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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

For the service of the Confederacy


paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the coloured race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union."

At the time he wrote these words Lincoln had already decided on a policy of military emancipation in the rebel States. He doubtless wrote them with an eye of the possible effects of that policy. He wished the Northern Democrats and the Unionists of Border States to understand that his action was based upon considerations of military expediency and in no way upon his personal disapproval of Slavery, of which at the same time he made no recantation. On the military ground he had a strong case. If, as the South maintained, the slave was simply a piece of property, then the slave of a rebel was a piece of enemy property--and enemy property used or usable for purposes of war. To confiscate enemy property which may be of military use was a practice as old as war itself. The same principle which justified the North in destroying a Southern cotton crop or tearing up the Southern railways justified the emancipation of Negroes within the bounds of the Southern Confederacy. In consonance with this principle Lincoln

issued on September 22nd a proclamation declaring slaves free as from January 1, 1863, in such districts as the President should on that date specify as being in rebellion against the Federal Government. Thus a chance was deliberately left open for any State, or part of a State, to save its slaves by submission. At the same time Lincoln renewed the strenuous efforts which he had already made more than once to induce the Slave States which remained in the Union to consent voluntarily to some scheme of gradual and compensated emancipation.

One effect of the Emancipation Proclamation upon which Lincoln had calculated was the approval of the civilized world and especially of England. This was at that moment of the more importance because the growing tendency of Englishmen to sympathize with the South, which was largely the product of Jackson's daring and picturesque exploits, had already produced a series of incidents which nearly involved the two nations in war. The chief of these was the matter of the _Alabama_. This cruiser was built and fitted up in the dockyards of Liverpool by the British firm of Laird. She was intended, as the contractors of course knew, for the service of the Confederacy, and, when completed, she took to the sea under pretext of a trial trip, in spite of the protests of the representative of the American Republic. The order to detain her arrived too late, and she reached a Southern port, whence she issued to become a terror to the commerce of the United States. That the fitting up of such a vessel, if carried out with the complicity of the Government, was a gross breach of neutrality is unquestionable. That the Government of Lord Russell connived at the escape of the _Alabama_, well knowing her purpose and character, though generally believed in America at the time, is most unlikely. That the truth was known to the authorities at Liverpool, where Southern sympathies were especially strong, is on the other hand almost certain, and these authorities must be held mainly responsible for misleading the Government and so preventing compliance with the quite proper demands of Adams, the American Ambassador. Finally, an International Court found that Great Britain had not shown "reasonable care" in fulfilling her obligations, and in this verdict a fair-minded student of the facts will acquiesce. At a later date we paid to the United States a heavy sum as compensation for the depredations of the _Alabama_.

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