Abraham Lincoln.

Message of the President of the United States : to the two Houses of Congress, at the commencement of the first session of the Thirty-seventh Congress online

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3Tth Congeess, ) HOUSE OF REPEESENTATIVES. j Ex. Doc.

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In the House of EErEESENTATiTES of the United States,

July 9, 1861.
Resolved, That there be printed for the iise of the House twenty -five thousand copies of

the message of the President of the United States, and the accompanying documents.



Fellow-citizens of the Senate and

House of Representatives :

Having been convened on an extraordinary occasion, as authorized
by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any ordinary sub-
ject of legislation.

At the beginning of the present presidential term, four months
ago, the functions of the federal government were found to be
generally suspended within the several States of South Carolina,
Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida, excepting
only those of the Post Office Department.

Within these States all the forts, arsenals, dock-yards, custom-
houses, and the like, including the movable and stationary property
in and about them, had been seized, and Avere held in open hostility
to this government, excepting only Forts Pickens, Taylor, and Jef-
ferson, on and near the Florida coast, and Fort Sumter, in Charles-
ton harbor. South Carolina. The forts thus seized had been put in
improved condition; new ones had been built, and armed forces
had been organized, and were organizing, all avowedly with the
same hostile purpose.

The forts remaining in the possession of the federal government in
and near these States were either besieged or menaced by warlike
preparations, and especially Fort Sumter was nearly surrounded by
well-protected hostile batteries, with guns equal in quality to the
best of its OAvn, and outnumbering the latter as perhaps ten to one.
A disproportionate share of the federal muskets and rifles had some-
how found their way into these States, and had been seized to be
used. against the government, x^ccumulations of the public revenue,
lying within them, had been seized for the same object. The navy
was scattered in distant seas, leaving but a very small part of it within


the immediate reach of the government. Officers of the federal army
and navy had resigned in great numbers; and of those resigning, a
large proportion had taken np arms against the government. Simul-
taneously, and in connexion with all this, the purpose to sever the
Federal Union was openly avowed. In accordance with this pur-
pose, an ordinance had been adopted in each of these States, declaring
the States, respectively, to be separated from the National Union.
A formula for instituting a combined government of these States had
been promulgated; and this illegal organization, in the character of
confederate States, was already invoking recognition, aid, and inter-
vention, from foreign Powers.

Finding this condition of things, and believing it to be an impera-
tive duty upon the incoming Executive to prevent, if possible, the
consummation of such attempt to destroy the Federal Union, a choice
of means to that end became indispensable. This choice was made,
and was declared in the inaugural address. The policy chosen looked
to the exhaustion of all peaceful measures, before a resort to any
stronger ones. It sought only to hold the public places and property
not already wrested from the government, and to collect the revenue;
relying for the rest, on time, discussion, and the ballot-box. It
promised a continuance of the mails, at government expense, to the
very people who were resisting the government; and it gave repeated
pledges against any disturbance to any of the people, or any of their
rights. Of all that which a President might constitutionally, and
justifiably, do in such a case, everything was forborne, without which,
it was believed possible to keep the government on foot.

On the 5th of March, (the present incumbent's first full day in
office,) a letter of Major Anderson, commanding at Fort Sumter,
written on the 28th of February, and received at the War Depart-
ment on the 4th of March, was, by that department, placed in his
hands. This letter expressed the professional opinion of the writer,
that re -enforcements could not be thrown into that fort within the time
for his relief, rendered necessary by the limited supply of provisions,
and with a view of holding possession of the same, with a force of
less than twenty thousand good and well-disciplined men. This
opinion was concurred in by all the officers of his command, and
their memoranda on the subject, were made enclosures of Major
Anderson's letter. The whole was immediately laid before Lieu-
tenant General Scott, who at once concurred with Major Anderson


in opinion. On reflection, however, he took full time, consulting
with other officers, both of the army and the navy, and, at the end
of four days, came reluctantly, but decidedly, to the same conclusion
as before. He also stated at the same time that no such sufficient
force was then at the control of the government, or could be raised
and brought to the ground within the time when the provisions in
the fort would be exhausted. In a purely military point of view,
this reduced the duty of the administration in the case, to the mere
matter of getting the garrison safely out of the fort.

It was believed, however, that to so abandon that position,
under the circumstances, would be utterly ruinous ; that the necessity
under which it was to be done would not be fully understood ; that
by many, it Avould be construed as a part of a voluntary policy; that
at home, it would discourage the friends of the Union, embolden its
adversaries, and go far to insure to the latter, a recognition abroad ;
that, in fact, it would be our national destruction consummated.
This could not be allowed. Starvation was not yet upon the
garrison ] and ere it would be reached, Fort Pickens might be
re-enforced. This last would be a clear indication oi policy, and
would better enable the country to accept the evacuation of Fort
Sumter, as a military necessity. An order was at once directed
to be sent for the landing of the troops from the steamship
Brooklyn, into Fort Pickens. This order could not go by land, but
must take the longer and slower route by sea. The first return news
from the order was received just one week before the fall of Fort
Sumter. The news itself was, that the officer commanding the
Sabine, to which vessel the troops had been transferred from the
Brooklyn, acting upon some quasi armistice of the late administra-
tion, (and of the existence of which the present administration, up
to the time the order was despatched, had only too vague and uncer-
tain rumors to fix attention,) had refused to land the troops. To
now re-enforce Fort Pickens, before a crisis would be reached at Fort
Sumter, was impossible — rendered so by the near exhaustion of
provisions in the latter-named fort. In precaution against such a
conjuncture, the government had, a few days before, commenced
preparing an expedition, as well adapted as might be, to relieve Fort
Sumter, which expedition was intended to be ultimately used, or
not, according to circumstances. The strongest anticipated case for
using it was now presented; and it was resolved to send it forward.


As had been intended, in this contingency, it was also resolved to
notify the governor of South Carolina, that he might expect an
attempt would be made to provision the fort ; and that, if the attempt
should not be resisted, there would be no effort to throw in men,
arms, or ammunition, without further notice, or in case of an attack
upon the fort. This notice was accordingly given ; whereupon the
fort was attacked, and bombarded to its fall, without even awaiting
the arrival of the provisioning expedition.

It is thus seen that the assault upon, and reduction of, Fort Sumter,
was, in no sense, a matter of self defence on the part of the assailants.
They well knew that the garrison in the fort could, by no possibility,
commit aggression upon them. They knew — they were expressly
notified — that the giving of bread to the few brave and hungry men
of the garrison, was all which would on that occasion be attempted,
unless themselves, by resisting so much, should provoke more. They
knew that this government desired to keep the garrison in the fort,
not to assail them, but merely to maintain visible possession, and thus
to preserve the Union from actual and immediate dissolution — trust-
ing, as hereinbefore stated, to time, discussion, and the ballot-box, for
final adjustment; and they assailed, and reduced the fort, for precisely
the reverse object — to drive out the visible authority of the federal
Union, and thus force it to immediate dissolution. That this was
their object, the Executive well understood; and having said to them,
in the inaugural address, ' ' You can have no conflict without being
yourselves the aggressors," he took pains, not only to keep this
declaration good, but also to keep the case so free from the power of
ingenious sophistry, as that the world should not be able to misunder-
stand it. By the affair at Fort Sumter, with its surrounding circum-
stances, that point was reached. Then, and thereb}^, the assailants
of the government, began the conflict of arms, without a gun in sight,
or in expectancy to return their fire, save only the few in the fort,
sent to that harbor, years before, for their own protection, and still
ready to give that protection in whatever was lawful. In this act,
discarding all else, they have forced upon the country, the distinct
issue: " Immediate dissolution or blood."

And this issue embraces more than the fate of these United States.
It presents to the whole family of man the question, w^hether a
constitutional republic, or democracy — a government of the people, by


the same people — can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity against
its own domestic foes. It presents the question, whether discontented
individualSjtoofewin numbers to control administration, according to
organic law, in any case, can always, upon the }n-ctences made in this
case, or on any other pretences, or arbitrarily, without any pretence,
break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free
government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: "Is there, in
all republics, this inherent and fatal Aveakness ?" " Must a govern-
ment, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people,
or too 2ceak to maintain its own existence ?' '

So viewing the issue, no choice was left but to call out the war
power of the government; and so to resist force, employed for its
destruction, by force, for its preservation.

The call was made, and the response of the country was most
gratifying, surpassing in unanimity, and spirit, the most sanguine
expectation. Yet, none of the States commonly called slave States,
except Delaware, gave a regiment through regular State organization.
A few regiments have been organized within some others of those States
by individual enterprise, and received into the government service.
Of course, the seceded States, so called, (and to which Texas had
been joined about the time of the inauguration,) gave no troops
to the cause of the Union. The border States, so called, were not
uniform in their action; some of them being almost for the Union,
while in others — as Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkan-
sas — the Union sentiment was nearly repressed, and silenced. The
course taken in Virginia was the most remarkable — perhaps the most
important. A convention, elected by the people of that State to consider
this very question of disrupting the Federal Union, was in session at
the capital of Virginia when Fort Sumter fell. To this body the
people had chosen a large majority of professed Union men. Almost
immediately after the fall of Sumter, many members of that majority
went over to the original disunion minority, and, with them, adopted
an ordinance for withdrawing the State from the Union. Whether
this change was wrought by their great approval of the assault upon
Sumter, or their great resentment at the government's resistance to
that assault, is not definitely known. Although they submitted the
ordinance, for ratification, to a vote of the people, to be taken on a
day then somewhat more than a month distant, the convention, and
the legislature, (which was also in session at the same time and place,)

8 president's message,

with leading men of the State, not members of either, immediately
commenced acting as if the State were already out of the Union. They
pushed military preparations vigorously forward all over the State.
They seized the United States armory at Harper's Ferry, and the navy
yard at Gosport, near Norfolk. They received — perhaps invited —
into their State large bodies of troops, with their warlike appoint-
ments, from the so-called seceded States. They formally entered into
a treaty of temporary alliance, and co-operation with the so-called
" Confederate States," and sent members to their Congress at Mont-
gomery. And, finally, they permitted the insurrectionary government
to be transferred to their capital at Richmond.

The people of Virginia have thus allowed this giant insurrection to
make its nest within her borders ; and this government has no choice
left but to deal with it where it finds it. And it has the less regret,
as the loyal citizens have, in due form, claimed its protection. Those
loyal citizens this government is bound to recognize, and protect, as
being Yirginia.

In the border States, so called — in fact, the middle States — there
are those who favor a policy which they call "armed neutrality :"
that is, an arming of those States to prevent the Union forces passing
one way, or the disunion the other, over their soil. This would be
disunion completed. Figuratively speaking, it would be the build-
ing of an impassable wall along the line of separation — and j^et,
not quite an impassable one; for, under the guise of neutrality, it
would tie the hands of the Union men, and freely pass supplies from
among them to the insurrectionists, which it could not do as an open
enemy. At a stroke, it would take all the trouble off the hands of
secession, except only what proceeds from the external blockade.
It would do for the disunionists that which, of all things, they most
desire — feed them well, and give them disunion Avithout a struggle
of their own. It recognizes no fidelity to the Constitution, no obli-
gation to maintain the Union; and while very many who have favored
it are, doubtless, loyal citizens, it is, nevertheless, very injurious in

Recurring to the action of the government, it may be stated
that, at first, a call was made for seventy-five thousand militia ;
and rapidly following this, a proclamation was issued for closing
the ports of the insurrectionary districts by proceedings in the
nature of blockade. So far all -was believed to be strictly legal.


At this point the insurrectionists announced their purpose to
enter upon the practice of privateering.

Other calls were made for volunteers to serve three years, unless
sooner discharged, and also for large additions to the regular army
and navy. These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were
ventured upon, under what appeared to be a popular demand, and a
public necessity; trusting then, as now, that Congress would readily
ratify them. It is believed that nothing has been done beyond the
constitutional competency of Congress.

Soon after the first call for militia, it was considered a duty to
authorize the commanding general, in proper cases, according to his
discretion, to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or,
in other words, to arrest and detain, without resort to the ordinary
processes and forms of law, such individuals as he might deem danger-
ous to the public safety. This authority has purposely been exer-
cised but very sparingly. Nevertheless, the legality and propriety
of what has been done under it are questioned, and the attention of
the country has been called to the proposition that one who is sworn
to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," should not him-
self violate them. Of course some consideration was given to the
questions of power, and propriety, before this matter was acted upon.
The whole of the laws which were required to be faithfully executed,
were being resisted, and failing of execution in nearly one-third of the
States. Must the^" be allowed to finally fail of execution, even had it
been perfectly clear, that by the use of the means necessary to their
execution, some single law, made in such extreme tenderness of the
citizen's liberty, that practically, it relieves more of the guilty than of
the innocent, should, to a very limited extent, be violated? To state
the question more directly, are all the laws hut one to go unexecuted,
and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated ?
Even in such a case, would not the official oath be broken, if the
government should be overthrown, when it was believed that disre-
garding the single law, would tend to preserve it ? But it was not
believed that this question was presented. It was not believed that
any law was violated. The provision of the Constitution that "the
privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless
when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require
it," is equivalent to a provision — is a provision — that such privilege
may be suspended Avhen, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public
safety does require it. It was decided that we have a case of rebellion,

"10 president's mes.>^age.

and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension of
the privilege of the Avrit which was authorized to be made. Now
it is insisted that Congress, and not the Executive, is vested with
this power. But the Constitution itself is silent as to which, or who, is
to exercise the power ; and as the provision was plainly made for a
dangerous emergency, it cannot be believed the framers of the in-
strument intended that, in every case, the danger should run its course,
until Congress could be called together; the very assembling of which
might be prevented, as was intended in this case, by the rebellion.

No more extended argument is now offered, as an opinion, at some
length, will probably be presented by the Attorney General. Whether
there shall be any legislation upon the subject, and if any, what, is
submitted entirely to the better judgment of Congress.

The forbearance of this government had been so extraordinary,
and so long continued, as to lead some foreign nations to shape their
action as if they supposed the early destruction of our National
Union was probable. While this, on discovery, gave the Executive
some concern, he is now happy to say that the sovereignty and
rights of the United States are now everywhere practically respected
by foreign powers ; and a general sympathy with the country is
manifested throughout the Avorld.

The reports of the Secretaries of the Treasury, War, and the
Navy, will give the information in detail deemed necessary, and
convenient for your deliberation, and action ; while the Executive,
and all the departments, will stand ready to supply omissions, or to
communicate new facts, considered important for you to know.

It is now recommended that you give the legal means for making this
contest a short and a decisive one : that you place at the control of
the government, for the work, at least four hundred thousand men, and
four hundred millions of dollars. That number of men is about one-
tenth of those of proper ages within the regions where, apparently, all
are willing to engage; and the sum is less than a twenty-third part of the
money value owned by the men who seem ready to devote the whole.
A debt of six hundred millions of dollars 7ioiv, is a less sum per head,
than was the debt of our revolution when we came out of that strug-
gle ; and the money value in the country now, bears even a greater
proportion to what it was then, than does the population. Surely
each man has as strong a motive noiv, to irreserve our liberties, as
each had then, to esfaUish them.

president's message. 11

A right result, at this time, will lie worth more to the Avorld
than ten times the men. and ten times the money. The evidence
reaching us from the country, leaves no d(nil)t, that the material
for the work is abundant ; and that it needs only the liand of legisla-
tion to give it legal sanction, and the hand of the Executive to give it
practical shape and efficiency. One of the greatest perplexities of
the government is to avoid receiving troops faster than it can provide
for them. In a word, the people Avill save their government, if the
government itself, will do its part, only indiflerently well.

It might seem, at first thought, to be of little dilTerence whether the
present movement at the South be called "secession" or "rebellion."
The movers, however, well understand the difference. At the begin-
ning, they knew they could never raise their treason to any respect-
able magnitude by any name Avhich implies violation of law. They
knew their people possessed as much of moral sense, as much of devo-
tion to law and order, and as much pride in, and reverence for, the
history and government of their common country, as any other civil-
ized and 23atriotic people. They knew they could make no advance-
ment directly in the teeth of these strong and noble sentiments.
Accordingly they commenced by an insidious debauching of the
public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism, which, if con-
ceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps, through all the
incidents, to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism
itself is, that any State of the Union may, consistently with the
national Constitution, and therefore laiifidhj, and jpeacefuTly ^ with-
draw from the Union, without the consent of the Union, or of any
other State. The little disguise that the supposed right is to be
exercised onh' for just cause, themselves to be the sole judge of its
justice, is too thin to merit any notice.

With rebellion thus sugar-coated, they have been drugging the
public mind of their section for more than thirty years ; and until
at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take
up arms against the government the day after some assemblage of
men have enacted the farcical pretence of taking their State out of
tlie Union, who could have been brought to no such thing the day

This sophism derives much, perhaps the whole, of its currency from
the assumption that there is some omnipotent and sacred supremacy
pertaining to a State — to each State of our Federal Union. Our
States have neither more, nor less power, than that reserved to them.


in the Union, by the Constitution — no one of them ever having been
a State out of the Union. The original ones passed into the Union
even before they cast oif their British colonial dependence ; and the
new ones each came into the Union directly from a condition of
dependence, excepting Texas. And even Texas, in its tempo-
rar}^ independence, was never designated a State. The new
ones only took the designation of States, on coming into the
Union, while that name was first adopted for the old ones,
in and by the Declaration of Independence. Therein the-
'•United Colonies" were declared to be "free and independent
States;" but, even then, the object plainly was not to declare
their independence of one another^ or of the Union, but directly the
contrary, as their mutual pledge, and their mutual action, before,
at the time, and afterwards, abundantly show. The express plight-
ing of faith, by each and all of the original thirteen, in the Articles of
Confederation, two years later, that the Union shall be perpetual, is
most conclusive. Having never been States, either in substance or

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Online LibraryAbraham LincolnMessage of the President of the United States : to the two Houses of Congress, at the commencement of the first session of the Thirty-seventh Congress → online text (page 1 of 11)