Text of President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Order of Retaliation

December 30, 1863

On December 30, 1863, U. S. President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order threatening retaliation-in-kind against Confederate prisoners of war for the mistreatment of African-American soldiers captured by the enemy during the American Civil War.

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln

On December 30, 1863, U. S. President Abraham Lincoln (pictured here) issued an executive order threatening retaliation-in-kind against Confederate prisoners of war for the mistreatment of African-American soldiers captured by the enemy during the American Civil War. [Wikimedia Commons]

Executive mansion,
Washington, July 30, 1863.

It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations and the usages and customs of war, as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offence against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age. The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers; and if the enemy shall sell or enslave any one because of his color, the offence shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our hands.

It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a Rebel soldier shall be executed, and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a Rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works, and continue at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due a prisoner of war.

Abraham Lincoln.
By order of the Secretary of War,
E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Text of President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Order of Retaliation
  • Date December 30, 1863
  • Author
  • Keywords lincoln, retaliation
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 18, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 12, 2024

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