October 25, 1863: The French press isn’t buying talk of arming slaves in the South

Andrew and Silas Chandler

We often hear claims that there were large numbers of black Confederates, with little historical evidence. During the war there were rumors that the Confederacy would arm slaves, but they were never substantiated then either. A French newspaper editorializes on these rumors in this item reprinted in the New York Times.


The Paris Debate discusses at some length the report that the rebels were about arming their slaves. It says:

“Nothing, in fact, is more worthy of pity than the state to which the journals who have taken in hand the cause of the South are reduced. The planters have not the least desire to renounce the possession of their slaves; they do not in the least understand the necessities of their defence; and they unceasingly place their unfortunate friends in the strangest embarrassment. While it was being maintained in Europe that Slavery had nothing whatever to do with the civil war that afflicted America, the Southern statesmen, seized with a mad desire to talk when they should have done nothing but hold their tongues, declared that Slavery was not an unfortunate necessity, but a divine and beneficent institution, intended to be propagated throughout the world. Was it not Mr. STEPHENS, the new messenger of emancipation, who parodied for the benefit of Slavery the language of the Psalmist; “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief stone of the corner?” Did not another; Southern orator declare, that according to the principles of political economy, the same rules ought to regulate the sale of slaves as those which regulated the sale of hazel nuts? This is not the first time that the imprudence of the accused has rendered the task of his counsel impossible. We all knew the story of the man charged with stealing a watch, who cried out, upon seeing that owing to the exceeding ability of his defender, he was going to be acquitted, “Well, I may wear it now.” The same misfortune has overtaken Mr. DAVIS and Mr. STEPHENS. They wanted to wear the watch too soon.

This, moreover, is very natural. Why should they renounce an institution they consider perfect? They would make a fool’s bargain. Supposing the recognition of the Southern States were accorded to them in return for the emancipation of their slaves, they would lose everything that rendered recognition desirable; that great institution upon which they build all their hopes, and which is to be the source of their power and prosperity, would slip through their fingers.

The day, therefore, on which we see the Southern Confederacy proclaim the emancipation of the blacks, we shall consider it in a hopeless state. Such terrible contradictions never take place except under the direst necessity. We may be quite sure that the Southern statesmen will not raise such a bitter cup to their lips until they feel they are utterly lost. But that is their affair, not ours, and if they ever determine to make an attempt of this kind, we can assure them from this time forward, and with the utmost sincerity, that we shall wish them all success in their new character as the negro’s friend. We are opposing principles and not men. The sinner has a right to escape from death by conversion, provided his conversion be sincere. There are certain emancipation measures, for instance, which may be mere pretences intended to deceive Europe. Whoever has at all studied these questions of emancipation knows that liberation is only real and effective when certain precautions are not neglected. Too long a delay, too high a ransom, servitude disguised under the name of an engagement, can only lead to the maintenance of Slavery under another form. The transition from the system of Slavery to that of liberty ought to be carefully carried out, but the transition must be prompt and complete. This is absolutely necessary; without it emancipation would only be a political instrument in Southern hands, intended to be cast aside when it had served its turn. This is what we should have to say if ever by any chance the emancipation proclaimed by the South ceased to be mere apocryphal news, put in circulation by the Slavery journals of New-York and accepted without much discernment by the telegraph.

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