Abraham Lincoln.

Some Lincoln correspondence with southern leaders before the outbreak of the civil war, from the collection of Judd Stewart online

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Some Lincoln Correspondence
with Southern Leaders before
the Outbreak of the Civil War









/ e>3

Some Lincoln Correspondence
with Southern Leaders before
the Outbreak of the Civil War









Recently I acquired the correspondence between President
Abraham Lincoln, Mr. Alexander H. Stephens and Senator
J. J. Crittenden given herein. It seems to me proper to make a
permanent record of these documents because they add to the
history of the time and much to the record of Lincoln's efforts
to prevent the War of the Rebellion.

By publishing the correspondence it is hoped that perhaps the
originals of the letters, which are certified as being correct by Mr.
Stephens, may be brought to light. Senator Crittenden's
letter to Mr. Stephens, the original of which is in my collection,
suggests that he might also have asked Mr. Lincoln's opinion on
the same question and the internal evidence of the correspond-
ence, it seems to me, indicates that these letters were really
written by these men. I have indicated in notes which of the
letters are original, and which are copies, certified to by Mr.

The letter from Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Stephens, January 19th,
i860, and Mr. Stephens' reply January 25th, present, perhaps
as no two other letters could do, the views of the South and the
North prior to the breaking out of the Rebellion.

The letter of Mr. Lincoln to Senator Crittenden Dec. 22nd,
1859 is somewhat curt in its tone, but may be explained by the
fact that Senator Crittenden went out of his way to help Douglas
in 1858, and Lincoln was always a little sore over Crittenden
meddling in the matter because he thought Crittenden, as well as
Greely and others should, on principle, have sided with him.

Mr. Lincoln's letter of January 19th, i860 to Mr. Stephens
(duplicated for Senator Crittenden) was dictated, and, in addition,
was an effort to answer both Mr. Stephens and Senator Critten-
den with one letter; both of these circumstances would quite
naturally tend to detract from Mr. Lincoln's usual clarity of
expression, although the substance of the letter is what might be
expected from him.

Judd Stewart.

Plainfield, Nov. 30th, 1009.

December 22, 1859.
Address, Springfield, Illinois.

Hon. J. J. Crittenden, U. S. Senate

My Dear Sir : I should not care to be a candidate of a party
having as its only platform "The Constitution, the Union and
the enforcement of the laws." "The Constitution," as we
understand it, has been the shibboleth of every party or mal-
content from the Hartford Convention that wanted to secede
from slave territory and the "Blue Light" burners who were in
British sympathy in 181 2, to John C. Calhoun and South Carolina
Nullification. The Union, we intend to keep, and loyal states
will not let disloyal ones break it. Its constitution and laws
made in persuance thereof must and shall remain, "the supreme
law of the land." The enforcement of what laws? If they are
those which give the use of jails & domestic police for masters
seeking "fugitives from labor" that means war in the North.
No law is stronger than is the public sentiment where it is to be
enforced. Free speech and discussion and immunity from whip
& tar and feathers, seem implied by the guarantee to each state
of "a republican form of government." Try Henry Clay's
"gradual emancipation" scheme now in Kentucky, or to circulate
W. L. Garrison's Liberator where most men are salivated by the
excessive use of the Charleston Mercury. Father told a story
of a man in your parts required to give a warrantee bill of sale
with a horse. He wrote, "I warrant him sound in skin and
skeleton and without faults or faculties." That is more than I
can say of an unmeaning platform. Compromises of principles
break of their own weight.

Yours very respectfully

A. Lincoln.

(The above is from a copy made by the same person who copied the
letters certified as correct by Mr. Stephens as noted herein.)

Washington, Jany 13th, i860.

My Dear Sir

I send you by this mail a pamphlet of my friend, S. S. Nicholas
of Louisville, Kenty, proposing & recommending a new plan of
electing or selecting presidents of the United States— He wants
your opinion upon it — Please write to him what you think of it,
when you have time to read it. He is one of our most able &
respected citizens of Kentucky. He will be pleased to hear from
you. Mr. Wm. C. Rives has given him an opinion & he desires


The House is still without a Speaker, & confusion still reigns.

This is the result of the conflict that has been so long waged
between the Democratic & Republican parties. It has brought
the country to the verge of ruin. To displace both these parties
from power seems to be the only remedy— the only safety for the
country. You will have seen that some of us here are making
an appeal to the people to rise in the form of a national & constitu-
tional party and apply that remedy. What think you of it?
If such men as you would but espouse & lead in the movement,
it could not but succeed— the feelings of the whole country favours
it & the whole country would be benefited by it. Indeed, we may
well (say) that the country could not be injured by any change.

You may be assured of this, that the movement is entirely
unselfish, & that the only motives to it are the good of the
country, & to rescue it from the plague of party that is now upon it.

We are labouring for the advancement of no individual. We
spurn such an imputation. We have no individual in view
even, for the Presidency. Our only aim is our Country's good.

The only question with you will be whether the means by which
we seek that end are the appropriate & best means, namely, the
formation of such a party as is proposed. 1 do not seek to draw
you from the sequestration in which you have chosen to place
yourself, but I have been so long accustomed to regard your
opinions with respect & confidence, that I should like, for own
satisfaction, if for no other purpose, to have your views upon this
occasion, if your cases & your clients have left you time to think
of the subject. I am,

Your Friend &c
Hon. Alex'r II. Stephens. J. .!• CwTTBNDEM

(The above is from the original autograph letter now in my possession.)

Springfield, Illinois, 19 January, i860.

Duplicated for Senator J no. J . Crittenden

Honorable A. H. Stephens

Dear Sir: Your letter and one from Hon. J. J. Crittenden,
reached me at the same time. He wants a new party on the
platform of "The Union, the constitution and the enforcement
of the Laws" — not construed. You from your retirement at
Liberty Hall complain of the bad faith of many in the free states
who refuse to return fugitives from labor, as agreed in the com-
promise of 1850, 1854: but I infer that you agree with Judge
Douglas that the territories are to be left to "form and regulate
their own domestic institutions subject only to the Constitution
of the United States." I remember the letter of the Whigs in
Congress in 1852 which defeated Gen'l Winfield Scott on the
ground that he did not present your view of States' rights. Also
that your letter destroyed the Whig party and it is said that you
and Toombs voted for Webster after he was dead. You are still
"harping" on "my daughter" and you supported Zach Taylor as
a sound Kentuckian. If I understand you, here are two con-
structions : Crittenden being willing for the Henry Clay gradual
emancipation, I think. The rights of local self-government as
defined by Webster, also including state determination of
citizenship, are clearly in the Constitution. When we were both
Members of the Young-Indian Club in Washington you then
argued for paramount state Sovereignty going very nearly to the
extreme of state nullification of Federal laws with John C.
Calhoun : and of secession at will with Robert Toombs. The
Colonies were subject up to July 4, 1776, and had no recognized
independence until they had won it in 1783: but the only time
they ever had the shadow of separate sovereignty was in the two
years before they were compelled to the articles of Confederation
July 9, 1778. They fought England for seven years for the
right to club together but when were they independent of each
other? ' Let me say right here that only unanimous consent of
all of the states can dissolve this Union. We will not secede and
you shall not. •• Let me show you what I think of the reserved
rights of the states as declared in the articles of Confederation
and in the Constitution and so called Jeffersonian amendments;
suppose that I sold a farm here in Illinois with all and singular

the rights, members and appurtenances to the same in any wise
belonging or appertaining, signed, sealed and delivered: I have
now sold my land. Will it at all change the contract if I go to
the clerk's office and add a post script to the record; that all
rights not therein conveyed I reserve to myself and my children ?
The colonies, by the Declaration of July 4, 1776, did not get
nationality, for they were leagued to fight for it. By the articles
of Confederation of July 9, 1778 under stress and peril of failure
without union; a government was created to which the
states ceded certain powers of nationality, especially in the com-
mand of the army and navy, as yet supported by the states.
Geo. Washington was commander in Chief and congress was
advisory agent of the states, commending but not enacting laws
for the thirteen, until empowered This proved insufficient
and the peril of failure was great as ever, at home and abroad.
Alexander Hamilton and others of New York were first to urge
that a government with no revenues, except state grants, could
have no credit at home or abroad. Three years later Virginia
led the states in urging concessions of power, and then by twelve
states — Rhode Island objecting — was framed our original Con-
stitution of 1787 fully three and a half years after the peace that
sealed our United national Independence. The post-script
erroneously all attributed to Thomas Jefferson; came in three
installments. The first ten (10) proposed in the first session of
the Congress of the United States 25th September 1789 were
ratified by the constitutional number of states 15 December 1791,
New Jersey 20 November 1789 and Virginia 15 December 1791,
eleven states only; Georgia and Connecticut dissenting. The
eleventh amendment proposed 5 March 1794; Third Congress
was then declared duly adopted by a President's message of,
8 January, 1798; Eleven states consenting & finally all con-
senting. The twelvth amendment was proposed in congress 12
December 1803 and declared ratified through the secretary of
State 25 September 1804 by the constitutional quorum of states.
The first ten articles are the Bill of Rights and each set of amend-
ments had a preface. The eleventh limited the Federal Judiciary
The twelfth regulated general elections for President and Vice-
President of the United States. Do any or all of these retract
the fee-simple grant of great and permanent powers to the
Federal Government? There are three great Departments

I the President commanding the Army and Navy and with a
veto upon a plurality of Congress. II the Congress coining all
moneys; collecting all imposts on imports, regulating all inter-
state as all external commerce; making all subordinate Federal
Judiciary as appointed of the President with power to have a
ten mile square seat and to take grants or to buy for Forts,
Dock yards and Arsenals; having post offices and post roads
under laws executed by the President, and to frame supreme
consitutional lows and set up courts and Judges. Ill The supreme
court set as arbiter and expounder of the constitution and of all
differences of states and with states or of them with the Federa-
tion; no loop hole left for nullification, and none for secession, —
because the right of peaceable assembly and of petition and by
article Fifth of the Constitution, the right of amendment, is the
Constitutional substitute for revolution. Here is our Magna
Carta not wrested by Barons from King John, but the free gift of
states to the nation they create and in the very amendments
harped upon by states rights men are proposed by the Federal
congress and approved by Presidents, to make the liberties of
the Republic of the West forever sure. All of the States' Rights
which they wished to retain are now and forever retained in the
Union, including slavery; and so I have sworn loyalty to this
constitutional union, and for it let me live or let me die. But
you say that slavery is the corner stone of the south and if
separated, would be that of a new Republic; God forbid. When
a boy I went to New Orleans on a flat boat and there I saw slavery
and slave markets as I have never seen them in Kentucky, and I
heard worse of the Red River plantations. I hoped and prayed
that the gradual emancipation plan of Henry Clay or the Liberian
colonization of John Q. Adams might lead to its extinction in the
United States. Geo. Washington, the Massachusetts Adams,
presidents James Madison and Monroe, Benj. Franklin; opposed
its extension into the territories before I did. The ordinance of
1784, 1787 for the North West territory ceded by Virginia, was
written by Thomas Jefferson and signed only by slave-holders
and that prohibited forever slavery, or involuntary servitude not
imposed for crime. Your grandfather, Captain Stephens, suf-
fered at Valley Forge and bled at Brandywine for the principles
of the men "of 1 776-1783. Your Uncle, Justice Grier of the
Supreme Bench has recently expounded the Supreme Law as I


honestly accept it. Senator Crittenden complains that by the
device of party conventions and nominations of candidates for
Presidents and Vice-Presidents the Federal plan of separate and
unbiased Electoral Colleges is taken away and the popular
feature of elections is restored to the people. I reckon they
wanted it so. What are you agoing to do about it? To abolish
conventions you must abolish candidates. In your Oxford Col-
lege oration, you say "I love the Union and revere its memories;
I rejoice in all its achievements in arts in letters and in arms."
If it is a good thing, why not just keep it and say no more about


I am not in favor of a party of Union constitution and law to
suit Mr. Bell or Mr. Everett and be construed variously in as
many sections as there are states.

This is the longest letter I ever dictated or wrote.
But this is to, only you alone, not to the public.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln.

(The above is from a copy certified as correct by Mr. Stephens.)

Executive Department

Atlanta, Ga., 1882.

Crawfordsville, Ga., January 25th, i860.

Hon. Abraham Lincoln,

Springfield, Illinois.

My Dear Sir:

Yours of the 19. is here. I have little faith in any new or old
party being able to save us from the madness, as much of the
south as the north. A Constitutional Union party pledged to
the enforcement of all laws, and in its platform fully recognizing
the paramount State sovereignty, seems hopeful to some men —
less so to me than when I wrote, as you will see by my reply to
Senator Crittenden. As a railway man might say — "I foresaw
a smash up on our road, and got off at the first station." My
retirement from congress means — I trust — rest and an end of
public life. There are two points in your letter. First, il-
lustrating our constitution and amendments by a fee-simple deed
with a post-script. This is clever. Just such deeds are known
to Georgia law, the tail inserted before signing. To avoid the
equity of redemption of mortgage, the Insurance loan companies,
mostly from the North West, take a fee-simple deed, conditional
to be void if the loan and interest are paid in three years. What
remains of the title? Everything, — if the condition is kept.
Let me give you a better illustration. Pensioners of the United
States, receive for service or wound, each a part of what right-
fully and originally is of the government, i. e. money of the public
revenue, when granted it is truly inalienable. The pensioner
cannot sell or pawn the certificate, not even for the full value of it
for an average life-time and such premium as the certainty of
payment commands with public bonds. Not voidable, but void
is such a sale, the government admitting no consideration as
equal to its faith with the pensioner. This government right is
devisible, — inheritable — inalienable. Take a scripture illustra-
tion. The covenant of the Holy Family ran by inheritance
through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the third step it fell to
the younger brother; in the fourth, it divided to twelve sons,


Dinah not inheriting. Each son had an eqnal ««e tribal
risht as entire as that Abraham and Isaac possessed. Th.s was
sted when the David line of the royal tribe of Jndah represented
by Rehoboam, undertook to coerce the seceded ten tribes under
Jeroboam (r, Kings XI th 3.. 3O and although possess ed of
Kingly divine right, he was forbidden of the Lori (I_Kmg
XII 21 ) The thirteen colonies revolting from the British
c X " wn , were successful; and whether yon date Independence
from July 4, m6,or in 1783, when seven years later it was
recognized, the original sovereignty of Great Britain became all
vested in the colonies, and if Dinah had been wed the partition o
the sovereignty into thirteen full nations or nbes , «*M l£.
narallel Indeed it was so since Joseph parted to Ephram
paranei. Hebrew could not

Manasseh the younger first. Again, tne n
alienate heritage or liberty; all came back in the Jubilee, only
rangers could (Leviticus XXV; .0 to ,,). State sovereignty
Uke 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," is mahenab e-
Prfcelesslabove all consideration, expediency or necessity-.
irates could not give away-could not "£.~ ? £
Divine Governor-that heritage and that blrth-nght of the
mother birth-pangs of .776-783. Born ,n a bed of fire of the
Revolution-States sold not their rights-as did Esau for a mes
of pottage Sovereignty here in our states ,s no longer in the
olnor is it in the agent appointee but it is in the s ate.
The southern fire-eaters who clamor for extension o ! Slavery
into the territories, by the popular local vote or by Congress
have no sense. We will settle no more slave territory un ess we
reopen the African slave trade to get more negroe.. G ™ tin f
Congress power to put it in, also concedes power to keep *
When once these malcontents have conceded to the Federal
Lent the right to intermeddle with the paramount local
Sgnty; the same in the territory preparing for statehood as
the states; all barriers will break and centralism w.,1 obhterate
state lines. Review this matter again. Slavery and sec-
t onahsm will not always force issues, and Statehood ,s as precious
,0 the North West as it is to the South East. \ our second point
s the word ■Terpetual" and in the last two .words *££%
•'Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union -the sense o
the ritle is submerged and also of all of the articles, except


1 1

Articles of Confederation: Each of them is equally vital.
No delegate would have signed one without them all. "Perpetual
Union" — "This union shall be perpetual" on these terms only.
Did you ever notice that this language is not repeated in the
"More perfect" Constitution? You know as well as I do that
Virginia and other states as New York and Rhode Island in all of
the early proposals to extend the power of Congress over im-
port duties for the sake of public credit based on revenue; asked
that the experiment be limited to a term of years, ten, fifteen or
thirty. Only the general trust in each other and in the limita-
tions exacted : made it a general and not a limited time partner-
ship. Granting more power against such protests as that of
Rhode Island that it might be used against the states. The
language of the Articles of 1778 as to perpetuity was intentionally
omitted. Our ancestors did not foresee that slavery, then
general would sectionalize; and that in doing business as a firm
for one hundred years, that valuable assets viz : our vast terri-
torial farms — would be struggled for by greedy banks of partners
— and, as Henry Clay foresaw in our expansion by conquest from
Mexico, would threaten or produce inter-state and sectional war.
I pray that there may be no disunion. The one weakness of the
south is the concretion of wealth in the hands of a few. A recent
book "Cotton is King" — shows that the King is administered by
an aristocracy of three hundred thousand (300,000) out of four
millions of whites (4.000,000). If the entire white population
seek separate Independence; the northern states will no more
repress it than did George III with the Colonies. There will be
no "peacable secession;" the firm has assets now contended for —
and the arbiter is the sword. No constitutional party will avail
when sections differ as you and I do as to what it means. No
law will be enforced when men like William H. Seward say there
is a "Higher Law" than is the Federal Supreme law, and when
men like Salmon P. Chase say in the Senate, they and their states
will not observe the great Compromises of 1 850-1 854-6. Our
Union is a compact between sovereigns, and if one breaks a treaty
the others are not bound. Call it a partnership — unlimited in
times as they usually are — but strictly limited in action. Few
partnerships anticipate their dissolution or fix the time. One
partner extravagant and greedy releases the rest, for no one may
hold others to take advantage of his own wrong. Death dis-

solves but it is rarely provided for. When we dissolve, the less
will leave the greater, and if the less be then the richer, as the
south now is, the greater will not be amiable. That means war;
not doubtful if Independence, not selfish greed, shall actuate a
tier of states. Once made, the breach will never heal. Horace
Greeley says two sections may be pinned together by bayonets,
but not the hearts. General Scott in his words, "Wayward
sisters depart in peace" refers to the In Pace of the convent nun
walled up alive. That we will see. Finally, I do not think the
Jeffersonian amendments are unmeaning. They express what
the convention implied. Esto Perpetua has been inscribed on
pyramids and empire gates and cut deeply into granite and
marble tombs. The works of man are not eternal. We are far
from the hoary years of Thebes and Rome and England— Wait !
Our temple is very new, but it shakes. Oysters and little brooks,
coilia insects and earth worms have terms outlasting empires,
Wait! We are very new. Rereading your valuable letter, I
note this question, "What of state rights is there remaining after
all of the enumerated concessions to the Federal government?"
I answer Sovereignty that is everything. I now have in my hands
as Attorney and Trustee, the estate of three girls who have
sixty thousand dollars each. This is my admission that I do
not own the estate. The three departments of the General
Government do not constitute the union— remove the states and
the agent is nothing.

Let me suppose that you return to public life and one day
you pen this entry * * * "On the fourth day of March 1861
I. A. L. found myself to be the secretary of a convention of all the
states, met by Delegates in Phila. I The members of the con-
stitutional convention sat and looked at each other. II They all
agreed to disagree. Ill They then all went home. Would you
then write "Finding myself in the historic hall like a bean in an
empty bag, I, therefore, am The Union)" Let me suppose that
to pass the time, you spread the blue Union-Jack on a table and
with chalk, mark out among the stars, the line of dissolving power.
You admit that all of say thirty three states could dissolve the
Union. Mark out one as dissenting— Maine or South Carolina,
and you will admit that thirty-two states could still dissolve the
Union. The matter is practical. The constitution of 17 Septem-
ber 1787 began to take shape in the Delaware convention 7


Dec. 1787, but up to 21 November 1789 North Carolina and
Rhode Island had not ratified and were of the 1778 Confedera-
tion. Twelve states in convention made the constitution,


Online LibraryAbraham LincolnSome Lincoln correspondence with southern leaders before the outbreak of the civil war, from the collection of Judd Stewart → online text (page 1 of 2)