The Slavery Question


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, January 25, 1862

This WEB site features the Harper's Weekly newspapers that were published during the Civil War. These newspapers are a great source of original Civil War illustrations, and incredible stories on the key battles and people of the War. We hope that you find this collection useful. Check back often as we add new material each day.


(Scroll Down to See Entire Page, or Newspaper Thumbnails below will take you to a specific page of interest)


General George B. McClellan

Slavery Question

The Slavery Question

The Battle of Blue's Gap

Pamlico and Albemarle

Pamlico and Albemarle

Mississippi Expedition

Mississippi Expedition

Civil War Execution

Civil War Execution

Mississippi Civil War Map

Mississippi Civil War Map


Civil War Ads

British Cartoon

British Cartoon

Fort Holt

Fort Holt

Fortress Monroe

Fortress Monroe

Bowling Green

Bowling Green, Kentucky

President Lincoln's White House Reception

White House Reception




[JANUARY 25, 1862.




MR. SIMON CAMERON has retired from the War Department, and is succeeded by EDWIN M. STANTON, late Attorney-General under Mr. Buchanan. The public will not regret the change, nor is it believed that the country will be a loser by it.


Two Christian knights, brothers, in the great army which had undertaken to wrest the sepulchre of Christ out of the hand of the infidel, departed from their tent early one morning in search of a diamond of rare beauty and great price, which they knew to be concealed in a neighboring castle, and which these pious brothers had promised to their mother as a token of filial love. As they rode along they began to discuss the setting of the jewel. The elder would have it set in plain massive gold, but the younger insisted upon its being surrounded by a chain of fine pearls. As neither would yield, and each waxed hotter and hotter as the debate was prolonged, they finally came to blows, and both soon lay prostrate, faint and bleeding, at the gate of the castle. An Arab, passing that way, humanely dressed their wounds, and inquiring the cause of the quarrel, bade them cease their strife. " That diamond is mine ; and now, lest it should give rise to further quarrels, I will take it with me at once to Damascus." So saying he departed, leaving the helpless brothers crest-fallen.

It would seem that these Christian brothers must have been the lineal ancestors of some of our politicians and statesmen. The record of our Congressional debates at the present time contains little else than a never-ending quarrel between emancipationists and others with regard to the disposal of slaves whom we haven't got, and whom we are not likely to get very soon, from present appearances. One honorable member proposes to emancipate all the slaves in the South at a blow, leaving the ultimate question of their disposal to be decided hereafter. Another is for transporting them to Africa. A third demands that Nicaragua or some other tropical region be acquired, and the negroes sent thither to build up a great tropical empire. A fourth insists that they be taken into Government service. All this time, be it remembered, the slaves about whom these gentlemen are fighting are calmly picking cotton and shelling corn on their masters' plantations, and we can no more get at them than we can at the inhabitants of Jupiter.

Then, on the other side, we have another practical party which is furious with every body who doesn't fall down and worship the divine institution of slavery. The Legislature of Kentucky, which has been so long on the fence that it requires an effort to believe that it is now fairly on the loyal side, demands that no enemy of slavery be allowed to remain in the Cabinet. The Legislature of Maryland, reeking with treason, protests against the least interference with the splendid institution. Newspapers here and there bellow daily that the rascally abolitionists are the cause of all the trouble; that Wendell Phillips seized Sumter, and Lloyd Garrison founded the Confederate States. The telegraphic dispatches from Washington teem with accounts of " abolitionist conspiracies." If they are to be believed, our representatives are on the point of cutting each other's throats and that of the President on account of minor differences of opinion touching the disposal of questions which can only arise when the rebellion has been fairly crushed out.

It is not good to be jealous of Providence. It is well that we should take every possible care, and exercise every possible forethought in our daily travail; but something may safely, nay must always, be left to Providence. Honorable members and gallant generals are very wise, no doubt. But Providence is a good engineer too. This slavery question is just the sort of problem which Providence is apt to solve well. In the Revolutionary war Providence took care of one or two things which our leaders had neglected, and they were not the least important of the war. Let us trust the same power now.

Practically, wherever our armies advance slavery will disappear. Generals may order the return of fugitive slaves, but the rank and file won't execute the command, because they have no interest in doing so. Proclamations may be issued protecting slavery ; but the slaves won't pay much attention to them, and the masters will not have the power, nor the troops the time to enforce them. To flourish, or even to exist, slavery requires perfect peace, and the most strict and thorough execution of municipal law ; it can no more thrive in the midst of civil war than gunpowder can be manufactured in a blacksmith's shop. This implies no abolitionism among officers of our army. General Sherman, at Port Royal,

made his debut with a proclamation which, so far as slavery was concerned, suited the stomach of the Charleston Mercury. Yet neither Garrison nor Phillips, nor all the abolitionists together, ever dealt so deadly a stab at the institution as Sherman did when he directed that sea-island cotton be picked by free negro labor, and the negroes paid a penny a pound for all they brought in. He could not help himself. Others will do the like. Men may go out at the head of our armies with preconceived opinions on the slavery question that would be relished by Spratt and Yancey; set them in the field, and if they know their trade as soldiers, they become active abolitionists by the necessity of the case.

The people of the North have an abiding faith in the power of the Government to crush out this rebellion, and an unshakable resolve that it shall be done, though slavery and a dozen other Southern institutions be crushed out with it. When slavery goes to the wall no tears will be shed from Northern eyes. But the people hear with anxiety and annoyance those eternal discussions in Congress about the disposal of negroes; both because it is idle to quarrel over the disposition of that which we haven't got, and likewise because it is widely felt that nothing can prevent our ultimate success except divisions among ourselves such as these discussions seem calculated to provoke.


THE following interesting and most gratifying correspondence speaks for itself :

"LL.D., Barrister at Law:

"DEAR SIR,— Having read with the profoundest admiration and gratitude the graphic letters in which you have represented our countrymen as fools, knaves, and cowards; having seen with what painful and elaborate ingenuity you have twisted facts and tortured conclusions, insulting our public men and covering our soldiers with ridicule ; how incessantly you have supplied the material to the London Times for its brutal talk upon American affairs ; how skillfully and with what unquestioned European effect you have described the efforts of the Government of the United States to defend its own existence, as a mad fratricidal war; how sedulously you have ministered to the jealousy and hate which the selfish and the ignorant in England (if you will pardon the allusion) always entertain for a great and rival nation; and how faithfully you have served the purpose for which you were sent, of maligning American politics, society, and events, confirming rancorous passions, and embroiling in war two nations which are natural allies ; carefully avoiding to inform yourself, or only informing yourself to conceal, the real character of the rebellion which has plunged our country into war, and exposed constitutional liberty to so dire a peril; we, a committee of American gentlemen, recognizing that you, from the circumstances of your position, more than any other individual, have misrepresented the motives, conduct, and character of the American people, and blackened the fair fame of our country, venture most humbly to request you to honor us by partaking of a dinner at our expense, in order that it may be made manifest to our countrymen, and to the whole world, that the nation furnishes at least some originals for the humiliating caricatures of men and gentlemen that you have described us all to be.

"With profound respect,

"We are your most humble, obedient Servants."

" GENTLEMEN,—Although you and your ridiculous humbug of a Government have all gone to the devil—and good riddance to bad rubbish!—yet as long as your dinners hold out I can have no earthly objection to eating them.

" Yours,   LL.D., BARRISTER AT LAW."


JUDGE DALY has written a letter to Senator Harris upon the proper treatment of privateersmen. He takes the ground that a privateersman is only a rebel upon water, and that if you do not hang land rebels, but exchange them, you ought to be willing to exchange water rebels, and not hang them. He does not deny, of course, that if Mr. Mansfield Lovell were taken in arms against the Government he might be tried for treason, and justly hung if convicted; and that what is true of Mr. Lovell is true of every other rebel with or without a rifle. But as Mr. Lovell is no more a traitor than Captain Semmes of the Sumter, if, for General Banks or Lander, if the rebels had them, we would gladly exchange Mr. Lovell rather than hang him, so for Colonel Corcoran we ought willingly to exchange Captain Semmes, if we had him.

The argument is fair enough. Every citizen who forcibly resists the Government is a traitor, and traitors are punishable with death. But there is a difference in the manner of resistance, and therefore, in a certain sense, a difference in the guilt of the offenders. When the Congress of Paris agreed that "Privateering is abolished," it certainly did not mean to say that war or treason were abolished; but only that the consenting nations pledged themselves to refrain from a certain kind of warfare. Why did they do it? Simply because war, although it is an appeal to brute force, has yet a kind of amenity and even fairness. There are things which are recognized as no less odious in war than in peace. Poisoning wells, murdering women and children, etc., are among them. And now, by the common consent of the great Powers of the world, in a treaty to which we have offered to become parties, privateering, or authorized public piracy upon the high seas, is ranked among these odious outrages and crimes of war.

The reason of this is evident. It is because there is an essential unfairness in such warfare. A rebel who is taken upon the battle-field is a man who has openly and consciously offered himself to the same chances that he brings to bear against his enemy. He tries to take the life of the loyal

citizen, indeed, but he does it by risking his own life. On the other hand, a privateersman is a rebel who takes a loyal citizen at every disadvantage ; who opposes armed force to helplessness ; who risks nothing; yet who, if honor and heroism constrain resistance, does not hesitate to murder. The difference between a land rebel and a water rebel, therefore, is precisely that between a highway robber stopping an unarmed passenger and a soldier in the field confronting another soldier. That difference is fully recognized by the Treaty of Paris, which abolishes privateering. Consequently, when Judge Daly urges, as an argument for the exchange of privateersmen equally with soldiers taken in the field, "that actual war exists, and that, as a Christian people, we mean to carry it on according to the usages of civilized nations," he apparently forgets that the usage of civilized nations has abolished privateering, and therefore that it affords no argument to the point.

However, the question is practically one of policy. No crime certainly could be more clearly proved than the armed resistance of Commodore Barron and his men at Hatteras Inlet to the Government of their country. No men's lives are more distinctly forfeited than theirs. But the Government wisely prefers not to insist upon its undoubted and exact rights. For the same reasons it certainly will not hang the privateersmen. But with equal certainty not upon the ground that they are no worse than rebels on land. Mr. Davis, of Kentucky, has already introduced a joint resolution, which has passed the Senate, that the President procure an exchange of prisoners from the privateer Jeff Davis for prisoners taken from the army of the United States.


IN a late letter to the London Times Mr. W. H. Russell, the correspondent of that paper in this country, describes the condition of the loyal States in this country as one bordering upon bloody civil war, to be waged by what he calls the Abolitionists against the adherents of the Government. This statement—the absurdity of which can not, of course, be appreciated in England any more than if he had repeated the story told by the Memphis papers that Fremont had seized the head of affairs and turned Congress into the street—is supported by two references : one to Mr. Sumner's speech in this city ; and the other to a meeting in favor of Fremont, in Cincinnati, several weeks ago.

As for Mr. Sumner's speech, he said—first at Worcester, in September or October—that, in his view, Slavery ought to be assailed, as the main-spring of the rebellion; but that he left the matter entirely in the hands of the Government. In his New York speech, to which Mr. Russell refers, Mr. Sumner did not advocate universal emancipation, nor even arming the slaves. He said : "Our battalions must be reinforced by ideas, and we insist strike directly at the origin and main-spring of the rebellion. I do not say now in what way or to what extent. It may be by the system of a Massachusetts General—Butler; it may be by that of Fremont; or it may be by the grander system of John Quincy Adams." In saying that the rebellion should be struck in some way through the Slave system, Mr. Sumner merely expressed an all but universal opinion. And in saying that he should yield to the action of the Administration in the matter, he merely expressed the universal determination.

The other ground upon which he asserts the imminence of the war within the war is as follows : "The Government is accused in mass meeting, amidst immense cheering, of 'an infamous, sneaking, crawling policy, which replaces the electric watch-word sounded by Fremont for this great nation.' Assuredly, if he be thus encouraged, the General is not the man to remain quiet, or to bear his temporary disgrace with equanimity." There was a large meeting, of enthusiastic Germans mainly, in Cincinnati, about the middle of November, at which the Rev. Mr. Conway, an ardent and sincere abolitionist, in the strict technical sense, did say, or is reported to have said, what Mr. Russell quotes. The spirit of that meeting has had not the slightest response from any quarter ; but Mr. Russell puts it as if "in mass meeting" through the country the same sentiments were constantly echoed. Meanwhile General Fremont has studiously forborne, with a heroic patriotism which surprises no one who knows him, to please in the least degree those who might wish him to make an open issue with the Administration.

Of course both he and those who believe him to be an able and an honest officer still believe that the "electric watch-word" is the open sesame of our success. But the spirit of the passionate eloquence of Mr. Conway was neither the watch-word of General Fremont's conduct nor of the policy of his friends. And the unreality of the impression of the actual state of things in the country conveyed in this letter of Mr. Russell's is but an illustration of the entirely false coloring which his letters give to our sentiments and events in general.


IT was not to be expected that a treason of so long growth and of such a nature as that which has culminated in this rebellion, could be rooted out at once even from the departments of the Government. The offices of which such men as Floyd, Cobb, Thompson, and Toucey were the heads could not fail to be full of traitors. But it was not very easy to discover them—and often it must have been very difficult, with due regard to the proper sequence of the public business, to expel them peremptorily.

Suppose Mr. Chase, upon taking the keys of the Treasury, had summoned singly each of the clerks in the Department, and had tendered them the oath of allegiance. Some traitors might have hesitated, and they would have been at once set aside. But of course scores of men who did not hesitate to receive the pay of the Government while plotting or

favoring its overthrow, would have taken the oath of allegiance with the smoothest face and glibbest tongue in the world.

Or suppose that every clerk in the Department had refused the oath. How would it have worked to turn every one out and fill their places with men of unquestionable fidelity who had not the least idea of the duties or the routine of their offices? It was by no means easy to winnow the chaff from the grain.

So with the army and navy. Experience justified a distrust of the loyalty of officers born in the rebellious section. Of course there were shining exceptions. Percival Drayton is one : but he would unquestionably allow the justice of the doubt. Yet nothing surely could be more ungracious than to assume disloyalty invariably, and to act upon the assumption. So we were exposed to delays, and even to treachery; but it was unavoidable.

When the leaders of the rebellion determined to strike openly for separation they did not act without perfect deliberation. For we must never forget that it was we who moved suddenly and without expectation or preparation. The rebels had had the Government in their power for many years. They knew how deep and how far the infection had spread. Mr. Slidell said, during the Peace Congress, "There will be no serious fighting." He thought that the hopelessness of fighting would be apparent to the Government. The experience of nine months shows that there was great reason for his feeling so far as the immediate agents of the Government were concerned. The game was to make the defense of the Government appear to be an " abolition" movement ; and as all office-holders and the Democratic party hated nothing so much as "abolition," that cry was to confuse and paralyze them.

How signally it failed in the country at large, how party shackles of all kinds fell off, and patriots who had been buried in party came forth like Lazarus from the tomb, casting aside his grave-clothes, is now matter of history. But so far as the personnel of the Government was concerned, of which so large a part in the Departments and in the army and navy were born in Secessia or sympathized with secession, the expectations of the rebels were not unfounded.

Therefore it is to be expected that from time to time fresh exposures of treason, even in high places, will be made. The process of purgation, of course, is going on. Mr. Potter's Committee and the logic of events are unmasking traitors. The women, by whose agency so much blood has been shed and wrong done already, are gradually circumvented. "Washington swarms with traitors," we hear. Yes; but Washington will of course swarm with traitors more than any city out of Secessia. It is their native air ; and it is the point where they can do most mischief.


IN the recent debate in the House, growing out of Mr. Roscoe Conkling's resolution to ask the Secretary of War to reply a little more satisfactorily touching the battle at Ball's Bluff; two questions were put and answered, which are very significant, for they came from representatives of the extreme right and the extreme left of the friends of the Government and the Union.

Mr. Lovejoy, of Illinois, who is popularly supposed to be an abolitionist, asked Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky, whether he preferred the perpetuation of slavery to that of the Union. Mr. Wickliffe dodged; and made a reply which was not an answer. But Mr. Mallory, also of Kentucky, immediately took up the question, and said : "Presuming I know the feeling of Kentucky, if we considered slavery standing in the way of the Constitution we would not hesitate to wipe out slavery." He added, that "we can not regard slavery as incompatible with the liberty established by our forefathers;" and concluded by asking Mr. Lovejoy whether he "would destroy the Constitution to get rid of slavery ?"

Mr. Lovejoy replied that be would not. He only declared that slavery must be destroyed rather than the Constitution and the Union.

What Mr. Lovejoy thinks and means is very clear. Does Mr. Mallory mean that, if slavery threatens the liberty established by our forefathers we can destroy it to save that liberty? Or does he mean, that, as slavery is not incompatible with that liberty, therefore that liberty can not be preserved without maintaining that slavery? Does Mr. Mallory really think that slavery is an essential part of the liberty of the country? Or, as he implies by his remarks, does he hold that slavery is established, not merely tolerated or recognized, by the Constitution?

If he does, he takes the ground on which Davis and Breckinridge justify their rebellion.


IN his note to M. Mercier, the French Minister, acknowledging the French dispatch on the Trent affair, Mr. Seward certainly states the truth very mildly when he says : " While it must be admitted that those three Powers are equally impressed with the same desire for the establishment of principles favorable to neutral rights, there is at the same time not such an entire agreement concerning the application of those principles as is desirable to secure that important object."

Indeed the truth seems to be that there is an entire difference of opinion.

This is sufficiently clear upon one point only. Are persons, not in the military service of the enemy, contraband and liable to seizure ? In reply to this question Mr. Seward quotes Sir William Scott : "You may stop the embassador of your enemy on his passage." And in reply to the suggestion that agents of a rebellious movement can not be embassadors, he relies upon "the true test in all cases—namely, the spirit of the law." Mr. Everett, also, quotes the same passage in regard to "the embassador (Next Page)




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