By this power it has been this year decreed that every slave of a Rebel who reaches the lines of our army becomes a free man; that all slaves found deserted by their masters become free men; that every slave employed in any service for the United States thereby obtains his liberty; and that every slave employed against the United States in any capacity obtains his liberty: and lest the army should contain officers disposed to remand slaves to their masters, the power of judging and delivering up slaves is denied to army-officers, and all such acts are made penal.
By this act, the Fugitive-Slave Law is for all present purposes practically repealed. With this understanding and provision, wherever our armies march, they carry liberty with them. For be it remembered that our army is almost entirely a volunteer one, and that the most zealous and ardent volunteers are those who have been for years fighting with tongue and pen the Abolition battle. So marked is the character of our soldiers in this respect, that they are now familiarly designated in the official military despatches of the Confederate States as "The Abolitionists." Conceive the results, when an army, so empowered by national law, marches through a slave-territory. One regiment alone has to our certain knowledge liberated two thousand slaves during the past year, and this regiment it but one out of hundreds. We beg to lay before you some details given by an eye-witness of what has recently been done in this respect in the Department of the South.
"On Board Steamer from Fortress Monroe to Baltimore, Nov. 14, 1862.
"Events of no ordinary interest have just occurred in the Department of the South. The negro troops have been tested, and, to their great joy, though not contrary to their own expectations, they have triumphed, not only over enemies armed with muskets and swords, but over what the black man dreads most, sharp and cruel prejudices.
"General Saxton, on the 28th of October, sent the captured steamer Darlington, Captain Crandell, down the coast of Georgia, and to Fernandina, Florida, to obtain recruits for the First Regiment South-Carolina Volunteers. Lieutenant-Colonel O.T. Beard, of the Forty-Eighth New-York Volunteers, was given the command of the expedition. In addition to obtaining recruits, the condition and wants of the recent refugees from slavery along the coast were to be looked into, and, if occasion should offer, it was permitted to 'feel the enemy.' At St. Simond's, Georgia, Captain Trowbridge, with thirty-five men of the 'Hunter Regiment of First South-Carolina Volunteers,' who had been stationed there for three months, together with twenty-seven more men, were received on board. With this company of sixty-two men the Darlington proceeded to Fernandina.
"On arriving, a meeting of the colored men was called to obtain enlistments. The large church was crowded. After addresses had been made by the writer and Colonel Beard, one hundred men volunteered at once, and the number soon reached about one hundred and twenty-five. Such, however, were the demands of Fort Clinch and the Quartermaster's Department for laborers, that Colonel Rich, commanding the fort, consented to only twenty-five men leaving. This was a sad disappointment, and one which some determined not to bear. The twenty-five men were carefully selected from among those not employed either on the fort or in the Quartermaster's Department, and put on board. Amid the farewells and benedictions of hundreds of their friends on shore they took their departure, to prove the truth or falsity of the charge, 'The black man can never fight.' On calling the roll, a few miles from port, it was found our twenty-five men had increased to fifty-four. Determined not to be foiled in their purpose of being soldiers, it was found that thirty men had quietly found their way on board just at break of day, and had concealed themselves in the hold of the ship. When asked why they did so, their reply was,--
"'Oh, we want to fight for our liberty, and for de liberty of our wives and children.'
"'But would you dare to face your old masters?'
"'Oh, yes, yes! why, we would fight to de death to get our families,' was the quick response.
"No one doubted their sincerity. Muskets were soon in their hands, and no time was lost in drilling them. Our steamer, a very frail one, had been barricaded around the bow and stern, and also provided with two twelve-pounder Parrott guns. These guns had to be worked by black men, under the direction of the captain of the steamer. Our fighting men numbered only about one hundred and ten, and fifty of them were raw recruits. The expedition was not a very formidable one, still all seemed to have an unusual degree of confidence as to its success.
* * * * *
"November 6. The women and children (about fifty) taken from St. Simond's on the day previous were now landed for safety in St. Catharine's, as a more hazardous work was to be undertaken. Much of the night was spent in getting wood for the steamer, killing beeves, and cooking meats, rice, and corn, for our women and children on shore, and for the troops. The men needed no 'driver's lash' to incite them to labor. Sleep and rest were almost unwelcome, for they were preparing to go up Sapelo River, along whose banks, on the beautiful plantations, were their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, and children. Weeks and months before, some of the men had left those loved ones, with a promise to return, 'if de good Lord jis open de way.'
"At five o'clock on Friday morning, November 7, we were under way. Captain Budd, of the gun-boat Potomska, had kindly promised the evening before to accompany us past the most dangerous places. On reaching his station in Sapelo Sound, we found him in readiness. Our little fleet, led by the Potomska, and followed by the Darlington, sailed proudly up the winding Sapelo, now through marshes, and then past large and beautiful plantations. It was very affecting to see our soldiers watching intensely the colored forms on land, one saying, in the agony of deepest anxiety, 'Oh, Mas'r, my wife and chillen lib dere,' and another singing out, 'Dere, dere my brodder,' or 'my sister.' The earnest longings of their poor, anguish-riven hearts for landings, and then the sad, inexpressible regrets as the steamer passed, must be imagined,--they cannot be described.
"The first landing was made at a picket-station on Charles Hopkins's plantation. The enemy was driven back; a few guns and a sword only captured. The Potomska came to anchorage, for lack of sufficient water, a few miles above, at Reuben King's plantation. Here we witnessed a rich scene. Some fifty negroes appeared on the banks, about thirty rods distant from their master's house, and some distance from the Darlington. They gazed upon us with intense feelings, alternately turning their eyes toward their master, who was watching them from his piazza, and toward our steamer, which, as yet, had given them no assurances of landing. The moment she headed to the shore, their doubts were dispersed, and they gave us such a welcome as angels would be satisfied with. Some few women were so filled with joy, that they ran, leaped, clapped their hands, and cried, 'Glory to God! Glory to God!'
* * * * *
"After relieving the old planter of twenty thousand dollars' worth of humanity, that is, fifty-two slaves, and the leather of his tannery, we reembarked. Our boats were sent once and again, however, to the shore for men, who, having heard the steam-whistle, came in greatest haste from distant plantations.
"As the Potomska could go no farther, Captain Budd kindly offered to accompany us with one gun's crew. We were glad to have his company and the services of the crew, as we had only one gun's crew of colored men. Above us was a bend in the river, and a high bluff covered with thick woods. There we apprehended danger, for the Rebels had had ample time to collect their forces. The men were carefully posted, fully instructed as to their duties and dangers by Colonel Beard. Our Parrotts were manned, and everything was in readiness. No sooner were we within rifle-shot than the enemy opened upon us a heavy fire from behind the bank and trees, and also from the tops of the trees. Our speed being slow and the river's bend quite large, we were within range of the enemy's guns for some time. How well our troops bore themselves will be seen by Captain Budd's testimony.
"Our next landing was made at Daniel McDonald's plantation. His extensive and valuable salt-works were demolished, and he himself taken prisoner. By documents captured, it was ascertained that he was a Rebel of the worst kind. We took only a few of his slaves, as he drove back into the woods about ninety of them just before our arrival. One fine-looking man came hobbling down on a crutch. McDonald had shot off one of his legs some eighteen months before. The next plantation had some five hundred slaves on it; several of our troops had come from it, and also had relatives there, but the lateness of the hour and the dangerous points to be passed on our return admonished us to retreat.
"Our next attack was expected at the bluff. The enemy had improved the time since we parted from them in gathering reinforcements. Colonel Beard prepared the men for a warm fire. While everything was in readiness, and the steamer dropping down hard upon the enemy, the writer passed around among the men, who were waiting coolly for the moment of attack, and asked them if they found their courage failing. 'Oh, no, Mas'r, our trust be in de Lord. We only want fair chance at 'em,' was the unanimous cry.
* * * * *
"Most people have doubted the courage of negroes, and their ability to stand a warm fire of the enemy. The engagements of this day were not an open-field fight, to be sure, but the circumstances were peculiar. They were taken by surprise, the enemy concealed, his force not known, and some of the troops had been enlisted only two days. Captain Budd, a brave and experienced officer, and eye-witness of both engagements, has kindly given his opinion, which we are sure will vindicate the policy, as well as justness, of arming the colored man for his own freedom at least.
"'United States Steamer Potomska,
"'Sapelo River, Ga., Nov. 7, 1862.
"'Sir,--It gives me pleasure to testify to the admirable conduct of the negro troops (First S.C. Volunteers) under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Beard, Forty-Eighth New-York Volunteers, during this day's operations. They behaved splendidly under the warm and galling fire we were exposed to in the two skirmishes with the enemy. I did not see a man flinch, contrary to my expectations.
"'One of them, particularly, came under my notice, who, although, badly wounded in the face, continued to load and fire, in the coolest manner imaginable.
"'Every one of them acted like veterans.
"'Acting-Lieutenant Commanding Potomska.
"'To the Rev. M. French, Chaplain, U.S.A.'
"On reaching his ship, Captain Budd led our retreat. It had been agreed, after full consultation on the subject, that, in our descent down the river, it was best to burn the buildings of Captain Hopkins and Colonel Brailsford. Both of these places were strong picket-stations, particularly the latter. Brailsford had been down with a small force a few days before our arrival at St. Catharine's, and shot one of our contrabands, wounded mortally, as was supposed, another, and carried off four women and three men. He had also whipped to death, three weeks before, a slave for attempting to make his escape. We had on board Sam Miller, a former slave, who had received over three hundred lashes for refusing to inform on a few of his fellows who had escaped.
* * * * *
"On passing among the men, as we were leaving the scenes of action, I inquired if they had grown any to-day. Many simultaneously exclaimed,--"'Oh, yes, Massa, we have grown three inches!' Sam said,--'I feel a heap more of a man!'
"With the lurid flames still lighting up all the region behind, and the bright rays of the smiling moon before them, they formed a circle on the lower deck, and around the hatchway leading to the hold, where were the women and children captured during the day, and on bended knees they offered up sincere and heartfelt thanksgivings to Almighty God for the mercies of the day. Such fervent prayers for the President, for the hearing of his Proclamation by all in bonds, and for the ending of the war and slavery, were seldom, if ever, heard before. About one hour was spent in singing and prayer. Those waters surely never echoed with such sounds before.
* * * * *
"Our steamer left Beaufort without a soldier, and returned, after an absence of twelve days, with one hundred and fifty-six fighting colored men, some of whom dropped the hoe, took a musket, and were at once soldiers, ready to fight for the freedom of others."
It is conceded on all sides, that, wherever our armies have had occupancy, there slavery has been practically abolished. The fact was recognized by President Lincoln in his last appeal to the loyal Slave States to consummate emancipation.
Another noticeable act of our Government in behalf of Liberty is the official provision it makes for the wants of the thousands of helpless human beings thus thrown upon our care. Taxed with the burden of an immense war, with the care of thousands of sick and wounded, the United States Government has cheerfully voted rations for helpless slaves, no less than wages to the helpful ones. The United States Government pays teachers to instruct them, and overseers to guide their industrial efforts. A free-labor experiment is already in successful operation among the beautiful sea-islands in the neighborhood of Beaufort, which, even under most disadvantageous circumstances, is fast demonstrating how much more efficiently men will work from hope and liberty than from fear and constraint. Thus, even amid the roar of cannon and the confusion of war, cotton-planting, as a free-labor institution, is beginning its infant life, to grow hereafter to a glorious manhood.
Lastly, the great, decisive measure of the war has appeared,--The President's Proclamation of Emancipation.
This also has been much misunderstood and misrepresented in England. It has been said to mean virtually this:--Be loyal, and you shall keep your slaves; rebel, and they shall be free.
But let us remember what we have just seen of the purpose and meaning of the Union to which the rebellious States are invited back. It is to a Union which has abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, and interdicted slavery in the Territories,--which vigorously represses the slave-trade, and hangs the convicted slaver as a pirate,--which necessitates emancipation by denying expansion to slavery, and facilitates it by the offer of compensation. Any Slaveholding States which should return to such a Union might fairly be supposed to return with the purpose of peaceable emancipation. The President's Proclamation simply means this:--Come in, and emancipate peaceably with compensation; stay out, and I emancipate, nor will I protect you from the consequences.
That continuance in the Union is thus understood is already made manifest by the votes of Missouri and Delaware in the recent elections. Both of these States have given strong majorities for emancipation, Missouri, long tending towards emancipation, has already planted herself firmly on the great rock of Freedom, and thrown out her bold and eloquent appeal to the Free States of the North for aid in overcoming the difficulties of her position. Other States will soon follow; nor is it too much to hope that before a new year has gone far in its course the sacred fire of freedom will have flashed along the whole line of the Border States responsive to the generous proposition of the President and Congress, and that universal emancipation will have become a fixed fact in the American Union.
Will our sisters in England feel no heart-beat at that event? Is it not one of the predicted voices of the latter day, saying under the whole heavens, "It is done: the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ"?
And now, Sisters of England, in this solemn, expectant hour, let us speak to you of one thing which fills our hearts with pain and solicitude.
It is an unaccountable fact, and one which we entreat you seriously to ponder, that the party which has brought the cause of Freedom thus far on its way, during the past eventful year, has found little or no support in England. Sadder than this, the party which makes Slavery the chief corner-stone of its edifice finds in England its strongest defenders.
The voices that have spoken for us who contend for Liberty have been few and scattering. God forbid that we should forget those few noble voices, so sadly exceptional in the general outcry against us! They are, alas, too few to be easily forgotten. False statements have blinded the minds of your community, and turned the most generous sentiments of the British heart against us. The North are fighting for supremacy and the South for independence, has been the voice. Independence? for what? to do what? To prove the doctrine that all men are not equal. To establish the doctrine that the white may enslave the negro.
It is natural to sympathize with people who are fighting for their rights; but if these prove to be the right of selling children by the pound and trading in husbands and wives as merchantable articles, should not Englishmen think twice before giving their sympathy? A pirate-ship on the high seas is fighting for independence! Let us be consistent.
It has been said that we have been over-sensitive, thin-skinned. It is one inconvenient attendant of love and respect, that they do induce sensitiveness. A brother or father turning against one in the hour of trouble, a friend sleeping in the Gethsemane of our mortal anguish, does not always find us armed with divine patience. We loved England; we respected, revered her; we were bound to her by ties of blood and race. Alas! must all these declarations be written in the past tense?
But that we may not be thought to have over-estimated the popular tide against us, we shall express our sense of it in the words of an English writer, one of the noble few who have spoken the truth on our side. Referring to England's position on this question, he says:--
"What is the meaning of this? Why does the English nation, which has made itself memorable to all time as the destroyer of negro slavery, which has shrunk from no sacrifices to free its own character from that odious stain, and to close all the countries of the world against the slave-merchant,--why is it that the nation which is at the head of Abolitionism, not only feels no sympathy with those who are fighting against the slaveholding conspiracy, but actually desires its success? Why is the general voice of our press, the general sentiment of our people bitterly reproachful to the North, while for the South, the aggressors in the war, we have either mild apologies or direct and downright encouragement,--and this not only from the Tory and anti-Democratic camp, but from Liberals, or soi-disant such?
"This strange perversion of feeling prevails nowhere else. The public of France, and of the Continent generally, at all events the Liberal part of it, saw at once on which side were justice and moral principle, and gave its sympathies consistently and steadily to the North. Why is England an exception?"
In the beginning of our struggle, the voices that reached us across the water said, "If we were only sure you were fighting for the abolition of slavery, we should not dare to say whither our sympathies for your cause might not carry us."
Such, as we heard, were the words of the honored and religious nobleman who draughted this very letter which you signed and sent us, and to which we are now replying.
When these words reached us, we said, "We can wait; our friends in England will soon see whither this conflict is tending." A year and a half have passed; step after step has been taken for Liberty; chain after chain has fallen, till the march of our enemies is choked and clogged by the glad flocking of emancipated slaves; the day of final emancipation is set; the Border States begin to move in voluntary consent; universal freedom for all dawns like the sun in the distant horizon: and still no voice from England. No voice? Yes, we have heard on the high seas the voice of a war-steamer, built for a man-stealing Confederacy with English gold in an English dockyard, going out of an English harbor, manned by English sailors, with the full knowledge of English Government-officers, in defiance of the Queen's proclamation of neutrality. So far has English sympathy overflowed. We have heard of other steamers, iron-clad, designed to furnish to a Slavery-defending Confederacy their only lack,--a navy for the high seas. We have heard that the British Evangelical Alliance refuses to express sympathy with the liberating party, when requested to do so by the French Evangelical Alliance. We find in English religious newspapers all those sad degrees in the downward sliding scale of defending and apologizing for slaveholders and slaveholding with which we have so many years contended in our own country. We find the President's Proclamation of Emancipation spoken of in those papers only as an incitement to servile insurrection. Nay, more,--we find in your papers, from thoughtful men, the admission of the rapid decline of anti-slavery sentiments in England. Witness the following:--
"The Rev. Mr. Maurice, Principal of the Working-Men's College, Great Ormond Street, delivered the first general lecture of the term on Saturday evening, and took for his subject the state of English feeling on the Slavery question. He said, a few days ago, in a conversation on the American war, that some gentlemen connected with the College had confessed to a change in their sympathies in the matter. On the outbreak of the war, they had been strong sympathizers with the Government and the Northern States, but gradually they had drifted until they found themselves desiring the success of the seceded States, and all but free from their anti-slavery feelings and tendencies. These confessions elicited strong expressions of indignation from a gentleman present, who had lectured in the College on the war in Kansas. He (Mr. Maurice) felt inclined to share in the indignation expressed; but since, he could not help feeling that this change was very general in England."
Alas, then, England! is it so? In this day of great deeds and great heroisms, this solemn hour when the Mighty Redeemer is coming to break every yoke, do we hear such voices from England?
This very day the writer of this has been present at a solemn religious festival in the national capital, given at the home of a portion of those fugitive slaves who have fled to our lines for protection,--who, under the shadow of our flag, find sympathy and succor. The national day of thanksgiving was there kept by over a thousand redeemed slaves, and for whom Christian charity had spread an ample repast. Our Sisters, we wish you could have witnessed the scene. We wish you could have heard the prayer of a blind old negro, called among his fellows John the Baptist, when in touching broken English he poured forth his thanksgivings. We wish you could have heard the sound of that strange rhythmical chant which is now forbidden to be sung on Southern plantations,--the psalm of this modern exodus,--which combines the barbaric fire of the Marseillaise with the religious fervor of the old Hebrew prophet.
"Oh, go down, Moses, 'Way down into Egypt's land! Tell King Pharaoh To let my people go! Stand away dere, Stand away dere, And let my people go!
"Oh, Pharaoh said he would go 'cross! Let my people go! Oh, Pharaoh and his hosts were lost! Let my people go! You may hinder me here, But ye can't up dere! Let my people go!
"Oh, Moses, stretch your hand across! Let my people go! And don't get lost in de wilderness! Let my people go! He sits in de heavens And answers prayers. Let my people go!"
As we were leaving, an aged woman came and lifted up her hands in blessing. "Bressed be de Lord dat brought me to see dis first happy day of my life! Bressed be de Lord!" In all England is there no Amen?
We have been shocked and saddened by the question asked in an association of Congregational ministers in England, the very blood-relations of the liberty-loving Puritans,--"Why does not the North let the South go?"
What! give up the point of emancipation for these four million slaves? Turn our backs on them, and leave them to their fate? What! leave our white brothers to run a career of oppression and robbery, that, as sure as there is a God that ruleth in the armies of heaven, will bring down a day of wrath and doom?
Is it any advantage to people to be educated in man-stealing as a principle, to be taught systematically to rob the laborer of his wages, and to tread on the necks of weaker races? Who among you would wish your sons to become slave-planters, slave-merchants, slave-dealers? And shall we leave our brethren to this fate? Better a generation should die on the battle-field, that their children may grow up in liberty and justice. Yes, our sons must die, their sons must die. We give ours freely; they die to redeem the very brothers that slay them; they give their blood in expiation of this great sin, begun by you in England, perpetuated by us in America, and for which God in this great day of judgment is making inquisition in blood.
In a recent battle fell a Secession colonel, the last remaining son of his mother, and she a widow. That mother had sold eleven children of an old slave-mother, her servant. That servant went to her and said,--"Missis, we even now. You sold all my children. God took all yourn. Not one to bury either of us. Now, I forgive you."
In another battle fell the only son of another widow. Young, beautiful, heroic, brought up by his mother in the sacred doctrines of human liberty, he gave his life an offering as to a holy cause. He died. No slave-woman came to tell his mother of God's justice, for many slaves have reason to call her blessed.
Now we ask you, Would you change places with that Southern mother? Would you not think it a great misfortune for a son or daughter to be brought into such a system?--a worse one to become so perverted as to defend it? Remember, then, that wishing success to this slavery-establishing effort is only wishing to the sons and daughters of the South all the curses that God has written against oppression. Mark our words! If we succeed, the children of these very men who are now fighting us will rise up to call us blessed. Just as surely as there is a God who governs in the world, so surely all the laws of national prosperity follow in the train of equity; and if we succeed, we shall have delivered the children's children of our misguided brethren from the wages of sin, which is always and everywhere death.
And now, Sisters of England, think it not strange, if we bring back the words of your letter, not in bitterness, but in deepest sadness, and lay them down at your door. We say to you,--Sisters, you have spoken well; we have heard you; we have heeded; we have striven in the cause, even unto death. We have sealed our devotion by desolate hearth and darkened homestead,--by the blood of sons, husbands, and brothers. In many of our dwellings the very light of our lives has gone out; and yet we accept the life-long darkness as our own part in this great and awful expiation, by which the bonds of wickedness shall be loosed, and abiding peace established on the foundation of righteousness. Sisters, what have you done, and what do you mean to do?
In view of the decline of the noble anti-slavery fire in England, in view of all the facts and admissions recited from your own papers, we beg leave in solemn sadness to return to you your own words:--
"A common origin, a common faith, and, we sincerely believe, a common cause, urge us, at the present moment, to address you on the subject" of that fearful encouragement and support which is being afforded by England to a slave-holding Confederacy.
"We will not dwell on the ordinary topics,--on the progress of civilization, on the advance of freedom everywhere, on the rights and requirements of the nineteenth century; but we appeal to you very seriously to reflect and to ask counsel of God how far such a state of things is in accordance with His Holy Word, the inalienable rights of immortal souls, and the pure and merciful spirit of the Christian religion.
"We appeal to you, as sisters, as wives, and as mothers, to raise your voices to your fellow-citizens, and your prayers to God for the removal of this affliction and disgrace from the Christian world."
In behalf of many thousands of American women,
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE.
WASHINGTON, November 27, 1862.