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ment there is much improved. At home the same measures
have been fully discussed, supported, criticized, and denounced,
and the annual elections following are highly encouraging to those
whose official duty it is to bear the country through this great


trial. Thus we have the new reckoning. The crisis which
threatened to divide the friends of the LTnion is past.

Looking now to the present and future, and with reference
to a resumption of the national authority within the states
5 wherein that authority has been suspended, I have thought fit
to issue a proclamation, a copy of which is herewith transmitted.
On examination of this proclamation it will appear, as is believed,
that nothing is attempted beyond what is amply justified by the
Constitution. True, the form of an oath is given, but no man

10 is coerced to take it. The man is only promised a pardon in
case he voluntarily takes the oath. The Constitution authorizes
the executive to grant or withhold the pardon at his own abso-
lute discretion ; and this includes the power to grant on terms,
as is fully established by judicial and other authorities.

15 It is also proffered that if, in any cf the states named, a state
government shall be, in the mode prescribed, set up, such
government shall be recognized and guaranteed by the United
States, and that under it the state shall, on the constitutional
conditions, be protected against invasion and domestic violence.

20 The constitutional obligation of the United States to guarantee
to every state in the Union a republican form of government,
and to protect the state in the cases stated, is explicit and full.
But why tender the benefits of this provision only to a state
government set up in this particular way ? This section of the

25 Constitution contemplates a case wherein the element within a
state favorable to republican government in the Union may be
too feeble for an opposite and hostile element external to, or
even within, the state ; and such are precisely the cases with
which we are now dealing.

30 An attempt to guarantee and protect a revived state govern-
ment, constructed in whole, or in preponderating part, from the
very element against whose hostility and violence it is to be
protected, is simply absurd. There must be a test by which to
separate the opposing elements, so as to build only from the


sound; and that test is. a sufficiently liberal one which accepts
as sound whoever will make a sworn recantation of his former

But if it be proper to require, as a test of admission to the
political body, an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the 5
United States, and to the Union under it, why also to the laws
and proclamations in regard to slavery ? Those laws and proc-
lamations were enacted and put forth for the purpose of aiding
in the suppression of the rebellion. To give them their fullest
effect, there had to be a pledge for their maintenance. In my 10
judgment they have aided, and will further aid, the cause for
which they were intended. To now abandon them would be not
only to relinquish a lever of power, but would also be a cruel
and an astounding breach of faith. I may add, at this point, that
while I remain in my present position I shall not attempt to 15
retract or modify the Emancipation Proclamation ; nor shall I
return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that
proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress. For these and
other reasons it is thought best that support of these measures
shall be included in the oath ; and it is believed the executive 20
may lawfully claim it in return for pardon and restoration of
forfeited rights, which he has clear constitutional power to with-
hold altogether, or grant upon the terms which he shall deem
wisest for the public interest. It should be observed, also, that
this part of the oath is subject to the modifying and abrogating 25
power of legislation and supreme judicial decision.

The proposed acquiescence of the national executive in any
reasonable temporary state arrangement for the freed people is
made with the view of possibly modifying the confusion and
destitution which must at best attend all classes by a total revo- 30
lution of labor throughout whole states. It is hoped that the
already deeply afflicted people in those states may be somewhat
more ready to give up the cause of their affliction, if, to this ex-
tent, this vital matter be left to themselves ; while no power of


the national executive to prevent an abuse is abridged by the

The suggestion in the proclamation as to maintaining the
political framework of the states on what is called reconstruc-
5 tion is made in the hope that it may do good without danger of
harm. It will save labor, and avoid great confusion.

But why any proclamation now upon this subject ? This
question is beset with the conflicting views that the step might
be delayed too long or be taken too soon. In some states the

lo elements for resumption seem ready for action, but remain in-
active apparently for want of a rallying point — a plan of action.
Why shall A adopt the plan of B, rather tlian B that of A?
And if A and B should agree, how can they know but that the
general government here will reject their plan ? By the procla-

15 mation a plan is presented which may be accepted by them as
a rallying point, and which they are assured in advance will not
be rejected here. This may bring them to act sooner than they
otherwise would.

The objection to a premature presentation of a plan by the

20 national executive consists in the danger of committals on points
which could be more safely left to further developments. Care
has been taken to so shape the document as to avoid embar-
rassments from this source. Saying that, on certain terms, cer-
tain classes will be pardoned, with rights restored, it is not said

25 that other classes, or other terms, will never be included. Saying
that reconstruction will be accepted if presented in a specified
way, it is not said it will never be accepted in any other way.

The movements, by state action, for emancipation in several
of the states riot included in the Emancipation Proclamation,

30 are matters of profound gratulation. And while I do not repeat
in detail what I have heretofore so earnestly urged upon this
subject, my general views and feelings remain unchanged ; and
I trust that Congress will omit no fair opportunity of aiding these
important steps to a great consummation.


In the midst of other cares, however important, we must not
lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reli-
ance. To that power alone can we look, yet for a time, to give
confidence to the people in the contested regions that the in-
surgent power will not again overrun them. Until that confi- 5
dence shall be established, little can be done anywhere for what
is called reconstruction. Hence our chiefest care must still be
directed to the army and navy, who have thus far borne their
harder part so nobly and well. And it may be esteemed fortu-
nate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable 10
arms, we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from
commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom, more
than to others, the world must stand indebted for the home of
freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.

Abraham Lincoln



Executive Mansion

Hon. Michael Hahn Washington, March 13, 1864

My dear Sir :

I congratulate you on having fixed your name in history as 15

the first free-state governor of Louisiana. Now you are about

to have a convention, which, among other things, will probably

define the elective franchise. I barely suggest for your private

consideration, whether some of the colored people may not be

let in — as, for instance, the very intelligent, and especially those 20

who have fought gallantly in our ranks. They would probably

help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty

within the family of freedom. But this is only a suggestion, not

to the public, but to you alone. .

Yours truly

A. Lincoln



Executive Mansion
A. G. Hodges, Esq. Washington, April 4, 1864

Frankfort, Kentucky

My dear Sir :

You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I ver-
bally said the other day in your presence, to Governor Bramlette
and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows :

" I am naturally antislavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing
5 is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel,
and yet I have never understood that the presidency conferred
upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judg-
ment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the
best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution

10 of the L^nited States. I could not take the office without taking
the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get
power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood,
too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade
me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the

15 moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many
times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have
done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment
and feeling on slavery. I did understand, however, that my oath
to preserve the Constitution to the best of my ability imposed

20 upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means,
that government — that nation, of which that Constitution was
the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation and yet pre-
serve the Constitution ? By general law, life and limb must be
protected, yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life;

25 but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that meas-
ures otherwise unconstitutional might become lawful by becom-
ing indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution through
the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this


ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of
my ability, I had even tried to preserve the Constitution, if, to
save slavery or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of
government, country, and Constitution all together. When, early
in the war. General Fremont attempted military emancipation, 5
I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable
necessity. Wlien, a little later, General Cameron, then Secre-
tary of \^■ar, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected
because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When,
still later. General Hunter attempted military emancipation, I 10
again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable
necessity had come. When in March and May and July, 1862,
I made earnest and successive appeals to the border states to
favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable
necessity for military emancipation and arming the blacks would 1 5
come unless averted by that measure. They declined the propo-
sition, and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative
of either surrendering the Union, and with it the Constitution,
or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the
latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss ; but 20
of this, I was not entirely confident. More than a year of trial
now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our
home popular sentiment, none in our white military force — no
loss by it anyhow or anywhere. On the contrary it shows a gain
of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and 25
laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there
can be no caviling. \Yq have the men ; and we could not have
had them without the measure.

"And now let any Union man who complains of the measure
test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing 30
the rebellion by force of arms ; and in the next, that he is for
taking these hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union
side, and placing them where they would be but for the meas-
ure he condemns. If he cannot face his case so stated, it is only
because he cannot face the truth,"


I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In
telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity.
I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that
events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years'

5 struggle, the nation's condition is not what either party, or any
man, devised or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it
is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great
wrong, and wills also that we of the North, as well as you of the
South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impar-

lo tial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the

justice and goodness of God.

Yours truly

A. Lincoln


Executive Mansion
Washington, April 30, 1864
Lieutenant General Grant :

Not expecting to see you again before the spring campaign
opens, I wish to express in this way my entire satisfaction with
what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it.

1 5 The particulars of your plans I neither know nor seek to know.
You are vigilant and self-reliant ; and, pleased with this, I wish
not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I
am very anxious that any great disaster or capture of our men
in great numbers shall be avoided, I know these points are less

20 likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If

there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do

not fail to let me know it. And now, with a brave army and a

just cause, may God sustain you.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln



(November 21, 1864)
Dear Madam :

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a
statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you
are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the
field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any
words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the 5
grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from
tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the
thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our
Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereave-
ment, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved 10
and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid
so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully

Abraham Lincoln


(December 6, 1864)

. . . The most reliable indication of public purpose in this
country is derived through our popular elections. Judging by
the recent canvass and its result, the purpose of the people 15
within the loyal states to maintain the integrity of the Union,
was never more firm nor more nearly unanimous than now.
The extraordinary calmness and good order with w^hich the
millions of voters met and mingled at the polls give strong
assurance of this. Not only all those who supported the Union 20
ticket, so called, but a great majority of the opposing party
also, may be fairly claimed to entertain, and to be actuated by,
the same purpose. It is an unanswerable argument to this
effect, that no candidate for any office whatever, high or low,
has ventured to seek votes on the avowal that he was for giving 2^


up the Union. There has been much impugning of motives,
and much heated controversy as to the proper means and best
mode of advancing the Union cause ; but on the distinct issue
of Union or no Union the politicians have shown their in-
5 stinctive knowledge that there is no diversity among the people.
In affording the people the fair opportunity of showing one to
another and to the world this firmness and unanimity of pur-
pose, the election has been of vast value to the national cause.
The election has exhibited another fact, not less valuable to

lo be known — the fact that we do not approach exhaustion in
the most important branch of national resources — that of
living men. While it is melancholy to reflect that the war has
filled so many graves, and carried mourning to so many hearts,
it is some relief to know that compared with the surviving, the

15 fallen have been so few. While corps, and divisions, and
brigades, and regiments have formed, and fought, and dwin-
dled, and gone out of existence, a great majority of the men
who composed them are still living. The same is true of the
naval service. The election returns prove this. So many voters

20 could not else be found. The states regularly holding elec-
tions, both now and four years ago — to wit : California,
Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky,
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mis-
souri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon,

25 Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and
Wisconsin — cast 3,982,011 votes now, against 3,870,222 cast
then; showing an aggregate now of 3,982,011. To this is to
be added 33,762 cast now in the new states of Kansas and
Nevada, which states did not vote in i860; thus swelling the

30 aggregate to 4,015,773, and the net increase during the three
years and a half of war, to 145,551. A table is appended,
showing particulars. To this again should be added the num-
ber of all soldiers in the field from Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, and California,


who by the laws of those states could not vote away from their
homes, and which number cannot be less than 90,000. Nor yet
is this all. The number in organized territories is triple now what
it was four years ago, while thousands, white and black, join us
as the national arms press back the insurgent lines. So much 5
is shown, affirmatively and negatively, by the election.

It is not material to inquire how the increase has been pro-
duced, or to show that it would have been greater but for the
war, which is probably true. The important fact remains demon-
strated that we have more men now than we had when the war 10
began ; that we are not exhausted, nor in process of exhaustion ;
that we are gaining strength, and may, if need be, maintain the
contest indefinitely. This as to men. Material resources are
now more complete and abundant than ever.

The national resources, then, are unexhausted, and, as we 15
believe, inexhaustible. The public purpose to reestablish and
maintain the national authority is unchanged, and, as we believe,
unchangeable. The manner of continuing the effort remains to
choose. On careful consideration of all the evidence accessible,
it seems to me that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent 20
leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short
of severance of the Union — precisely what we will not and
cannot give. His declarations to this effect are explicit and oft
repeated. He does not attempt to deceive us. He affords us
no excuse to deceive ourselves. He cannot voluntarily reaccept 25
the Union ; we cannot voluntarily yield it.

Between him and us the issue is distinct, simple, and inflexible.
It is an issue which can only be tried by war, and decided by victory.
If we yield, we are beaten ; if the Southern people fail him, he is
beaten. Either way it would be the victory and defeat following 30
war. What is true, however, of him who heads the insurgent cause,
is not necessarily true of those who follow. Although he cannot
reaccept the Union, they can. Some of them, we know, already
desire peace and reunion. The number of such may increase.


They can at any moment have peace simply by laying down
their arms and submitting to the national authority under the
Constitution. After so much the government could not, if it
would, maintain war against them. The loyal people would not
5 sustain or allow it. If questions should remain, we would adjust
them by the peaceful means of legislation, conference," courts,
and votes, operating only in constitutional and lawful channels.
Some certain, and other possible, questions are, and would be,
beyond the executive power to adjust ; as, for instance, the ad-

lo mission of members into Congress, and whatever might require
the appropriation of money. The executive power itself would
be greatly diminished by the cessation of actual war. Pardons
and remissions of forfeitures, however, would still be within
executive control. In what spirit and temper this control would

15 be exercised, can be fairly judged of by the past.

A year ago general pardon and amnesty, upon specified terms,
were offered to all except certain designated classes, and it was
at the same time made known that the excepted classes were
still within contemplation of special clemency. During the year

20 many availed themselves of the general provision, and many
more would, only that the signs of bad faith in some led to such
precautionary measures as rendered the practical process less
easy and certain. During the same time, also, special pardons
have been granted to individuals of the excepted classes, and

25 no voluntary application has been denied.

Thus, practically, the door has been for a full year open to
all, except such as were not in condition to make free choice —
that is, such as were in custody or under constraint. It is still
so open to all ; but the time may come — probably will come —

30 when public duty shall demand that it be closed ; and that in
lieu more rigorous measures than heretofore shall be adopted.
In presenting the abandonment of armed resistance to the
national authority on the part of the insurgents as the only in-
dispensable condition to ending the war on the part of the


goverment, I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery. I
repeat the declaration made a year ago, that '' while I remain
in my present position I shall not attempt to retract or modify
the Emancipation Proclamation, nor shall I return to slavery
any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or 5
by any of the acts of Congress."

If the people should, by whatever mode or means, make it
an executive duty to reenslave such persons, another, and not
I, must be their instrument to perform it.

In stating a single condition of peace, I mean simply to say, 10
that the war will cease on the part of the government whenever
it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.

Abraham Lincoln


(March 4, 1865)

. . . On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago,
all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war.
All dreaded it — all sought to avert it. While the inaugural 15
address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether
to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the
city seeking to destroy it without war — seeking to dissolve the
Union, and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties depre-
cated war ; but one of them would make war rather than let the 20
nation survive ; and the other w^ould accept war rather than let
it perish. And the war came.

One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not
distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the south-
em part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful 25
interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause
of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest
was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union,
even by war ; while the government claimed no right to do more
than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. 3°


Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the
duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that
the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the
conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph,
5 and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the
same Bible, and pray to the same God ; and each invokes his
aid against the other.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just
God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other

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Online LibraryA LincolnSelections from the letters, speeches (Volume 2) → online text (page 11 of 13)