Illegal to Teach Slaves to Read and Write


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, June 21, 1862

Welcome to the online edition of the Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the civil war. This archive makes our extensive collection of Civil War newspapers available to you on the internet, for your browsing pleasure. These newspapers will help you develop a better understanding of the War.

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Corinth, Mississippi

Teaching Slaves to Read and Write

Teaching Slaves to Read and Write

Black and White Equality

Black and White Equality

Duty Calls Poem

Poem "Duty Calls"


Chickahominy River

Richmond Cartoon

Richmond Cartoon

Battle of Hanover

Battle of Hanover

Corinth, Mississippi

Corinth, Mississippi



Battle of Mechanicsville

Battle of Mechanicsville

Corinth, Mississippi

Scenes Around Corinth, Mississippi

Battle of Fairoaks

Battle of Fairoaks










[JUNE 21, 1862.



SATURDAY, JUNE 21, 1862.


THE great work of suppressing the rebellion is in effect achieved. We have "repossessed" the great artery of the country—the Mississippi River; with the possible exception of some settlements in the neighborhood of Vicksburg, from which we have no late intelligence, but which can not hold out against attacks from both sides, every town and village on the river is in our hands. Our gun-boats are doing sentinel duty from the Southwest Pass to St. Louis.

It is impossible to exaggerate, and scarcely possible to realize the importance of this achievement. The possession of the Mississippi River, with its tributaries, secures to the United States flag 30,000 miles of inland navigation, which before the war carried more steam tonnage than all the waters of Europe and Asia combined.

The possession of the river not only divides the rebel States, shutting off Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, or nearly one half the territory of the so-called Southern Confederacy, from the remainder of Jeff Davis's dominion, but, as we pointed out in a recent number, it insures, in a given period of time, the surrender of the rebel armies in Virginia and Mississippi from famine. In the rebel realm as inclosed by the armies of McClellan and Halleck, by the sea-coast, and by The Mississippi River, there is no beef. Without beef the rebels can not fight. Pork and corn may answer for a while; but unless the rebel commissaries can within a few months renew their requisitions upon the pastures of Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee, their armies will scatter. It was on this account that Davis and his colleagues undertook "that which they could not perform;" namely, to force the Border States into their secession scheme.

Thus the great drama of the age draws slowly to a close. Twelve months ago the rebels held all of Virginia, all of Tennessee, half of Kentucky, five-sixths of Missouri; their flag floated in sight of the White House and in sight of Cairo; Jeff Davis was able to boast that in the whole Southern Confederacy as at fist constituted Fort Pickens was the only spot on which the Stars and Stripes still waved; the danger in which Washington, St. Louis, and Louisville stood was such as to appall the stoutest hearts. Twelve months have elapsed, and we hold all of Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee; the most important parts of Virginia, Louisiana, and Arkansas; the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi; the uplands of Alabama; and, greatest and best of all, the Mississippi River and its tributaries. No rebel soldier is within a hundred miles of Washington, but our troops are thundering at the gate of Richmond, Charleston, Mobile, and Savannah. The finances of the rebel Confederacy have collapsed: the premium on United States securities advances daily. The rebel army of the Mississippi has scattered: our army is over half a million in number, and unequaled in discipline and efficiency. Europe, which a year ago was exultant over the destruction of the American Union, now stands amazed at the vitality and power which our Government has developed, and, so far from aiding the rebels, has long since set down their cause as hopeless.

Well may we thank God for the year's work!


MEXICAN affairs are distressing many people just now. This arises chiefly from the wholesale lying and blundering of the newspapers. There is in reality no cause at all for distress, but, on the contrary, some ground for hope.

For forty years Mexico—one of the fairest portions of the world—has been a prey to the worst kind of anarchy and disorder. It has enjoyed brief intervals of peace and prosperity under military despotisms. But revolution has been its normal condition, and highway robbery and murder the most usual features of its social state. This shocking condition of affairs has resulted from the antagonism between the Mexican people on the one side, and on the other the Mexican Church, which owns a large proportion of all the productive property in the country, and has persistently sought to establish and maintain a theocratic government. Sometimes the people have succeeded in organizing a Government, which has been overthrown by the intrigues of the clergy; and sometimes the Church party have obtained power, and have in their turn been overthrown by popular outbreaks. Each party has been strong enough to prevent the other from securing undisputed sway. But neither has yet been able to crush its opponent finally and forever.

Five years ago the maritime powers of Europe, "the guardians of civilization," as the British complacently style them, proposed to the United States to intervene in Mexico, in the interest of peace and commerce. Mr. Buchanan

acquiesced in the proposal, and recommended to Congress an armed occupation of certain States of Mexico. The recommendation remained without effect. Congress was unwilling to intrust a signer of the Ostend manifesto, and a confidant of John Slidell, with power to encroach upon the territory of a friendly neighbor, under any pretense whatever.

Last year, this country being plunged into a conflict which rendered us powerless against Europe, three leading nations—Great Britain, France, and Spain—agreed to intervene in Mexico without us, and by a joint occupation to restore peace to that distracted country. Each had private and peculiar scores to settle with the Mexicans. But the sole object of the joint expedition was formally and solemnly declared to be the pacification of the country. Each of the contracting powers absolutely renounced all idea of conquest, aggrandizement, or acquisition of territory.

The convention was so far carried into erect that a joint expedition—French, Spanish, and English—military and naval—sailed to Vera Cruz, seized that port without bloodshed, and prepared to invade the country. Those preparations were in a forward state when the progress of the Government of the United States in the work of suppressing the rebellion became so obvious that the British and Spanish Powers drew back from the enterprise, wisely foreseeing a future collision with this country in the event of a European occupation of Mexico. The French general is understood to have persisted in his undertaking; to have marched on the city of Mexico; and to have been repulsed with loss by the Mexicans.

This is the present condition of affairs. We entreat the public not to be misled by the trash in the newspapers about a French occupation of Mexico for three years, a French colony in Sonora, and the establishment by French arms of an Austrian Archduke on a Mexican throne. There is not the least basis for any one of these stories. They are the offspring of the fertile brain of newspaper correspondents who, in a dearth of facts, deal in fiction. It is utterly absurd and preposterous to suppose that the Emperor Napoleon, who has never yet, in his long career at the head of the French nation, committed a fatal error, should now ruin his power and prestige by undertaking enterprises in Mexico which could not, under any circumstances, prove useful to him or his country, but which would almost inevitably plunge France into wars of indefinite length and expenses of formidable magnitude.

The truth of the matter is simply this. Napoleon wants to see Mexico peaceful, and an active consumer of French wines, silks, and other manufactures. To achieve this end he is willing to lend the strongest and best party in Mexico the use of a few thousand French soldiers. When he first undertook the enterprise the United States were not in a condition to aid or resist him. Within a few weeks their condition will be entirely changed. They will have the power either to drive the French out of Mexico, or to assist them in their most sensible and worthy undertaking. We hazard little in predicting that they will adopt the latter alternative. Indeed, if we are not mistaken, the Government of the Emperor has already made known to Mr. Lincoln that the French expedition against Mexico has no other object than the restoration and protection of a stable native Government in that country, and that the Emperor seeks and ardently desires the co-operation of the United States. Nor shall we be far wrong if we add that Mr. Lincoln has probably replied that the object of the French is one that commends itself to the approval of the people of the United States, and that within a brief period of time this country may be in a position not only to co-operate with the French, but to relieve them altogether of the expense and trouble of intervening in Mexico, by placing at the disposal of the liberal Government of that country a force of United States troops sufficient to secure the ends which alone have led the Emperor to dispatch his armies across the Atlantic.



IT seems at present as if the serious fighting in the war of the country against the rebels would be over by mid-summer But it is by no means sure. Just a year ago it was stated that General Scott meant to dine in Richmond on the 4th of July. This year it is believed that General McClellan will. But the twelve months of real warfare have shown us that the rebels are neither cowardly nor unskillful. They have sometimes run. But we have also proved, upon occasion that we have legs. Let us candidly confess that the rebels fought well at Donelson, at Pea Ridge, at Shiloh, at Williamsburg, and at Fairoaks.

And it is well that they did so. It is best for all sides and for a lasting peace that they were plucky, that they did all they could, and that they were utterly defeated at last. For then there will be no subterfuge or illusion. They will not think that the country conquered them by tricks and chances and surprises. They will know that they have been fairly and soundly thrashed by an immensely superior and resolute and intelligent force. We shall know that we are the strongest, and they will understand that they must submit.

How will they submit? Will Jeff Davis surrender by proclamation? Will he come to Washington and ask to be hung? Will the "Confederate Government" formally disband? Clearly not. The war will be really over long before we are aware of it. The rebellion will disappear as Johnson melted from Manassas and Beauregard from Corinth, while our embattled lines are still bristling and ready. The huge web of rebel war, spread to catch the eagle, as a spider spins for a fly, will ravel out into sullen guerrilla fighting. Desperate bands will take to the hills. They will harass and annoy. The lower civilization of the rebel section will show itself in the character of the ending as in the beginning and continuation of the war.

The leaders, of course, are desperate. One of the rebel officers captured before Richmond said that we could take that city only over the bodies of fifty thousand dead men. Doubtless he said what he felt. Doubtless the leaders all feel so. But the soldiers do not. With every lost battle which they bravely contest their cause becomes more hopeless. The moment hastens when they will see that even desperate courage does not avail against a calm and conscious and persistent superiority. They will have no more to fight for. Their hope is in a confession of conquest. But the same conquest is death to their chiefs.

Floyd, for instance, and Davis, and Wigfall, and Cobb, and Benjamin, and Pryor, and Toombs, and Letcher—what a scurvy set they are!—what have these men to hope for? What is it to them if fifty thousand of their companions do die in the effort to save them from the halter? The only resource left them is the desolation of their country. They care not how much blood they shed, or how the fire ravages, or the land is ruined. Since they must fall they would drag down all they can to destruction.

If, therefore, Beauregard's army is dispersing—if Richmond shall be evacuated or captured—it is still possible and probable that Davis will with-draw to some point within the Gulf States and maintain himself for the summer—so long as he can keep an exit clear. That, however, must be the condition of his remaining. He will not risk his neck. Should all escape from the sea-board or into Mexico be cut off he is not unlikely to make his way across the Free States to Canada. Thence imagination follows him to England, the melancholy pet of a nation that finds in the wicked, wanton, inhuman war which he has waged for the right of enslaving other men only the heroic struggle of a refined and oppressed people against a brutal lust of power.

He completes the trio of names infamous in our history—Arnold, Burr, Davis. But how infinitely guiltier is Davis, although inferior as a soldier to Arnold and as an intriguer to Burr! He is not infamous because he is a rebel; for Cromwell and Washington were rebels. But they rebelled against oppression for which there was no hope of remedy but in arms. Catiline and Davis also are rebels. But they rebelled against governments which they despaired of corrupting.

No man can seriously doubt that the rebellion in arms is ending. Now comes the great and grave task of securing the peace we are conquering.


UP to the moment of writing General McClellan has suffered no defeat. Since the campaign opened the rebels have retired before him at Manassas and at Yorktown; while his army has been engaged in four severe battles—at Williamsburg, West Point, Hanover Court House, and Fairoaks—besides several brilliant skirmishes, in all of which it has been successful. The conduct of the army thus far, with the sole exception of the hapless division of General Casey at Fairoaks, has been worthy its character and the cause it defends.

When the story of the whole war can be told it will not be forgotten that any serious mishap to M'Clellan would have been an immediate and overwhelming disaster to the National cause, and that he was therefore compelled to be certain of every step. Heroic risks, brilliant dashes, dazzling but dangerous movements were not for him. He must be content to be the successful, not the romantic, hero of the war. For he was not only before Richmond but before Washington. He was not merely attacking the rebel capital, he was defending his own. He was moving a hundred thousand men across an enemy's country already stripped, against the intrenched head-quarters of rebellion, defended by the most desperate, the most skillful, and the best armed of the enemy. Risk, dash, brilliancy, were not necessary, however-captivating, but success was indispensable. He had gone to take Richmond. Not to take it was to dishearten the country, to invite foreign intervention, and to endanger all that is most sacred and precious to a loyal American. He was not there to wonder what Hannibal, or Don John of Austria, or Frederick the Great, or Napoleon would have done; but to do all that the talent God had given him enabled him to do with the means his country had provided.

Finis coronat opus. If Richmond is taken, it is useless to say that it might have been better taken in another way, because the value of this way is proved, and that of the other can not be.

General McClellan is a soldier. As a soldier he has made his name; as a soldier he is to write it in our history. And in nothing more strikingly does he show his soldierly genius than in adapting his movements to the circumstances of the campaign. A year ago, upon guerrilla duty, as it were, in Western Virginia, his daily bulletins sparkled like shocks from an electrical battery. Nobody complained that he was too slow, or loved tomorrow better than to-day. In Eastern Virginia for the last two months he has been upon other than guerrilla duty. He is not carrying a mountain ambush, but a fortified capital. Thus far every step has been a sure advance; and when his head-quarters are in Richmond, we may believe indeed that other generals would have won the same victory, but McClellan will have won it.

Earnest, devoted, successful—silent as Fremont under a storm of sharp criticism and complaint—McClellan is one of the manliest figures of the war "Oh, that rain which I described," writes a correspondent of the Tribune (which has not praised the General); had it not been for that, McClellan would to-night have been in Richmond. His plans were matured, and our march in overwhelming force and vigor could not have been stopped. But it is only a question of time with the commander. I felt to-day for the first a full sense of the vast labor he undergoes, and of the exceeding heavy burden of the responsibility which weighs down his heart and his brain, when I saw him dismount front his horse at a brook, and, baring his head, ask an orderly to bathe it with water scooped up in his hands. Overburdened, harassed, hampered soldier, may the God of Battles give you success and give you rest!”


THE conduct of Mr. Stanly, the new military Governor of North Carolina, has naturally excited great attention it has raised the profoundly important inquiry whether the United States makes it a penal offense to teach any person to read and write. Doubtless the authorities at Washington will have disposed of Governor Stanly's action before these lines are read. But the principle involved ought to be clearly understood by every citizen.

The United States have taken military possession of the State of North Carolina. They govern it by military law. In other words, they supersede by force the authorities duly chosen by the State and substitute others; and they set aside by force all laws of the State which interfere with the national supremacy.

Mr. Stanly is sent by the United States as Military Governor, and he begins by closing the schools for poor blacks, and by allowing people who are willing to go through the farce of an oath to kidnap any body whom they choose to call their slaves. The excuse for this extraordinary action is that the law of North Carolina recognizes slavery, and does not permit slaves to be taught. Possibly; but the law of North Carolina does not permit Mr. Stanly to be Governor. If he is only anxious to obey the State law, let him return to California and wait until the State chooses him.

He misconceives his duty. Mr. Stanly was not sent to North Carolina to execute the laws of the State. He was sent there, as all military Governors are sent to enforce obedience to the laws of the United Stares, and to repudiate and annul those of the State whenever they are in conflict with them. So long as the nation holds the State by military power it is entirely within its discretion what State laws it will suffer to be effective. Whatever law, in the judgment of the United States, interferes with the suppression of the rebellion "may rightfully and will actually be annulled by force." Slavery, for instance, exists every where in this country only by the force of State law; but the nation may at any time overrule that law, and abolish slavery by military power, in order to save the nation.

The same authority which by the necessity of the case it has over the State law recognizing slavery, it has over every other State law. Its exercise is simply a question of policy and special instruction. The President modified General Hunter's proclamation upon the ground that his act was one which he reserved to himself not for the reason that slavery was established by the local law of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The scope of his modification was merely that he did not think the time had come to interfere. In Governor Stanly's case he will doubtless say that the time has come. But in both instances it is a question of policy, not of right or power, which are both beyond question.

But, besides this, Mr. Stanly has not even the State law upon his side The law of 1830 in North Carolina forbids all persons to teach "slaves" to read or write. Mr. Stanly's order assumes that all blacks in the State are slaves. But they are not so, so that even upon his own technical ground his proceeding is unjustified. The United States, whose agent he is, does not assume that any man is a slave or a criminal until he is proved to be so.

Moreover the difficulties of such a terrible assumption are enhanced by the law of August last, which frees all slaves that have been used by the rebels against the country. What right has Mr. Stanly or any other agent of the United States to deprive men and women, first of instruction, then of liberty, because a Mr. Bray says that they are his slaves, that the is a Union man, and that they have never been used against the Government? How does Mr Stanly know all this? How can he know it without investigation? Is a Mr. Bray's assertions to be the only warrant for an act of such infinite moment to the welfare of those concerned, and to the character and peace of the nation?

By what authority of United States law, also, does Mr. Stanly return any North Carolina slave to his master in the State? The United States law knows only "fugitives from service" into other States. It makes no provision whatever for their return when they do not leave the States. That business it leaves to the local law, and Mr. Stanly is not the administrator of that law without express instructions, which he has not received.

There is no reason whatever, legally, politically, or morally, for his conduct, except a desire to propitiate the citizens of North Carolina by showing them that the Government will not touch their local laws. But how are they to be conciliated by any action whatsoever of a man whose authoritative presence among them is itself the annihilation of their local law?


any especially inhuman and repulsive measure is proposed in Congress or elsewhere it receives the support of people who call themselves, and are called by their friends, "the conservative (Next Page)




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