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Abraham Lincoln as a man of letters (Volume 1) online

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Twenty Millions," in which he entreated the President "to
render hearty and unequivocal obedience to the laws of the
land !" A similar editorial was published on the following
day. Greeley, radical and erratic, felt with those of his
class that emancipation preceded the preservation of the
Union in importance, and he intimated that Lincoln was



Letters 305

under the influence of the slave power. Lincohi's coolly
rational reply was a masterpiece of direct statement of pur-
l)ose and policy, as condensed as it was inclusive.

Dear Sir: I have just read yours of the 19th in-
stant, addressed to myself through the Netv York
Tribune. If there be in it any statements or assump-
tions of fact which I may know to be erroneous. I do
not now and here controvert them. Tf there be in it
any inferences which 1 may beUeve to be falsely drawn,
I do not now and here argue against them. If there
be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial tone,
I waive it, in deference to an old friend whose heart
I have always supposed to be right.

As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing," as you say,
I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.

I would save the Union. I would save it in the
shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the
national authority can be 'restored, the nearer the
Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be
those who would not save the Union unless they could
at the same time save slavery. I do not agree with
them. If there be those who would not save the Union
unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I
do not agree with them. My paramount object in this
struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save
or to destroy slavery. If 1 could save the Union with-
out freeing any slave, I would do it ; if I could save it
by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could
save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I
would also do that. What I do about slavery and the
colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save
the Union ; and what I forbear, I forbear because I
do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall
do less whenever I shall believe that what I am doing
hurts the cause ; and I shall do more whenever I shall
believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to
correct errors when shown to be errors, and I shall
adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true
views.



306 Appendix

I have here stated my purpose according to my view
of official duty, and I intend no modification of my
oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere
could be free. Yours,

A. Lincoln.

From a Letter to General G. B. McClellan.
Washington, February 3, 1862

The President and General McClellan held dififerent views
with reference to the advance upon Richmond. The general
desired to move his troops by water to Fort Monroe and
thence up the peninsula to Richmond; Lincoln believed the
army should march overland, but yielded the point. The let-
ter which follows illustrates Lincoln's way of reasoning both
sides of a question to find on which side lay the balance of
probabilities. McClellan's continued delay led the President
to remark later that the Army of the Potomac served only as
McClellan's bodyguard, and that if McClellan did not intend
to use the army, he should like to borrow it for a while.

My dear Sir: You. and I have distinct and differ-
ent plans for a movement of the Army of the Potomac
— yours to be down the Chesapeake, up the Rappa-
hannock to Urbana and across land to the terminus of
the railroad on the York River ; mine to move directly
to a point on the railroad southwest of Manassas.

If you will give me satisfactory answers to the fol-
lowing questions, I shall gladly yield my plan to yours.

First. Does not your plan involve a greatly larger
expenditure of time and money than mine?

Second. Wherein is victory more certain by your
plan than mine?

Third. Wherein is a victory more valuable by your
plan than mine?

Fourth. In fact, would it not be less valuable in
this, that it would break no great line of the enemy's
communications, while mine would ?

Fifth. In case of disaster, would not a retreat be
more difficult by ^ our plan than mine ?



Letters 307



From a Letter to Cutiibert Bullitt. ]\j\.\ 28, 1862

This is a discussion b\- the President of the hikewarm atti-
tude of the professed Union men in Louisiana who complained
of the presence of Federal restrictions in that State. These
men were merely complaining" of the inconvenience they felt.
Thej' maintained that they were in the majority, yet the Presi-
dent shows clearly that, admitting this, it was inconceivable
why they were so inactive in behalf of the Union. The pith
of his letter, which follows, presents his view of the best
method of findin.^' relief from the troubles of which they com-
))lained. The close of the letter suggests the temper of the
close of the great Second Inaugural, of 1865.

Now, I think the true remedy is very different from
that suggested by Mr. Durant. It does not he in
rounding the rough angles of the war, but in removing
the necessity for the war. The people of Louisiana
who wish protection to person and property, have but
to reach forth their hands and take it. Let them in
good faith reinaugurate the national authority, and
set up a .State government conforming thereto under
the Constitution. They know how to do it, and can
have the protection of the army while doing it. The
army will be withdrawn as soon as such government
can dispense with its presence, and the people of the
State can then, upon the old constitutional terms,
govern themselves to their own liking. This is very
simple and easy.

If they will not do this, if they prefer to hazard all
for the sake of destroying the government, it is for
them to consider whether it is probable that I will
surrender the government to save them from losing
all. If they decline what I suggest, you will scarcely
need to ask what I will do.

What would you do in my position? Would you
drop the war where it is, or would you prosecute it in
future with elder-stalk squirts charged with rose-
water? W^ould you deal lighter blows rather than
heavier ones ? \A'ould you give up the contest, leaving
any available means untried?



308 Appendix

I am in no boastful mood. I shall not do more than
I can ; but I shall do all 1 can to save the government,
which is my sworn duty as well as my personal incli-
nation. I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal
with is too vast for malicious dealing.

Letter to Miss Fanxv jMcCullough.
DecEiMber 2^, 1862

Lincoln's letters of condolence exhibit heartfelt sympathy
in a language equally frank and refined. Similar examples
are the letters to Colonel Ellsworth's parents and to Airs.
Bixby.

Dear Faxny: It is with deep regret that I learn of
the death of your kind and brave father, and especially
that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is
common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sor-
row comes to all, and to the young it comes with
bittered agony because it takes them unawares. The
older have learned ever to expect it. I am anxious to
afford some alleviation of your present distress. Per-
fect relief is not possible except with time. You can-
not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not
this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be
happy again. To know this, which is certainly true,
will make you some less miserable now. I have had
experience enough to know what I say, and you need
only to believe it to feel better at once. The memory
of your dear father, instead of an agony, will yet be
a sad, sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier
sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted
mother. Your sincere friend,

A. Lincoln.

Letter to the Workingmen of Manchester.
Wash I Nc.TO.x, January 19. 1863

President Lincoln's blockade of the southern ports at the
outset of the Civil War was followed b}- a very severe cotton
famine in England, which threw out of employment thousands



Letters 309

of operatives in the factories of Lancashire. Relief societies
in England raised nearly $15,000,000 for their assistance. At
one time abont 250.000 persons were the recipients of benefit.
Had the workingmen brought pressure upon their government,
"it must have turned the scale irresistibly ; yet the workingmen
chose to endure a long period of terrible privation rather than
demand an intervention which must have given a renewed
lease of life to the institution of slavery. The whole episode
redounds to tlie national honor of England and most of all to
that of tlie British workingman." On New Year's eve six thou-
sand workmen held a meeting in Manchester to celebrate
President Lincoln's emancipation of the American slaves, and
sent resolutions of approval. John Bright, friend of America,
wrote Charles Sumner that he thought that "in every town in
the kingdom, a public meeting would go by an overwhelming
majority in favor of President Lincoln and the North." This
year, 1863, Henry Ward Beecher made many addresses to the
workingmen of England and Scotland in explanation of tlie
issues between the North and the South. These remarkable
addresses are interesting reading and maj' be found in most
public libraries. Lincoln's reply to the Manchester workingmen
is so elevated in thought and language and so appreciative of
the attitude of those to whom he wrote, that it sounds like a
prophecy of the spiritual alliance in reality existing between
the two great English-speaking nations in behalf of the high
ideals for which the better sentiment of both stand.

To THE A\'(>KKixGMi;x (IF ^Manchester: I have
the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the address
and resolutions which you sent me on the eve of the
new year. When I came, on the 4th of March, 1861,
through a free and constitutional election to preside in
the government of the United States, the country was
found at the verge of civil war. Whatever might have
been the cause, or whosesoever the fault, one duty,
paramount to all others, was before me, namely, to
maintain and preserve at once the Constitution and
the integrity of the federal reptiblic. A conscientious
purpose to perform this duty is the key to all the meas-
ures of administration which have been and to all
which will hereafter be pursued. Under our fraine of
government and my official oath, I could not depart
from this purpose if 1 would. It is not always in the
power of governments to enlarge or restrict the scope



310 Appendix

of moral results which follow the policies that they
ma}' deem it necessary for the public safety from time
to time to adopt.

I have understood well that the duty of self-preser-
vation rests solely with the American people ; but I
have at the same time been aware that favor or dis-
favor of foreign nations might have a material influ-
ence in enlarging or prolonging the struggle with dis-
loyal men in which the country is engaged. A fair
examination of history has served to authorize a belief
that the past actions and influences of the United
States were generally regarded as having been bene-
ficial toward mankind. I have, therefore, reckoned
upon the forbearance of nations. Circumstances — to
some of which you kindly allude — induce me especially
to expect that if justice and good faith should be prac-
ticed by the United States, they would encounter no
hostile influence on the part of Great Britain. It is
now a pleasant duty to acknowledge the demonstration
you have given of your desire that a spirit of amity
and peace toward this country may prevail in the
councils of your Queen, who is respected and esteemed
in your own country only more than she is by the km-
dred nation which has its home on this side of the
Atlantic.

I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the
workingmen at Manchester, and in all Europe, are
called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and
studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow
this government, which was built upon the foundation
of human rights, and to substitute for it one which
should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery,
was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through
the action of our disloyal citizens, the workingmen of
Europe have been subjected to severe trials, for the
purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt.
Under the circumstances, I cannot but regard your
decisive utterances u]:)on the question as an instance of
sublime Christian heroism which has not been sur-



Letters 311

passed in any age or in any connlry. It is indeed an
energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent
power of truth, and of the uhiniate and universal
triunii)h of justice, Imnianity, and freedom. I do not
doubt that the sentiments you have expressed will be
sustained by your great nation ; and, on the other hand,
I have no hesitation in assuring you that they will
excite admiration, esteem, and the most reciprocal
feelings of friendship among the American people. I
hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an
augury that whatever else may happen, whatever mis-
fortunes may befall your country or my own, the peace
and friendship which now exist between the two na-
tions will be, as it shall be my desire to make them,
perpetual. Abraham Lincoln.

Letter to General Hooker. Washington, Janu-
ary 26, 1863

Lincoln's search for a successful general to head the east-
ern armies had met with ill success. In appointing Hooker
to the chief command, the President disregarded formality
and counseled him freely, yet very succincth', upon his de-
fects and his virtues as a general, and revealed to him the
unfavorable spirit in the army for which he must assume
his share of personal responsibility. In a single paragraph,
the President epitomized the military situation confronting
the appointee, the qualities essential to army leadershi]). and
the great need of the nation at the hour — freedom from rash-
ness, energy, and victories. In his "History of the Civil War"
(1917), pp. 207-211, Rhodes gives a brief and clear .statement
of Lincoln's problem in reference to a general for the Army
of the Potomac, together with a historic estimate of the men
immediately available for the place when Hooker received
the appointment.

General: I have placed you at the head of the
Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this
upon what appear to me to be sufficient reasons, and
yet I think it best for you to know that there are some
things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with
you. I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier,



312 Appendix

which of course I like. I also believe you do not mix
politics with your profession, in which you are right.
You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable
if not an indispensable quality. You are ambitious,
which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than
harm ; but I think that during General Burnside's com-
mand of the army you have taken counsel of your
ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in
which you did a great wrong to the country and to a
most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I
have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your
recently saying that both the army and the government
needed a dictator. Of course it was not for this, but
in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only
those generals who gain successes can set up dictators.
What I now ask of you is military success, and I will
risk the dictatorship. The government will support
you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more
nor less than it has done and will do for all com-
manders. I much fear that the spirit which you have
aided to infuse into the army, of criticising their com-
mander and withholding confidence from him, will now
turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can to
put it down. Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were
alive again, could get any good out of an army while
such a spirit prevails in it ; and now beware of rash-
ness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleep-
less vigilance go forward and give us victories.

Yours very truly,

A. Lincoln.

Letter to General Grant. Washington.
July 13, 1863

My dear General : I do not remember that you
and I ever met personally. I write this now as a
grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable
service you have done the country. I wish to say a
word further. When you first reached the vicinity of



Letters 313

Vicksburc^. T thought you should do what you Ihiall}-
did — march the troops across the neck, run the batteries
with the transports, and thus go below ; and I never
had any faith, except a general hope that you knew
better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the
like could succeed. When you got below and took
Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you
should go down the river and join General Banks, and
when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I
feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the per-
sonal acknowledgment that you were right and T was
wrong. Yours very truly,

A. Lincoln.



Letter to J. C. Conkling. Washington,
August 26, 1863

James C. Conkling was an able lawyer in Springfield and
a good friend of Lincoln's. He was a presidential elector in
i860 and again in 1864. Lincoln's letter of August 26, soon
after the success of Meade at Gettysburg, is in many respects
an ideal summary of the course of the war and the policy
of the administration toward the comple.x problems of public
opinion and the slavery issue. As an argument in justification
of the President's attitude to these problems and the course
he had been pursuing, the letter is a model that will long
engage the interest of students of literature as well as history.
The letter states the essential issues about which men of
divergent shades of opinion were then thinking, and answers
them with energy and directness. It moves easily and con-
fidently from point to point with a perfect command of facts
and their interpretation. The argument has the advantage
of being free from formality. Its influence in composing
minds disturbed by the policy of emancipation was very great.

My dear Sir : Your letter inviting me to attend a
mass meeting of Unconditional Union men, to be held
at the capital of Illinois on the third day of September,
has been received. It would be very agreeable to me
to thus meet my old friends at my own home, but I
cannot just now be absent from here so long as a visit
there would require.



314 Appendix

The meeting is to be of all those who maintain un-
conditional devotion to the Union ; and I am sure my
old political friends will thank me for tendering, as I
do, the nation's gratitude to those and other noble men
whom no partisan malice or partisan hope can make
false to the nation's life.

There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To
such I would say : You desire peace, and you blame
me that we do not have it. But how can we attain it ?
There are but three conceivable ways. First, to sup-
press the rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying
to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are
agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is to give
up the Union. I am against this. Are you for it? If
you are, you should say so plainly. If you are not for
force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains some
miaginable compromise. I do not believe any com-
promise embracing the maintenance of the Union is
now possible. All I learn leads to a directly opposite
belief. The strength of the rebellion is its military,
its army. That army dominates all the country and
all the people within its range. Any offer of terms
made by any man or men within that range, in oppo-
sition to that army, is simply nothing for the present,
because such man or men have no power whatever to
enforce their side of a compromise, if one were made
with them.

To illustrate : Suppose refugees from the South
and peace men of the North get together in convention,
and frame and proclaim a compromise embracing a
restoration of the Union. In what way can that com-
promise be used to keep Lee's army out of Pennsyl-
vania? Meade's army can keep Lee's out of Penn-
sylvania, and, I think, can ultimately drive it out of
existence. But no paper compromise, to which the
controllers of Lee's army are not agreed, can at all
affect that army. In an effort at such compromise we
should waste time which the enemy would improve to
our disadvantage ; and that would be all. A compro-



Letters 315

niise, to be effective, must be made either with those
who control the rebel army, or with the people first
liberated from the domination of that army by the
success of our own army. Now, allow me to assure
you that no word or intimation from that rebel army,
or from any of the men controlling it, in relation to
any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge
or belief. All charges and insinuations to the con-
trary are deceptive and groundless. And I promise
you that if any such proposition shall hereafter come,
it shall not be rejected and kept a secret from you. I
freely acknowledge myself the servant of the people,
according to the bond of service — the United States
Constitution— and that, as such, I am responsible to
them.

But to be plain. You are dissatisfied wnth me about
the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion
between you and myself upon that subject. I certainly
wish that all men could be free, while I suppose you
do not. Yet I have neither adopted nor proposed any
measure which is not consistent with even your views,
provided you are for the Union. I suggested compen-
sated emancipation, to which you replied you wished
not to be taxed to buy negroes. But I had not asked
you to be taxed to buy negroes, except in such way
as to save you from greater taxation to save the Union
exclusively by other means.

You dislike the Emancipation Proclamation, and per-
haps would have it retracted. You say it is uncon-
stitutional. I think differently. I think the Consti-
tution invests its commander in chief with the law of
war in time of war. The most that can be said — if so
much — is that slaves are property. Is there — has there
ever been — any question that, by the law of war, prop-
erty, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when
needed? And is it not needed whenever taking it
helps us or hurts the enemy? Armies the world over
destroy enemies' property when they cannot use it,
and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy.



316 Appendix

Civilized belligerents do all in their power to help them-
selves or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded
as barbarous or cruel. Among the exceptions are the
massacre of vanquished foes and noncombatants, male
and female.

But the proclamation, as law, either is valid or is
not valid. If it is not valid, it needs no retraction.
If it is valid, it cannot be retracted any more than
the dead can be brought to life. Some of you profess
to think its retraction would operate favorably for the
Union. Why better after the retraction than before
the issue? There was more than a year and a
half of trial to suppress the rebellion before the proc-
lamation issued, the last one hundred days of which
passed under an explicit notice that it was coming,
unless averted by those in revolt returning to their
allegiance. The war has certainly progressed as favor-
ably for us since the issue of the proclamation as
before. I know, as fully as one can know the opinions
of others, that some of the commanders of our armies
in the field who have given us our most important suc-
cesses, believe the emancipation policy and the use of
colored troops constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt
to the rebellion, and that at least one of these impor-
tant successes could not have been achieved when it
was, but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the
commanders holding these views are some who have
never had any affinity with what is called Abolitionism
or with Republican party politics, but who hold them
purely as military opinions. 1 submit these opinions
as being entitled to some weight against the objections
often urged, that emancipation and arming the blacks
are unwise as military measures, and were not adopted
as such in good faith.

You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of
them seem willing to fight for you ; but no matter.
Fight yovi, then, exclusively to save the Union. I
issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you in sav-
ing the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered



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