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To this application the President made the following reply:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, June 19, 1863.
GENTLEMEN:-Since receiving your letter, reliable information has reached me that a respectable portion of the Louisiana people desire to amend their State Constitution, and contemplate holding a Convention for that object. This fact alone, it seems to me, is a sufficient reason why the General Government should not give the committee the authority you seek to act under the existing State Constitution. I may add, that while I do not perceive how such a committee could facilitate our military operations in Louisiana, I really apprehend it might be so used as to embarrass them.
As to an election to be held in November, there is abundant time without any order or proclamation from me just now. The people of Louisiana shall not lack an opportunity for a fair election for both Federal and State officers by want of any thing within my power to give them.
Your obedient servant,
After the appearance of the President's proclamation, the movement towards reconstruction in Louisiana assumed greater consistency, and was carried forward with greater steadiness and strength. On the 8th of January a very large Free State convention was held at New Orleans, at which resolutions were adopted indorsing all the acts and proclamations of the President, and urging the immediate adoption of measures for the restoration of the State to its old place in the Union. On the 11th, General Banks issued a proclamation, appointing an election for State officers on the 22d of February, who were to be installed on the 4th of March, and another election for delegates to a convention to revise the Constitution of the State on the first Monday in April. The old Constitution and laws of Louisiana were to be observed, except so far as they relate to Slavery, "which," said General Banks, "being inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs, and plainly inapplicable to any class of persons within the limits of the State, must be suspended, and they are now declared inoperative and void." The oath of allegiance required by the Presi dent in his proclamation, with the condition affixed to the
elective franchise by the Constitution of Louisiana, was prescribed as constituting the qualification of voters.
Under this order, parties were organized for the election of State officers. The friends of the national government were divided, and two candidates were put in nomination for governer, Hon. Michael Hahn being the regular nominee, and representing the supporters of the policy of the President, and Hon. B. F. Flanders being put in nomination by those who desired a more radical policy than the President had proposed. Both took very decided ground against the continued existence of slavery within the State. Hon. C. Roselius was nominated by that portion of the people who concurred in the wish for the return of Louisiana to the Union, and were willing to take the oath of allegiance prescribed by the President, but who nevertheless disapproved of the general policy of the Administration, especially on the subject of slavery. The election resulted in the election of Mr. Hahn.
In Arkansas, where a decided Union feeling has existed from the outbreak of the rebellion, the appearance of the proclamation was the signal for a movement to bring the State back into the Union. On the 20th of January, a delegation of citizens from that State had an interview with the President, in which they urged the adoption of certain measures for the re-establishment of a legal State government, and especially the ordering of an election for governor. In consequence of this application, and in substantial compliance with their request, the President wrote the following letter to General Steele, who commanded in that Department:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 1864. Major-General STEELE :
Sundry citizens of the State of Arkansas petition me that an election may be held in that State, at which to elect a governor; that it be assumed at that election and thenceforward, that the Constitution and laws of the State, as before the rebellion, are in full force, except that the Constitution is so modified as to declare that there shall be neither slavery
nor involuntary servitude, except in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted; that the General Assembly may make such provisions for the freed people as shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, and provide for their education, and which may yet be construed as a temporary arrangement suitable to their condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class; that said election shall be held on the 28th of March, 1864, at all the usual places of the State, or all such as voters may attend for that purpose; that the voters attending at 8 o'clock in the morning of said day may choose judges and clerks of election for such purpose; that all persons qualified by said Constitution and laws, and taking the oath presented in the President's proclamation of December 8, 1863, either before or at the election, and none others, may be voters; that each set of judges and clerks may makc returns directly to you on or before the -th day of next; that in all other respects said election may be conducted according to said Constitution and laws; that on receipt of said returns, when 5,406 votes shall have been cast, you can receive said votes and ascertain all who snall thereby appear to have been elected; that on the -th day of
persons so appearing to have been elected, who shall appear before you at Little Rock, and take the oath, to be by you severally administered, to support the Constitution of the United States, and said modified Constitution of the State of Arkansas, may be declared by you qualified and empowered to immediately enter upon the duties of the offices to which they shall have been respectively elected.
You will please order an election to take place on the 28th of March, 1864, and returns to be made in fifteen days thereafter.
Upon the return of the delegation to Arkansas, they issued an address to the people of the State, urging them to avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded for restoring their State to its old prosperity, and assuring them, from personal observation, that the people of the Northern States would most cordially welcome their return to the Union. Meantime a convention had assembled at Little Rock, composed of delegates elected without any formality, and not under the authority of the General Government, and proceeded to form a new State Constitution. Upon learning this fact, the President wrote the following letter to one of the most prominent members:
TO WILLIAM FISHBACK:
'When I fixed a plan for an election in Arkansas, I did it in ignorance that your convention was at the same work. Since I learned the latter fact, I have been constantly trying to yield my plan to theirs. I have sent two letters to General Steele, and three or four dispatches to you and others, saying that he (General Steele) must be master, but that it will probably be best for him to keep the convention on its own plan. Some single mind must be master, else there will be no agreement on any thing; and General Steele, commanding the military and being on the ground, is the best man to be that master. Even now citizens are telegraphing me to postpone the election to a later day than either fixed by the convention or me. This discord must be silenced. A. LINCOLN,
The Convention framed a Constitution abolishing Slavery, which was subsequently adopted by a large majority of the people.
The military movements of the year 1864 thus far call for no special notice in this place. Three enterprises of considerable magnitude have been undertaken, but neither of them was attended with results of any great importance.
As early as the 15th of December, 1863, Gen. Gillmore, commanding the Department of the South, applied to the Government for permission to send an expedition into Florida, for the purpose of cutting off supplies of the enemy; and in January, in urging the matter still further upon the attention of Gen. Halleck, he suggested that measures might be also inaugurated for restoring the State of Florida to her allegiance under the terms of the President's Proclamation. Gen. Gillmore was authorized to take such action in the matter as he should deem proper,—and he accordingly organized an expedition, which left Port Royal on the 5th of February, under General Seymour, and was followed soon afterwards by General Gillmore himself to whom, on the 13th of January, the President had addressed the following letter:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 1864. Major-General GILLMORE:
I understand an effort is being made by some worthy gentlemen to
reconstruct a legal State government in Florida. Florida is in your department, and it is not unlikely you may be there in person. I have given Mr. Hay a commission of Major, and sent him to you, with some blank books and other blanks, to aid in the reconstruction. He will explain as to the manner of using the blanks, and also my general views on the subject. It is desirable for all to co-operate, but if irreconcilable differences of opinion shall arise, you are master. I wish the thing done in the most speedy way, so that when done it be within the range of the late proclamation on the subject. The detail labor will, of course, have to be done by others; but I will be greatly obliged if you will give it such general supervision as you can find consistent with your more strictly military duties.
The advance portion of the expedition reached Jacksonville on the 8th of February. Gen. Gillmore returned to Port Royal on the 16th, leaving the command of the expedition to Gen. Seymour. The first operations were successful. Near Jacksonville one hundred prisoners, with eight pieces of serviceable artillery, fell into our hands, and expeditions were pushed forward into the interior, by which large amounts of stores and supplies were destroyed. On the 17th General Seymour, with 5,000 men, was on the Florida Central Railroad, about forty-five miles from Jacksonville. Here they remained until the 20th, when the preparations for a movement toward Lake City were completed. The enemy was found in force, a little before reaching Lake City, at Olustee, a small station on the railroad. The engagement was commenced between the enemy's skirmishers and our advance. The fire directed against our men was so hot that they were compelled to fall back; then we brought two batteries to bear on the enemy, and our whole force became engaged with more than twice their number of the enemy, who occupied a strong position, flanked by a marsh. Again we retreated, taking another position; but it was impossible to contend with a force so greatly superior, and, after a battle of three hours and a half, General Seymour retreated, leaving his dead and