In May 1861, just a month into the war, three slaves (Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory, and James Townsend) owned by Confederate Colonel Charles K.
Mallory escaped from Hampton, Virginia, where they had been put to work on behalf of the Confederacy, and sought protection within Union-held Fortress Monroe before their owner sent them further south. Mallory demanded their return under the Fugitive Slave Law, Union General Benjamin F.
In addition to reiterating his support for gradual emancipation in the loyal states, the draft proclamation declared that as of January 1, 1863, "all persons held as slaves within any state or states, wherein the constitutional authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized, submitted to, and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free." Whereas the Confiscation Acts freed the slaves of individual owners who demonstrated disloyalty, Lincoln's proclamation freed slaves of all owners residing in geographic areas engaged in rebellion as "a fit and necessary military measure." The reaction of Lincoln's cabinet members was mixed. Stanton, correctly interpreting the proclamation as a military measure designed both to deprive the Confederacy of slave labor and bring additional men into the Union army, advocated its immediate release.
Attorney General Edward Bates, a conservative, opposed civil and political equality for blacks but gave his support.
On August 6, 1861, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act, which negated owners' claims to escaped slaves whose labor had been used on behalf of the Confederacy.
In 1862 Congress also acted against slavery in areas under the jurisdiction of the federal government.Finding the measure lacking support, Lincoln never introduced it.Congress further outlawed slavery in federal territories in June 1862.Butler instead appropriated the fugitives and their valuable labor as "contraband of war." The Lincoln administration approved Butler's action, and soon other fugitive slaves (often referred to as "contrabands") sought freedom behind Union lines.The increasing number of fugitives and questions about their status eventually prompted action by the United States Congress.The Second Confiscation Act included provisions that freed the slaves of disloyal owners, authorized the president to employ African Americans in the suppression of the rebellion, and called for exploring voluntary colonization efforts.The Militia Act authorized the employment of African Americans in the military, emancipated those who were enslaved, and freed their families, if owned by those disloyal to the Union.When Frémont refused, Lincoln publicly ordered him to do so, which helped calm anxiety expressed from the border states, but angered those who supported Frémont's actions.Although he knew Frémont had exceeded his authority in freeing slaves in Missouri, Lincoln continued to urge the border slave states to explore legal emancipation measures of their own.Furthermore, most former slaves had no interest in leaving their homeland.Like Frémont, General David Hunter also tried his hand at emancipation when in May 1862 he declared slaves free in his Department of the South, which included Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.