Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 26, 1863 (Monday): The Matter of Substitutes and Equality

Charles Sumner

 BOSTON, July 26, 1863.

Colonel FRY:
MY DEAR SIR: It is reported that (African-American) persons are not received as substitutes for white persons under the conscript act. If this be so I am at a loss to understand by what authority.
It was a part of the glory of this act that it made no distinction of color. If any such distinction be made under it, I cannot consider it otherwise than an interpretation utterly without sanction. It would follow therefore, first, that a (African-American) substitute can be taken as well as a white substitute. Indeed, a substitute is a substitute whether black or white.  Second, that all persons drafted must have the same pay. Here again there can no distinction of color.

On ground of policy, it seems to be obvious that (African-American) substitutes should be encouraged. Give me the slave as soldier rather than his master. If not too late, I hope this matter will be carefully examined; but it never can be too late to give a proper interpretation to a most important statute.
     Believe me, dear sir, faithfully yours,


Official Records, Series III., Vol. 3, Part 1, Page 575.

Sumner was a radical republican senator, whose caning by South Carolina senator Preston Brooks in 1856 on the floor of the senate sparked even greater sectional animosity.  He supported Lincoln to an extent, but pursued his own agenda, notably that of a fierce prosecution of the war and strict support for equal rights.  Fry, to whom he writes, was in charge of the conscription program.  There was dispute as to whether white Americans could pay the $300 fee to exempt themselves from the draft by paying African-American substitutes.

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