On Thursday, November 13, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly charged Attorney General Edward Bates with enforcement of the Federal Confiscation Act.
Congress in 1861 and 1862 passed laws permitting the Union government to seize all the real and personal property of anyone taking up arms against the government, anyone aiding the rebellion directly, or anyone offering aid or comfort to the rebellion.
Yet from 1862 to the end of the war, only a small amount of rebel property was ever confiscated. Lincoln remained ambivalent about confiscation, once calling it “a corruption of blood prohibited by the Constitution.” Even more importantly, the confiscation act provided little by way of instructions on its enforcement.
Given the president’s ambivalence, Attorney General Bates did little to actively enforce the law.