Page images
PDF
EPUB

race from an asylum in the United States. If Congress should think that proceedings in such cases lack the authority of law, or ought to be further regulated by it, I recommend that provision be made for effectually preventing foreign slavetraders from acquiring domicile and facilities for their criminal occupation in our country.” Owing to raids into the states, planned in Canada by enemies of the United States harbored there, he announced that he had thought proper to give notice that, after the expiration of six months, the period conditionally stipulated in the existing arrangements with Great Britain, the United States would hold themselves at liberty to increase their naval armament upon the lakes, if they should deem it necessary to do so. Increased taxation had benefited the revenue; and the national banking system had proved to be acceptable to capitalists and the people. The naval exhibit gave a total of 671 vessels, carrying 1,610 guns, which showed an increase, during the year, of 83 vessels and 167 guns. The whole cost of the immense squadrons that had been called into existence since the beginning of the war, was more than two hundred and thirty-eight millions of dollars. One matter the President spoke of with special interest, viz: the steady expansion of population, improvement, and governmental institutions, over the new and unoccupied portions of the country, notwithstanding the civil war.

Mr. Lincoln thought fit to urge the.passage of an amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting slavery throughout the United States, notwithstanding the same Congress had killed the measure at its previous session. It may be stated here that Ir. Lincoln had contemplated this measure, and was ready for it long before Congress had come up to his position. Before even an allusion to this amendment had been publicly made, lie talked about it with his friends, and was urged by one of them to become a leader in the movement. that he had no ambition of that sort, but that he thought that the amendment ought to be made, and would be madle. For himself, he was content to let others initiate the measure, and win the credit of it. But the matter had arrived at a new

lle replied

a

stage; and, when he saw that his influence was really necessary to its consummation, he did not hesitate to exert it.

Mr. Lincoln alluded to the lessons which had been taught by the presidential election. This election had proved the purpose of the people in the loyal states to maintain the integrity of the Union. It had proved, too, that, although the waste of war had been great, there were actually more men in the Union than when the war began. There had been, during the three years and a half of war, an increase of nearly one hundred and fifty thousand voters, without counting the soldiers who, by the laws of their respective states, were not permitted to vote. With this fact in view, it was plain that the government could maintain its contest with the rebellion indefinitely, so far as the supply of men was concerned. Mr. Lincoln closed his message by remarking that the rebels could, at any moment, have peace, by laying down their arms, and submitting to the national authority, under the Constitution. In saying this, however, he did not mean to retract anything he had said about slavery. He would not retract his Emancipation Proclamation, nor return to slavery any man free by the terms of that proclamation.

The most important measure effected by Congress at this session, was the passage of the amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in all the states. It passed the House by more than the requisite two-thirds vote, having passed the Senate during the previous session. The event was hailed with great satisfaction by the friends of the administration; and only a few of the more virulent of the opposition were disaffected by it. To the President, the measure was particularly gratifying; and he took occasion to express his satisfaction to a crowd that gathered around the White House, immeiliately after its adoption. He said that it seemed to him to be the one thing necessary to the winding up of the whole difficulty. It completed and confirmed the work of his proclamation of emancipation. It needed only to be adopted by the votes of the states; and he appealed to his auditors to go home, and see that work faithfully accomplished.

The figures which gave the result of the presidential election showed that the country was stronger in men than it was at the beginning of the war; and, as the call for five hundred thousand men, made in July, had failed to produce all the soldiers which the war, much longer protracted, would require, the President issued a call, on the nineteenth of December, for three hundred thousand more.

A peace conference, procured by the voluntary and irresponsible agency of Mr. Francis P. Blair, was held on the steamer River Queen, in Hampton Roads, on the 3d of February, 1865, between President Lincoln and Mr. Seward, representing the government, and Messrs. Alexander H. Stephens, J. A. Campbell and R. M. T. Hunter, representing the rebel confederacy. It was an informal affair, entirely verbal in its conduct, and unproductive of results. The President consented to become a party to the interview, on representations made by General Grant, who regarded at least two of the commissioners aş very sincere in their desire for peace. In the conference, these commissioners favored a postponement of the question of separation, and mutual efforts of the two governments toward some extrinsic policy for a season, so as to give time for the passions of the people to cool. The armies, meantime, were to be reduced, and the intercourse between the people of the two sections to be resumed. This the President considered as equivalent to an armistice or truce; and he informed them that he could agree to no cessation of hostilities, except on the basis of a disbandment of the insurgent forces, and the recognition of the national authority throughout all the states of the Union. He also declared it impossible to recede from his Emancipation Proclamation; and informed the Richmond gentlemen that Congress had passed the constitutional amendment, prohibiting slavery; stating, in addition, that the amendment would doubtless be perfected by the action of three-fourths of the states. There was an earnest desire for peace on both sides, without a doubt; but Mr. Lincoln could, with truth to himself and honor to his country, make peace only on certain essential conditions; while the

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

a

hands of the commissioners were tied by the obstinacy which reigned in Richmond.

The reports of the conversation at this conference are very meager, necessarily; but enough has been made public to show that some of the incidents were very interesting and somewhat amusing. The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle has published an account of the conference, which is said to have been prepared under the eye of Mr. Stephens. This account states that Mr. Lincoln declared that, in his negotiations for peace, he could not recognize another government inside of the one of which he alone was President. “That,” said he, “would be doing what you so long asked Europe to do in vain, and be resigning the only thing the Union armies are fighting for.” To this, Mr. Hunter replied that the recognition of Davis' power to make a treaty was the first and indispensable step to peace; and, to illustrate his point, he referred to the correspondence between King Charles the First and his Parliament, as a reliable precedent of a constitutional ruler treating with rebels. The Chronicle's account says that at this point “Mr. Lincoln's face wore that indescribable expression which generally preceded his hardest hits; and he remarked: “Upon questions of history, I must refer you to Mr. Seward, for he is posted in such things, and I do n't profess to be; but my only distinct recollection of the matter is that Charles lost his head.'”

The President told his "little story,” too, on this occasion, the best version of which is given in Mr. Carpenter's Reminiscences. They were discussing the slavery question, when Mr. Hunter remarked that the slaves, always accustomed to work upon compulsion, under an overseer, would, if suddenly freed, precipitate not only themselves, but the entire society of the South, into irremediable ruin. No work would be done, but blacks and whites would starve together. The President waited for Mr. Seward to answer the argument; but, as that gentleman hesitated, he said: “Mr. Hunter, you ought to know a great deal better about this matter than I, for you have always lived under the slave system. I

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

6

can only say, in reply to your statement of the case, that it reminds me of a man out in Illinois, by the name of Case, who undertook, a few years ago, to raise a very large herd of hogs. It was a great trouble to feed them; and how to get around this was a puzzle to him. At length, he hit upon the plan of planting an immense field of potatoes; and, when they were sufficiently grown, he turned the whole herd into the field, and let them have full swing, thus saving not only the labor of feeding the hogs, but that also of digging the potatoes! Charmed with his sagacity, he stood one day leaning against the fence, counting his hogs, when a neighbor came along. Well, well,' said he, 'Mr. Case, this is all very fine. Your hogs are doing very well just now; but you know out here in Illinois the frost comes early, and the ground freezes a foot deep. Then what are they going to do?' This was a

. view of the matter which Mr. Case had not taken into account. Butchering time for hogs was away on in December or January. He scratched his head, and at length stammered: *Well, it may come pretty hard on their snouts, but I do n't see but it will be root hog or die!'

It is not supposed that Mr. Lincoln hoped for more from this conference than he did from the Niagara Falls negotiations; but he was determined to show that he was ready for peace, on the only grounds that would satisfy the loyal people of the country. The result strengthened the faith of the people in him; and the rebel Presizlent seized upon it to stir the ashes in the southern heart, in the vain hope to find fuel there which the long fire had left unconsumed.

Congress adjourned by constitutional limitation on the third of March, although the Senate was at once convened in extra session, in accordance with a proclamation of the President.

On the day of the adjournment of Congress, Mr. Lincoln's first term of office expired. Four years of bloody war had passed away-four years marked by the most marvelous changes in the spirit, position, feelings, principles and institutions of the American people. The great system of wrong, out of which the rebellion had sprung, was in rapid process

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »