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man Owen Lovejoy, also advanced Republicans, often with them.As the war progressed, they raised still another argument foremancipation, an argument Douglass and members of Lincoln’sown Cabinet were also making. In 1862, his armies suffered frommanpower shortages on every front. Thanks to repeated Unionmilitary failures and to a growing war weariness across the North,volunteering had fallen off sharply; and Union generals bombardedWashington with shrill complaints, insisting that they faced anoverwhelming southern foe and must have reinforcements beforethey could win battles or even fight. While Union commanders oftenexaggerated rebel strength, Union forces did need reinforcementsto carry out a successful offensive war. As Sumner reminded Lincoln,the slaves were an untapped reservoir of strength. “You need moremen,” Sumner said, “not only at the North, but at the South. Youneed the slaves.” If Lincoln freed them, he could recruit black meninto his armed forces, thus helping to solve his manpower woes.On that score, the slaves themselves were contributing to thepressures on Lincoln to emancipate them. Far from being passiverecipients of freedom, as Vincent Harding has rightly reminded us,the slaves wereengaged in self-liberation, abandoning rebel farmsand plantations and escaping to Union lines by the thousands. Thisin turn created a tangled legal problem that bedeviled the Lincolnadministration. What was the status of such “contraband of war,”as Union General Benjamin F. Butler designated them? Were theystill slaves? Were they free? Were they somewhere in between? Theadministration tended to follow a look-the-other-way policy, allow-ing field commanders to solve the contraband problem any waythey wished. Some officers sent the fugitives back to the Confederacy,others turned them over toSTEPHEN B. OATES / 99
refugee camps, where benevolent organizations attempted to carefor them. But with more and more slaves streaming into Union lines,Sumner, several of Lincoln’s Cabinet members, Douglass, and manyothers urged him to grant them freedom and enlist the able-bodiedmen in the army. “Let the slaves and free colored people be calledinto service and formed into a liberating army,” Douglass exhortedthe President, “to march into the South and raise the banner ofEmancipation among the slaves.”At first, Lincoln rejected a presidential move against slavery. “Ithink Sumner and the rest of you would upset our applecart alto-gether if you had your way,” he told some advanced Republicansone day. “We didn’t go into the war to put down slavery, but to putthe flag back; and to act differently at this moment would, I have nodoubt, not only weaken our cause, but smack of bad faith…. Thisthunderbolt will keep.”In short, as President he was accountable to the entire country, orwhat remained of it in the North and West, and the vast majority ofwhites there remained adamantly opposed to emancipation.