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Confiscation Act of 1862

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Confiscation Act of 1862
Great Seal of the United States
Colloquial name(s) Second Confiscation Act
Introduced on December 2, 1861
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate[1] as Confiscation Act by Lyman Trumbull (R-IL) on December 2, 1861
  • Committee consideration by: Senate Judiciary Committee
  • Passed the Senate on July 17, 1862 ()
  • Passed the House on ()
  • Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on

The Confiscation Act of 1862, or Second Confiscation Act, was a law passed by the United States Congress during the American Civil War.[2] Section 13 of the act formed the legal basis for President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

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>> As I said, as the Union army begins to make incursions into Virginia, slaves begin running away to Union lines. The process of the internal disintegration of slavery begins. It's very small at this point, because the Union army is not around most parts of the South. Whatever the Lincoln administration says, the slaves understand that the presence of another army alters the balance of power on the ground in the South, right? Previously, the balance of power was completely on the side of the slave owners. Now, there's another army, even though it's not an emancipating army, it's not an army of abolitionists. It's not on the side of their owners. And so slaves begin to try to find refuge with the Union army. At the very, very beginning of the war, some generals, some begin returning, they return these slaves, they don't want them around. Why do you want all these slaves around your army camp? What are they going to do? They're in the way. But very quickly that falls apart, partly because solider don't want to do that. Governor Andrew of Massachusetts says, we do not send our men into the South as slave-catchers. They do not want to start rounding up fugitive slaves and giving them back to rebel owners. This becomes a policy (wait a minute) early on, thanks to General Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts. Butler -- this shows you how the Civil War completely upends previous political alignments. Butler was a conservative Democrat. Butler, in the 1860 election in Massachusetts, voted for John C. Breckinridge, the Southern, the pro-slavery, Southern Democratic candidate. Butler is not an abolitionist. Butler is put in command at Fortress Monroe, which is in Norfolk, Virginia. It's in the control of the Union army from the beginning of the war. In May, some slaves begin turning up, just a couple of slaves turn up at Butler's place, Butler's fort. And well, what you guys doing here? Butler says. Well, basically they said, we're going to be sent down to Carolina, not sure whether North or South, to work for the Confederate army, and we don't want to do this, so we're running away to find refuge at Fortress Monroe. Butler says, alright, alright, you can stick around. The next day, the local Confederate commander turns up and says, these are my slaves. These are my slaves and I want them back. And by the way, don't you abide by the fugitive slave law? Butler says, I'll tell you what, the fugitive slave law is a law of the United States of America. If you pledge allegiance to the United States of America, I will give you back your slaves. But the Confederate general says, no, I can't do that, so he goes away. [laughter] Well, so Butler says, I am keeping these guys as, quote unquote, "contraband" of war, contraband. This is the origin of a word you will see a lot in literature on the Civil War. The contrabands. This is the word applied to runaway slaves who come into Union lines. Eventually, there are contraband camps, there are contraband schools. The contrabands. Now, contraband is a legal term in war. But it has nothing to do with this situation. And Butler's a lawyer, he understands that, but it doesn't matter, it's a useful term. In war, legally, contraband is goods -- for military goods being shipped to a belligerent by a neutral party. That can be seized. In other words, if the British start shipping weaponry to the Confederacy, the Union can seize that weaponry as contraband of war, okay? That's allowed under the international laws of war. They're not supposed to seize like food or other stuff, civilian stuff, but they can seize military goods being shipped. Alright, but that has nothing to do with this. These are not goods or property being shipped. Nonetheless, he says they're contraband of war. He sends a note up to Washington. Well, what do I do? Well, a few days later he gets a message from the secretary of war, Cameron: your policy is approved. Passive voice, again, remember? Your policy is approved. By whom? He doesn't say. Has Lincoln approved it? Did Cameron approve it? Did the cabinet approve it? It's approved. Okay. Butler can keep doing it. Butler says, alright, anyone who wants to come here is welcome. Suddenly, Fortress Monroe becomes what slaves call the Freedom Fort. Dozens, then hundreds of slaves from surrounding areas begin to find refuge at the fort. And wait, I want to show you a picture here. Let me see if we can find it. Oh, here we go. Hold on. This is a so-called stampede of slaves. This is not Fortress Monroe, but it's a similar thing. Actually, it is Fortress Monroe! Heading toward Fortress Monroe. This is from Harper's Weekly, it's a little fanciful, but you'll see all these slaves heading toward Fortress Monroe. And by the way, it started out with two slaves who were going to be used for military purposes. But suddenly, it's women and children and elderly people, and people who have no connection to the war. But Butler gives them all refuge. And he starts putting them to work, laboring for the army. And he says, I'm going to pay them wages. They're not free, really. I don't know what they are, quite honestly, nobody knows what they are. But I'm not going to send them back into slavery. And by 1862, this process is, everywhere the Union army goes, this process is underway. Here's a wonderful photograph from 1862 of fugitive slaves crossing the Rappahannock River in Virginia heading for Union lines. But if you look, it's an old photograph, but if you see, it's a family in a wagon. You can't really see, but there are women and children and there's a guy on the side, and they're just coming into Union lines. This happens all over the South as the war goes on. The result of this is two things. One, this is the end of the Underground Railroad. Before the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, often much exaggerated, but still, had helped some number, no one knows how many, of slaves get out of the South into the North and Canada. Now, they don't have to go to the North, they don't have to go to Canada, a long way away. They just go to Union lines, and that's a lot easier. And so the numbers -- far more slaves escape to Union lines than ever reached Canada before the Civil War. And secondly, these actions put the slavery on the national agenda. The government has to start making policy about slaves. The Confiscation Act is the first policy. The second comes in August 1861 when General John C. Fremont, who has been sent to take control of Missouri -- Fremont is a very dashing character, good-looking guy, had a beautiful wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, he had been the Republican candidate in 1856. Only one problem: he has a totally lousy general. And he couldn't get Missouri under control at all. And so at the end of August he issues a famous proclamation freeing all the slaves of Missouri. It also says that any civilian found bearing arms against the government will be shot forthwith, which is not proper procedure either. But freeing all the slaves in Missouri. Well, Lincoln asks Fremont to modify the order to bring it into compliance with the Confiscation Act. Confiscation Act frees slaves used for military purposes. He says, you can do that, but you can't go beyond what Congress has done. Fremont refuses to modify it, and Lincoln then, as commander- in-chief, overturns the order, or redoes it in tune with the Confiscation Act, and also gets rid of the thing to shoot civilians. But this, actually... Lincoln probably receives more negative mail, you can go through Lincoln's mail, Lincoln's papers in the Library of Congress, he probably received more negative correspondence about modifying Fremont's order than at other point in his presidency -- from Republicans. Fremont's order had kind of galvanized Republican sentiment. Nothing had happened in the war for months, except one loss. Now suddenly someone is trying to do something, and if it requires freeing those slaves, let him do it, to keep Missouri under control. Lincoln says, if I let this stand, it will alienate Kentucky. Kentucky is, remember, this is just the moment Kentucky is shifting toward pro-Union stance. Lincoln says, they would not go with us unless I modified that, Kentucky would not budge until that proclamation was modified. But this now unleashes the slavery issue. This is when, in the Gienapp book a speech by Frederick Douglass about this, the abolitionists now (who have been fairly quiet) launch a campaign for emancipation to become part of the war effort. Another controversy takes place in November where Secretary of War Simon Cameron issues a call in his annual report for arming black soldiers. Remember, at this point, the army is all white. Black soldiers are not allowed in the Union army. We'll talk about this next week. Cameron, without consulting Lincoln, calls for the arming of black soldiers. Lincoln is furious and, literally speaking, sends him off to Siberia. He makes him ambassador to Russia. [laughter] Kicks him out, and brings in a much better secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, for the rest of the war. Now, by the way, why was Cameron, who was known to be sort of incompetent, secretary of war? The reason was, at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1860, Lincoln's managers, he wasn't there, had promised Pennsylvania a cabinet post for Cameron (he was the leader of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania) if they swung their votes to Lincoln. And Lincoln felt, even thought he had nothing to do with it, obliged to honor this and put Cameron in the cabinet. The fact that he made him secretary of war shows he wasn't expecting a war, because Cameron was mostly known for corruption. In fact, Lincoln, you know, Lincoln's a funny guy, and we'll see that, but he asked Thaddeus Stevens, what do you think, you know, what do you know about Cameron? I hear he's corrupt. And Stevens said, well, I'll tell you this, he would not steal a red hot stove. [laughter] Lincoln thought that was pretty funny, and so the next time he saw Cameron, he said, you know what Thaddeus Stevens said of you? He said you wouldn't steal a red hot stove. Cameron got very indignant, he said that's outrageous to say that. So the next time Lincoln saw Thaddeus Stevens, he said, Cameron objects to what you said about him about the red hot stove, and Stevens said, alright, alright, I was wrong. He would steal a red hot stove. [laughter]


Nature of the law

The Confiscation Act was passed on July 17, 1862.[3] The defining characteristic of the act was that it called for court proceedings for seizure of land and property from disloyal citizens (supporters of the Confederacy) in the South as well as the emancipation of their slaves that came under Union control.[2] Under this act, conviction of treason against the U.S. could be punishable by death or carry a minimum prison sentence of five years and a minimum fine of $10,000.[3] This law also stated that any citizen convicted of aiding and abetting any person known to have committed treason against the United States could be imprisoned for up to 10 years and face a maximum fine of $200,000, if convicted.[3] This law specifically targeted the seizure of property of any Confederate military officer, Confederate public office holder, persons who have taken an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy or any citizen of a loyal Union state who has given aid or support to any of the aforementioned traitors to the United States of America.[3] This act helped the Union military because freed slaves could supply the forces with information to gain a strategic advantage over the Confederates.[2]

One slave, March Haynes, began smuggling slaves to the freedom of the Union lines with the help of Union General Quincy Adams Gilmore. In return for his help, Haynes provided Gilmore with "exact and valuable information" on the location of Confederate defenses and the strength of their forces.[2]

Text of the Act

CHAP. CXCV.–An Act to suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for other Purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That every person who shall hereafter commit the crime of treason against the United States, and shall be adjudged guilty thereof, shall suffer death, and all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free; or, at the discretion of the court, he shall be imprisoned for not less than five years and fined not less than ten thousand dollars, and all his slaves, if any, shall be declared and made free; said fine shall be levied and collected on any or all of the property, real and personal, excluding slaves, of which the said person so convicted was the owner at the time of committing the said crime, any sale or conveyance to the contrary notwithstanding.

SEC. 2.

And be it further enacted, That if any person shall hereafter incite, set on foot, assist, or engage in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States, or the laws thereof, or shall give aid or comfort thereto, or shall engage in, or give aid and comfort to, any such existing rebellion or insurrection, and be convicted thereof, such person shall be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars, and by the liberation of all his slaves, if any he have; or by both of said punishments, at the discretion of the court.

SEC. 3.

And be it further enacted, That every person guilty of either of the offences described in this act shall be forever incapable and disqualified to hold any office under the United States.

SEC. 4.

And be it further enacted, That this act shall not be construed in any way to affect or alter the prosecution, conviction, or punishment of any person or persons guilty of treason against the United States before the passage of this act, unless such person is convicted under this act.

SEC. 5.

And be it further enacted, That, to insure the speedy termination of the present rebellion, it shall be the duty of the President of the United States to cause the seizure of all the estate and property, money, stocks, credits, and effects of the persons hereinafter named in this section, and to apply and use the same and the proceeds thereof for the support of the army of the United States, that is to say:

First. Of any person hereafter acting as an officer of the army or navy of the rebels in arms against the government of the United States. Secondly. Of any person hereafter acting as President, Vice-President, member of Congress, judge of any court, cabinet officer, foreign minister, commissioner or consul of the so-called confederate states of America.

Thirdly. Of any person acting as governor of a state, member of a convention or legislature, or judge of any court of any of the so-called confederate states of America.

Fourthly. Of any person who, having held an office of honor, trust, or profit in the United States, shall hereafter hold an office in the so-called confederate states of America.

Fifthly. Of any person hereafter holding any office or agency under the government of the so-called confederate states of America, or under any of the several states of the said confederacy, or the laws thereof, whether such office or agency be national, state, or municipal in its name or character: Provided, That the persons, thirdly, fourthly, and fifthly above described shall have accepted their appointment or election since the date of the pretended ordinance of secession of the state, or shall have taken an oath of allegiance to, or to support the constitution of the so-called confederate states.

Sixthly. Of any person who, owning property in any loyal State or Territory of the United States, or in the District of Columbia, shall hereafter assist and give aid and comfort to such rebellion; and all sales, transfers, or conveyances of any such property shall be null and void; and it shall be a sufficient bar to any suit brought by such person for the possession or the use of such property, or any of it, to allege and prove that he is one of the persons described in this section.

SEC. 6.

And be it further enacted, That if any person within any State or Territory of the United States, other than those named as aforesaid, after the passage of this act, being engaged in armed rebellion against the government of the United States, or aiding or abetting such rebellion, shall not, within sixty days after public warning and proclamation duly given and made by the President of the United States, cease to aid, countenance, and abet such rebellion, and return to his allegiance to the United States, all the estate and property, moneys, stocks, and credits of such person shall be liable to seizure as aforesaid, and it shall be the duty of the President to seize and use them as aforesaid or the proceeds thereof. And all sales, transfers, or conveyances, of any such property after the expiration of the said sixty days from the date of such warning and proclamation shall be null and void; and it shall be a sufficient bar to any suit brought by such person for the possession or the use of such property, or any of it, to allege and prove that he is one of the persons described in this section.

SEC. 7.

And be it further enacted, That to secure the condemnation and sale of any of such property, after the same shall have been seized, so that it may be made available for the purpose aforesaid, proceedings in rem shall be instituted in the name of the United States in any district court thereof, or in any territorial court, or in the United States district court for the District of Columbia, within which the property above described, or any part thereof, may be found, or into which the same, if movable, may first be brought, which proceedings shall conform as nearly as may be to proceedings in admiralty or revenue cases, and if said property, whether real or personal, shall be found to have belonged to a person engaged in rebellion, or who has given aid or comfort thereto, the same shall be condemned as enemies' property and become the property of the United States, and may be disposed of as the court shall decree and the proceeds thereof paid into the treasury of the United States for the purposes aforesaid.

SEC. 8.

And be it further enacted, That the several courts aforesaid shall have power to make such orders, establish such forms of decree and sale, and direct such deeds and conveyances to be executed and delivered by the marshals thereof where real estate shall be the subject of sale, as shall fitly and efficiently effect the purposes of this act, and vest in the purchasers of such property good and valid titles thereto. And the said courts shall have power to allow such fees and charges of their officers as shall be reasonable and proper in the premises.

SEC. 9.

And be it further enacted, That all slaves of persons who shall hereafter be engaged in rebellion against the government of the United States, or who shall in any way give aid or comfort thereto, escaping from such persons and taking refuge within the lines of the army; and all slaves captured from such persons or deserted by them and coming under the control of the government of the United States; and all slaves of such person found on [or] being within any place occupied by rebel forces and afterwards occupied by the forces of the United States, shall be deemed captives of war, and shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.

SEC. 10.

And be it further enacted, That no slave escaping into any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, from any other State, shall be delivered up, or in any way impeded or hindered of his liberty, except for crime, or some offence against the laws, unless the person claiming said fugitive shall first make oath that the person to whom the labor or service of such fugitive is alleged to be due is his lawful owner, and has not borne arms against the United States in the present rebellion, nor in any way given aid and comfort thereto; and no person engaged in the military or naval service of the United States shall, under any pretence whatever, assume to decide on the validity of the claim of any person to the service or labor of any other person, or surrender up any such person to the claimant, on pain of being dismissed from the service.

SEC. 11.

And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States is authorized to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion, and for this purpose he may organize and use them in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.

SEC. 12.

And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States is hereby authorized to make provision for the transportation, colonization, and settlement, in some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States, of such persons of the African race, made free by the provisions of this act, as may be willing to emigrate, having first obtained the consent of the government of said country to their protection and settlement within the same, with all the rights and privileges of freemen.

SEC. 13.

And be it further enacted, That the President is hereby authorized, at any time hereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such time and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare.

SEC. 14.

And be it further enacted, That the courts of the United States shall have full power to institute proceedings, make orders and decrees, issue process, and do all other things necessary to carry this act into effect.

APPROVED, July 17, 1862.[3]

See also


  1. ^ "Landmark Legislation: The Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862". United States Senate.
  2. ^ a b c d Goldfield, David H. (2011). The American Journey. New York: Pearson. pp. 424–426. ISBN 9780205245949.
  3. ^ a b c d e United States Congress. "The Second Confiscation Act". Retrieved 13 May 2012.
This page was last edited on 2 January 2018, at 09:29
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