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Remarks on Fugitive Slaves,
December 11, 1861, in Congress

 

    Mr. Stevens. Mr. Speaker, as we are waiting for business from the other House, and as I am anxious to do as much business as possible, I will say a word or two in opposition to the postponement. I think we ought to pass it at once, because if it is to have a good effect as an example upon our generals anywhere, and especially in the West, the sooner it is considered the better; and that it will have a good effect, and consequently, that it should be considered and passed at once, I will attempt to show. We all know – for we have seen it in the orders – that the successor to General Fremont, more I believe for the purpose of hunting down General Fremont than from any general principle, has ordered that all slaves that have been received within our lines by order of General Fremont should be excluded and returned to their masters, and that in the future none others shall be permitted to come within these lines, upon any pretext, which any man who reads must know is a false pretense, that they are spies, and carry intelligence to the enemy. That is too bald a pretense to secure the belief of a child even. That slaves who have run away from their masters and sought protection from us, should have any desire to return as spies and give information to the enemy, seems incredible. All our information from every source, so far as I have heard, is that these persons never desire to return, and that they are faithful to those who protect them. I hope the resolution will be passed, for the purpose of affecting our generals everywhere else.

    We know that this system of excluding fugitives from labor from our lines, and returning them to their masters, was inaugurated by General McClellan in Western Virginia. Afterwards came the magnificent proclamation of General Dix, when he sent down an army into Eastern Virginia, amidst enemies and secessionists – for I venture to say that in those counties of Virginia, as well as the adjoining counties of Maryland, there are not fifty loyal men – which ordered, in effect, the arrest of all fugitive slaves which came to them, and give them back to their masters, and to exclude them entirely from our lines, because special care was to be taken that nobody’s slaves should be liberated.

    Then, sir, the same order has been made here in regard to the army on the Potomac. And if the newspaper reports, uncontradicted, be true, after a battle we had in Western Virginia, two fugitive slaves found two or three of our wounded soldiers, who had crawled into the bushes and escaped from the enemy, nursed and attended them, and then brought them to their friends; and that after that had been done General Kelley ordered those fugitive slaves to be returned to their masters.

    Mr. Lovejoy. I would ask the gentleman from Pennsylvania if he is aware of the statement that their masters were secessionists at that?

    Mr. Stevens. Such was the statement; but I do not care whether they were or not. I say that no parallel case of cold-blooded atrocity can be found in history, unless it be the case of the betrayers of Alice Gray. In my judgment, all these cases which I have recited are a disgrace to the profession of arms; and if done on the mere notion of the commanding generals they deserve to have the epaulets stripped from their shoulders. If done by the direction of higher authority, I have only to say, God forgive them, for they know not what they do.

    I hope the resolution will not be postponed, but passed at once. I renew the previous question, in accordance with my promise to the gentleman from Ohio.

    The resolution  referred to in these remarks was one to the President calling on him to reverse, as Commander-in-Chief, the policy of returning fugitive slaves, who had fled to Union forces, back across enemy lines to their masters.

  
 

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