Abraham Lincoln.

The war policy of the administration : letter of the President to the Union mass convention at Springfield, Illinois (Volume 2) online

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To ths Union Mass Convention at Springfield, Illinois.

EXECUTIVE ma:n^siox,

Washingtox, Aug. IG, 18G3.
Hon. James C. ConkUng :

My Deae Sir:

Your letter inviting nie to attend a mass meeting of
miconditional Union men, to be held at tlie capital of Illinois
on the 3d day of September, lias 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 this city so long
as the visit there would require.

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

There are those who are dissatisiied 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
conceivably ways. First, to suppress the rebellion by force
of aims. This I am " trying to do. Are you for it ? If you
are, so far w© are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way


is to o-ivo iij) tlio Union. ] am n<i-ainst this. Are you for it?
Jf yon arc, yon slionld say so ])lainly. If yon are not for force,
noi- yet lor dissulutiu)i, tlierc only remains some imaginary

I do not believe any compromise embracing tlie mainte-
nance of the Union is now jjossible. All that I learn leads to
a directly opi)osit(5 belief. The strengtli of the rebellion is in i
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 oi>position to that army, is simply nothing for the
present, because such man or men have no power whatever
to enforce their side of a conipromise, if one were made with

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 Avay can that compromise be used to keep Lee's army
out of Pennsylvania ?

IMeade's army can keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania ;
and I think can ultimately drive it out of existence ; but no
pai)er compromise to which the controllers of Lee's army are
not agreed, can at all atfect that army. In an eflbrt at such
compromise we should waste time which the enemy would
improve to our disadvantage; and that would be all.

A compromise, 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 successes
of our army. Now, allow me to assure you that no word or
intimation from that rebel army, or from any of the men con-
trolling it, in relation to any peace compromise, has ever come
to my knowledge or belief. All charges and intimations to
the contrary are deceptive and groundless ; and T in'omise you
that if any such in'o]K)sition shall hereafter come, it shall not
be rejected and kci)t a secret from you. 1 freely acknowledge
myself the servant of the people acccmling to the bond of ser-
vice— the United States Constitution — and that as such I
am responsible to them.

P»ut, to be ])lain, you are dissatisfied with me about the
negro. Qiiite likel}- there is a difiereuce of opinion between


yon and myself npoii lljat 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 con-
sistent with even your view, i)rovided you are for tlio Union.

I suggested compensated emancipation, to which you replied
you w ished not to be taxed to buy negroes. But I had not
asivcd you to be taxed to buy negroes, except in such way as
to save you from greater taxation to save the Union exchi-
sively by other means.

You dislike the Emancipation Proclamation, and perhaps
you would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional.
I think differently. I think that the Constitution 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 i)roperty.
Is there, has there ever been, any question that, by the law
of war, property, 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' pro-
[)erty when they cannot use it ; and even destroy their own
to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all in
their power to help themselves or hurt the enemy, except a
few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the excep-
tions are the massacre of vanquished foes and non-combatants,
male and female.

T3ut the Proclamation, as law, either is yalid or is not valid.
If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can-
not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to
life. Some of you profess to think its retraction would oi)e-
rate 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 Proclamation was issued ; the last one
hundred days of wdiich passed Tuuler an explicit notice that it
w^TS coming unless averted by those in revolt returning to
their allegiance. The war has certainly progressed as favo-
rably 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 im])ortant successes, believe the


emancipation iDolicy and the use of colored trooi^s constitnte
tlie heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion ; and that at least
one of those important 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 Abolltiouism,
or with Republican party politics, but who hold them purely
as military opinions. I submit these opinions as being- enti-
tled 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 that you will not fight to free negroes. Some of
them seem to be willing to fight for you. But no matter ;
fight you then exclusively to save the Union. I issued the
Proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union.

Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the
Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an
apt time then for you to declare that you will not fight to free

I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever
extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that
extent it weakened the enemy in his resistance to you. Do
you think difierently ? I thought that whatever negroes can
be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white
soldiers to do in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise
to you ? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives.
Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for
them ? If they stake then' lives for us, they must be prompted
by the strongest motive, even the promise of their freedom.
And the promise being made, must be kept.

The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes
unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great Northwest for it.
Nor yet wholly to them. Three hundred miles up they met
New England, Empire, Keystone, and Jersey, hewing theu'
way right and left. The sunny South, too, in more colors
than one, also lent a hand. On the spot their part of the his
tory was jotted down in black and white. The job was a
great national one, and let none be banned who bore an
honorable part in it. While those who have cleared the great
river may well be proud, even that is not all.


It is hard to say that anj tbiDg has been more bravely and
well done than at Antietain, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and
on many tields of lesser note.

Nor must Uncle Sam's web-feet be forgotten. At all the
watery margius they have been present. Not only on the
deep sea, the broad bay, and the rapid river, bnt also up the
narrow, muddy bayou, and wherever the ground was a little
damp, they have been and made their tracks.

Thanks to all for the great Eepublic, for the principle it
lives by and keeps alive — for man's vast future — thanks to all.

Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will
come soon, and come to stay, and so come as to be worth the
keeping in all future time.

It will then have been proved that among free men there
can be no successful appeal Irom the ballot to the bullet, and
that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their case,
and pay the cost.

And then there will be some black men who can remember
that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye,
and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to
this great consummation ; while I fear there will be some
white ones unable to forget that, with malignant heart and
deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it.

Still, let us not be over sanguine of a speedy final triumph.
Let us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the means,
never doubting that a just God, in his own good time, will
give us the rightful result.

Yours, very truly,



To the Union Mass Convention at Springfield, Illinois.

Boston, Aug. 24, 18C3.
James C. Colliding, Esq., Chairman, &c.:

My Dear Sir :

I received a few days ago your letter of the 12tb, inviting'
nie to atteiwl " the grand mass meeting- of the Unconditional
Union men of the State of Illinois," to be held on the 3d of
September at Springfield.

It will not be in iny jjower to attend the meeting, but its
objects, as explained by you, have my cordial sympathy.

The elections soon to be held will be of more than usual
importance. They will throw light on the great question,
how far it is possible for a free Government, controlled in its
legislative and executive branches by popular choice, to prose-
cute with vigor a war of considerable duration, and which
entails heavy burdens upon the community. As a represen-
tative government is mainly carried on by part}^ organizations,
the great interests of the country, both in peace and war, are
too apt to become the arena in which the opposite parties
strive for the mastery. Questions in themselves of secondary
importance to the general welfare, are often contested with
vehemence and passion, and that by men of ability and patriot-
ism working themselves up to the belief that they are contend-
ing for matters of vital importance. Within my experience,
the politics of the country have successively turned upon fom^
or live questions, regarded at the time as of the greatest
moment, but now utterly obsolete and forgotten.

Tliese unprofitable contests, while they last, are the source^
of great embarrassment to the administration of the general
Government for the time being, Avhicli finds itself thwarted in
all its measures, however patriotic and beneficent their ten-
dency, by indiscriminate opposition, aiming only at an elec-
tioneering triumph. This is a very serious evil in time of


peace, greatly eiiliaiiciug the difficulties and burdens of public
life, and liiglily detrimental to the public interests.

In time of war the evil becomes one of tremendous magni-
tude. The questions that then present tlieinselves are natu-
rally more important than ordinary political issues in time of
peace, while every bloAV struck at the measures of the Govern-
ment, though designed only to effect a change of administra-
tion, really affords aid and comfort to the enemy.

This will be the case when the opposition to government
measures is sincerely dictated by honest difference of opinion.
JSTay, it will even be the case when the opposition is directed
against measures palpably mistaken either on grounds of
j)rinciple or j)olicy. No Administration is free from error,
and if party spirit is allowed to prevail, its errors will be
severely criticised, usually exaggerated, and often fiercely
denounced, till the attention of the country, instead of being
tixed on the great and main questions on which all good
patriots are agreed, is turned to side issues of minor and often
factitious importance. In this way the administration of the
Government is weakened and embarrassed, and the vigorous
prosecution of the war, which every patriotic citizen admits
to be the i)aramount object, is in some degree paralyzed.

I have doubted the policy of some measures of the Admini-
stration, and strongly disapproved others, but regarding the
persons in power for tbe time being as the constitutional
agents of the i)eople for carrying on the Government, con-
sidering the war which has been forced upon us by the ambi-
tious demagogues of the South as a question of national life
or death — tliat to have the doctrine of secession established
at the mouth of the rebel cannon, is simply to consign the
conntry to a future of eternal border war, and to hiy its dis-
honored fragments at the feet of foreign powers ; 1 cannot
but think it unpatriotic to attempt, for the sake of a party
triumph, to make political capital out of the dillicuUies, or, if
you please, the errors, unavoidably incident to the conduct
of a war of such gigantic dimensions.

It is a pretty safe test, in cases of ^his kind, to ask how the
views and measures of a party are regarded by the common
eneniy. Applying this test in the present case, nothing is
more certain than that the triumph at the approachhig elec-


tion of any party, organized and operating for the prostration
of the Administration, would be regarded with immingled
satisfaction by the leaders of the rebellion and their sympa-
thizers abroad. Indeed their last hope is in our divisions. .

Candor requires me to add, that, if it is the duty of good
citizens to abstain from factious opposition, it is, in time of
war, not less the duty of the Administration, in civil as in
military and naval affau's, to assume a position wholly inde-
pendent of party. I am afraid it is impossible, in time of
peace, to carry on a representative government except on a
13arty basis. During the existence of war, especially of a war
which tasks to the utmost the exertions and resources of the
country, party support, in proportion as it is relied on, is an
element not of strength but of weakness.

If all good men and good patriots in the loyal States,
whether iii or out of office- — sacrificing, when necessary, a
little of the pride of personal feeling and of party associa-
tion — would cordially unite for the attainment of the objects,
which they all approve, viz. : the vigorous prosecution, and
successful termination of the war, the next New Year's day
would witness the iDrostration of the rebellion and its leaders,
the return of peace, and the restoration of the Union.

With the best wishes that the meeting at Springfield may
promote these great ends, I remain, dear sir.
Very respectfully.

Your friend and fellow citizen,





Online LibraryAbraham LincolnThe war policy of the administration : letter of the President to the Union mass convention at Springfield, Illinois (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 1)