Page images

the truths must have been present in his mind for many months previous to the declaration. The difficulties of his situation were such that he was compelled to withhold all expression of opinions and purposes in regard to slavery until the moment arrived when it was wise to act. In each of the border Slave States there was a strong public sentiment in favor of the Confederacy. Every step taken by the government of the United States looking to emancipation was calculated to increase that sentiment. In Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia the war was flagrant, and the Union forces were often on the defensive. The public sentiment of those States was so equally divided that they were held to the Union by force. On the other hand, there were large bodies of men in the North who demanded the immediate abolition of slavery, without regard to the effects upon the border States.

It was the great good fortune of the country that Mr. Lincoln was superior to temporary influences. His comprehensive wisdom enabled him to so shape his policy as to meet the reasonable demands of those whose opinions corresponded with his own, without intensifying the hostility of his opponents. Eighteen months of war, and often at their own doors, had led the border States to sigh for peace, and at any price. The system of slavery had lost many of its attractions. Fugitives were not returned. The armies were ready to accept the services of negroes without inquiry as to ownership. The Proclamations of September, 1862, and January, 1863, were received with favor by Republicans in the old Free States, and in silent acquiescence by the Union men in the border Slave States. The measure was denounced by the Democrats, and the elections of 1862 were highly favorable to that party.

If the Proclamation had been issued twelve months, or even six months, earlier, the country would have rebelled against the measure. Under the circumstances the loss of confidence, even in the border States, was temporary. In a few weeks or months at most, the consequences of the shock had disappeared. The abolition of slavery in the rebel States was accepted as an accomplished fact, and the border States soon realized that the system was valueless to them.

Mr. Lincoln had sought to abolish slavery in the border States as a step towards its forcible overthrow in the Confederate States. Failing in this the process was reversed. Slavery was first abolished in the Confederate States. Its abolition there made it impossible to

protect it in the border States. Thus was the way prepared for the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the final extinction of the system in the United States.

The resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, was agreed to by the Senate, April 8, 1864, by a vote of thirty-eight in the affirmative to six in the negative. Of the Democrats, two only, Senators Harding and Nesmith, voted in the affirmative.

When the resolution came up for consideration in the House of Representatives, Mr. Holman of Indiana moved its rejection. On this motion the yeas were fifty-five, and the nays were seventy-six. Upon the final question, June 15, 1864, the yeas were ninety-five, and the nays were sixty-six. So the resolution failed to pass, the constitutional majority of two-thirds not having been secured. Mr. Ashley of Ohio, who had voted with the minority in numbers for the purpose of moving a reconsideration, entered his motion at once, and all further action was then postponed. Of the Democratic party three members voted for the resolution, sixty-five voted against it, and twelve members neglected to answer to their names.

The elections of 1864 were favorable to the Republican party, and of the members returned to the House less than one-third were Democrats. The canvass had changed public opinion upon the subject of emancipation, and many Democrats accepted the conclusion that the abolition of the system of slavery was inevitable. The thirtyninth Congress was pledged to the amendment to the Constitution. Further resistance was therefore vain.

Early in the second month of the second session of the thirty-eighth Congress, Mr. Ashley called up his motion to reconsider the vote by which the proposed amendment had been rejected. That motion prevailed, and upon the question of passing the resolution the yeas were one hundred and nineteen, and the nays were fifty-six,-all Democrats. Sixteen Democrats voted in the affirmative, and eight others declined to vote.

The elections of 1864 had secured the passage of the resolution by the thirty-ninth Congress, but its adoption by the thirty-eighth Congress was due to the affirmative action of sixteen Democrats, and the non-action of eight others. The amendment was submitted to the States the first day of February, 1865, and the eighteenth day of the following December the Secretary of State issued a proclamation

declaring that it had been ratified by the legislatures of twenty-seven of the thirty-six States composing the Union.

Thus and then the system of slavery came to an end in the United States; and thus and then was an example given which is to be followed by all the nations of the earth.

This was indeed the most lustrous event in American history. Not the Declaration of Independence, nor the Constitution, even, can bear the test of a comparison with the measures of Emancipation and Abolition. The chains which were lifted or broken by the Declaration of Independence were not as burdensome and galling as those which were fastened upon the Free States by the compromises of the Constitution. Had the Union with Great Britain continued for half a century, an equality of power with the mother country would have been recognized and established, or the bonds of union would have been parted in peace. The evils of the colonial relation were temporary; the evils of slavery under the Constitution had assumed the character of permanent and growing wrongs.

First of all there was a denial of the equality of men as political forces in the government of the country. Not merely a denial of political rights to the negro race; the Constitution secured unequal political power to the voters in a Slave State, and that inequality was increased as the number of slaves was augmented. Slave-catching was made a national duty; and the glowing truths of the Declaration of Independence were repudiated or disregarded in the public policy of the country. Professing freedom, we were characterized justly as a nation of slave-holders.

The slave-holding class directed the policy of the slave-holding States, and the slave-holding States held the balance of power between the rival parties of the North. And thus were parties and politicians and statesmen, and the public policy of the country, subordinated to the slave-holders of the South. At the end, the value of the Declaration of Independence was not so much in its allegations against Great Britain as in the announcement by authority of fundamental truths which concern all men, and are applicable to all times and conditions of society. Those truths were the constant enemy of slavery, and they contributed essentially to its overthrow.

With this history, and upon this view of emancipation, the Republican party may claim the first place among parties, when measured and judged by the value of the achievement and the difficulties attending its accomplishment. At the end, twenty-four Democrats

of the House of Representatives contributed directly or indirectly to the passage of the amendment, and in the States yet others may have aided in its ratification; but their aid came when success was assured. They gave no assistance to the movement in the days of its weakness. Indeed, the men who favored emancipation were denounced by leading Democrats as equally guilty with those who were engaged in secession.

Mr. Lincoln's great place in history is due to the circumstance that he had the courage, the solemn fortitude, to inaugurate a system of emancipation, and then to apply all the resources and powers of the office that he held to the aid of the undertaking. Our successes on the water and in the field were due largely to the skill and courage of the officers and men of the navy and army. The President and Cabinet, however wise in counsel, could only share with others the honor accorded to military successes.

The Proclamation of Emancipation was postponed, upon the judgment and in the wise discretion of the President, until the country was prepared to accept it and support it. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri had been so ravaged and wasted by both armies that the inhabitants sighed for peace at any cost. Slaves had lost their value, and slavery its attractions. In September, 1861, those States would have rebelled against emancipation and joined the Confederacy; in September, 1862, it was accepted by some as a relief and a hope, and by others as a consummation of what, for a time, they had regarded as inevitable.

The Proclamation of Emancipation removed all fears of foreign interference, and at home it dissipated the illusion that the Union as it was could be restored. Unity of opinion in council, and unity of purpose in the field, took the place of divided opinions and conflicting actions.

To the Republican party, and to Mr. Lincoln as the head of that party, are due the honors that will be accorded to the authors and defenders of the measure, by every generation of American citizens, and by the general judgment of mankind in all the coming ages.

If we can now imagine the war ended, the Union restored, as it was the old Constitution preserved, slavery perpetuated and all its evils magnified, we can form a just conception of the consequences of the policy advocated by the Democratic party.

In contrast with those consequences the South may be summoned


to testify as to the existing condition of affairs. Of the twenty years of freedom, the last ten have been distinguished by a degree of prosperity such as the South had never before experienced. Population and wealth have increased in a ratio heretofore unknown. its present productive power there has been no example in its history. If we include the negro race, the average intelligence is higher than at any time previous to the war. Political evils and crimes have not disappeared, but they are temporary. Above all, the defenders of slavery are a meagre minority, and the spirit of disunion is suppressed absolutely. These beginnings indicate the future greatness of the old Slave States,- -a greatness which slavery could neither create nor tolerate.

Mr. Lincoln was indebted to the Republican party for the opportunity to initiate these great reforms, touching not merely the rights and condition of the millions of slaves, but affecting also the union, peace, and prosperity of the States and people of the Republic. But the Republican party, the country, and mankind, are indebted to Mr. Lincoln for the courageous statesmanship that he exhibited in the most perilous crises of the nation's history.

President Lincoln excelled all his contemporaries, as he also excelled most of the eminent rulers of every time, in the humanity of his nature; in the constant assertion of reason over passion and feeling; in the art of dealing with men; in fortitude, never disturbed by adversity; in capacity for delay when action was fraught with peril; in the power of immediate and resolute decision when delays were dangerous; in comprehensive judgment which forecasts the final and best opinion of nations and of posterity; and in the union of enlarged patriotism, wise philanthropy, and the highest political justice by which he was enabled to save a nation and to emancipate

a race.

The slaves emancipated were not thereby made citizens. By the overthrow of the Confederacy the States composing it were not restored to their places in the Union. Such was the public sentiment in the South that there was no ground for believing that the rights of citizens would be accorded to the freedmen except upon compulsion.

By the abolition of slavery the freedmen were counted as if they were citizens, in the apportionment of representatives among the States. Therefore the abolition of slavery gave to the white voters

« PreviousContinue »