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Position touching Slavery.
forcing it upon the attention of the nation. This subject had, since it had been rendered patent to all, that it was to be no holiday struggle in which we were engaged, but a life and death grapple with desperate and determined foes, been ever present to Mr. Lincoln's mind. His action was, however, to a certain extent, not suffered to be independent. Could he have boldly assumed the initiative, assured that the great mass of the people were at his back, he could have acted far otherwise than he was necessitated to act, considering the delicate nature of the question, the utter lack of precedents, the intertwining of interests, the dangers resulting from a single misstep, the divisions on this point, existing in the ranks even of his own political supporters, and the conflicting views held by men whose loyalty and devotion to the country were unimpeachable.
He chose not to go far ahead of popular indications; he deemed it the wiser statesmanship, in the existing state of affairs, to keep in the lead but a little, feeling, so to speak, his way along-making haste slowly. That this would dissatisfy many of his political friends he well knew; but he, upon mature deliberation, decided that it was for the interest of the country, and that to that consideration everything else must yield.
On the 6th of March, 1862, he sent to the Congress the following message concerning this question, the resolution. embodied in which, was passed by both Houses:
"FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:—I recommend the adoption of a joint resolution by your honorable 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 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 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 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 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 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. 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 subject 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
Abolition of Slavery in District.
say, 'the Union must be preserved; and hence all indispensable means must be employed.' I said this not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made, and continues to be an indispensable means to this end. A practical re-acknowedgment of the national authority would render the war unecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, 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 offence to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned, than are the institutions and property in it, in the present aspect of affairs.
"While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of my great responsibility to my God and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.
"March 6, 1862.
A bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia having passed both Houses of Congress early in April, the President, in communicating his approval of the measure, judged it necessary to accompany the same with the following message:
"FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE SEN VTE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:-The act entitled 'An act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia,' has this day been approved and signed.
"I have never doubted the constitutional authority of Con gress to abolish slavery in this District, and I have ever desired to see the National Capital freed from the institution in
District of Columbia.
Hunter's Proclamation Annulled.
some satisfactory way. Hence there has never been, in my mind, any question upon the subject except the one of expediency, arising in view of all the circumstances. If there be matters within and about this act which might have taken a course or shape more satisfactory to my judgment, I do not attempt to specify them. I am gratified that the two principles of compensation and colonization are both recognized and practically applied in the act.
"In the matter of compensation it is provided that claims may be presented within ninety days from the passage of the act, but not thereafter,' and there is no saving for minors, femes-covert, insane or absent persons. I presume this is an omission by mere oversight, and I recommend that it be supplied by an amendatory or supplemental act.
"April 16, 1862.
The President's repudiation, by the following proclamation, of an emancipation order of General Hunter, was conclusive evidence that he was determined to keep the control of this vexed question in his own hands, and to suffer no military commander to exercise jurisdiction over it:
"WHEREAS, There appears in the public prints what purports to be a proclamation of Major-General Hunter, in the words and figures following, to wit:
'HEAD-QUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH, 'Hilton Head, S. C., May 9th, 1862.
'GENERAL ORDERS NO. 11.
The three States of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, comprising the Military Department of the South, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protec tion of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the twenty-fifth day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible. The persons in these three States, Georgia,
Decision Reversed by the President.
Florida, and South Carolina, heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free.
'DAVID HUNTER, Major-General Commanding.
'ED. W SMITH, Acting Assistant Adjutant General.' "AND WHEREAS, The same is producing some excitement and misunderstanding,
"Therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, proclaim and declare that the government of the United States had no knowledge or belief of an intention, on the part of General Hunter, to issue such a proclamation, nor has it yet any authentic information that the document is genuine; and further, that neither General Hunter nor any other commander or person has been authorized by the government of the United States to make proclamation declaring the slaves of any State free, and that the supposed proclamation now in question, whether genuine or false, is altogether void, so far as respects such declaration.
"I further make known, that whether it be competent for me as commander-in-chief of the army and navy to declare the slaves of any State or States free, and whether at any time, or in any case, it shall become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the Government to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps.
"On the sixth day of March last, by a special message, I recommended to Congress the adoption of a joint resolution, to be substantially as follows:
"Resolved, That the United States ought to coöperate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system.'