JULY 17, 1862

Fourth U.S. Infantry Detail, U.S. Colored Troops, 1864 Credit: National Archives

Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, which declared that all of those enslaved that had escaped to enemy lines “shall be forever free.” 

The First Confiscation Act came after the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run a year earlier. In that fighting, Yankee soldiers discovered that “thousands of slaves at Manassas were doing the work of laborers and servants, and rendering all the whites of the Southern army available for fighting,” 

President Lincoln’s biographer Robert Morse wrote. “The handicap was so severe and obvious, that it immediately provoked the introduction of a bill freeing slaves belonging to rebels and used for carrying on the war.” 

A year later, Congress considered a tougher act, something Kentucky and other border states opposed. Kentucky Sen. John J. Crittenden declared, “There is a niche in the temple of fame, a niche near to Washington, which should be occupied by the statue of him who shall save this country.” 

He suggested that Lincoln could step into that niche, but if proved “a mere sectarian and a party man, that niche will be reserved for some future and better patriot.” 

Illinois Congressman Owen Lovejoy, an abolitionist, responded that there was indeed a niche for Lincoln, “not in the blood-besmeared temple of human bondage; not surrounded by slave-fetters and chains, but with the symbols of freedom; not dark with bondage, but radiant with the light of Liberty. … Let Abraham Lincoln make himself … the emancipator.” 

Lincoln signed the Second Confiscation Act, and six months later, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.