed the citizens of Hampshire County in a telling speech, in which he thus summed up his objections to the Act: " We tell these men that we shall give their favorite law no quarter, we shall no more remain quiet until it is repealed than we would at midnight with a rattlesnake in our beds ; and, more than all, we do not intend to be driven into nullification, but do in tend, God willing, to go up to the first ballot-box we can find and there decide the matter. We are against their pet law for a multitude of reasons. We are against it because it is not required by the Constitution. We are against it because it extends slavery into Massachusetts. We are against it because it establishes in our midst illegal tribunals. We are against it because it poisons the fountain of justice with a bribe. We are against it because it fixes the price of a Carolina negro at one thousand dollars and a Yankee's soul at five dollars. We are against it because it makes a commissioner's certificate stronger than the great writ of habeas corpus. We are against it because it invites to perjury. We are against it because it was drawn by a disunionist, advocated by tyrants, and dodged by cowards. And, finally, we are against it because it commands us to violate the laws of God. It contains within its cunning self the essence of all the tyranny that ever trod on the necks of men in all the ages since the morning stars sang together for joy. Name a crime it does not include, a meanness it does not suggest, a tie it does not sever."

As was fitting, the churches and their religious teachers were largely represented in this indignant protest against the cruel and unrighteous enactment. At a " preachers' meeting," consisting of the Methodist ministers of the cities of New York, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg, held on the 9th of November, at which were present more than thirty clergymen of that denomination, the bill was denounced as iniquitous and unrighteous, a flagrant violation of the law of God; and its immediate and unconditional repeal was demanded. The New York Evangelical Congregational Association resolved that they could not recognize the law as of any binding force on the citizens of the country. The Associate Reformed

Church urged its members to endure the utmost penalties rather than bring upon themselves the guilt and upon their religion the reproach of countenancing its odious requirements. The annual meeting of the American Missionary Association, held at Rochester, New York, a few days after the passage of the act, solemnly covenanted with each other and their colored brethren that they could not obey it because it contravened the higher law of their Maker. The Free-will Baptist Conference, consisting of about sixty members from nearly all the free States, met at Providence, Rhode Island, a few, weeks later, and declared that it was incumbent on every Christian to disregard such a law as an infringement upon his duty to God and humanity. The Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church pronounced against it. And to the utterances of these larger bodies were added the equally hearty and more popular protests of local associations and individual churches against a law which, though enacted by men, they felt could not set aside the changeless claims of the law of God. Indeed, the great body of the Protestant clergy raised their voices against it.

Many recognized leaders, too, joined in this denunciation. Rev. William H. Furness, a Unitarian clergyman of Philadelphia, pronounced the existence of the law “a fountain of deadly poison, blinding our understandings, hardening our hearts, searing our consciences, falsifying our religious professions, and periling the salvation of our souls." It was said by Dr. Joseph P. Thompson, a distinguished Congregational clergyman of New York, that the law demanded what conscience and the Word of God forbade. “The Puritans," he said,” suffered the penalties of violating unrighteous laws, rather than sin against God. The fugitive shall have bread, he shall have money, he shall have shelter, though at the cost of fines and imprisonments." Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., of Brooklyn, distinguished alike for strength and elegance, and standing among the foremost of the same denomination, avowed that “God’s law is decisive, unequivocal, extending always to each of us, revealed to conscience as light to the eye." This law of God, he maintained, forbade the Christian to oppress the slave or to return him to his master. "Why shall I not," he asked, "help him in his struggle for his rights, which God gave him indelibly when he made him a man? There is nothing to prevent but the simple requirement of my equals in the State, the parchment of the law which they have written. But where will this parchment be when I meet this my brother in the Judgment? Where will that parchment be when Christ shall say to me, with my eternity depending on his words, ' I was hungered, and ye gave me no meat! I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink! I was naked, and ye clothed me not! I was a stranger, and ye took me not in! '”

Henry Ward Beecher maintained, with his characteristic force and point, that returning a fugitive slave “comprises every offence it is possible for one man to commit against another. When we have ceased to pray, when we have rooted out the humanities, which since our connection with the gospel have been growing within us, when we have burned our Bibles and renounced our God, then we will join with those whose patriotism exhibits itself in disrobing men of every natural right, and in driving them from light and religion into gross heathenism." Samuel T. Spear, a Presbyterian clergy man of Brooklyn, deeming it such a wrong to drag a man a bondage he loathed and had done his best to shun, said that he could neither agree to do the thing himself nor could do it to fulfil .the agreements of others. “I would sooner e," he declared, “than be its agent. The higher law of eternal right would be in my way, and by its decision I must abide." Of course, the pulpit of the “Church of the Puritans "gave no uncertain sound. Dr. Cheever did not leave his hearers in doubt as to what laws they should obey. To the “Union-savers " of that day, who counselled submission for the sake of harmony and peace, he said : " Let no man think that peace cometh by concealing sin, or justifying iniquity, or hardening ourselves in oppression, or setting our will and our statutes in rebellion against God's Word." Similar sentiments were uttered by thousands of clergymen in the free States, through the pulpits, presses, and religious organizations. The trembling fugitive found, too, in many a Christian home, a kindly welcome, shelter, and the needed advice and aid to help him on his still perilous journey.

But there were two parties in this contest. Those who had been engineering the Fugitive Slave Act and its associated and antecedent measures, now flushed with victory, were in no mood to sit quietly under these denunciations, or to relinquish without farther struggle the prize for which they had so earnestly striven. Fully aware that the law could be of slight avail unless sustained by the popular sentiment, they saw that that sentiment must be made to harmonize with the spirit and purpose of the enactment, and that the people must be debauched and brought down to the level of the legislation they had se cured. And this became the unworthy and guilty purpose of the hour. It was a systematic attack on the conscience of the nation, as part of this general crusade against human rights and the manhood of the nation. It is doubtful whether, since the days of the Jewish king who “made Israel to sin," there was ever a more deliberate and determined as sault upon the religious convictions and scruples of a people. As if by some concerted plan and prearranged system of measures, the leaders who had consummated their purpose in Congress now directed their efforts on the wider theatre of the nation itself. As auxiliaries in their fell work, they counted first and foremost the politicians and .presses of the entire Democracy of the North, and of those Northern Whigs who gave their confidence to Mr. Fillmore's administration. They relied, too, on the mercantile, manufacturing, and moneyed classes, who recognized the commercial importance of Southern products and Southern trade. Always sensitive to any disturbing influences, these classes had been specially affected by the agitations accompanying the passage of the compromise measures, as they were greatly influenced by the threats and arrogant conduct of their Southern patrons, correspondents, and debtors. Thus, stimulated by both the hope of gain and the fear of loss, too many business men hastened to give in their own adhesion, and to join in this general onslaught that was to be made.

Marching at the head of this movement was Daniel Webster. In seeming frenzy, he not only turned his back upon the associations of his past life, but he dared dangers of which he had once expressed the greatest dread, while he sought to persuade men to do the very things against which he had often hurled his fierce and massive invectives. In his Plymouth oration he had warned the pulpit against silence on the sin of slavery, and declared that whenever or wherever it was "silent within the hearing of its voice, it is false to its trust." In his speech in Niblo's Garden, in 1837, against the annexation of Texas, he had said of that measure: “It has arrested the religious feelings of the country; it has taken strong hold of the consciences of men. He is a rash man, indeed, little con versant with human nature, and especially has a very erroneous conception of the people of this country, who supposes that a feeling of this kind is to be trifled with or despised." And yet of this very rashness he was signally guilty, and, more than any other American, living or dead, sought to persuade the pulpit to be “false to its trust."

He spent a portion of the October and November of 1850 in addressing Union meetings, writing letters, and counselling the policy of expurgating the Whig party of all abolition heresies. “Ordinary party questions," wrote a contemporary, “seem to have lost their importance in his estimation; old party prejudices he is gradually sloughing off, and he appears quite willing to take the leadership of a grand Union party." He wrote to what was familiarly called the Castle Garden meeting, held on the 30th of October. He lauded the compromise measures and counselled obedience to the Fugitive Slave Act, though he did not approve its fundamental principle, because it had received the sanction of the government and had become “the law of the land." He also distinctly, not to say sneeringly, affirmed that “no man is at liberty to set up, or affect to set up, his own conscience as above the law." The pretense that the people may, he wrote, “saps the foundation of our government and is itself a perfect absurdity." Nor would he allow them the poor consolation of attempting to change the law which their consciences condemned, for he added: “While all are bound to yield obedience to the laws, wise and well-disposed citizens will forbear from renewing past agitation and rekindling the flames of useless and dangerous controversy." So completely had he gone over to the enemy himself, and so hopeless was the bondage to which he sought to reduce even those who remembered and regarded the counsels of his earlier and better days.

Mr. Clay was of course active. An opportunity was soon given him by an invitation of the Kentucky legislature to make a speech on the agitating question. He spoke with much self-gratulation of the compromise measures, of their healing influence on the country, and of his agency therein. Addressing Southern men, now that no Northern men were there to be cajoled into the support of his measures, he was more out spoken and presumably more frank than he had been in Congress. He claimed the passage of those measures as substantially "a Southern triumph." Of California he said, “neither party had carried or lost." Of New Mexico and Utah he affirmed that "the wishes of the South have prevailed." Concerning Texas he claimed that the South had got the lion's share. The Fugitive Slave Act was a Southern triumph. And even the only pretended concession, the abolition of the slave-traffic in the District of Columbia, he characterized “as a measure equally demanded by the honor, dignity, and true interest of both the North and the South." He denounced dis union, and said the meeting at Nashville was “a second edition of the Hartford convention." He said there might spring up a new party if the Abolition agitation was continued; but there would then be but two parties, the one for and the other against the Union. The President also joined in the same effort. He pledged, not to say prostituted, his high office to the execution of the law, and deprecated all sectional agitation, especially that which called in question or put in jeopardy Southern institutions.

The Democratic leaders were no less active in the same direction. Mr. Buchanan addressed a letter to a Union-saving meeting in Philadelphia, deprecating all agitation of the slavery question, and speaking regretfully of the fact that the mails were used for the transmission of what he was pleased to stigmatize as "incendiary documents." Mr. Dallas spoke in a similar strain. Indeed, all the addresses of that meeting, said one, “were remarkable only for disregard of the right and their failure in even an allusion to the morality of the question at issue." General Cass threw himself into the breach, and, though much to his personal and political detriment, signalized himself in his efforts in the same behalf. Mr. Douglas and General Shields gave no equivocal support to the measures, all and singly, of the disastrous compromise and its promised results.

But there were those who, though accepting the results, ridiculed the process by which they were secured. Among them was Mr. Clayton, General Taylor's Secretary of State. He scouted the idea that there had ever been any special danger, or that the country had been saved by any special virtue in the compromise measures, which were, he considered, incongruous and unnecessarily brought together, and which " for six months stuck fast, and could neither get in nor out," though, had they been taken up separately and passed, Congress and the nation would have been saved six months' unnecessary alarm. Mr. Benton took substantially the same view, declared the “Omnibus Bill “to have been a blunder, and contended that each of its respective measures might have been taken up separately and passed on its own individual merits.

Most of the Southern men, however, had another object to aim at. That was to quiet the public mind on the subject of disunion, which they had so freely discussed as the alternative of success, and to quell the incipient uprisings of rebel lion which their revolutionary teachings had caused. Having gained, through threats of secession, their purpose, Toombs, Stephens, and Cobb in Georgia, King and Clemens in Alabama, and Downs in Louisiana, became at once apostles of peace and friends of the Union. Mr. Clemens remarked that they had used harsh words when they were needed; but he intimated that they were not needed then. “A majority in Congress," he said, and he had too much occasion for saying it, "had yielded more than any majority had ever before yielded to a minority." In this effort Mr. Berrien, who was a candidate for re-election, and who therefore found it necessary to satisfy both the unionists and disunionists of Georgia, engaged, but he so far failed of his purpose as not to be returned to the Senate.

Among the agencies employed to carry forward the purposes of these leaders was the holding of public meetings, especially in the cities and centres of influence. Of this character was an immense meeting on the 30th of October, in Castle Gar den, called by thousands of the mercantile and professional men of New York. The mayor presided. General Scott and leading members of the bar addressed the crowded and excited auditory. It was composed of both parties, and the spirit of its addresses and resolutions was well given in the closing resolution, which expressed the thought that they regarded their "obligations to the Constitution and the Union as superior to the ties of any of the political parties to which they may have hitherto belonged." It was this resolution which Mr. Webster commended " in an especial and emphatic manner by every dictate of my understanding, and I embrace it with full purpose of heart and mind." It was said by a contemporary that this resolution and indorsement evidently looked “to a purpose of forming a new party out of the worst portions of the other two, which may give another presidential possibility to desperate politicians." In it, too, is found a key to the history of that meeting, and to the purposes of the large proportion of the community it represented. The compromise measures were indorsed and their faithful and efficient execution imperiously demanded. A Union-saving committee of one hundred members was appointed. Money was largely contributed. George Wood, standing at the head of the New York bar, the presiding officer of the meeting, and other eminent lawyers, were employed as volunteer counsel to aid in securing the rendition of alleged fugitives. Merchants declining to sign the call for that meeting or to give in their adherence to its policy were proscribed and their names enrolled on the “black list." Cupidity and cowardice reigned. Men shamelessly vaunted their own subserviency, and meanly turned informers against their neighbors. It was this proscription that drew from Bowen and McNamee, eminent silk-merchants of that city, the manly avowal, so often quoted and commended: “We wish it to be distinctly understood that our goods, and not our principles, are in the market."

Near the close of the month of November the citizens of Boston held a similar meeting in Faneuil Hall, called by the same classes and prompted by the same spirit. The speeches were made by Benjamin R. Curtis and Rufus Choate, Whigs, and Benjamin F. Hallett and Samuel D. Bradford, Democrats. Mr. Curtis made a constitutional argument in defence of the right of Massachusetts to exclude foreigners from her soil, if, as a matter of expediency, it was deemed important or necessary. He ignored entirely the question of its morality, and treated it as a matter of political expediency merely. Mr. Choate exhausted the marvelous powers of his peculiar eloquence in depicting the imminent dangers which threatened the land, and in making apparent the necessity of putting a stop to the hazardous agitation of the great questions at issue. The Democratic speakers spoke in the same strain and manifestly with the same purpose. Mr. Hallett denounced as moral treason the avowals that the law was not to be executed in Massachusetts. "It is," he said, "revolution, or it is treason. If it only resists the law and obstructs its officers it is treason, and he who risks it must risk hanging for it." Similar meetings were held in Philadelphia and in various parts of the country, in which the virtue of slave-catching seemed to be the theme of general laudation, the subject of the most impassioned appeals, as if patriotism had resolved itself into a willingness to hunt fugitives, and one's love of country was to be measured by his disregard of God's law and his indifference to the claims of humanity.

In this sad work of demoralization, in this crusade against the conscience and convictions of the people, it was felt to be an essential auxiliary that the countenance and co-operation of religious teachers should be secured, and that the sanctions of the gospel should be added to the pretended claims of patriot ism. Unfortunately, and much to the consternation of the fugitive and his friends, such men were not wanting. In the high places of the Church and in the institutions of learning not a few were found ready to respond to these seductive appeals. Among the earliest and most prominent of these was Moses Stuart, the leading professor of the theological seminary at Andover, and deemed the father of Hebrew literature in America. Appealed to and persuaded, he signed a letter thanking Mr. Webster for his advocacy of the compromise measures. At the solicitation, too, of the latter, he prepared a labored and voluminous pamphlet, entitled “Conscience and the Constitution," in which this iniquitous Act was vindicated and the duty of supporting it enjoined. The action of this learned and leading scholar and divine excited profound regret and astonishment, especially in the minds of those who had sat at his feet and studied the sacred volume under his guidance.

Another leading scholar and divine, who wielded a commanding influence in the same denomination, was also persuaded to lend the support of his great name and advocacy to the cruel enactment. Nathaniel Taylor, principal of the theological department of Yale College, addressed a Union-saving meeting at New Haven, which was but an echo of that held at Castle Garden. He deprecated agitation and counselled obedience. He declared that he had not been able to discover that the article in the Constitution for the rendition of fugitives “was contrary to the law of nature, to the law of nations, or to the will of God." He labored to show, and claimed that he had shown, that it was lawful to deliver up fugitive slaves “for the high, the great, the momentous interests of the Southern States." Dr. Orville Dewey, one of the most eloquent of the Unitarian clergy, asserted that it was a high duty to return fugitive slaves, and that he would rather send “his own brother and child into slavery “than to see the Union dissolved. Rev. Dr. Spencer of Brooklyn, a leading Presbyterian clergyman, not only defended the Fugitive Slave Act, but poured ridicule and contempt upon the great body of the clergy who were bravely condemning it. " What a number of clergymen, north of Mason and Dixon's line," he exclaimed, " have all of a sudden become such great constitutional lawyers ! Never before was anything like it! It is a modern miracle! How amazingly these profound legalists, these clergymen jurists, would adorn the high courts of the country if they would consent to take their seats upon the bench! The judges of the United States Supreme Court ought to be thankful that these clergymen judges have done their duty for them in advance. Benevolent men these clergymen! "Surely, such sarcastic and bitter words breathe rather the spirit of the slave plantation than of the pulpit.

Large numbers of clergymen, especially in the cities, were thus indorsing the act and counselling submission. Their discourses were published by the New York Union-saving committee and other affiliated organizations, and sent, sometimes under the frank of members of Congress, to different portions of the country, to quiet troubled consciences, silence doubtful minds, appease slaveholders, promote the interests of conservative politicians, and increase the Southern trade. Before these combined influences something of the zeal and indignation expressed against the compromise measures in general and the Fugitive Slave Act in particular disappeared. Many men were persuaded to receive opinions thus indorsed, which their own unbiased reason and conscience would have at once rejected. And so it happened that pecuniary interests and political necessities, receiving such aid from religious teachers, were allowed a controlling influence, instead of being subordinated to the higher claims of justice and humanity.

While the nation was deeply agitated by these public demonstrations, arguments, and appeals for and against the Fugitive Slave Act, the same Congress that had enacted the obnoxious measure reassembled. President Fillmore, in his message, not only gave a general indorsement of the compromise measures as “a final adjustment," but he singled out this act for special mention. He urged upon Congress the vital importance of its faithful enforcement, and gave his assurance that there should be no hesitation on his part in the fullest exercise of his powers to that end. Indeed, he did what he could to commit his party and the government unequivocally to its support.

An acrimonious debate ensued. The cause of liberty was not without earnest advocates. Mr. Giddings asserted that people could not be compelled by the cannon or the bayonet to lend their aid to the execution of such an act. “The farmers of Ohio," he said,” will never turn .out to chase the panting fugitive; they will never be metamorphosed into bloodhounds to track him to his hiding-place, and seize and drag him out to deliver him to his tormentors. They may be shot down; the cannon, bayonet, and sword may do their work upon them; they may drown the fugitive in the blood of freemen: but never will freemen stoop to the degradation of catching slaves." This expressed confidence, however, in the unwillingness of the people to lend their aid to the execution of this revolting statute, was hardly borne out by the facts. Under the teachings of both statesmen and divines, large numbers were led to the belief that the execution of this criminal law involved no moral guilt, and that their fealty to human enactments was superior to the claims of humanity and the higher law.

In January, Mr. Clay presented petitions for the more effectual suppression of the African slave-trade. He spoke of the evils of the traffic and of the need of its suppression. Commending the transportation of free negroes to Africa, he thought glorious results would be attained if all agitation should cease, and the people should all unite in removing free people of color, who must ever remain here a degraded, corrupt, and dissolute class, to the shores of Africa. He introduced a resolution in favor of making more effectual pro visions to prevent the employment of American vessels and seamen in the slave-traffic.

Mr. Hale, in response, read the pledge, signed by Mr. Clay and other members of Congress, just published, pledging themselves to a strict adherence to the compromises as a final settlement, and pledging themselves to support no man for office known to be opposed to them and to the renewal of slavery agitation. He reminded the Senate that he had noticed that whenever the North had been pushed to the wall, some very pious and worthy gentlemen had been seized with spasmodic horrors, and that their humanity and philanthropy had found vent against the foreign slave-trade. He notified Mr. Clay and other Senators that he could not permit them to agitate, while they were pouring out denunciations upon everyone who entertained opinions differing from their own.

The popular feeling, too, found voice and expression on the floor of Congress, in numerous petitions for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. One having been presented by Mr. Hamlin, of Maine, was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. On a motion by Mr. Atchison of Missouri to recon sider that vote, a spirited debate sprang up. Mr. Seward maintained that the right of petition should be held sacred. He declared that he happened to be one of the members of that body “who never introduced the agitating subject of slavery here." He was one of those who were contented to leave the compromise measures “to the scrutiny of the people, and to abide their judgment and the test of time and truth." Petitions were also presented by Mr. Hale in the Senate, praying for modification or repeal. He expressed the opinion that the law was a reproach to the civilization of the age, a perfect burlesque on the Constitution, and that it ought to be essentially modified or repealed. Mr. Butler of South Carolina declared he was tired of casting impediments into the stream of slavery agitation; that they might as well attempt to put a maniac to sleep by lullabies, as to attempt to restrain it. Mr. Hale, in reply, said that agitation was the great element of life. It gave birth to the Revolution and to the Constitution. “There are many errors," he continued, " which require agitation; and nobody but those who are hugging fatal errors have anything to fear from that life-giving element, which will impart its healing, as did the waters of the pool at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, when the angel had gone down and stirred the waters As for myself, I glory in the name of agitator." Mr. Foote expressed the thought there was little agitation in the Sermon on the Mount, and that, if the Senator from New Hampshire would read the Scriptures more attentively, and act upon the pure models of genuine benevolence and apostolic wisdom, he would no longer be an agitator.

In the House, Horace Mann spoke with his usual vigor, research, and logical power. Perhaps that unrighteous statute was never more thoroughly subjected to the tests of reason and conscience, and the conflict of the Fugitive Slave Act with that " law whose seat is in the bosom of God " and whose "voice is the harmony of the world" more fully exposed.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 304-322.

Chapter: “Proposed Supplementary Legislation to the Fugitive Slave Act,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

It could never be said of the Fugitive Slave Act, as of some laws, that it was enacted “for show rather than use." From the first it was executed with inexorable pertinacity of purpose and with merciless severity. Cruel as were its cunningly devised and carefully considered provisions, its practical administration was still more cruel. Like slavery itself, it seemed to poison everything it touched, to communicate the venom with which it was so thoroughly infused to nearly every person who undertook its execution, and impel the far larger number, at least, from the judge on the bench to the humblest deputy or turnkey, wantonly to wound and needlessly to outrage the sensibilities and religious convictions of the community. This naturally and necessarily intensified the indignation and alarm that pervaded the free States, and found expression in the earnest protests of the pulpit and press, in the resolutions and speeches of public meetings, in the action of ecclesiastical bodies, but more significantly still in the formal and authoritative enactments of Northern legislatures. The personal-liberty bills and other laws, enacted in some States, and sought to be enacted in others, revealed the deep impression which this iniquitous measure had made upon the public mind.

This drift of Northern sentiment and action alarmed the slaveholders, who determined though on the heel of the closing session of the XXXIIId Congress, with its accumulated press of business to introduce and force through a measure which should in reality supplement the Fugitive Slave Act, and circumvent, if possible, this unfriendly legislation of the Northern States. A Northern member was sought, and readily found, to introduce into the Senate a measure to render still more oppressive the law, more humiliating North ern vassalage, and, though coming from men loudest in their advocacy of State rights, to ignore more completely than ever before the authority of State laws, and to limit the jurisdiction of State courts. Mr. Toucey of Connecticut, in February, introduced a bill “to protect officers and other per sons acting under the authority of the United States." Neither in the bill itself, nor in his remarks on its introduction, did he allude to the Fugitive Slave Act. With seeming innocence of all ulterior purposes, he expressed the conviction that no one who “acknowledges that this government has judicial power "could “take any valid exception to it "; his purpose being, not “to enter upon any discussion of this bill, but merely to state its operation and effect."

The discussion, however, to which it gave rise, afforded abundant evidence that it was not regarded, by friend or foe, the harmless measure it was represented by its mover. Not only did the Free Soil members tear off the covering of legislative phraseology, showing that under the garb of parliamentary and general language it had a specific purpose that was anything but general, but its supporters showed that it meant still aggressive warfare, and nothing less. Indeed, the de bate, though short and sharp, revealed -- better than any of the session, perhaps -- not only the depth of feeling and purpose which animated and impelled the contestants, but also the stage in the great conflict which they had reached. Mr. Chase was the first to speak, and to note the promptness with which the bill was taken up, as only a new proof of the favor with which every proposition in the behalf of slavery was received, " no matter with what prejudice to the public business and the public interests." The same thought was felicitously presented by Mr. Seward. Alluding to the coincidence that he arose at the same time with the mover of the bill, with a proposition in his hand for the erection of a monument to Thomas Jefferson, he said: “The success which the honorable Senator from Connecticut obtained over me when the floor was assigned to him was ominous. The Senate of the United States will erect no monument to the memory of Jefferson, who declared that, in the unequal contest between slavery and freedom, the Almighty had no attribute which could take part with the oppressor; but the Senate will, on the other hand, promptly comply with the demand to raise another bulwark around the institution of slavery."

Concerning the proposed bill, Mr. Chase said: “It is framed in the interests of the ruling class. Its object is to secure the stringent execution of the Fugitive Slave Act It…. is a bill for the overthrow of State rights -- to establish a great central, consolidated, Federal government, -- a step, a stride rather, toward despotism; . . .this further legislation, necessary to the complete humiliation of the States." Alluding to the same point, Mr. Seward said: “You demand a further and a more stringent law. The Federal government must be armed with new powers, subversive of public liberty, to enforce the obnoxious statute. This bill before us supplies those new powers." Mr. Wilson of Massachusetts, who had just entered the Senate, said: “I believe the bill is intended to enforce an unconstitutional and arbitrary law, and for no other purpose whatever, and to prevent, if possible, the influences now at work in the free States for the protection of the liberties of their own citizens."

Mr. Fessenden, always moderate and conservative on questions concerning slavery, said he understood its object, how it had come there, and why it had come there. “It is admitted," he said,” -- there is no dispute about it,--  that it is intended solely and simply to deprive the courts of the several States of any and all power on any question arising under the Fugitive Slave Act." He said also that “it had been brought in for a single purpose, brought in at the close of the session, and sprung upon us to be carried through by party machinery." James Cooper of Pennsylvania, who had been a conservative Whig and never identified with the antislavery cause, spoke briefly but decidedly in condemnation of the measure. He said it reflected "unjustly upon the integrity of the State tribunals," and he enumerated several particulars in which it would “violate the rights of the citizens of the States in a most essential manner."

On the part of the supporters of the bill there was little or no attempt to conceal its purpose. Mr. Douglas admitted its alleged object, and expressed surprise that any one should deem it an objection that it was designed to aid in the execution of the laws of the United States. Referring to the objections made to the Fugitive Slave Act on the score of humanity, he cited the clause of the Constitution requiring persons held to service to be delivered up, and said that if a person desired to be faithful to the Constitution, he must regard this requirement. " The moment," continued he, " my conscience will not allow me to be faithful to the Constitution, I will refuse to degrade myself or perjure my soul by coming here, and, for the sake of a seat in the Senate, swearing I will be faithful to the Constitution, when I intend to violate and repudiate it."

Mr. Benjamin, after referring, at some length and with some minuteness of detail, to the course of events in the Northern States, declared that they were " directing their legislation," and that their " courts of justice were perverting their juris prudence," against the Constitution and the rights of the States; that the idea of nullification had changed its locality; and that "South Carolina is now taken into the arms and affectionately caressed by Ohio, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Connecticut." “The whole course of Northern legislation for the past few months," he said, " has been a course of direct war with the South, and the bill now before the Senate is a measure, not of aggression, but of defence." Mr. Bayard of Delaware from the committee which reported the bill, besides defending the constitutionality of the proposed law, argued in its favor, because he “believed the necessity for it had arisen in consequence of the action of several States of the Union, unless we were prepared to abandon the enforcement of the laws of the United States." Besides this general characterization of the bill by those who opposed and those who advocated its passage, there was little of argument for or against it. Nor could there well be; for it was not a question which admitted of much argument, other than the argument of force. It was, in fact, a simple matter of might, to be forced through the forms of legislation by “the machinery of party "; and the only questions considered by the authors of the measure were whether the exigencies of slavery required it and whether they could dragoon Congress into its support. The debate therefore naturally widened into a general discussion of slavery in some of its various forms and aspects, and in that view was exceedingly earnest and able.

Mr. Gillette made a very elaborately prepared and eloquent antislavery speech. Sketching the history of the proslavery legislation of the government in its successive acts from the start, he quoted from Caleb Gushing an expression of the historic fact "that in its industrial, financial, and political relations slavery is at the bottom of all the action of Congress." He also cited the language of John Quincy Adams, that "slavery constitutes the very axle around which the administration of the national government revolves. All its measures of foreign or domestic policy are but radiations from that centre." He quoted from the slave code of the District of Columbia, and noted some of its more barbarous statutes, and spoke of the moral influence of the general government thrown around slavery by such exercise of national authority in its behalf. He spoke of a law, which the slave was forbid den to read, but which condemned him, if guilty of its violation, to have his hand cut off, be hung, beheaded, and quartered, and to have each fragment of his body hung in the most conspicuous places " ; for stealing five shillings' worth of goods he should suffer death without benefit of clergy ; for striking a blow, even in defence of life or chastity, to have his or her ear " cropt " ; and for giving false testimony against a white per son, to have " both ears cropt and thirty-nine stripes on the bare back." Alluding to the firing of cannon north of the Capitol, on the night of the repeal of the Missouri compromise, he said "it heralded the resurrection of Liberty from her in glorious sleep," while "in the lurid flash of those cannon slavery might have read the handwriting of its doom upon their walls, and heard in their roar its echoing dirge." American Democracy," he said,” is looked upon as a huge, one-eyed, gigantic monster a modern Polyphemus sporting the cap of liberty on his head, and mouthing the paeans of victory on his tongue, while he stalks ruthlessly over men and treads them down as worms."

Mr. Jones of Tennessee followed in a vituperative speech in which he stigmatized Mr. Gillette and those who sympathized with him as “a little band of traitors," who were “treacherous “to their country. Referring to the alleged equality of mankind, he inquired whether Senators were quite prepared to welcome colored members into the Senate, con firm colored men for office, invite them to their tables, walk Pennsylvania Avenue with a colored woman on their arm, )r see their children married to persons of color. Mr. Pettit of Indiana in a similar strain, though more roughly, scouted idea of such equality. After saying that you might as well expect "all fowls to become eagles," " all beasts to become lions," " wild prairie grass to become timothy or clover, all trees mountain oaks," " the braying ass to roar like the monarch of the forest," and the "boding owl" to on the sun " like the proud bird of Jove," as for the black man to become the equal of the white man, he added : " I hold that, by the written and unwritten law of God and nature, these men, when placed in contact with us, either by design or accident or by fatuity, are to be the inferior race " ; id he proclaimed it to be his " solemn judgment " that " slavery was their proper condition."

Mr. Wilson followed. Referring to the " extraordinary language" used by the Senator from Tennessee toward matters from his " section of the country," he said : " That mater may, if he chooses, class me with c the little band traitors,' for I assure him, the Senate, and the country, that I shall not shrink, in this hour of their weakness, from standing side by side with men who, amid obloquy, sneers, and reproaches, have faithfully arid fearlessly vindicated the sentiments of the freemen whose representatives they are." Directing attention to the argument of Mr. Pettit on “the inferiority of the African race," though he did not claim for it “intellectual equality," he said he did demand equity and fair dealing. "But, sir," he added, "suppose the Senator from Indiana succeeds in establishing the inferiority of that despised race, is mental inferiority a valid reason for the perpetual oppression of a race? Is the mental, moral, or physical inferiority of man a just cause of oppression in republican and Chris tian America? Is this Democracy? Is it Christianity? . . . . If the African race is inferior, this proud race of ours should educate and elevate it, and not deny to those who belong to it the rights of a common humanity."

But there was no voice that rang through the Senate chamber, on that excited afternoon and night, in tones more demonstrative and defiant than did that of Benjamin F. Wade. Perhaps misinterpreting somewhat recent Northern victories, and too confident, as the event proved, in the prompt and persistent action of the people in condemnation of the new policy of the propagandists, he arraigned the supporters of the bill and kindred measures at the bar of public opinion, and predicted the speedy overthrow of men and parties who had contributed to their enactment in tones and terms which subsequent history hardly sustained. " In consequence of your action last winter," he said, " in breaking down that sacred compromise, men in the State of Ohio ceased to be either Whigs, Democrats, or Free-Soilers. The old parties crumbled to the dust as though stricken with the palsy." Again, speaking of State legislatures “preparing themselves for a legal and constitutional resistance” to the Fugitive Slave Act, he said: “Ay, sir, the State of Wisconsin has taught you a lesson, and it is only an incipient step. I envy that State the glory of taking the initiative in the great work of vindicating the Constitution from such a measure as the Fugitive Slave Act. State after State, as they take the subject into consideration, will fall in the wake of noble Wisconsin, and carry out what she has so gloriously begun." The Constitution has indeed been vindicated, and the Fugitive Slave Act has become a dead letter, but not in the way and by the means the too sanguine Senator predicted or fore casted. During the debate a sharp colloquy sprang up between Mr. Wade and Mr. Douglas concerning the relative influence of anti-Nebraska and Know-Nothing sentiments on the administration reverses of the then recent elections. Mr. Fessenden spoke in a similar strain, telling the friends of the measure that they mistook “the temper of the Eastern people," who, he said, would " find some way within the limits of the Constitution to protect the rights of our fellow-citizens." Referring to a remark of Mr. Wade that he was not an “agitator," he said that “on a question of right, a question of justice, a question affecting the interests and feelings of my constituents, I am an agitator, I will agitate such a question. It is my duty so to agitate; and I am not to be silenced by the mere declaration that I am disturbing the country."

Mr. Seward, as ever, spoke ably and eloquently on the same side. Alluding to the protracted session and the near approach of the midnight hour, with the attending excitement, like the scenes preceding and attending the compromise measures of 1850, and the abrogation of the Missouri compromise in 1854, he presaged a similar disaster to liberty now, and suggested that, perhaps, "the teeming gun, which proclaimed those former triumphs of slavery, is already planted under the eaves of the capitol to celebrate another victory." He described, with forensic force of allusion and language, the excitements of the hour and the spectacle before him. “The scene before me and all its circumstances and incidents admonish me," he began by saying,” that the time has come when the Senate of the United States is about to grant another of those concessions which have become habitual here to the power of slavery in this Republic. For the second time in a period of nearly three months, the brilliant chandelier above our heads is lighted up; the passages and galleries are densely crowded; all the customary forms of legislation are laid aside; the multifarious subjects which have their rise in all parts of this extended country are suddenly forgotten in a concentration of feeling upon a single question of intense interest. The day is spent without adjournment. Senators, foregoing their natural relaxation and refreshment, remain in their seats until midnight approaches." He analyzed the bill, characterized it as an innovation, a new thing unknown in the laws of the country, by which the citizen “shall have only a single safeguard instead of that double panoply which has hitherto shielded him," and for which " there is no necessity or shadow of necessity ; . . . saving the Union at a fearful cost." Declaring that all this trouble arose from the Fugitive Slave Act, he said: "I look with sorrow but with no anxiety on this state of things. I abide the time and wait for the event." He closed his eloquent and impressive speech with this vigorously expressed admonition and counsel: "If you wish to secure respect to the Federal authority, to cultivate harmony between the States, to secure universal peace, and to create new bonds of perpetual union, there is only one way before you. Instead of adding new penalties, employing new agencies, and inspiring new terrors, you must go back to the point where your mistaken policy began, and conform your federal laws to MAGNA CHARTA, to the CONSTITUTION, and to the RIGHTS of MAN."

Mr. Sumner closed the debate. “On a former occasion," he said, " as slavery was about to clutch one of its triumphs I arose to make my final opposition at midnight. It is now the same hour…. It is hardly an accidental conjunction which thus constantly brings slavery and midnight together." He proceeded to show the unconstitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act, the sad inconsistency of Congress in allowing South Carolina to imprison colored seamen, notwithstanding the clause giving the citizens of one State the same privileges and immunities in all others, and yet enacting this barbarous act because the Constitution required that persons held to service in one State, escaping into another, " should be given up." Such discrimination for slavery and against freedom was unworthy, he said, of the nation. He eloquently and with fitting words rebuked the impudent demand of the South “to be let alone," by tracing the series of slaveholding aggressions, beginning almost with the first inauguration of the government and culminating with the bill under discussion. Pointing out the insincerity of the demand, on the part of the South, he interposed for the North a similar request. “Yes, sir," he said,” let us alone. Do not involve us in the support of slavery. Hug the viper to your bosoms, if you perversely will, within your own States, until it stings you to a generous remorse, but do not compel us to hug it too; for this, I assure you, we will not do." He then moved an amendment repealing the Fugitive Slave Act; but it received but nine votes, when the main bill was passed by a vote of thirty to nine, though a vote was not taken upon it in the House.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 452-461.



Chapter: “Repeal Of Fugitive-Slave Act,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1878.

The fact or phase of slavery most annoying and most exasperating to the freedom-loving men of the North was the obligation imposed, by both the Constitution and the statute, on every American citizen not only to allow, but to assist in, the pursuit of fugitives from service. That was both seen and felt to be a crime against themselves as well as against the slaves. As if it were not enough to know that there were millions of their countrymen grinding in the prison-house of their bondage, with its unparalleled wrongs and unutterable agonies, they were compelled to be personal participants in this great offence, by standing guard over these victims, pre venting their escape, or joining in the pursuit, if escaping. The most abhorrent of all its infamous laws were its fugitive slave laws, especially that of 1850, called, by way of eminence, the Fugitive-Slave Act, — the most villanous of the "sum of all villanies,"—the most unnatural and Heaven-defying, placing itself athwart the current of the soul's best affections, and compelling them to flow back upon itself or find their exercise only at great risks of personal loss and danger. The Great Teacher had taught and commanded, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them"; but this law, with impious audacity, held up the slaveholders' edict forbidding that very thing, making it a penal offence, to be expiated by severe punishment, to give even a cup of cold water or a piece of bread to the trembling fugitive. No law had ever grated more harshly and aroused feelings of deeper indignation. It was but natural, therefore, that among the first acts of their new-born power should be attempts to sweep this and kindred laws from the statute-book.

As early, therefore, as the assembling of Congress at its first regular session after the inauguration of Mr. Lincoln, memorials began to come in, praying that body to repeal the iniquitous law; and before the close of December, 1861, Mr. Howe of Wisconsin introduced into the Senate a bill for its repeal. In presenting his bill he said: "This act has had its day. As a party act it has done its work. It probably has done as much mischief as all the acts ever passed by the national legislature since the adoption of the Federal Constitution." It was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, which, however, did not make its report, and that adverse, till February, 1863. In May, 1862, Mr. Wilmot introduced a bill requiring owners of fugitives from service to take the oath of allegiance to the government; to swear that they have never given aid or comfort to the enemy; while any alleged fugitive should have the right to summon witnesses, without respect of color, to give testimony in his case. The bill was referred to the Committee on the District of Columbia, and reported back without amendment. Near the same time, Mr. Wilson introduced a bill to amend the act of 1850, giving to the alleged fugitive the right of trial by jury, with the same safe guards as were allowed on an indictment; the right of bail; requiring evidence of the claimant's loyalty; and repealing several sections of the act. It was taken up on the 10th of June, briefly considered, when the Senate adjourned, and the bill never came up again for consideration. Though there existed a growing desire and imperious demand for some such legislation, there were too many difficulties attending any effective action, and the XXXVIIth Congress adjourned without enacting any law upon the subject. 

In the XXXVIIIth Congress, fresh from the people, the subject soon came up. In the House, immediately on the announcement of its standing committees, Mr., Stevens of Pennsylvania introduced a bill to repeal the acts of 1793 and 1850; Mr. Ashley of Ohio introduced a bill to repeal the act of 1850, and all acts for the rendition of fugitive slaves; Mr. Julian also introduced a similar bill, though different in some of its details, with a resolution instructing the Committee on the Judiciary to report a bill, repealing portions of the acts of 1793 and 1850; the resolution, however, being laid on the table. The above bills were referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, but a report was not made until the following June.

In the Senate, on the 13th of January, 1864, Mr. Sumner moved the appointment of a select committee of seven to consider all propositions concerning slavery and the freedmen. His motion was adopted, and the committee appointed, consisting of himself, Howard, Carlile, Pomeroy, Buckalew, Brown, and Conness, —four Republicans, two Democrats, and one (Conness) Union. Sumner, Howard, Pomeroy, and Brown were pronounced antislavery men; Carlile, a proslavery man from conviction; Buckalew, one of the Northern Democratic leaders; and Conness, though originally a Democrat, now fully committed to the policy of freedom. Early in February Mr. Sumner introduced a bill to repeal all laws for the rendition of fugitives, which was referred to the select Committee of Seven. The committee presented majority and minority reports, — the former by Mr. Sumner, and the latter by Mr. Buckalew.

The report of Mr. Sumner was long and exhaustive, earnest and eloquent, presenting very fully the legal and constitutional, moral and religious, aspects of the case. With affluence of learning and a minute analysis of the abhorrent statute, he showed its entire conflict with both the spirit and purposes of the Constitution and the free institutions of the Republic. He spoke, too, of its wicked hardship toward those who religiously believed that the Divine command, "Thou shalt not deliver unto the master the servant which is escaped," remained of binding force. "The thunder of Sinai," he said, "is silent, and the ancient judgments have ceased; but an act of Congress which, beside its direct violation of this early law, offends every sentiment of Christianity, must expect the judgments of Heaven. Perhaps the sorrows and funerals of this war are so many warnings to do justice." "Unhappily," he said in closing, "the statute must remain in the pages of our history. But every day of delay in its repeal is hurtful to the national cause and to the national name."

The minority report, signed by Buckalew and Carlile, referring to the assumption of the majority that the act was both "unconstitutional and inexpedient, took, what they termed, the "proper occasion for restating the grounds" of such legislation, and made an earnest argument in defence of the general principle of reclaiming fugitives, and of the act of 1850 in particular. Concerning the "expediency and policy" of such legislation, they said significantly and sneeringly that they were points which they only needed to take into consideration, "whose views of constitutional duty are unfixed, or formed upon principles of political philosophy which were unknown to, or, at least, unaccepted by, the illustrious men who established the government of the United States." Beside its argumentative portions, the minority report well represented the Democratic and slaveholding spite against the negroes and their friends. It spoke of the. former as "an injurious and pestilential element to the State," and of the latter and their "fanaticism scenting blood and carnage in the distance."

The bill came up for consideration on the 19th, was reported to the Senate, ordered to be engrossed, and read a third time. Mr. Foster of Connecticut said he was "not prepared to see the bill pass just now." Mr. Sumner disclaimed all desire to speak, for, he said, " it seems to me perfectly plain. It is like a diagram; it is like the multiplication-table; it is like the Ten Commandments." "It may be," said Mr. Hendricks of Indiana, on the other hand, " that our fathers erred in the agreement among themselves that a fugitive slave should be returned; it may be that it was a mistake on their part; but while their agreement stands, and while my oath is on my conscience to respect their agreement, I cannot vote for a bill like this."

 Mr. Sherman of Ohio expressed doubts of the expediency of repealing the law of 1793, for, he said, it was "framed by the men who framed the Constitution, and has been declared valid and constitutional by every tribunal that has acted upon it." He accordingly moved a reconsideration of the vote ordering the bill to be engrossed, which was carried; and he then moved to amend by adding the words, "except the act approved February 12, 1793." In the brief debate on this motion the question of the constitutionality of the law of '93, and of the opinions of Judge Story, who gave the opinion of the Supreme Court in the Prigg case, was sharply discussed. During the discussion Mr. Johnson of Maryland declared that it was "perfectly plain under the adjudications of the Supreme Court, and particularly in the judgment pronounced by Mr. Justice Story, that the Constitution itself is a fugitive-slave act." "To my mind," said Mr. Sumner, "nothing is clearer than that, according to unquestionable rules of interpretation, the clause of the Constitution, whatever may have been the intent of its authors, cannot be considered applicable to slaves. Such is slavery, that, from the nature of the case, it cannot be sanctioned or legalized except by 'positive ' words. It cannot stand on inference." Mr. Sherman's amendment was then adopted by a vote of twenty-four to seventeen.

The adoption of Mr. Sherman's amendment was a signal for a confused and miscellaneous debate, in which there were various motions to amend, to lay on the table, and to refer; but they were rejected. During the discussion, Mr. Foster of Connecticut made an elaborate speech in favor of the amended bill. "I shall give," he said, "my vote on its passage with very great pleasure. Its effect will be to repeal the law of 1850, popularly known as the Fugitive-Slave Law; in my opinion a most iniquitous measure, and certainly most obnoxious to the people of the free States from the day of its passage to the present hour. That bill was passed in a period of great excitement in the country. A malicious and malignant spirit had been excited. Sectional and partisan feeling raged over the land. An arrogant and defiant party, in their pride of power, passed that bill through both houses of Congress. It has the forms of law, and has stood unrepealed to this day. From the first day I had the honor of a seat in this body until now, I should have voted cheerfully for its repeal at any time."

The subject came up again on the 21st when, among other motions to amend and postpone, was a speech of Mr. Van Winkle of West Virginia, in opposition to the "series of projected measures now pending in one or both houses of Congress"; as also in favor of a proposition to organize West Virginia as a State, abolishing slavery therein. Mr. Howard of Michigan moved to amend by a provision that no person in any Territory or in the District of Columbia should be held a slave, or removed under the act of 1793, and that " the fourth section of said act should be repealed." Various other motions were then made, and the whole subject was deferred to the 27th of April; but it was never called up again for consideration.

In the House the several bills which were presented on the subject of the fugitive-slave acts on the 14th of December, 1863, and one subsequently presented by Mr. Spaulding had been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. On the 6th of June, Mr. Morris of New York reported for them a substitute entitled "A bill to repeal the Fugitive-Slave Act of 1850, and all acts and parts of acts for the rendition of fugitive slaves." He moved its recommitment, and his motion was adopted. But the vote for recommitment was reconsidered, and the bill was put on its passage. On the demand for the previous question Mr. Mallory of Kentucky made an earnest and deprecatory speech. "Kentucky is the only State," he said, "still adhering to the Union, which has not abolished or taken the initiatory steps to abolish slavery…. I demand, as an act of justice to my State, that the Fugitive-Slave Act be permitted to remain on the statute-book…. If the Fugitive Slave Act is repealed, and your provost-marshals and recruiting-officers draft and recruit the slaves of Kentucky, if this policy is continued, what need, think you, will there be to abolish slavery by constitutional amendment? Sir, I warn you against the course this Congress is pursuing. Already you have crushed out every feeling of love of the Union in the people of the revolted States; and you are besotted if you think that acts of oppression and wrong can be perpetrated in the border Slave-States, without producing estrangement and even enmity there. Kentucky has remained true to her faith pledged to the government, and I warn you not to persevere in inflicting on her insult and outrage."

On the refusal of Mr. Morris to withdraw the previous question, which provoked the spiteful response of Mr. Mallory that "justice is a thing I have long since ceased to hope for from that side of the House," there sprung up a series of motions designed to stave off and delay the passage of the bill. Mr. Cox of Ohio appealed to Mr. Morris to have the bill referred back again to the Committee on the Judiciary. The latter and other members expressed a willingness to allow sufficient time for a full examination, and expression of views concerning it, even to fix a subsequent day for a vote; but those hostile to it refused any "unanimous consent in regard to taking the vote," and a sharp debate followed. Mr. King of Missouri opposed the bill in an elaborate speech. "The law," he said, "now sought to be repealed, was passed in the discharge of a solemn duty to the slaveholding States, — a duty enjoined by the Constitution, and which cannot, in my opinion, be repealed by Congress without a total disregard of an-imperative obligation." Mr. Cox made a sharp, incisive speech, not only in opposition to that particular measure, but in condemnation of the general policy of Mr. Lincoln and his administration, and closed with this arraignment: "Your executive," he said, "is a usurper of the powers wisely distributed to the other departments of the government. Here you sit to-day, striving to strike down the only mode whereby one peculiar clause of the Constitution can be carried out, and propose no mode as a substitute either by State or Federal action. Your ideas are not those of the higher, but of the lower law. They do not come from the sources of law and light and love above. They sunder all the ties of allegiance, and all the sanctions of faith. You are destructionists: you would tear down all that is valuable and sacred in the past, and build up nothing in their place. You are revolutionists."

But those who spoke for the bill were equally emphatic and undisguised. "I make," said a member, "no distinction whatever between the act of 1793 and the act of 1850. Today they are equally obnoxious, and, in my opinion, equally infamous. I revere the memory of the founders of the Republic; but I am not so infatuated as to believe that the fathers would ever have passed the act of 1793 had slavery then been in rebellion against them. It is fit that American statesmen in this age of the world, at this period of the great American war, at a time when the Republic is smarting and bleeding, if not reeling, under the blows that slavery has given it, and at a time when a hundred thousand black men are fighting for the flag, and not one against it, — it is fit that American statesmen, here assembled to deliberate and act upon this momentous question, should have an opportunity to record their votes for posterity to read." Mr. Morris made, near the close of the debate, a brief and earnest speech in advocacy of the right and duty of adopting some such measure. "These statutes," he said, "are repugnant to the sense of every good man who has not been educated believe that the slave code is more imperative than the Constitution itself. I say, sweep out a law which no man respects who is not a votary of human slavery. It is an abomination."

The previous question was then ordered, and the bill was adopted by a vote of eighty-two to fifty-seven.

It was taken up in the Senate, on motion of Mr. Sumner, on the 21st of June, though Mr. Hendricks of Indiana inter posed objection, and Mr. Saulsbury of Delaware expressed the belief that "no practical good can result from it." The near approach of the close of the session, with its pressure of accumulating business, the anxiety of members to secure action on bills intrusted to their care, and the fear that the debate to which the bill would give rise would consume time they desired for other subjects led to opposition and counter-motions. Even Mr. Hale opposed it. "There are several very important bills," he said, "relating to the navy on the calendar; and I have received urgent and pressing letters from the Secretary of the Navy to call the attention of the Senate to them." Mr. Powell had in charge an important bill to secure freedom in elections, and he said that he did " not see what good armies or navies are going to do us, if we have no freedom of elections." A vote, however, to take it up was secured.

The next day it met with the same opposition, and several of what Mr. Sumner styled "dilatory motions" were interposed against taking it up. Among them was one by Mr. Powell to postpone the further consideration of the bill "till the first Monday of December next." But he withdrew it on the proposition of Mr. Sumner to "meet Senators half-way," and the bill was reported to the Senate without amendment. Coming up again the next day, Mr. Davis of Kentucky made a speech against it, and Mr. Saulsbury moved to strike out all but the enacting clause, and insert the words of the Constitution concerning fugitives, " and that Congress shall pass all necessary laws for the rendition of all persons who shall escape," and nine voted for his amendment. Reverdy Johnson also proposed an amendment, which received seventeen votes. The bill was then passed by a vote of twenty-seven to twelve. The President approved it on the 28th, and thus was swept from the pages of the statute-book the heartless and iniquitous, inhuman and infamous, fugitive-slave acts of 1793 and 1850.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 3.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1878, 394-402.



See also US Congress Debate on Slaves as Property

Chapter: “Fugitives. -Kidnapping. -National Recognition Of Property In Man,” by Henry Wilson, in History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 1872.

The annexation of the vast slave region of Texas, with soil and climate adapted to the culture of cotton, and the prospective acquisition of Mexican territory, increased the price of and the demand for slaves. The activity of flesh jobbers and land speculators was greatly stimulated, and the domestic slave traffic was largely augmented. The auction-block, the coffle, and the forced separation of families and friends, filled the bondmen, especially of the Border States, with dread. Many of the most intelligent and energetic among them sought liberty in flight. To no section of the land did they flee for succor and safety as they did to Eastern Pennsylvania; nowhere were there so many whose ears were quick to catch the footfall of the wary and fainting fugitive. Not ostentatious in words or deeds, the members of the old Abolition Society of Pennsylvania and of the more modern antislavery societies were faithful and fearless, persistent and painstaking. The city of Philadelphia and the counties of Delaware, Chester, Lancaster, York, and Adams, were studded with the stations of the " Underground Railroad," while faithful men and women stood ready to act as agents and conductors, to help forward the fleeing chattels; good Samaritans to watch over and care for the weary, famishing, and often wounded victims. Many of these tireless men and women were Quakers, or of Quaker origin; and, though quiet in demeanor, as became their peaceful sect, they for years "stood self-consecrated, enveloped by the love of God, permeated by the love of man,' and ready to render aid to the hunted fugitive.

To the judicious counsels and ceaseless labors of such men as Thomas Shipley, Elijah F. Pennypacker, Daniel Gibbons, Bartholomew Furnell, Lindley Coates, Edmund and John  Needles, James Mott, William H. Furness, Charles D. Cleveland, Robert Purvis, William Still, James Miller McKim, and Edmund M. Davis, in Pennsylvania, and Thomas Garrett and John Hunn, in Delaware, and such women as Esther Moore, .Abigail Goodwin, Lucretia Mott, Sarah Pugh, and Mary Grew, of Philadelphia, were thousands of lowly ones indebted for shelter and. concealment, food and clothing, means of journeying on, and a hearty God-speed. Seldom have such opportunities of usefulness and self-sacrifice been accorded to men; and seldom, if ever, have they been more nobly and worthily improved than by the antislavery men and women of Eastern Pennsylvania.

There was, too, in the city of New York, that great mart of trade, with its Southern connections, interests, and prejudices against the African race and its friends, a body of earnest, determined, and sagacious antislavery men, who were deeply 'imbued with a Christian spirit and ready to make sacrifices of time, money, and ease for the good of the slave. Among them was John Jay, a gentleman of ability, culture, social position; and wealth, who inherited not only the name but the sense of justice and the love of liberty of a1l illustrious ancestry. Being an excellent lawyer, he had made those subjects of his profession in which the rights of man were involved matters of special study. His advice and counsel were, therefore, generally sought by these friends of the fugitive in the prosecution of their philanthropic, but oftentimes difficult and delicate, labors ; and they were always cheerfully and freely given. The office of the "Antislavery Standard," conducted by Sydney Howard Gay, who entered heartily into the work, was a place of usual resort and conference for members of this devoted band. Mr. Gay was not only an accomplished journalist, subsequently connected with the “Tribune” and the " Post," but at that time an active and efficient agent of the "Underground Railroad."

The frequency of escapes, and the increasing numbers of those who were seeking and effecting them, incensed the slave-masters, and increased their activity and attempts to prevent them. Many were, therefore, arrested in their flight, and remanded to their bondage and chains. In this work the masters of vessels engaged in the Southern trade bore a prominent and generally a dishonorable part, exhibiting far greater anxiety to conciliate and carry out the desires of the slave­ holders than to conform to the requirements of the statute. Indeed, so determined and reckless were they in these attempts, that they often incurred the guilt and exposed themselves to the penalties of kidnapping.

Early in Mr. Polk's administration, the brig Mobile, from Savannah, entered the port of New York with George Kirk, a colored man, on board, supposed to be a slave. Not being allowed to go on shore, a writ of habeas corpus was immediately sued out by Judge Edmunds. Going on board the brig, which had been hauled into the stream, the officer demanded the fugitive. The captain demurred, but after a little parley surrendered him. He was in irons, and bore the marks of hard usage. It appeared that he had secreted himself in the vessel, had not been discovered for several days, had confessed to the master that he was a slave and was endeavoring to escape from slavery, and that it was the purpose of the master to retain him in custody until he could return him to Savannah.

He was taken before the court, and John Jay and Joseph L. White appeared as counsel. Mr. Jay addressed the court in a plea replete with legal learning. Mr. White's argument the “Standard” characterized as "one of the most eloquent, logical, in every respect one of the most powerful, speeches ever listened to in a court of justice, or, indeed, anywhere." By the decision of Judge Edmunds the prisoner was discharged from the custody of the captain. But he had hardly left the room when officers were again put in pursuit, armed with a new process, under a law-which gave to the captain of a vessel on board of whose craft a fugitive was found a right to take such fugitive before the mayor. But he had been secreted in the office of the "Antislavery Standard," and could not at once be found. The captain offered a reward of fifty dollars for his recovery; and for this paltry sum the police force of New York, consisting of nine hundred men, was, under the sanction of the law, put on the track of this one trembling black man, who was simply trying to be free. They found him hidden in a box, in which he had been placed for the purpose of escape. A new writ of habeas corpus was sued out, he was brought before the same judge, the law was pronounced unconstitutional, and he was again set at liberty.

In the summer of 1847, a case occurred in which questions of foreign policy as well as domestic slavery arose, the adjustment and answer of which became subjects of protracted discussion. The circumstances were these: A Brazilian ship arrived in the port of New York, having three slaves as a portion of her crew. They were taken before the courts on a writ of habeas corpus. Mr. Jay appeared as their counsel. As they belonged to a foreign vessel, there were points involved which occasioned differences of opinion, as well as conflicting decisions by the different judges. In the mean time they were confined in the Tombs, and their somewhat peculiar case excited public interest, especially among the antislavery men of the city. While it was still pending before the courts, the prisoners mysteriously disappeared from the jail. An investigation shed no light upon the matter, the officials of the prison testifying that everything appeared as usual at the time of the escape, and that they were able to neither give nor find any clue to the strange disappearance of the men. There were those, indeed, who did understand the matter, and who subsequently disclosed the facts connected with the case.

Among those who were interested in the history and fate of these men were Mr. Gay, Elias Smith, and William A. Hall, whose regard for man was not limited by the lines of nationality, and who felt for the slaves of other lands as for those of their own. By the aid of a man confined in the Tombs for a breach of trust, and who became interested in these persons, the jailer of the prison was intoxicated. While he was sleeping, the key was taken, the doors were opened, and the prisoners were liberated. A carriage was in waiting, and they were placed beyond the reach of the officers. The jailer awoke to find everything apparently secure; but his prisoners had fled. Mr. Jay, the coui1sel in the case, knew nothing of the mode of escape, nor did Mr. Gay. The judge, after investigation, decided that they could not be given up under the treaty with Brazil.

In August, 1846, a case occurred in Boston involving similar elements of lawless violence, but with less satisfactory results. The brig Ottoman, owned by John H. Pierson and commanded by Captain James W. Hannum, sailed from New Orleans for Boston. When several days at sea, a slave was found secreted in the vessel. The vessel, with the escaped slave on board, arrived early in September in Boston Harbor. Placing the slave on a pilot boat for safe keeping, the captain went into the city and made arrangements that the bark Niagara, which was soon to sail for New Orleans, should take him back. Having made these arrangements, he went down the harbor, took the fugitive on board his boat, and awaited the arrival of the Niagara. Landing on one of the islands, the negro seized the boat and sailed for South Boston Point. The captain followed him in another boat, and after landing, and chasing the fugitive for two miles, captured him, accused him of theft, and took him by force down the harbor. A storm arising, the Niagara did not go to sea for some days; and thus this man was forcibly held, without law and against law, in the waters of Massachusetts. But the fugitive was at length placed on board the Niagara; and she, eluding the steamer sent down the harbor to rescue this person, thus violently and unlawfully restrained of his liberty and abducted by force from the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, bore him back to slavery.

This inhuman and lawless proceeding very naturally excited deep indignation. A crowded meeting was held in Faneuil Hall. John Quincy Adams presided. In a feeble and tremulous voice he alluded to the event which had brought him to that hall. He said he had, fifty years before, attended a meeting there, over which Elbridge Gerry presided, who, apologizing for his age and infirmities, declared that if he had but one day to live he would have been present. That event was the taking out of an American frigate certain seamen by a British man-of-war. On the same principle he then appeared before them. His own health and infirmities were such, he added, that nothing but that occasion would have brought him there. “It is a question," he declared, with great solemnity and impressiveness, "whether this Commonwealth is to maintain its independence or not. It is a question whether your and my native Commonwealth is capable of protecting the men who are under its laws or not."

Dr. Howe then related the facts of the case, so criminal in the actors, so discreditable to Boston, so dishonoring to the State. John A. Andrew, secretary of the meeting, then presented a series of resolutions; declaring it to be the first duty of all governments to guarantee the personal safety of every individual upon their soil; that there was nothing in the institutions and laws of any foreign state or nation that could justify or excuse any violation of the smallest right or privilege of the humblest individual within the borders of the Commonwealth; that the spirit of justice and freedom would be dead when an injury done to the least individual should cease to be felt as a wrong done to the whole; that the abducting of a man in the streets of Boston should be felt as an alarming menace against the personal rights and safety of every citizen; that every person who aided and abetted in the kidnapping and in carrying this individual into slavery deserved the sternest reprobation. The owners of the vessel, charged by its captain with having consented to and aided the illegal and shameful act, were called upon to disavow all participation in a proceeding so fatal to their character as merchants and as men, and to make every reparation in their power in rescuing the individual from the tortures to which their ship had illegally borne him. The resolutions were unanimously adopted, and a vigilance committee of forty was appointed at the head of which was placed Dr. Howe, and with whom were associated some of the most eminent citizens of Boston.

The meeting was then addressed by Charles Sumner. He referred to the presence of Mr. Adams, whom he recognized as one of the leaders in the cause of human rights. He characterized the wrong that had been perpetrated as an injury and insult to Massachusetts, which should arouse the people to a determination to prevent the repetition of such a crime. Stephen C. Phillips spoke of the abduction as a legitimate result of the slave system. He alluded to the statement made by Captain Hannum, in his own vindication, as an evidence of the influence of the Slave Power, by which the laws of Massachusetts were made subservient in the streets of Boston to the laws of Louisiana. He characterized the act as worse than piracy, and held the owners of the vessel in which the victim had been borne back to servitude alone responsible. He was himself a merchant, but he was also a man, responsible to God; and he would say to the individual involved in this case, who was personally known to him, that no merchant had a right to jeopardize the character of the profession to which he belonged, and he did not believe that there was another merchant in Boston who "would be guilty of such an act of injustice and wrong."

Wendell Phillips attributed the outrage upon the laws to the religious and social institutions of the country. If Captain Hannum had had in his possession a small slip of paper signed by the owner of the slave, they would have been "obliged to stand up and witness the outrage without the power to prevent it. The resolutions, he thought, did not go far enough. The time had come when we should go further than simply to announce that we would sustain the laws. He would have the people come up to the point and say, "'Law or no law, Constitution or no Constitution, humanity shall be paramount.' I would send out a voice from Faneuil Hall that shall reach every hovel in South Carolina, and say to the slaves, ' Come here, and find an asylum of freedom here, where no talon of the national eagle shall ever snatch you away.' "

Theodore Parker said that legislatures could make and unmake laws; but “there is a law of God, written on the heart, that cannot be altered or revoked, -that we should do unto another as we would that others should do unto us. When the laws of Massachusetts or the laws of the Union conflict with the laws of God, I would keep God's law in preference, though the heavens should fall. We have officers who tell us that they are sworn to keep the laws of the States and of the United States, and we are born citizens, born to obey the laws; but every bone of my body and every drop of blood in my system swears to me that I am amenable to and must obey the laws of God."

Captain Hannum justified his course in- the public press, and claimed that his conduct had received the approval of his employers. Mr. Pierson, too, justified the act, and, in reply to the criticisms of the meeting, especially those of Stephen C. Phillips, asserted that his course received the general commendation and approval of the merchants of Boston; and he expressed the confident belief that " the response of those assembled on ''Change any day from half past one till two, would confirm his doings, five to one." That vote was never taken; but it is to be feared that, had it been, discreditable as such a conclusion may seem, the result would have shown that he had too much reason for his confidence. 

Cases like these, appealing as they did to the humane and generous sympathies of noble men and women, impelled them to put forth every effort to secure legal protection against kidnapping. Soon after the decision of the Supreme Court in the Prigg case, Massachusetts and Vermont had forbidden the use of their jails and the services of their officers for the arrest and detention of fugitives from slavery. Unsuccessful efforts were put forth to secure similar legislation in New York, and also the repeal of the" black laws" of Ohio. In 1847 the legislature of Pennsylvania repealed a law by which a master could hold a slave in that State for six months, and also, like Massachusetts and Vermont, enacted laws forbidding the use of jails for the retention of fugitive slaves. Among the friends of freedom who were active in securing this enactment was Charles Gibbons, then the presiding officer of the Senate; who distinguished himself by the service he rendered. In 1848, Rhode Island followed the example of Pennsylvania.

But while there were these demonstrations of right feeling and evidences of progress, there were other manifestations of sentiment and purpose that were not so encouraging. Thus New Jersey, although passing a law extinguishing the last relic of slavery which lingered there as late as the year 1846, enacted that non-residents, travelling in the State, might take their slaves with them as household servants. Connecticut, also, like New Jersey, although extinguishing slavery in 1848, rejected in 1847 a proposition to give to colored men the right of voting, by an overwhelming majority.  In New York, too, in a convention for a revision of her constitution, the clause requiring a property qualification for colored men was retained, though it submitted it, as a separate proposition, to a popular vote. The question excited great interest. The Whig press, of which the “Tribune " distinguished itself for its advocacy of equal rights, generally supported the claim of the negro to an equality of privilege with the whites. But passion and prejudice prevailed, and the proposition was defeated by a large majority.

The annexation of Texas and the Mexican war intensified the prejudices of the Southern people, increased their determination to protect and conserve the slave system, and rendered them more alert in detecting and prompt in opposing anything that threatened either danger or damage to it. Antislavery men, no matter how moderate and prudent, especially if connected with the press, were made to feel the full force of these suspicions and determination. An antislavery journal, the “Saturday Visitor," had been established at Baltimore, and an effort to suppress it as an incendiary publication was made by the citizens of that city. But its conductor, Dr. Snodgrass, firmly maintained his right to publish it, the effort failed, and its brave editor lived to see the system it had so earnestly assailed swept away.

In Washington, “The National Era'' had been established by Dr. Bailey, as an organ of the Liberty party. Though it was edited with great ability and tact, and was also the vehicle of some of the most polished and scholarly pens in the country, having John G. Whittier as its corresponding editor, it excited the ire of the slaveholding population of the capital, and of the South generally. Indeed, the city government of Georgetown took the matter into consideration, with a view of suppressing the feared and hated sheet. But the courage and courtesy of the editor carried him safely through the menacing dangers by which his journal was surrounded; and, though it did not live to celebrate in fitting terms the death of the system whose horrid life had brought it into being, as it had been the inspiration of its earnest and effective career, it did live to deal most damaging blows to the giant crime, and it may be truly recognized as having been among the most potent agencies of the antislavery cause.

But there was one conductor of a public journal, whose utterances against slavery became, in the hands of the incensed slaveholders, the occasion of his death. John H. Pleasants, editor of the Richmond Whig," inserted a few articles, written by another, on the economic bearings of the question. His indorsement of the doctrine of the articles was, in the eyes of his slaveholding patrons, an unpardonable offence, and he was compelled to retire from the paper. Being associated with another journal, he became involved in a controversy with his old antagonist, Mr. Ritchie, the editor of the "Enquirer," of the same city. Receiving a challenge from the son of Mr. Ritchie, which he accepted, he fell a victim alike to the barbarism of slavery and of the duello.

In 1846, the Supreme Court rendered a decision in the Van Zandt case, by which, perhaps more distinctly and defiantly than ever before, the idea of property in man was proclaimed to the country and to the world, and that which Lord Brougham had pronounced " a guilty fantasy " in England was here declared to be a constitutional provision, to be protected by the sacred guaranties of the time-honored charter of the nation's life. ”In coming to that conclusion," said Justice Woodbury, who read the opinion of the court, "they were fortified by the idea that the Constitution itself, in the clause before cited, flung its shield, for security, over such property· as is in controversy in the present case, and the right to pursue and reclaim it in another State." To show that the nation did not regard it as a mere barren right, not far from the same time the United States Marshal for the District of Columbia advertised for sale, in· the city of Washington, two colored women, one sixty and the other twenty years of age, to satisfy a judgment rendered against a citizen by the Post Office Department and these women were sold, and the money was put into the treasury of the nation.

With bondmen fleeing and slaveholders pursuing, with the Supreme Court proclaiming the doctrine of property in man, with women sold by the government itself, on the auction- block, with the army fighting on foreign soil for conquest in slavery's behalf, with statesmen striving to desecrate free territory with the blot and blight of oppression, thoughtful men began to realize more fully the condition of their country, and of themselves as well, and to comprehend more clearly the responsibilities and duties of the crisis which seemed so rapidly approaching.

Source:  Wilson, Henry, History of the Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, Vol. 2.  Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1872, 50-60.


FULLER, Timothy, 1778-1835, lawyer, U.S. Congressman, Massachusetts, voted against extension of slavery in 1819.  In the Congressional debates, Congressman Fuller said: “All Europe, the whole civilized world, are spectators of the scene.  Our Declaration of Independence, our Revolution, our State institutions, and, above all, the great principles of our Federal Constitution, are arrayed on one side, and our legislative acts and national measures, the practical specification of our real principles and character, on the other.”

(Dumond, 1961, p. 104; 16 Cong., 1 Sess., 1819-1920, II, p. 1467; Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, p. 561)

Biography from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography:

FULLER, Timothy, congressman, b. in Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard, Mass., 11 July, 1778; d. in Groton, Mass., 1 Oct., 1835. His father, Timothy, the first settled minister of Princeton, Mass., was third in descent from Thomas, who emigrated from England in 1638. The younger Timothy was graduated at Harvard in 1801 with the second honors. After teaching in Leicester academy, he studied law with Levi Lincoln, and practised successfully in Boston. He was a state senator in 1813-'6, and was then elected to congress as an antifederalist, serving from 2 Jan., 1818, till 3 March, 1825. He was speaker of the state house of representatives in 1825, a member of the executive council in 1828, and in 1831 was a member of the legislature from Groton, whither he had removed about 1826. While in congress, he was chairman of the committee on naval affairs, and was distinguished as an orator, making effective speeches in behalf of the Seminole Indians, and against the Missouri compromise. He was an ardent supporter of John Quincy Adams, and published a pamphlet entitled “The Election for the Presidency Considered,” which was widely circulated. Mr. Fuller was a hard-working lawyer, and an active and public-spirited man. He died suddenly of cholera, intestate and insolvent. Besides the works mentioned above, he published an oration delivered at Watertown, 4 July, 1809, and an address before the Massachusetts peace society (1826). Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1888, Vol. II, pp. 561.


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