Harper's Weekly 06/08/1861


Major-General Butler's refusal to surren-
der fugitive slaves to their masters, on the ground
that they are “contraband of war,” appears to
be equally sound in law and sensible in prac-
tice. He has established a precedent which
will probably be faithfully followed throughout
the war.

It can not be complained of by the South, for
it rests upon the cardinal principle of the Breck-
inridge party at the last election, that slaves are
property under United States law. If they are
property, the fact that they can be of service to
the enemy—like horses or carts—places them
at once in the list of articles which are “contra-
band of war.”

The practical effect of this decision will verify
the prediction uttered in this journal when the
war first broke out, namely, that, in one way or
another, actual hostilities would prove fatal to
the slave institution. The North has not sought
this result. The officer who establishes the
precedent was the Breckinridge candidate for
Governor in Massachusetts. It is the secession-
ist politicians who have rendered its adoption
unavoidable: if it is hard to bear, the South
must look to them for compensation.

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