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io further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen states
expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by
the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And, finally, in 1787
one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the
Constitution was '* to form a more perfect Union."


But if the destruction of the Union by one or by a part only
of the states be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than
before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of per-

It follows from these views that no state upon its own mere 5
motion can lawfully get out of the Union ; that resolves and
ordinances to that effect are legally void ; and that acts of vio-
lence, within any state or states, against the authority of the
United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according
to circumstances. k

I therefore consider that, in view of the Constitution and the
laws, the Union is unbroken ; and to the extent of my ability I
shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon
me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the
states. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my 11
part ; and I shall perform it so far as practicable, unless my
rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requi-
site means, or in some authoritative manner direct the con-
trary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only
as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitution- 2c
ally defend and maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence ;
and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national
authority. The power confided to me w411 be used to hold,
occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the 2 c
government, and to collect the duties and imposts ; but beyond
what may be necessary for these objects, there wdll be no inva-
sion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.
Where hostility to the United States, in any interior locality,
shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident 3c
citizens from holding the federal offices, there will be no attempt
to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object.
While the strict legal right may exist in the government to en-
force the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would


be so irritating, and so nearly impracticable withal, that I deem
it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in
all parts of the Union. So far as possible, the people every-
5 where shall have that sense of perfect security which is most
favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here in-
dicated will be followed unless current events and experience
shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every
case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised according

lo to circumstances actually existing, and with a view and a hope
of a peaceful solution of the national , troubles and the restora-
tion of fraternal sympathies and affections.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek
to destroy the Union at all events, and are glad of any pretext

15 to do it, I will neither affirm nor deny ; but if there be such, I
need address no word to them. To those, however, who really
love the L^nion may I not speak ?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of
our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its

20 hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it ?
Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possi-
bility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real ex-
istence ? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater
than all the real ones you fly from — will you risk the commis-

2 5 sion of so fearful a mistake .'*

All profess to be content in the Union if all constitutional
rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right,
plainly written in the Constitution, has been denied 1 I think
not. Happily the human mind is so constituted that no party

30 can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think, if you can, of a
single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Con-
stitution has ever been denied. If by the mere force of num-
bers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written
constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify


revolution — certainly would if such a right were a vital one.
But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities and
of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and
negations, guarantees and prohibitions, in the Constitution, that
controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law 5
can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to
every question which may occur in practical administration. No

foresight can anticipate, nor any document of reasonable length
contain, express provisions for all possible questions. Shall
fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by state 10
authority ? The Constitution does not expressly say. May
Congress prohibit slavery in the territories ? The Constitution
does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the
territories ? The Constitution does not expressly say.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional con- 1 5
troversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minor-
ities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the
government must cease. There is no other alternative ; for con-
tinuing the government is acquiescence on one side or the other.

If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, 20
they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them ;
for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a
majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For in-
stance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year
or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of 25
the present Union now claim to secede from it ? All who cherish
disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper
of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the states
to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and 30
prevent renewed secession ?

Plainly, the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy.
A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limita-
tions, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of


popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of
a free people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to an-
archy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible ; the rule of a
minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible ;
5 so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism
in some form is all that is left.

I do not forget the position, assumed by some, that constitu-
tional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court ; nor
do I deny that such decisions must be binding, in any case,

lo upon the parties to a suit, as to the object of that suit, while
they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in
all parallel cases by all other departments of the government.
And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be er-
roneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being

15 limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be
overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can
better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At
the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy
of the government, upon vital questions affecting the whole

20 people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme
Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between
parties in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be
their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their
government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is

25 there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It
is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases prop-
erly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others
seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

One section of our country believes slavery is right, and

30 ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and
ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.
The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution, and the law for
the suppression of the foreign slave trade, are each as well en-
forced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where


the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law
itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal
obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This,
I think, cannot be perfectly cured ; and it would be worse in
both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The 5
foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ulti-
mately revived, without restriction, in one section, while fugitive
slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surren-
dered at all by the other.

Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove 10
our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable
wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and
go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other ;
but the different parts of our country cannot do this. They
cannot but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable 1 5
or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then,
to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfac-
tory after separation than before ? Can aliens make treaties
easier than friends can make laws ? Can treaties be more faith-
fully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends ? 20
Suppose you go to war, you cannot fight always ; and when,
after much loss on both sides, and no gain on either, you cease
fighting, the identical old questions as to terms of intercourse
are again upon you.

This countiy, with its institutions, belongs to the people who 25
inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow w^eary of the existing
government, they can exercise their constitutional right of
amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or over-
throw it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy
and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the national Con- 30
stitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amend-
ments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people
over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes
prescribed in the instrument itself ; and I should, under existing



circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity
being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add
that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it
allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, in-
5 stead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions
originated by others not especially chosen for the purpose, and
which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either
accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the
Constitution — which amendment, however, I have not seen —

lo has passed Congress, to the effect that the federal government
shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the states,
including that of persons held to service. To avoid miscon-
struction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not
to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding

15 such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have
no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

The chief magistrate derives all his authority from the people,
and they have conferred none upon him to fix terms for the
separation of the states. The people themselves can do this

20 also if they choose ; but the executive, as such, has nothing to
do with it. His duty is to administer the present government,
as it came to his hands, and to transmit it, unimpaired by him,
to his successor.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate

25 justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the
world ? In our present differences is either party without faith
of being in the right ? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with
his eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on
yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail

30 by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

J By the frame of the government under which we live, this

; same people have wisely given their public servants but little
power for mischief ; and have, with equal wisdom, provided
for the return of that little to their own hands at very short


intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance, no
administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very
seriously injure the government in the short space of four years. //

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this
whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If 5
there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step
which you would never take deliberately, that object will be
frustrated by taking time ; but no good object can be frustrated
by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied, still have the old
Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive' point, the laws 10
of your own framing under it ; while the new administration
will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If
it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right
side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for pre-
cipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm 1 5
reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land,
are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in
mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government 20
will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being .
yourselves the aggressors. Y^ou have no oath registered in
heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most
solemn one to " preserve, protect, and defend it."

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We 25
must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it
must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of
memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to
every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will
yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely 30
they Vv'ill be, by the better angels of our nature.





April I, 1 86 1
My Dear Sir :

Since parting with you I have been considering your paper
dated this day, and entitled " Some Thoughts for the President's
Consideration." The first proposition in it is, " First, We are
at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy

5 either domestic or foreign."

At the beginning of that month, in the inaugural, I said : " The
power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess
the property and places belonging to the government, and to
collect the duties and imposts." This had your distinct approval

lo at the time ; and, taken in connection with the order I immedi-
ately gave General Scott, directing him to employ every means
in his power to strengthen and hold the forts, comprises the
exact domestic policy you now urge, with the single exception
that it does not propose to abandon Fort Sumter.

15 Again, I do not perceive how the reenforcement of Fort
Sumter would be done on a slavery or a party issue, while that
of Fort Pickens would be on a more national and patriotic one.
The news received yesterday in regard to St, Domingo cer-
tainly brings a new item within the range of our foreign policy ;

20 but up to that time we have been preparing circulars and
instructions to ministers and the like, all in perfect harmony,
without even a suggestion that w^e had no foreign policy.

Upon your closing propositions — that " whatever policy we
adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it."

25 " For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue
and direct it incessantly."

" Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while
active in it, or


" Devolve it on some member of his cabinet. Once adopted,
debates on it must end, and all agree and abide " — I remark
that if- this must be done, I must do it. When a general line of
policy is adopted, I apprehend there is no danger of its being
changed without good reason, or continuing to be a subject of un- 5
necessary debate ; still, upon points arising in its progress I wish,
and suppose I am entitled to have, the advice of all the cabinet.


(Extract from annual message, December 3, 1861)

... It is not needed nor fitting here that a general argu-
ment should be made in favor of popular institutions ; but there
is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most 10
others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place
capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the
structure of government. It is assumed that labor is avail-
able only in connection with capital ; that nobody labors unless
somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces 15
him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is
best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to
work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it
without their consent. Having proceeded thus far, it is naturally
concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we 20
call slaves. And, further, it is assumed that whoever is once a
hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as
assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed
for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assump- 25
tions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is
only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor
had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and de-
serves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, 30


which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is
it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation
between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error
is in assuming that the whole labor of the community exists
5 within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid
labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few
to labor for them. A large majority belong to neither class —
neither work for others nor have others working for them. In
most of the Southern states a majority of the whole people, of

lo all colors, are neither slaves nor masters ; while in the Northern
a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men with their
families — wives, sons, and daughters — work for themselves,
on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the
whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on

15 the one hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It
is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle
their own labor with capital — that is, they labor with their own
hands and also buy or hire others to labor for them ; but this
is only a mixed and not a distinct class. No principle stated is

20 disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.

Again, as has already been said, there is not, of necessity,
any such thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that con-
dition for life. Many independent men everywhere in these
states-, a few years back in their lives, were hired laborers. The

25 prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile,
saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself,
then labors on his own account another while, and at length
hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just and
generous and prosperous system which opens the way to all —

30 gives hope to all, and consequent energy and progress and im-
provement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy
to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty — none less
inclined to take or touch aught which they have not honestly
earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power


which they already possess, and which, if surrendered, will surely
be used to close the door of advancement against such as they,
and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them, till all of
liberty shall be lost. . . .


(March 6, 1862)

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives : 5
I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honor-
able bodies, which shall be substantially as follows :

Resolved, That the United States ought to cooperate with any
state which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such
state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state, in its discretion, to 'lo
compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by
such change of system.

If the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet
the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end ;
but if it does command such approval, I deem it of importance 15
that the states and people immediately interested should be at
once distinctly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to
consider whether to accept or reject it. The federal govern-
ment would find its highest interest in such a measure, as one
of the most efficient means of self-preservation. The leaders of 20
the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this govern-
ment will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence
of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave
states north of such part will then say, " The Union for which
we have struggled being already gone, we now choose to go 25
with the Southern section." To deprive them of this hope sub-
stantially ends the rebellion ; and the initiation of emancipation
completely deprives them of it as to all the states initiating it.


The point is not that all the states tolerating slavery would very
soon, if at all, initiate emancipation ; but that while the offer is
equally made to all, the more Northern shall, by such initiation,
,make it certain to the more Southern that in no event will the
5 former ever join the latter in their proposed confederacy. I
say " initiation " because, in my judgment, gradual and not
sudden emancipation is better for all. In the mere financial or
pecuniary view, any member of Congress, with the census tables
and treasury reports before him, can readily see for himself

lo how very soon the current expenditures of this war would pur-
chase, at fair valuation, all the slaves in any named state. Such
a proposition on the part of the general government sets up no
claim of a right by federal authority to interfere with slavery within
state limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the sub-

1 5 ject in each case to the state and its people immediately interested.
It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them.

In the annual message, last December, I thought fit to say,
" The Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable
means must be employed." I said this not hastily, but deliber-

20 ately. War has been made, and continues to be, an indispen-
sable means to this end. A practical reacknowledgment of the
national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it
would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war
must also continue ; and it is impossible to foresee all the inci-

25 dents which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it.
Such as may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great
efficiency, toward ending the struggle, must and will come.

The proposition now made, though an offer only, I hope it
may be esteemed no offense to ask whether the pecuniary con-

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Online LibraryA LincolnSelections from the letters, speeches (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 13)