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1864 February 6: Arkansas’ Slavery Laws Declared Null and Void, and New Elections to be Held in March

February 9, 2014

From The Polk County Press of February 6, 1864.

The President’s Instructions to Gen. Steele of Arkansas.


The President [Abraham Lincoln], in response to the petition of the delegation of Union men of Arkansas, has given a letter of instructions to Gen. STEELE [Frederick Steele], Military Commandant of that State, ordering an election of loyal State officers to be held on the 28th of March next.  The President instructs Gen. STEELE as follows :

That it be assumed at said election and thence forward, that the constitution and laws of the State, as before the rebellion are in full force except that the constitution is so modified as to declare that “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except in the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted ;”  but the General Assembly may make such provisions for the freed people as shall recognize their permanent freedom and provide for their education, and which may yet be considered as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class.  Even also all laws now existing, excepting laws relating to slavers, which are inoperative and void.

The said election shall be held on the 28th of March, 1864, at all the usual places of the State, or all such as voters may attend for that purpose ;  that the voters attending at 8 o’clock in the morning of said day may choose judges and clerks of election for that purpose.

That all persons qualified by said constitution and laws, and taking the oath presented in the President’s proclamation of Dec. 8, 1863, either before or at the election, and none others, may be voters.  That each set of judges and clerks may make return directly to you, on or before the __ day of next __.  That in all other respects, the election may be conducted according to said modified constitution and laws.

That on receipt of said returns, you count said votes, and ascertain all who shall thereby appear to have been elected.

That, on the __ day of __,all persons so appearing to have been elected, who shall appear before you, at Little Rock, have, severally, administered to them an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and said modified Constitution of the State of Arkansas, and be declared by you qualified and empowered to immediately enter upon the duties of the office to which they shall have been respectively elected.

You will please order an election to take place on the 28th of March, 1864, and returns to be made in 15 days thereafter.

Late advices from Little Rock state that the State Convention which assembled there on the 8th ult., had about completed its labors.  Much the greater portion of the Sate was represented.  No deliberate body over [sic: ever] before assembled in the State, comprising more solid worth and intelligence than did this convention.

An article forever prohibiting slavery was adopted with but one dissenting vote.  The constitution is to be submitted to a vote of the people on the second Monday of March, at which time State officers and legislature will be elected.   The legislature is to meet on the third Monday in April.  The action of the Convention was universally satisfactory to loyal men.  The qualification of voters was made that prescribed by the President’s proclamation.  Loyal citizens say they will be able to pool twenty thousand votes for the new Constitution.  The convention would recommended  a suitable person for provisional governor.  Judge MURPHY was spoken of in this connection.

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