The Limits of Sovereignty: Property Confiscation in the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War

By Daniel W. Hamilton | Go to book overview

Introduction

During the Civil War, both the Union Congress and the Confederate Congress put in place sweeping confiscation programs designed to seize the private property of enemy citizens on a massive scale. In the first summer of the Civil War, in the wake of the Battle of Bull Run, the Union Congress in August 1961 quickly passed the First Confiscation Act. This measure authorized the federal government to seize the property of those participating directly in the rebellion.1 The Confederate Congress, in explicit retaliation, on August 30, 1861, passed the Sequestration Act.2 The Confederate act went further than the Union legislation and authorized the Confederate government to forever seize the real and personal property of “alien enemies,” a term which included every U.S. citizen and all those living in the Confederacy who remained loyal to the Union.

In July 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the equally broad Second Confiscation Act.3 This law provided for the permanent, uncompensated seizure of all the real and personal property of anyone taking up arms against the government, anyone aiding the rebellion directly, or anyone offering aid or comfort to the rebellion. Effectively, the Second Confiscation Act authorized the federal government to seize all the property of all those who recognized and supported the legitimacy of the Confederacy.

The Civil War represented, after the American Revolution, the second great American experiment with broad legislative confiscation during wartime.4 Revolutionary confiscation was marked by the quick, decisive,

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