Harper's Weekly 12/07/1861


Several of the newspapers are worrying
themselves about the slavery question, some of
them insisting that our generals shall forthwith
proceed to emancipate the slaves, while others
demand that slavery, alone of Southern interests,
shall be shielded from damage during the war.

Surely this discussion is irrelevant and idle at
this time. Events alone can shape the course
of the war, including its bearing on the institu-
tion of slavery. It is out of the power of the
President or of his generals to determine the
nature and extent of the changes which the war
must produce in Southern society, Southern in-
stitutions, and Southern interests. We began
the war with protests against the employment of
slaves, and our generals uniformly returned fugi-
tives to their masters. There has been no au-
thoritative announcement of a change of policy;
but no United States general, with the single ex-
ception of General Halleck (who stands precise-
ly where M`Clellan, Heintzelman, and the others
stood three months ago), now tolerates slave-
hunting in his camp. Military necessity has
compelled them all to welcome information
brought in by fugitive slaves, and labor wrought
by black as well as white hands. Surely after
such a beginning the enemies of slavery can
afford to let time and Providence work undis-

It is nonsense to talk of emancipating the
slaves by decree, or proclamation of any thing
of the kind. You must first catch your hare.
The bulk of the Southern people thoroughly be-
lieve that our Government and our army are
abolitionists. A decree of emancipation would
not surprise them or add to their dangers.
They are acting as though it had been already
promulgated. They would laugh at a paper
decree of emancipation, and it would have no
more effect than Frémont'sBrutum fulmen, or
the paper blockades of old. In effect, wherever
our armies penetrate emancipation becomes a
fact, from the military necessities of the case;
where rebel bayonets rule slavery thrives despite
all we may say or publish to the contrary.

The changes already wrought by events in
the policy of our generals with regard to Slav-
ery are instructive. General M`Clellan is un-
derstood to have been a Douglas man, and en-
tered Virginia with a proclamation announcing
his tender regard for the peculiar institution.
He has since discovered that the most reliable
information he can get comes from fugitives
slaves, and slave-hunters don't succeed, about
these times, in finding him at home. General
Heintzelman, before Bull Run, was a stout de-
fender of slavery; but when he was placed in
command of the most exposed division of the
army on Accotink Creek, facing Beauregard, a
proper concern for his division produced a won-
derful change in his views. Slaves are received
with open arms at his camp, and their informa-
tion has proved most useful. General Heint-
zelman is wise enough to know that a slave
may bring him news which may save the whole
army. Virginian slave-owners complain bit-
terly of his growing tendency toward abolition-
ism. General Halleck is destined to go through
the same improving education. When he finds
himself on the march, within ten miles of the
enemy, and it is a matter of life and death for
him to know the enemy's force and intentions,
he will reconsider the order which now excludes
fugitive slaves from his camp for fear they should
run back into slavery. Necessity is a most suc-
cessful schoolmaster.

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