March 21, 1864: Enlisting slaves in Kentucky?

Robert Jefferson Breckinridge
Robert J. Breckinridge

The Richmond Daily Dispatch reports that Governor Bramlette of Kentucky opposes union enlistment of Kentucky slaves. He appealed to Robert J. Breckinridge (uncle of John Cabell Breckinridge, but an abolitionist and unionist*) for support, but Breckinridge says slavery is dead, and the Governor should acquiesce to federal law.


Affairs in Kentucky–action of Gen. Bramlette on its negro enlistment.

Governor Bramlette, of Kentucky, has written to the President, protesting against the enrollment of negroes, and giving notice that he will enforce the State laws in the matter. –Kentucky, he says having proved her loyally, must be treated as a loyal State, and her Constitution and laws respected. A telegram from Louisville says:

Gov. Bramlette telegraphed to the Provost Marshal General of the State, at Danville yesterday, that if the Government did not stop the enrollment of slaves in the State, he (the Governor) would. He also telegraphed to the Rev. Dr. Robert Breckinridge, the distinguished Union leader, to come to Frankfort.

Mr. Breckinridge replied that he did not approve of the course taken by the Governor at all, and if he expected him to sustain his courses there was no use of his coming to the State capital. He preferred to remain among the people. Bramlette then asked Breckinridge to go to Washington and consult with the Government.

This would indicate that Bramlette is not ready to carry out his threat, and thus nullify the National law.

The Union men of the State have taken a decided stand in favor of the National Government, and are determined to sustain the proper officers in the enforcement of the Federal laws in the State.
Dr. Breckinridge, who is a tower of strength in Kentucky, stands with them firmly and unchangeably.
The Union men are also arranging for a State Union Convention. They repudiate the action of the Guthrie Committee in calling for a Convention to send delegates to the Chicago Copperhead Convention.
They will be represented in Baltimore next June, and in their State platform they will take the ground that slavery is dead.

Bramlette has issued an address to the people of Kentucky, in which he says:

In view of the disturbance of the popular mind produced by the enrollment of slaves for the army in Kentucky, it is deemed prudent to make the following suggestions for the benefit and guidance of the people of Kentucky. Your indignation should not prove you to commit acts of violence nor to unlawful deeds. Standing as we have stood and will ever stand for the Constitution and the Union and the enforcement of the laws, we must repel the efforts of the rebellion to overturn our Government by our gallant soldiers in the field, and meet and correct unjust or unconstitutional legislation by legal appeals to constituted tribunes of the Government; and at the ballot box, in constituted modes, overthrow those who pervert or abuse the trust committed to them.

This is the only true mode of maintaining the Constitution and the Union and the enforcement of the laws. The mere act of enrolling the names of slaves does not affect any right of citizens. If any violence or wrong to the person or property of a citizen he committed by any officer or soldier against the known laws of the land, make your accusation in the mode prescribed by law, and if the commanding officers refuse or neglect, use your utmost endeavors to arrest the officer, or soldiers under his command so accused, and hand him or them over to the civil magistrates for trial. When officially advised of the facts, the Executive will prefer charges and demand a court-martial. In the Union, under the Constitution, and in accordance with law, assert and urge your rights.

It is our duty to obey the law until it is declared by judicial decision to be unconstitutional. Citizens whose property may be taken for public use will be entitled, under the imperative mandate of the Constitution, to just compensation for his private property, so taken for public use. Although the present Congress may not do us justice, yet it is safe to rely upon the justice of the American people, and an appeal to them will not be unheeded or unanswered. Peace restored, and the unity of our Government preserved, will drive to ignominious disgrace those who, in the agony of our conflict, perverted their sacred trusts to the base uses of partisan ends and fanatical purposes. Uphold and maintain your Government, as constituted, and obey and enforce its just demands as the only hope of perpetuating free institutions.

*Full disclosure: R.J. Breckinridge was also my wife’s GG-Grandfather.

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