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Speech in Response to the Attack on General Hunter
July 5, 1862 in Congress


   The subject of the attacks on General David Hunter was his plan, as commander of the Department of the South, to enlist and arm fugitive slaves.


    Mr. Stevens. I did not design to agitate a question of this kind at this time, and I do not know that I should if it had not been for the supplemental speech of the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Mallory) last upon the floor. But, sir, I do design now to say a few words, and but a few words – being quite out of health this morning – expressive of my sentiments upon this subject. I do not know whether or not anybody will agree with me. The gentleman from Kentucky, who opened this debate, found fault with the Administration in reference to the conduct of the war. Sir, there we happen to agree. There are many things in the conduct of this war of which I cannot approve. I cannot approve of setting generals who sympathize with slavery at the head of our armies, or setting our generals, under express orders, to pursue and return fugitives from traitors. I cannot consent to that portion of the conduct of the war which sets our armies to watch the property of rebel soldiers in arms against us, rather than allow it to be occupied by our own troops, while, in the meantime, our soldiers, sick and wounded, are placed in swamps filled with deadly miasma, which destroys health and unfits our men to meet the enemy.

    Mr. Kellogg, of Illinois. I would inquire of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, when he makes these charges against the conduct of the war, whether he applies them to the President and Secretary of War, or merely to the generals in the field?

    Mr. Stevens. I intend it shall apply wherever it belongs. I am no sycophant, no parasite. What I think I say. These acts have been perpetrated over and over again by our generals, and without rebuke from the appointing power; and I leave the House and the world to determine where the responsibility rests.

    Mr. Kellogg. Will the gentleman be frank enough to state whether he charges that upon the Administration?

    Mr. Stevens. I charge it upon the management of the war and upon the different branches of the Administration. I believe the President – and I do not mean to flatter – is as honest a man as there is in the world; but I believe him to be too easy and amiable, and to be misled by the malign influence of Kentucky counselors, and following that advice, that he has permitted the adoption of the policy which I have just stated without rebuke.

    Mr. Mallory, of Kentucky. May I ask the gentleman from Pennsylvania if he is attempting to ridicule the delegates from Kentucky, or what is he doing?

    Mr. Stevens. I have not said one word about the delegates from Kentucky, nor do I allude to any gentleman in this House.

    Mr. Mallory. Then it seems to me that the gentleman must be attempting to perpetuate a joke upon the House.

    Mr. Stevens. It is no joke at all; there are powers behind the throne greater than the throne itself as well in this country as elsewhere. To no member of the House from Kentucky or elsewhere do I say any word of disrespect, nor do I wish it understood that I am speaking of them at all. Sir, so far, I have the pleasure, if pleasure it be, to concur with gentlemen from Kentucky in condemning that part of the conduct of the war to which I have alluded.

    Sir, I go further; I agree with the gentleman in not liking the answer of the Secretary of War to the resolution which was sent to him by this House, at the suggestion of the distinguished gentleman from Kentucky. I did not think it, at the time, quite ingenious. I had had some communications, which I will not relate now, with the Secretary of War, and did not think until this morning – when I am convinced from what has been said by the gentleman from Kentucky that I am wrong in my ideas of his opinions – that he held any such doctrine as that stated by the gentleman. I thought the Secretary of War held a different doctrine. Hence, I thought his answer not quite ingenuous.

    Mr. Mallory. I would not have alluded to what I stated to the House this morning if there were a possibility of supposing the communication made to me by the Secretary of War had been confidential or private. I stated to the House that those remarks were made by him in his public office in the presence of two of my colleagues, and with his officials around him. I supposed the declaration was a public one, and that he intended it pro bono public. I have used it elsewhere than in this House.

    Mr. Stevens. I do not doubt his communication or censure its promulgation here; but I am giving the reason why I, at the time that communication was sent into the House, thought it not quite ingenuous; for I had conceived the idea that his sentiments were different from what I now find them to be. In accordance with what I then thought to be his views, I expected he would answer that communication by saying “that he had sent arms and clothing to our generals in the South, with orders to use them, and put them in the hands of all loyal men who are ready to defend the Union.” If he had given that answer, it would have been in accordance with what, up to that time, I had supposed to be his sentiments and opinions. I regret to find that I was mistaken.

    Now, sir, with regard to the policy which has been so much condemned, arming Negroes in this war. The gentleman last up says it is against the usage of civilized nations. I deny it. I say it is in exact accordance with the usages of all civilized nations, and no word in history can be found in any single publicist to the contrary. It is the usage of every nation at war with another to liberate their slaves and take them into the service to war with their former masters. It was the practice in the revolutionary war in this country, on both sides. The British, by proclamation, held out inducements and armed them. Rhode Island, by her decree, armed them, gave them liberty, and took them into the service of the United States; and I venture to say that in the last war General Jackson did the same thing. His proclamation shows that he called upon them, offered them their liberty, and those, too, not the slaves of the rebels, but the slaves of loyal men, and they fought the enemies of their country.

    Mr. Wickliffe. Does the gentleman say that Jackson issued a proclamation at New Orleans?

    Mr. Stevens. Yes, sir.

    Mr. Wickliffe. Have you a copy of it, and can I see it?

    Mr. Lovejoy. I have a copy, and I will read it. First I will read the law of Rhode Island, which has been cited.

    Owen Lovejoy reads a proclamation from the colony of Rhode Island approving the enlistment of blacks in the Continental Army. Thaddeus Stevens then reads Andrew Jackson’s proclamation of September 21, 1814, to free blacks of Louisiana requesting their service, followed by Jackson’s call to arms of these blacks. Charles Sedgwick then asks Stevens’ permission and proceeds to read a paper about blacks’ service in Cuba, in Portuguese, Dutch, and French colonies in Africa, in Brazil, Turkey, and on the island of St. Croix.

    Mr. Stevens resumed the floor.

    Mr. Diven. Will the gentleman yield to me for a moment?

    Mr. Stevens. I cannot refuse.

    Mr. Diven. I wish to take this opportunity, by the indulgence of the gentleman from Pennsylvania, to say that I have regarded as one of the most important measures of legislation that has been neglected by this House a provision for mustering black men into our service. I have had a bill in my desk for the last two weeks, which I have sought an opportunity to introduce, prepared with as much care and deliberation as I could devote to it, providing for the mustering of black men into our service, and employing them in those regions where white men, until they are acclimated, cannot be successful during the hot season; and, in my judgment, every hour that Congress neglects to provide such a force of acclimated men for the defense of the country which we have wrung from the rebels of the South, they are living in criminal neglect of the lives of white men.

    Mr. Bingham. I would inquire of the gentleman whether his bill provides for the enlistment of the slaves of runaway rebels?

    Mr. Diven. It provides for the enlistment of all, whether the slaves of rebels or not.

    Mr. Bingham. I am glad to know it.

    Mr. Stevens. I thank the gentleman from New York for reading that portion of history which many of us knew, but which many did not. I have just been told by a distinguished Senator from Vermont, that during the last war he himself saw a regiment of colored soldiers – the tenth regiment. I was not myself aware that there was any such regiment, but there is no doubt of the fact. I repeat again, therefore, that no variation from this policy can be found in the history of the world.

    I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Diven) for the bill which he intended to introduce. I should have brought forward one before this if I could have afforded it, but I was not a “conservative,” and it would have been called abolitionism. (Laughter.) Hence it would have been defeated. I did suggest the idea to a member of the Cabinet five months ago, and he was afraid of the same thing, although he approved of the employment of colored soldiers. I say that it is the duty of this Government to follow out the policy which has been inaugurated by the gallant and sagacious soldier who now commands our army in South Carolina. I said at the opening of this session, and I repeat it, that you will never put down secession until you take that course. You cannot conquer the South so long as you leave them their slaves to cultivate the soil through the hot months, when the awful god with the silver bow shoots fiery arrows to the very heart of every white man who goes into the South. Until you adopt that policy, even if you were to over-run all the cotton states, you must give them up in the summer, for you could not hold them. An overseer, as we all know perfectly well, on the rice plantations of South Carolina, dare not, although acclimated, stay outside his house after nightfall; but he goes within it, and the black man does the work. You must put acclimated soldiers, men whose peculiar constitutions will bear the climate, to be your sentinels amid the fogs and damps of the southern summer nights. If you put a white man to stand sentinel there for a single night, it is certain death to him. If there be any who hate this more than the rebellion, let them say so; those who desire that every northern volunteer shall fall a victim to the pestilential miasmas of the South, and that there shall then be disgraceful submission to triumphant traitors, had better follow the course of our friends across the way, for I believe, as God is my judge, that such will be the inevitable result of their policy.

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