The Great Conspiracy

“Why should they leave this Country? This is perhaps the first question
for proper consideration. You and we are different races. We have
between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two
races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss; but this
physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think.
Your race suffers very greatly, many of them by living among us, while
ours suffers from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If
this is admitted, it affords a reason, at least, why we should be
separated. You here are Freemen, I suppose?

“A VOICE–Yes, Sir.

“THE PRESIDENT–Perhaps you have long been free, or all your lives.
Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on
any people. But even when you cease to be Slaves, you are yet far
removed from being placed on an equality with the White race. You are
cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoys. The
aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free; but on
this broad continent not a single man of your race is made the equal of
a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is
still upon you. I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as
a fact, with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would. It
is a fact about which we all think and feel alike, I and you. We look
to our condition.

“Owing to the existence of the two races on this continent, I need not
recount to you the effects upon White men, growing out of the
institution of Slavery. I believe in its general evil effects on the
White race. See our present condition–the Country engaged in War! our
white men cutting one another’s throats–none knowing how far it will
extend–and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your
race among us there could not be War, although many men engaged on
either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I
repeat, without the institution of Slavery, and the Colored race as a
basis, the War could not have an existence. It is better for us both,
therefore, to be separated.

“I know that there are Free men among you who, even if they could better
their condition, are not as much inclined to go out of the Country as
those who, being Slaves, could obtain their Freedom on this condition.
I suppose one of the principal difficulties in the way of colonization
is that the free colored man cannot see that his comfort would be
advanced by it. You may believe that you can live in Washington, or
elsewhere in the United States, the remainder of your life; perhaps more
so than you can in any foreign country, and hence you may come to the
conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a
foreign country.

“This is, (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the
case. But you ought to do something to help those who are not so
fortunate as yourselves. There is an unwillingness on the part of our
People, harsh as it may be, for you free Colored people to remain with
us. Now if you could give a start to the White people you would open a
wide door for many to be made free. If we deal with those who are not
free at the beginning, and whose intellects are clouded by Slavery, we
have very poor material to start with.

“If intelligent Colored men, such as are before me, could move in this
matter, much might be accomplished. It is exceedingly important that we
have men at the beginning capable of thinking as White men, and not
those who have been systematically oppressed. There is much to
encourage you.

“For the sake of your race you should sacrifice something of your
present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the
White people. It is a cheering thought throughout life, that something
can be done to ameliorate the condition of those who have been subject
to the hard usages of the World. It is difficult to make a man
miserable while he feels he is worthy of himself and claims kindred to
the great God who made him.

“In the American Revolutionary War, sacrifices were made by men engaged
in it, but they were cheered by the future. General Washington himself
endured greater physical hardships than if he had remained a British
subject, yet he was a happy man, because he was engaged in benefiting
his race, in doing something for the children of his neighbors, having
none of his own.

“The Colony of Liberia has been in existence a long time. In a certain
sense it is a success. The old President of Liberia, Roberts, has just
been with me the first time I ever saw him. He says they have, within
the bounds of that Colony, between three and four hundred thousand
people, or more than in some of our old States, such as Rhode Island, or
Delaware, or in some of our newer States, and less than in some of our
larger ones. They are not all American colonists or their descendants.
Something less than 12,000 have been sent thither from this Country.
Many of the original settlers have died, yet, like people elsewhere,
their offspring outnumber those deceased.

“The question is, if the Colored people are persuaded to go anywhere,
why not there? One reason for unwillingness to do so is that some of
you would rather remain within reach of the country of your nativity. I
do not know how much attachment you may have toward our race. It does
not strike me that you have the greatest reason to love them. But still
you are attached to them at all events.

“The place I am thinking about having for a colony, is in Central
America. It is nearer to us than Liberia–not much more than one-fourth
as far as Liberia, and within seven days’ run by steamers. Unlike
Liberia, it is a great line of travel–it is a highway. The country is
a very excellent one for any people, and with great natural resources
and advantages, and especially because of the similarity of climate with
your native soil, thus being suited to your physical condition.

“The particular place I have in view, is to be a great highway from the
Atlantic or Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, and this particular
place has all the advantages for a colony. On both sides there are
harbors among the finest in the World. Again, there is evidence of very
rich coal mines. A certain amount of coal is valuable in any country.
Why I attach so much importance to coal is, it will afford an
opportunity to the inhabitants for immediate employment till they get
ready to settle permanently in their homes.

“If you take colonists where there is no good landing, there is a bad
show; and so, where there is nothing to cultivate, and of which to make
a farm. But if something is started so that you can get your daily
bread as soon as you reach there, it is a great advantage. Coal land is
the best thing I know of, with which to commence an enterprise.

“To return–you have been talked to upon this subject, and told that a
speculation is intended by gentlemen who have an interest in the
country, including the coal mines. We have been mistaken all our lives
if we do not know Whites, as well as Blacks, look to their self-
interest. Unless among those deficient of intellect, everybody you
trade with makes something. You meet with these things here and
everywhere. If such persons have what will be an advantage to them, the
question is, whether it cannot be made of advantage to you?

“You are intelligent, and know that success does not as much depend on
external help, as on self-reliance. Much, therefore, depends upon
yourselves. As to the coal mines, I think I see the means available for
your self-reliance. I shall, if I get a sufficient number of you
engaged, have provision made that you shall not be wronged. If you will
engage in the enterprise, I will spend some of the money intrusted to
me. I am not sure you will succeed. The Government may lose the money,
but we cannot succeed unless we try; but we think, with care, we can

“The political affairs in Central America are not in quite as
satisfactory condition as I wish. There are contending factions in that
quarter; but it is true, all the factions are agreed alike on the
subject of colonization, and want it; and are more generous than we are
here. To your Colored race they have no objection. Besides, I would
endeavor to have you made equals, and have the best assurance that you
should be the equals of the best.

“The practical thing I want to ascertain is, whether I can get a number
of able-bodied men, with their wives and children, who are willing to
go, when I present evidence of encouragement and protection. Could I
get a hundred tolerably intelligent men, with their wives and children,
and able to ‘cut their own fodder’ so to speak? Can I have fifty? If I
could find twenty-five able-bodied men, with a mixture of women and
children–good things in the family relation, I think I could make a
successful commencement.

“I want you to let me know whether this can be done or not. This is the
practical part of my wish to see you. These are subjects of very great
importance–worthy of a month’s study, of a speech delivered in an hour.
I ask you, then, to consider seriously, not as pertaining to yourselves
merely, nor for your race, and ours, for the present time, but as one of
the things, if successfully managed, for the good of mankind–not
confined to the present generation, but as:

“From age to age descends the lay
To millions yet to be,
Till far its echoes roll away
Into eternity.”‘

President Lincoln’s well-meant colored colonization project, however,
fell through, owing partly to opposition to it in Central America, and
partly to the very natural and deeply-rooted disinclination of the
Colored free men to leave the land of their birth.

Meanwhile, limited Military Emancipation of Slaves was announced and
regulated, on the 22d July, 1862, by the following Executive
Instructions, which were issued from the War Department by order of the
President–the issue of which was assigned by Jefferson Davis as one
reason for his Order of August 1, 1862, directing “that the commissioned
officers of Pope’s and Steinwehr’s commands be not entitled, when
captured, to be treated as soldiers and entitled to the benefit of the
cartel of exchange:”
“WASHINGTON, D.C., July 22, 1862.

“First. Ordered that Military Commanders within the States of Virginia,
North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana,
Texas, and Arkansas, in an orderly manner seize and use any property,
real or personal, which may be necessary or convenient for their several
commands, for supplies, or for other Military purposes; and that while
property may be destroyed for proper Military objects, none shall be
destroyed in wantonness or malice.

“Second. That Military and Naval Commanders shall employ as laborers,
within and from said States, so many Persons of African descent as can
be advantageously used for Military or Naval purposes, giving them
reasonable wages for their labor.

“Third. That, as to both property, and Persons of African descent,
accounts shall be kept sufficiently accurate and in detail to show
quantities and amounts, and from whom both property and such Persons
shall have come, as a basis upon which compensation can be made in
proper cases; and the several departments of this Government shall
attend to and perform their appropriate parts towards the execution of
these orders.

“By Order of the President:

“Secretary of War.”
On the 9th of August, 1862, Major General McClellan promulgated the
Executive Order of July 22, 1862, from his Headquarters at Harrison’s
Landing, Va., with certain directions of his own, among which were the

“Inhabitants, especially women and children, remaining peaceably at
their homes, must not be molested; and wherever commanding officers find
families peculiarly exposed in their persons or property to marauding
from this Army, they will, as heretofore, so far as they can do with
safety and without detriment to the service, post guards for their

“In protecting private property, no reference is intended to Persons
held to service or labor by reason of African Descent. Such Persons
will be regarded by this Army, as they heretofore have been, as
occupying simply a peculiar legal status under State laws, which
condition the Military authorities of the United States are not required
to regard at all in districts where Military operations are made
necessary by the rebellious action of the State governments.

“Persons subject to suspicion of hostile purposes, residing or being
near our Forces, will be, as heretofore, subject to arrest and
detention, until the cause or necessity is removed. All such arrested
parties will be sent, as usual, to the Provost-Marshal General, with a
statement of the facts in each case.

“The General Commanding takes this occasion to remind the officers and
soldiers of this Army that we are engaged in supporting the Constitution
and the Laws of the United States and suppressing Rebellion against
their authority; that we are not engaged in a War of rapine, revenge, or
subjugation; that this is not a contest against populations, but against
armed forces and political organizations; that it is a struggle carried
on with the United States, and should be conducted by us upon the
highest principles known to Christian civilization.

“Since this Army commenced active operations, Persons of African
descent, including those held to service or labor under State laws, have
always been received, protected, and employed as laborers at wages.
Hereafter it shall be the duty of the Provost-Marshal General to cause
lists to be made of all persons of African descent employed in this Army
as laborers for Military purposes–such lists being made sufficiently
accurate and in detail to show from whom such persons shall have come.

“Persons so subject and so employed have always understood that after
being received into the Military service of the United States, in any
capacity, they could never be reclaimed by their former holders. Except
upon such understanding on their part, the order of the President, as to
this class of Persons, would be inoperative. The General Commanding
therefore feels authorized to declare to all such employees, that they
will receive permanent Military protection against any compulsory return
to a condition of servitude.”

Public opinion was now rapidly advancing, under the pressure of Military
necessity, and the energetic efforts of the immediate Emancipationists,
to a belief that Emancipation by Presidential Proclamation would be wise
and efficacious as an instrumentality toward subduing the Rebellion;
that it must come, sooner or later–and the sooner, the better.

Indeed, great fault was found, by some of these, with what they
characterized as President Lincoln’s “obstinate slowness” to come up to
their advanced ideas on the subject. He was even accused of failing to
execute existing laws touching confiscation of Slaves of Rebels coming
within the lines of the Union Armies. On the 19th of August, 1862, a
letter was addressed to him by Horace Greeley which concluded thus:

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