President Inquires about Bounty Pay for Black Soldiers

June 24, 1864

Navy Secretary Gideon Welles writes in his diary about the regular Friday Cabinet meeting. “The President was in very good spirits at the Cabinet. His journey has done him good, physically, and strengthened him mentally and inspired confidence in the General and army. Chase was not at the Cabinet-meeting. I know not if he is at home. But he latterly makes it a point not to attend. No one was more prompt and punctual than himself until about a year since. As the Presidential contest approached he has ceased in a great measure to come to the meetings. Stanton is but little better.   If he comes, it is to whisper to the President, or take the dispatches or the papers from his pocket and go into a corner with the President. When has no specialty of his own, he withdraws after some five or ten minutes.

Mr. Seward generally attends the Cabinet-meetings, but the question and matters of his Department he seldom brings forward. These he discusses with the President alone. Some of them he communicates to me, because it is indispensable that I should be informed, but the other members are generally excluded.

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, clearly upset with the Attorney General’s office, wrote the previous day to President Lincoln to get help clarifying questions about bounty payments for black soldiers. Stanton had written: “I have the honor to submit for your consideration a copy of a letter addressed by this Department to the Attorney General on the 17th instant, and a paper returned from the Attorney General’s Office, purporting to be a reply, but having no signature. It is of great importance that the points submitted by me for the determination of the Attorney General, pursuant to the Act of Congress, should be speedily decided; and I would therefore respectfully ask that, inasmuch as the efforts of this Department have failed, you would procure from the Attorney General a determination of the question submitted in my letter, in order that the Department may proceed to make payment to the colored troops without delay, in accordance with such determination.

President Lincoln writes Attorney General Edward Bates regarding pay for black soldiers: “By authority of the Constitution, and moved thereto by the fourth section of the act of Congress entitled ‘An act making appropriations for the support of the Army for the year ending the thirtieth of June, Eighteen hundred and sixty five, and for other purposes.’ approved, June 15th 1864. I require your opinion in writing as to what pay, bounty, and clothing are allowed by law to persons of color who were free on the 19th. day of April, 1861, and who have been enlisted and mustered into the military service of the United States between the month of December, 18628 and the 16th. of June 1864.

Please answer as you would do, on my requirement, if the Act of June 15th. 18614 had not been passed; and I will so use your opinion as to satisfy that act.

Three weeks later, Bates responded: ‘By your communication of the 24th ultimo you require my opinion in writing as to what amounts of pay, bounty, and clothing are allowed by law to persons of color who were free on the 19th day of April, 1861, and who have been enlisted and mustered into the military service…between…December, 1862, and the 16th of June, 1864. I suppose that whatever doubt may exist…has mainly its origin in the …provisions of the act of July 17, 1862, chapter 201…The twelfth section of that statute provides: ‘That the President be…authorized to receive into the service of the United States, for the purpose of constructing intrenchments or performing camp service, or any other labor, or any military or naval service for which they may be found competent, persons of African descent…’ The fifteenth section…enacts that ‘person…who, under this law, shall be employed, shall receive $10 per month and one ration, $3 of which monthly pay may be in clothing.’ The first and main question, therefore, is whether the persons of color referred to in your letter…are…employed under the statute of July 17, 1862…If they are not thus employed, their compensation should not be governed…by…the fifteenth section of that statute…

‘Now, I think that it is clear…that those persons of color who have voluntarily enlisted and have been mustered into our military service…who have done and are doing in the field and in garrison the duty and service of soldiers of the United States, are not persons…employed under the statute to which I have referred…

‘I give it to you unhesitatingly as my opinion that the same pay, bounty, and clothing are allowed by law to the persons of color referred to in your communication…as are by the laws existing at the time of the enlistments of said persons, authorized and provided for an allowed to other soldiers in the volunteer services of the United States of like arms of the service….


Published in: on June 24, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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