Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

By William O. Stoddard; Michael Burlingame | Go to book overview
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The Contrabands and the New Captain

The colored people are not citizens yet, and they have no idea that they are, or that they are ever to become full-fledged human beings. If you talk with one of them, the more intelligent your selection may be the more quickly you will probably discover a peculiarly dazed, uncertain, half- frightened mental condition. It is the state of unfortunates who cannot formulate any defined idea of the life upon which they have so wonderfully and unexpectedly been forced to enter. Your next catch, after that experiment, should be a white man, and in him you will discover a strictly correspondent mixed and cloudy conception of the future state, upon this earth, of this race which is now no longer merely "contraband of war." A marked symptom or feature of this indicated bewilderment of the liberated bondmen and bondwomen, is that so very few of them seek an opportunity for a look at, or a word with, the Presidential Moses who has set them free. To most of them he is as a myth, or, at least, as a superior being, a demigod so exalted that they have no business with him in the flesh. They are not afraid of him personally, but they are very much afraid of this new order of things. At all events, there are few black men among the tide of citizens which sets toward and into the White House.

Free, as loosened cattle are free, but not as men and women are free, are these multitudes who can no longer be bought or sold, but who are as yet denied the right to vote, and the right to be killed in battle. There is, at least, one man who perceives clearly that the latter right must precede the former in its acquisition, and there are others in whose minds the perception is growing rapidly. As yet the vast mass of the population supposed to be most deeply concerned in the Emancipation Proclamation dwells south of the army lines, but from the very beginning of this revolution large numbers of them from time to time broke through. So many drifted into Washington City and its vicinity, in a vague search after somebody to care for them, that

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