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labor of millions of black men into their side of the scale. Will you give our enemies such military advantages as insure success, and then depend upon coaxing, flattery, and concession to get them back into the Union? Abandon all the forts now garrisoned by black men, take two hundred thousand men from our side and put them in the battlefield or cornfield against us, and we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks.
There have been men base enough to propose to me to return to slavery our black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee, and thus win the respect of the masters they fought. Should I do so, I should deserve to be damned in time and eternity. Come what will, I will keep my faith with friend and foe. My enemies pretend I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition. So long as I am President, it shall be carried on for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without the use of the Emancipation policy, and every other policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the rebellion.
Late in March, Governor Bramlette, ex-Senator Archibald Dixon, and Mr. Hodges, editor of the old Whig journal at Frankfort, had a personal interview with the President. The character of this conference is well enough indicated by Lincoln's letter to one of these gentlemen, written directly after. In these few and fitting words he reveals in outline the whole course of his thought, purpose, and action touching the great evil which caused the war:
WASHINGTON, April 4, 1864. 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 ollow
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 unrestricted 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, protect, 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. I understood, too, that, in ordinary civil administration, this oath even forbade 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 Constitution 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 life is never wisely given to save a limb. I feel 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 Constitution if to save slavery or any minor matter I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution, all together. 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, 1862, I made earnest and successive appeals to the Border States to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. 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, I 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 anyhow 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 caviling. We have the men, and we could not have had them without the measure.
And now let any Union man who complains of the 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 one hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union side and placing them where they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he cannot face his cause so stated, it is only because he cannot face the truth.
I add 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 have 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 removal 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, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God. Yours truly,
The Sanitary Commission, of which the Rev. Henry W. Bellows was President, has a history of its own that belongs not here. It was abundantly provided with funds for the benefit of wounded or ailing soldiers, through direct contributions and the proceeds of fairs organized by the ladies, who, with constant zeal, rendered incalculable service in alleviating the miseries of the war.
The Christian Commission, of like beneficence and similarly sustained, but with the different aim of affording consolements to dying or suffering soldiers and of communicating with their friends or performing other acts of Christian charity, was organized in Philadelphia, under the presidency of Mr. George H. Stuart. At a fair in Washington, in March, the President responded to a call from the large assembly present, saying impressively:
The war in which we are engaged falls heavily upon all classes of people, but the most heavily upon the soldier. For it has been said, all that a man hath will he give for his life; and, while all contribute of their substance, the soldier puts his life at stake, and often yields it up in his country's cause. The highest merit, then, is due to the soldier. In this extraordinary war, extraordinary developments have manifested themselves, such as have not been seen in former wars; and among these manifestations, nothing has been more remarkable than these fairs for the relief of suffering soldiers and their families. And the chief agents in these fairs are the women of America. I am not accustomed to the use of the language of eulogy; I have never studied the art of paying compliments to women; but I must say that, if all that has been said by orators and poets, since the creation of the world, in praise of women were applied to the women of America, it would not do them justice for their conduct during this war. I will close by saying, God bless the women of America.
At a fair in Baltimore, on the 18th of April, he said in the course of a longer speech:
Calling it to mind that we are in Baltimore, we cannot fail to note that the world moves. Looking upon the many
people I see assembled here to serve as they best may the soldiers of the Union, it occurs to me that three years ago those soldiers could not pass through Baltimore. I would say, Blessings upon the brave men who have wrought these changes, and the fair women who have assisted them. The change which has taken place in Baltimore is part only of a far wider change that is taking place all over the country. When the war commenced, three years ago, no one expected that it would last this long, and no one supposed that the institution of slavery would be materially affected by it. But here we are. The war is not yet ended, and slavery has been very materially affected or interfered with. So true is it that man proposes and God disposes.
After mentioning “a painful rumor afloat in the country,
that there has been a wanton massacre of some three hundred colored soldiers surrendered at . Fort Pillow, Tennessee, during a recent engagement there," he continued:
There seems to be some anxiety in the public mind whether the Government is doing its duty to the colored soldier and to the service, at this point. At the beginning of the war, and for some time, the use of colored troops was not contemplated; and how the change of purpose was wrought I will not now take time to explain. Upon a clear conviction of duty, I resolved to turn that element of strength to account; and I am responsible for it to the American people, to the Christian world, to history, and on my final account to God. Having determined to use the negro as a soldier, there is no way but to give him all the protection given to any other soldier. The difficulty is not in stating the principle, but in practically applying it. ... To take the life of one of their prisoners on the assumption that they murder ours, when it is short of certainty that they do murder ours, might be too serious, too cruel a mistake. We are having the Fort Pillow affair thoroughly investigated, and such investigation will probably show conclusively how the truth is.