DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington City, December 4, 1861.
Major General GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN, Washington.
GENERAL: I am directed by the President to call your attention to the following subject:
Persons claimed to be hdl in service or labor under the laws of the State of Virginia and actually employed in hostile service against the Government of the United States frequently escpae from the lines of the enemy's forces and are received within the lines of the ARmy of the Potomac. This Department understands that such persons afterward coming into the city of Washington are liable to be arrested by the city police upon presumption arising from color that they are fugitives from service or labor.
By the fourth section of the act of Congress approved August 6, 1861, entitled "An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes," such hostile employment is made a full and sufficient answer to any further claim to service or labor. Persons thus employed and escaping are received into the military protection of the United States and their arrest as fugitives from service or labor should be immediately followed by the military arrest of the parties making the seizure.
Copies of this communication will be sent to the mayor of the city of Washington and to the marshal of the District of Columbia that any collision between the civil and military authorities may be avoided.
I am, general, your very obedie H. SEWARD.
Extract from report of the Secretary of War December 6, 1861.
* * * *
It is already a grave question what shall be done with those slaves who were abandoned by their owners on the advance of our troops into Southern territory, as at Beaufort district in South Carolina. The number left within our control at that point is very considerable and similar cases will probably occur. What shall be done with them? Can we afford to send them forward to their masters to be by them armed against us or used in producing supplies to sustain the rebellion? Their labor may be useful to us. Withheld from the enemy it lessens his military resources and withholding them has no tendency to induce the horrors of insurrection even in the rebel communities. They constitute a military resource, and being such that they should not be turned over to the enemy is too plain to discuss. Why deprive him of supplies by a blockade andvoluntarily give him men to produce them?
The disposition to be made of the slaves of rebels after the close of the war can be safely left to the wisdom and patriotism of Congress. The Representatives of the people will inquestionably secure to the loyal slaveholders every right to which they are entitled under the Constitution of the country.
* * * *
Secretary of War.