The Confederate government consistently maintained that the emancipation of African slaves was the province of the individual States, as it had no authority to do so delegated to it by the Constitution. The Cofederate Constitution was identical to the United States Constitution on this question. As the war ground on and the North used captured Africans as labor and troops, it was obvious that the Confederacy should muster black troops, if emancipated by their owners and they voluntarily enlisted. This was done in March, 1865.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Emancipation in Exchange for Recognition
“It has been said that the Confederate agents always found among all classes in England and France a fixed and unrelenting hostility to slavery, but that in England, except among a relatively small part of the population, this hostility had no bearing upon their sympathies, which were largely in favor of the South. In their [Yancey-Rost-Mann mission] note to Russell of August 14, 1861, while they assured the [British] Foreign Minister that the war was one of conquest on the part of the North rather than a war to free the slaves, the commissioners acknowledged “the anti-slavery sentiment so universally prevalent in England.”
The reply to this European criticism and hostility to slavery was finally embodied in a circular sent to all the agents, January 15, 1863, in which [Confederate Secretary of State Judah] Benjamin . . . [instructed them to answer that] this domestic institution was one which only the individual States could deal with. The Confederate government, wrote Benjamin, “unequivocally and absolutely denies its possession of any power whatever over the subject and cannot entertain any propositions in relation to it.”
But this solid front against the discussion of abolishing slavery began to break in the Confederacy under the hostile attitude of Europe and the military necessity at home. After Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation thousands of Negro troops joined the Federal armies. With 400,000 or 500,000 foreigners and over 200,000 Negroes added to the Federal armies the small white population of the South began to feel itself overwhelmed by the weight of mere number; and finally it was urged that Negroes who could be enlisted in the Confederate armies should be freed.
This agitation culminated in the early winter of 1864-65 . . . [and] the Confederate government determined to capitalize in its diplomacy upon the idea of emancipation. On December 27, 1864, Benjamin wrote dispatches to Mason and Slidell to put the question squarely up to England and France whether slavery was and had been the obstacle to recognition. Duncan Kenner of Louisiana, member of Congress and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee . . . was appointed as special envoy to carry these instructions and to act with Mason and Slidell in case negotiations [to emancipate the slaves in exchange for recognition] should follow.
The optimistic Benjamin was in profound despair and he was now desperate. The freeing of the slaves was to hazard black supremacy, and all the horrors of Haiti. His note is worthy of extensive quotation: “The Confederate States have now for nearly four years resisted the utmost power of the United States with a courage and fortitude to which the world has accorded its respect and admiration.
No people have ever poured out their blood more freely in defense of their liberties and independence, nor have endured sacrifices with greater cheerfulness than have the men and women of these Confederate States. They accepted the issue which was forced on them by an arrogant and domineering race, vengeful, grasping and ambitious. They have asked nothing, [and] fought for nothing but for the right of self-government, for independence.”
But this was an inadequate picture of that heroism, for, in fact, the Confederacy, outnumbered by the North three to one, had been fighting Europe as well as the North. England and France had aided the United States by “the abandonment by those two powers of all rights as neutrals,” that is, he said . . . “their countenance of a blockade which, when declared, was the most shameless outrage on international law that modern times have witnessed . . . .[and] their indifference to the spectacle of a people [while engaged in an unequal struggle for defense] exposed to the invasion not only of the superior numbers of their adversaries, but of armies of mercenaries imported from neutral nations to subserve the guilty projects of our foes.
While engaged in defending our country on terms so unequal, the foes whom we are resisting profess the intention of resorting to the starvation and extermination of our women and children (Sherman’s march) as a means of securing conquest over us. In the very beginning of the contest they indicated their fell purpose by declaring medicines contraband of war, and recently have not been satisfied with burning granaries and dwellings and all food for man and beast.
They have sought to provide against any future crop by destroying all agricultural implements, and killing all animals that they could not drive from the farms, so as to render famine certain among the people.”
[The] Richmond Sentinel [of] January 19, 1865 . . . stated concisely the grounds upon which the South should free the slaves and use them as soldiers. “It is a question,” said the paper, “simply whether we give for our own uses, or whether the Yankees shall take for theirs. Subjugation means emancipation and confiscation . . . it would be far more glorious to devote our means to our success than to lose them as spoils to the enemy.”
[The] Richmond Enquirer of the same date [supported] warmly the idea of emancipation. “[We] must convince the world that we are fighting for the self-government of the whites and not for the slavery of the blacks; that the war has been forced upon us by the enemy for the purpose of spoliation and subjugation . . . and if that liberation [of the blacks] can be made to secure our independence, we believe that the people of these States would not hesitate to make that sacrifice.”
(King Cotton Diplomacy, Frank Lawrence Owsley, University of Chicago Press, 1931, pp. 530-536)