The Great Conspiracy

And this Act of, the Rebel Congress was passed only forty days before
the fiendish massacre of the Union Whites and Blacks who together, at
Fort Pillow, were performing for the Union, “such duties with the Army,”
and “in connection with the Military defenses of the Country,” as had
been prescribed for them by their Commanding General!

Under any circumstances–and especially under this state of facts–
nothing could excuse or palliate that shocking and disgraceful and
barbarous crime against humanity; and the human mind is incapable of
understanding how such savagery can be accounted for, except upon the
theory that “He that nameth Rebellion nameth not a singular, or one only
sin, as is theft, robbery, murder, and such like; but he nameth the
whole puddle and sink of all sins against God and man; against his
country, his countrymen, his children, his kinsfolk, his friends, and
against all men universally; all sins against God and all men heaped
together, nameth he that nameth Rebellion.”

The inconsistency of the Rebels, in getting insanely and murderously
furious over the arming of Negroes for the defense of the imperiled
Union and the newly gained liberties of the Black Race, when they had
themselves already armed some of them and made them fight to uphold the
Slave-holders’ Rebellion and the continued Enslavement of their race, is
already plain enough.

[The writer is indebted to the courtesy of a prominent South
Carolinian, for calling his attention to the “Singular coincidence,
that a South Carolinian should have proposed in 1778, what was
executed in 1863-64–the arming of Negroes for achieving their
Freedom”–as shown in the following very curious and interesting
letters written by the brave and gifted Colonel John Laurens, of
Washington’s staff, to his distinguished father:

HEAD QUARTERS, 14th Jan., 1778.

I barely hinted to you, my dearest father, my desire to augment the
Continental forces from an untried source. I wish I had any
foundation to ask for an extraordinary addition to those favours
which I have already received from you. I would solicit you to
cede me a number of your able bodied men slaves, instead of leaving
me a fortune.

I would bring about a two-fold good; first I would advance those
who are unjustly deprived of the rights of mankind to a state which
would be a proper gradation between abject slavery and perfect
liberty, and besides I would reinforce the defenders of liberty
with a number of gallant soldiers. Men, who have the habit of
subordination almost indelibly impressed on them, would have one
very essential qualification of soldiers. I am persuaded that if I
could obtain authority for the purpose, I would have a corps of
such men trained, uniformly clad, equip’d and ready in every
respect to act at the opening of the next campaign. The ridicule
that may be thrown on the color, I despise, because I am sure of
rendering essential service to my country.

I am tired of the languor with which so sacred a war as this is
carried on. My circumstances prevent me from writing so long a
letter as I expected and wish’d to have done on a subject which I
have much at heart. I entreat you to give a favorable answer to
Your most affectionate

The Honble Henry Laurens Esq.
President of Congress.
HEAD QUARTERS, 2nd Feb., 1778.

My Dear Father:

The more I reflect upon the difficulties and delays which are
likely to attend the completing our Continental regiments, the more
anxiously is my mind bent upon the scheme, which I lately
communicated to you. The obstacles to the execution of it had
presented themselves to me, but by no means appeared
insurmountable. I was aware of having that monstrous popular
prejudice, open-mouthed against me, of undertaking to transform
beings almost irrational, into well disciplined soldiers, of being
obliged to combat the arguments, and perhaps the intrigues, of
interested persons. But zeal for the public service, and an ardent
desire to assert the rights of humanity, determined me to engage in
this arduous business, with the sanction of your consent. My own
perseverance, aided by the countenance of a few virtuous men, will,
I hope, enable me to accomplish it.

You seem to think, my dear father, that men reconciled by long
habit to the miseries of their condition, would prefer their
ignominious bonds to the untasted sweets of liberty, especially
when offer’d upon the terms which I propose.

I confess, indeed, that the minds of this unhappy species must be
debased by a servitude, from which they can hope for no relief but
death, and that every motive to action but fear, must be nearly
extinguished in them. But do you think they are so perfectly
moulded to their state as to be insensible that a better exists?
Will the galling comparison between themselves and their masters
leave them unenlightened in this respect? Can their self love be
so totally annihilated as not frequently to induce ardent wishes
for a change?

You will accuse me, perhaps, my dearest friend, of consulting my
own feelings too much; but I am tempted to believe that this
trampled people have so much human left in them, as to be capable
of aspiring to the rights of men by noble exertions, if some friend
to mankind would point the road, and give them a prospect of
success. If I am mistaken in this, I would avail myself, even of
their weakness, and, conquering one fear by another, produce equal
good to the public. You will ask in this view, how do you consult
the benefit of the slaves? I answer, that like other men, they are
creatures of habit. Their cowardly ideas will be gradually
effaced, and they will be modified anew. Their being rescued from
a state of perpetual humiliation, and being advanced as it were, in
the scale of being, will compensate the dangers incident to their
new state.

The hope that will spring in each man’s mind, respecting his own
escape, will prevent his being miserable. Those who fall in battle
will not lose much; those who survive will obtain their reward.
Habits of subordination, patience under fatigues, sufferings and
privations of every kind, are soldierly qualifications, which these
men possess in an eminent degree.

Upon the whole, my dearest friend and father, I hope that my plan
for serving my country and the oppressed negro race will not appear
to you the chimera of a young mind, deceived by a false appearance
of moral beauty, but a laudable sacrifice of private interest, to
justice and the public good.

You say, that my resources would be small, on account of the
proportion of women and children. I do not know whether I am
right, for I speak from impulse, and have not reasoned upon the
matter. I say, altho’ my plan is at once to give freedom to the
negroes, and gain soldiers to the states; in case of concurrence, I
should sacrifice the former interest, and therefore we change the
women and children for able-bodied men. The more of these I could
obtain, the better; but forty might be a good foundation to begin

It is a pity that some such plan as I propose could not be more
extensively executed by public authority. A well-chosen body of
5,000 black men, properly officer’d, to act as light troops, in
addition to our present establishment, might give us decisive
success in the next campaign.

I have long deplored the wretched state of these men, and
considered in their history, the bloody wars excited in Africa, to
furnish America with slaves–the groans of despairing multitudes,
toiling for the luxuries of merciless tyrants.

I have had the pleasure of conversing with you, sometimes, upon the
means of restoring them to their rights. When can it be better
done, than when their enfranchisement may be made conducive to the
public good, and be modified, as not to overpower their weak minds?

You ask, what is the general’s opinion, upon this subject? He is
convinced, that the numerous tribes of blacks in the southern parts
of the continent, offer a resource to us that should not be
neglected. With respect to my particular plan, he only objects to
it, with the arguments of pity for a man who would be less rich
than he might be.

I am obliged, my dearest friend and father, to take my leave for
the present; you will excuse whatever exceptionable may have
escaped in the course of my letter, and accept the assurance of
filial love, and respect of

If, however, it be objected that the arming of Negroes by the Rebels was
exceptional and local, and, that otherwise, the Rebels always used their
volunteer or impressed Negro forces in work upon fortifications and
other unarmed Military Works, and never proposed using them in the clash
of arms, as armed soldiers against armed White men, the contrary is
easily proven.

In a message to the Rebel Congress, November 7, 1864, Jefferson Davis
himself, while dissenting at that time from the policy, advanced by
many, of “a general levy and arming of the Slaves, for the duty of
soldiers,” none the less declared that “should the alternative ever be
presented of subjugation, or of the employment of the Slave as a
soldier, there seems no reason to doubt what should then be our

In the meantime, however, he recommended the employment of forty
thousand Slaves as pioneer and engineer laborers, on the ground that
“even this limited number, by their preparatory training in intermediate
duties Would form a more valuable reserve force in case of urgency, than
threefold their number suddenly called from field labor; while a fresh
levy could, to a certain extent, supply their places in the special
service” of pioneer and engineer work; and he undertook to justify the
inconsistency between his present recommendation, and his past attitude,
by declaring that “A broad, moral distinction exists between the use of
Slaves as soldiers in defense of their homes, and the incitement of the
same persons to insurrection against their masters, for,” said he, “the
one is justifiable, if necessary; the other is iniquitous and unworthy
of a civilized people.”

So also, while a Bill for the arming of Slaves was pending before the
Rebel Congress early in 1865, General Robert E. Lee wrote, February
18th, from the Headquarters of the Rebel Armies, to Hon. E. Barksdale,
of the Rebel House of Representatives, a communication, in which, after
acknowledging the receipt of a letter from him of February 12th, “with
reference to the employment of Negroes as soldiers,” he said: “I think
the Measure not only expedient but necessary * * * in my opinion, the
Negroes, under proper circumstances, will make efficient soldiers. * *
* I think those who are employed, should be freed. It would be neither
just nor wise, in my opinion, to require them to remain as Slaves”–
thus, not only approving the employment of Black Slaves as soldiers, to
fight White Union men, but justifying their Emancipation as a reward for
Military service. And, a few days afterward, that Rebel Congress passed
a Bill authorizing Jefferson Davis to take into the Rebel Army as many
Negro Slaves “as he may deem expedient, for and during the War, to
perform Military service in whatever capacity he may direct,” and at the
same time authorizing General Lee to organize them as other “troops” are

[This Negro soldier Bill, according to McPherson’s Appendix, p.
611-612, passed both Houses, and was in these words:

A Bill to increase the Military Forces of the Confederate States.

“The Congress of the Confederate States of America do Enact, That
in order to provide additional forces to repel invasion, maintain
the rightful possession of the Confederate States, secure their
Independence and preserve their Institutions, the President be and
he is hereby authorized to ask for and accept from the owners of
Slaves the services of such number of able-bodied Negro men as he
may deem expedient for and during the War, to perform Military
service in whatever capacity he may direct.

“SEC. 2.–That the General-in-Chief be authorized to organize the
said Slaves into companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades,
under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of War may
prescribe, and to be commanded by such officers as the President
may appoint.

“SEC. 3.–That, while employed in the Service, the said troops
shall receive the same rations, clothing, and compensation as are
allowed to other troops in the same branch of the Service.

“SEC. 4.–That if, under the previous sections of this Act, the
President shall not be able to raise a sufficient number of troops
to prosecute the War successfully and maintain the Sovereignty of
the States, and the Independence of the Confederate States, then he
is hereby authorized to call on each State, whenever he thinks it
expedient, for her quota of 300,000 troops, in addition to those
subject to Military service, under existing laws, or so many
thereof as the President may deem necessary, to be raised from such
classes of the population, irrespective of color, in each State, as
the proper authorities thereof may determine: Provided, that not
more than 25 per cent. of the male Slaves, between the ages of 18
and 45, in any State, shall be called for under the provisions of
this Act.

“SEC. 5.–That nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize
a change in the relation of said Slaves.”] CHAPTER XXII.


After President Lincoln had issued his Proclamation of Emancipation, the
friends of Freedom clearly perceived–and none of them more clearly than
himselfthat until the incorporation of that great Act into the
Constitution of the United States itself, there could be no real
assurance of safety to the liberties of the emancipated; that unless
this were done there would be left, even after the suppression of the
Rebellion, a living spark of dissension which might at any time again be
fanned into the flames of Civil War.

Hence, at all proper times, Mr. Lincoln favored and even
urged Congressional action upon the subject. It was not, however, until
the following year that definite action may be said to have commenced in
Congress toward that end; and, as Congress was slow, he found it
necessary to say in his third Annual Message: “while I remain in my
present position I shall not attempt to retract or modify the
Emancipation Proclamation; nor shall I return to Slavery any person who
is Free by the terms of that Proclamation, or by any of the Acts of

Meantime, however, occurred the series of glorious
Union victories in the West, ending with the surrender to Grant’s
triumphant Forces on the 4th of July, 1863, of Vicksburg–“the Gibraltar
of the West”–with its Garrison, Army, and enormous quantities of arms
and munitions of war; thus closing a brilliant and successful Campaign
with a blow which literally “broke the back” of the Rebellion; while,
almost simultaneously, July 1-3, the Union Forces of the East, under
Meade, gained the great victory of Gettysburg, and, driving the hosts of
Lee from Pennsylvania, put a second and final end to Rebel invasion of
Northern soil; gaining it, on ground dedicated by President Lincoln,
before that year had closed–as a place of sepulture for the Patriot-
soldiers who there had fallenin a brief, touching and immortal Address,
which every American child should learn by heart, and every American
adult ponder deeply, as embodying the very essence of true

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