In Freedom Under Fire: U.S. Civil Liberties in Times of War, Michael Linfield gives a littany of violations of the Constitution by the Lincoln administration–censorship, illegal arrests, suspension of habeas corpus–and then mentions something I had never realized: “Property was confiscated from pro-slavery whites; slaves, rather than being freed, originally became the property of the U.S. government” (see p. 23; also 30-32). As Linfield explains,
The First Civil War Confiscation Act was passed on August 6, 1861 and declared that all property used by Confederates in their insurrection was forfeited and became teh property of the governemnt. If a slave was owned by a “loyal” white, the slave remained a slave. But a slave owned by a Confederate was to be confiscated. These slaves, ratherthan being freed, became the property of the U.S. government.
To remedy this bizarre situation, General Hunter, Union military commander of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, issued an order on May 9, 1862 freeing all slaves in areas under his command. Upon hearing of General Hunter’s action one week later, President Lincoln immediately revoked the order, thus returning teh slaves to their former status as property of the federal government.
In other words, the glorious, slave-liberating federal government so beloved by centralist, pro-Lincoln “libertarians,” was, for a time, a slaveholder. Ironic. I wonder, as a practical matter, how the Lincoln adminstration handled ownership of its slaves? Did it appoint state-paid “masters”?
(Notice: the Wikipedia entry on this Act tries to gloss over this unpleasant truth: it states that the Act “did not free the slaves thereby forfeited, but did strip their owners of claim to them.” So the original owner had his claim stripped–but the slave was not free. Hmm, I wonder, who owns the slave now? The text of the statute makes it clear that all “property” condemned “shall be wholly for the benefit of the United States.”
Update: As one post put it: Lincoln Owned Slaves! He outdid ole’ Jefferson by orders of magnitude.2:08 pm on July 14, 2008 Email Stephan Kinsella