Slaves Contraband of War.
Professedly this is not a war for or against slavery. It is a senseless, aimless rebellion on the one part, and an effort to put down rebellion on the other. Our mighty armies are gathering for no purpose of abolition. Our enemies are not in arms to protect the peculiar institution. Yet, had there been no slavery in our country there would have been no rebellion. — It is only where the black man is toiling, unrecompensed, for the white man, that treason shows its horrid front. Why this is we will not now stop to consider. It is enough for our purpose to recognize the fact that Slavery and Treason now go hand in hand. There are many honorable individual exceptions to this rule, but the great mass of the slaveholders are in arms against the Federal Government. Not all of them in the ranks, to be sure, but acting as officers or in other ways aiding the work of treason. The slaveholders of the South, three hundred and fifty thousand in number, have it in their power to give peace to thirty millions of people: but, for some unknown purpose, they prefer to plunge the nation in civil strife. They are the direct cause of all loss of life and treasure in this war, and upon them should fall all the punishment that it is in the power of the Government to inflict. They are using their Slave property as an instrument of warfare against the Union. Their slaves dig trenches, erect fortifications, and bear arms. Slaves, in some instances, are organized into military companies to fight against the Government. Slaves are men, and yet, according to Southern law they are property. The Government has two ways to dispose of them. Hold them as prisoners of war, or seize them as property contraband of war, and, in either case, rightfully deprive their rebel masters of them. Prisoners of war can be set at liberty — property, seized as contraband of war is never returned. To deprive an enemy of the power to do harm is right, proper every way justifiable and called for by every consideration of safety. To punish treason is an imperative duty from which Government cannot, must not shrink. In our judgment it is the duty of the Government to deprive rebel slaveholders of the slave property that they are using against us, and to deprive them of it forever. Every patriotic man will take this common sense view of the case. We would deprive an enemy of firearms and never return them. Why not, for the same reason, deprive an enemy of a peculiar species of property that can use firearms, dig trenches, erect fortifications, make a charge, and scale walls? The United States, in times of war, has never cherished a sacred regard for the right of property in man. — In December, 1814, Old Hickory impressed a large number of slaves, and kept them at work in New Orleans on defenses, behind which his men won unfading laurels on the ever-glorious 8th of January. The masters remonstrated. Jackson paid no attention to them. Many of the slaves were killed by the enemy's shots. Jackson's action was approved by President Madison, and Congress has ever refused to pay the masters for their loss.
During the campaign in Florida, in 1838, Gen. Jessup captured many fugitive slaves among the Indians, and ordered them to be sent west of the Mississippi and set free. At New Orleans these fugitive slaves were claimed by their owners, but Gen. Gaines, commanding that Military District, refused to deliver them to the civil authorities, and ordered them sent to their destination.
The case of the slave Louis, who betrayed Major Dade's battallion, also belongs to this class. Pacheco, his master, claimed him, but Gen. Jessup would not give him up, and sent him West, where he became a free man, and is now fighting the Texans.
In 1838 Gen. Taylor captured numbers of fugitive slaves and refused to deliver them up on the ground that they were "prisoners of war." They, too, were set free.
In all cases, the masters were professedly friends of the Government; yet our Presidents and Cabinets and Generals have not hesitated to emancipate their slaves, whenever, in time of war, it was supposed to be for the interest of the country to do so. This was done in the exercise of the "war power." But no records of this nation, or of any other nation, will show an instance in which a fugitive slave has been sent back to his master who was in rebellion against the very government who held his slave as captive.
Every slave of a rebel master, that comes voluntarily to our camps, and every one that our Government can seize, should be used in this war in every way that they can be made serviceable, and at its close, should be set at liberty. We know that there are difficulties in the way of this course of action, but they can and must be surmounted.