Tuesday, February 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (Rise to Greatness by David Von Drehle, excerpt thirteen)

from Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year by David Von Drehle:

Clearly, the slavery issue was coming to its crisis. Congress passed a law that Lincoln happily signed, outlawing slavery in all U.S. territories. The capital city, meanwhile, was filling with runaway slaves from nearby states, seeking freedom. Civilian and military authorities couldn’t agree on what to do with then. Under martial law, if the slaves had fled from rebellious owners, they were not to be returned. But under civil law, which applied to slave owners who remained loyal to the Union, returned they must be.

By June 11, some two months after emancipation in the District of Columbia, confusion over how to handle the runaways was so widespread that Lincoln had to haul the city marshal, Ward Hill Lamon, and the commander of the army in Washington, James A. Wadsworth, into his office to hash things out. Lamon, who was being pressed by furious slaveholders from loyal Maryland, argued that it was his duty to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law and return the runaways, while Wadsworth recited his instructions not to return slaves who had reached Union lines. Lincoln asked Browning to arbitrate. Under the president’s weary eye, the trio arrived at a laborious process for separating contraband from chattel—a grotesque exercise that served only to show how near the whole rotten slave system was to collapse.

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