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A State Divided: Delaware During the Civil War

an Exhibition

January 24, 2012 – December 20, 2012

curated by Maureen Cech

Slavery in the First State

Slavery remained a contentious issue for Delaware until the passage of the 13th Amendment prohibiting servitude in 1865. The Lincoln administration proposed a plan in 1861 to end slavery in the Union using federal funds: Abraham Lincoln approached Delaware Congressman George P. Fisher with a measure that would compensate the state’s slave owners if they would free their remaining slaves. Lincoln believed that if compensated emancipation were successful in Delaware, as it held the lowest number of slaves, such a plan could be extended to the other Union slave states; however, even though slavery was not essential to the Delaware economy, the plan was rejected on the grounds that it represented Federal interference in what was regarded as an internal matter and an issue of states’ rights.

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Samuel Townsend.

“To the Douglas Democracy of Delaware,” broadside, October 20, 1863.

Samuel Townsend was an outspoken Delaware Democrat, who, although strongly pro–Union, was ardently against abolition. In this broadside, Townsend exhorts Delaware Democrats to unite against the “Abolition God Moloch,” asserting that if Republicans were successful in the next election and passed pro–abolitionist legislation, the nation would face an uprising of former slaves similar to the 1791 slave revolt in Haiti.

Nathaniel B. Smithers.

Speech of Hon. N.B. Smithers, of Delaware, on the proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, delivered in the House of Representatives, January 11th, 1865. Washington: Printed by L. Towers, 1865.

Nathaniel Smithers was elected as U. S. Representative from Delaware to fill the vacancy left by the death of the incumbent Congressman William Temple. Smithers served from December 7, 1863, to March 3, 1865. In this speech to the House of Representatives, Smithers argues in favor of the 13th Amendment as a representative from one of the last two Union slaveholding states. The Delaware General Assembly rejected the amendment on February 8, 1865.

An act for the gradual emancipation of slaves in the state of Delaware: with just compensation to their owners. [Dover, Delaware?: s.n., 1862].

This document prints the proposal for gradual emancipated compensation in Delaware. The measure would free slaves over 35 years of age immediately and all others by 1872. The rate of compensation per slave was to be approximately $500, a generous sum, for a total of over $860,000 in Federal funds for Delaware’s 1,728 slaves. Although the plan was introduced into the General Assembly, its two sponsors, Congressman George P. Fisher and Representative Nathaniel B. Smithers withdrew the bill without putting it to a vote. The Lincoln administration introduced a much less expensive measure the following year with the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in all Confederate states.

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