Abraham Lincoln.

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

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ACCEPTING THE PEESIDENT'S AMNESTY, AND COUNSELLING
THE COURSE FOR TENNESSEANS TO ADOPT IN RE-
FERENCE TO THE PROCLAMATION.



LETTER NO, I,



f



Editor of tlui Nashville Presrc At the date of
the enclosed letter, I wrote it to two of my
friends at Nashville. The object of the letter
was to explain to them, and to such others as
might see it, my reasons for aocepting Mr.
Lincoln's amnesty. It would have been bet-
ter perhaps at once to have had the letter pub-
lished, with a view to the possibility that it
might be of some advantage to the public.
It was not published, however, and this has
given occasion to the circulation of false ver-
sions of it, which can bo corrected alone by
its publication. If you will be so kind as to
publish it, you will much oblige mo.

The letter by no means contains all that I
could say upon the subject, but is suggestive
rather than otherwise. Some diSculties have
been presented in various newspapers as ob-
stacles La the way of carrying out the amnes-
ty on the part of Mr. Lincoln. These diflS.
cultles are, in my opinion, by no means seri-
ous, and if they were, the acceptors of the
amnesty would have sustained no loss, most
of their objects would unquestionably have
been attained, and Mr. Lincoln would bs
bound, by every consideration of honor, good
faith, and even sbame, to carry out his agree-
ment even to the letter. If any one, however,
who is willing to take the oath of the amnes-
ty, has serious fears in regard to Mr. Lincoln's
power to carry out v.'hat he has undertaken
substantially, and will express his fears, I will
take up and discuss the questions, andj I think,
easily show that there is nothing in them. I



have no fears on the subject, and shall act
accordingly. Yours, etc.,

E. H. EwiNG.

Near Mufreesboro, Dec. 17, 1863.
Messrs. Orville Eicing and Dempseij Weaver:

Gkktlemen— I have read a copy of Mr.
Lincoln's late message and the proclamation
accompanying it. This copy, though appa-
rently imperfect and inaccurate from errors
telegraphic and tpographical, contains perhaps
substantially what was intended to be com-
municated by the writer. The peculiarity
and obscurity of Mr. Lincoki's style, in addi-
tion, may leave some doubts in regard to the
meaning of portions of the documents ; yet,
in the main, I apprehend his intentions can be
ascertained by a careful reading of them.
These documents raise ^^^ '■iii-^itinn, Wlmf n.rn
Tennesseans to do under them ? Shall the
popositicns be accepted or rejected? I say
Tennesseans, because the tiaie is come, I be-
(lieve, when Tennessee must look to herself
and her own duties and interests. It is time
that she should no longer be ground helplessly
to powder between the upper and the nether
miil-stone : duty neither to the North nor to
the South, in my opinion, demands that she
should remain further in her present state of
anarchy.

Mr. Lincoln's proposition addresses itself
both to individuals and to States. For my-
self, I intend to accept the pardon (if I need
it,) and to take the oath proposed, though the
amnesty is not, as I think, sufScieutly exten-
sive.. As a matter of policy, and with a view
to suppress immediately the Southern rebel-
lion, it should have embraced everybody.
"This, it may be said, would be giving'up the
right to punish those who are regarded as the
leaders of the rebellion, and therefore especi-



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ally guiltv ; yet, of what comparative impor-
tance is this to that of restoring peace to the
country, and thus putting a speedy end to
confusion and bloodshed. In such great
matters, mere vengeance should sink into in-
significance.* This course would have steer-
ea clear of all those questions that may per-
plex the minds of many men, especially of
those who are in the Southern army. The ac-
ceptors of the pardon, whether justly or un-
justly, may be taunted with saving themselves
by making scape-goats of their leaders — with
an abandonment of their comrades — with the
loss of military honor — all of which could
have been avoided by extending the offer of
pardon to all. In such a case however, it might
be asked. Is nobody to be beheaded, nobody to
be hanged ? Where would be the warning
to future ambitious and unscrupulous dem-
agogues ? I answer, that if the awful deluge
of ruin and desolation that has come upon
the country from this civil war should be no
warning to the people not again to follow such
leaders ("and without followers they would be
powerless and innocuous,) would the bring-
ing to the block of a few guilty heads, or the
exile of their owners, have that effect? We
have had a sufficient baptism of blood, I think,
to deter at least one generation froin suchhaz-
ardo.ns experiments. The blood of the leaders
would, it seems to mc, rather prove, like the
blood of the martyrs, the seeds of another
crop than a terror to future evil-doers. Bat,
with what might have been in the proolama-
tion it is not my business to deal. There
may be, as Mr. Lincoln intimates, other pro-
clamations enlarging the scope of pardon,
and I think there will be ; in the meantime,
what are Tennesseans to do with the present
one ?

To decide this question, it will be necessary,
perhaps, to turn back a little and see how it
was that Tennessee became a partaker in this
rebellion. Before the war began, the bulk of
her people were undoubtedly opposed to a
dissolution of the Union. She was emphati-
cally a Union State. This is fresh in the
recollect! nn nf all, an rl was proved in every
practicable way. But the war came; neutrality
would not, and in fact could not, be allowed
by either party, if war was to be effectually
carried on. A choice of sides alone was left to
her. She then said to the South, "If I must
fight, it shall be with rather than against you,
however wrong you may have been in bring-
ing about or attempting to bring about a dis-
solution of the Union. You may have had
great provocation, and though it was
unwise in you to yield to it, yet you have



•Alas! how poor human nature deceives itself in re-
gard to the motives by which it is actuated I IIow many
men there are at the North who, thirsting for thg blood
of Jeff. Davit and hig Cabinet, beliovo thumselvej to be
stirred only by a patriotic impulse toast up a scare-crow
against the recurrence of future rebellion ! May we not
hope, however, that Mr. Lincoln can rise to the di^jnity
of that clemency which ennobled the mighty Julius,
and which stamped his succissor (when the character of
Octavius had been sunk in that of tho majestic Augus-
tas) as ainiotit th« wisest of mankind?



yielded and resorted to arms ; I can-
not fight against you — I am not al-
lowed to be neutral — I will fight
with you, and as this makes me an enemy of
the North and practically no longer united
with it, I will make common cause with you;
but I shall be a border State, and you must
protect me." Now, whether this was right or
wrong, prudent or imprudent, under the cir-
cumstances, I shall not pause to inquire.
Tennessee did become a party to the war ou
the Southern side, and what have been the
consequences 1 Her very heart has been
almost wrenched from her body ; her young
men are dead upon battle-fields or in hospital,
or pining in weary prisons ; her commerce has
been destroyed, her fields laid waste, her
towns depopulated, and finally, the hoof of
the Federal horseman treads upon the last
foot of her soil. Resistance by her or from
her is utterly hopeless, nor is there the slight-
est prospect that the South will ever regain
her territory. What tlien shall she do ? Shall
she say, All is lost but honor, and stand still
in sullen defiance, awaiting the course of
events ? How long shall she so stand ! Shall
it be till the rebel armies are captured or press-
ed into the southern seas ? Shall it be until
the last predatory band of desperadoes has
been taken prisoner, and the last spark of re-
sistance trampled out ? And what then ? Will
honor still be satisfied ? But what does honor,
in such a oase, require of Tennesseeans ? Does
it require that the last man should die and
the last woman be driven from the terri-
tory ? I may be wrong, but sueh notions of
honor in a State seem to me to be somewhat
fantastic. It would be a new thing under the
sun, to say the least of it, for a whole State to
undergo martyrdom rather than Submit to
terms which, though not precisely what might
be desired, and though not precisely restoring
us to our sUUus quo ante helium, are yet fully
as good as an unsuccessful party might ex-
pect. But, really, what do home-staying Ten-
nesseeans mean by honor in the present in-
stance / They are not fighting — they are not
going to fight, nor to give aid to those who
are lighting In the Southern cause. Stand
still, forsooth, and look sourly on, while oth-
ers tight, leaving in the meantime, their chil-
dren to be uneducated, their estates to go to
wreck, and civil society to be wholly dissolv-
ed. Do they mean, when it shall be ascer-
tained that resistance in the South is wholly
at an end, they will make an exodus in a body
from the State ? No, this would bo too ab-
surb ! These home-staying, cldinnty-corner fii'ht-
ing Tennessteans mean to do no such thing .'
What then ? Why, then, when perhaps every
thing here will have gone nearly to ruin,
when the present term of amnesty will have
been withdrawn, and something will demand
to be done, we shall have to begin at a very
difi'erent point from that which is offered to-
day.

Some may say, however. What is to become
of our sons and brothers and relatives who are
iu fhe Southern army ? Well, Avhat is to he-



come of them, anyhow ? Will your standing
off make their fate any better? No cue ex-
pects you to hate your sons or relatives, or to
hope that they may be killed, because you
have rano;ed yourselves under your old gov-
ment. If your sons come home and take the
benefit of the amnesty, they will have the
same fat« with yourselves. If they do not,
they will be in no worse condition for your
having accepted the pardon. Now, if Mr.
Linooln's proclamation offered anything as a
condition by which Tennesseeans, who had
been rebels, were to be degraded into an in-
ferior class, I should personally prefer an ex-
odus or death on the block to submission.
But he presents no such condition. Personal
rights are all restored, and in the main even
property, for as the proclamation of emancipa-
tion does not apply to Tennessee, and as the
confiscation act has been but very partially
acted on, the property of even armed- rebels
would, with few exceptions, be restored.

How the proclamation may be received in
other States, or how it may affect other States,
is not^a matter of prime consideration to Ten-
nesseeans at present. Each State and its cit-
izens, in the existing condition of affairs, will
of necessity have to act for themselves, as
there can of course be no common agreement
Well, but by waiting, something better may
perhaps be offered. Do things really seem to
be tending that way ? Have they not been
getting worse, and do they not seem likely
to get worse still by delay? And will
not the terms become harder as the
Southern fortunes continue to wane ?
Some sanguinp persons. hoMCver, may still
believe that Tennessee will be regained by the
Confederates. What then ? Will she be any
worse off" for having, in the meantime, re-
sumed her attitude of civil and political or-
ganization, and will any man be blamed for
having, in the exccise of a sound judgment,
done that which he deemed duty to his State
demanded ?

Now, if all this reasoning look to some gen-
erous souls like the calculations of a cool and
selfish man, who is disposed to abandon the
common cause and run his own vessel into
the first harbor, leaving the rest of the squad-
ron to the fury of the storm, let me ask of these
people what they think would be the course of
the Gulf States if now offered their independ-
ence, excluding Tennessee? AVonld she be
abandoned ? Would they not make peace on
the principle of itti possidetis ? I think they
would. If it is answered. Chivalry farbid !
Noblesse obligi — I reply ,Credut Jtida-us Appetla.
Their conduct to Tennessee and to Tennessee-
ans has manifested anything but a disposition
to adhere to her through evil as through good
report. But even if the Gulf States would re-
fuse such a peace, what good would it do us ?
Their claim to retain us would be but a piece
of empty gasconade.

At last, however, what choice have we ?

"This amnesty will be accepted, doubtless, by

a sufficient number of Tennesseeans to make

what the I'ederal Congress will call the gtate,



and by this number the rest will be governed,
and governed too as a degraded class. Must
not this be at all events prevented ? Will not
every Tennesseean come forward and have
something to do in forming the government
under which he and his children must live ?
There is no choice, as I believe, between ac-
ceptance of the amnesty and expatriation.
This may look, however, as if I regarded the
acceptance as compulsory in a legal sense,
and, therefore, as not binding. Such is not
my meaning ; on the contrary, I think that
every one who accepts should do so in good
taith and regard himself as in all respects
thereafter bound by his oath and his obliga- .
tion of allegiance to the United States. Such
shall be the meaning of my acceptance.

You will perceive that I have said nothing
of those Tennesseeans who are in the South -
em armies. So far as I am concerned, they
will be left to themselves. I will not even
suggest the reasons that create a diflBculty in
my mind in regard to giving them advice ; but
I will say this, that they can be in no manner
injured by our establishing a civil government
here, to which, at some time, should they be
hereafter pardoned, they may find it conven-
ient to return. Still, some persons may think
that this would look like the desertion of a
son or brother, and that sons or brothers in
the South would be consoled by their stand-
ing off in sullen dissatisfaction rather than
making submission. Well, if a son or a brother
should expect one, staying at home, to incur
all the penalties of treason, to lose his proper-
ty, to be denied all civil and political privi-
leges, to see his State and fellow-citizens going
to destruction, in order that he might derive
consolation or be more confirmed inhiscourse, .
I should deem him not a little unreasonable.

Now, I would not do anything that I deemed
mean or degrading to save my own life (for life
I consider of no great consequence, anyhow);
nor do I wish to address to you or others de-
grading motives of action ; yet, at last, it is
something to be freed from suspense in regard
to a trial for treason, to be restored to all civil
rights and privileges, and rights of property,
and to be once more a citizen of something or
somewhere. I have felt like a vagabond for
some time past, and I begin to wish for rest.

I have written thus much in a desultory
sort of fashion, but have not as yet stated dis-
tinctly what I understand Mr. Lincoln's prop-
osition to be. Well, this seems to be his mean-
ing: He proposes (1st.) So far as individual
rebels are concerned, if they do not come
within one or other of his exceptions,
that he will grant them a full pardon for their
offences, and restoraiion to all their civil and
political personal rights, together with a re-
storation of their rights of property, with the
exception (so far as Tennessee is concerned j
of the right to such slaves as may have ob-
tained their freedom by enlistment, or by some
one of the modes pointed out in the 9th sec-
tion of the general confiscation act, or by hav-
ing been actually in use for the purposes of
the rebellion, sunder the first confiscation act;



4



and with the farther exception of such pro-
perty as may have been taken and in wliich
third parties have acquired rights ; and pos-
sibly such property as may have been taken
and used already by the Government ('nothing
bein^ said about damages in such cases^ ;
provided an oath shall be taken, 1st, of al-
legiance, and 2d, to support the laws of Con-
gress and the proclamations of the President
in regard to slaves, so far as the same may be,
declared constitutional by the Supreme Court
of the United States, and until they shall bo
declared otherwise. Such is his proposition to
individual rebels. With the emancipation
proclamation we have nothing to do, it not
being applied to Tennessee. If the enlist-
ment and confiscation acts are declared con-
stitutional, these slaves Avould be lost under
the following circumstances : 1st, when en-
listed ; 2d, when used for the purposes of re-
bellion — such as servants of ofiicers, those
employed in working on fortifications, etc.,
with the assent of their owners ; 3d, all who
have escaped from their masters, and taken
refuge in army lines ; 4th, all captured from
rebels or deserted by them and coming under
control of the United States ; 5th, all
found on or being within any place occupied
by the rebels and afterwards by the forces of
the U. S. (place here meaning, probably,
town or station, as Nashville. Murrreesboro,
Lavergne,etc.) Who have been rebels re-
mains to be determined. Now, to all who have
taken or are willing to take the general oath
of allegiance, this oath need be no bug-bear.
I have seen many of the -oaths propounded
during this rebellion, and many in which there
was much complicated verbiage, but none of
them, at last, amounted to more than the
ordinary oath of loyalty. i shall not spend
time to show that this oath amounts to no more
either practically or in legal acceptance, than
the general oath of allegiance. Practically,
it amounts to no more ; for while the Nor-
thern armies remain with us, these
laws and proclamations will be upheld with-
out our aid or against our resistance. Theo-
retically, it amounts to no more ; because,
every man under allegiance is bound to regard
laws made by Congress, and, as I apprehend,
military proclamations by the President in
war time, as /;rn/zrt///r/'(: tiic law of the land, and
good uutiUlecl.'ired void by jiropcr autliuril.y,
tliaf is the autiiority of the courts. 2d. lie
proposes, in regard to States, their reconstruc-
tion by conventions, the members to which
shall be elected by all such (including
pardoned per.'-nuB) as were entitled to vote
before the r<ih«!iiii6n, and no other. No check
is placed on Tennessee in regard to slavery,
though he seems to suppose that in Tennessee,
Missouri and Maryland there will be sufficient
anti-slavery agitation to e.xclude it. Of
course the question of acceptance or rejection
of a constitution will have to be submitted to
Congress, as also the admission of members
of Congress elected from Tennessee, it
Tennessee is to bo regarded as a new State- i
How it may b^ in regard to this and other



questions of a cognate chai'acter, time ,,aJono
can determine. Mr. Lincoln stiJl retair\s the
power of enlistment, and tlie military power
in other respects in regard to slaves ; though
I suppose that if here.after the slave of a par-
doned person should be enlisted he would be
paid for him $300.

Upon the whole, then, I consider this offer
of. amnesty as having placed the people of
Tennessee, if they choose to embrace its
terms, upon much higher and better ground
than that they previously occupied. If ihey
refuse it, they leave themselves and their des-
tiuic-8 in the hands of those who may choose
to embrace it, however small the number, if
it siiall reach 16,000. As at present advised,
I shall embraoe the offer, and such is my
advice to all my friends. To those who
have already taken the oath of allegiance in
good faith, or who are willing to take it, I
would say that it would be indeed straining
at a gnat to refuse that proposed in the pro-
clamation. You can show this letter at your
discretion, and make what use of it you
think proper.

Yours traly,

Edwin H. Ewing.

P. S. — In the body of my letter, I mention-
ed That time alone could determine the ques
tion whether Tennessee should be regarded as
a new State, upon lier attempt to resume
her position in the Congress of the United
States and as a member of the Union. By
that I meant that time alone could determine
this question practically ; about it as a ques-
tion ot law and right, there can bo but little
difficulty. The fine-spun sopl^istry of some
men about the forfeiture .of State rights and
the extinction of States is much what might
have been expected from persons of that di
scription. Weak, showy, book-learned, vis
ionary, with narrow minds and narrow hearts,
they have too little practical vigor and
top little expansiveness of intellect to embrace
the great (j[uestions of the statesman. A
State of the iJnion cannot be forfeited like a
corporation, by violation of charter or the ex-
piration of its legal existence by time. Nei-
tiicr internal nor external vIoIcimmj can atfec!
its status except practically and temporarily.
What might bo the effect of the civil or natu-
ral dc.th of all of its inhabitants it is imiuic-
cssary to in(iuiro, as no such event has lusp
pened or is likely to happen. Tlie war povior
of the Union cannot last beyond the contin-
uauce of the war, and when the war shall
cease, the State will i-emain, crippled it may
be, and by the destruction o very many of its
inhabitants (civilly and naturally,) shorn of a
portion of its representation The war power
IS an instrument for suppression of internal
violence or resistance to foreign aggression,
not a regulative force for reconstruction.

'JL'hese few words are added to my letter
from the fear that you or others might suppose
that I had some doubt in regard to the real
status of Tennessee as a State. Mr. Lincoln
and other strong-minded men, even of the
v^iit!-.«!larery party of the North, express vievTfS



of this question not unlike those above, and
I'do not much fear that it vrill become a ques-
tion of danger. I hold myself ready to
sustain these views by argument in exLenso
should it ever become necessary. •' E. H. E.



LETTER NO. IL

Mr. Editor : In the first clause of the
Bill of Rights in the Constitution of Tennes-
see, the grand announcement is made that
" all power is inherent in the people ;" and
now for the first time since its utterance, we
have to begin to ponder the meaning of that
great assertion. In times of peace and quiet,
when all of the wheels of government were
moving as upon oil, no one thought it neces-
sary to turn back his eyes upon this great re-
servoir. Somehow, vaguely, it was thought
that such a depository of power had at one
time existed, but that it had exhausted itself
in setting in motion the regulative machinery
once adopted, and that it was never again to
be resorted to Everything seemed to, be
provided for— Executive, Judicial, Legislative
• — even the amending or making of a new
Constitution, and everyone seemed to think
that there could be no new avatar from the
extinct volcano. But now v/hen we • are
brought back from. the common-places of
every oay government to search into the
origin of things, we may find that there is a
resei'ved force in this declaration of power,
which, though somewhat ponderous and un-
wieldy, is competent to set in motion the
v/heels that have^been clogged and the en-
gines that have ceased work. . To bring this
power directly into operation upon any ordi-
nary occasion, would not only be highly in-
convenient but also highly impolitic. In or-
dinary difficulties, the knot is not worthy the
interposition of a God ; accordingly, specific
provisions are made for all the common acci-
dents in the life of a government. But as
earthquakes and tornadoes occur at intervals
in the physical world, setting at naught the
foresight of ordinary men — so in the political
world there are extraordinary interventions
arising, either externally or internally, v.'bich
drive us to look for romody bcyoml our usual
narrow horizon. Siu-ii lias been the case now
in regard to liie State ul Tennessee. By a
concurrence of unfortunate circumstances her
animated existence has for a time past been
suspended ; her official functions have been
in a state of abeyance, but neither she nor
they have ceased to exist. B.y the rebellion,
as to the Union and as to the State of Tennes;^
see in the Union fand it is in that aspect


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