As the war progressed they raised still another

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man Owen Lovejoy, also advanced Republicans, often with them. As the war progressed, they raised still another argument for emancipation, an argument Douglass and members of Lincoln’s own Cabinet were also making. In 1862, his armies suffered from manpower shortages on every front. Thanks to repeated Union military failures and to a growing war weariness across the North, volunteering had fallen off sharply; and Union generals bombarded Washington with shrill complaints, insisting that they faced an overwhelming southern foe and must have reinforcements before they could win battles or even fight. While Union commanders often exaggerated rebel strength, Union forces did need reinforcements to carry out a successful offensive war. As Sumner reminded Lincoln, the slaves were an untapped reservoir of strength. “You need more men,” Sumner said, “not only at the North, but at the South. You need the slaves.” If Lincoln freed them, he could recruit black men into his armed forces, thus helping to solve his manpower woes. On that score, the slaves themselves were contributing to the pressures on Lincoln to emancipate them. Far from being passive recipients of freedom, as Vincent Harding has rightly reminded us, the slaves were engaged in self-liberation, abandoning rebel farms and plantations and escaping to Union lines by the thousands. This in turn created a tangled legal problem that bedeviled the Lincoln administration. What was the status of such “contraband of war,” as Union General Benjamin F. Butler designated them? Were they still slaves? Were they free? Were they somewhere in between? The administration tended to follow a look-the-other-way policy, allow- ing field commanders to solve the contraband problem any way they wished. Some officers sent the fugitives back to the Confederacy, others turned them over to STEPHEN B. OATES / 99
refugee camps, where benevolent organizations attempted to care for them. But with more and more slaves streaming into Union lines, Sumner, several of Lincoln’s Cabinet members, Douglass, and many others urged him to grant them freedom and enlist the able-bodied men in the army. “Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service and formed into a liberating army,” Douglass exhorted the President, “to march into the South and raise the banner of Emancipation among the slaves.” At first, Lincoln rejected a presidential move against slavery. “I think Sumner and the rest of you would upset our applecart alto- gether if you had your way,” he told some advanced Republicans one day. “We didn’t go into the war to put down slavery, but to put the flag back; and to act differently at this moment would, I have no doubt, not only weaken our cause, but smack of bad faith…. This thunderbolt will keep.” In short, as President he was accountable to the entire country, or what remained of it in the North and West, and the vast majority of whites there remained adamantly opposed to emancipation.

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