Lincoln Idealist and Pragmatist - The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Chapter III

The Border States

Soon after the attack on Fort Sumter and the call for troops, public opinion in the Border Slave States of Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri was divided and their allegiance unclear. These slave states, rich in mineral and agri­cultural resources, were culturally closer to the south, but po­litically they were moderate and felt close ties with the Union. Economically they were no longer dependent only on the south; with the coming of the railroad their produce was increasingly being sent to the north as well. Their population size was half of that of the eleven confederate states (see Map p. XV-A).

Of the four Border States, Delaware had the least amount of slaves and therefore, posed the least risk of secession.

Maryland bordered Washington, the Union Capital on three sides; the capital's telegraph and rail lines passed through it. Loss of Maryland would be disastrous to the Union — it would make Washington extremely vulnerable.

Kentucky's importance was more strategic; it stood as a buffer between the Southern state of Tennessee and the Union states of

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. It also controlled major river systems that flowed into the Deep South.

Missouri, densely populated, protected the Union's western flank and controlled the Mississippi river on its eastern shore. Loss of Missouri would make Kansas, Iowa and Illinois on its north vulnerable and the Union would find it difficult to control Kentucky on its east.

The strategic geographical location, their dense white popu­lation and their control over vital transportation and commu­nication networks made their allegiance to the Union vitally important.

Lincoln now looked worriedly towards the Border States — they were still a part of the Union. In an attempt to keep them from seceding, Lincoln assured them that he did not wish to interfere with the Constitutional right of states to hold slaves where it already existed, (even though personally he was against slavery and wanted to prevent its expansion). But south sym­pathisers in these states wished for secession.

Soon after the Fort Sumter conflict, in a bid to isolate Washington, rebels in Maryland cut telegraph lines and rail ties. Massachusetts had been the first state to respond to the call for troops and dispatched a regiment within four days. As the troops headed for Washington passed through Baltimore, capital of Maryland, rebels attacked them. The Governor of Maryland and the Mayor of Baltimore were scared; though still a part of the Union, four out of every five persons in Maryland were sup­porters of the rebellion. When met by the mayor of Baltimore who unapologetically asked him to alter the route of the troops, Lincoln erupted furiously:

"...You express great horror of bloodshed, and yet would not lay a straw in the way of those who are organizing in Virginia and elsewhere to capture this city. The rebels attack Fort Sumter, and your citizens attack troops sent to the defense of the Government...I must have troops to defend this Capital. Geographically it lies surrounded

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

by the soil of Maryland; and mathematically the necessity exists that they should come over her territory. Our men are not moles, and can't dig under the earth; they are not birds, and can't fly through the air. There is no way but to march across, and that they must do..."1

By May 10,000 troops were in place defending Washington; he now declared martial law in Maryland and arrested the rebels and put them in temporary detention. He also suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus,2which was challenged by Chief Justice Taney.

Though the Governor of Kentucky had proposed that it should stay with the Union, his sympathies were clearly with the south. When Lincoln asked him to supply 100,000 men to fight for the Union cause, he responded, that Kentucky would `furnish no troops for the wicked purpose of subduing her sister Southern states'. Kentucky legislature, however, decided to stay neutral asking both sides to keep out. It was vital to keep an eye to ensure that the loyalist and rebel balance was not tipped over.

In July, he addressed congressmen at the special session he had called for in the aftermath of the surrender of Fort Sumter. He explained in detail the actions he had taken after the rebellion of the Southern states, and clarified the motive of war against the confederates. According to his belief, the Southern states were a part of the Union, secession was not legal and therefore as President, it was his responsibility to put down the rebellion and save the Union.

"...And this issue embraces more than the fate of the
United States. It presents to the whole family of man the

  1. Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 4, Reply to Baltimore Committee, April 22, 1861, p. 342
  2. A writ of habeas corpus directs a government official, usually a prison warden, to produce the prisoner and justify the prisoner's detention. If the prisoner argues successfully that the detention is in violation of a constitutional right, the court may order the prisoner's release.
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

question whether a constitutional republic, or democracy — a government of the people by the same people — can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discon­tented individuals, too few in numbers to control admin­istration according to organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or on any other pre­tenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government and thus practically put an end to free gov­ernment upon the earth. It forces us to ask — Is there in all republics this inherent and fatal weakness? Must a gov­ernment of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?...

"... Our popular government has often been called an ex­periment. Two points in it, our people have already settled — the successful establishing, and the successful adminis­tering of it. One still remains — its successful maintenance against a formidable attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly carry an election, can also suppress a rebellion... Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war — teaching all, the folly of being the be­ginners of a war..."1

His speech in Congress won over many who doubted him at first. Now Lincoln needed a war plan and a system of com­mand to put it into action. He rejected General Scott's advice of avoiding battle and focusing on his Anaconda Plan of tightening the blockade and seizing control of the Mississippi river. He be­lieved that an active war was the only way to win.

Neither the North nor the South expected it to be a long war.

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1858-1865), Special Message to Congress, July 4th 1861, pp. 246-61

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Each side thought the other too weak to last long. Each was in for a rude shock.

General McClellan

The battles in the American Civil War have been divided into the Eastern Theatre and the Western Theatre. Many important campaigns, launched by the Army of the Potomac to capture Richmond, the capital of the confederates in Virginia, were in the Eastern Theatre that included the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and the coastal forts and seaports of North Carolina. The Western Theater included the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains, Georgia and the Carolinas (See Map p. XV-A).

Western Counties of Virginia with their small farms and the absence of slavery was a contrast to the rest of the state with its large farms and thriving slave culture. Unhappy with the east for ignoring their demand for lower taxes, they opposed the seces­sion when Virginia agreed to break off from the union. Under General McClellan the union made a few victories in western Virginia in August 1861. This ended the confederate control in most western counties but for occasional raids and guerilla war­fare from time to time. It also paved the way for West Virginia to become the thirty-fifth state of the Union in 1863.

The press and the radicals in the north were looking for a quick end to the war; they were confident of routing the south. Under pressure from them and encouraged by the victories in western Virginia, Lincoln, after consultation with the war cab­inet, ordered union soldiers to cross the Potomac and attack the confederates in Virginia. The Union army under McDowell consisted mostly of raw civilians and he was hesitant to go into battle with such raw recruits. The North was routed at what is

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

called the first battle of Bull Run on 21st July 1861. At start it seemed as though McDowell's army had managed to rout the rebels, but it seems the south had been warned about the union attack and were prepared with General Jackson and his troops waiting to attack. Fortified by his presence, the retreating southern troops rallied behind and started a counter attack that ended in a shocking defeat for the North; on initial reports that the north had succeeded in routing the rebels, reporters, con­gressmen and civilians had come from Washington with picnic baskets to watch from a distance what they assumed would be a quick union win. In fact, the retreating union army ran headlong into the picnickers who too, observing the turn of tides were beating a hasty retreat. The only saving grace was that the tired confederates did not follow after the retreating Yankees to take over the Capital.

Washington was in shock; after several sleepless nights, Lincoln came out with a set of war plans. The South was larger in land mass than the North but in terms of population their nine mil­lion was half the strength against eighteen million northerners. Using this to his advantage, his main strategy was to attack the South on many fronts and move in a manner that they could use the support of the Border States.

He was already under pressure from all sides — Charles Sumner, a radical republican along with vice president Hamlin and a senator from Michigan had met with him to convince Lincoln that the civil war ought to be a conflict between slavery and freedom. Peace democrats or the copperheads1, wanting an immediate peace settlement with the confederates, denounced him for his anti-slavery leanings. Lincoln, on the other hand was keen to develop a broad foundation by 'presenting the case be­fore the country as one of Union versus Disunion'. 2

Lincoln needed bipartisan support, — he could afford to aggravate

  1. The copperheads were the peace democrats in the north whose slogan was, "To maintain the Constitution as it is, and to restore the Union as it was." They were against the American civil war.
  2. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, p. 314
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

neither the democrats nor the republicans. He fostered friendship with war democrats like Andrew Johnson, who despite being a southern democrat refused to follow his state during se­cession, and Johnson of Maryland who stood behind him when he exercised his war powers while Justice Taney challenged them1. Lincoln rewarded many Democrats through government appointments barring military appointments, which were done on the basis of expertise. Nevertheless, several Generals he had chosen were Democrats, — McClellan, Butler etc.

After the defeat at Bull Run, slaves, on hearing of the fighting, fled into the Union army encampments and looked for work as labourers. The administration, worried that with slaves avail­able as labourers and servants, the South had an advantage over the North in its available manpower for war, therefore did not discourage them from fleeing. Soon, Congress, came out with the 1st Confiscation Act in August 1861, to establish judicial proceedings to seize slaves that were used to help in the rebel­lion. Lincoln did not approve of it; he felt it might be rejected as unconstitutional, and would put into jeopardy any future at­tempts at emancipation of slaves. Secondly, he believed that it would push the Border States, especially Kentucky and Missouri into joining the confederacy. However, he signed it, albeit reluc­tantly, after much lobbying by powerful senators. It was anyway ineffective as the federal government had no control over the Southern states but for the areas they had captured in battle. But this confiscation bill was a step towards emancipation that would take place later.

Seeing rebel uprisings in Missouri, which included the Governor who was a south sympathizer, Lincoln sent troops to put down rebel voices. In August 1861, General Fremont, without consulting his superiors in Washington declared martial law stating that any civilian found with arms could be subject to a court-martial and shot and that slaves of people assisting

1. After Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in parts of Maryland, Taney ruled as Circuit Judge in Ex parte Merryman (1861) that only Congress had the power to take this action.

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

the rebellion would be freed. This caused a great unrest in the Border States. Most of them were beginning to turn hos­tile towards the Union. Kentucky almost gave up their policy of neutrality. Lincoln ordered Fremont to alter it so as 'to con­form to and not to transcend'1 the Confiscation Act. Lincoln's need to keep Kentucky from seceding is clear in his letter to Senator Orville Browning2, who had objected to his rescission of Fremont's proclamation:

"... Genl. Fremont's proclamation, as to confiscation of property, and the liberation of slaves, is purely political, and not within the range of military law, or necessity. If a commanding General finds a necessity to seize the farm of a private owner... he has the right to do so, and to so hold it, as long as the necessity lasts; and this is within military law, because within military necessity. But to say the farm shall no longer belong to the owner, or his heirs forever... is purely political, without the savor of military law about it. And the same is true of slaves... That must be settled according to laws made by law-makers, and not by military proclamations. The proclamation in the point in question, is simply "dictatorship." It assumes that the general may do anything he pleases — confiscate the lands and free the slaves of loyal people, as well as of disloyal ones... I cannot assume this reckless position; nor allow others to assume it on my responsibility...

"I do not say Congress might not with propriety pass a law, on the point, just such as General Fremont proclaimed. I do not say I might not, as a member of Congress, vote for it. What I object to, is, that I as President, shall expressly or impliedly seize and exercise the permanent legislative

  1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), letter to John C. Fremont. Sep. 11. 1861, pp. 266-67
  2. An old friend of Lincoln, whom he often used as his eyes and ears and as a sounding board.
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

functions of the government.

"So much as to principle. Now as to policy. No doubt the thing was popular in some quarters, and would have been more so if it had been a general declaration of emanci­pation. The Kentucky Legislature would not budge till that proclamation was modified; and Gen. Anderson tele­graphed me that on the news of Gen. Fremont having ac­tually issued deeds of manumission, a whole company of our Volunteers threw down their arms and disbanded. I was so assured, as to think it probable, that the very arms we had furnished Kentucky would be turned against us. I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We would as well con­sent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capitol..."1

Southwestern Missouri went under the control of rebels but the rest of Missouri had been cleansed. Though the amended proclamation prevented Kentucky from seceding, it had an ad­verse effect in the North. The press and radical republicans, tired of an ineffective war, felt that Fremont's proclamation would ef­fectuate an anti slavery outcome and Lincoln's intervention was an act of weakness. News came in that Lincoln's taming of the proclamation had dispirited the people and therefore adversely affected volunteering in the Northwest. Abolitionists were angry and impatient; for them the purpose of the war was to put an end to slavery. Though they had backed the Republican Party during the 1860 elections, his policy to admit slavery in the states where slavery already existed, was considered by the radical abolition­ists as proslavery and a cause for fear that the administration

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Letter to Orville H. Browning, Sept. 22, 1861, pp. 268-70

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

would not understand that the only solution to end the war and preserve the union was to end slavery. Frederick Douglass, a chief advocate of radical abolitionism believed that the Civil War gave an opportunity to the administration to politically and militarily put slavery behind them and begin afresh with equality between the blacks and whites while Lincoln believed that arresting the spread of slavery was enough; in time it would die out itself.

During the elections in August, Unionists in Kentucky won sufficient additional seats to prevent any veto by the gov­ernor. It had been good timing; when confederates violated the conditions of neutrality imposed by Kentucky and occupied Columbus, the Kentucky legislature directed the Governor to demand their evacuation. On the other hand, they granted permission to the Union army under General Grant to station his troops in Kentucky and ordered the Union flag to be raised over Frankfort, their capital, as their allegiance to the Union. However, the confederates did not back down; south sympathi­sers in western and central Kentucky established a parallel con­federate government in Kentucky with George Johnson as its unofficial governor. Kentucky and Missouri were two states that had representatives in both the Union and the Confederate con­gresses and regiments in both the armies.

Lincoln's decision to cancel General Fremont's order to free rebel slaves in Missouri, his rescission of Secretary of War Simon Cameron's order to permit freed slaves to be armed and serve in the union army, his revocation of General Hunter's proclama­tion to emancipate all the slaves in the South Military Region1, were all taken as proof of Lincoln's weakness in taking a brave and affirmative step to annihilate slavery. Determined to push Lincoln and his administration into immediate emancipation of slaves, Douglass put unrelenting pressure on them by harshly criticising Lincoln's conciliatory policies in his speeches and newspaper articles.

Soon after he put McClellan in charge of the entire union

1. South Carolina, Georgia and Florida

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

army after the resignation of General Scott, in November 1861, he found the Union in potential threat from England and France over what is known as the Trent affair.1 Not wishing to get into an international war with either country, in December 1861, Seward and Lincoln labored hard to resolve this crisis and man­aged to settle it peacefully.

Though assured by McClellan repeatedly, Lincoln felt led down by his general who refused to attack the confederates for want of troops. During this period of lull, Lincoln decided to strengthen his war cabinet. Cameron, who had been given the post of Secretary of War only as part of a political bargain by Lincoln, was corrupt and ineffective. After much consultation, he decided to replace him with Edwin Stanton. During the days of their legal careers, Edwin Stanton's insulting attitude towards Lincoln had hurt him so much that he had decided never to visit Cinncinnati again. However, ignoring the personal affront, im­pressed by his purposefulness and intelligence that he showed in his work, Lincoln asked him to join his cabinet as Secretary of War. The appointment of Stanton was also politically shrewd; he was a democrat and as Attorney General in the Buchanan cabinet he had proved himself as a loyal Unionist.

People in the North were getting restless at this inaction. Though in general most people thought Lincoln to be an

1. Two envoys from the confederate government managed to slip past the union blockade and made their way onto the English ship Trent headed towards England, in an effort to win recognition as a sovereign nation. A U.S. officer intercepted it, captured these envoys and imprisoned them in Boston. England took umbrage and accused the US of violating British neutrality thus leading to a diplomatic crisis be­tween the two countries. England was prepared to enter into a war to 'teach them a lesson'. They began by banning export of war material to America and sending troops to Canada. They also planned to blockade Northern ports and decided to attack the Northern fleet that was blockading the South. Lincoln, not wishing to risk a war with England and France while it was engaged already with the confederacy, decided to smooth things over. Secretary of State, Seward agreed to return the prisoners, but de­fended their US official's action of capturing the confederate officials, while accepting that they could have allowed a court to affirm the legality of taking contraband pris­oners. The explanations and efforts diffused the situation and a clash with England and France was averted. However, their objective was achieved; the confederates failed in their mission to get European support in the Civil War.

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

`excellent and wise man', they, including some in his own admin­istration thought that Lincoln lacked 'will and purpose, and... has not the power to command'.1 The Trent affair had caused the nation great humiliation at foreign hands, a large army that cost the government tremendous expense lay idle, and with the Mississippi river closed, the farmers found no market for their produce. In the absence of McClellan who came down with ty­phoid, Lincoln even tried to function as the General-in-chief himself. But Lincoln, lacking in confidence, could not succeed in getting his other generals to move the army into action. He consulted military commanders, painstakingly read field reports and created an informal war council to discuss war matters and take advice. He even read Halleck's book on war strategies to get a better understanding of military matters.

Frustrated with military inaction and reluctance on the part of McClellan to divulge his war plans, Lincoln published the President's General War Order No. 1, on 27th January 1862 which:

"Ordered that the 22nd day of February 1862, be the day for a general movement of the Land and Naval forces of the United States against the insurgent forces...That all other forces, both Land and Naval, with their respective commanders, obey existing orders, for the time, and be ready to obey additional orders when duly given.

That the Heads of Departments, and especially the Secretaries of War and of the Navy, with all their subor­dinates; and the General-in-Chief, with all other com­manders and subordinates, of Land and Naval forces, will severally be held to their strict and full responsibilities, for the prompt execution of this order."2

  1. Howard K. Beale, editor, The Diary of Edward Bates, pp. 219-220 (December 31, 1861).
  2. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, President's General War Order No. 1, pp. 303-304
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

His intention was to give a jolt to the armed forces, not to outline a battle plan. This he left to the generals. It seems that the order did spur the armed forces into action. Kentucky and most of Tennessee had to be abandoned by the confederates after the union forces attacked them in February 1862 at Mill Springs and captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and thereby opened up the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Henceforth, the Union dominated the state; the confederate governor Albert Johnson fled to Tennessee and the parallel Confederate government in Kentucky remained in name only.

Lincoln, swamped with issues regarding the war, dealing with public opinion, attacks from political opponents, international crises, and inadequacies of his own cabinet and generals, had no respite at home with his wife either. His marital life began to show the strain; he had no time for Mary. She went on shop­ping sprees, which enraged Lincoln — at a time when they were at war and the troops often went without supplies for lack of funds, Mary overspent on furnishings, crystal and clothes.

On the matter of their children, however, they agreed; they both indulged them and wanted to give them the best childhood possible. Willie and Tad, their younger sons were thrilled to find soldiers in their home! His 'blessed fellows' kept goats and a pony at home with whom they were allowed to roam around the White House freely; they even interrupted Cabinet meetings and official dinners. Though it exasperated members of his war cabinet, Lincoln never stopped them. Lincoln found it relaxing to be with his sons; he would sometimes be found explaining things in a patient and childlike manner and at other times on the floor on his back with his children pinning him down and riding on his stomach; it helped ease the enormous pressure he was working under during the war. But misfortune was on its way; in February 1862, Willie, so like his father with his quiet gentle na­ture, succumbed to typhoid fever. Mary went into a depression from which she did not truly recover. Lincoln, on the other hand had a nation depending on him to lead it during its civil strife; he struggled to rise out of the pain and sadness that engulfed him.

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

On the war front, by spring of 1862, there was little that could uplift his spirits but for forts Henry and Donalson on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky taken by the Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The battle at Shiloh, though won by the Union army had been costly; after losing the battle on the first day, Grant's men wanted to retreat, but Grant refused to budge, 'Retreat? No.

I propose to attack at daylight and whip them.1 Some of Lincoln's men wanted to remove him from the command but Lincoln de­fended him, 'I cannot spare this man; he fights'2. Lexington, in Missouri, fell to Confederate forces but Union forces had man­aged to weaken the confederate hold in Kentucky and Missouri and disturbed their control on a part of the Mississippi river by taking New Orleans. Confederate forces wanting to break the Union blockade that cut off Virginian cities from interna­tional trade attacked union ships at Hampton Roads. Ironclad CSS Virginia destroyed two wooden ships of the Union navy and damaged others. Stanton was alarmed; if it were not checked it would smash the blockade. USS Monitor arrived in time and damaged the CSS Virginia sufficiently to force it back to Norfolk.

Irritated by inaction and ill preparedness on the part of McClellan, who kept dallying, both Lincoln and Stanton decided to replace him with General Halleck and in July 1862 demoted him back to commander of the army of the Potomac.

Gradual Compensated Emancipation

Though the North had an advantage in size of army and weapons, their troops found it difficult to fight in unfamiliar southern terrain. The spirit of war was beginning to flag in the North and it

  1. Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865, by Steven E. Woodworth
  2. Abraham Lincoln and Men of War-times, By Alexander Kelly McClure, page 196
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

seemed that many were keen to let the union divide and go their separate ways. So dismal did the situation seem that even Lincoln feared of 'a bare possibility of our being two nations.'

But by early 1862, some good news had emerged — four of the Border States, Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland and Missouri decided to stay in the union.

As the union army marched into the South, slaves began to flee to the North. They were either employed as labourers in the army camps or by some commanders, returned to their owners. In March 1862, Congress passed the Act Prohibiting the Return of Slaves that forbade the Union Army and Navy from returning fugitive slaves. This was a significant change in Lincoln's policy with regard to slavery; it revoked his earlier firm obedience of the Fugitive Slave Law and marked a change in his perception and policy on slavery. In May the same year Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862 that stated that anyone who had not taken up arms against the US government, including women and slaves, was 21 years or older, could apply for a federal land grant. In June 1862, Congress with Lincoln's approval passed a bill prohibiting slavery in all current and future territories of the Union.

A year into civil war had not proved conclusive. Lincoln began to look for alternate ways to resolve the conflict that divided the union. Though at first he believed that the war was being fought to preserve the union and not to interfere with slavery, now it was beginning to dawn on him that perhaps the only way to end this strife was to attack it at its root cause, which was slavery. Not wanting to violate the constitutional rights of slave states, he felt it would be better to appeal to them to voluntarily put an end to it.

In April 1862, he met with Charles Sumner and convinced Congress to pass a resolution for gradual compensated eman­cipation of slaves in the Border States. He met with their rep­resentatives at the White House and once again made an appeal as he had done a year ago. He gave them several reasons — by continuing with the institution of slavery the Border States en-

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

couraged the South to think of them as their own: 'The institu­tion (of slavery) in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion — by the mere incidents of the war', he argued, 'How much better for you, and for your people, to take the step which, at once, shortens the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event... I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually1, he reasoned. Despite his best efforts, the majority of representatives from the Border States argued against the idea of gradual emancipation. Only in the District of Columbia, which fell under direct federal control, was compensated emancipation enacted2.

Meanwhile the war was dragging on, thousands of soldiers were dead and yet no decisive outcome was in sight. Although McClellan was carrying out an excellent job of assembling and training his troops, he wrongly began to fear the strength of the confederate army and asked Lincoln for more troops. In a letter to Seward, asking for more recruits to take Richmond3, Lincoln was resolute, I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered, or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me; and I would publicly appeal to the country for this new force...4

On July 1st 1862, Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers. Lincoln and McClellan shared a strained relationship; the general could not understand Lincoln's concern to protect Washington. He disagreed with the president on the target — Lincoln felt their target ought to be to destroy the confederate army via a di­rect attack on Bull Run; McClellan insisted on taking Richmond, the confederate capital via the river where the union navy could protect his line of supplies. Despite Lincoln's orders, McClellan prevailed on him. His over estimation of the size of the confed-

  1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Appeal to Border States in favor of Compensated Emancipation, pp. 340-42
  2. This law prohibited slavery; 900 slaveholders were forced to free their slaves for an average compensation of $300 per slave by the government.
  3. Confederate Capital in Virginia
  4. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), letter to Seward, June 28th 1862, p.335
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

erate force urged him to repeatedly demand reinforcement from authorities in Washington. Lincoln complied with his demands albeit reluctantly. Judging by the general's earlier actions he was skeptical about his campaign. He felt that while McClellan was good at organizing an army and getting it ready, he became ner­vous as the moment of conflict approached and shrank from meeting the challenge. In June 1862, General McClellan launched the Peninsula Campaign to capture Richmond. But his illogical fear of the confederate numbers, rendered him slow to attack; despite his strength of a 100,000 men, after six battles fought over seven days, the Union Army was pushed back by General Lee's army.

With the war not yielding favourable results, Lincoln felt the need to be cautious in his policies regarding slavery. He was careful not to rock the allegiance of the Border States. Though Congress passed the 2nd Confiscation Act in July 1862, enforce­able only in union occupied areas of the South, that proclaimed that slaves of civilian and military confederate officials would be free forever, the Lincoln administration did not enforce it strongly. This was another bone of contention between the rad­ical abolitionists and administration. They felt that all the Acts passed by Congress were meaningless until the President did not execute them by instructing his generals and other subordi­nates that they should be complied with. Also, the abolitionist wanted freedom from slavery throughout the union including the Border States.

Meanwhile there was threat of secession in California; not wanting to lose California to the rebels, on 1st July 1862, Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act that gave Railroad companies and their California investors right to build a railroad and telegraph line that ran between California to Nebraska, thereby linking California to the rest of the Nation.

Despite the war consuming all of his time, Lincoln, believing that higher education was important for the nation, signed the Morrill Act on 2nd July, 1862, that provided every state with public lands for the purpose of setting up universities specializing

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

in mechanics, military tactics and agriculture. This Act was in­strumental in changing the face of higher education in the United States of America. But his main concern was the war, the future of the rebel states and the status of slavery. The Republican Party was divided along sectional lines on these issues; the radical re­publicans believed in confiscation of rebel property and eman­cipation of slaves while the conservative republicans believed that the war should be fought without altering the social system prevalent in the rebel states, with a result that neither faction was committed to support Lincoln and his views.

Thoughts on Emancipation

Lincoln would often be seen sitting in the War Department with his head in his hands, waiting for news from the battlefronts. He was now beginning to believe that the preservation of the Union depended on the destruction of slavery. Lincoln looked helplessly at the difficult situation the Union was in militarily. The Union had been losing most of the battles; the army needed reinforcements. Negroes were the manpower that the country had available, he thought; emancipation was now a military ne­cessity! The war had emboldened some of the slaves into fleeing into Union lines and working for the North as labourers, guides and spies; he was reasonably sure that the promise of freedom would probably cause a revolt among the Southern slaves and impel them to support the North in war. Secondly, the confed­eracy was courting England and France in a bid to get formal rec­ognition as a sovereign nation; given their economic dependence on the import of cotton from the south for their cotton mills, it was quite possible that they would do so. But, since slavery had been banned in both countries, Lincoln knew that if the Union announced its decision to emancipate the slaves, fear of public outrage among their own people would prevent both countries

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

from granting the Confederacy that recognition. He had to seize the moment, — otherwise it would be impossible to save the Union. Till now he had managed to keep the Border States within the Union; emancipation might push them to join the Confederates. Also, the presidential elections were a year away. Would the North support him and appreciate him in his bid to emancipate the slaves? It was a risk he would have to take.

Eckert, chief of the War Department, remembers him asking him for some paper, as 'he wanted to write something spe­cial'. For the next two weeks Lincoln returned daily to the War Department. When he finished, he told Eckert that he had been writing an order giving freedom to the slaves in the south.

After much thought, in early July 1862, he put before his war cabinet his preliminary draft of the proclamation of emancipa­tion, which would free all the slaves in the Confederacy. He wrote the Proclamation as a war measure to be issued by him­self as Commander-in-Chief; he wanted to bypass constitutional objections that would have surely arisen. Stanton favoured it; Seward though reluctant at first, gave his approval but cautioned against issuing it without a major military victory since he be­lieved that the people should see it as an act based on war and not based on morals or politics.

The war was changing many things. More and more slaves were running away from their owners in the South towards freedom. Though blacks in the North were free, Lincoln knew that they were not treated equal to the white man. He feared that the Civil War would give way to another unrest, — of white intolerance against equal rights for blacks. What was to be done with the thousands of free blacks running towards the North? Henry Clay had once proposed the idea of colonization that would separate the two races and put an end to any conflict that could potentially arise if they were to live as equals in the same space.

On 14th August, 1862, he, therefore, invited black leaders to the White House and made a proposition to them:

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

"...Your race are suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race...

"...I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of Slavery...without the in­stitution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.

"It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated... you may come to the conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a foreign country. This is (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the case...There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us. Now, if you could give a start to white people, you would open a wide door for many to be made free... If intelligent colored men, such as are before me, would move in this matter, much might be accomplished... For the sake of your race you should sacrifice something of your present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the white people... The place I am thinking about having for a colony is in Central America. The country is a very excellent one for any people, and with great natural resources and advantages...Much, therefore, depends upon yourselves... If you will engage in the en­terprise)1 I will spend some of the money intrusted to me. I am not sure you will succeed. The Government may lose the money, but we cannot succeed unless we try; but we think, with care, we can succeed...The political affairs in Central America are not in quite as satisfactory condition as I wish...but it is true all the factions are agreed alike

1. Lincoln suggested that since Central America was rich in coalmines, it would be a good idea for the black people to engage themselves in such enterprise.

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

to a single one of his anti-slavery testimonies."1

Unaware of Lincoln's secret decision to emancipate all the slaves in the confederate states, pressure and criticism of Lincoln was rising. The abolitionists through newspaper articles and speeches were pushing him to take an aggressive stand against slavery. They strongly supported a war policy based on the eradi­cation of slavery and denounced his deference to slavery in the Border States. In August, Horace Greeley, a Radical Republican and editor of the New York Tribune, published an open letter "The Prayer of Twenty Million" addressed to Lincoln. The main focus was on Lincoln's hesitation to enforce the Confiscation Acts passed by Congress to seize Confederate property, in­cluding slaves, as a war measure. Many commanding officers and generals as well as the Lincoln administration were reluctant to enforce these orders and runaway slaves were often denied pas­sage into safe Union lines. Greeley reasoned that it was impos­sible to put an end to the war without destroying slavery:

"... It seems to us the most obvious truth, that what­ever strengthens or fortifies Slavery in the Border States strengthens also Treason... It is the duty of a Government... to oppose force to force in a defiant, dauntless spirit. It cannot afford to temporize with trai­tors nor with semi-traitors. ... On the face of this wide earth, Mr. President, there is not one disinterested, deter­mined, intelligent champion of the Union cause who does not feel... that the Rebellion, if crushed out tomorrow, would be renewed within a year if Slavery were left in full vigour... "2

In his reply to Greeley he made it clear:

  1. Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, p. 511
  2. Slavery in the United States: A Social Political and Historical Encyclopedia, Volume I, edited by Junius P Rodriguez, Horace Greeley's "The Prayer of the Twenty Millions" (August 19, 1862), p. 692,
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Frederick Douglass: a former slave who escaped and became a  leading voice of the abolition movement. [National Archives and  Records Administration]
Frederick Douglass: a former slave who escaped and became a  leading voice of the abolition movement. [National Archives and  Records Administration]

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

"... My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union... I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

"I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-ex­pressed personal wish that all men every where could be free."1

Lincoln chose not to reveal his decision about emancipation of Confederate slaves till after a military victory and stuck to his stance that for him the preservation of the union was of pri­mary importance. He wanted to prepare the public on the shift in his stance with regard to slavery. As Harold Holzer, a Lincoln scholar writes, 'It was one of Lincoln's most skillful public rela­tions efforts, even if it has cast longstanding doubt on his sin­cerity as a liberator'.

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), reply to Horace Greeley, Aug. 22, 1862, pp. 357-58

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

President Lincoln with General McClellan on the battle-field of Antietam
President Lincoln with General McClellan on the battle-field of Antietam

Victory at Antietam

They desperately needed to win a major victory but even a change in leadership did not yield any better results; the Union army now under General-in-chief Halleck and General Pope in com­mand of the army of the Potomac suffered defeat yet again at the 2nd battle of Bull Run on 30th August 1862. It was a terribly dis­heartening sight; Lee's advancing army threatened Washington, hospital beds were crowded with the wounded, and army com­manders were busy blaming each other. Lincoln was shattered and fell into deep depression. With this defeat disappeared his occasion to issue the emancipation proclamation. In such mo­ments of anguish when nothing seemed to be going in the in­tended direction, he often turned inwards and would reflect on God's Will. On 2nd September, he penned down his musings:

"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is some­thing different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."1

Despite McClellan's shortcomings and misgivings of his war cabinet toward the general, Lincoln recalled him to resume com­mand of the army to defend Washington. Lincoln knew he was respected by the soldiers and was the only general who could boost the morale of his men and bring order to the chaos.

In spite of serious mistakes, Lincoln did not reprimand his generals; in the middle of a war, any demoralization could have negative consequences, he always exercised enormous self-con­trol with all — his generals as well as his cabinet members and was loathe to immediately dismissing them even in the face of gross incompetence.

The union now waited desperately for a military victory; he hoped for it when Confederate general Robert Lee invaded Antietam, Maryland in September 1862. Ignoring other demands for reinforcements, Lincoln backed McClellan with most of his military strength, with an order to destroy Lee's army.

Lincoln found himself not only fighting a war with the rebels but also at the receiving end of a volley of sharp attacks from within the union. Flip-flopping between generals did not go down well with his critics; — his own cabinet members, the press, ministers of church, Congressmen, — they all denounced his decisions as weak and fickle and warned him that it would

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Meditation on the Divine Will, p. 359

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army
General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Army

lead to 'distrust and uncertainty'. Some demanded a complete revamping of his administration while others wanted him to get rid of McClellan. He was bombarded by demands for emancipa­tion of slaves to which he was reluctant to give a direct response, `It is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter. And if I can learn what it is I will do it!'1

He bided his time for a military victory. On 17th September 1862, McClellan and his army defeated Confederate General Lee's offensive at Antietam. The bloodiest single day battle with over 22,000 casualties, Union forces managed to drive out the confederates from Maryland but General McClellan's chronic

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Reply to Chicago Emancipation Memorial, Washington, D.C., p. 361

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

fear of the size of Lee's force lost the Union the opportunity to wipe them out.

It could have been a more satisfying win, but nevertheless, the victory at Antietam finally gave Lincoln the opportunity to introduce the Emancipation Proclamation, an order that freed every slave in the confederate states. He met his cabinet and felt relaxed and relieved after months of tension and anguish. He met his cabinet and presenting a revised four page version of the emancipation proclamation to his cabinet he said, made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us victory in the approaching battle, I would consider it an indication of Divine Will, and it is my duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation1: He had already decided the substance of the proclamation, he said firmly, but he welcomed the cabinet to suggest alterations to its form.

1. Adapted from Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment, edited by Harold Holzer, Sara Vaughn Gabbard

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Slavery Needs To Go

On 22nd September, Lincoln issued a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that he would order the emancipa­tion of slaves of all states or parts of a state that did not end their rebellion against the Union by 1st January 1863.

The proclamation signaled the shift in the objective of the war between the North and South, — it was no more only the pres­ervation of the union; it had become a conflict between freedom and slavery. Response from the North was obviously favourable. Anti slavery men were ecstatic; the New York Tribune and the Chicago Tribune sang his praises, as did the abolitionists and the ministers of church. Those who had admonished him for his er­rors and delays acknowledged that his proclamation was worth it. His critics who lambasted him over his weak stance against slavery were silenced. Frederick Douglass who never minced his words when criticising Lincoln for not taking strong measures to curb slavery burst out in jubilation:

"Common sense, the necessities of the war, to say nothing of the dictation of justice and humanity have at last pre­vailed. We shout for joy that we live to record this righ­teous decree. Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, in his own peculiar, cautious, forbearing and hesitating way, slow, but we hope sure, has, while the loyal heart was near breaking with despair, proclaimed and declared: 'That on the First of January... "Free forever" oh! long enslaved millions, whose cries have so vexed the air and sky, suffer on a few more days in sorrow, the hour of your deliver­ance draws nigh!"1

1. The Civil War Era: An Anthology of Sources, edited by Lyde Cullen-Sizer, Jim Cullen, page 191, Emancipation Proclaimed, Douglass' Monthly, October 1862

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The war now became a war between slavery and freedom; though emancipation would adversely affect cotton supply from the Southern plantations to Britain and France, having abolished slavery, they could not anymore sympathise with the confeder­ates for fear of domestic public outrage. The confederates lost all chance of any international support for their cause. Giuseppe Garibaldi congratulated Lincoln, 'Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure.'1

The South of course was livid; they justified themselves in car­rying on the war. Confederate newspapers called him a 'coward, assassin and savage.' They felt it would encourage black rebellion in the South. The blacks on the other hand were ecstatic though not publically; they were secretly preparing to escape as quickly as they could. The Southern Unionists were angry; they wanted to preserve the union but did not want to lose their slaves. The Peace Democrats had always opposed emancipation and bitterly criticized it on grounds that it would promote continuation of the war and would tear the union apart even more. The War Democrats had supported the war only to save the Union; they did not want to fight for abolition. Racism was very much preva­lent in both the north as well as the south. They denounced the proclamation as unconstitutional and branded him a dictator. The stock market fell. What pained Lincoln was the resentment and desertion in the armed forces. Would the North 'accept this truly revolutionary challenge and begin fighting for freedom as well as the union? Or would white people refuse to do battle for black people?'2

Once the initial exhilaration had worn off, people in the North began to scrutinize the proclamation; the abolitionists who at first were ecstatic, were disappointed that it did not include two rebel states, Tennessee and Louisiana and that it excluded the loyal Border States. They felt that it was a half-hearted effort at

  1. A Concise Chronicle History of the African-American People Experience in America, by Henry Epps, p. 114
  2. Lincoln, by Harold Holzer, p. 105
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

emancipation — the government ordered emancipation where it had no control and exempted emancipation in areas that were in its control. The press began to denounce him and newspapers were replete with flagrant articles opposing it.

On 24th September, two days after the preliminary eman­cipation proclamation was announced, without consulting his cabinet, Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus all over nation. It covered all those who aided the rebel cause, hindered military enlistment, resisted the draft or were guilty of disloyal practices; — the last covered newspaper editors who spoke criti­cally of the union war effort. But it stilled public dissent. Fear of arrest, imprisonment, and punishment by military courts qui­eted down his critics. For Lincoln it was important to win the war and preserve the union at any cost.

The proclamation and the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus were used as effective issues by the Democrats to un­dermine the credibility of republicans during the 1862 House of Representatives election. Republicans took a beating but they managed to retain control over the House. Lincoln had to bear the brunt of their anger as conservative republicans blamed the emancipation proclamation and the suspension of the writ of liberty for their loss of popularity.

On 1st December 1862, Lincoln sent to the House and Senate, his annual message to Congress. It reflected his determination of carrying through his promise in his preliminary proclamation of September 1862 and carried in its words of wisdom a sincere and fervent prayer to the holders of powers in the government:

"...The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall our selves, and then we shall save our country.

"Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

spite of ourselves... The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest gen­eration. We say we are for the Union... We know how to save the Union... We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."1

This was a presidential proclamation and not an Act passed by Congress. Lincoln was aware that having passed it as a war measure, chances were that it could be repealed after the war was over. Lincoln also knew that only Congress could remove slavery permanently.

His strong war measures met with a lot of criticism from the state governors and others but it also evidenced him as a strong leader in the midst of a civil conflict.

Lincoln tried hard to motivate McClellan but the general re­sented every effort, every suggestion that was sent by the presi­dent. Eventually, frustrated with his lack of initiative in leading his troops into battle and his never-ending excuses, Lincoln replaced McClellan with General Burnside in November 1862. A protege of McClellan, he would be less objectionable to his troops than anyone else, thought Lincoln; but on his own admis­sion, Burnside was not experienced in leading the army of the Potomac. However, in the absence of anyone better and consid­ering the urgency for some wins in war, the cabinet decided to give him a chance.

Sometimes Lincoln would take time out for a horseback ride; he would visit the wounded in hospital with Mary. The war occu-

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Annual Message to Congress, December 1st 1862, p. 415

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

pied his mind; eating absently whatever was placed before him, he would often return to the White House office after dinner and work for four to five hours. During tense military operations, with his grey shawl wrapped around his shoulders, he would walk unescorted to the telegraph office in the War Department to receive the latest news from the front.

In October, Lincoln's attention had to be diverted to another pressing problem. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota, not receiving the annuities from the government as compensation for surren­dering their land, were starving. Desperate and aggrieved, a few young Sioux Indians raided a farm to steal eggs and killed five whites. Soon, the ferocity swelled and Indians in Southwestern Minnesota massacred 350 whites before they could be subdued. Lincoln sent General Pope to take charge of the situation, who quelled the rebellion and captured 1500 Indians, including women and children. The general and the local governor collaborated to hang the rebels but Lincoln immediately denied sanction. After sending Assistant Secretary to the Interior, John P Usher to re­store peace and provide him with information, he consulted with Bishop Whipple who suggested that this 'wronged and neglected race' needed to be dealt with 'a new policy of honesty'.

Lincoln had earlier admitted that he was quite ignorant about the history between the Indians and the United States and had not had the opportunity to be acquainted much with them, but for the brief episode of the Black Hawk War. Lincoln's own opinion about Indians was no different from that of other whites of his generation; they considered them as hurdles to an advancing so­ciety who needed to be civilized.

He received news that the local government was on the war path, not only to hang 303 Sioux Indians captured but also to drive out the peaceful Chippewas along with the Sioux tribe out of Minnesota and usurp their lands.

Despite protests from the Governor and counsel of General Pope that the people of Minnesota would not tolerate any leni­ency with regard to the retribution already decreed by the local authorities, Lincoln did not relent. He went through the record

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

of each convicted Indian on the list to identify those who were guilty of murder and rape. He sent a list of 39 Sioux Indians guilty to be hanged. To ensure that no innocent was wrongly sent to his death, he prepared the list himself and cautioned the telegraph operator to practice caution while wiring the list to General Pope.

Burnside decided to lead the army on an offensive to capture Richmond, the confederate capital, his strategy relying on decep­tion and speed. Lincoln suggested a direct battle with Lee's army with its destruction as its aim rather than target on the capture of Richmond. Not being a military expert, and therefore, still hesitant to order his generals, Lincoln agreed to the general's strategy but pressed Burnside to move rapidly. Lincoln's fears came true; Burnside could not move fast enough, the pontoon bridges ordered by him did not arrive on time and he lost the ad­vantage of surprise. Lee had plenty of time to deploy his troops in Fredericksburg waiting for the union army to cross the river. And the Union suffered one of its most crushing defeats at the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia in December.

It was a difficult time for Lincoln to lose yet another battle. The news of the defeat roused public anger. They did not blame the general; their fury was directed toward his war council for the delay in sending the ordered bridges. Lincoln's administra­tion was targeted by the press as incompetent for its role in the `failure of the army, taxes, inflation, increasing national debt, in­sufficient cotton due to closure of the Mississippi river because of the war. Lincoln admitted sadly, 'If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it.'' 1 And there was trouble in his own backyard. Many of his cabinet members, especially Salmon Chase had complained that the president, but for Seward and Stanton, did not consult any of the others in state matters. Some Republicans met and de­cided that the president's cabinet needed to be reorganized and obliquely alluded to Seward who needed to be removed, since he did not sympathise with the war and its causes. Seward promptly

1. 1863: Lincoln's Pivotal Year, edited by Harold Holzer, Sara Vaughn Gabbard, p. 73

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

handed in his resignation to the president and refused to recon­sider it. There was rivalry among them for his affection; Lincoln was aware of it and was prepared to bear with it for he knew that there was no clash of ideologies. Lincoln, already distraught after the defeat at Fredericksburg was anguished by this attack on the Secretary of State. 'We are now on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope,' he confided to Orville Browning. However, he called a joint meeting of the republican senators and his cab­inet members. Caught between disloyalty to the president and lying to the senators, Chase's final admission of complete unity among the cabinet members weakened the case against Seward and a change in his cabinet was averted. He did not allow either to resign — Seward or Chase; as he admitted he needed both. It was a learning experience for the entire team; and Lincoln began to invite suggestions from his cabinet on controversial issues including the Emancipation Proclamation in which he added a paragraph suggested by Chase at the end. But most of all, this crisis made him aware of his own strength, `...I believe I have kept these discordant elements together as well as anyone could.'1

As Charles Dana, his Assistant Secretary of War observed:

"The relations between Mr. Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet were always friendly and sincere on his part. It was always plain that he was the master and they the subor­dinates. If he ever yielded to their will, it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate. I do not recollect a single occasion when any member of the Cabinet had got his mind ready to quit from any feeling of dissatisfaction with the President. Not that they were always satisfied with his actions, in their judgment much would have been done better if their views had been adopted and they individually had charge of it. In the discussion of important questions, whatever

1. Herndon: Lincoln, Jesse William Weik, ch. 18, p. 319

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

he said showed the profoundest thought, even when he was joking. He seemed to see every side of every question. He never was impatient, he never was in a hurry, and he never tried to hurry anybody else."1

Emancipation Proclamation

For three months the country waited and watched; his detrac­tors were waiting apprehensively, the abolitionists, the radicals and the people of the north were waiting hopefully and the con­federates were waiting defiantly for the New Year. 100 days were over; the confederates did not end the rebellion, and Lincoln did not renege on his promise.

On 1st January 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, granting freedom to slaves in the ten states that were still in rebellion, thus applicable to 3 million of the 4 mil­lion slaves in the country. It also allowed freed slaves to enlist in the Union armed forces and receive wages. It ordered the union army and all branches of the executive to recognize and maintain the freedom of the ex-slaves. The proclamation neither compen­sated the owners, nor banned slavery nor gave citizenship to ex-slaves. However, it was a major milestone that opened the road to future strides towards banning slavery completely and granting citizenship to ex-slaves. As Lincoln approved of the final ver­sion of the document, he remarked, 'I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.'2 He transcended both praises and blame — it was now a war about justice. The war for the union had widened its goal; he

  1. Adapted from an excerpt from Recollections of the Civil War, by Charles A. Dana, P­ 171
  2. Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, Compiled and Edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, p. 397
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom. ... Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a U.S. officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper — the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

Excerpt from 'Up from Slavery,
memoir of African American Leader
Booker T. Washington, who was 7 years old
when the Emancipation Proclamation
was read on his plantation.

was now battling for liberty as well. Lincoln often acknowledged to his colleagues that some de-cisions he had taken were possibly beyond his constitutional rights, yet he took them because they were necessary at that time and the right thing to do. He was guided by his insight. It was never about exercising his power; it was about saving the nation. When asked how he would explain his actions, he smil¬ingly replied, 'I am like the Irishman, I have to do some things `unbeknownst to myself.'1

1. Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 340-41

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

People on both sides criticized Lincoln's order as a seizing of property rights and an attempt to start racial conflict. But there were those who passionately supported this measure; John Forbes, a wealthy abolitionist printed miniature booklets of the Emancipation Proclamation and had them placed in the back­packs of the Union soldiers. As they marched through enemy territory, they were to be distributed to the slaves, informing them that they were free. Emboldened by this measure, slaves fled from their masters, leaving the plantations and abandoning the work assigned to them — preparing food, sewing uniforms, as railroad repairmen, as common laborers in factories, shipyards and mines, and serving as hospital workers.

Despite the fact that Lincoln exempted the Border States from the Emancipation Proclamation, the governor of Kentucky complained that it encouraged slaves to flee in order to recruit in the Union army. Lincoln's reply to him reflects his passionate but restrained stance (in deference to the constitution) against slavery:

"I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not 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

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 before the cabinet (painted by F.B. Carpenter)
The first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 before the cabinet (painted by F.B. Carpenter)

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 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 save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of govern­ment, country, and Constitution all together. When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipa­tion, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an in­dispensable necessity. When a little later, Gen. 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, Gen. 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

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

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 any how or any where. 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 cavilling. 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 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 case 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

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God."1

The Emancipation Proclamation was Lincoln's master act during his presidency. Many prior presidents had hoped for a nation without slavery, but were unable to achieve their ideal. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers and the main au­thor of the Declaration of Independence had written: 'I see not how we are to disengage ourselves from that deplorable entangle­ment, we have the wolf by the ears and feel the danger of either holding or letting him loose. I shall not live to see it but those who come after us will be wiser than we are, for light is spreading and man improving....'2

In Jefferson's words Lincoln had found the proof that the founding fathers did not expect the position of blacks in society to remain unchanged and that the phrase that 'all men are equal' had been incorporated in the document for future use. They had meant to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances would permit. They meant to set up a stan­dard maxim for a free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all'.3

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, speaking of their newly created constitution had proudly declared that: `... Its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery sub­ordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. '4 The words in their constitution reflected the status of slave labour that was deeply entrenched in the South. Losing the war to the

  1. Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), letter to Albert Hodges, 4th April 1864, p. 585
  2. The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries, Volume 21, by John Austin Stevens, Benjamin Franklin DeCosta, Henry Phelps Johnston, Martha Joanna Lamb, Nathan Gillett Pond
  3. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, Speech on the Dred Scott Decision, p. 117
  4. Black Reconstruction in America, By W. E. B. Du Bois, p. 44
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Confederates would mean a disastrous reversal in the march of humanity towards the ideal of liberty and the brotherhood of man.

Jefferson's prayer found in Lincoln an ideal vessel for this monumental task. Liberty, an ideal that was struggling to mani­fest, blazed a way with one stroke of his pen, overriding all pro slavery Acts passed by Congress, shifting the authority to free slaves into the hands of the Government and its military and naval forces.

Apart from the moral impact of the Emancipation Proclamation, it also brought about tangible results in the war for the Union. It opened the doors for black enlistment, thereby encouraging the slaves to participate in a war being fought for their emancipation. Every slave that fled the south robbed them of their slave labour that sustained their plantations. On the International stage, the confederate attempt to be recognized as a sovereign nation by England and France was foiled. But the Emancipation Proclamation was criticized for granting emanci­pation where the Union had no control and exempting where it did. But its immediate effect was freedom to approximately 50,000 slaves in the federal occupied areas of the south. But more important than that was its ongoing effect — as the Union army pushed into enemy territory, they continued to free thousands of slaves. In a year's time, more than 100,000 black troops had joined the Union army and by 1865 the number had swelled up to 300,000.

Lincoln's method was gradual; he had to take into account the prevailing atmosphere in the country. It was imperative to court the Border States and keep them from seceding to the south and ensure the support of the Conservatives. Therefore, despite the fact that he personally hated slavery, he had only advocated a war to save the Union. He even rescinded the order of emancipa­tion issued by General Fremont. He did not want to jeopardize the chance of an eventual emancipation by a premature action for which the climate of the nation was ill prepared. Then we see a shift in his actions — he supported the confiscation Acts,

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

which freed slaves as contrabands of war. He proposed gradual compensated emancipation of slaves to the Border States to en­courage them to participate in the abolition of slavery. As the war progressed and it became apparent that emancipation had become a war necessity, Lincoln grabbed the moment and deliv­ered the country of its greatest affliction, slavery. Even though he exempted the Border States, Tennessee and parts of Louisiana, emancipation was immediate and it started the process of abo­lition that paved the way for complete liberation and ultimately to equality.

Frederick Douglass ecstatic with the sea change in the events over the last few months, gave a thundering speech at Cooper Institute in response to the Emancipation Proclamation:

"I congratulate you, upon what may be called the greatest event of our nation's history, if not the greatest event of the century... In all these States Slavery is now in law, as in fact, a system of lawless violence, against which the slave may lawfully defend himself... The change in attitude of the Government is vast and startling. For more than sixty years the Federal Government has been little better than a stupendous engine of Slavery and oppression, through which Slavery has ruled us, as with a rod of iron... Assuming that our Government and people will sustain the President and the Proclamation, we can scarcely con­ceive of a more complete revolution in the position of a nation... I hail it as the doom of Slavery in all the States... Color is no longer a crime or a badge of bondage... I stand here tonight not only as a colored man and an American, but... as a colored citizen, having, in common with all other citizens, a stake in the safety, prosperity, honor, and glory of a common country. We are all liberated by this proclamation. Everybody is liberated. The white man is liberated, the black man is liberated, the brave men now fighting the battles of their country against rebels and traitors are now liberated... I congratulate you upon this

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

amazing change — the amazing approximation toward the sacred truth of human liberty. All the space between man's mind and God's mind, says Parker, is crowded with truths that wait to be discovered and organized into law for the better government of society. Mr. Lincoln has not exactly discovered a new truth, but he has dared, in this dark hour of national peril, to apply an old truth, long ago acknowledged in theory by the nation — a truth which carried the American people safely through the war for independence, and one which will carry us, as I believe, safely through the present terrible and sanguinary con­flict for national life, if we shall but faithfully live up to that great truth. Born and reared as a slave, as I was, and wearing on my back the marks of the slave-driver's lash, as I do, it is natural that I should value the Emancipation Proclamation for what it is destined to do for the slaves. I do value it for that. It is a mighty event for the bondman, but it is a still mightier event for the nation at large, and mighty as it is for the both, the slave and the nation, it is still mightier when viewed in its relation to the cause of truth and justice throughout the world. It is in this last character that I prefer to consider it. There are certain great national acts, which by their relation to universal principles, properly belong to the whole human family, and Abraham Lincoln's Proclamation of the 1st of January, 1863, is one of these acts."1

Trouble With His Generals

The joy of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was short-lived; Lincoln was plagued by the sight of hospitals overfull with


The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

the wounded, reports of desertion by soldiers who refused to fight for blacks troubled him, abolitionists hounded him for a complete ban on slavery and Democrats called the proclamation unconstitutional. Some of them were demanding reconciliation with the South and reestablishment of slavery.

If only he could end this war!

Unable to deliver victories, Lincoln replaced General Burnside with General Hooker in January 1863. It was brought to his no­tice that Hooker had not only ridiculed Burnside, his senior, but had also called Lincoln 'a played out imbecile'. The last thing Lincoln wanted was to have his generals squabble with each other. After appointing him as general, he met Hooker cordially and handed him a letter that was a wonderful mix of reprimand, encouragement and wisdom that a father would give to a son:

"... I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. And yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and a skillful soldier, you do not mix politics with your profession, you have confidence in yourself and you are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during Gen. Burnside's command of the Army you thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country, and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a Dictator. Of course it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes, can set up dicta­tors. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship. I much fear that the spirit, which you have aided to infuse into the Army, of criticising their Commander, and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you as far as I can, to put it down. Neither you, nor Napoleon, if he were alive

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

again, could get any good out of an army, while such a spirit prevails in it.

"And now, beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy, and sleepless vigilance, go forward, and give us victories."1

The Emancipation Proclamation swelled up the union army; Congress passed the Civil War Military Draft Act2 in March 1863 that permitted free African Americans to join the army. The union draft was issued the same month and War Department opened its first bureau of Colored Troops. Frederick Douglass had been suggesting the idea of organizing black regiments since 1861. He issued a proclamation of his own, "Men of Color, to Arms!" and went from town to town, encouraging blacks to join the union army and fight for the union and their liberation. Lincoln pushed for black enrollment vociferously. He wrote to the military governor of Tennessee, a pro-union slave owner, urging him to recruit black soldiers:

"I am told you have at least thought of raising a Negro military force. In my opinion, the country now needs no specific thing so much as some man of your ability, and position, to go to this work. The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed of force for restoration of the union. The bare sight of fifty thousand armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once..."3

  1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), adapted from letter to Hooker, Jan. 26th 1863, p. 433
  2. Also called the Enrollment Act, it was passed to provide fresh troops for the Union Army. It made it compulsory for all male citizens and immigrants who had filed for citizenship between the ages of 25-45 to enroll in the union army. A quota was estab­lished for each congressional district. It, however, had a policy of substitution wherein a draftee could send someone else in his place. There was also a policy of commutation where a draftee could relieve himself of his military service by paying $300.
  3. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), letter to Andrew Johnson, March 26, 1863, p. 440
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Poster for black recruitment (reconstruction of the original)
Poster for black recruitment (reconstruction of the original)

To ensure that the white soldiers would support the arrival of blacks in the army, Lincoln decided on a lower salary for the blacks. In addition, the cost of their uniforms would be deducted from their pay while the white soldiers received a bonus to help them pay for their uniforms, which amounted to thirteen dollars per month for whites and seven dollars for blacks.

Some of his generals were disinclined to have blacks serving in the union army. General Grant, Lincoln's deliverer of grand mil­itary successes, was one of them. Some officers were skeptical

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

that blacks would flee in the face of danger. To ensure that there was no resentment from white soldiers having to fight alongside blacks, the administration decided to create separate black units commanded by white officers. Though Douglass at first was un­happy that blacks would be denied the status of an officer, he reasoned that it was important at that moment that they should participate in the war and fight for the union. Livid on being in­formed of recruitment of blacks in the union army, Confederate President Jefferson warned that captured black soldiers would be put to death or sold into slavery. Despite the threat issued by Jefferson, the blacks fought bravely in every battle they fought. But instead of being captured as prisoners of war, they were offi­cially defined as insurrectionists and either executed or sold into slavery. More disconcerting was the news of the brutal conduct of some confederate soldiers who savagely slaughtered black soldiers.

There was a difference of opinion in the main objective of bat­tles between Lincoln and his Generals. Lincoln felt that the de­struction of the confederate army would lead to winning battles and ending the war rapidly. But his generals believed that it was necessary to capture Richmond in order to win the battle and the war. The union army had tried to capture Richmond four times and failed; twice at Bull Run, once at the Peninsula Campaign and recently at Fredericksburg. The army of the Potomac under General Hooker was all set to launch a campaign to yet again take Richmond, this time at Chancellorsville. As a reminder to his generals about the object of the battle, Lincoln gave a note as guidance to Hooker and his generals, 'Our prime object is the enemies' army in front of us, and is not with, or about, Richmond at all, unless it be incidental to the main object...'1 On his departure he told them, 'I want to impress upon you two gentlemen in your next fight... put in all your men.'2

Hooker, extremely confident, set off promisingly, but as

  1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), memorandum on Hooker's Plan of Campaign, c. early April 1863, p. 443
  2. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, p. 434
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Lincoln feared, hesitated to move forward and push his offensive. This gave General Lee and Stonewall Jackson a chance to split their men and attack Hooker's troops from two sides. Despite the fact that Hooker had twice as many men as the confederates, on 6th May 1863, the Union lost the battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia. Lincoln, spending most of his time at the War office, re­turned to the White House completely dejected and broken, 'My God! My God! What will the country say! What will the country say!'1

Nothing seemed to be going right. The U.S. Naval operations at Charleston had been repulsed by confederate guns at Fort Sumter, Grant's operations at Vicksburg had to be abandoned and General Rosecrans refused to move into action in Tennessee. So many military failures were enough for people to renew pro­tests against the war and demand for peace negotiations. Voices of dissent were heard not only from the Democratic Party but also from Republicans who wanted abolitionist generals placed in command of the U.S. armies. Some pro slavery army offi­cers were condemning the war as a 'nigger war' and criticised the president for overshooting his authority in suppressing civil rights. Vallandigham's2 arrest added to the unrest and sparked off a massive public dispute about its constitutional legality.

Though seemingly down and out, Lincoln did not allow this terrible state of affairs to suck him in. In response to a criticism of himself and General Halleck and their military affairs, he re­plied in substance that:

"it may be a misfortune for the nation that he was elected President. But having been elected by the people, he meant

  1. Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 2, by Michael Burlingame, p. 498
  2. General Burnside had arrested Ohio Democrat Vallandigham for violating general order number 38 issued against public expression of sympathy for the Confederacy. Vallandigham had given an inflammatory speech insinuating that the war was being fought to free slaves and enslave whites and incited the public that 'King Abraham' ought to be removed from the presidency. Denied a writ of Habeas Corpus, he was tried by the military court and imprisoned for two years. In protest the democrats came to the White House demanding his release.
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

to be President, and to perform his duty according to his best understanding, if he had to die for it...".1

Lincoln lacked military training and experience in warfare, which led to delays and failures in campaigns; in the eastern the­atre, he constantly changed his generals. However, he was de­termined to find a way. Perhaps it was this lack of any previous military training, which allowed his practical brilliance to come forward and ultimately lead the union to victory.

Open Letter To The People

He decided that it was time to take active charge of military op­erations and repair his image in the eyes of the public.

Traditionally it was uncommon for presidents to make public addresses or react to political pressure or public opinion. But the rescission of civil liberties, suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, restriction of the freedom of speech and the press and arrests of dissidents gravely unsettled the American public. Democrats were forcefully objecting to the arrest of Vallandigham. Within the Republicans too some of his own friends felt the arrests were illegal and adversely affected the image of the government. The worst was the growing feeling in the soldiers that the only thing that prevented Lincoln from becoming a despot was the fear of international opinion.

He decided to use Vallandigham's arrest as the lever by which he could address the public and inform them of the position of his administration. In response to a protest by a group of

1. Spoken by Lincoln in 1863 during a long conversation with James Taussig, a lawyer and Radical Republican from Missouri. He represented a group of German Americans who were critical of Lincoln and the General-in-chief Halleck.

Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, compiled and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, p. 442

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Democrats over Vallandigham's arrest, he carefully prepared a public letter, read it out to his cabinet and then sent copies to the press. He began by congratulating the protestors for their allegiance to the cause of sustaining the union and upholding the government in all constitutional measures. He clarified that in normal times these would be violations of constitutional rights but the constitution allows the suspension of these liberties in case of rebellion or invasion. He mentions that he had been ju­dicious in the application of such measures and in time to come, he would be reproached for not being stricter with such arrests. He explained that Vallandigham was not arrested because he was a democrat but because he was damaging the army, which was the backbone of the security of the nation.

His most effective argument came towards the end:

"Long experience has shown that armies can not be main­tained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death. The case requires, and the law and the constitution, sanction this punishment. Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wiley agitator who induces him to desert?"1

He adds at the end a gentle rebuke:

"In this time of national peril I would have preferred to meet you upon a level one step higher than any party plat­form; because I am sure that from such more elevated po­sition, we could do better battle for the country we all love, than we possibly can from those lower ones, where from the force of habit, the prejudices of the past, and selfish hopes of the future, we are sure to expend much of our ingenuity and strength, in finding fault with, and aiming

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), To Erastus Corning and Others, June 12, 1863, p. 454

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

blows at each other. But since you have denied me this, I will yet be thankful, for the country's sake, that not all democrats have done so. He on whose discretionary judg­ment Mr. Vallandigham was arrested and tried, is a dem­ocrat, having no old party affinity with me; and the judge who rejected the constitutional view expressed in these resolutions, by refusing to discharge Mr. V. on Habeas Corpus, is a democrat of better days than these, having received his judicial mantle at the hands of President Jackson. And still more, of all those democrats who are nobly exposing their lives and shedding their blood on the battle-field, I have learned that many approve the course taken with Mr. V. while I have not heard of a single one condemning it."1

The public responded heartily to his letter as was the re­sponse of his fellow republicans who congratulated him warmly. Success of this letter encouraged him to send out another public letter as response to another set of democrats protesting against Vallandigham's arrest and exile to the confederate states. This time he boldly held him responsible for `...the desertions from the army, the resistance to the draft and even the assassination of Unionists.' In fact he accused them of encouraging desertion, resistance to the draft etc. by recommending his case. At the end he promises to permit his return provided a majority of the pro­testors sign a pledge 'to do all he can to have the officers, soldiers, and seamen of the army and navy... paid, fed, clad, and otherwise well provided and supported' .2 Their refusal only strengthened his position in the eyes of the public that his administration was ex­ercising exceptional powers only for the security of the Union.

In June 1863, Lincoln proclaimed the admission of West Virginia into the Union as the 35th state.

  1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), to Erastus Corning and Others, June 12, 1863, p. 454
  2. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, p. 444
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Desperate For A Win

Seeing Hooker's obduracy in repeating his earlier mistake of launching yet another attack on Richmond, Lincoln ultimately replaced him with General Meade in June 1863. Lee was on the move and heading towards Pennsylvania and found Meade on his heels. Lincoln had learned from his earlier mistakes, — he did not communicate directly with Meade but went through Halleck while he engaged himself in collecting troops to rein­force Meade's army.

Lincoln was anxious — there had been too many defeats; the Union desperately needed to win. As he confided to General Sickles:

"... I went to my room and got down on my knees in prayer. Never before had I prayed with so much earnest­ness... I felt I must put all my trust in Almighty God. He gave our people the best country ever given to man. He alone could save it from destruction. I had tried my best to do my duty and had found myself unequal to the task. The burden was more than I could bear...'1... I told Him that this war was His war, and our cause His cause, but we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. And after that, I don't know how it was, and I cannot explain it, but soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul. The feeling came that God had taken the whole business into His own hands and that things would go right at Gettysburg and that is why I had no fears about you."2

  1. Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln, Don Edward and Virginia Fehrenbacher, p. 406
  2. Rediscovering God in America, by Newt Gingrich, p. 32
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

Abraham Lincoln, painting by volk Douglas
Abraham Lincoln, painting by volk Douglas

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

He kept a close watch on Grant's campaign in Vicksburg too. Despite several failed attempts to get Vicksburg, Grant, deter­mined to succeed, finally decided to lay a siege on the city. July seemed like a good month for the Union, — news of three big victories came in, Gettysburg on 3rd July, Vicksburg on 4th, and port Hudson on the 9th. Lincoln was ecstatic. Finally, he could see the war coming to a terminating point. Also, with the capture of Port Hudson, the union army gained control of the Mississippi river and supplies for the confederate army from Texas and Arkansas were cut off. For the union it opened up the Mississippi river for supplies for the union armies and for northern goods to reach the Gulf of Mexico. It was good for the morale of the military, the civilians and businesses.

Ever ready to acknowledge his mistakes, Lincoln wrote to Grant a congratulatory note, 'I write this now as a grateful ac­knowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country', adding, 'I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition, and the like, could succeed... and when you turned Northward East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.'1

The victory at Gettysburg, though, was not complete; Lee's army had yet again been allowed to retreat. Lincoln was furious; it meant that it would not be a swift end to the war. He was greatly disappointed with Meade, so disappointed that he wrote a letter to him holding him responsible for the survival of Lee's army and for the prolongation of the war. But he neither sent it nor signed it. When his anger had abated he could see that Meade had done his best in the given circumstances; he went into battle after only four days of assuming command of the army, he did not know his soldiers, he had lost a lot of his troops in battle and many of his generals were killed or wounded.

It seems Meade came to know of Lincoln's disappointment

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), To Ulysses S. Grant, July 13, 1863, p. 477

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

with his performance and therefore tendered his resignation. Lincoln pacified him yet honestly voiced his disappointment in a letter to Meade:

"... I am very — very — grateful to you for the magnificent success you gave the cause of the country at Gettysburg; and I am sorry now to be the author of the slightest pain to you. But I was in such deep distress by what appeared to be evidences that yourself, and Gen. Couch, and Gen. Smith, were not seeking a collision with the enemy, but were trying to get him across the river without another battle. What these evidences were, if you please, I hope to tell you at some time, when we shall both feel better. You fought and beat the enemy at Gettysburg; and, of course, to say the least, his loss was as great as yours. He retreated; and you did not pressingly pursue him. You had at least twenty thousand veteran troops directly with you in ad­dition to those who fought with you at Gettysburg; while it was not possible that he had received a single recruit; and yet you stood and let the flood run down, bridges be built, and the enemy move away at his leisure, without at­tacking him.

"Again, my dear general, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee's escape; to have closed upon him would have ended the war. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immea­surably because of it.

"I beg you will not consider this a prosecution, or perse­cution of yourself. As you had learned that I was dissatis­fied, I have thought it best to kindly tell you why."1

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865, To George G. Meade, July 14, 1863, p. 478

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

A New Confidence

A growing confidence could be seen in Lincoln; the positive re­versal in military operations, his restored image in the eyes of the people and the approaching end of the war, reduced his de­pendence on his cabinet members. Some matters he would leave entirely to their discretion while on other matters such as those of reconstruction of the Union or slavery he consulted with no one. Even his loyal cabinet members complained of knowing only that which was published for all. As John Hay wrote to John Nicolay1:

"The tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene and busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the cabinet, till now The most important things he decides & there is no cavil. I am growing more and more firmly convinced that the good of the country absolutely demands that he should be kept where he is till this thing is over. There is no man in the country, so wise so gentle and so firm. I believe the hand of God placed him where he is."2

This silent inner force was evident in Lincoln's firm decision with regard to the New York draft riots in July 1863. The Civil War Military Draft Act was greatly disliked by the laboring class in the North. It was called the rich man's Act since those who were affluent could pay their way out of military duty. Apart from their discontent with the Substitution and Commutation policy of the Act, they were resentful of losing their jobs to the

  1. Lincoln's devoted secretaries
  2. Michael Burlingame, editor, At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings, p. 49
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

free slaves who were pouring into New York after the eman­cipation proclamation. Employers would often switch to black labour during a strike. When the drawing of names began in New York, people poured into the streets, defied the police and attacked the draft headquarters and burned buildings. Most of their wrath was unleashed on the homes and establishments of African Americans. A regiment was sent from Gettysburg to help subdue the riots. After much damage to life and property, in which hundreds died and thousands were injured, the riots were quelled. To Governor Seymour's protests to suspend the draft in New York on grounds of conscription being unconsti­tutional and the New York quota being unfairly large, Lincoln firmly declined. There was no time to waste on new experiments for provision of new manpower, he mentioned in his letter, or for the establishment of the constitutionality of the Draft. There was a war to be won. The draft procedure resumed peacefully a month later.

Though greatly troubled by the riots, when advised to ap­point a special commissioner to investigate, Lincoln refused saying his report would 'have simply touched a match to a barrel of gunpowder'. Some things are better left alone, he added and `one rebellion at a time is about as much as we can conveniently handle'.1

The Border States, especially Missouri, had been a peren­nial source of trouble for Lincoln. Continuous clashes between anti and pro slavery gangs would not allow civilian life to be peaceful. Even among the unionists there was bickering among the 'Charcoals', who favoured the immediate abolition of slavery and the 'Claybanks' who were moderate on the issue of slavery. They looked to him for arbitration but he refused to favor ei­ther faction and 'stoutly tried to keep out of the quarrel'.2 Soon both sides began attacking him for favoring the other. When Missouri began debating upon the question of gradual emanci-

  1. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, p. 448
  2. Ibid., p. 452
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

pation, Lincoln announced that 'the union men in Missouri who are in favour of gradual emancipation represented his views better than those who are in favour of immedite emancipation' .1 The plan of the Conservatives included indenturing of slaves over forty years of age as servants of their masters for life, under twelve till they reached the age of twenty three and all others were to be servants till 1876. Since the plan did not give the benefit of freedom to the slave immediately, Lincoln did not support the plan, thereby becoming yet again an object of their anger. The Radicals, disappointed by his denial of their requests to free the slaves immediately, enroll Missouri blacks in the army, remove the present military general from there and enforce martial law in Missouri, went back from Washington as his enemies. For all the care he took to keep the Border State from seceding, he found 'he had no friends in Missouri' .2

The blacks now serving in the union army were seen fighting bravely in almost every part of the country; the army had changed its mind about the employment of Negro troops and welcomed them into their units. But news of savagery by the confederate soldiers and official orders to execute or sell black prisoners of war into slavery as they were insurrectionists provoked Lincoln into issuing a retaliation proclamation:

"... For every soldier of the United States killed in viola­tion of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war."3

Douglass felt that it was time to demand equality for the black

  1. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, p. 453
  2. Ibid., p. 454
  3. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Order of Retaliation July 30, 1863, page 484
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

soldiers fighting in the war. He visited the president in August 1863 expecting to meet a 'white man's president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men' .1 Lincoln listened to Douglass ear­nestly and accepted that unequal pay was unfair, but insisted that that the prevailing prejudice against blacks did not allow him to remedy it yet. However, at the closure of the meeting, Lincoln assured Douglass that in time to come the blacks in the army would get equal pay. A year later in 1864, he would fulfill his promise. Douglass came away feeling that Lincoln was 'the first great man that I talked with in the United States freely who in no single instance reminded me of the difference between himself and myself, or the difference of color' .2

Fall elections in 1863 were crucial to Lincoln; losing them would signal the failure of the Republicans in the coming 1864 presidential elections. It would also stimulate the South; the Democrats were not keen for the continuance of war and it would be far easier to urge them for a restoration of the Union as it was than the Republicans. Lincoln's people did everything possible to ensure victory in each of the difficult states; martial law was proclaimed in Kentucky and some Democratic candi­dates and voters were imprisoned, in other states government clerks and troops were given leave so that they could go home to vote. Illinois, Lincoln's home state was a cause for concern too; surprisingly, the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg did not find the Illinoisans supporting the administration's stand of fighting to the finish. They believed that since the confederates were weakened sufficiently, it was the right time to end the war and opt for peace dialogues.

Lincoln, however, found this hypothesis faulty; a restora­tion of the union according to him meant rolling right back into slavery, the emancipation proclamation would be null and void and it would put an end to black recruitment in the union armies. He also believed that the Confederate army was on the

  1. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, p. 285
  2. Frederick Douglass: Slavery and the Civil War: Selections from His Writings, p. 52
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

brink of falling apart; a few more union victories would have them concede defeat. Any effort before that to restore peace would strengthen them and undo all the effort made towards destruction of slavery. To abort any such possibility, Lincoln re­fused to meet with the Confederate Vice President who, under the pretext of a dialogue for exchange of prisoners, wanted to meet with him in Washington under a flag of truce.

It was time to once again talk to the people of the North. Lincoln was keen to put forward his viewpoint with regard to the war. He got an opportunity when James C. Conkling, a re­publican member of Illinois House of Representatives, requested him to attend a rally in Springfield. Unable to attend in person due to crucial military operations in Chickamauga that needed his presence in Washington, he sent a letter in defense of his policies to Conkling with instructions to 'read it very slowly':

"... I do not believe any compromise, embracing the main­tenance of the Union, is now possible...The strength of the rebellion, is its military... Meade's army can keep Lee's army out of Pennsylvania... But no paper compromise, to which the controllers of Lee's army are not agreed, can, at all, affect that army... 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... if any such proposition shall hereafter come, it shall not be rejected, and kept a secret from you...

"You dislike the emancipation proclamation...You say it is unconstitutional — I think differently... If it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can not be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life...The war has certainly progressed as favorably for us, since the issue of the proclamation as before... at least one of those im­portant successes, could not have been achieved when it was, but for the aid of black soldiers...

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

"You say 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...

"... 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...

"...Peace does not appear so distant as it did... And then, there will be some black men who can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind on to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they have strove to hinder it."1

The letter was received with thunderous cheering from over 50,000 Unionists at the rally and subsequently it was published in every major newspaper throughout the country. Of course the Democratic newspapers criticized it but Republicans rallied around him in support of his policies. Read out in a mass meeting in New York City, it aroused cheers, tears and gratitude from its residents. The New York Times hailed the President as 'a ruler who is so peculiarly adapted to the needs of the time as clear-headed, dispassionate, discreet, steadfast, honest Abraham Lincoln'. Well, Lincoln now had the faith of his people with him.

What was the secret of his success in the most adverse circumstances?

`Mr. Lincoln managed his politics upon a plan entirely dif-

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), letter to James C. Conkling, August 26, 1863, page 495

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

ferent from any other man the country has ever produced. It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and the great forces which were producing logical results.'1 'He sought to control men through their reason and their con­science. The only art he employed was that of presenting his views so convincingly as to force conviction on the minds of his hearers and his readers.'2

Around the same time, news from General Rosecrans was grim. General Rosecrans' army was holed up at Chattanooga with the enemy surrounding them and could hold out for around ten days only and urgently needed reinforcements. Stanton called an emergency war council and arranged to send 30,000 troops from Virginia by rail. Lincoln put General Grant in charge of the new operations of pushing the confederates out of Tennessee and back into Georgia.

Lincoln had been mulling over a very important issue — it was time to address the public again, this time to explain the im­plication of the massive war that the Americans had been thrust into. The erroneous demands of the public after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg to restore the union and opt for peace negotiations still troubled Lincoln. He needed to make a public statement explaining the necessity of the continuation of war and the sacrifices demanded by it. The opportunity presented itself soon; he was asked to speak a few words at a ceremony on 19 November 1863, to dedicate a cemetery for soldiers who died at Gettysburg. He brooded over it, and without consulting any member of his cabinet, penned his speech in the silence of his thoughts.

  1. Herndon's Informants, edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney 0. Davis, pp. 164-65
  2. James G. Blaine: Twenty Years of Congressman from Lincoln to Garfield, Volume I, p. 548
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

He was not the primary speaker; Edward Everett1 spoke before him for over two hours. When it was Lincoln's turn to speak, he climbed the dais and in 272 words, that lasted a little over two minutes, he gave a speech that touched the hearts of millions and electrified the entire nation. He did not use the word Gettysburg, or slavery, or mention the enemy; he spoke only of liberty, of devotion to it, a new birth of freedom and the immortality of democracy:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task

1. Edward Everett was an American politician, pastor, educator, and diplomat from Massachusetts, known especially for his oratory skills. Everett, impressed by the crisp speech Lincoln gave, complimented him, 'I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes'.

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."1

It was not his brief words so much as his sincere and indomi­table spirit with which he connected with his people. The news­papers were abound with appreciation. Of course, there were his detractors who criticized every word and every sentiment in it. Apart from calling it 'silly, flat and dishwatery', they accused him of perverting history. However, their protest was a weak and vain effort to prevent the widening of the objective of the on­going war; now the nation would fight for the preservation of the union as well as for equality.

Maj. General Grant along with Sherman and Thomas now launched an offensive to capture the high ground surrounding Chattanooga where the confederate divisions were stationed. After defeating them in a series of maneuvers at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, they pushed the confeder­ates into Georgia, thereby facilitating the invasion of the Deep South. The tides had turned; the Republican victory in the fall state elections added to the elation of battles going well for the Union; he now had people's support behind him.

Quarantined due to a mild case of small pox, Lincoln had time to take stock of the union's situation. On the operations of the war depended the complete support of all factions of his party and the prospects of his reelection in the presidential elec­tions in 1864. Foreign matters were also showing positive re­sults; two iron clad war ships being built for the confederacy by Lairds, a shipbuilding company, had been seized by the British

1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1859-1865), Address delivered at Gettysburg, Penn, November 19th 1863, p. 536

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

government before it could be handed over to the confederate agent; Russian Czar Alexander I had sent his fleet of war ships to the Atlantic and Pacific harbours which gave the impression to the public that the union had the support of the Russians in case Britain and France decided to support the confederacy in the war.

Let's Talk About Reconstruction

His public letters had greatly mustered public sentiment behind his administration and the fall state elections had maintained re­publican majority like the previous year. To secure the repub­lican majority in the December assembly of the 38th Congress, Lincoln made every possible effort to get Frank Blair, brother of Postmaster Montgomery Blair as Speaker of the House. He was a conservative republican and had powerful connections with war democrats; this Lincoln felt would provide the Congress a Centrist control. Unfortunately it did not work out. He then opted for Washburne, an old friend, but when that also didn't work out, he resigned to Colfax from whom he obtained an as­surance that he would remain neutral in the forthcoming argu­ments between the radicals and conservatives in the Congress.

With the victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg and the road open for invasion of the Deep South, it was a matter of time before the Confederates conceded defeat. Therefore, Lincoln knew that the arguments in Congress would be centered on the issues of restoration of the confederate states into the union and different factions would present their blueprint for the same.

The Democrats had already been demanding that the war should be called off, Southern states be pardoned, their place in Congress be restored by welcoming their representatives to Washington.

The conservative republicans were asking for no other

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

condition but the emancipation of slaves for the restoration of the Southern states into the union. They further believed that freed blacks ought to be colonized.

The radical republicans further added equality to their for­mula for restoration, along with substantial modifications in the social and economic life of the Southerners. The Southern states were to be treated as a defeated state, to be put under jurisdiction of the Congress. Charles Sumner demanded that slavery ought to be abolished in the entire region, all Southern citizens, in­cluding blacks, were to be provided equal protection by law and `as a restraint upon the lawless vindictiveness and inhumanity of the Rebel States', the Southern lands should be divided among `patriotic soldiers, poor whites and freed men'1.

Lincoln remained neutral in the face of these disagreements between different factions. Instead, after consulting his cabinet members, he began drafting his annual message to Congress along with a plan for the reconstruction of Southern states, steering clear of either of the extreme postures demanded by the various factions of the republicans.

In his announcement of the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which was attached to his message, he offered full pardon with restoration of all rights to property (not in­cluding slaves) to all rebels but for high ranking confederate of­ficials, on the condition that they take an oath of future loyalty to the Constitution and promise to obey acts of Congress and proclamations issued by the President with regard to slavery. To encourage the political reorganization of Southern states, he further stated that their reestablished governments would be accorded recognition provided it was endorsed by a minimum of 10 percent of their 1860 voters who had taken the oath of allegiance.

He justified his proclamation on several grounds. The oath was necessary to separate the 'loyal from the disloyal elements

1. Our Domestic Relations: or, How to Treat the Rebel States. By Hon. Charles Sumner

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

in the South'1. He was aware of another grave possibility — the South might decide to return to the fold asserting that they had never been out of the union; and congressmen with the same ideologies as before might provoke the nation into yet another war. The need to swear loyalty to proclamations and legislations regarding slavery was necessary to arrest any such endeavours to reinstate slavery. He made it amply clear that while he was president, he would not withdraw or modify the emancipation proclamation nor return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation. Knowing that there would be various systems of reconstruction put forth by loyalists, towards the end he declares that 'while the mode presented is the best the Executive can suggest, with his present impressions, it must not be understood that no other possible mode would be acceptable'2.

He reasserts his earlier message to the people on the danger of aborting the war before it reached its logical conclusion:

"...We must not lose sight of the fact that the war power is still our main reliance. To that power alone can we look, yet for a time, to give confidence to the people in the con­tested regions, that the insurgent power will not again overrun them..."3

This message and proclamation were supreme examples of Lincoln's skillfulness at meeting every faction's needs to some reasonable extent. Radicals happily found in it their demand for the liberation of slaves in no uncertain terms. Conservative re­publicans were satisfied by the clause that permitted the return of the Southern states back into the union.

Because the proclamation stated that he would 'abide by and faithfully support all proclamations of the President made during the

  1. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, page 472
  2. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1858-1865), Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, December 8, 1863, page 555
  3. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1858-1865), Annual Message to Congress, December 8, 1863, page 538
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

existing rebellion having reference to slaves, so long and so far as not modified or declared void by decision of the Supreme Court'1, War Democrats and others who doubted the legality of the eman­cipation proclamation were willing to support the amnesty and reconstruction proclamation.

Peace Democrats, unhappy to see in this proclamation the cleverness with which Lincoln had satisfied both factions of the Republican Party grudgingly admitted that it was 'a creditable specimen of political dexterity'. Finding his terms for amnesty severe, Peace Democrats denounced him as being 'insane with fanaticism, or a traitor who glories in this country's shame' .2 But by and large his message to the Congress was received exceedingly well. Though enthusiastic appreciation came in from all quarters of the union, lauding him for a highly satisfactory message, per­haps the best words of praise came from one of his critics, Joseph Medill, who, stating the need for a leader with 'a clear head, an honest mind and clean hands', asked in his Chicago tribune, 'Who is so fit to carry on what is begun as he who has so well conducted us... thus far?''3 On the forthcoming presidential elections he stated in no uncertain terms that the nation's confidence was growing only towards one candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

Though Lincoln's efforts to eradicate slavery through the emancipation Proclamation had already begun, it did not free the slaves in the Border States or in land under federal control. He also knew that it was still to be reviewed by the Supreme Court and chances were that Chief Justice Taney (responsible for the hated Dred Scott decision), in whose opinion the emancipation proclamation was unconstitutional, would in all likelihood over­turn it. His amnesty and reconstruction proclamation was also an effort to encourage Southern states to abolish slavery and peacefully rejoin the union. Congressmen debated on the issue and came to the conclusion that the only way to make abolition

  1. Lincoln: Speeches and Writings (1858-1865), Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, December 8, 1863, page 555
  2. Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald, p. 473
  3. Ibid., p. 474
The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

of slavery utterly complete and irreversible was through a con­stitutional amendment. In December 1863, James M. Ashley, a Radical Republican, introduced a bill for such an amendment in Congress.


Mrs Abraham Lincoln some-  time during 1860-1865
Mrs Abraham Lincoln some-  time during 1860-1865

The Story of Abraham Lincoln - Chapter III

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