Brigadier General John W. Phelps, Proclamation to "The Loyal Citizens of the Southwest," December 4, 1861

    Source citation
    "Gen. Phelps’ Proclamation," 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: 449-450.

    Also reprinted in United States, et al, Official Records of the Union and Confederate navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1903),  17: 18-20.
    Military record
    Date Certainty
    Transcription adapted from The Rebellion Record (1862), edited by Frank Moore
    Adapted by John Osborne, Dickinson College
    Transcription date
    The following transcript has been adapted from The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. (1862).

    SHIP ISLAND, Mississippi, December 4, 1861. 

    To the loyal citizens of the Southwest:
    Without any desire of my own, but contrary to my private inclinations, I again find myself among you as a military officer of the Government. A proper respect for my fellow-countrymen renders it not out of place that I should make known to you the motives and principles by which my command will be governed.

    We believe that every State that has been admitted as a slave State into the Union since the adoption of the Constitution, has been admitted in direct violation of that Constitution.

    We believe that the slave States which existed, as such, at the adoption of our Constitution, are, by becoming parties to that compact, under the highest obligations of honor and morality to abolish slavery.

    It is our conviction that monopolies are as destructive as competition is conservative of the principles and vitalities of republican government ; that slave labor is a monopoly which excludes free labor and competition; that slaves are kept in comparative idleness and ease in a fertile half of our arable national territory, while free white laborers, constantly augmenting in numbers from Europe, are confined to the other half, and are often distressed by want; that the free labor of the North has more need of expansion into the Southern States, from which it is virtually excluded, than slavery had into Texas in 1846; that free labor is essential to free institutions; that these Institutions are naturally better adapted and more congenial to the Anglo-Saxon race than are the despotic tendencies of slavery; and, finally, that the dominant political principles of this North American Continent, so long as the Caucasian race continues to flow in upon us from Europe, must needs be that of free institutions and free government. Any obstructions to that form of government in the United States, must inevitably be attended with discord and war.

    Slavery, from the condition of a universally recognized social and moral evil, has become at length a political institution, demanding political recognition. It demands rights, to the expulsion of those rights which are insured to us by the Constitution; and we must choose between them which we will have, for we cannot have both. The Constitution was made for freemen, not for slaves. Slavery, as a social evil, might for a time be tolerated and endured; but as a political institution, it becomes imperious and exacting, controlling, like a dread necessity, all whom circumstances have compelled to live under its sway, hampering their action, and thus impeding our national progress. As a political institution, it could exist as a co-ordinate part only of two forms of government, viz., the despotic and the free; and it could exist under a free government only when public sentiment, in the most unrestricted exercise of a robust freedom, leading to extravagance and licentiousness, had swayed the thoughts and habits of the people beyond the bounds and limits of their own moderate constitutional provisions. It could exist under a free government only where the people, in a period of unreasoning extravagance, had permitted popular clamor to overcome public reason, and had attempted the impossibility of setting up permanently, as a political institution, a social evil which is opposed to moral law.

    By reverting to the history of the past, we find that one of the most destructive wars on record — that of the French Revolution — was originated by the attempt to give political character to an institution which was not susceptible of political character. The Church, by being endowed with political power, with its convents, its schools, its immense landed wealth, its associations, secret and open, became the ruling power of the State, and thus occasioned a war of more strife and bloodshed, probably, than any other war which has desolated the earth.

    Slavery is still less susceptible of political character than was the Church. It is as fit at this moment for the lumber-room of the past as were, in 1793, the landed wealth, the exclusive privilege, etc., of the Catholic Church in France.

    It behooves us to consider, as a self-governing people, bred and reared and practiced in the habits of self-government, whether we cannot, whether we ought not, revolutionize slavery out of existence, without the necessity of a conflict of arms like that of the French Revolution.

    Indeed, we feel assured that the moment slavery is abolished, from that moment our Southern brethren, every ten of whom have probably seven relatives in the North, would begin to emerge from a hateful delirium. From that moment, relieved from imaginary terrors, their days become happy and their nights peaceful and free from alarm; the aggregate amount of labor, under the new stimulus of fair competition, becomes greater day by day; property rises in value; invigorating influences succeed to stagnation, degeneracy, and decay; and union, harmony, and peace, to which we have so long been strangers, become restored, and bind us again in the bonds of friendship and amity, as when we first began our national career under our glorious government of 1789.

    Why do the leaders of the rebellion seek to change the form of your ancient Government? Is it because the growth of the African element of your population has come at length to render a change necessary? Will you permit the free Government under which you have thus far lived, and which is so well suited for the development of true manhood, to be altered to a narrow and belittling despotism in order to adapt it to the necessities of ignorant slaves, and the requirements of their proud and aristocratic owners? Will the laboring men of the South bend their necks to the same yoke that is suited to the slave? We think not. We may safely answer that the time has not yet arrived when our Southern brethren, for the mere sake of keeping Africans in slavery, will abandon their long-cherished Free Institutions and become slaves themselves.

    It is the conviction of my command, as a part of the national forces of the United States, that labor — manual labor — is inherently noble; that it cannot be systematically degraded by anv nation without ruining its peace, happiness, and power; that free labor is the granite basis on which Free Institutions must rest; that it is the right, the capital, the inheritance, the hope of the poor man everywhere; that it is especially the right of five millions of our fellow-countrymen in the slave States as well as of the four millions of Africans there; and all our efforts, therefore, however small or great, whether directed against the interference of governments from abroad, or against rebellions combinations at home, shall be for Free Labor. Our motto and our standard shall be, here and everywhere, and on all occasions, FREE LABOR AND WORKINGMEN'S RIGHTS. It is on this basis, and this basis alone, that our munificent Government, the asylum of nations, can be perpetuated and preserved. 

    J. W. PHELPS,
    Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding.

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