The Great Conspiracy

“Under these circumstances it seems quite clear that the substantial
rights of Loyal masters will be best protected by receiving such
fugitives, as well as fugitives from Disloyal masters, into the service
of the United States, and employing them under such organizations and in
such occupations as circumstances may suggest or require.

“Of course a record should be kept showing the name and description of
the fugitives, the name and the character, as Loyal or Disloyal, of the
master, and such facts as may be necessary to a correct understanding of
the circumstances of each case after tranquillity shall have been
restored. Upon the return of Peace, Congress will, doubtless, properly
provide for all the persons thus received into the service of the Union,
and for just compensation to Loyal masters. In this way only, it would
seem, can the duty and safety of the Government and the just rights of
all be fully reconciled and harmonized.

“You will therefore consider yourself as instructed to govern your
future action, in respect to Fugitives from Service, by the principles
here stated, and will report from time to time, and at least twice in
each month, your action in the premises to this Department.

“You will, however, neither authorize, nor permit any interference, by
the troops under your command, with the servants of peaceful citizens in
house or field; nor will you, in any way, encourage such servants to
leave the lawful Service of their masters; nor will you, except in cases
where the Public Safety may seem to require, prevent the voluntary
return of any Fugitive, to the Service from which he may have escaped.”

“I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

“Secretary of War.

“Major-General B. F. BUTLER,
“Commanding Department of Virginia,
“Fortress Monroe.”
Whether or not inspired by the prophetic speech of Thaddeus Stevens,
aforesaid, the month of August was hardly out before its prophecy seemed
in a fair way of immediate fulfilment. Major-General John Charles
Fremont at that time commanded the Eastern Department–comprising the
States of Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, and Kentucky-and he startled the
Country by issuing the following Emancipation proclamation:

“St. Louis, August 30, 1861.

“Circumstances, in my judgment, of sufficient urgency, render it
necessary that the commanding general of this Department should assume
the administrative powers of the State. Its disorganized condition, the
helplessness of the civil authority, the total insecurity of life, and
the devastation of property by bands of murderers and marauders, who
infest nearly every county of the State, and avail themselves of the
public misfortunes and the vicinity of a hostile force to gratify
private and neighborhood vengeance, and who find an enemy wherever they
find plunder, finally demand the severest measures to repress the daily
increasing crimes and outrages which are driving off the inhabitants and
ruining the State.

“In this condition, the public safety and the success of our arms
require unity of purpose, without let or hinderance, to the prompt
administration of affairs.

“In order, therefore, to suppress disorder, to maintain as far as now
practicable the public peace, and to give security and protection to the
persons and property of loyal citizens, I do hereby extend and declare
established Martial Law throughout the State of Missouri.

“The lines of the Army of Occupation in this State are for the present
declared to extend from Leavenworth by way of the posts of Jefferson
City, Rolla, and Ironton, to Cape Girardeau, on the Mississippi river.

“All persons who shall betaken with arms in their hands within these
lines shall be tried by Court-Martial, and if found guilty will be shot.

“The property, real and personal, of all persons, in the State of
Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall
be directly proven to have taken an active part with their Enemies in
the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their
Slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared Free men.

“All persons who shall be proven to have destroyed, after the
publication of this order, railroad tracks, bridges, or telegraphs,
shall suffer the extreme penalty of the law.

“All persons engaged in Treasonable correspondence, in giving or
procuring aid to the Enemies of the United States, in fomenting tumults,
in disturbing the public tranquillity by creating and circulating false
reports or incendiary documents, are in their own interests warned that
they are exposing themselves to sudden and severe punishment.

“All persons who have been led away from their allegiance, are required
to return to their homes forthwith; any such absence, without sufficient
cause, will be held to be presumptive evidence against them.

“The object of this declaration is to place in the hands of the Military
authorities the power to give instantaneous effect to existing laws, and
to supply such deficiencies as the conditions of War demand. But this
is not intended to suspend the ordinary Tribunals of the Country, where
the Law will be administered by the Civil officers in the usual manner,
and with their customary authority, while the same can be peaceably

“The commanding general will labor vigilantly for the public Welfare,
and in his efforts for their safety hopes to obtain not only the
acquiescence, but the active support of the Loyal People of the Country.

“Major-General Commanding.”
Fremont’s Proclamation of Confiscation and Emancipation, was hailed with
joy by some Patriots in the North, but was by others looked upon as rash
and premature and inexpedient; while it bitterly stirred the anger of
the Rebels everywhere.

The Rebel Jeff. Thompson, then in command of the Rebel forces about St.
Louis, at once issued the following savage proclamation of retaliation:

‘St. Louis, August 31, 1861.

“To all whom it may concern:

“Whereas Major-General John C. Fremont, commanding the minions of
Abraham Lincoln in the State of Missouri, has seen fit to declare
Martial Law throughout the whole State, and has threatened to shoot any
citizen-soldier found in arms within certain limits; also, to Confiscate
the property and Free the Negroes belonging to the members of the
Missouri State Guard:

“Therefore, know ye, that I, M. Jeff. Thompson, Brigadier-General of
the First Military District of Missouri, having not only the Military
authority of Brigadier-General, but certain police powers granted by
Acting-Governor Thomas C. Reynolds, and confirmed afterward by Governor
Jackson, do most solemnly promise that for every member of the Missouri
State Guard, or soldier of our allies, the Armies of the Confederate
States, who shall be put to death in pursuance of the said order of
General Fremont, I will hang, draw, and quarter a minion of said Abraham

“While I am anxious that this unfortunate War shall be conducted, if
possible, upon the most liberal principles of civilized warfare–and
every order that I have issued has been with that object–yet, if this
rule is to be adopted (and it must first be done by our Enemies) I
intend to exceed General Fremont in his excesses, and will make all
tories that come within my reach rue the day that a different policy was
adopted by their leaders.

“Already mills, barns, warehouses, and other private property have been
wastefully and wantonly destroyed by the Enemy in this district, while
we have taken nothing except articles strictly contraband or absolutely
necessary. Should these things be repeated, I will retaliate ten-fold,
so help me God!”

“Brigadier-General Commanding.”

“President Lincoln, greatly embarrassed by the precipitate action of his
subordinate, lost no time in suggesting to General Fremont certain
modifications of his Emancipation proclamation-as follows:

“[PRIVATE.] “WASHINGTON, D. C., September 2, 1861.

“MY DEAR SIR: Two points in your proclamation of August 30th give me
some anxiety:

“First. Should you shoot a man according to the proclamation, the
Confederates would very certainly shoot our best man in their hands, in
retaliation; and so, man for man, indefinitely. It is, therefore, my
order that you allow no man to be shot under the proclamation without
first having my approbation or consent.

“Second. I think there is great danger that the closing paragraph, in
relation to the Confiscation of Property, and the liberating Slaves of
Traitorous owners, will alarm our Southern Union friends, and turn them
against us; perhaps ruin our rather fair prospect for Kentucky.

“Allow me, therefore, to ask that you will, as of your own motion,
modify that paragraph so as to conform to the first and fourth sections
of the Act of Congress entitled, ‘An Act to Confiscate Property used for
Insurrectionary purposes,’ approved August 6, 1861, a copy of which Act
I herewith send you.

“This letter is written in a spirit of caution, and not of censure.

“I send it by a special messenger, in that it may certainly and speedily
reach you.
“Yours very truly,

“Major-General FREMONT.”
General Fremont replied to President Lincoln’s suggestions, as follows:

“St. Louis, September 8, 1861.

“MY DEAR SIR: Your letter of the second, by special
messenger, I know to have been written before you had received my
letter, and before my telegraphic dispatches and the rapid developments
of critical conditions here had informed you of affairs in this quarter.
I had not written to you fully and frequently, first, because in the
incessant change of affairs I would be exposed to give you contradictory
accounts; and., secondly, because the amount of the subjects to be laid
before you would demand too much of your time.

“Trusting to have your confidence, I have been leaving it to events
themselves to show you whether or not I was shaping affairs here
according to your ideas. The shortest communication between Washington
and St. Louis generally involves two days, and the employment of two
days, in time of War, goes largely toward success or disaster. I
therefore went along according to my own judgment, leaving the result of
my movement to justify me with you.

“And so in regard to my proclamation of the thirtieth. Between the
Rebel Armies, the Provisional Government, and the home Traitors, I felt
the position bad, and saw danger. In the night I decided upon the
proclamation and the form of it–I wrote it the next morning and printed
it the same day. I did it without consultation or advice with any one,
acting solely with my best judgment to serve the Country and yourself,
and perfectly willing to receive the amount of censure which should be
thought due, if I had made a false movement.

“This is as much a movement in the War, as a battle, and, in going into
these, I shall have to act according to my judgment of the ground before
me, as I did on this occasion. If upon reflection, your better judgment
still decides that I am wrong in the article respecting the Liberation
of Slaves, I have to ask that you will openly direct me to make the
correction. The implied censure will be received as a soldier always
should the reprimand of his chief.

“If I were to retract of my own accord, it would imply that I myself
thought it wrong, and that I had acted without the reflection which the
gravity of the point demanded. But I did not. I acted with full
deliberation, and upon the certain conviction that it was a measure
right and necessary, and I think so still.

“In regard to the other point of the proclamation to which you refer, I
desire to say that I do not think the Enemy can either misconstrue or
urge anything against it, or undertake to make unusual retaliation. The
shooting of men who shall rise in arms against an Army in the Military
occupation of a Country, is merely a necessary measure of defense, and
entirely according to the usages of civilized warfare. The article does
not at all refer to prisoners of war, and certainly our Enemies have no
grounds for requiring that we should waive in their benefit any of the
ordinary advantages which the usages of War allow to us.

“As promptitude is itself an advantage in War, I have also to ask that
you will permit me to carry out upon the spot the provisions of the
proclamation in this respect.

“Looking at affairs from this point of view, I am satisfied that strong
and vigorous measures have now become necessary to the success of our
Arms; and hoping that my views may have the honor to meet your approval,

“I am, with respect and regard, very truly yours,

President Lincoln subsequently rejoined, ordering a modification of the
proclamation. His letter ran thus:

“WASHINGTON, September 11, 1861.

“SIR: Yours of the 8th, in answer to mine of the 2d instant, is just
received. Assuming that you, upon the ground, could better judge of the
necessities of your position than I could at this distance, on seeing
your Proclamation of August 30th, I perceived no general objection to

“The particular clause, however, in relation to the Confiscation of
Property and the Liberation of Slaves, appeared to me to be
objectionable in its non-conformity to the Act of Congress, passed the
6th of last August, upon the same subjects; and hence I wrote you
expressing my wish that that clause should be modified accordingly.

“Your answer, just received, expresses the preference, on your part,
that I should make an open order for the modification, which I very
cheerfully do.

“It is therefore Ordered, that the said clause of said proclamation be
so modified, held, and construed as to conform to, and not to transcend,
the provisions on the same subject contained in the Act of Congress
entitled, ‘An Act to Confiscate Property used for Insurrectionary
Purposes,’ approved August 6, 1861, and that said Act be published at
length with this Order.

“Your obedient servant,

“Major-General JOHN C. FREMONT.”
In consequence, however, of the agitation on the subject, the extreme
delicacy with which it was thought advisable in the earliest stages of
the Rebellion to treat it, and the confusion of ideas among Military men
with regard to it, the War Department issued the following General
Instructions on the occasion of the departure of the Port Royal
Expedition, commanded by General T. W. Sherman:
“WAR DEPARTMENT, October 14, 1861.

“SIR: In conducting Military Operations within States declared by the
Proclamation of the President to be in a State of Insurrection, you will
govern yourself, so far as Persons held to Service under the laws of
such States are concerned, by the principles of the letters addressed by
me to Major-General Butler on the 30th of May and the 8th of August,
copies of which are herewith furnished to you.

“As special directions, adapted to special circumstances, cannot be
given, much must be referred to your own discretion as Commanding
General of the Expedition. You will, however, in general avail yourself
of the services of any Persons, whether Fugitives from Labor or not, who
may offer them to the National Government; you will employ such Persons
in such services as they may be fitted for, either as ordinary
employees, or, if special circumstances seem to require it, in any other
capacity with such organization, in squads, companies, or otherwise, as
you deem most beneficial to the service. This, however, not to mean a
general arming of them for Military service.

“You will assure all Loyal masters that Congress will provide just
compensation to them for the loss of the services of the Persons so

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