Major General David Hunter Versus President Abraham Lincoln
Compiled by Bennie J. McRae, Jr.
MAJOR GENERAL DAVID HUNTER
PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Bold and sweeping action by Major General David Hunter, Commander of the Department of the South. The following was issued from his headquarters at Hilton Head, South Carolina: --
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH,
Hilton Head, S.C., May 9, 1862.
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 11:
The three States of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, comprising the Military Department of the South, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it became a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these three States, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.
Ed. W. Smith, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General."
The above order was immediately annulled by President Lincoln. The words were hailed with cheers to the proslavery forces in the North, and carried comfort to the hearts of the Confederacy.
President Lincoln stated:
"That neither Gen. Hunter nor any other commander or person has been authorized by the Government of the United States to make proclamation declaring the slaves of any State free; and that the supposed proclamation now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.
I further make known, that, whether it be competent for me, as commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States free, and whether at any time or in any case it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field."
Prior to the President's proclamation reaching South Carolina, General Hunter had furnished slaves with free papers as follows:
DEED OF EMANCIPATION
"It having been proven, to the entire satisfaction of the general commanding the Department of the South, that the bearer, named _______ _______, heretofore held in involuntary servitude, has been directly employed to aid and assist those in rebellion against the United States of America;
"Now, be it known to all, that, agreeably to the laws, I declare the said person free, and forever absolved from all claims to his services. Both he and his wife and children have full right to go North, East, or West, as they may decide.
"Given under my hand, at the Headquarters of the Department of the South, this nineteenth day of April, 1862.
A widely held view is that the orders and deed of emancipation by General Hunter hastened a policy change by the Administration which eventually led to President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, enlistment of Black soldiers and establishment of the Bureau of Colored Troops in 1863.
REFERENCE: William Wells Brown. THE NEGRO IN THE AMERICAN REBELLION: His Heroism and his Fidelity. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1867. Kraus Reprint Co., New York, 1969.