Confiscation Act of 1862
The Second Confiscation Act, approved by Congress 16 July 1862, contained the first definite provisions for emancipating slaves in the rebellious states.
Under the act, Confederates who did not surrender within 60 days of the acts passage were to be punished by having their slaves freed. The act also dealt with a problem that plagued field commanders occupying Southern territory. As troops advanced, slaves sought refuge in Union camps, and Federal commanders were confused over their obligations to the refugees. Some freed the slaves, others sent them hack to their masters for lack of means to care for them. The Confiscation Act of 1862 declared all slaves taking refuge behind Union lines captives of war who were to be set free.
Though the act implied a willingness to emancipate, at the convenience of the government, it offered blacks no guarantee of civil rights. Instead, it incorporated provisions for transporting and colonizing any black consenting to emigrate to some tropical country that was prepared to guarantee them the rights and privileges of free men. A clause requiring the consent of the freedmen to be colonized was approved after much controversy in Congress.
Radical Republicans, who envisioned distributing confiscated lands to former slaves succeeded in passing the bill only after agreeing to President Lincolns demand to limit seizure of Confederate estates to the lifetime of the offender.
Lincolns limited emancipation gesture applied only to states in open rebellion. The same act granting freedom to Confederate slaves guaranteed the return of fugitives from the border states to any owner who could prove loyalty to the Union. Lincoln could not risk alienating these states, and he hoped that one part of the bill, calling for gradual, compensated emancipation, would draw Virginia and Tennessee back into the Union.
Essentially, the Confiscation Act of 1862 prepared the way for the Emancipation Proclamation and solved the immediate dilemma facing the army concerning the status of slaves within its Jurisdiction.
Source: "Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War" Edited by Patricia L. Faust
This Page last updated 07/18/04