William H. Seward to George B. McClellan, Contrabands in District of Columbia, December 4, 1861

William Henry Seward, circa 1860, detail
As the numbers of slaves taking advantage of the fighting to flee from bondage grew, the fact remained that the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was still the law of the land. Confusion over how the fugitives should be treated plagued federal civilian and military officials from Kentucky to Virginia. Secretary of State William Henry Seward wrote to Major-General George Brinton McClellan, commander of all Union troops outlining how he was to proceed on the matter in the District of Columbia. The Fugitive Slave Law was essentially to be suspended in the District of Columbia. Fugitives were to be protected from custody and any civilians who attempted to hold a fugitive were themselves to be subject to military arrest. Such efforts did not end the confusion over the treatment of "contrabands," however, and only added to the pressure for a comprehensive solution to the slavery question. (By John Osborne)

Record Data

Source citation
  "Contrabands in District of Columbia," in Frank Moore, ed., The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. (New York: G.P.Putnam, 1862), III: 452.
  Executive record
Date Certainty
  Transcription adapted from The Rebellion Record (1862), edited by Frank Moore
  Adapted by John Osborne, Dickinson College
Transcription date



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