**Author’s NOTE: This short paper was written for a client for their school paper in a college course entitled The Civil War and Reconstruction Fall 2021.
The Emancipation of slavery was certainly a wartime measure– both the Union and Confederacy used enslaved and free Negro enlistedmen to pursue a tactical advantage. Although certainly some Confederates abhored the idea of employing Negros in the war on either side– Howell Cobb, writing to Hon. James Seddon, pled “you cannot make soldiers of slaves, nor slaves of soldiers,” rationalising that, once Negros were made soldiers, “your white soldiers would be lost to you (Cobb’s Letter to Secratary of War, 1865),”– it is possible that the Confederacy saw the strength of the enslaved as a benefit in overpowering the Union forces; perhaps, in kind, the Union saw their forces bolstered by the strength of freed Negroes encouraged by the desire to see their kinsmen freed as well. If freed Negroes enlisted to fight for the cause of the Union, it seemed logical to conclude they would fight even more valiantly because of their vested interest in the anticipation of freedom of the rest of their Race. it is important here to note the anticipation of National Emancipation of the Negro collective because, in truth, it could very well be seen that Emancipation of Southern or Confederate-state slaves was indeed a Machiavellian tactic of war as, in truth and in fact, slavery continued after the Civil War in Union-controlled states and in Northern states.
In the Confederacy, the Southerners saw the strength of the Negroes as both a justification for slavery, and a means to win the war to prove their supremacy. Therefore, they had justified slavery because the Negroes were viewed as stronger physicall. Thus, in this view, they were all the more suitable for the rigors of plantation slavery that boosted Southern economy and wealth. It seemed their aim, by controlling them through slavery by essentially forcing them to fight for the cause of their Masters, to want to prove that the strength of the Negroes could benefit America greatly if enslaved and, if not, that same strength could be used by them to bring the entire Nation to ruin for vengeance and their presumed stereotypical “savagery.”
Abraham Lincoln, in his Letter to Conkling, very directly endorsed and encouraged the use of the Negro forces in war, despite Conkling’s apparant dissatisfaction with the prospect. As a “servant of the people,” Lincoln writes impassionedly about the necessity of the enlistment of Negroes to increase the odds of a Union victory. This was perhaps Lincoln conceding that the enrollment of Negroes to Union armed forces would give them a sense of pride. Indeed, more importantly, this would seem to cause them to “cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his resistence [sic] (Lincoln’s Letter to Conkling).”
Overall, it seems clear that, for Lincoln, the emancipation of Confederate states’ slaves served as great incentive. As “punishment” perhaps for Confederate states’ secession, the emancipation of their slaves weakened them financially and politically. The emancipation of Confederate states’ slaves also served to incentivise them to– having been freed– enlist in the Union to fight for their Race. This clearly was a strategy to weaken the Confederacy, the “enemy” of the Union– Lincoln’s true goal. Although declaring he would “wish that all men could be free, (Lincoln’s Letter to Conkling)” we must note carefully that he did not definitively declare all men should be free. Indeed, the slaves which Lincoln’s Proclamation made free only served to free them as “contraband of war” to tactical advantage. Thus, indeed, the Emancipation of some of the Nation’s slaves– clearly, only the slaves of the Rebellious states that had seceded– was a wartime measure. Therefore this approach was a means, it seemed, justified by its ends– the ultimate goal of re-unifying The United States.
Emancipation seemed only a way to punish the Southern states for secession. The Southern Confederate states had seceded from the Union, a decision which they had initiated with Constitutional free choice. This rebellion was enacted in order to free themselves from the North’s imposition of values that undermined the economic advantage of Southern wealth. Even the ⅗’s clause in the Constitution, counting Negroes as ⅗’s of a human being, gave the Southern states advantage of representation in Congress due to the large numbers of Negroes in their populace, which generally threatened the North’s– and the Northern Republicans’– political power.
Lincoln himself firmly adhered to Constitutional Law. The Constitution did not give the federal government right or reach of power to abolish slavery in all states. In fact, the Constitution only granted the power to prohibit the establishment of slavery in newly acuired Western territories. In addition, as Commander-in-Chief– an explicitly military position granted the President– he was able to abolish slavery, as a pointedly military justification, in states in rebellion against the Union that threatened the security of the Nation as a whole.
Indeed, the Emancipation of slaves in Confederate states was a form of martial law. Martial law is a measure that the President, as military Commander-in-Chief, could implement to protect the Nation in times of rebellion and terrorism. The secession of Southern states was thus seen as rebellion and, in more modern terms, akin to local terrorism, an uprising that threatened the United States security as a whole. This, it seems, is the grave warning implicit in Lincoln’s famous invocation of the Biblical proverbs of Solomon in which “A House Divided Cannot Stand” was proclaimed at the Illinois State Convention in June 1858. The sagacity of this paraphrased quote from the Bible was a warning that the Southern states could possibly overthrow the Federal government and the Presidency from within, creating a “Nation within a Nation” of sorts. This rebellion had to be quelled, lest other States follow suit and enact their own terroristic rebellions for any manner of reasons. Thus, the secession and the Confederacy had to be made an example of, a weighty decision that fell squarely on the shoulders of Lincoln as President.
Lincoln’s General John C. Fremont to liberties to implementing strict martial law in Missouri, a state which, along with Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky, comprised the “border states” that did not secede but were “sympathisers” with the rebellious or terroristic Confederate states. This imposition meant that, when the soon-to-be Emancipated slaves of Confederate states ran across state lines to the sympathising border states, which still legally were allowed to own and hold slaves, those border states were unable to benefit from the Fugitive Slave Act by returning runaway slaves to their owners for large sums of money. This martial law also meant that the property– including, of course, enslaved Negroes– of Confederate-sympathetic states could be seized and, as property, used by the Union in war.
Although Lincoln later lifted the martial law implemented under Fremont and stripped him of his title, runaways and soon-to-be Emancipated slaves that fled Confederate states to Union-controlled military embassies in the South were to be considered “Contraband of war” and would not be returned to Confederate states under the Fugitive Slave Act. As human “contraband,” these Negroes weren’t necessarily any more “free” than those still enslaved in Confederate or Union states– they were now used as tools of war. When war breaks out between two factions, and one, overpowered, has their arms and utilities confiscated, the opposing force generally uses those seized weapons and vehicles to their advantage in other battles. Likewise, the “contraband” Negroes were– still dehumanised in a sense– used as weapons to give the Union vast advantage to win the war overall.
Lincoln was a shrewd military commander more than a great sympathiser to the cause of the Negro. He very pointedly expressed his primary motivation was preserving the Union of the Nation, not sympathisisng with the brutal plight of enslaved African-Americans. This, in fact, was a perspective for which he was greatly criticised by abolitionists. Continuing to display his prowess in war strategy, he proposed two revolutionary Acts that were subsequently passed by Congress: the Militia Act and the Confiscation Act. The Militia Act permitted Negro men to serve for the Union in armed forces as laborers, although often relegated to more harrowing front lines positions, bearing the bulk of the terrors of combat, though without the reward of being considered military heroes, their efforts often overlooked and all but written out of the history/ies of the Civil war’s victors (typically the white Union Generals were remembered valiantly). The Confiscation Act cleverly undermined Southern power by permitting the permanent freedom of enslaved Negroes confiscated from the aforementioned border sympathiser states. By these two Acts, Lincoln was indeed poised to win the Civil War for the Union “by any means necessary,” to quote, with relished irony– the great Malcolm X/El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, an Honored descendant of the very slaves whose lives were used as pawns in the white Nation’s war.
Whether most Negroes knew or cared if they were used as pawns in Lincoln’s war or not, there were clearly some who could discern the calculated effort to use them as property on both sides of the war for the agenda of each. Negro abolitionists like Frederick Douglass saw Negro enlistment as advantageous nonetheless. In Frederick Douglass’ editorial, “Men of Color, to Arms!”, he eloquently implores his fellow Negros to “fly to arms, and smite with death the power that would bury the Government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave (Douglass, “A Call To Arms,” 1863).”
**Words written by Gloria C. Steele, commissioned by client, submitted December 2, 2021 at 1:44pm
**Instructions for, and images used as referenced/cited within the essay, are attached below: