tenure that the State can alone claim them, viz, by the original right of conquest. We have so far conquered them that a proclamation setting them free, coupled with offers of protection, would devastate every plantation in the State.
In conclusion I may state that Mr. Lablanche is, as I am informed, a descendant from one of the oldest families of Louisiana. He is wealthy and a man of standing, and his act in sending away his negroes to our lines with their clothes and furniture appears to indicate the convictions of his own mind as to the proper logical consequences and deductions that should follow from the present relative status of the two contending parties. He seems to be convinced that the proper result of the conflict is the manumission of the slave, and he may be safely regarded in this respect as the representative man of the State. I so regard him myself, and thus do I interpret his action, although my camp now contains some of the highest symbols of reconnaissance which have been taken by a party of the Seventh Vermont Volunteers from his residence.
In the mean time the slaves, old and young, little ones and all, are suffering from exposure and uncertainty as the their future condition. Driven away be their master with threats of violence if they return, and with no decided welcomed or reception from us, what is to be their lot?
Considerations of humanity are pressing for an immediate solution of their difficulties; and they are but a small portion of their race who have sought and are still seeking our pickets and our military stations, declaring that they cannot and will not any longer serve their masters, and that all they want is work and protection from us.
In such a state of things the question occurs as to my own action in the case. I cannot return them to their masters, who not infrequently come in search of them, for I am fortunately prohibited by an article of war from doing that, even if my own nature did not revolt at it; I cannot receive them, for I have neither work, shelter, nor the means, nor plan of transporting them to Hayti, nor of making suitable arrangements with their masters until they can be provided for.
It is evident until that some plan, some policy, or some system is necessary on the part of the Government, without which the agent can do nothing, and all his efforts are rendered useless and of no effect. This is no new condition in which I find myself; it is my experience during s the some twenty-five years of my public life as a military officer of the Government. The new article of war recently adopted by Congress rendering it criminal in an officer of Army of return fugitives from injustice is the first support that I have ever felt form the Government in contending against those slave influences which are opposed to its character and to its interests. But the mere refusal to return fugitives does not now meet the case. A public agent in the present emergency must be invested with wider and more positive parers than this, or his service will prove as valueless to the country as they are unsatisfactory to himself.
Desiring this communication to be laid before the President, and leaving my commission at his disposal, I have the honor to remain, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. W. PHELPS,