Northern Objections to Making Blacks Soldiers

February 15, 1863/2013
Volume 4, Issue 7 (123 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Northern Objections to Making Blacks Soldiers — and the New York Times’s Answers to Those Objections

On February 16, 1863, the New York Times included the following article, which succinctly set forth the objections some people in the North had to making blacks soldiers and the answers to those objections:

The Use of Negroes as Soldiers

Whether negroes shall or shall not be employed as soldiers, seems to us purely a question of expediency, and to be solved satisfactorily only by experiment.  . . . Whether they are, or are not, by nature, by law, or by usage, the equals of the white man, makes not the slightest difference in this respect. Even those at the North who are so terribly shocked at the prospect of their being thus employed, confine their objections to grounds of expediency. They urge:

  1. That the negroes will not fight. This, if true, is conclusive against their being used as soldiers. But we see no way of testing the question except by trying the experiment. . . .
  2. It is said that whites will not fight with them, — that the prejudice against them is so strong that our own citizens will not enlist, or will quit the service, if compelled to fight by their side. . . . If this is true, they [negroes] ought not to be employed.  The object of using them is to strengthen our military force; and if the project does not accomplish this, it is a failure.  . . . The point is, not what men ought to do, but what they will do. We have to deal with human nature, with prejudice, with passion, with habits of thought and of feeling, as well as with reason and sober judgment and the moral sense.  . . . The President has resolved to try the experiment.  If it works well, the country will be the gainer.  If not, we have no doubt it will be abandoned. . . .
  3. It is said we shall get no negroes — or not enough to prove of any service. In the Free States very few will volunteer; and in the Slave States we can get but few, because the rebels will push them Southward as fast as we advance upon them.  This may prove to be so. We confess we share, with many others, the opinion that it will. But we may as well wait patiently the short time required to settle the point. . . .
  4. The use of negroes will exasperate the South; and some of our Peace Democrats make that an objection to the measure. We presume it will; but so will any other scheme we may adopt which is warlike and effective . . . . If that consideration is to govern us, we must follow Mr. VALLANDIGHAM’s advice and stop the war.

The very best thing that can be done under existing circumstances, in our judgment, is to possess our souls in patience while the experiment is tried. . . . If it proves a success, we should all be glad to adopt the policy. If it proves a failure, none will be more interested in dropping it than the Government.

– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director


Harold Holzer & Craig L. Symonds, eds., The New York Times Complete Civil War, 215-16.

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1863

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