But advice, expostulation, argument, orders, were all wasted, now as before, on the unwilling, hesitating general. When he had frittered away another full month in preparation, in slowly crossing the Potomac, and in moving east of the Blue Ridge and massing his army about Warrenton, a short distance south of the battle-field of Bull Run, without a vigorous offensive, or any discernible intention to make one, the President’s patience was finally exhausted, and on November 5 he sent him an order removing him from command. And so ended General McClellan’s military career.
Cameron’s Report—Lincoln’s Letter to Bancroft—Annual Message on Slavery—The Delaware Experiment—Joint Resolution on Compensated Abolishment—First Border State Interview—Stevens’s Comment—District of Columbia Abolishment—Committee on Abolishment—Hunter’s Order Revoked—Antislavery Measures of Congress—Second Border State Interview—Emancipation Proposed and Postponed
The relation of the war to the institution of slavery has been touched upon in describing several incidents which occurred during 1861, namely, the designation of fugitive slaves as “contraband,” the Crittenden resolution and the confiscation act of the special session of Congress, the issuing and revocation of Fremont’s proclamation, and various orders relating to contrabands in Union camps. The already mentioned resignation of Secretary Cameron had also grown out of a similar question. In the form in which it was first printed, his report as Secretary of War to the annual session of Congress which met on December 3, 1861, announced:
“If it shall be found that the men who have been held by the rebels as slaves are capable of bearing arms and performing efficient military service, it is the right, and may become the duty, of the government to arm and equip them, and employ their services against the rebels, under proper military regulation, discipline, and command.”
The President was not prepared to permit a member of his cabinet, without his consent, to commit the administration to so radical a policy at that early date. He caused the advance copies of the document to be recalled and modified to the simple declaration that fugitive and abandoned slaves, being clearly an important military resource, should not be returned to rebel masters, but withheld from the enemy to be disposed of in future as Congress might deem best. Mr. Lincoln saw clearly enough what a serious political role the slavery question was likely to play during the continuance of the war. Replying to a letter from the Hon. George Bancroft, in which that accomplished historian predicted that posterity would not be satisfied with the results of the war unless it should effect an increase of the free States, the President wrote:
“The main thought in the closing paragraph of your letter is one which does not escape my attention, and with which I must deal in all due caution, and with the best judgment I can bring to it.”