Henry J. (Henry Jarvis) Raymond.

History of the administration of President Lincoln : including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. With a preliminary sketch of his life online

. (page 44 of 46)
Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry Jarvis) RaymondHistory of the administration of President Lincoln : including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. With a preliminary sketch of his life → online text (page 44 of 46)
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eulogy or in criticism of President LINCOLN and his adminis
tration. Its purpose will have been attained if it places his
acts and words in such a form that those who read them may
judge for themselves of the merits and defects of the policy
he has pursued. It has been his destiny to guide the nation
through the stormiest period of its existence. No one of his
predecessors, not even Washington, encountered difficulties
of equal magnitude, or was called to perform duties of equal
responsibility. lie was elected by a minority of the popular
vote, and his election was regarded by a majority of the
people as the immediate occasion, if not the cause, of civil
war; yet upon him devolved the necessity of carrying on that


war, and of combining and wielding the energies of the
nation for its successful prosecution. The task, under all the
circumstances of the case, was one of the most gigantic that
ever fell to the lot of the head of any nation.

From the outset, Mr. LINCOLN S reliance was upon the spirit
and patriotism of the people. He had no overweening esti
mate of his own sagacity ; he was quite sensible of his lack
of that practical knowledge of men and affairs which experi
ence of both alone can give ; but he had faith in the devotion
of the people to the principles of Republican government, in
their attachment to the Constitution and the Union, and in
that intuitive sagacity of a great community which always
transcends the most cunning devices of individual men, and,
in a great and perilous crisis, more resembles inspiration than
the mere deductions of the human intellect. At the very outset
of his administration, President LINCOLN cast himself without
reserve and without fear, upon this reliance. It has ever
been urged against him as a reproach that he has not assumed
to lead and control public sentiment, but has been content to
be the exponent and the executor of its will. Possibly an
opposite course might have succeeded, but possibly, also, it
might have ended in disastrous and fatal failure. One thing
is certain : the policy which he did pursue has not failed.
The rebellion has not succeeded ; the authority of the Gov
ernment has not been overthrown ; no new government, rest
ing on slavery as its corner-stone, has yet been established
upon this continent, nor has any foreign nation been provoked
or permitted to throw its sword into the scale against us. A
different policy might have done better, but it might also
have done worse. A wise and intelligent people will hesitate
long before they condemn an administration which has done
well, on the mere hypothesis that another might have done

In one respect President LINCOLN has achieved a wonderful


success. He has maintained, through the terrible trials of his
administration, a reputation, with the great body of the
people, for unsullied integrity, of purpose and of conduct,
which even Washington did not surpass, and which no Pres
ident since Washington has equalled. He has had command
of an army greater than that of any living monarch ; he has
wielded authority less restricted than that conferred by any
other constitutional government ; he has disbursed sums of
money equal to the exchequer of any nation in the world ;
yet no man, of any party, believes him in any instance to
have aimed at his own aggrandizement, to have been actuated
by personal ambition, or to have consulted any other interest
than the welfare of his country, and the perpetuity of its
Republican form of government. This of itself is a success
which may well challenge universal admiration, for it is one
which is the indispensable condition of all other forms of
success. No man whose public integrity was open to sus
picion, no matter what might have been his abilities or his
experience, could possibly have retained enough of public
confidence to carry the country through such a contest as
that in which we are now involved. No President suspected
of seeking his own aggrandizement at the expense of his
country s liberties, could ever have received such enormous
grants of power as were essential to the successful prosecution
of this war. They were lavishly and eagerly conferred upon
Mr. LINCOLN, because it was known and felt everywhere that
he would not abuse them. Faction has had in him no mark
for its assaults. The weapons of party spirit have recoiled
harmlessly from the shield of his unspotted character.

It was this unanimous confidence in the disinterested purity
of his character, and in the perfect integrity of his public pur
poses, far more than any commanding intellectual ability, that
enabled Washington to hold the faith and confidence of the
American people steadfast for seven years, while they waged


the unequal war required to achieve their independence.
And it certainly is something more than a casual coincidence
that this same element, as rare in experience as it is transcen-^
dent in importance, should have characterized the President
upon whom devolves the duty of carrying the country through
this second and far more important and sanguinary struggle.

No one can read Mr. LINCOLN S state papers without per
ceiving in them a most remarkable faculty of " putting things"
so as to command the attention and assent of the common
people. His style of thought as well as of expression is thor
oughly in harmony with their habitual modes of thinking and
of speaking. His intellect is keen, emphatically logical in its
action, and capable of the closest and most subtle analysis :
and he uses language for the sole purpose of stating, in the
clearest and simplest possible form, the precise idea he wishes
to convey. He has no pride of intellect not the slightest
desire for display no thought or purpose but that of making
everybody understand precisely what he believes and means
to utter. And while this sacrifices the graces of style, it gains
immeasurably in practical force and effect. It gives to his
public papers a weight and influence with the mass of the
people, which no public man of this country has ever before
attained. And this is heightened by the atmosphere of humor
which seems to pervade his mind, and which is just as natural
to it and as attractive and softening a portion of it, as the
smoky hues of Indian summer are of the charming season to
which they belong. His nature is eminently genial, and he
seems to be incapable of cherishing an envenomed resentment.
And although he is easily touched by whatever is painful, the
elasticity of his temper and his ready sense of the humorous
break the force of anxieties and responsibilities under which
a man of harder though perhaps a higher nature would sink
and fail.

One of the most perplexing questions with which Mr. LIN
COLN has had to deal in carrying on the war, has been that of


slavery. There are two classes of persons who cannot, even
now, see that there was any thing perplexing about it, or that
he ought to have had a moment s hesitation how to treat it.
One, is made up of those who regard the law of slavery as
paramount to the Constitution, and the rights of slavery as
the most sacred of all the rights which are guaranteed by that
instrument : the other, of those who regard the abolition of
slavery as the one thing to be secured, whatever else may be
lost. The former denounce Mr. LINCOLN for having interfered
with slavery in any way, for any purpose, or at any time : the
latter denounce him, with equal bitterness, for not having
swept it out of existence the moment Fort Sumter was at
tacked. In this matter, as in all others, Mr. LINCOLN has acted
upon a fixed principle of his own, which he has applied to the
practical conduct of affairs just as fast as the necessities of the
case required and as the public sentiment would sustain him
in doing. His policy has been from the outset a tentative
one as, indeed, ail policies of government to be successful
must always be. On the outbreak of the rebellion the first
endeavor of the rebels was to secure the active co-operation of
all the slavehoiding States. Mr. LINCOLN S first action, there
fore, was to withhold as many of these States from joining
the rebel confederacy as possible. Every one can see now
that this policy, denounced at the time by his more zealous
anti-slavery supporters as temporizing and inadequate, pre
vented Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, Missouri, and part of
Virginia from throwing their weight into the rebel scale ; and
although it is very easy and very common to undervalue ser
vices to a cause after its triumph seems secure, there are few
who will not concede that if these States had been driven or
permitted to drift into the rebel confederacy, a successful ter
mination of the war would have been much farther off than it
seems at present. Mr. LINCOLN did every thing in his power,
consistent with fidelity to the Constitution, to retain the Bor
der Slave States within the Union ; and the degree of success


which attended his efforts is the best proof of their substantial

His treatment of the slavery question has been marked by
the same experimental policy. The various letters by which
from time to time he has explained the principles on which
he was acting, in any particular emergency, show very clearly
that he has been far more anxious to take action which should
be sanctioned and sustained by the country, and thus be per
manently valuable, than to put forth any theory of his own
or carry into effect the dogmas and opinions of any party,
The whole case is stated with great clearness and force in a
letter written by him on the 4th of April to Mr. Hodges,
who, with Governor Bramlette and some other gentlemen of
Kentucky, had called upon him on business relating to the
draft, and with whom he had some conversation in regard to
the misconceptions of his policy that seemed to be current in
their State. That letter is as follows :


A. G. HODGES, Esq., Frankfort, Ky: My dear Sir: You ask me to
put in writing the substance of what I verbally said the other day, in
your presence, to Governor Bramlette and Senator Dixon. It was about
as follows:

"I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing 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 un
restricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was
in the oath I took that I would to the best of my ability preserve, pro
tect, and defend the Constitution of the United 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. [
understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even for
bade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the
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 upon me the duty of preserving, by every


indispensable means, that government that nation, of which that Con
stitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation and
yet preserve the Constitution ? By general law, life and limb must be
protected ; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life ; but a lifo
is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise
unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming 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 Con
stitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the
wreck of government, country, .and constitution, altogether. When,
early in the war, General Fremont attempted military emancipation, I
forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity.
When a little later, General Cameron, then Secretary of War, 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 again forbade it, because I did not yet think the
indispensable necessity had come. When in March and May, and July,
18G2, I made earnest and successive appeals to the border States to
favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable neces
sity for military emancipation and arming the blacks would come, unless
averted by that measu-e. They declined the proposition, 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, 1 hoped for greater
gain than loss, but 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 any how, or anywhere. On the contrary, it shows a gain of
quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen and laborers.
These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no cavil
ling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the

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

_ uud 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


Lave controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled
me. Now at the end of three years 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 re
moval 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, im
partial history will find therein new causes to attest and revere tho
ustice and goodness of God. Yours, truly,

(Signed.) A. LINCOLN.

An impression is quite common that great men, who make
their mark upon the progress .of events and the world s history,
do it by impressing their own opinions upon nations and com
munities, in disregard of their sentiments and prejudices.
History does not sustain this view of the case. No man ever
moulded the destiny of a nation except by making the senti
ment of that nation his ally by working with it, by shaping
his measures and his policy to its successive developments.
But little more than a year before the Declaration of Indepen
dence was issued, Washington wrote to a friend in England
that the idea of separation from Great Britain was not enter
tained by any considerable number of the inhabitants of the
colonies. If independence had then been proclaimed, it would
not have been supported by public sentiment ; and its procla
mation would have excited hostilities and promoted divisions
which might have proved fatal to the cause. Time, the de
velopment of events, the ripening conviction of the necessity
of such a measure, were indispensable as preliminary conditions
of its success. And one of the greatest elements of Washing
ton s strength was the patient sagacity with which he could
watch and wait until these conditions were fulfilled. The
position and duty of President LINCOLN in regard to Slavery
have been very similar. If he had taken counsel only of his
own abstract opinions and sympathies, and had proclaimed
emancipation at the outset of the war, or had sanctioned the
action of those department commanders who assumed to do it


themselves, the first effect would have been to throw all the
Border Slave States into the bosom of the slaveholding con
federacy, and add their formidable force to the armies of the
rebellion : the next result would have been to arouse the
political opposition of the loyal States to fresh activity by
giving them a rallying cry : and the third would have been to
divide the great body of those who agreed in defending the
Union, but who did not then agree in regard to the abolition
of slavery. Candid men, who pay more regard to facts than
to theory, and who can estimate with fairness the results of
public action, will have no difficulty in seeing that the proba
ble result of these combined influences would have been such
a strengthening of the forces of the Confederacy, and such a
weakening of our own, as might have overwhelmed the Ad
ministration, and given the rebellion a final and a fatal triumph
By awaiting the development of public sentiment, President
Lincoln secured a support absolutely essential to success ; and
there are few persons now, whatever may be their private
opinions on slavery, who will not concede that his measures
in regard to that subject have been adopted with sagacity and
crowned with substantial success.

It is too soon, we are aware, to pronounce definitively on
the merits of President LINCOLN S administration. Its policy
is still in process of development. If it is allowed to go on
without interruption, if the measures which President LIN
COLN has inaugurated for quelling the rebellion and restoring
the Union, are permitted to work out their natural results, un
checked by popular impatience and sustained by public confi
dence, we believe they will end in re-establishing the authority
of the Constitution, in restoring the integrity of the Union,
in abolishing every vestige of slavery, and in perpetuating the
principles of democratic government upon this continent and
throughout the world.



Allusion is made on a previous page to a letter of advice
and suggestions addressed by General McClellan to General
Scott, which he afterwards withdrew.

The following correspondence relates to that letter and grew
out of it :


WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 1861.

SIR: I received yesterday from Major-General McClellan a letter of
that date, to which I design this as my only reply.

Had Major-General McClellan presented the same views in person,
they would have been fully entertained and discussed. All my military
views and opinions had been so presented to him, without eliciting
much remark in our fow meetings which I have in vain sought to mul
tiply. He has stood on his guard and now places himself on record.
Let him make the most of his unenvied advantages.

Major-General McClellan has propagated in high quarters the idea ex
pressed in the letter before me. that Washington was not only " inse
cure," but in " imminent danger."

Relying on our numbers, our forts, and the Potomac river, I am con
fident in the opposite opinion ; and considering the stream of new regi
ments that is pouring in upon us (before the alarm could have reached
their homes), I have not the slightest apprehension for the safety of the
Government here.

Having now been unable to mount a horse, or to walk more than a
few paces at a time, and consequently being unable to review troops
much less to direct them in battle : in short, broken down by many


particular hurts, besides the general infirmities of age I feel that I havo
become an incumbrance to the army as well as to myself, and that I
ought, gvinig way to a younger commander, to seek the palliatives of
physical pain and exhaustion.

Accordingly I must beg the President, at the earliest moment, to
allow me to be placed on the officers retired list, and then quietly to lay
myself up probably for ever somewhere in or about New York. But
wherever I may spend my little remainder of life, rny frequent and latest
prayer will be "God save the Union!" I have the honor to be, Sir,
with high respect,

Your obedient servant,



WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 1861.

The letter addressed by me under date of the 8th inst. to Lieutenant-
General Scott, commanding the United States Army, was designed to
be a plain and respectful expression of my views of the measures de
manded for the safety of the Government in the imminent peril that be
sets it at the present hour. Every moment s reflection and every fact
transpiring, convinced me of the urgent necessity of the measures there
indicated, and I felt it my duty to him and to the country to communi
cate them frankly. It is therefore with great pain that I have learned
from you this morning, that my views do not meet with the approbation
of the Lieutenant-General, and that my letter is unfavorably regarded
by him. The command with which I am intrusted was not sought by
me, and has only been accepted from an earnest and humble desire to
serve my country in the moment of the most extreme peril. With these
views I am willing to do and suffer whatever may bo required for that
service. Nothing could be farther from my wishes than to seek any
command or urge any measures not required for the exigency of the
occasion, and above all, I would abstain from any conduct that could
give offence to General Scott or embarrass the President or any Depart
ment of the Government.

Influenced by these considerations, I yield to your request and with
draw the letter referred to. The Government and my superior officer
being apprised of what I consider to be necessary and proper for the
defence of the National Capital, I shall strive faithfully and zealously to
employ the means that may be placed in my power for that purpose,
dismissing every personal feeling or consideration, and praying only the


blessing of Divine Providence on my efforts. I will only add that, as
you requested my authority to withdraw the letter, that authority is
hereby given, with the most profound assurance for General Scott and
fourself. Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,



WASHINGTON-. Aug. 12, 1861.

g^ : On the 10th inst, I was kindly requested by the President to
withdraw my letter to you, of the 9th, in reply to one I had received
from Major-General MeClellan of the day before the President at the
same time showing me a letter to him from Major-General Mcdellan,
in which, at the instance of the President, he offered to withdraw the
original letter on which I had animadverted.

While the President was yet with me, on that occasion, a servant
handed me a letter, which proved to be an authenticated copy, under a
blank cover, of the same letter from General MeClellan to the President.
This slight was not without its influence on my mind.

The President s visit, however, was for the patriotic purpose of heal
ing differences, and so much did I honor his motive that I deemed it due
to him to hold his proposition under consideration for some little time.

T deeply regret that, notwithstanding my respect for the opinions and
wishes of the President, I cannot withdraw the letter in question, for
these reasons:

1. The original offence given to mo by Major-General MeClellan (see
his letter of 8th inst.) seems to have been the result of deliberation be
tween him and some of the members of the Cabinet, by whom all the
greater war questions are to be settled without resort to or consulta-
tion with me, the nominal General-in-Chief of the Army. In further
proof of this neglect although it is unofficially known that in the last
week (six days) many regiments have arrived and others have changed
their position some to a considerable distance not one of these
movements has been reported to me (or any thing else) by Major-General
MeClellan ; while it is believed, and 1 may add known, that he is in fre
quent communication with portions of the Cabinet, and on matters ap
pertaining to me. That freedom of access and consultation have, very
naturally, deluded the junior General into a feeling of indifference to

Online LibraryHenry J. (Henry Jarvis) RaymondHistory of the administration of President Lincoln : including his speeches, letters, addresses, proclamations, and messages. With a preliminary sketch of his life → online text (page 44 of 46)