Longtime-Democrat and early critic of Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, was appointed attorney general during the cabinet crisis by President James Buchanan in December 1860, though at the same time hobnobbing with Charles Sumner and other influential radical Republicans. As noted below, Stanton saw Negro emancipation as a weapon of war rather than a humanitarian policy — in truth a copy of British Lord Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation of 1775, and British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane’s similar edict in 1814. All were aimed at inciting race war, denying the South its agricultural workers, and attracting black soldiers to be military laborers or cannon fodder.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Impaling the South’s Agricultural Economy
“Crusades, like politics, sometimes make strange bedfellows. Few antislavery Radicals in 1860 would have guessed that a member of Buchanan’s cabinet, an outspoken critic of Lincoln and the Republican Party, would become, by 1862, a valuable and enthusiastic ally. But then, few men ever were ingenious enough to predict the course Edwin M. Stanton might follow from one day to the next. Even today it is difficult to assess the degree of Stanton’s Radical Republicanism.
Although he had been a Democrat since his college days and had served in a Democratic cabinet . . . He was in complete sympathy the Radical’s demands for a vigorous prosecution of the war and for the emancipation and military employment of Negro slaves. Yet, he never committed himself clearly to the economic program of the Republican Party: the high tariff, the Homestead Act, national banking, and a sound currency.
Though he used the considerable power of the War Department to aid Republican candidates in wartime elections, he used it also to benefit War Democrats, many of whom could never quite believe that he had really deserted the old party.
Stanton, then, was a true Union man, a partisan of any politician who believed, as he did, that the Southern Confederacy was a conspiracy of traitors and that total war was necessary to destroy it. In his hands, emancipation and the military use of Negroes became weapons of war.
Seldom did he consider the long-term implications of the war; his concern centered on the immediate task of defeating the Confederacy with every means at hand. But he had the prescience enough to realize that emancipation, though it would eliminate the problem of slavery, would at the same time create the problem of the freed Negroes. Impetuous and forceful, Stanton could not sympathize with Lincoln’s cautious approach to the problem.
[Horace Greely prophetically predicted that under Stanton], “no General or other officer of the army will more than once return a fugitive slave.” [Stanton’s predecessor, Simon Cameron in his final report stated:] “Can we afford to send them forward to their masters to be by them armed against us, or used in producing supplies to sustain the rebellion?”
Stanton recognized in the Radicals the strongest single bloc in Congress, a group to be cultivated and respected [as they had] worked hard to put him in the War Department.
It was [then] easy for the Radicals to demand publicly a war policy which would include emancipation and the military use of freed Negroes. [General David Hunter was rebuked by Lincoln for arming Negroes and Stanton publicly denied any responsibility, but] General Hunter’s subordinates charged later that Stanton had expressly authorized the action and that he had furnished guns and uniforms for the troops.
In spite of the Hunter affair, and without the President’s consent, he had tolerated isolated instances of using Negroes as soldiers . . . and few obstacles impeded the secretary’s policy of enlisting and arming the fugitives. The entire structure of slavery, he believed, could be transformed from a bulwark of the South agricultural economy into a weapon on which to impale its defenders.
“The power of the rebels rests upon their peculiar system of labor,” he insisted, and it was the duty of the Union to strike down that system, to “turn against the rebels the productive power that upholds the insurrection.” Next to the armed might of the Union, he considered the Emancipation Proclamation, with its military implications, the strongest weapon in the Northern arsenal.”
(Blueprint for Radical Reconstruction, John G. Sproat, Journal of Southern History, Volume XXIII, Number 1, February 1957, excerpts, pp. 25-29, 31-33)