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The Life and Public Services of Henry Wilson
Chapter XVI.


AT the commencement of the year 1862 the Union was coming slowly and steadily up to bear the tremendous strain of the Rebellion; and the moral grandeur of the scene has never been surpassed in any crisis of a distracted nation. On the one hand were dissolution and anarchy; on the other hand, the Constitution and the liberation of the slave. The destinies of unborn millions were in the conflict. Will the government meet the exigency? Yes; for, while our loyal soldiers were bravely gathering to roll back the tide of war upon the field, our loyal Congress-men were as bravely toiling to sustain them, and to break the chains of servitude in the halls of legislation. Here, indeed, the battles are really fought. The army is but an exponent of power: the power itself is in the principles that move the army; and these are settled by the action of the people's representatives. As one of those noble men whose doings will render the Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth Congresses ever memorable, Mr. Wilson exhibited clear-sightedness which no intricacies could baffle, hope which no disasters could repress, courage which no danger could appall, and patriotism which no bribe could bend.

In the full confidence of the government, he gave his whole energies of heart and hand to its support, and still brought forward measure after measure for the prosecution of the war, and for the overthrow of a system, which, recognizing the right of property in man, had caused the war. But little more than a bare enumeration of the measures which he introduced can here be given.

On the 2d of January, 1862, he presented the bill appointing sutlers and defining their duties in the volunteer service; which, after several amendments, became a law on the 19th of the following March. On the 9th of January he introduced a bill for the better organization of the signal department of the army, which was approved on the 22d day of February; and on the 28th of January a bill to define the pay and emoluments of certain officers of the army, and for other purposes, which, after a long discussion, became a law on the 17th of July, 1862. On the 7th of February he brought forward a bill to increase the efficiency of the medical department of the army, which, after several amendments, became a law on the sixteenth day of April, 1862. A joint resolution for the payment of the moneys of any State to its volunters was introduced by him on the 11th of March, and became a law oil nineteenth day of April following; and also another, on the 14th of March, assigning command in the same field for department to officers of the same grade without regard to seniority, which was enacted on the 4th of April, 1862. On the 7th of May his bill for the appointment of medical storekeepers was brought forward, and approved by the president oil 20th of the same month. Ever anxious for the improvement of the colored people in the District of Columbia, Mr. Wilson, on the 8th of May, moved, as an amendment to Mr. Grimes's educational bill, that all persons of color in that District shall be amenable to the same laws, and tried in the same manner, as the free white people, which received the approval of the president on the eleventh day of July, 1862; and thus the "black code" was abolished forever in the national capital. Ever mindful of the services of the soldier, he reported, on the thirteenth day of May, a joint resolution for the preparation of two thousand medals of honor, "with suitable devices, to be presented to such non-commissioned officers and privates as should distinguish themselves by gallantry in action and other soldier-like qualities;" and this became a law on the twelfth day of July, 1862. For the further encouragement of enlistments, he introduced a joint resolution on the 4th of June (enacted on the 21st of the same month), that the soldier who enlisted might receive one month's wages in advance; and on the 12th of June he brought forward an additional bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, which, after being amended, received the signature of Mr. Lincoln on the twelfth day of July, 1862.

The activity of the rebels in Tennessee, the retreat of Gen. Banks upon the Potomac, and the indecisive battles of Gen. McClellan in front of Richmond, all conspired to dishearten loyal men, and to fill the government with gloomy apprehensions. Mr. Wilson urged upon the Senate prompt and decided action. Of the confederates he said, "They have appealed to their people, - to their passions, to their prejudices, to their hate; they have organized their people; they have issued their conscriptions, using every man who could do any thing, - no matter how halt or maimed he might be, if he could strike a blow; they have carried on their military operations with great administration and military ability. We are in one of the darkest periods of the contest; and we had better look our position in the face, meet the responsibilities of the hour, rise to the demands of the occasion, pour out our money, summon our men to the field, go ourselves if we can do any good, and overthrow this confederate power, that feels to-day, over the recent magnificent triumphs, that it has already achieved its independence. Bold and decisive action alone in the cabinet and in the field can retrieve our adverse fortunes, and carry our country triumphantly through the perils that threaten to dismember the republic."

Actuated by such sentiments, he introduced on the twelfth day of July his effective bill into the Senate, authorizing the president to call forth the militia of the country; enrolling all able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years; to accept a hundred thousand volunteers as infantry for nine months, and volunteers for twelve months, with fifty dollars bounty; to fill up the old regiments: also to establish army corps, and to receive into the army persons of African descent to perform any service for which they may be competent; and providing that persons performing such service shall be forever free, and also the mothers, wives, and children of such persons as may be owing service to any men engaged in the Rebellion. This important measure, after strenuous opposition by Messrs. Davis of Kentucky, Saulsbury, Powell, and others, was enacted July 17, 1862, and was another heavy blow to that institution which had brought the country into such a bloody contest.

But why stop with the emancipation of the colored soldiers in the army? Are not three millions longing to be free? Will not the strength of the confederates be lessened by their manumission? Will not such an act serve to harmonize the feelings of the North? Has not the South, by its revolt, invited it? The president saw the situation, and the readiness of Congress and the army to sustain him, and on the first clay of January, 1863, sent forth his glorious proclamation, which declared " forever free " the slaves in the Confederate States. Of the representatives at 'Washington, none hailed that grand announcement with more joy than Henry Wilson: none had labored for it more persistently; none saw with clearer vision the encouraging effect it would produce upon the spirit of the people, and the aid which it would render in the prosecution of the war.

At the commencement of the year (1863) the hopes of the Union men were brightened by the victory of Gen. Rosecrans over the rebel forces under Gen. Bragg at Murfreesborough, Tenn.; and on the 8th of January Mr. Wilson introduced a resolution tendering thanks to the general and his army for their distinguished gallantry in that action, and it received the signature of the president on the third day of the following March. On the twelfth day of January he presented in the Senate a memorial of the Emancipation League of his State for a bureau of emancipation, and entered into the discusions upon this philanthropic measure, which was to aid, protect, and elevate "the children of the government."

To bring up the power of the republic to meet the exigencies of the war, Mr. Wilson, on the ninth day of February, introduced his great bill for enrolling and calling out the national forces, and for other purposes. It consisted of thirty-six sections, the first of which declared that "all able-bodied male citizens in the United States (with certain exceptions) between the ages of eighteen and forty-five shall constitute the national forces, and be liable to military duty at the call of the president." By the eighteenth section, a bounty of fifty dollars was given to present volunteers who re-enlist for one year. This important measure was framed with great administrative ability; and, in defence of it, Mr. Wilson said, "I am confident the enactment of this bill, embodying so many provisions required by the exigencies of the public service, will weapon the hands of the nation, fire the drooping hearts of the people, thrill the wasting ranks of our legions in the field, carry dismay into the councils of treason, and give assurance to the nations that the American people have the sublime virtue of heroic constancy and endurance that will assure the unity and indivisibility of the republic of the United States. We have endeavored to frame this bill so as to bear as lightly as possible upon the toiling masses, and to put the burdens, so far as we could do so, equally upon the more favored sons of men."

On a motion of Mr. Cowan of Pennsylvania to exempt members of Congress from the law, he said, "Its adoption would weaken the moral force of the law. He wanted every one to feel that this measure was a necessity forced upon us by the needs of the country; that to be drafted to carry this country through the impending struggle was the most honorable thing that can fall upon an American citizen:" and the motion was not carried. After several amendments, this great measure was approved by the president on the third day of March; and the army was thus brought into order for the reception of the confederate forces on the field of Gettysburg in July following.

On the 17th of February he brought forward the bill to incorporate "the institution for the education of the colored youth" in the District of Columbia, which was approved by the president on the 3d of March; and on the 10th of February a bill to increase the number of major and brigadier generals in the army, which became a law on the second day of March. His resolution "to facilitate the payment of sick and wounded soldiers," and also his bill to promote the efficiency of the corps of engineers and of the ordnance department, and for other purposes, were approved by the president on the third day of March,

At this period, Mr. Wilson, following up the proclamation of the president, entered warmly into the senatorial debates on the question of rendering aid to Missouri and other semi-loyal States for the liberation of their slaves. In response to Mr. Henderson of Missouri, he said, "Let us stamp upon her now war-desolated fields the words, "Immediate emancipation;" and these blighted fields will bloom again, and law and order and peace again will bless the dwellings of her people."

The following letter from a prominent citizen of that State will indicate how his services were there regarded:

JEFFERSON BARRACKS, Mo., Feb. 24, 1863.

Hon. H. WILSON, U. S. Senate.

Sir, - Excuse the liberty I take in expressing my gratification at the manner in which you treat the traitors in the Senate.

I have also to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the interest and zeal you have manifested in securing compensated emancipation for Missouri.

With this this measure successful, this State, in a year or two, might almost thank the rebels for their efforts to ruin us; but without it we must sink almost as low as Virginia in financial woe and general desolation.

All good men in Missouri pray daily that Congress may see the wisdom of perfecting this aid to loyal slave-owners of the State. It is not material, perhaps, what sum Congress appropriates, if the maximum be three hundred dollars for the best slaves, and graduated in proportion for females, children, and aged persons.

I feel the utmost confidence that it will not take ten million dollars to pay all loyal owners, if three hundred dollars is the highest price to be paid, and a proportionate price for the young, aged, and all other classes. I know of no slave in Missouri now that would command at private sale three hundred dollars, unless the purchaser were misled by an impression that he might obtain more by virtue of the proposed act of Congress.

Emancipation in Missouri would soon make it one of the greatest States in the Union, and the disinthralment of her antislavery population would enable us to show the traitors in the old free States whether New England is ever to be severed from the States of the West. Congress is on the right war-path this winter; and God be praised for the bright prospect of soon crushing out the life of the Rebellion.

I am, dear sir, very truly,
Your obedient servant,


During the recess of Congress, Mr. Wilson labored with ceaseless activity to sustain the administration in the prosecution of the war. Moving from point to point, he was now assisting the Sanitary Commission, now writing letters to the soldiers, now examining the claims of rival officers to promotion, now suggesting more vigorous measures to the cabinet, now urging moneyed men to aid the government, and now addressing vast audiences in support of the Union cause. In the great rejoicings at Washington, July 7, on the surrender of Vicksburg, he participated, and addressed a vast multitude in front of the presidential mansion. On the same day, with Senators Fessenden and Morrill, he had a conference with the cabinet, which resulted in the ordering of five vessels to protect the seaboard from Nantucket to the British Provinces.

Mr. Wilson also shared with the administration in the profound anxiety for the issue of the bloody conflict at Gettysburg (July 1, 2, and 3), and put forth his best efforts to assuage the sufferings of wounded soldiers.

The delay of Gen. Meade in following up his victory led the government soon to turn attention to the victorious GRANT as the man to lead the army on to Richmond; and Mr. Wilson urged his nomination as commander.

On his way to resume his seat in Congress in December, on the 9th of July, he took part in the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the American Antislavery Society and made an address remarkable for its earnestness and vigor. Contrasting the antislavery cause at the institution of the society with what it was in the closing month of 1863, he eloquently said, -

"Then a few unknown and nameless men were its apostles: now the most accomplished intellects in America are its champions. Then a few proscribed and hunted followers rallied around its banners: now it has laid its grasp upon the conscience of the nation, and millions rally around the folds of its flag. Then not a statesman in America accepted its doctrines, or advocated its measures: now it controls more than twenty States, has a majority in both Houses of Congress, and the chief magistrate of the republic decrees the emancipation of three millions of men. (Applause.) Then every free State was against it: now West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and Missouri pronounce for the emancipation of their bondmen. Then the public press covered it with ridicule and contempt now the most powerful journals in America are its organs, scattering its truths broadcast over all the land. Then the religions, benevolent, and literary institutions of the land rebuked its doctrines, and proscribed its advocates: now it shapes, moulds, and fashions them at its pleasure. Then political organizations trampled disdainfully upon it: now it looks down in the pride of conscious power upon the wrecked political fragments that float at its feet. Then it was impotent and powerless: now it holds public men and political organizations in the hollow of its hand. (Applause.) Then the public voice sneered at and defied it: now it is master of America, and has only to be true to itself to bury slavery so deep that the hand of no returning despotism can reach it. (Great applause.)

"The way to triumph," he continued, "is to assume that the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln, emancipating three million three hundred thousand slaves in the ten rebel States, is the irrepealable law of this land; that this Christian nation is pledged to every slave, to the country, to the world, and to Almighty God, to see that every one of these bondmen is free forever and forevermore. (Great applause.) Let the loyal men of America assume, as the eternal law of the land, that slavery does not now exist in the disloyal States; that every black man there is free; that the President of the United States has pledged the physical power of all America to enforce the proclamation of freedom; that seven hundred thousand loyal bayonets bear that proclamation upon their glittering points." (Applause.)

He thus referred to Gen. Grant: -

"Sir, I saw the other day a letter from Gen. Grant, who has fought so many battles for the republic, and won them all (enthusiastic applause), - the hero who hurled his legions up the mountains before Chattanooga, and fought a battle for the Union above the clouds. (Applause.) The hero of Vicksburg says, 'I have never been an antislavery man; but I try to judge justly of what I see. I made up my mind when this war commenced that the North and South could only live together in peace as one nation, and they could only be one nation by being a free nation. (Applause.) Slavery, the corner-stone of the so-called confederacy, is knocked out; and it will take more men to keep black men slaves than to put down the Rebellion. Much as I desire peace, I am opposed to any peace until this question of slavery is forever settled.' That is the position of the leading general of our armies.

"The crimes of two centuries have brought this terrible war upon us; but if this generation, upon whom God has laid his chastisements, will yet be true to liberty and humanity, peace will return again to bless this land now rent and torn by civil strife. Then we shall heal the wounds of war, enlighten the dark intellect of the emancipated bondman, and make our country the model republic, to which the Christian world shall turn with respect and admiration."

"The speaker retired," says "The Chronicle," "amid the deafening plaudits of the audience."

In the Senate, on the 14th of December, Mr. Wilson introduced resolutions expressing the thanks of Congress to Gens. Hooker, Meade, Howard, and Banks, their officers and men, for gallantry at Gettysburg and Port Hudson; which received the signature of the president. He also introduced at the same time a bill "to increase the bounty to volunteers, and the pay of the army;" and also, on the 23d of the same month, the bill "to establish a uniform system of ambulances in the United States," which was indorsed by eminent generals, commanders in the army, and became a law on the 11th of March, 1864.

Among the numerous measures introduced by Mr. Wilson into Congress in 1864, we may cite as of great importance an amendment in the bill enacted on the 24th of February, declaring that every colored soldier, on being mustered into the service, should, not by the act of his master, but by the authority of government, be made forever free. By this provision, more than twenty thousand slaves in Kentucky alone received their freedom.

In the exciting debates on the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, the first article of which is, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction," Mr. Wilson most earnestly engaged. His speech in the Senate on the 28th of March has in it the ring of a clarion. In some respects, it is a master-piece of eloquence. Intensely earnest, fervid, fearless, it grasps the question with Websterian vigor, and strikes the fated institution with gigantic blows. The speech, as circulated, has for its significant title, THE DEATH OF SLAVERY IS THE LIFE OF THE NATION;" and this the nation now believes. It closes with these grandly impressive words -

"But, Sir, the crowning act in this series of acts for the restriction and extinction of slavery in America is this proposed amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the existence of slavery forevermore in the republic of the United States. If this amendment shall be incorporated by the will of the nation into the Constitution of the United States, it will obliterate the last lingering vestiges of the slave system - its chattelizing, degrading, and bloody codes; its dark, malignant, barbarizing spirit; all it was and is; every thing connected with it or pertaining to it - from the face of the nation it has scarred with moral desolation, from the bosom of the country it has reddened with the blood and strewn with the graves of patriotism. The incorporation of this amendment into the organic law of the nation will make impossible forevermore the reappearing of the discarded slave system, and the returning of the despotism of the slave-masters' domination.

"Then, Sir, when this amendment to the Constitution shall be consummated, the shackle will fall from the limbs of the harmless bondmen, and the lash drop from the weary hand of the taskmaster. Then the sharp cry of the agonizing hearts of severed families will cease to vex the weary ear of the nation, and to pierce the ear of Him whose judgments are now avenging the wrongs of centuries. Then the slave-mart, pen, and auction-block, with their clanking fetters for human limbs, will disappear from the land they have brutalized, and the schoolhouse will raise to enlighten the darkened intellect of a race imbruted by long years of enforced ignorance. Then the sacred rights of human nature, the hallowed family relations of husband and wife, parent and child, will be protected by the guardian spirit of that law which makes sacred alike the proud homes and lowly cabins of freedom. Then the scarred earth, blighted by the sweat and tears of bondage, will bloom again under the quickening culture of rewarded toil. Then the wronged victim of the slave system, the poor white man, the sand-hiller, the clay-eater, of the wasted fields of Carolina, impoverished, debased, dishonored by the system that makes toil a badge of disgrace, and the instruction of the brain and soul of man a crime, will lift his abashed forehead to the skies, and begin to run the race of improvement, progress, and elevation. Then the nation, regenerated and disinthralled by the genius of universal emancipation,' will run the career of development, power, and glory, quickened, animated, and guided by the spirit of the Christian democracy that 'pulls not the highest down, but lifts the lowest up.'

"Our country is now floating on the stormy waves of civil war. Darkness lowers, and tempests threaten. The waves are rising and foaming and breaking around us and over us with ingulfing fury; but, amid the thick gloom, the star of duty casts its clear radiance over the (lark and troubled waters, making luminous our pathway. Our duty is as plain to the clear vision of intelligent patriotism as though it were written in letters of light on the bending arches of the skies. That duty is, with every conception of the brain, every throb of the heart, every aspiration of the soul, by thought, by word, and by deed, to feel, to think, to speak, to act, so as to obliterate the last vestiges of slavery in America, subjugate rebel slave-masters to the authority of the nation, hold up the weary arm of our struggling government, crowd with heroic manhood the ranks of our armies that are bearing the destinies of the country on the points of their glittering bayonets, and thus forever blast the last hope of the rebel chiefs. Then the waning star of the Rebellion will go down in eternal night, and the star of peace ascend the heavens, casting its mild radiance over fields now darkened by the storms of this fratricidal war. Then, when 'the war-drums throb no longer, and the battle-flags are furled,' our absent sons, with the laurels of victory on their brows, will come back to gladden our households and fill the vacant chairs around our hearthstones. Then the stars of united America, now obscured, will re-appear, radiant with splendor, on the forehead of the skies, to illume the pathway and gladden the heart of struggling humanity."

Ever intent on justice, and earnest for equal rights, Mr. Wilson succeeded in introducing into the appropriation bill enacted on the fifteenth day of June, 1864, a provision to the effect that "all persons of color who had been or might be mustered into the military service should receive time same uniform, clothing, rations, medical and hospital attendance, and pay," as other soldiers, from the beginning of 1864. He fought persistently to obtain justice for the colored troops of Massachusetts; and finally succeeded, in face of staunch opposition, in carrying through Congress his important and humane measure, making the wives and children of those whose husbands and fathers were fighting for the Union forever free.

In support of this resolution he said, "It is estimated that from seventy-five to a hundred thousand wives and children of these soldiers are now held in slavery. It is a burning shame to this country. . . . Wasting diseases, weary marches, and bloody battles, are now decimating our armies. The country needs soldiers, must have soldiers. Let the Senate, then, act now. Let us hasten the enactment of this beneficent measure, inspired by patriotism and hallowed by justice and humanity, so that, ere merry Christmas shall come, the intelligence shall be flashed over the land to cheer the hearts of the nation's defenders and arouse the manhood of the bondman, that, on the forehead of the soldier's wife and the soldier's child, no man can write 'Slave.'" This measure became a law on the third day of March, 1865; and, six months afterwards, Gen. Palmer estimated that by its operation nearly seventy-five thousand women and children had, in Kentucky alone, been made free.

At the celebration of the 4th of July by the freedmen in the District of Columbia this year, he was present, and made an encouraging address. "I predict," said he to them, "that, before five years have rolled around, you will be allowed to vote, and right here in Washington too." Scarcely half that time passed before his hopeful words were realized.

Mr. Wilson's policy, from the beginning of the war, was to crush the Rebellion just as quick as possible. He deprecated the delay of the generals in command, and ever urged a forward movement. He voted for the confirmation of Gen. Grant, - March 2, in the Senate, because he felt assured that he would allow the enemy no time to rally from his repulses; and yet his motives were continually misinterpreted. To a statement in "The New-York Herald," that he had been to Washington to urge an armistice, he made this distinct reply in a letter dated Natick, Aug. 20, 1804:-

"There is not the slightest foundation for the report, as I never entertained for a moment any other thought than that of conquering a peace by the defeat of the rebel armies."

At this time "The New-Bedford Mercury" said of him, "Henry Wilson has, from the day he entered the Senate to the present moment, in our judgment, and we believe in the judgment of the great body of the people of the State, been an able public servant. No man has been more laborious in the committee-room, more ready in the Senate-chamber, and we believe more single-hearted and unselfish in purpose to sustain the government in its trial-hours, than Henry Wilson."

The following, among hundreds of letters received from all parts of the country, will also indicate how the soldiers and the people viewed his senatorial course:

"I cannot close this letter, my dear sir, without thanking you for the upright and manly course you have pursued all through this terrible war; for your grand, good words, and the strong blows you have given to the cause of all our woe, - slavery. At last your efforts and those of your noble colleagues are telling, and the government seems about to act justly towards our colored soldiers. God grant this tardy justice may help to prevent more massacres!

"I am, sir, with profound respect, very truly yours."

His friends urged Mr. Wilson to accept the nomination for vice-president this year; but he declined to be a candidate.

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