Lincoln Palming Off Freedmen to the Danish West Indies
In the official letter below, Secretary of State Judah Benjamin advises his diplomat in Brussels of an agreement between Denmark and the United States, and his suspicion that Lincoln would remove slaves captured in the South to the Danish West Indies. Lincoln was well-known to hold views deporting Africans from the US to other countries.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Lincoln Palming Off Freedmen to the Danish West Indies
Mr. Benjamin, Secretary of State
No. 4, Department of State, Richmond, August 14, 1862
Honorable Dudley Mann, etc., Brussels, Belgium.
We are informed that an arrangement has been recently concluded between the Government of the United States and that of Denmark for transferring to the Dutch colonies in the West Indies, Africans who may be captured from slavers and brought into the United States.
We are not informed of the precise terms of this agreement, and can, of course, have no objection to offer to its execution if confined to the class of persons above designated—that is, to Africans released by the United States from vessels engaged in the slave trade in violation of laws and treaties. It has been, however, suggested to the President that under cover of this agreement the United States may impose upon the good faith of the government of Denmark, and make it the unwitting and innocent participant in the war now waged against us.
The recent legislation of the Congress of the United States and the action of its military authorities, betray the design of converting the war into a campaign of indiscriminate robbing and murder. I inclose herewith a letter of the President to the General-in-Chief commanding our armies, and a general order on the subject of the conduct of Major General Pope now commanding the enemy’s forces in northern Virginia, that you may form some faint idea of the atrocities which are threatened.
The act of Congress of the United States decreeing the confiscation of the property of all persons engaged in what that law terms a rebellion includes, as you are aware, the entire property of all the citizens of the Confederacy. The same law decrees substantially the emancipation of all our slaves, and an executive order of President Lincoln directs the commanders of his armies to employ them as laborers in the military service.
It is well known, however, that notwithstanding the restrictive terms of this order, several of his generals openly employ the slaves to bear arms against their masters, and have thus inaugurated, as far as lies in their power, a servile war, of whose horrors mankind has had a shocking example within the memory of many now living. The perfidy, vindictiveness, and savage cruelty with which the war is waged against us have had but few parallels in the annals of nations.
The Government of the United States, however, finds itself greatly embarrassed in the execution of its schemes by the difficulty of disposing of the slaves seized by its troops and subjected to confiscation by its barbarous laws. The prejudice against the Negro race is, in the Northern States, so intense and deep-rooted that the migration of our slaves into those States would meet with violent opposition both from their people and local authorities.
Already riots are becoming rife in the Northern cities, arising out of conflicts and rivalries between their white laboring population and the slaves who have been carried from Virginia by the Army of the US, yet these slaves are an unappreciable fraction of the Negro population of the South. It is thus perceived that the single obstacle presented by the difficulty of disposing of the slaves seized for confiscation, is of itself sufficient to check, in a very great degree, the execution of the barbarous policy inaugurated by our enemies.
The repeated instances of shameless perfidy exhibited by the Government of the United States during the prosecution of the war justify us in the suspicion that bad faith underlies every act on their part having a bearing, however remote, on the hostilities now pending.
When, therefore, the President received at the same time information on two important facts — one, that the United States was suffering grave embarrassments from the presence within their limits of the slaves seized from our citizens; the other, that the United States had agreed to transfer to Denmark, for transportation to the Danish West Indies, all Africans captured at sea from slave-trading vessels — he felt that there was just reason to suspect an intimate connection between these facts, and that the purpose of our treacherous enemy was to impose on the good faith of a neutral and friendly power by palming off our own slaves, seized for confiscation by the enemy, as Africans rescued at sea from slave-traders.
You are specially instructed to observe that the President entertains no apprehension that the Government of Denmark would for one moment swerve from the observance of strict neutrality in the war now raging on this continent; still less that it would fail disdainfully to reject any possible complicity, however remote, in the system of confiscation, robbery and murder which the United States have recently adopted under the sting of defeat in their unjust attempt to subjugate a free people.
His only fear is that the Cabinet at Copenhagen may (as has happened to ourselves) fail to suspect in others a perfidy of which they themselves are incapable. His only purpose in instructing you, as he now does, to communicate the contents of this dispatch to the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs (and, if deemed advisable, to furnish a copy of it) is to convey the information which has given rise to the suspicions entertained here.
The President hopes thus to prevent the possibility of success in any attempt that may be made to deceive the servants of His Danish Majesty, by delivering to them for conveyance to the West Indies, our slaves seized for confiscation by the enemy instead of Africans rescued on the high seas. You are requested to proceed to Copenhagen by the earliest practicable conveyance, and execute the President’s instructions on this matter without unnecessary delay.
I am, sir, respectfully, etc.
J.P. Benjamin, Secretary of State.”
(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, James D. Richardson, Volume II, US Publishing Company, 1905, pp. 311-313)