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strengthen his hopes of success by an ultimate union of all the slave
States to fight such a policy to the death." It was, however, entirely
evident that, in the present temper of that part of the country which
was represented in Congress, there was not much use in opposing any
anti-slavery measure by any kind of argument whatever; even though the
special proposition might be distasteful to many Republicans, yet at
last, when pressed to the issue, they all faithfully voted Yea. In this
case the measure, finally so far modified as to relate only to slaves
of rebel owners, was passed and was signed by the President on July 17.
Nevertheless, although it thus became law, the certainty that, by taking
action under it, he would alienate great numbers of loyalists in the
Border States induced him to go very slowly. At first actual authority
to enlist negroes was only extorted from the administration with much
effort. On August 25 obstinate importunity elicited an order permitting
General Saxton, at Hilton Head, to raise 5,000 black troops; but this
was somewhat strangely accompanied, according to Mr. Wilson, with the
suggestive remark, that it "must never see daylight, because it was so
much in advance of public sentiment." After the process had been on
trial for a year, however, Mr. Lincoln said that there was apparent "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 other hand, it had brought a reinforcement of 130,000 soldiers,
seamen, and laborers. "And now," he said, "let any Union man who
complains of this measure test himself 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 these 130,000 men from the Union side, and placing them
where they would be best for the measure he condemns." Yet so
ineradicable was the race prejudice that it was not until the spring of
1864, after all efforts for action by Congress had failed, that the
attorney-general declared black soldiers to be entitled to the same pay
as white soldiers. Regarding a soldier merely as a marketable commodity,
doubtless the white was worth more money; yet life was about the same to
each, and it was hard to see why one should be expected to sell his life
for fewer dollars than satisfied the other.

Besides these measures, Congress gave evidence of its sentiments by
passing an act for appointing diplomatic representatives to Hayti and
Liberia; also further evidence by passing certain legislation against
the slave trade.

The recital of all these doings of the legislators sufficiently
indicates the hostility of Congress towards slavery. In fact, a large
majority both in the Senate and in the House had moved out against it
upon nearly every practicable line to the extremity of the
constitutional tether. Neither arguments, nor the entreaties of the
border-state men, nor any considerations of policy, had exercised the
slightest restraining influence. It is observable that this legislation
did not embody that policy which Mr. Lincoln had suggested, and to which
he had become strongly attached. On the contrary, Congress had done
everything to irritate, where the President wished to do everything to
conciliate; Congress made that compulsory which the President hoped to
make voluntary. Mr. Lincoln remained in 1862, as he had been in 1858,
tolerant towards the Southern men who by inheritance, tradition, and
the necessity of the situation, constituted a slaveholding community. To
treat slave-ownership as a crime, punishable by confiscation and ruin,
seemed to him unreasonable and merciless. Neither does he seem ever to
have accepted the opinion of many Abolitionists, that the negro was the
equal of the white man in natural endowment. There is no reason to
suppose that he did not still hold, as he had done in the days of the
Douglas debates, that it was undesirable, if not impossible, that the
two races should endeavor to abide together in freedom as a unified
community. In the inevitable hostility and competition he clearly saw
that the black man was likely to fare badly. It was by such feelings
that he was led straight to the plan of compensation of owners and
colonization of freedmen, and to the hope that a system of gradual
emancipation, embodying these principles, might be voluntarily
undertaken by the Border States under the present stress. If the
executive and the legislative departments should combine upon the policy
of encouraging and aiding such steps as any Border State could be
induced to take in this direction, the President believed that he could
much more easily extend loyalty and allegiance among the people of those
States, - a matter which he valued far more highly than other persons
were inclined to do. Such were his views and such his wishes. To discuss
their practicability and soundness would only be to wander in the
unprofitable vagueness of hypothesis, for in spite of all his efforts
they were never tested by trial. It must be admitted that general
opinion, both at that day and ever since, has regarded them as
visionary; compensation seemed too costly, colonization probably was
really impossible.

After the President had suggested his views in his message he waited
patiently to see what action Congress would take concerning them. Three
months elapsed and Congress took no such action. On the contrary,
Congress practically repudiated them. Not only this, it was
industriously putting into the shape of laws many other ideas, which
were likely to prove so many embarrassments and obstructions to that
policy which the President had very thoughtfully and with deep
conviction marked out for himself. He determined, therefore, to present
it once more, before it should be rendered forever hopeless. On March 6,
1862, he sent to Congress a special message, recommending the adoption
of a joint resolution: "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
compensate for the inconvenience, both public and private, produced by
such change of system." The first paragraph in the message stated
briefly the inducements to the North: "The Federal government would find
its highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient
means of self-preservation. The leaders of the existing insurrection
entertain the hope that this government 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 with
the Southern section.' To deprive them of this hope substantially ends
the rebellion; and the initiation of Emancipation completely deprives
them of it as to all the States initiating it. The point is that ... the
more northern [States] shall, by such initiation, make it certain to the
more southern that in no event will the 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 how
very soon the current expenditures of this war would purchase, at fair
valuation, all the slaves in any named State."

The second paragraph hinted at that which it would have been poor tact
to state plainly, - the reasons which would press the Border States to
accept the opportunity extended to them. "If resistance continues, the
war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the
incidents 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 consideration tendered would not be of more value
to the States and private persons concerned than are the institution and
property in it, in the present aspect of affairs." The suggestion,
between the lines, to the border slave-owners could not be
misunderstood: that they would do better to sell their slaves now than
to be deprived of them later. The President's proposition was not
cordially received. Pro-slavery men regarded it as an underhand movement
against the institution. Mr. Crittenden expressed confidence in the
President personally, but feared that the resolution "would stir up an
emancipation party" in the loyal slave States. Thus the truth was made
plain that emancipation, by any process, was not desired. In a debate
upon a cognate measure, another Kentuckian said that there was "no
division of sentiment on this question of emancipation, whether it is to
be brought about by force, by fraud, or by purchase of slaves out of the
public treasury." Democrats from Northern States, natural allies of the
border-state men, protested vehemently against taxing their constituents
to buy slave property in other States. Many Republicans also joined the
Democracy against Mr. Lincoln, and spoke even with anger and insult.
Thaddeus Stevens, the fierce and formidable leader of the Radicals, gave
his voice against "the most diluted milk-and-water gruel proposition
that had ever been given to the American nation." Hickman of
Pennsylvania, until 1860 a Democrat, but now a Republican, with the
characteristic vehemence of a proselyte said: "Neither the message nor
the resolution is manly and open. They are both covert and insidious.
They do not become the dignity of the President of the United States.
The message is not such a document as a full-grown, independent man
should publish to the nation at such a time as the present, when
positions should be freely and fully defined." In the Senate, Mr. Powell
of Kentucky translated the second paragraph into blunt words. He said
that it held a threat of ultimate coercion, if the cooperative plan
should fail; and he regarded "the whole thing" as "a pill of arsenic,

But, though so many insisted upon uttering their fleers in debate, yet,
when it came to voting, they could not well discredit their President by
voting down the resolution on the sole ground that it was foolish and
ineffectual. So, after it had been abused sufficiently, it was passed by
about the usual party majority: 89 to 34 in the House; 32 to 10 in the
Senate. Thus Congress somewhat sneeringly handed back to the President
his bantling, with free leave to do what he could with it.

Not discouraged by such grudging and unsympathetic permission, Mr.
Lincoln at once set about his experiment. He told Lovejoy and Arnold,
strenuous Abolitionists, but none the less his near friends, that they
would live to see the end of slavery, if only the Border States would
cooperate in his project. On March 10, 1862, he gathered some of the
border-state members and tried to win them over to his views. They
listened coldly; but he was not dismayed by their demeanor, and on July
12 he again convened them, and this time laid before them a written
statement. This paper betrays by its earnestness of argument and its
almost beseeching tone that he wrote it from his heart. The reasons
which he urged were as follows: -

"Believing that you of the Border States hold more power for good than
any other equal number of members, I felt it a duty which I cannot
justifiably waive to make this appeal to you.

"I intend no reproach or complaint when I assure you that, in my
opinion, if you all had voted for the resolution in the gradual
emancipation message of last March, the war would now be substantially

"And the plan therein proposed is yet one of the most potent and swift
means of ending it. Let the States which are in rebellion see definitely
and certainly that in no event will the States you represent ever join
their proposed Confederacy, and they cannot much longer maintain the
contest. But you cannot divest them of their hope to ultimately have you
with them as long as you show a determination to perpetuate the
institution within your own States; beat them at election as you have
overwhelmingly done, and, nothing daunted, they still claim you as
their own. You and I know what the lever of their power is. Break that
lever before their faces, and they can shake you no more forever. Most
of you have treated me with kindness and consideration; and I trust you
will not now think I improperly touch what is exclusively your own,
when, for the sake of the whole country, I ask: can you, for your
States, do better than to take the course I urge? Discarding punctilio
and maxims adapted to more manageable times, and looking only to the
unprecedentedly stern facts of our case, can you do better in any
possible event? You prefer that the constitutional relation of the
States to the nation shall be practically restored without disturbance
of the institution; and if this were done, my whole duty in this respect
under the Constitution and my oath of office would be performed. But it
is not done, and we are trying to accomplish it by war.

"The incidents of the war cannot be avoided. If the war continues long,
as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your
States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion, - by the mere
incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing
valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. How much
better for you and your people to take the step which at once shortens
the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to
be wholly lost in any other event. How much better to thus save the
money which else we sink forever in the war. How much better to do it
while we can, lest the war erelong render us pecuniarily unable to do
it. How much better for you, as seller, and the nation, as buyer, to
sell out and buy out that without which the war never could have been,
than to sink both the thing to be sold and the price of it in cutting
one another's throats. I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a
decision at once to emancipate gradually."

He closed with an ardent appeal to his hearers, as "patriots and
statesmen," to consider his proposition, invoking them thereto as they
"would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world."

Thirty gentlemen listened to this paper and took two days to consider
it. Then twenty of them signed a response which was, in substance, their
repudiation of the President's scheme. They told him that hitherto they
had been loyal "under the most discouraging circumstances and in face of
measures most distasteful to them and injurious to the interests they
represented, and in the hearing of doctrines, avowed by those who
claimed to be his friends, most abhorrent to themselves and their
constituents." They objected that the measure involved "interference
with what exclusively belonged to the States;" that perhaps it was
unconstitutional; that it would involve an "immense outlay," beyond what
the finances could bear; that it was "the annunciation of a sentiment"
rather than a "tangible proposition;" they added that the sole purpose
of the war must be "restoring the Constitution to its legitimate
authority." Seven others of the President's auditors said politely, but
very vaguely, that they would "ask the people of the Border States
calmly, deliberately, and fairly to consider his recommendations."
Maynard, of the House, and Henderson, of the Senate, alone expressed
their personal approval.

Even this did not drive all hope out of Mr. Lincoln's heart. His
proclamation, rescinding that order of General Hunter which purported to
free slaves in certain States, was issued on May 19. In it he said that
the resolution, which had been passed at his request, "now stands an
authentic, definite, and solemn proposal of the nation to the States and
people most interested in the subject-matter. To the people of these
States I now earnestly appeal. I do not argue; I beseech you to make the
arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the
signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of
them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partisan politics.
This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no
reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it
contemplates would come gently as the dews from Heaven, not rending or
wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been
done by one effort in all past time as in the providence of God it is
now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament
that you have neglected it!"

This eloquent and beautiful appeal sounds deeply moving in the ears of
those who read it in these days, so remote from the passions and
prejudices of a generation ago; but it stirred little responsive feeling
and no responsive action in 1862. In fact, the scheme was not

It may be - it probably must be - believed that compensated emancipation
and colonization could never have been carried out even if Northern
Republicans had been willing to pay the price and Southern slave-owners
had been willing to accept it, and if both had then cordially united in
the task of deporting the troublesome negro from the country. The vast
project was undoubtedly visionary; it was to be criticised, weighed, and
considered largely as a business enterprise, and as such it must be
condemned. But Mr. Lincoln, who had no capacity for business, was never
able to get at this point of view, and regarded his favorite plan
strictly in political and humanitarian lights. Yet even thus the general
opinion has been that the unfortunate negroes, finding themselves amid
the hard facts which must inevitably have attended colonization, would
have heartily regretted the lost condition of servitude. Historically
the merits of the experiment, which the Southern Unionists declined to
have put to the test of trial, are of no consequence; it is only as the
scheme throws light upon the magnanimity of Mr. Lincoln's temperament
and upon certain limitations of his intellect, that the subject is
interesting. That he should rid himself of personal vindictiveness and
should cherish an honest and intense desire to see the question, which
had severed the country, disposed of by a process which would make
possible a sincere and cordial reunion, may be only moderately
surprising; but it is most surprising to note the depth and earnestness
of his faith that this condition could really be reached, and that it
could be reached by the road which he had marked out. This confidence
indicated an opinion of human nature much higher than human nature has
yet appeared entitled to. It also anticipated on the part of the
Southerners an appreciation of the facts of the case which few among
them were sufficiently clear-minded to furnish. It is curious to observe
that Lincoln saw the present situation and foresaw the coming situation
with perfect clearness, at the same time that he was entirely unable to
see the uselessness of his panacea; whereas, on the other hand, those
who rejected his impracticable plan remained entirely blind to those
things which he saw. It seems an odd combination of traits that he
always recognized and accepted a fact, and yet was capable of being
wholly impractical.

In connection with these efforts in behalf of the slaveholders, which
show at least a singular goodness of heart towards persons who had done
everything to excite even a sense of personal hatred, it may not be
seriously out of place to quote a paragraph which does not, indeed,
bear upon slavery, but which does illustrate the remarkable temper which
Mr. Lincoln maintained towards the seceding communities. In December,
1861, in his annual message to this Congress, whose searching
anti-slavery measures have just been discussed, he said: -

"There are three vacancies on the bench of the Supreme Court.... I have
so far forborne making nominations to fill these vacancies for reasons
which I will now state. Two of the outgoing judges resided within the
States now overrun by revolt; so that if successors were appointed in
the same localities, they could not now serve upon their circuits; and
many of the most competent men there probably would not take the
personal hazard of accepting to serve, even here, upon the Supreme
Bench. I have been unwilling to throw all the appointments northward,
thus disabling myself from doing justice to the South on the return of
peace; although I may remark that to transfer to the North one which has
heretofore been in the South would not, with reference to territory and
population, be unjust."[3] To comment upon behavior and motives so
extraordinary is, perhaps, as needless as it is tempting.


[1] Also in the House Thaddeus Stevens and Lovejoy, and in the Senate
Sumner, did not vote.

[2] Lincoln's intimate personal and political friend, and afterward his

[3] Annual Message to Congress, December, 1861.



It is time now to return to the theatre of war in Virginia, where, it
will be remembered, we left the Confederate forces in the act of rapidly
withdrawing southward from the line of intrenchments which they had so
long held at Manassas. This unexpected backward movement upon their part
deprived the Urbana route, which McClellan had hitherto so strenuously
advocated, of its chief strategic advantages, and therefore reopened the
old question which had been discussed between him and Mr. Lincoln. To
the civilian mind a movement after the retreating enemy along the direct
line to Richmond, now more than ever before, seemed the natural scheme.
But to this McClellan still remained unalterably opposed. In the letter
of February 3 he had said: "The worst coming to the worst, we can take
Fort Monroe as a base and operate with complete security, although with
less celerity and brilliancy of results, up the Peninsula." This route,
low as he had then placed it in order of desirability, he now adopted as
the best resource, or rather as the only measure; and his judgment was
ratified upon March 13 by unanimous approval on the part of his four
corps commanders. They however made their approval dependent upon
conditions, among which were: that, before beginning the advance along
this line, the new rebel ram Merrimac (or Virginia), just finished at
Norfolk on the James River, should be neutralized, and that a naval
auxiliary force should silence, or be ready to aid in silencing, the
rebel batteries on the York River. In fact, and very unfortunately, the
former of these conditions was not fulfilled until the time of its
usefulness for this specific purpose was over, and the latter condition
was entirely neglected. It was also distinctly stipulated that "the
force to be left to cover Washington shall be such as to give an entire
feeling of security for its safety from menace." Keyes, Heintzelman and
McDowell conceived "that, with the forts on the right bank of the
Potomac fully garrisoned, and those on the left bank occupied, a
covering force, in front of the Virginia line, of 25,000 men would
suffice." Sumner said: "A total of 40,000 for the defense of the city
would suffice."[4] On the same day Stanton informed McClellan that the
President "made no objection" to this plan, but directed that a
sufficient force should be left to hold Manassas Junction and to make
Washington "entirely secure." The closing sentence was: "At all events,
move ... at once in pursuit of the enemy by some route." Thus at last
two important facts were established: that the route up the Peninsula
should be tried; and that the patience of the administration was

Though the enemy upon his retreat was burning bridges and destroying
railroads behind him, and making his possible return towards Washington
a slow, difficult process, which he obviously had no mind to undertake,
still this security of the capital rested as weightily as ever upon
Lincoln's mind. His reiteration and insistence concerning it made
perfectly plain that he was still nervous and disquieted about it,
though now certainly with much less reason than heretofore. But with or
against reason, it was easy to see that he was far from resting in the
tranquillity of conviction that Washington could never be so safe as

Online LibraryJohn T. MorseAbraham Lincoln, Volume II → online text (page 2 of 26)