At this point of the Civil War during this summer season of 1862, now 150 years ago, not only had the temperatures risen, so had the varied passions and postures – militarily and politically – relative to the way the War should be executed. McClellan represented a more limited view of a contest between armies that spared civilian populations and the delicate social issues of the day (slavery in particular). A number of other generals, along with a significantly loud and powerful political force in Washington, advocated more of an all-out war policy that included the institutions of the South and all that contributed toward facilitation of the rebel war effort. Of necessity, Lincoln needed to walk a line of balance between these interests – ever cognizant of the political exigencies around him, yet with a sense of integrity to principles within.
Over these months, Lincoln was surely migrating away from the limited views of McClellan to a greater adoption of those espoused by Radical Republican elements, affirmed and set afflame in the larger populace by the newspaper writings of Horace Greeley in the NY Tribune.
Second Confiscation Act – July 17, 1862
On this date 150 years ago today, Lincoln signed the Second Confiscatory Act – allowing among other things the confiscation of property of those supporting the rebellion, including the freeing of slaves from such states who came under Union control. It spoke also of using slaves to fight, and gave significant discretionary power to the president. (I will include three of the most interesting sections at the end of this post.) The debates that raged around this act are very confusing and very “legal” in nature, but in summary the Act prepared the way for the Emancipation Proclamation and solved the immediate dilemma facing the army concerning the status of slaves within its jurisdiction.
Taking Off the “Kid Gloves”
A phrase that has always stood out to me from my years of Civil War reading of period writers is some version of “the time has come to take off the kids gloves.” I guess I have heard that phrase on occasion, but it was clearly a very common idiom in the era. In that time, to say that a person was wearing kid gloves was to say that they were being very dainty and genteel, and hence to take them off meant to picture a change of posture toward a more rough and aggressive action. (Apparently there was a type of glove made from young goat skins that was especially soft compared to those of other leathers.)
In my Abner Doubleday research, I have noted that he employed the “kid gloves” phrase on occasion, as did several other sources connected closely to him – which would mostly involve people with a values system embracing abolition and hard war. These words would have especially been used to talk about General John Pope’s orders to seize enemy property and deposit supporters of the Confederate war effort beyond the reaches of the Union Army – to be treated as spies if caught again. (For these measures, even the noble Robert E. Lee would refer to Pope as a “miscreant!”)
Here is a single example of the kid gloves phrase being written in 1862 as cheerful support for Pope’s directives … written by the New York Times: “The country is weary of trifling. We have been afraid of wounding rebel feelings, afraid of injuring rebel property, afraid of using, or under any circumstances, of freeing rebel slaves. Some of our Generals have fought the rebels—if fighting it be called—with their kid gloves on.”
I guess this would be like calling someone in our times “a wuss.”
Here are the sections of the Confiscation Act that I believe are of particular interest:
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.