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ARMING THE SLAVES.

[The following is the substance of R. M. T. Hunter's speech against the Negro Arming bill, for which he voted in obedience to imperative instruction from the Virginia Legislature.]

WHEN we left the old government he had thought we had gotten rid forever of the Slavery agitation; that we were entering into a new Confederacy of homogenous States, where the agitation of the Slavery question, which had become intolerable under the old Union, was to have no place. But to his surprise he finds that this government assumes the power to arm the slaves, which involves also the power of emancipation. To the agitation of this question, the assumption of this power, he dated the origin of the gloom which now overspreads our people. They knew that if our liberties were to be achieved it was to be done by the hearts and the hands of free men. It also injured us abroad. It was regarded as a confession of despair and an abandonment of the ground upon which we had seceded from the old Union.

We had insisted that Congress had no right to interfere with slavery, and upon the coming into power of the party which it was known would assume and exercise that power, we seceded. We had also then contended that whenever the two races were thrown together one must be master and the other slave, and we vindicated ourselves against the accusations of the Abolitionists by asserting that slavery was the best and happiest condition of the negro. Now what does this proposition admit? The right of the Central government to put the slave into the militia, and to emancipate at least so many as shall be placed in the military service. It is a clear claim of the central government to emancipate the slaves.

If we are right in passing this measure we were wrong in denying to the old government the right to interfere with the institution of slavery and to emancipate slaves. Besides, if we offer slaves their freedom as a boon we confess that we were insincere, were hypocritical, in asserting that slavery was the best state for the negroes themselves. He had been sincere in declaring that the Central government had no power over the institution of slavery, and that freedom would be no boon to the negro.

He now believed, as he had formerly said in discussion on the same subject, that arming and emancipating the slaves was an abandonment of this contest- an abandonment of the grounds upon which it had been undertaken. If this is so who is to answer for the hundreds of thousands of man who had been slain in the war? Who was to answer fro them before the bar of Heaven? Not those who had entered into the contest upon principle and adhered to the principle, but those who had abandoned the principle. Not for all the gold in California would he have put his name to such a measure as this unless obliged to do it by instructions. As long as he was free to vote from his own convictions nothing could have extorted it from him.

Mr. Hunter then argued the necessity of freeing the negroes if they were made soldiers. There was something in the human heart and head that tells us it must be so; when they come out scarred from this conflict they must be free. If we could make them soldiers, the condition of the solider being socially equal to any other in society, we could make them officers, perhaps, to command white men. Some future ambitious President might use the slaves to seize the liberties of the country and put the white men under his feet. The government had no power under the Constitution to arm and emancipate the slaves, and the Constitution granted no such great powers by implication.

Mr. Hunter then showed from statistics that no considerable body of negro troops could be raised in the States over which the government had control, without stripping the country of the labor absolutely necessary to produce food. He thought there was a much better chance of getting the large number of deserters back to the army than of getting the slaves into it. The negro abhorred the profession of a solider. The commandant of conscripts, with authority to impress twenty thousand slaves, had , between last September and the present time, been able to get but four thousand: and of these thirty-five hundred had been obtained in Virginia and North Carolina, and five hundred from Alabama. If he, armed with all the powers of impressment, could not get them as laborers, how will we be able to get them as soldiers? Unless they volunteer they will go to the Yankees; if we depend upon their volunteering we can't get them, and those we do get will desert to the enemy, who can offer them a better price than we can. The enemy can offer them liberty, clothing, and even farms at our expense. Negroes now were deterred from going to the enemy only by the fear of being put into the army. If we put them in they would all go over.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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The National Anti-Slavery Standard was the American Anti-Slavery Society's official newspaper. It was published from 1840 to 1870. In early 1865 Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, was desperate to reinforce the army and felt there was only one way to do it--arm the slaves. On February 10, 1865, bills providing for the arming the slaves were introduced both in the House and Senate. Robert M. T. Hunter (1809-1887) had been Speaker of the House of Representatives, and was a Senator from Virginia at the outbreak of the Civil War. He served as the Confederate Secretary of State (1861-1862), and in the Confederate Senate (1862-1865). He opposed the Negro Arming bill and spoke out against it, but he voted for it since he had been instructed to by the Virginia Legislature. He felt this bill contradicted the reasons the South had gone to war since it interfered with the institution of slavery and would emancipate the slaves who joined the army.

 

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"Arming the Slaves" article from the National Anti-Slavery Standard newspaper

printer   National Anti-Slavery Standard
publisher   American Anti-Slavery Society
date   Mar 25, 1865
location   New York, New York
width   2.75"
height   12.0"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L05.065


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