The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI
EMANCIPATION BEGUN

WHEN the war began, the absorbing issue at the North was the maintenance of the Union. The supreme, uniting purpose was the restoration of the national authority. Slavery had fallen into the background. But it soon began to come again to the front. Two tendencies existed at the North; one, to seek the restoration of the old state of things unchanged; the other, to seize the opportunity of war to put an end to slavery.

The pressure of events raised special questions which must be met. As soon as Northern armies were on Southern soil, slaves began to take refuge in the camps, and their masters, loyal in fact or in profession, followed with a demand for their return. Law seemed on the master's side; but the use of the army, engaged in such a war, to send slaves back to bondage, was most repugnant. At first some commanders took one course, some another. General Butler, a volunteer from Massachusetts, hit on a happy solution; he declared that slaves, being available to the enemy for hostile purposes, were like arms, gunpowder, etc., "contraband of war," and could not be reclaimed. The stroke was welcomed with cheers and laughter; and "contraband" became a catchword. Congress, in March, 1862, forbade the army and navy to return fugitives.

General Fremont was in command in Missouri. He was ardent and uncompromising, and in August, 1861, he issued a drastic proclamation, declaring the State under martial law, threatening death to all taken with arms in their hands,

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