On this date of June 19th in 1862, President Lincoln signs a law prohibiting slavery in the Western territories. Having been passed by Congress, he quickly signed it. This action stood in opposition to the 1857 opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Dred Scott Case that Congress was powerless to regulate slavery in U.S. territories.
Lincoln had throughout this season of 1862 been continuously rolling the question of slavery through his mind. There is no doubt what his heart would tell him to do; yet there was the matter of political expediency. It was necessary to play his cards wisely. Voices from competing quarters pelted him with their strong opinions, and the President needed the team support from varied competing sides.
Efforts to get the Border States to voluntarily abolish slavery were not proceeding as hoped. Lincoln had told these leaders that they should surely be able to read the times … to be ahead of what would be inevitably forced upon them.
Of course, the big idea of all ideas coming out of the Battle of Antietam was that Lincoln would use the occasion of this Union victory to announce the Emancipation Proclamation – that would change the terms of the War completely.
An Abolitionist’s Evaluation
In my Doubleday research, I came across a journal entry by him during the spring of 1862 where he was on supply line duty in the Fredericksburg area: As the fugitive slaves are coming in in great numbers, I employ them as laborers for military purposes, and find them exceedingly useful. An officer under Doubleday – an abolitionist lawyer from Maine of the last name of Noyes wrote of the various tasks being undertaken by these men who were working as blacksmiths and teamsters and in various works of service. In evaluation, he spoke most positively of their honesty, diligence, energy, patience, and capacity to learn. Noyes wrote, “I have witnessed their exultation when, for the first time in their lives, they received honest pay for their honest labor, and am satisfied that this is impulse sufficient with them, as with us, to induce their best efforts.” <Noyes: The Bivouac and the Battlefield, p. 43>