MAJOR GENERALS JOHN C. FREMONT AND DAVID HUNTER versus PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN
MAJOR GENERALS JOHN C. FREMONT AND DAVID HUNTER
PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN
Compiled by Bennie J. McRae, Jr.
In 1861 Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Western Department of the Army of the United States, felt the country was drifting toward destruction, and also felt the Administration had not adopted a policy which would reverse the trend, issued the following proclamation:
"All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands within these lines shall be tried by court martial, and, if found guility, will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men."
Shortly after the proclamation was issued, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the removal of Major General Fremont, and the annulling of the proclamation. Many felt the President had given unintentional "aid and comfort" to the enemy and hindered the movement to crush the rebellion.
Before the removal letter was received by Major General Freemont, freedom had been given to a number of slaves, in accordance with his proclamation. The following is an example of his actions:
DEED OF MANUMISSION
Whereas, Thomas L. Snead, of the city and county of St. Louis, State of Missouri, has been taking an active part with the enemies of the United States, in the present insurrectionary movement against the Government of the United States; now, therefore, I, John Charles Fremont, Major-General commanding the Western Department of the Army of the United States, by authority of law, and the power vested in me as such commanding general, declare Hiram Reed, heretofore held to service or labor by Thomas L. Snead, to be FREE, and forever discharged from the bonds of servitude, giving him full right and authority to have, use, and control his own labor or service as to him may seem proper, without any accountability whatever to said Thomas L. Snead, or any one to claim by, through, or under him.
And this deed of manumission shall be respected and treated by all persons, and in all courts of justice, as the full and complete evidence of the freedom of said Hiram Reed.
In testimony whereof, this act is done at headquarters of the Western Department of the Army of the United States, in this city of St. Louis, State of Missouri, on this twelfth day of September, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-one, as is evidenced by the Departmental Seal hereto affixed by my order.
"J. C. FREMONT,
Done at the office of the Provost-Marshal, in the city of St. Louis, the twelfth day of September, A.D. eighteen hundred and sixty-one, at nine o'clock in the evening of said day.
Witness my hand and seal of office hereto affixed.
The proclamation and its annulment had great effect upon the public mind, however, a few months later this action was surpassed by a still more 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, deeds of manumission, and proclamations by Generals Fremont and 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.