Harper's Weekly 01/10/1863
BEFORE this paper is published the Presi-
dent will probably have issued his Procla-
mation offering freedom to all negro slaves res-
ident in localities which have not elected repre-
sentatives to Congress by a majority of legally
constituted voters. It is hoped by the Northern
partisans of slavery that the Proclamation will
be postponed or withheld altogether. But we
fail to discover any ground for the hope. What-
ever reasons led the President to issue the pre-
liminary Proclamation in September last apply
with equal force to the case as it stands at pres-
ent, and our recent reverses supply additional
motives for securing the active aid of 4,000,000
slaves, if it can be done.
The States and parts of States which will be
excepted from the operations of the Proclama-
tion will be the States of Delaware, Maryland,
Kentucky, and Missouri; the city of New Or-
leans, Louisiana; probably the cities of Mem-
phis and Nashville, Tennessee; the city of Nor-
folk, and the vicinity of Fortress Monroe, Vir-
ginia; and a strip on the sea-board of North
Carolina. Questions will doubtless arise as to
the strict right of such cities as New Orleans—
whose legally constituted voters are generally in
the rebel army—to avail themselves of the ben-
efits of the exceptional proviso in the Proclam-
ation. But the chances are that that act, if en-
forced at all, will be construed liberally.
Two questions suggest themselves to every
one's mind in connection with this Proclama-
tion. First, will it induce the negroes to run
away? and, secondly, what shall we do with
them if they do?
Opinions differ upon both these points; but
we imagine that most well-informed persons
will, with the President, doubt whether the issue
of the Proclamation will be followed by any gen-
eral exodus of the slaves. For a year or more
our armies have refused to return fugitive slaves.
Wherever our generals have invaded the rebel
States, they have been compelled by military
necessity to welcome the contrabands to their
camps. Notwithstanding the famous order No.
3, both Grant's and Buell's army practically
gave freedom to the slaves whom they found in
Western Tennessee. General M`Clellan has
published a letter in which he states that no
slaves were returned by officers of the Army of
the Potomac after the enactment of the new
“Article of War,” but that, on the contrary, all
contrabands deserting to that army were re-
ceived, fed, and set to work. At Hilton Head,
the slaves of South Carolina have had a safe
refuge for more than a year. At New Orleans
General Butler has received and employed every
slave who fled thither. At Memphis General
Sherman issued a general order, early last fall,
directing the officers of his command to wel-
come fugitive slaves, and deal with them as free-
men, at all events for the time being. It is hardly
possible that the negroes of the South can have
been generally ignorant of a policy so uniformly
pursued on the entire rebel frontier; and the pre-
sumption therefore is, that all the slaves who
wanted to run away, and were able to escape,
either have already reached our lines, or are
now endeavoring to do so. The Proclamation
can hardly add any thing to their knowledge of
our purposes, or to their ability to elude the vig-
ilance of their masters. In this respect, there-
fore, it will effect no change in the situation.
It merely affirms and consolidates the policy
which has hitherto been pursued by individ-
ual commanders from military considerations.
Slaves will continue to escape as heretofore;
the number of runaways will increase as our
armies advance and the blockade is tightened.
Possibly the knowledge that under the Procla-
mation the faith of the United States is pledged
to protect them in their rights as freemen may
impart courage to some who are now hesitating,
and so swell the tide of the fugitives.
The problem how to employ the contrabands
will necessarily be solved by the war. Neces-
sity will compel us to use them as soldiers.
We shall require, to garrison the strategic points
in the enormous country which we have under-
taken to overrun, more troops than even the
populous North can provide. It is clear that
even a million of men will be found too few to
attack and defeat the rebel armies, storm the
rebel forts, and at the same time hold and oc-
cupy each point we take. A quarter of a mill-
ion troops, in detached forts, may not prove too
many to hold the line of the Mississippi River,
after it has been reopened by our armies and our
flotilla. For this service the negroes are well
adapted, and whatever scruples may be enter-
tained by individual generals, the logic of events
compels us to assign them to it at several points.
The work has already been successfully begun.
We have a negro regiment at Hilton Head, and
a negro brigade at New Orleans. A bill is
pending before Congress for the equipment of 200
negro regiments of 1000 men each, and the feel-
ing among loyal men is in favor of its passage.
We shall have to feed and clothe the emanci-
pated negroes, and there is no present way of
making them earn their living except by mak-
ing them garrison our forts. The rebels, as the
cut on the preceding page shows plainly, have
no scruples against arming them. We can safe-
ly follow their example.