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he said, "if those who come from the section of the country in which I reside should be a little sensitive at anything which proposes, as this amendment does, an act of emancipation, however limited and qualified. That is my objection to it. Besides, I think it will be brutum fulmen. Nothing will come of it but more of that irritation of which it is my earnest prayer there shall be as little as possible. I think it is the part of statesmen, in managing the concerns of the country at this dreadful crisis, to observe all possible toleration, all conciliation, all liberality; not looking merely at the events of the day, but at the great events that may crowd upon us for years, and upon which the fate of the country, for weal or for woe, may depend for a century. I am not insensible to the magnitude of this occasion. I look at all its aspects, and at all the consequences which may result from that which is now in progress. No man deplores it more deeply than I do. No man sought more earnestly to shun it. I only ask now, that this measure, which cannot be of any very active force, may not be adopted; because it will only add one more to the irritations which are already exasperating the country to far too great an extent. It will inflame suspicions which have had much to do with producing our present evils; will disturb those who are now calm and quiet, inflame those who are restless, irritate numbers who would not be exasperated by anything else; and will, in all probability, produce no other real effect than these. Being, then, useless, unnecessary, and irritating, it is, in my opinion, unwise."
The amendment was then adopted by a vote of thirty-three to six, and the bill as thus amended passed the Senate.
It was reported in the House by Mr. Bingham of Ohio, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, with an amendment in the form of a substitute. The substitute was, however, rejected, and the bill as it passed the Senate was before the House. This bill, said Mr. Bingham, "is a sweeping declaration, 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 notwithstanding."
To the charge of Mr. Burnett of Kentucky that it was tantamount "to a wholesale emancipation of the slaves in the seceding and rebellious States," Mr. Bingham replied that no just court would ever so construe it, should it become a law. "By the express words of the bill," he said, "it is limited in its effect to those persons who themselves, by their own direct acts, for the purpose of overturning the powers of the government, employ, or consent that others employ, the services of slaves to that end. I aver that a traitor should not only forfeit his slaves, but he should forfeit his life as well." The bill was strenuously opposed by Mr. Crittenden of Kentucky, who had then become a member of the House. "It has been conceded," he said, " in all time that the Congress of the United States had no power to legislate upon the subject of slavery within the States. Absence of all power of legislation in time of peace must be the absence of the same power at all times. You have no power, by your Constitution, to touch slavery at all."
To the arguments urged by Mr. McClernand, a Democratic member from Illinois, and Mr. Kellogg, a Republican of the same State, that a traitor could forfeit his claim to his slave equally as to his horse, "and yet not at all conflict with or abrogate the law that authorizes the holding of slaves," he replied, "If you have no power, there the question ends. Well, have you a power to legislate concerning a slave in Kentucky, as to his rights, present or future? Have you a right to impose any terms or conditions on the master, in time of peace, on which the slave shall be entitled to his liberty? ... This provision of the bill will be considered and interpreted abroad as assuring to Congress a power over slavery. If you can, on conditions, in time of war, abrogate and abolish slavery, it may be asked whether you cannot do it in time of peace, on similar conditions of supposed future crime? Are we in a condition now, gentlemen, to hazard
this momentous, irritating, agitating, revolutionary question? Is it politic to wage such a war as that? . . . . You know as well as I do the peculiar sensitiveness which exists upon the peculiar species of property to which this bill applies. I do not appear to speak for the cause of the slaveholder. I am here to plead for my country; and with an honest and sincere heart, with all the earnestness of my nature do I implore you to forego the passage of this bill, and to dismiss it from your deliberations. The eyes of the world are upon you. You are in the presence of events that will be of deeper interest in history than any that have occurred in a hundred years; of as great importance, it seems to me, as can occur to the human race." After reminding the House that the history of events and acts of which they were then the "active agents" would be "written by an impartial hand," he implored its members to act their part "like men," and give their enemies "no pretext for misrepresenting the purposes and objects of this war," and added, "We have declared that this war is not for the subjugation of the South, not for the overthrow of slavery, nor for the overthrow of their social institutions, but simply for the noble purposes of restoring our country and preserving the Union. That is our object. Let the means with which we pursue that object be as noble and elevated as the object itself. Let us raise ourselves to that high level."
It was a new question, and Republicans, while admitting the importance of wrenching from the Rebels this source of strength which the slaves were so unexpectedly showing themselves to be, were not agreed as to the best method of reaching such a result. These views were thus expressed by Mr. Diven of New York. "I may be asked," he said, "what would you do with negroes taken in actual arms against the country? What would you do with negroes found employed in building ships-of-war, fighting battles against the country, rearing fortifications from which shots are to be fired on the soldiers of the Union? Why, sir, I would treat them as men in arms against the country. I would treat them as prisoners of war. Then I admit that a question, entirely novel in the usages of war, at once occurs. You have then got a species of men as prisoners
whom the usages of war, in no place that I have ever seen, treat as such. I proposed in committee, as a substitute for this bill, to relieve the government and the war-power of the country from the attitude in which the seizure of these men thus employed against the government would place them, by providing the simple penalty, that any man taken in arms against the government is taken as a prisoner of war, . . . whatever his complexion. Afterward, when you come to determine on an exchange of prisoners, you can determine on what terms they shall be released."
In response not only to the argument of the Southern Unionists, but to the hesitating policy advocated and represented by Mr. Diven, Thaddeus Stevens replied with his usual directness and force. "When a country," he said, " is in open war with an enemy, every publicist agrees that you have the right to use every means which will weaken him. Vattel says, that in time of war, if it be a just war, and there be a people who have been oppressed by the enemy, and that enemy be conquered, the victorious party cannot return that oppressed people to the bondage from which they have rescued them. I wish gentlemen would read what Vattel says upon this subject. I wish the gentleman from New York, especially, would read the remark of Vattel, that one of the most glorious consequences of victory is giving freedom to those who are oppressed." "I agree to it," replied Mr. Diven. "Then how is it," asked Mr. Stevens, "that if we are justified in taking property from the enemy in war, when you have rescued an oppressed people from the oppression of that enemy, by what principle of the law of nations, by what principle of philanthropy, can you return them to the bondage from which you have delivered them, and rivet again the chains you have once broken? It is a disgrace to the party which advocates it. It is against the principle of the law of nations. It is against every principle of philanthropy. I, for one, shall never shrink from saying, when these slaves are once conquered by us, 'Go and be free.' God forbid that I should ever agree that they should be restored again to their masters! I warn Southern gentlemen, that, if this war is to continue, there
will be a time when my friend from New York will see it de clared by this free nation, that every bondman in the Southbelonging to a Rebel; recollect, I confine it to them shall be called upon to aid us in war against their masters, and to restore this Union." To a question of Mr. Logan of Illinois, how they who had taken an oath to support the Constitution could rightfully violate that oath, even though Rebels had vacated their rights under that Constitution by their treason, Mr. Stevens replied: "The law of nations is plain to those who have read it, on this point. The law established in the days of Cicero, Inter arma silent leges, is a law that has been in force down to the present time; and any nation which dis regards that law is a poor, pusillanimous nation, which submits its neck to be struck off by the enemy."
On motion of Mr. Pendleton the bill was recommitted. But it was immediately reported again, substantially the same, though slightly amended, the gist of the amendment being expressed in the closing clause to the effect that "whenever thereafter the person claiming such labor or service shall seek to enforce his claim, it shall be a full and sufficient answer to such claim, that the person whose service or labor is claimed had been employed in hostile service against the government of the United States, contrary to the provisions of this act." Thus amended, notwithstanding several dilatory motions, the Senate bill for "making free slaves used by Rebel forces" passed the House by a vote of sixty to forty-eight, and received the approval of the President on the 6th of August. Such was the beginning of the end, and it did become, in the words of Mr. Breckinridge, the first "of a series of measures loosing all bonds."