The Great Conspiracy

“As a matter of Property to the Insurgents, it will be of very great
moment, the number that I now have amounting, as I am informed, to what,
in good times, would be of the value of sixty thousand dollars. Twelve
of these Negroes, I am informed, have escaped from the batteries on
Sewall’s Point, which, this morning, fired upon my expedition as it
passed by out of range. As a means of offense, therefore, in the
Enemy’s hands, these Negroes, when able-bodied, are of the last
importance. Without them the batteries could not have been erected, at
least for many weeks.

“As a Military question it would seem to be a measure of necessity to
deprive their masters of their services. How can this be done? As a
political question and a question of humanity, can I receive the
services of a father and mother, and not take the children? Of the
humanitarian aspect I have no doubt. Of the political one I have no
right to judge. I therefore submit all this to your better judgment,
and as the questions have a political aspect, I have ventured, and I
trust I am not wrong in so doing, to duplicate the parts of my dispatch
relating to this subject, and forward them to the Secretary of War.”

In reply to the duplicate copy of this letter received by him, Secretary
Cameron thus answered:

“WASHINGTON, May 30, 1861.

“SIR: Your action in respect to the Negroes who came within your lines
from the service of the Rebels is approved. The Department is sensible
of the embarrassments which must surround officers conducting Military
operations in a State by the laws of which Slavery is sanctioned.

“The Government cannot recognize the rejection by any State of the
Federal obligations, nor can it refuse the performance of the Federal
obligations resting upon itself. Among these Federal obligations,
however, none can be more important than that of suppressing and
dispersing armed combinations formed for the purpose of overthrowing its
whole Constitutional authority.

“While, therefore, you will permit no interference by the persons under
your command, with the relations of Persons held to Service under the
laws of any State, you will, on the other hand, so long as any State,
within which your Military operations are conducted, is under the
control of such armed combinations, refrain from surrendering to alleged
masters any Person who may come within your lines.

“You will employ such Persons in the services to which they may be best
adapted, keeping an account of the labor by them performed, of the value
of it, and the expenses of their maintenance. The question of their
final disposition will be reserved for future determination.

“Secretary of War.

“To Major General BUTLER.”
Great tenderness, however, was exhibited by many of the Union Generals
for the doomed Institution. On June 3, 1861, from Chambersburg, Pa., a
proclamation signed “By order of Major General Patterson, F. J. Porter,
Asst. Adj. General,” was issued from “Headquarters Department of
Pennsylvania,” “To the United States troops of this Department,” in
which they are admonished “that, in the coming campaign in Virginia,
while it is your duty to punish Sedition, you must protect the Loyal,
and, should the occasion offer, at once suppress Servile Insurrection.”
“General Orders No. 33,” issued from “Headquarters Department of
Washington,” July 17, 1861, “By command of Brigadier General Mansfield,
Theo. Talbot, Assistant Adjutant General,” were to this effect:
“Fugitive Slaves will under no pretext whatever, be permitted to reside,
or be in any way harbored, in the quarters or camps of the troops
serving in this Department. Neither will such Slaves be allowed to
accompany troops on the march. Commanders of troops will be held
responsible for a strict observance of this order.” And early in August
a Military order was issued at Washington “that no Negroes, without
sufficient evidence of their being Free or of their right to travel, are
permitted to leave the city upon the cars.”

But Bull Run did much to settle the Military as well as public mind in
proper grooves on this subject.

Besides employing Negro Slaves to aid Rebellion, by the digging of
ditches, the throwing up of intrenchments, and the erection of
batteries, their Rebel masters placed in their hands arms with which to
shoot down Union soldiers at the Battle of Bull Run, which, as we have
seen, occurred on Sunday, July 21, 1861–and resulted in a check to the
Union Cause.

The terror and confusion and excitement already referred to, that
prevailed in Washington all that night and the next day, as the panic-
stricken crowd of soldiers and civilians poured over the Long Bridge,
footsore with running, faint with weariness, weak with hunger, and
parched with thirst and the dust of the rout, can hardly be described.

But, however panicky the general condition of the inhabitants of the
National Capital, the Congress bravely maintained its equanimity.

In the Senate, on the day following the disaster, a bill touching the
Confiscation of Property used for insurrectionary purposes being up for
consideration, the following amendment was offered to it:

“And be it further enacted, That whenever any person claiming to be
entitled to the Service or Labor of any other Person under the laws of
any State, shall employ such Person in aiding or promoting any
Insurrection, or in resisting the Laws of the United States, or shall
permit him to be so employed, he shall forfeit all right to such Service
or Labor, and the Person whose Labor or Service is thus claimed shall be
thenceforth discharged therefrom, any law to the contrary

This amendment, emancipating Slaves employed by their masters to aid
Rebellion, was adopted by 33 yeas to 6 nays.

As showing the feeling expressed right upon the very heels of what
seemed to be a great disaster, and when rumor, at any rate, placed the
victorious Enemy at the very gates of the Capital City, a few lines from
the debate may be interesting.

Mr. Trumbull said: “I am glad the yeas and nays have been called to let
us see who is willing to vote that the Traitorous owner of a Negro shall
employ him to shoot down the Union men of the Country, and yet insist
upon restoring him to the Traitor that owns him. I understand that
Negroes were in the fight which has recently occurred. I take it that
Negroes who are used to destroy the Union, and to shoot down the Union
men by the consent of Traitorous masters, ought not to be restored to
them. If the Senator from Kentucky is in favor of restoring them, let
him vote against the amendment.”

Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, said: “I shall vote with more heart
than I vote for ordinary measures, for this proposition. I hope the
Senate and the House of Representatives will sustain it, and that this
Government will carry it out with an inflexibility that knows no change.
The idea that men who are in arms destroying their Country shall be
permitted to use others for that purpose, and that we shall stand by and
issue orders to our Commanders, that we should disgrace our Cause and
our Country, by returning such men to their Traitorous masters, ought
not longer to be entertained. The time has come for that to cease; and,
by the blessing of God, so far as I am concerned, I mean it shall cease.

“If there is anybody in this Chamber that chooses to take the other
path, let him do it; let him know what our purpose is. Our purpose is
to save this Government and save this Country, and to put down Treason;
and if Traitors use bondsmen to destroy this Country, my doctrine is
that the Government shall at once convert these bondsmen into men that
cannot be used to destroy our Country. I have no apologies to make for
this position, I take it proudly.

“I think the time has come when this Government, and the men who are in
arms under the Government, should cease to return to Traitors their
Fugitive Slaves, whom they are using to erect batteries to murder brave
men who are fighting under the flag of their Country. The time has come
when we should deal with the men who are organizing Negro companies, and
teaching them to shoot down loyal men for the only offence of upholding
the flag of their Country.

“I hope further, Sir, that there is a public sentiment in this Country
that will blast men who will rise, in the Senate or out it, to make
apologies for Treason, or to defend or to maintain the doctrine that
this Government is bound to protect Traitors in converting their Slaves
into tools for the destruction of the Republic.”

Senator McDougall, of California, said: “I regard this as a Confiscation
for Treason, and I am for the proposition.”

Mr. Ten Eyck, said: “No longer ago than Saturday last I voted in the
Judiciary Committee against this amendment, for two reasons: First, I
did not believe that persons in Rebellion against this Government would
make use of such means as the employment of Persons held to Labor or
Service, in their Armies; secondly, because I did not know what was to
become of these poor wretches if they were discharged. God knows we do
not want them in our Section of the Union. But, Sir, having learned and
believing that these persons have been employed with arms in their hands
to shed the blood of the Union-loving men of this Country, I shall now
vote in favor of that amendment with less regard to what may become of
these people than I had on Saturday. I will merely instance that there
is a precedent for this. If I recollect history aright, General
Jackson, in the Seminole War, declared that every Slave who was taken in
arms against the United States should be set Free,”

So, too, in the House of Representatives, the retrograde of a badly
demoralized Army, its routed fragments still coming in with alarming
stories of a pursuing Enemy almost at the gates of the city, had no
terrors for our legislators; and there was something of Roman dignity,
patriotism, and courage, in the adoption, on that painfully memorable
Blue Monday, (the first–[Offered by Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky]–with
only two dissenting votes, on a yea and nay vote; and, the second–
[Offered by Mr. Vandever, of Iowa.]–with entire unanimity) of the
following Resolutions:

“Resolved by the House of Representatives of the Congress of the United
States, That the present deplorable Civil War has been forced upon the
Country by the Disunionists of the Southern States, now in arms against
the Constitutional Government, and in arms around the Capital; that in
this National emergency, Congress, banishing all feelings of mere
passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole
Country; that this War is not waged on their part in any spirit of
oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of
overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established Institutions
of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the
Constitution, and to preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality,
and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these
objects are accomplished, the War ought to cease.”

“Resolved, That the maintenance of the Constitution, the preservation of
the Union, and the enforcement of the Laws, are sacred trusts which must
be executed; that no disaster shall discourage us from the most ample
performance of this high duty; and that we pledge to the Country and the
World, the employment of every resource, National and individual, for
the suppression, overthrow, and punishment of Rebels in arms.”

The first of these Resolutions was intended to calm the fears of the
Border States–excited by Rebel emissaries; the second, to restore
confidence and courage to the patriot hearts of Union-men, everywhere.
Both were effectual.

And here it will hardly be amiss to glance, for an instant, toward the
Senate Chamber; and especially at one characteristic incident. It was
the afternoon of August the 1st, 1861,–scarce ten days since the check
to the Union arms at Bull Run; and Breckinridge, of Kentucky, not yet
expelled from the United States Senate, was making in that Body his
great speech against the “Insurrection and Sedition Bill,” and upon “the
sanctity of the Constitution.”

Baker, of Oregon,–who, as Sumner afterward said: “with a zeal that
never tired, after recruiting men drawn by the attraction of his name,
in New York and Philadelphia and elsewhere, held his Brigade in camp,
near the Capitol, so that he passed easily from one to the other, and
thus alternated the duties of a Senator and a General,” having reached
the Capitol, direct from his Brigade-camp, entered the Senate Chamber,
in his uniform, while Breckinridge was speaking.

When the Kentucky Senator “with Treason in his heart, if not on his
lips,” resumed his seat, the gray-haired soldier-Senator at once rose to
reply. “He began,”–said Charles Sumner, in alluding to the incident–
“simply and calmly; but as he proceeded, his fervid soul broke forth in
words of surpassing power. As on a former occasion he had presented the
well-ripened fruits of study, so now he spoke with the spontaneous
utterance of his own mature and exuberant eloquence–meeting the
polished Traitor at every point with weapons keener and brighter than
his own.”

After demolishing Breckinridge’s position touching the alleged
Unconstitutionality of the measure, and characterzing his other
utterances as “reproof, malediction, and prediction combined,” the
Patriot from the Far-West turned with rising voice and flashing eye upon
the gloomy Kentuckian:

“I would ask him,” said he, “what would you have us do now–a
Confederate Army within twenty miles of us, advancing, or threatening to
advance, to overwhelm your Government; to shake the pillars of the
Union, to bring it around your head, if you stay here, in ruins? Are we
to stop and talk about an uprising sentiment in the North against the
War? Are we to predict evil, and retire from what we predict? Is it
not the manly part to go on as we have begun, to raise money, and levy
Armies, to organize them, to prepare to advance; when we do advance, to
regulate that advance by all the laws and regulations that civilization
and humanity will allow in time of battle? Can we do anything more? To
talk to us about stopping, is idle; we will never stop. Will the
Senator yield to Rebellion? Will he shrink from armed Insurrection?
Will his State justify it? Will its better public opinion allow it?
Shall we send a flag of Truce? What would he have? Or would he conduct
this War so feebly, that the whole World would smile at us in derision?”

And then cried the orator-his voice rising to a higher key, penetrating,
yet musical as the blast from a silver trumpet: “What would he have?
These speeches of his, sown broadcast over the Land, what clear distinct
meaning have they? Are they not intended for disorganization in our
very midst? Are they not intended to dull our weapons? Are they not
intended to destroy our zeal? Are they not intended to animate our
enemies? Sir, are they not words of brilliant, polished Treason, even
in the very Capitol of the Nation?

“What would have been thought, if, in another Capitol, in another
Republic, in a yet more martial age, a Senator as grave, not more
eloquent or dignified than the Senator from Kentucky, yet with the Roman
purple flowing over his shoulder, had risen in his place, surrounded by
all the illustrations of Roman glory, and declared that the cause of
advancing Hannibal was just, and that Carthage ought to be dealt with in
terms of peace? What would have been thought if, after the battle of
Cannae, a Senator there had risen in his place and denounced every levy
of the Roman People, every expenditure of its treasure, and every appeal
to the old recollections and the old glories?”

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