Page images

country generally the desperate men with whom he had to deal; yet he never repelled those who thought they had found some way to peace besides the bloody way. Late in 1862, a period which showed decided advantages won by the Union forces, regarded as a whole, Fernando Wood, the man who, as Mayor of New York, had advocated the separate secession of that metropolis and its erection into a free city, wrote Mr. Lincoln a letter, stating that, on the twenty-fifth of November, he was reliably advised that "The southern states would send representatives to the next Congress," provided that a full and general amnesty should permit them to do so. Mr. Wood urged his point with ardent professions of loyalty, and with arguments drawn from Mr. Lincoln's inaugural; but Mr. Lincoln passed by his arguments and exhortations, and, in a reply dated December twelfth, said that the most important part of his (Wood's) letter related to the alleged fact that men from the South were ready to appear in Congress, on the terms stated. "I strongly suspect your information will prove to be groundless," said Mr. Lincoln; "nevertheless, I thank you for communicating it to me. Understanding the phrase in the paragraph above quoted, 'the southern states would send representatives to the next Congress,' to be substantially the same as that 'the people of the southern states would cease resistance, and would re-inaugurate, submit to, and maintain, the national authority, within the limits of such states, under the Constitution of the United States,' I say that in such case the war would cease on the part of the United States, and that if, within a reasonable time, a full and general amnesty were necessary to such an end, it would not be withheld."

Mr. Wood thought the President ought to make an effort to verify his (Wood's) statement, by permitting a correspondence to take place between the rebels, and gentlemen "whose former political and social relations with the leaders of the southern revolt" would make them good media for the purpose, the correspondence all to be submitted to Mr. Lincoln. The latter, however, knew Mr. Wood, and knew that he bore

no good-will to him, or his administration, or the country; and he told him that he did not think it would do any good to communicate what he had said to the South, either formally or informally, for they already knew it. Neither did he think it the time to stop military operations for negotiations. If Mr. Wood had any positive information, he should be glad to get it; and such information might be more valuable before the first of January than after it. At this, Mr. Wood was filled with "profound regret;" and proceeded to read Mr. Lincoln a solemn lecture on his Constitutional obligations, which, doubtless, made a profound impression upon the mind of the President, as he was not known, in a single instance, to be unmindful of those obligations afterwards. The kernel of this nut was in the words: "Your emancipation proclamation told of punishment. Let another be issued, speaking the language of mercy, and breathing the spirit of conciliation." Mr. Wood was interposing on behalf of his southern friends, to prevent a final proclamation of emancipation; and he knew this was to come on the first of January, and that Mr. Lincoln's allusion to that date was a gentle hint to him that the executive purposes were undisturbed and that he was understood.

But we are getting ahead of great events which were destined to have a radical influence upon the war, upon the sentiments and sympathies of Christendom, upon the social institutions of the country, and the destinies of a race. Mr. Wood's allusion to the emancipation proclamation touched a document and an event of immeasurable importance; and to these we now turn our attention.

Mr. Lincoln had tried faithfully, in accordance with his oath of office and his repeated professions, to save the Union without disturbing a single institution which lived under it. He had warned the insurgent states of a measure touching slavery that their contumacy would render necessary. had besought the border slave states to take themselves out of the way of that impending measure. He had braved the criminations and the impatience of his friends for his tender


ness toward an institution which the Constitution protected. He had been accused of being under the pro-slavery influence of the border states; yet, during all this time, he had entertained the emancipation of the slaves as a measure which would be almost sure to come in time, and which he had determined should come just so soon as it could be justified to his own conscience and to history, as a military necessity. In no other event could he take this step, consistently with his oath.

Emancipation was a measure of ineffable moment, and one which dwelt in Mr. Lincoln's thoughts by day and by night. By his own subsequent revelations, it was a measure which, upon his knees, he had presented to his Maker. The events of the Peninsular campaign were connected in his mind with the tenacity with which he held to the unchristian institution. He sought not only for the people's will upon the subject, but the will of God; and there is no question that he regarded the misfortunes of the army of the Potomac as providentially connected with the relations of the government to the great curse which was the motive of the rebellion.

Fortunately, we have the record of Mr. Lincoln's reasoning upon the subject, in a letter which he wrote to Mr. A. G. Hodges of Frankfort, Kentucky, April 4th, 1864. Mr. Hodges had previously had a conversation with him, and had requested him to put into writing the substance of his remarks. The President complied; and, to show that he had acted in his emancipation policy purely upon military necessity, stated that, although he was naturally anti-slavery, and could not remember when he did not think and feel that slavery was wrong, he never understood that the presidency conferred upon him any right to act upon that judgment and feeling. He understood that his oath of office forbade the practical indulgence of his abstract moral hatred of slavery. He had declared that, many times, in many ways. But he shall say the rest in his own language:

"I did understand, however, that very oath to preserve the Constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving,

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

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 felt 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 preserve slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution altogether. 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."


With Mr. Lincoln's statement of the results of his action, which completes the letter, we have nothing at present to do.

We have thus the political and military reasons for proclaiming emancipation in Mr. Lincoln's own language; and we are scarcely less fortunate in a record of his personal struggles and feelings, made by Mr. F. B. Carpenter, who had the privilege of frequent intimate conversations with Mr. Lincoln, while he was employed at the White House, upon his picture commemorative of a scene in the event itself.

It was mid-summer in 1862, when, things having gone on

*This allusion is to a passage of Mr. Cameron's annual report, which he had sent off to the press for publication without receiving Mr. Lincoln's approval. The publication of the objectionable paragraph was suppressed by telegraph from Washington, while the fact that Mr. Cameron ventured upon such an act without consulting the President, occasioned him great annoyance and vexation.

from bad to worse, he felt that he must "change his tactics or lose his game." So, without consulting his cabinet, or giving them any knowledge of what he was doing, he prepared the original draft of the Proclamation. Now it should be remembered, in order to understand Mr. Lincoln's peculiarity of arguing against his own conclusions, until his time should come for uttering them, that this was before the date of his letter to Horace Greeley, already given to the reader, in which he gives no hint of his determination, but only lays out the ground upon which he should make it. It was also previous to a visit which he received from a body of Chicago clergymen, who called to urge upon him the emancipation policy. The proclamation was all written; and it was a full month after its utterance had been determined on in Cabinet meeting, when he told these clergymen: "I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the comet." He wished them, however, not to misunderstand him. He had simply indicated some of the difficulties that had stood in his way; but he had not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves. "Whatever shall appear to be God's will," said he, "I will do." Throughout this affair, and indeed in all the great affairs in which he took part, he followed the old practice of his legal career, of arguing his opponent's side of the question-often for the simple purpose, evidently, of winning support for his own convictions.

Sometime during the last of July, or the first part of August, he called a cabinet meeting. None of the members knew the occasion of the meeting, and for some time they were unable to ascertain, for there was a delay. What was its cause? Here was an august body of men. All the cabinet were present excepting Mr. Blair, who came in afterwards. Mr. Lincoln had before him a document which he knew was to perpetuate his name to all futurity,-a document which involved the liberty of four millions of human beings then living, and of untold millions then unborn,—which changed the policy of the government and the course and character of the

« PreviousContinue »