Lincoln Proposes Compensated Emancipation and Grant’s Fortunes Take an Ominous Turn

An example of a petition for emancipation from Washington D.C. Lincoln floated the idea of compensating slave owners in return for freedom granted in March. The act was in effect as of April 1862. In this case, a slave named Sophia was petitioned for release.

By Gary Farrow, member of the Danville Historical Society

Grant’s victories at Fort Henry and Donelson darkens festivities in the southern capital. The War Department sees peace dawn over Tennessee. Lincoln floats the idea of compensated emancipation. The First Vermont Calvary was itch’n to fight. And despite his success in the field, Grant lands in hot water.

North Star 1 March

General News Items

Jefferson Davis was officially inaugerated in Richmond as President of the Southern Confederacy.

Jeff Davis, President of the bogus Southern Confederacy, was inaugurated at Richmond, last Saturday. Col Wood (one of the recently returned federal prisoners) was present and says there was no enthusiasm whatever. Not a cheer to be raised.

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According to the eyewitness, the ceremony went flat while a leading southern paper sounded an even darker note.

North Star March 1. 1862

Speaking Out

The Richmond Whig of last Friday has a bitter article on the Davis Administration. It says “Judging by the results so far, it is the most lamentable failure in history, and the most single service it can now render is the surrender of the nation to abler and better hands. In view of the past, present, and probable future, the pageant of tomorrow is a bitter mockery, and a miserable compensation for the ruin of a free people….

… Jeff. Davis has appointed Feb 28th as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.

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Of course the news from Henry and Donelson had the opposite effect in the North.

North Star March 8, 1862

The Rebels Still Retreating

New York, March 3 – The Times Washington despatch states … the rebels are in full retreat toward the Tennessee River. Crossing the river will place them in Alabama, and free middle Tennessee of every armed rebel force. In as much as the enemy retreat along a railroad line and are tearing up as they pass, it will be difficult for General Buell to catch them.

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North Star March 8, 1862

Provisional Government of Tennessee

Washington, March 2 – Official information to the War Department from Nashville represents that the military work in the state is almost completed, and that it only remains to effect a civil reorganization State Government…The rebels forces under Albert Sidney Johnston are being steadily pressed by General Buell …

…The President has designated Hon. Andrew Johnson to be Brigadier, and he proceeds to Tennessee tomorrow to open a military provisional government until the civil government can be reconstructed.

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News suggesting the reestablishment of order in Tennessee was premature. The state would be second only to Virginia in the number of Civil War battles fought.

North Star March 15, 1862

A Message from the President

HE PROPOSES COMPENSATED EMANCIPATION

To Fellow Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives

I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honorable bodies which shall substantially be as follows:

Resolved, That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolition of slavery giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.

…The federal government would find its highest interest in such a measure as one of the most efficient means of self preservation…

Such a proposition on the part of the General Government sets up no claim of right by the Federal authority to interfere with slavery within the State limits, referring as it does the absolute control of the subject in each case to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them.

In the annual message last December, I thought fit to say, “The Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensible means must be employed” … A practical re-acknowledgement of the national authority would render the war unnecessary and it would at once cease…

… While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important results …

Signed,

A Lincoln.

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Compensated emancipation was not a new idea; England had paid Spain and Portugal to cease slave trading in the early 1800s. In the US instance, the idea was to compensate slave holders for the loss of their investment.

Lincoln’s letter suggests what a thorny problem slavery was. From a Constitutional perspective, President Lincoln saw the determination to outlaw human bondage as a state rights issue. Although Lincoln personally believed blacks deserved an equal chance at life, he made no moral argument and could not afford to be too far out in front of Northern sentiment. This piece of public correspondence helped him gauge popular support on the slave issue. The concept of compensated emancipation itself would never go anywhere; however, it was an important prequel for what was to come.

Though his Emancipation Proclamation issued under his war powers in 1863, Lincoln would eventually declare the slaves in the Confederacy free. After the War, the United States would explicitly outlaw slavery by ratifying the thirteenth amendment.

Meanwhile the Vermont Cavalry wanted its fair share of glory.

North Star March 15, 1862

The following letter from an officer of the Vt.Cavalry …

Correspondence of the North Star

From the Vt. Cavalry Regiment

Camp Harris, March 1, 1862

Mr. Editor: –

Thinking perhaps that a few lines might not be uninteresting to the readers of your paper who have friends in the First Vermont Cavalry, I have taken the liberty thus to address you… Camp Harris … is located on a tobacco plantation, where there are ample grounds for drill, about three miles from Annapolis… A recent survey of the harbor here, shows that it may contain over three hundred vessels… and it is understood that number will immediately rendezvous here.

The health of the men composing this regiment is for the most part very good. Only three deaths have occurred since the regiment was organized over five months ago – [a] fact that speaks highly of the material of which it is composed, as well as the attention that is bestowed upon feeding and clothing it…

…So there is a probability of going on an expedition South…The boys who have expressed their fears since our recent victories, that they should have to go home without a fight, may yet have a chance to display their courage.

Yours truly,

Onward

North Star March 22 1862

The Cincinnati Gazette says that Gen Grant has asked to be relieved of his command as trouble exists between him and his generals.

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It almost came to pass.

One would think that success on the battlefield would breed teamwork among the generals. Instead it set off a round of political infighting that almost got Grant arrested.

General Halleck, Grant's superior, to whom Grant was to report.

It started after Donelson when General Henry Halleck, Grant’s commanding officer, did not receive any follow up communication from the newly promoted Major General. Hounded by the press for information he did not have and fit to be tied, Halleck bought into the rumors about Grant’s drinking and surmised that he was on a bender.

Halleck wrote General McClellan, head of the army, requesting permission to censure Grant. McClellan told Halleck to arrest his potential rival if he felt “ The good of the service required it.” Halleck then ordered Grant to “remain yourself to Fort Henry.”

General Halleck, Grant's superior, to whom Grant was to report.

It was at this point that Grant requested that he be relieved of his command. However, it was discovered that Grant’s reports after Donelson had not been telegraphed to Halleck, because the operator had deserted, taking the reports with him. Halleck subsequently changed his aggressive stance towards Grant telling him. “Instead of relieving you, I wish you …to assume command and lead it to new victories.”

After the incident, the principals resumed their wary cooperation.

 

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