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Remarks on Black Soldiers,
May 25, 1864, in Congress

 

    Mr. Stevens. I wish to state to the House amply what the committee of conference have done; and then if they choose to overrule the decision to which they came before by a vote of five to one, I shall have nothing to say.
 
   When the House bill came back from the Senate, it contained the provision which is now agreed upon by the committee of conference, under which certain colored troops, who had been promised full pay for the time of their enlistment, were to receive full pay, leaving all the rest out. The Committee of Ways and Means reported an amendment striking that out and inserting in lieu thereof a provision that all colored troops should be allowed full pay and placed on an equality with white troops from the time of their enlistment and mustering into the service. That proposition was carried by an overwhelming majority.

    But, sir, the committee of conference have seen fit to disregard the instructions of the House upon that point, and restore the provision of the Senate entire, with the exception of adding a proviso that this shall not affect the existing law in regard to others, thereby leaving the implication that the whole matter, which we had hoped was settled, was open again to be adjudicated by the Departments.

   Now, I say that those in this House who have advocated the employment of Negro troops are bound in justice and fairness to treat them precisely as they treat white soldiers. I have no idea that those who call themselves by any other name – conservatives, if you please – shall dodge this question and put the matter on the ground of being referred to some other tribunal. It is due to ourselves, I repeat, that, if we accept the services of colored troops, they should be paid for their services like any other soldiers; and I would rather lose the whole bill than adopt the principle of doing injustice to those who enlisted from patriotic motives merely, and of doing justice only those who enlisted from mercenary motives.

    Now, that is the whole question. I do not wish to occupy the time of the House, but I wish to bring the matter fairly to their attention. I hope the report of the committee of conference will be voted down and that we shall have another committee which will represent the wishes of the House.
    (Morrill, a member of the conference committee, declares his fear that if the pay for black soldiers be made retroactive to the beginning of the war, it would create excessive demands on the Treasury Department. James Garfield questions conference committee members on the ramifications of their amendments.)

    Mr. Garfield, Will the gentleman state what the clause was which is rejected?

    Mr. Stevens. Let me state it again, if I may be allowed this irregularity. The House decided that all free persons of color who had entered the Army should from the time of their mustering in be allowed the same pay as white soldiers. The amendment of the committee of conference is that those who were promised it shall receive it, leaving all others to the old law. The difference, therefore, is between those who can prove that they had a specific promise and those who were enlisted without it, although all are in the same service.

    (House members discuss the differences between the Senate amendment, the House amendment, and the conference committee’s version)

    Mr. Morrill. I have been unable to ascertain the amount which would be drawn from the Treasury by paying all these freedmen who have been employed in Louisiana and other States from the commencement of the war, although in minor positions, the full amount; but I am assured that it would involve many millions of dollars. I think we are doing full justice to these men, and I hope the House will sustain the action of the committee of conference

    Mr. Stevens. The House amendment provided only for free people of color. The gentleman misleads the House by speaking of it as if it included all persons of color who have been employed.

    Mr. Farnsworth of Illinois. I desire to ask the gentleman from Pennsylvania, who speaks of the House amendment as embracing only free people of color, whether he does not recognize all persons enlisted in the Army of the United States as free.

    Mr. Stevens. The word “free” was inserted for the express purpose of excepting all those who are taken from slavery. I think the House understands the distinction, and I have nothing further to say. I had rather see this bill go down forever than see this amendment of the committee of conference adopted.

 

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