Harper's Weekly 01/21/1865
In the Senate, a communication was received from the
Secretary of War, stating that General Herron's report on
the condition of military affairs in Arkansas was not yet
ready. A communication from Secretary Fessenden an-
nounced the readiness of the Coast Survey Report for 1864,
and 4200 copies were ordered to be printed, 3000 to be dis-
tributed. A resolution was adopted directing the Secre-
tary of War to give information as to the number of naval
enlistments that had been credited to the respective States,
and the principle upon which these credits had been made.
Also a resolution of inquiry into expediency of distributing
the cotton captured at Savannah among the soldiers and
sailors engaged in the capture, upon the principle regulat-
ing the distribution of naval prizes. The Pension Appro-
priation Bill was passed. Mr. Wilson's joint resolution
for freeing the families of colored soldiers was debated.
Mr. Wilson urged immediate action. Mr. Doolittle was
for referring the resolution, on the ground that an amend-
ment to the Constitution, covering the ground of the reso-
lution and much more, was now under consideration in
the House. He hoped that the proposition for this amend-
ment would pass in the House. Mr. Wilson replied that
he had no such hope, and even if it did pass it would be a
long time before the people could act upon it. The sol-
diers themselves had been freed—why not free their fam-
ilies? Mr. Saulsbury then raised the question of the power
of Congress, under the Constitution, to act in the matter:
“Has the doctrine of military necessity gone so far that
when we are in a state of war whatever the Congress of
the United States shall decree is constitutionally decreed?”
He took the ground that Congress had no power to free
the negro volunteer himself if he were a slave. It was a
principle of international law that if a slave be captured
from his lawful owner by one belligerent, and he after-
ward comes back into the possession of the other belliger-
ent, he reverts to his original owner. Mr. Sumner said
that a call had just been made for 300,000 more troops.
Encouragement of every kind ought to be offered to se-
cure volunteers. It was, he said, a sufficient reason to
enfranchise the negro volunteer that the Government
stood in need of his service, and of his best service, which
latter could not be secured so long as he remained a slave.
Every argument in favor of his enfranchisement also fa-
vored the enfranchisement of his family. “There is the
same practical necessity for doing it, and the same unut-
terable shabbiness in not doing it.” In his opinion Con-
gress was at this moment complete master of the whole
question of slavery every where in the United States.
“Future generations will read with amazement that a
great people, when their national life was assailed, hesi-
tated to exercise a power so simple and beneficent; and
this amazement will know no bounds as they learn that
Congress higgled for months on the question whether the
wife and children of the colored soldier should be admit-
ted to freedom.” The question of reference was decided
in the negative—19 to 15; but at Mr. Saulsbury's request
further consideration of the subject was postponed.
In the House, a resolution was adopted calling upon the
Secretary of the Navy to communicate the number of guns
burst in the recent bombardment of Fort Fisher; on what
ships, and for what cause; also the number of killed and
wounded. A joint resolution was referred, providing that
all vacancies in the clerical force in the several depart-
ments shall be filled by such disabled soldiers and sailors
as shall be deemed competent. A resolution of inquiry
as to the apportionment of naval credits was adopted.
In the Senate, the House resolution dropping from the
Army List all unemployed officers was, after considerable
debate, indefinitely postponed. A resolution of thanks to
Sherman and his army was passed. The same resolution
was the same day passed in the House.
In the House, there was a long debate on the proposed
amendment of the Constitution.
The Senate was not in session.
In the House, nearly the entire session was consumed
in the debate on the proposed amendment to the Constitu-
In the Senate, after an animated debate, the resolution
to free the families of colored soldiers was passed.
In the House, the debate on the proposed amendment
of the Constitution was continued. Mr. Yeaman, of Ken-
tucky, and Mr. Odell, of New York, both Democrats, took
strong grounds in favor of the proposition.