The question before U.S. Attorney General John Y. Mason* was whether the blacks who surrendered under Jesup's proclamation were legally free. At the very least, were they free to live under traditional Seminole customs, without fear of being sold? Jesup, Coacoochee, and most of the Black Seminoles held this position. Duval, the Creeks, and
southern lawmakers contended that the Black Seminoles were slaves in revolt. As such, they were property, and even a general at war could not liberate another man's
Sources: Mulroy 45, Giddings Exiles 326-28.
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*The Attorney General was no relation to the John Mason who hired John Horse as his servant in 1845.
**The legal issue was thus related to the assertion put forth by John Quincy Adams in 1836 and again in 1841 in connection to the Seminole war, that a general could liberate rebellious slaves under war powers. Lincoln ultimately adopted this principle in support of his emancipation proclamation, drawing a line from the Black Seminoles to the U.S. Civil War.
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