« PreviousContinue »
THE PRESIDENT AND THE CHURCHES.
and re-establish peace, and secure prosperity throughout its limits."
Before closing this notice of the perplexities and annoyances to which the President was subjected by the domestic contentions of Missouri, we may mention, as an illustration of the extent to which they were carried, the case of Rev. Dr. McPheeters, who had been silenced by General Curtis for preaching disloyalty to his congregation in St. Louis. The incident gave rise to a good deal of excitement, which was continued throughout the year. Toward the close of it the President wrote the following letter in reply to an appeal for his interference:
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 1863.
I have just looked over a petition signed by some three dozen citizens of St. Louis, and their accompanying letters, one by yourself, one by a Mr. Nathan Ranney, and one by a Mr. John D. Coalter, the whole relating to the Rev. Dr. McPheeters. The petition prays, in the name of justice and mercy, that I will restore Dr. McPheeters to all his ecclesiastical rights.
This gives no intimation as to what ecclesiastical rights are withdrawn. Your letter states that Provost-Marshal Dick, about a year ago, ordered the arrest of Dr. McPheeters, Pastor of the Vine Street Church, prohibited him from officiating, and placed the management of affairs of the church out of the control of the chosen trustees; and near the close you state that a certain course "would insure his release." Mr. Ranney's letter says: "Dr. Samuel McPheeters is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, but cannot preach the gospel!" Mr. Coalter, in his letter, asks: "Is it not a strange illustration of the condition of things, that the question who shall be allowed to preach in a church in St. Louis shall be decided by the President of the United States ?"
Now, all this sounds very strangely; and, withal, a little as if you gentlemen, making the application, do not understand the case alike; one affirming that his doctor is enjoying all the rights of a civilian, and another pointing out to me what will secure his release! On the 2d of January last, I wrote to General Curtis in relation to Mr. Dick's order upon Doctor McPheeters; and, as I suppose the doctor is enjoying all
the rights of a civilian, I only quote that part of my letter which relates to the church. It was as follows: "But I must add that the United States Government must not, as by this order, undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but the churches, as such, must take care of themselves. It will not do for the United States to appoint trustees, supervisors, or other agents for the churches."
This letter going to General Curtis, then in command, I supposed, of course, it was obeyed, especially as I heard no further complaint from Doctor Mc. or his friends for nearly an entire year. I have never interfered, nor thought of interfering, as to who shall or shall not preach in any church; nor have I knowingly or believingly tolerated any one else to interfere by my authority. If any one is so interfering by color of my authority, I would like to have it specifically made known to me.
If, after all, what is now sought, is to have me put Doctor Mc. back over the heads of a majority of his own congregation, that, too, will be declined. I will not have control of any church or any side.
The Presbytery, the regular church authority in the matter, subsequently decided that Dr. McPheeters could not return to his pastoral charge.
The victories of the Union arms during the summer of 1863 -the repulse of the rebels at Gettysburg, the capture of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and the consequent restoration of the Mississippi to the commerce of the nation, produced the most salutary effect upon the public sentiment of the country. There was a good deal of partisan opposition to specific measures of the Administration, and in some quarters this took the form of open hostility to the further prosecution. of the war. But the spirit and determination of the people were at their height, and the Union party entered upon the political contests of the Autumn of 1863, in the several States, with confidence and courage.
The President had been invited by the Republican State
Committee of Illinois to attend the State Convention, to be held at Springfield on the 3d of September. Finding it impossible to accept the invitation, he wrote in reply the following letter, in which several of the most conspicuous features of his policy are defended against the censures by which they had been assailed :
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, August 26, 1863. Hon, JAMES C. CONKLING:
MY DEAR SIR :--Your letter inviting me to attend a mass meeting of unconditional Union men, to be held at the capital of Illinois, on the 3d day of September, has been received. It would be very agreeable for me thus to meet my old friends at my own home; but I cannot just now be absent from here so long as a visit there would require.
The meeting is to be of all those who maintain unconditional devotion to the Union; and I am sure that my old political friends will thank me for tendering, as I do, the nation's gratitude to those other noble men whom no partisan malice or partisan hope can make false to the nation's life.
There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say: you desire peace, and you blame me that we do not have it. But how can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways: First-to suppress the Rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do. Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this. Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly. If you are not for force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains some imaginable compromise.
I do not believe that any compromise embracing the maintenance of the Union is now possible. All that I learn leads to a directly opposite belief. The strength of the Rebellion is its military, its army. That army dominates all the country, and all the people within its range. Any offer of terms made by any man or men within that range, in opposition to that army, is simply nothing for the present; because such man or men have no power whatever to enforce their side of a compromise, if one were made with them.
To illustrate: Suppose refugees from the South and peace men of the North get together in convention, and frame and proclaim a compromise embracing a restoration of the Union. In what way can that compromise be used to keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania? Meade's army can keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania, and, I think, can ultimately drive it out of existence. But no paper compromise to which the controllers of Lee's army are not agreed can at all affect that army. In an effort at such
compromise we would waste time, which the enemy would improve to our disadvantage; and that would be all.
A compromise, to be effective, must be made either with those who control the rebel army, or with the people, first liberated from the domination of that army by the success of our own army. Now, allow me to assure you that no word or intimation from that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling it, in relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief. All charges and insinuations to the contrary are deceptive and groundless. And I promise you that if any such proposition shall hereafter come, it shall not be rejected and kept a secret from you. I freely acknowledge myself to be the servant of the people, according to the bond of service, the United States Constitution; and that, as such, I am responsible to them.
But, to be plain. You are dissatisfied with me about the negro. Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be free, while you, 1 suppose, do not. Yet, I have neither adopted nor proposed any measure which is not consistent with even your view, provided that you are for the Union. I suggested compensated emancipation; to which you re plied you wished not be taxed to buy negroes. But I had not asked you to be taxed to buy negroes, except in such way as to save you from greater taxation to save the Union exclusively by other means.
You dislike the Emancipation Proclamation, and perhaps would have it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional. I think differently. I think the Constitution invests its Commander-in-Chief with the law of war in time of war. The most that can be said, if so much, is, that slaves are property. Is there, has there ever been, any question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed? And is it not needed whenever it helps us and hurts the enemy? Armies, the world over, destroy enemies' property when they cannot use it; and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all in their power to help themselves or hurt the enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the exccptions are the massacre of vanquished foes and non-combatants, male and female.
But the Proclamation, as law, either is valid or is not valid. If it is not valid it needs no retraction. If it is valid it cannot be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life. Some of you profess to think its retraction would operate favorably for the Union. Why better after the retraction than before the issue? There was more than a year and a half of trial to suppress the Rebellion before the Proclamation was issued, the last one hundred days of which passed under an explicit notice that it was coming, unless averted by those in revolt returning to their allegiance. The war has certainly progressed as favorably for us since the issue of the Proclamation as before.
THE PRESIDENT'S LETTER TO ILLINOIS.
I know as fully as one can know the opinions of others that some of the commanders of our armies in the field, who have given us our most important victories, believe the Emancipation policy and the use of colored troops constitute the heaviest blows yet dealt to the Rebellion, and that at least one of those important successes could not have been achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers.
Among the commanders who hold these views are some who have never had any affinity with what is called "Abolitionism," or with "Republican party politics," but who hold them purely as military opinions. I submit their opinions as entitled to some weight against the objections often urged that emancipation and arming the blacks are unwise as military measures, and were not adopted as such in good faith.
You say that you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you; but no matter. Fight you, then, exclusively, to save the Union. I issued the Proclamation on purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time then for you to declare you will not fight to free negroes. I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it weakened the enemy in his rcsistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do any thing for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive, even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.
The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea. Thanks to the great Northwest for it; nor yet wholly to them. Three hundred miles up they met New England, Empire, Keystone, and Jersey, hewing their way right and left. The sunny South, too, in more colors than one, also lent a helping hand. On the spot, their part of the history was jotted down in black and white. The job was a great national one, and let none be slighted who bore an honorable part in it. And while those who have cleared the great river may well be proud, even that is not all. It is hard to say that any thing has been more bravely and well done than at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and on many fields of less note. Nor must Uncle Sam's web feet be forgotten. At all the watery margins they have been present, not only on the deep sea, the broad bay, and the rapid river, but also up the narrow, muddy bayou, and wherever the ground was a little damp they have been and made their tracks. Thanks to all. For the great Republic-for the principle it lives by and keeps alive-for man's vast future-thanks to all.