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.