Andrew Jackson Hamilton.

Letter of Gen. A. J. Hamilton, of Texas, to the President of the United States online

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New York, July 2StIi, 186^!.

My dear Sir, — The deep interest felt by me, as a Southern
Union man, in the result of measures adopted by j-on for the
maintenance of the National authority in all the States, by the
complete and permanent suppression of the rebellion against the
Union and the Constitution, will, I trust, excuse tlie freedom of
this letter and my request for your patient consideration of
what I write.

I am sure that your desire to have the great issues involved
in the present struggle properly and forever stettled is not less
ardent and constant than my own. Our common wish has
common roots in our common aspirations for the honor, pros-
perit}', and unity of the Republic ; that wbicb you cherish
derives peculiar strengtli from the great responsibilities of the
chief magistracy, and that which animates every pulsation of
my heart derives a strength not less peculiar from the fact tliat
the rebellion which imperils our country, desolates mj^ once
happy home — deprives of their liberties and puts in jeopardy
of their lives my family, my kindred, my friends, and my

But it will avail little to procure a temporary adjustment ;
and I am prompted to address you now because I observe in
some quarters indications of a disposition to accept, if not to
invite, a peace whicli would inevitably lead to new convulsions
more disastrous than the present.

By some persons of considerable political prominence, and
b}^ some leading presses, a systematic effort appears to be put
forth to reconcile the public mind to the idea that the future
policy of the Government may be formed on the basis of a
compromise with the cause of the existing rebellion, which will
admit of the re-establishment of slavery in the States where it
has .been abolished by your proclamation of January last.

To pave the way, apparently, for such a compromise, north-
ern sympathisers with rebellion and some too who cannot
justly be so designated, constantly endeavor to impress on the
public mind the notion that our National and State Constitu-
tions were made for the white race alone ; and that therefore
other races can have no rights under them.

No one denies, I believe, that the people of the white race
were much more considered in framing our Constitutions than
the people of the black race ; but the impression sought to be
made is that the blacks are excluded, by their terms, and by
inference, from being regarded as a part of the people for whom
they were made.

The proposition so understood I propose brieil}' to consider ;
and then to add a few words on the policy to which, it scorns
to me, it is intended to lead — namelj', peace through a full and
complete amnesty and the abrogation of your Proclamation of

The Constitutions from which the black population is supposed
to be excluded can be only the Federal and State Constitutions.

First, then, is it true of the Constitution of the United States,
that it excludes the black race? I have sought in vain for a

section or provision in that instrument which, in terms, sustains
the proposition, or which can, by any possible construction, give
color to it. I find, in fact, in the Constitution, the converse of
the proposition. The third clause of the second section of the
first article of the Constitution, is as follows: "Representatives
" and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several
" States which may be included within this Union according to
" their respective numbers, which shall be determined by
" adding to the whole number of free ijersons^ including those
" hound to service for a term of years and excluding Indians
" not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons." The great con-
stituent body which forms the basis of the political department
of the Government, is here defined. Of wliat classes of persons
is tliis ])ody composed ? 1st. " Free 2)ersons^'^ without reference
to color or nationality (for no such qualification is expressed, or
can be implied), and including in this class of 'free ijcrsons''
" tliose bound to service for a term of years" and "excluding"
from the class of ''free persons " " Indians not taxed f then
added to the body of ''free persons, including," &c., " three-fifths
of all other j^rsons," meaning by this description of " all other
persons," the slaves of the South. Who then were the " free
persons, including those bound to service for a term of years?"
They are not slaves of whom only three-fifths can be counted—
nor are they Indians not taxed. Is it true that they who are
white alone belong to this class 1 Whence comes the idea, and
what are the proofs Who were the persons who, for the most
part, were held to service for a term of years, at the period of
the adoption of the Constitution ? I believe it is a part of the
history of the country, that in some of the States, at that very
time, Africans or their descendants were held to labor for a
term of years. If so, they were included in the class of " free
persons," in the very terms of the provision referred to, and
were intended to be included. So too the black man who was

neither held to labor for a term of years n*or for life, hut who
was a "free person," was included in the language and the
spirit of the Constitutioi], To tin's obvious construction the
Southern States have committed themselves, by counting the
free blacks among tlieir '•'-free ])cr8ons^ in determining their

If those who maintain the tlieory of exclusion will point to
some clause or provision in the Constitution which sustains it,
the country will be better prepared for its consideration.

Even the slaves are not thought unworthy of recognition, and
are, to the extent of three-fifths of their number, made a part of
the aggregate constituency of the political department of the

But because this and other provisions of the Constitution were
made in reference to their condition of slavery, is it to be said
that \vhen they shall have ceased to be slaves they are, by some
silent and unseen provision of the Constitution, to be excluded
from all its provisions ? If their condition be changed from
slavery to freedom, the effect of such change upon their status
under the clause of the Constitution quoted, is to incorporate
them with that class from which there is no deduction in fixing
the basis of representation. In what manner, then and by what
provision of the Constitution of the United States are negroes,
when free, excluded from recognition %

If we search the State Constitutions, there will be found in
many, if not most of those of the free States, express recognition
of the' black man.

In that of the State of New York they are, under the descrip-
tion of " men of color," allowed to vote when they shall have
been, for three years, citizens of the State, and for one year pre-
ceding the election at which they propose to vote, have been
seized and possessed of a freehold estate of the value of two
hundred and fifty dollars, above all debts and encumbrances

thereouj and upou which thej have paid a tax. I might refer
to the Constitution of Massachusetts, and of man}' of the other
States, for simihir provisions, but it is unnecessary. In the face
of such clear affirmative constitutional recognition, a declara-
tion to the contrary may, perhaps, challenge admiration for its

If we are now to learn that the black race are ignored and
excluded from citizenship by the Constitutions of States, by
which they are required to perform all tlie ordinary duties per-
taining to the citizen, and allowed the highest rights of freemen,
including the rioht of sufiVasie — if the Constitution of New York
excludes them, how, under its provisions, can thej" vote ? And
why and how is it that to-day, they are being drawn, as con-
scripts, under tlie late act of Congress ?

j^atlve-horii men— free men — wielding a portion of tlie poli-
tical power of Government, Federal as well as State, and with
arms in their hands to defend the flag of the former — are not,
whether wiiite or black, witliout tlie pale of constitutional re-

The resort for proof of the correctness of the proposition under
consideration will be, most probably, to the Constitutions of the
Slave States. If so, then I have only to say, they are not the only,
noryet a majority of the Constitutions of this country, and do not
therefore, prove the truth of the proposition — and, that if the
extinction of slavery is a result of the rebellion, then it may be
that even in the South some meaning and force may be at-
tached to that provision of the Constitution of the United
States, which declares that " The citizens of each State shall be
" entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in
" the several States."

The proposition that the Government can and ought to force
the colonization, in distant lands, of the negroes, when free, is
as reprehensible in principle, and as unsupported by constitu-

tional authority, as is the one just disposed of. The power to
do this is claimed for the Government — (for it would be un-
charitable to suppose that its asserters would insist upon the
Government taking so important a step without full authority) —
to compel the black race to accept expatriation from the United
States as a condition of freedom. If this power exists in the
Government, I insist that the country shall be informed where
it has been so long hidden awa}', and where it is now lodged.
What provision of the Constitution confers it, either expressly,
or as an incident of an express power? Every earnest thinker
will desire to know, uot only the source of the power, but the
department of the Government to which it has been confided.
Touching these important inquiries those who favor the
policy of deportation are entirely silent. Much is said about
the physical and mental inferiority of the black race, and
we are left no alternative but to infer that the power is claimed
for Government : 1st, because they (the blacks) are excluded
from recognition by tlie Constitutions of the country; 2d,
because they are physically and mentally inferior to the white
race ; and, 3d, (for such is a part of the argument), because if
the two races are permitted to remain together, after the eman-
cipation of the blacks, amalgamation will soon produce a piebald
race, to the great detriment of society and government.

1 say again that the favorers of this policy could never have
urged it upon the country, unless they believed there was power
in the Government to adopt and enforce it. Then, it must be,
by application of the facts assumed in argument not to any
particular provision, but to the whole body of the Constitution,
that they distil the subtle power. The first of these assumed
facts I have done with. The second I shall not dispute. I shall
content myself with questioning the power of Government to dis-
criminate against one class, or description, or nationality, of those

within its jurisdiction, because of physical or mental inferiority
to some other class, or description, or nationality.

This would cease to be a free government the moment the
power should be permitted to it to determine, that because of
difference of race— of color— of physical inferiority, or mental
development, the right of the citizen could be determined.

If unhappily such power shall ever be exercised, it might, and
probably would, upon a principle of impartiality, be applied to
all alike. The principle could no doubt find its advocates,
while there is just as little reason to doubt that some of them
would fall the first victims to its impartial enforcement.

If on account of color— race — or physical or mental infe-
riority one class of people can be forcibly ejected from the
territory of the Government, as a measure of policy, or on the
plea of necessity— (the tyrant's plea tiie wide world over)—
where will bounds be fixed to limit its exercise as often and
upon whatever class of citizens the majority in power may,
from time to time, desire?

Neither the foreign born or native citizens could rest ensy
under such a precedent.

As to precisely what would result in the way of amalgama-
tion, from the two races living together in freedom, I cannot
say. I am not sufficiently versed in physiology to determine wliat
increased physical affinities of the two races would be devel-
oped by the blades becoming free. I feel morally certain that
\\\Q facilities for amalgamation would not thereby be increased.
The final argument in favour of the power claimed for the
Government may bo yet held in reserve. If so, perhaps it will
be found, when pushed forward, to be something like this—
" Africans and their descendants are not and cannot be citizens
under the Constitution of the United States, and have no rights
which white men are bound to respect."
1 shall not review the Dred Scott decision. The legal and

logical correctness of the opinion of the Court was, at the time
it was pronounced, met by two learned Justices, not surpassed,
if equalled, in the just estimation of the bar or of the country,
by any other members of the Court, in dissenting opinions which
have not been, and will never be, successfully answered ; and
the philosophic historian of our country has already truly traced
its inhuman spirit and disastrous reasoning to the attempt of
Southern slave owners to overtlirow free government for the
majority of the white race, the more firmly to rivet the chains
upon the black race, which has culminated in this gigantic re-
bellion. Two and a half years of revolution, v>hile they have been
full of sorrows, have not been nnfruitful of honest inquiry lead-
I'ng to the discovery and acknowledgment of trutii. The great
Teacher has from day to day impressed new ideas npon the public
mind and suggested moans adequate to the necessities of the
hour. The despised negro, whose perpetual bondage was the
leading object of the effort to overthrow free government, was
at last considered by the Government as a possible means of
aiding in its preservation. As freemen, they would no longer
constitute the chief laboring and producing population of the
rebellions States, but l)ccome soldiers of the Government, stimu-
lated by its solemn act, which proclaimed their freedom before
all the world and in the sight of Heaven. The result of that
Proclamation is that they are to-day, many of them, in the ranks
of our armies, and have already, on historic battle-fields, vindi-
cated their right to freedom by their heroic defence of the flag of
the free. They are native born — they live and have ever lived
in the United States. They are free — they are fighting and dying
for free government— for thu Government. Why are they not
its citizens 1 They are citizens in fiid^ in reason^ and by
every right that confers citizenship. And so they will hence-
forth be considered — the law proceeding from the right — and he
who, ten years hence, shall dispute the fact will be pitied rather
than blamed.

What shall be said of the final proposition—" full pardon to
the rebels, and the abrogation of jonr Proclamation of Emanci-
pation?" There is nothing of opposition to free government, or
of wrong to humanity and civilization, that is not embraced in
this proposition. It justifies the rebellion in its acts and pur-
poses—it asks, in effect, that the Government shall become the
accuser of those who have labored most zealously to sustain
and preserve it. It asks the Government to do more — to
descend to a depth of infamy beyond that ever reached by any
other— to admit, in the face of Christendom, that the Procla-
mation of Freedom to the Slaves was a deliberate cheat, meant
only to dupe, for the time being, the anti-slavery sentiment of
tlie world ; and especially to deceive the negro, to the end
that he might be induced to engage in the contest, the sooner
to force the rebel master to receive him back and to acknowl-
edge that he holds him under the Constitution of the United

In this connection it is well to remember that this anti-
slavery sentiment is the fixed condition of the public mind of
the civilized world. And to this sentiment, more than to all
other causes, do we owe the fact that non-intervention by
foreign governments in the great struggle now pending here,
has so far been maintained.

At the period M^hen the governing classes of some of the
governments of the Old World, sympathizing with the aristo-
cratic principle of slavery, and deeply interested in the preser-
vation of the privileges of class, were just ready to proclaim
intervention in American affairs, the Proclamation of Freedom
to the slaves, issued by you as President of the United States and
in solemn form, and the concurrent assertion of the rebels in the
South, of their determination to maintain slavery as the corner
stone of their new government, so awakened that deep senti-
ment of hostility to slavery in the masses of the people of those


governments, and so attracted tlieir active sympathies to this
Government, as to effectually forestall intervention.

And to this sentiment thus aroused and stimulated by your
grand Proclamation, and now outspoken in England, do we
owe it to-day to be thankful that we see the emancipation
party holding — and holding firmly, under the able guidance of
John Bright — the balance of power in that Government.

In France too even Imperial power has not, so far, openly
opposed the national sympathy on the side of freedom. If we
are destined to encounter foreign enemies in this struggle, it
will be most likely when by a vacillating policy in support of
the Proclamation, or its abandonment, we have forfeited the
confidence, the respect, and moral aid of the friends of freedom
throughout the world. With the sympathies of Christendom
with us, intervention is but a possibility — against us, it is a

The effect which a disavowal and retraction of the Proclama-
tion would have upon the public mind of other nations is
evident. It would at once paralyze the efforts of those who
have hitherto stayed the action of their governments in pro-
posed interference in our affairs.

It would weaken, if not destroy, the liberal party of France
and England — it would surely convert them from friends to
enemies of this Government, and thus break down the most
powerful barrier to intervention and foreign war. Thus self-
interest and national safety should alone suffice to prevent such

But there is an argument higher than these which appeals
directly to every Christian heart — an argument used by your-
self in the terms of the Proclamation.

" Upon this act — sincerely lelicved (so runs the instrument) to
he an act of justice warranted hj the Constitution upo7i military
necessity — 1 invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and
the gracious favor of Almighty God?''


Thus did the chief of a Christian people, before mankind,
and in the sight of God, proclaim freedom to the slave, and hj
his official signature to the great act commit himself to its wis-
dom, its justice, and its constitutionality, and to the efficiency
of its provisions.

That act was in pursuance of au act of Congress authorizing
it. The power in the Congress to declare war carries with
it, the power to provide the means and prescribe the neces-
sary measures to make the war effective. It was in the
exercise of this power that Congress acted. The war-making
power, which is also the law-making power of the Govern-
ment, said to the President, the commander-in-chief of its
armies, Do this thing, and it was done. It is unprofitable to
attempt to prove to those wlio are unwilling to believe, that the
act was constitutional. The majority of the people of the
United States and of the civilized world so believe it and so
sanction it.

If your proclamation was not then a mere assumption of
power, but a valid act, done in the exercise of constitutional
discretion, what power can abrogate or annul it? The act, if
constitutionally done, is as irrevocable as is the act of the Pre-
sident in signing an act passed by the Congress. In either
case discretion and power cease with the act. When the
proclamation was issued it became the laio of freedom to the
slaves therein embraced — a law which I repeat is irrevocable
by any power in the Government. Laws which are general
in their character and create no vested right in the citizen,
may be changed or repealed — but those which create personal
rights and vest them in the citizen are protected from infraction by
constitutional guarantees. A legislative grant to land cannot be
revoked at the pleasure of the power making the grant.
The enfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of people by
the Government — the solemn act which raises them from


slavery to freedom — is surely not less sacred and inviolable.
There is no power in this Government to make slaves of free-
men, white or black. While the civilized world has hailed the
act with joy, it would shudder at an effort to recall it or impair
its vital force. The policy of such a course would be as fatal
to the peace and welfare of the country as the act would be
atrocious in principle.

Those who propose it surely cannot yet compreliend the
real design of the rebellion, and the change which it has pro-
duced in the relations of the different classes in tlie South. A
restoration of " the Union as it was," to use a cant phrase of
the day, is not a possible thing. If it means a restoration with
slavery, tlien it will not be a Union of peace, prosperity, and
happiness, but a Union of discord, hatred, and violence in the
South wliich will sink it in barbarism. Can we hope for peace
between tlie sections now at war, with slavery still existing?
But if this were possible, how can it be expected that the rebels
and loyal men of the South can live in peace in the future,
the cause of the trouble — slavery — still in existence, the rebel
masters more intolerant, jealous, and brutal than ever before,
with arrogance increased by the victory which they will have
achieved over the people and Government of the United States
and the moral and political opinions of the civilized world ?
I know well that there are those who are impatient when
"loyal men South" are mentioned in the consideration of these
questions. Nevertheless, I insist most respectfully, but earnest-
ly, that they ai^e worthy of consideration because of their de-
votion to liberty and their Government, because of their
sacrifices and sufferings, and because they constitute the only
future strength of the Government in the South. They are to-
day the majority of the South, whatever may be said or tliought
to the contrary. Their vindication is certain, if slow. Time
will prove that the great body of the citizens of the South will


gratefully return to the Union of their fathers, while it will
more fully develope the undying hatred to free government of
less than 300,000 slaveholders.

We need not further shut our eyes to the nature and disposi-
tion of the antagonistic forces now in conflict in this war.
Men need not wonder at the convulsion resulting from the con-
spiracy, created solely by the pro-slavery spirit that plotted the
rebellion. This conspiracy is now known to have embraced
various objects in its scope. Tlie determination to hold in
bondage four millions of colored people with their increase,
and to make such bondage perpetual, was the main object of
the conspiracy. This determination formed the basis of all
other measures, whether of intrigue, war, or diplomacy. It
entered into every plan and calculation of the rebel leaders.
The attempt to destroy the national unity grew out of the con-
spiracy against the colored man. and became necessary to ac-
complish the scheme of his perpetual bondage. There was
an obstacle in the way. There were seven millions of non-
slaveholders in the South. How could it be otherwise than
that this population should, at no distant day, stand upon its
rights and dictate that policy which should accord with its in-
terests ? It was the apprehension of this that led to the con-
spiracy against the political rights of these masses. It was a
truth fully realized by the leading conspirators that slavery


Online LibraryAndrew Jackson HamiltonLetter of Gen. A. J. Hamilton, of Texas, to the President of the United States → online text (page 1 of 2)