On July 30, McClellan received a preliminary order to send away his sick, and the withdrawal of his entire force was ordered by telegraph on August 3. With the obstinacy and persistence that characterized his course from first to last, McClellan still protested against the change, and when Halleck in a calm letter answered his objections with both the advantages and the necessity of the order, McClellan's movement of withdrawal was so delayed that fully eleven days of inestimable time were unnecessarily lost, and the army of Pope was thereby put in serious peril.
Meanwhile, under President Lincoln's order of June 26, General Pope had left the West, and about the first of July reached Washington, where for two weeks, in consultation with the President and the Secretary of War, he studied the military situation, and on July 14 assumed command of the Army of Virginia, consisting of the corps of General Fremont, eleven thousand five hundred strong, and that of General Banks, eight thousand strong, in the Shenandoah valley, and the corps of General McDowell, eighteen thousand five hundred strong, with one division at Manassas and the other at Fredericksburg. It is unnecessary to relate in detail the campaign which followed. Pope intelligently and faithfully performed the task imposed on him to concentrate his forces and hold in check the advance of the enemy, which began as soon as the Confederates learned of the evacuation of Harrison's Landing.
When the Army of the Potomac was ordered to be withdrawn it was clearly enough seen that the movement might put the Army of Virginia in jeopardy; but it was hoped that if the transfer to Acquia Creek and Alexandria were made as promptly as the order contemplated, the two armies would be united before the enemy could reach them. McClellan, however, continued day after day to protest against the change, and made his preparations and embarkation with such exasperating slowness as showed that he still hoped to induce the government to change its plans.
Pope, despite the fact that he had managed his retreat with skill and bravery, was attacked by Lee's army, and fought the second battle of Bull Run on August 30, under the disadvantage of having one of McClellan's divisions entirely absent and the other failing to respond to his order to advance to the attack on the first day. McClellan had reached Alexandria on August 24; and notwithstanding telegram after telegram from Halleck, ordering him to push Franklin's division out to Pope's support, excuse and delay seemed to be his only response, ending at last in his direct suggestion that Franklin's division be kept to defend Washington, and Pope be left to "get out of his scrape" as best he might.
McClellan's conduct and language had awakened the indignation of the whole cabinet, roused Stanton to fury, and greatly outraged the feelings of President Lincoln. But even under such irritation the President was, as ever, the very incarnation of cool, dispassionate judgment, allowing nothing but the daily and hourly logic of facts to influence his suggestions or decision. In these moments of crisis and danger he felt more keenly than ever the awful responsibilities of rulership, and that the fate of the nation hung upon his words and acts from hour to hour.
His official counselors, equally patriotic and sincere, were not his equals in calmness of temper. On Friday, August 29, Stanton went to Chase, and after an excited conference drew up a memorandum of protest, to be signed by the members of the cabinet, which drew a gloomy picture of present and apprehended dangers, and recommended the immediate removal of McClellan from command. Chase and Stanton signed the paper, as also did Bates, whom they immediately consulted, and somewhat later Smith added his signature. But when they presented it to Welles, he firmly refused, stating that though he concurred with them in judgment, it would be discourteous and unfriendly to the President to adopt such a course. They did not go to Seward and Blair, apparently believing them to be friendly to McClellan, and therefore probably unwilling to give their assent. The refusal of Mr. Welles to sign had evidently caused a more serious discussion among them about the form and language of the protest; for on Monday, September 1, it was entirely rewritten by Bates, cut down to less than half its original length as drafted by Stanton, and once more signed by the same four members of the cabinet.
Presented for the second time to Mr. Welles, he reiterated his objection, and again refused his signature. Though in the new form it bore the signatures of a majority of the cabinet, the paper was never presented to Mr. Lincoln. The signers may have adopted the feeling of Mr. Welles that it was discourteous; or they may have thought that with only four members of the cabinet for it and three against it, it would be ineffectual; or, more likely than either, the mere progress of events may have brought them to consider it inexpedient.
The defeat of Pope became final and conclusive on the afternoon of August 30, and his telegram announcing it conveyed an intimation that he had lost control of his army. President Lincoln had, therefore, to confront a most serious crisis and danger. Even without having seen the written and signed protest, he was well aware of the feelings of the cabinet against McClellan. With what began to look like a serious conspiracy among McClellan's officers against Pope, with Pope's army in a disorganized retreat upon Washington, with the capital in possible danger of capture by Lee, and with a distracted and half-mutinous cabinet, the President had need of all his caution and all his wisdom. Both his patience and his judgment proved equal to the demand.
On Monday, September 1, repressing every feeling of indignation, and solicitous only to make every expedient contribute to the public safety, he called McClellan from Alexandria to Washington and asked him to use his personal influence with the officers who had been under his command to give a hearty and loyal support to Pope as a personal favor to their former general, and McClellan at once sent a telegram in this spirit.
That afternoon, also, Mr. Lincoln despatched a member of General Halleck's staff to the Virginia side of the Potomac, who reported the disorganization and discouragement among the retreating troops as even more than had been expected. Worse than all, Halleck, the general-in-chief, who was much worn out by the labors of the past few days, seemed either unable or unwilling to act with prompt direction and command equal to the emergency, though still willing to give his advice and suggestion.
Under such conditions, Mr. Lincoln saw that it was necessary for him personally to exercise at the moment his military functions and authority as commander-in-chief of the army and navy. On the morning of September 2, therefore, he gave a verbal order, which during the day was issued in regular form as coming from the general-in-chief, that Major-General McClellan be placed in command of the fortifications around Washington and the troops for the defense of the capital. Mr. Lincoln made no concealment of his belief that McClellan had acted badly toward Pope and really wanted him to fail; "but there is no one in the army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he can," he said. "We must use the tools we have; if he cannot fight himself, he excels in making others ready to fight."
It turned out that the second battle of Bull Run had by no means so seriously disorganized the Union army as was reported, and that Washington had been exposed to no real danger. The Confederate army hovered on its front for a day or two, but made neither attack nor demonstration. Instead of this, Lee entered upon a campaign into Maryland, hoping that his presence might stimulate a secession revolt in that State, and possibly create the opportunity successfully to attack Baltimore or Philadelphia.
Pope having been relieved and sent to another department, McClellan soon restored order among the troops, and displayed unwonted energy and vigilance in watching the movements of the enemy, as Lee gradually moved his forces northwestward toward Leesburg, thirty miles from Washington, where he crossed the Potomac and took position at Frederick, ten miles farther away. McClellan gradually followed the movement of the enemy, keeping the Army of the Potomac constantly in a position to protect both Washington and Baltimore against an attack. In this way it happened that without any order or express intention on the part of either the general or the President, McClellan's duty became imperceptibly changed from that of merely defending Washington city to that of an active campaign into Maryland to follow the Confederate army.
This movement into Maryland was begun by both armies about September 4. On the thirteenth of that month McClellan had reached Frederick, while Lee was by that time across the Catoctin range at Boonsboro', but his army was divided. He had sent a large part of it back across the Potomac to capture Harper's Ferry and Martinsburg. On that day there fell into McClellan's hands the copy of an order issued by General Lee three days before, which, as McClellan himself states in his report, fully disclosed Lee's plans. The situation was therefore, as follows: It was splendid September weather, with the roads in fine condition. McClellan commanded a total moving force of more than eighty thousand; Lee, a total moving force of forty thousand. The Confederate army was divided. Each of the separate portions was within twenty miles of the Union columns; and before half-past six on the evening of September 13, McClellan had full knowledge of the enemy's plans.
General Palfrey, an intelligent critic friendly to McClellan, distinctly admits that the Union army, properly commanded, could have absolutely annihilated the Confederate forces. But the result proved quite different. Even such advantages in McClellan's hands failed to rouse him to vigorous and decisive action. As usual, hesitation and tardiness characterized the orders and movements of the Union forces, and during the four days succeeding, Lee had captured Harper's Ferry with eleven thousand prisoners and seventy-three pieces of artillery, reunited his army, and fought the defensive battle of Antietam on September 17, with almost every Confederate soldier engaged, while one third of McClellan's army was not engaged at all and the remainder went into action piecemeal and successively, under such orders that cooeperative movement and mutual support were practically impossible. Substantially, it was a drawn battle, with appalling slaughter on both sides.
Even after such a loss of opportunity, there still remained a precious balance of advantage in McClellan's hands. Because of its smaller total numbers, the Confederate army was disproportionately weakened by the losses in battle. The Potomac River was almost immediately behind it, and had McClellan renewed his attack on the morning of the eighteenth, as several of his best officers advised, a decisive victory was yet within his grasp. But with his usual hesitation, notwithstanding the arrival of two divisions of reinforcements, he waited all day to make up his mind. He indeed gave orders to renew the attack at daylight on the nineteenth, but before that time the enemy had retreated across the Potomac, and McClellan telegraphed, apparently with great satisfaction, that Maryland was free and Pennsylvania safe.
The President watched the progress of this campaign with an eagerness born of the lively hope that it might end the war. He sent several telegrams to the startled Pennsylvania authorities to assure them that Philadelphia and Harrisburg were in no danger. He ordered a reinforcement of twenty-one thousand to join McClellan. He sent a prompting telegram to that general: "Please do not let him [the enemy] get off without being hurt." He recognized the battle of Antietam as a substantial, if not a complete victory, and seized the opportunity it afforded him to issue his preliminary proclamation of emancipation on September 22.
For two weeks after the battle of Antietam, General McClellan kept his army camped on various parts of the field, and so far from exhibiting any disposition of advancing against the enemy in the Shenandoah valley, showed constant apprehension lest the enemy might come and attack him. On October 1, the President and several friends made a visit to Antietam, and during the three succeeding days reviewed the troops and went over the various battle-grounds in company with the general. The better insight which the President thus received of the nature and results of the late battle served only to deepen in his mind the conviction he had long entertained—how greatly McClellan's defects overbalanced his merits as a military leader; and his impatience found vent in a phrase of biting irony. In a morning walk with a friend, waving his arm toward the white tents of the great army, he asked: "Do you know what that is?" The friend, not catching the drift of his thought, said, "It is the Army of the Potomac, I suppose." "So it is called," responded the President, in a tone of suppressed indignation, "But that is a mistake. It is only McClellan's body-guard."
At that time General McClellan commanded a total force of one hundred thousand men present for duty under his immediate eye, and seventy-three thousand present for duty under General Banks about Washington. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that on October 6, the second day after Mr. Lincoln's return to Washington, the following telegram went to the general from Halleck:
"I am instructed to telegraph you as follows: The President directs that you cross the Potomac and give battle to the enemy, or drive him south. Your army must move now while the roads are good. If you cross the river between the enemy and Washington, and cover the latter by your operation, you can be reinforced with thirty thousand men. If you move up the valley of the Shenandoah, not more than twelve thousand or fifteen thousand can be sent to you. The President advises the interior line, between Washington and the enemy, but does not order it. He is very desirous that your army move as soon as possible. You will immediately report what line you adopt, and when you intend to cross the river; also to what point the reinforcements are to be sent. It is necessary that the plan of your operations be positively determined on before orders are given for building bridges and repairing railroads. I am directed to add that the Secretary of War and the general-in-chief fully concur with the President in these instructions."
This express order was reinforced by a long letter from the President, dated October 13, specifically pointing out the decided advantages McClellan possessed over the enemy, and suggesting a plan of campaign even to details, the importance and value of which was self-evident.
"You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you cannot do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?... Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twenty-four hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania, but if he does so in full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow and ruin him. If he does so with less than full force, fall upon and beat what is left behind all the easier. Exclusive of the water-line, you are now nearer Richmond than the enemy is by the route that you can and he must take. Why can you not reach there before him, unless you admit that he is more than your equal on a march? His route is the arc of a circle, while yours is the chord. The roads are as good on yours as on his. You know I desired, but did not order, you to cross the Potomac below instead of above the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge. My idea was that this would at once menace the enemy's communications, which I would seize, if he would permit. If he should move northward I would follow him closely, holding his communications. If he should prevent our seizing his communications and move toward Richmond, I would press closely to him, fight him, if a favorable opportunity should present, and at least try to beat him to Richmond on the inside track. I say 'try'; if we never try we shall never succeed. If he makes a stand at Winchester, moving neither north nor south, I would fight him there, on the idea that if we cannot beat him when he bears the wastage of coming to us, we never can when we bear the wastage of going to him."
But advice, expostulation, argument, orders, were all wasted, now as before, on the unwilling, hesitating general. When he had frittered away another full month in preparation, in slowly crossing the Potomac, and in moving east of the Blue Ridge and massing his army about Warrenton, a short distance south of the battle-field of Bull Run, without a vigorous offensive, or any discernible intention to make one, the President's patience was finally exhausted, and on November 5 he sent him an order removing him from command. And so ended General McClellan's military career.
Cameron's Report—Lincoln's Letter to Bancroft—Annual Message on Slavery—The Delaware Experiment—Joint Resolution on Compensated Abolishment—First Border State Interview—Stevens's Comment—District of Columbia Abolishment—Committee on Abolishment—Hunter's Order Revoked—Antislavery Measures of Congress—Second Border State Interview—Emancipation Proposed and Postponed
The relation of the war to the institution of slavery has been touched upon in describing several incidents which occurred during 1861, namely, the designation of fugitive slaves as "contraband," the Crittenden resolution and the confiscation act of the special session of Congress, the issuing and revocation of Fremont's proclamation, and various orders relating to contrabands in Union camps. The already mentioned resignation of Secretary Cameron had also grown out of a similar question. In the form in which it was first printed, his report as Secretary of War to the annual session of Congress which met on December 3, 1861, announced:
"If it shall be found that the men who have been held by the rebels as slaves are capable of bearing arms and performing efficient military service, it is the right, and may become the duty, of the government to arm and equip them, and employ their services against the rebels, under proper military regulation, discipline, and command."
The President was not prepared to permit a member of his cabinet, without his consent, to commit the administration to so radical a policy at that early date. He caused the advance copies of the document to be recalled and modified to the simple declaration that fugitive and abandoned slaves, being clearly an important military resource, should not be returned to rebel masters, but withheld from the enemy to be disposed of in future as Congress might deem best. Mr. Lincoln saw clearly enough what a serious political role the slavery question was likely to play during the continuance of the war. Replying to a letter from the Hon. George Bancroft, in which that accomplished historian predicted that posterity would not be satisfied with the results of the war unless it should effect an increase of the free States, the President wrote:
"The main thought in the closing paragraph of your letter is one which does not escape my attention, and with which I must deal in all due caution, and with the best judgment I can bring to it."
This caution was abundantly manifested in his annual message to Congress of December 3, 1861:
"In considering the policy to be adopted for suppressing the insurrection," he wrote, "I have been anxious and careful that the inevitable conflict for this purpose shall not degenerate into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle. I have, therefore, in every case, thought it proper to keep the integrity of the Union prominent as the primary object of the contest on our part, leaving all questions which are not of vital military importance to the more deliberate action of the legislature.... The Union must be preserved; and hence all indispensable means must be employed. We should not be in haste to determine that radical and extreme measures, which may reach the loyal as well as the disloyal, are indispensable."
The most conservative opinion could not take alarm at phraseology so guarded and at the same time so decided; and yet it proved broad enough to include every great exigency which the conflict still had in store.
Mr. Lincoln had indeed already maturely considered and in his own mind adopted a plan of dealing with the slavery question: the simple plan which, while a member of Congress, he had proposed for adoption in the District of Columbia—the plan of voluntary compensated abolishment. At that time local and national prejudice stood in the way of its practicability; but to his logical and reasonable mind it seemed now that the new conditions opened for it a prospect at least of initial success.
In the late presidential election the little State of Delaware had, by a fusion between the Bell and the Lincoln vote, chosen a Union member of Congress, who identified himself in thought and action with the new administration. While Delaware was a slave State, only the merest remnant of the institution existed there—seventeen hundred and ninety-eight slaves all told. Without any public announcement of his purpose, the President now proposed to the political leaders of Delaware, through their representative, a scheme for the gradual emancipation of these seventeen hundred and ninety-eight slaves, on the payment therefore by the United States at the rate of four hundred dollars per slave, in annual instalments during thirty-one years to that State, the sum to be distributed by it to the individual owners. The President believed that if Delaware could be induced to take this step, Maryland might follow, and that these examples would create a sentiment that would lead other States into the same easy and beneficent path. But the ancient prejudice still had its relentless grip upon some of the Delaware law-makers. A majority of the Delaware House indeed voted to entertain the scheme. But five of the nine members of the Delaware Senate, with hot partizan anathemas, scornfully repelled the "abolition bribe," as they called it, and the project withered in the bud.
Mr. Lincoln did not stop at the failure of his Delaware experiment, but at once took an appeal to a broader section of public opinion. On March 6, 1862, he sent a special message to the two houses of Congress recommending the adoption of the following joint resolution:
"Resolved, that the United States ought to cooeperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State, in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system."
"The point is not," said his explanatory message, "that all the States tolerating slavery would very soon, if at all, initiate emancipation; but that while the offer is equally made to all, the more northern shall, by such initiation, make it certain to the more southern that in no event will the former ever join the latter in their proposed Confederacy. I say 'initiation' because, in my judgment, gradual, and not sudden, emancipation is better for all.... Such a proposition on the part of the general government sets up no claim of a right by Federal authority to interfere with slavery within State limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the subject in each case to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them. In the annual message last December I thought fit to say, 'The Union must be preserved; and hence, all indispensable means must be employed.' I said this, not hastily, but deliberately. War has been made, and continues to be, an indispensable means to this end. A practical reacknowledgment of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it. Such as may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great efficiency toward ending the struggle, must and will come."
The Republican journals of the North devoted considerable discussion to the President's message and plan, which, in the main, were very favorably received. Objection was made, however, in some quarters that the proposition would be likely to fail on the score of expense, and this objection the President conclusively answered in a private letter to a senator.
"As to the expensiveness of the plan of gradual emancipation, with compensation, proposed in the late message, please allow me one or two brief suggestions. Less than one half-day's cost of this war would pay for all the slaves in Delaware at four hundred dollars per head.... Again, less than eighty-seven days' cost of this war would, at the same price, pay for all in Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Kentucky and Missouri.... Do you doubt that taking the initiatory steps on the part of those States and this District would shorten the war more than eighty-seven days, and thus be an actual saving of expense?"
Four days after transmitting the message the President called together the delegations in Congress from the border slave States, and in a long and earnest personal interview, in which he repeated and enforced the arguments of his message, urged upon them the expediency of adopting his plan, which he assured them he had proposed in the most friendly spirit, and with no intent to injure the interests or wound the sensibilities of the slave States. On the day following this interview the House of Representatives adopted the joint resolution by more than a two-thirds vote; ayes eighty-nine, nays thirty-one. Only a very few of the border State members had the courage to vote in the affirmative. The Senate also passed the joint resolution, by about a similar party division, not quite a month later; the delay occurring through press of business rather than unwillingness.
As yet, however, the scheme was tolerated rather than heartily indorsed by the more radical elements in Congress. Stevens, the cynical Republican leader of the House of Representatives, said:
"I confess I have not been able to see what makes one side so anxious to pass it, or the other side so anxious to defeat it. I think it is about the most diluted milk-and-water-gruel proposition that was ever given to the American nation."
But the bulk of the Republicans, though it proposed no immediate practical legislation, nevertheless voted for it, as a declaration of purpose in harmony with a pending measure, and as being, on the one hand, a tribute to antislavery opinion in the North, and, on the other, an expression of liberality toward the border States. The concurrent measure of practical legislation was a bill for the immediate emancipation of the slaves in the District of Columbia, on the payment to their loyal owners of an average sum of three hundred dollars for each slave, and for the appointment of a commission to assess and award the amount. The bill was introduced early in the session, and its discussion was much stimulated by the President's special message and joint resolution. Like other antislavery measures, it was opposed by the Democrats and supported by the Republicans, with but trifling exceptions; and by the same majority of two thirds was passed by the Senate on April 3, and the House on April 11, and became a law by the President's signature on April 16.
The Republican majority in Congress as well as the President was thus pledged to the policy of compensated abolishment, both by the promise of the joint resolution and the fulfilment carried out in the District bill. If the representatives and senators of the border slave States had shown a willingness to accept the generosity of the government, they could have avoided the pecuniary sacrifice which overtook the slave owners in those States not quite three years later. On April 14, in the House of Representatives, the subject was taken up by Mr. White of Indiana, at whose instance a select committee on emancipation, consisting of nine members, a majority of whom were from border slave States, was appointed; and this committee on July 16 reported a comprehensive bill authorizing the President to give compensation at the rate of three hundred dollars for each slave to any one of the States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, that might adopt immediate or gradual emancipation. Some subsequent proceedings on this subject occurred in Congress in the case of Missouri; but as to the other States named in the bill, either the neglect or open opposition of their people and representatives and senators prevented any further action from the committee.
Meanwhile a new incident once more brought the question of military emancipation into sharp public discussion. On May 9, General David Hunter, commanding the Department of the South, which consisted mainly of some sixty or seventy miles of the South Carolina coast between North Edisto River and Warsaw Sound, embracing the famous Sea Island cotton region which fell into Union hands by the capture of Port Royal in 1861, issued a military order which declared:
"Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States—Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina—heretofore held as slaves are therefore declared forever free."
The news of this order, coming by the slow course of ocean mails, greatly surprised Mr. Lincoln, and his first comment upon it was positive and emphatic. "No commanding general shall do such a thing, upon my responsibility, without consulting me," he wrote to Secretary Chase. Three days later, May 19, 1862, he published a proclamation declaring Hunter's order entirely unauthorized and void, and adding:
"I further make known that whether it be competent for me, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, to declare the slaves of any State or States free, and whether, at any time, in any case, it shall have become a necessity indispensable to the maintenance of the government to exercise such supposed power, are questions which, under my responsibility, I reserve to myself, and which I cannot feel justified in leaving to the decision of commanders in the field. These are totally different questions from those of police regulations in armies and camps."
This distinct reservation of executive power, and equally plain announcement of the contingency which would justify its exercise, was coupled with a renewed recital of his plan and offer of compensated abolishment and reinforced by a powerful appeal to the public opinion of the border slave States.
"I do not argue," continued the proclamation, "I beseech you to make the arguments for yourselves. You cannot, if you would, be blind to the signs of the times. I beg of you a calm and enlarged consideration of them, ranging, if it may be, far above personal and partizan politics. This proposal makes common cause for a common object, casting no reproaches upon any. It acts not the Pharisee. The change it contemplates would come gently as the dews of heaven, not rending or wrecking anything. Will you not embrace it? So much good has not been done, by one effort, in all past time, as in the providence of God it is now your high privilege to do. May the vast future not have to lament that you have neglected it."
This proclamation of President Lincoln's naturally created considerable and very diverse comment, but much less than would have occurred had not military events intervened which served in a great degree to absorb public attention. At the date of the proclamation McClellan, with the Army of the Potomac, was just reaching the Chickahominy in his campaign toward Richmond; Stonewall Jackson was about beginning his startling raid into the Shenandoah valley; and Halleck was pursuing his somewhat leisurely campaign against Corinth. On the day following the proclamation the victorious fleet of Farragut reached Vicksburg in its first ascent of the Mississippi. Congress was busy with the multifarious work that crowded the closing weeks of the long session; and among this congressional work the debates and proceedings upon several measures of positive and immediate antislavery legislation were significant "signs of the times." During the session, and before it ended, acts or amendments were passed prohibiting the army from returning fugitive slaves; recognizing the independence and sovereignty of Haiti and Liberia; providing for carrying into effect the treaty with England to suppress the African slave trade; restoring the Missouri Compromise and extending its provisions to all United States Territories; greatly increasing the scope of the confiscation act in freeing slaves actually employed in hostile military service; and giving the President authority, if not in express terms, at least by easy implication, to organize and arm negro regiments for the war.
But between the President's proclamation and the adjournment of Congress military affairs underwent a most discouraging change. McClellan's advance upon Richmond became a retreat to Harrison's Landing Halleck captured nothing but empty forts at Corinth. Farragut found no cooeperation at Vicksburg, and returned to New Orleans, leaving its hostile guns still barring the commerce of the great river. Still worse, the country was plunged into gloomy forebodings by the President's call for three hundred thousand new troops.
About a week before the adjournment of Congress the President again called together the delegations from the border slave States, and read to them, in a carefully prepared paper, a second and most urgent appeal to adopt his plan of compensated abolishment.
"Let the States which are in rebellion see definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you represent ever join their proposed confederacy, and they cannot much longer maintain the contest. But you cannot divest them of their hope to ultimately have you with them so long as you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within your own States. Beat them at elections, as you have overwhelmingly done, and, nothing daunted, they still claim you as their own. You and I know what the lever of their power is. Break that lever before their faces, and they can shake you no more forever.... If the war continues long, as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion—by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. 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. How much better to thus save the money which else we sink forever in the war.... Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views and boldest action to bring it speedy relief. Once relieved, its form of government is saved to the world, its beloved history and cherished memories are vindicated, and its happy future fully assured and rendered inconceivably grand. To you, more than to any others, the privilege is given to assure that happiness and swell that grandeur, and to link your own names therewith forever."
Even while the delegations listened, Mr. Lincoln could see that events had not yet ripened their minds to the acceptance of his proposition. In their written replies, submitted a few days afterward, two thirds of them united in a qualified refusal, which, while recognizing the President's patriotism and reiterating their own loyalty, urged a number of rather unsubstantial excuses. The minority replies promised to submit the proposal fairly to the people of their States, but could of course give no assurance that it would be welcomed by their constituents. The interview itself only served to confirm the President in an alternative course of action upon which his mind had doubtless dwelt for a considerable time with intense solicitude, and which is best presented in the words of his own recital.
"It had got to be," said he, in a conversation with the artist F.B. Carpenter, "midsummer, 1862. Things had gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics, or lose the game. I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy; and, without consultation with, or the knowledge of, the cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the proclamation, and after much anxious thought called a cabinet meeting upon the subject.... All were present excepting Mr. Blair, the Postmaster-General, who was absent at the opening of the discussion, but came in subsequently. I said to the cabinet that I had resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask their advice, but to lay the subject-matter of a proclamation before them, suggestions as to which would be in order after they had heard it read."
It was on July 22 that the President read to his cabinet the draft of this first emancipation proclamation, which, after a formal warning against continuing the rebellion, was in the following words:
"And I hereby make known that it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress, to again recommend the adoption of a practical measure for tendering pecuniary aid to the free choice or rejection of any and all States which may then be recognizing and practically sustaining the authority of the United States, and which may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may voluntarily adopt, gradual abolishment of slavery within such State or States; that the object is to practically restore, thenceforward to be maintained, the constitutional relation between the general government and each and all the States wherein that relation is now suspended or disturbed; and that for this object the war, as it has been, will be prosecuted. And as a fit and necessary military measure for effecting this object, I, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, do order and declare that on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or States wherein the constitutional authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized, submitted to, and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever be free."
Mr. Lincoln had given a confidential intimation of this step to Mr. Seward and Mr. Welles on the day following the border State interview, but to all the other members of the cabinet it came as a complete surprise. Blair thought it would cost the administration the fall elections. Chase preferred that emancipation should be proclaimed by commanders in the several military districts. Seward, approving the measure, suggested that it be postponed until it could be given to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case then, upon the greatest disasters of the war. Mr. Lincoln's recital continues:
"The wisdom of the view of the Secretary of State struck me with very great force. It was an aspect of the case that, in all my thought upon the subject, I had entirely overlooked. The result was that I put the draft of the proclamation aside, as you do your sketch for a picture, waiting for a victory."
Criticism of the President for his Action on Slavery—Lincoln's Letters to Louisiana Friends—Greeley's Open Letter—Mr. Lincoln's Reply—Chicago Clergymen Urge Emancipation—Lincoln's Answer—Lincoln Issues Preliminary Proclamation—President Proposes Constitutional Amendment—Cabinet Considers Final Proclamation—Cabinet Discusses Admission of West Virginia—Lincoln Signs Edict of Freedom—Lincoln's Letter to Hodges
The secrets of the government were so well kept that no hint whatever came to the public that the President had submitted to the cabinet the draft of an emancipation proclamation. Between that date and the battle of the second Bull Run intervened the period of a full month, during which, in the absence of military movements or congressional proceedings to furnish exciting news, both private individuals and public journals turned a new and somewhat vindictive fire of criticism upon the administration. For this they seized upon the ever-ready text of the ubiquitous slavery question. Upon this issue the conservatives protested indignantly that the President had been too fast, while, contrarywise, the radicals clamored loudly that he had been altogether too slow. We have seen how his decision was unalterably taken and his course distinctly marked out, but that he was not yet ready publicly to announce it. Therefore, during this period of waiting for victory, he underwent the difficult task of restraining the impatience of both sides, which he did in very positive language. Thus, under date of July 26, 1862, he wrote to a friend in Louisiana:
"Yours of the sixteenth, by the hand of Governor Shepley, is received. It seems the Union feeling in Louisiana is being crushed out by the course of General Phelps. Please pardon me for believing that is a false pretense. The people of Louisiana—all intelligent people everywhere—know full well that I never had a wish to touch the foundations of their society, or any right of theirs. With perfect knowledge of this, they forced a necessity upon me to send armies among them, and it is their own fault, not mine, that they are annoyed by the presence of General Phelps. They also know the remedy—know how to be cured of General Phelps. Remove the necessity of his presence.... I am a patient man—always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance, and also to give ample time for repentance. Still, I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do, of course I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed."
Two days later he answered another Louisiana critic:
"Mr. Durant complains that, in various ways, the relation of master and slave is disturbed by the presence of our army, and he considers it particularly vexatious that this, in part, is done under cover of an act of Congress, while constitutional guarantees are suspended on the plea of military necessity. The truth is that what is done and omitted about slaves is done and omitted on the same military necessity. It is a military necessity to have men and money; and we can get neither in sufficient numbers or amounts if we keep from or drive from our lines slaves coming to them. Mr. Durant cannot be ignorant of the pressure in this direction, nor of my efforts to hold it within bounds till he and such as he shall have time to help themselves.... What would you do in my position? Would you drop the war where it is? Or would you prosecute it in future with elder-stalk squirts charged with rose-water? Would you deal lighter blows rather than heavier ones? Would you give up the contest, leaving any available means unapplied? I am in no boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all I can, to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination. I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing."
The President could afford to overlook the misrepresentations and invective of the professedly opposition newspapers, but he had also to meet the over-zeal of influential Republican editors of strong antislavery bias. Horace Greeley printed, in the New York "Tribune" of August 20, a long "open letter" ostentatiously addressed to Mr. Lincoln, full of unjust censure all based on the general accusation that the President and many army officers as well, were neglecting their duty under pro-slavery influences and sentiments. The open letter which Mr. Lincoln wrote in reply is remarkable not alone for the skill with which it separated the true from the false issue of the moment, but also for the equipoise and dignity with which it maintained his authority as moral arbiter between the contending factions.
"EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, August 22, 1862.
"HON. HORACE GREELEY.
"DEAR SIR: I have just read yours of the nineteenth, addressed to myself through the New York 'Tribune.' If there be in it any statements or assumptions of fact which I may know to be erroneous, I do not, now and here, controvert them. If there be in it any inferences which I may believe to be falsely drawn, I do not, now and here, argue against them. If there be perceptible in it an impatient and dictatorial tone, I waive it in deference to an old friend whose heart I have always supposed to be right.
"As to the policy I 'seem to be pursuing,' as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt.
"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be 'the Union as it was.' If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could, at the same time, destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. 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 do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. 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 everywhere could be free.
It can hardly be doubted that President Lincoln, when he wrote this letter, intended that it should have a twofold effect upon public opinion: first, that it should curb extreme antislavery sentiment to greater patience; secondly, that it should rouse dogged pro-slavery conservatism, and prepare it for the announcement which he had resolved to make at the first fitting opportunity. At the date of the letter, he very well knew that a serious conflict of arms was soon likely to occur in Virginia; and he had strong reason to hope that the junction of the armies of McClellan and Pope which had been ordered, and was then in progress, could be successfully effected, and would result in a decisive Union victory. This hope, however, was sadly disappointed. The second battle of Bull Run, which occurred one week after the Greeley letter, proved a serious defeat, and necessitated a further postponement of his contemplated action.
As a secondary effect of the new disaster, there came upon him once more an increased pressure to make reprisal upon what was assumed to be the really vulnerable side of the rebellion. On September 13, he was visited by an influential deputation from the religious denominations of Chicago, urging him to issue at once a proclamation of universal emancipation. His reply to them, made in the language of the most perfect courtesy nevertheless has in it a tone of rebuke that indicates the state of irritation and high sensitiveness under which he was living from day to day. In the actual condition of things, he could neither safely satisfy them nor deny them. As any answer he could make would be liable to misconstruction, he devoted the larger part of it to pointing out the unreasonableness of their dogmatic insistence:
"I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the divine will. I am sure that either the one or the other class is mistaken in that belief, and perhaps, in some respects, both. I hope it will not be irreverent for me to say that if it is probable that God would reveal his will to others, on a point so connected with my duty, it might be supposed he would reveal it directly to me.... What good would a proclamation of emancipation from me do, especially as we are now situated? I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the comet.... Understand, I raise no objections against it on legal or constitutional grounds, for, as commander-in-chief of the army and navy in time of war, I suppose I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South. I view this matter as a practical war measure, to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.... Do not misunderstand me because I have mentioned these objections. They indicate the difficulties that have thus far prevented my action in some such way as you desire. I have not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves, but hold the matter under advisement. And I can assure you that the subject is on my mind, by day and night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do."
Four days after this interview the battle of Antietam was fought, and when, after a few days of uncertainty it was ascertained that it could be reasonably claimed as a Union victory, the President resolved to carry out his long-matured purpose. The diary of Secretary Chase has recorded a very full report of the interesting transaction. On this ever memorable September 22, 1862, after some playful preliminary talk, Mr. Lincoln said to his cabinet:
"GENTLEMEN: I have, as you are aware, thought a great deal about the relation of this war to slavery; and you all remember that, several weeks ago, I read to you an order I had prepared on this subject, which, on account of objections made by some of you, was not issued. Ever since then my mind has been much occupied with this subject, and I have thought, all along, that the time for acting on it might probably come. I think the time has come now. I wish it was a better time. I wish that we were in a better condition. The action of the army against the rebels has not been quite what I should have best liked. But they have been driven out of Maryland, and Pennsylvania is no longer in danger of invasion. When the rebel army was at Frederick, I determined, as soon as it should be driven out of Maryland, to issue a proclamation of emancipation, such as I thought most likely to be useful. I said nothing to any one, but I made the promise to myself and [hesitating a little] to my Maker. The rebel army is now driven out, and I am going to fulfil that promise. I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter, for that I have determined for myself. This I say without intending anything but respect for any one of you. But I already know the views of each on this question. They have been heretofore expressed, and I have considered them as thoroughly and carefully as I can. What I have written is that which my reflections have determined me to say. If there is anything in the expressions I use, or in any minor matter which any one of you thinks had best be changed, I shall be glad to receive the suggestions. One other observation I will make. I know very well that many others might, in this matter as in others, do better than I can; and if I was satisfied that the public confidence was more fully possessed by any one of them than by me, and knew of any constitutional way in which he could be put in my place, he should have it. I would gladly yield it to him. But, though I believe that I have not so much of the confidence of the people as I had some time since, I do not know that, all things considered any other person has more; and, however this may be, there is no way in which I can have any other man put where I am. I am here; I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take."
The members of the cabinet all approved the policy of the measure; Mr. Blair only objecting that he thought the time inopportune, while others suggested some slight amendments. In the new form in which it was printed on the following morning, the document announced a renewal of the plan of compensated abolishment, a continuance of the effort at voluntary colonization, a promise to recommend ultimate compensation to loyal owners, and—
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom."
Pursuant to these announcements, the President's annual message of December 1, 1862, recommended to Congress the passage of a joint resolution proposing to the legislatures of the several States a constitutional amendment consisting of three articles, namely: One providing compensation in bonds for every State which should abolish slavery before the year 1900; another securing freedom to all slaves who, during the rebellion, had enjoyed actual freedom by the chances of war—also providing compensation to legal owners; the third authorizing Congress to provide for colonization. The long and practical argument in which he renewed this plan, "not in exclusion of, but additional to, all others for restoring and preserving the national authority throughout the Union," concluded with the following eloquent sentences:
"We can succeed only by concert. It is not, 'Can any of us imagine better?' but, 'Can we all do better?' Object whatsoever is possible, still the question recurs, 'Can we do better?' 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 ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
"Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We, of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. 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. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. 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."
But Mr. Lincoln was not encouraged by any response to this earnest appeal, either from Congress or by manifestations of public opinion. Indeed, it may be fairly presumed that he expected none. Perhaps he considered it already a sufficient gain that it was silently accepted as another admonition of the consequences which not he nor his administration, but the Civil War, with its relentless agencies, was rapidly bringing about. He was becoming more and more conscious of the silent influence of his official utterances on public sentiment, if not to convert obstinate opposition, at least to reconcile it to patient submission.
In that faith he steadfastly went on carrying out his well-matured plan, the next important step of which was the fulfilment of the announcements made in the preliminary emancipation proclamation of September 22. On December 30, he presented to each member of his cabinet a copy of the draft he had carefully made of the new and final proclamation to be issued on New Year's day. It will be remembered that as early as July 22, he informed the cabinet that the main question involved he had decided for himself. Now, as twice before it was only upon minor points that he asked their advice and suggestion, for which object he placed these drafts in their hands for verbal and collateral criticism.
In addition to the central point of military emancipation in all the States yet in rebellion, the President's draft for the first time announced his intention to incorporate a portion of the newly liberated slaves into the armies of the Union. This policy had also been under discussion at the first consideration of the subject in July. Mr. Lincoln had then already seriously considered it, but thought it inexpedient and productive of more evil than good at that date. In his judgment, the time had now arrived for energetically adopting it.
On the following day, December 31, the members brought back to the cabinet meeting their several criticisms and suggestions on the draft he had given them. Perhaps the most important one was that earnestly pressed by Secretary Chase, that the new proclamation should make no exceptions of fractional parts of States controlled by the Union armies, as in Louisiana and Virginia, save the forty-eight counties of the latter designated as West Virginia, then in process of formation and admission as a new State; the constitutionality of which, on this same December 31, was elaborately discussed in writing by the members of the cabinet, and affirmatively decided by the President.
On the afternoon of December 31, the cabinet meeting being over, Mr. Lincoln once more carefully rewrote the proclamation, embodying in it the suggestions which had been made as to mere verbal improvements; but he rigidly adhered to his own draft in retaining the exceptions as to fractional parts of States and the forty-eight counties of West Virginia; and also his announcement of intention to enlist the freedmen in military service. Secretary Chase had submitted the form of a closing paragraph. This the President also adopted, but added to it, after the words "warranted by the Constitution," his own important qualifying correction, "upon military necessity."
The full text of the weighty document will be found in a foot-note.
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A PROCLAMATION.
Whereas on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free; and the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof respectively shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong counter-vailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State and the people thereof are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do, publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof, respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana (except the parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terre Bonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the city of New Orleans), Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkeley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Anne, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth), and which excepted parts are for the present left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States and parts of States are, and henceforward shall be, free; and that the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
BY THE PRESIDENT: WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.]
It recited the announcement of the September proclamation; defined its character and authority as a military decree; designated the States and parts of States that day in rebellion against the government; ordered and declared that all persons held as slaves therein "are and henceforward shall be free"; and that such persons of suitable condition would be received into the military service. "And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."
The conclusion of the momentous transaction was as deliberate and simple as had been its various stages of preparation. The morning and midday of January 1, 1863, were occupied by the half-social, half-official ceremonial of the usual New Year's day reception at the Executive Mansion, established by long custom. At about three o'clock in the afternoon, after full three hours of greetings and handshakings, Mr. Lincoln and perhaps a dozen persons assembled in the executive office, and, without any prearranged ceremony the President affixed his signature to the great Edict of Freedom. No better commentary will ever be written upon this far-reaching act than that which he himself embodied in a letter written to a friend a little more than a year later:
"I am naturally antislavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot 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 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, General Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When, a little later, General Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, General Hunter attempted military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When in March and May and July, 1862, I made earnest and successive appeals to the border States to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation and arming the blacks would come unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition, and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter."
Negro Soldiers—Fort Pillow—Retaliation—Draft—Northern Democrats—Governor Seymour's Attitude—Draft Riots in New York—Vallandigham—Lincoln on his Authority to Suspend Writ of Habeas Corpus—Knights of the Golden Circle—Jacob Thompson in Canada
On the subject of negro soldiers, as on many other topics, the period of active rebellion and civil war had wrought a profound change in public opinion. From the foundation of the government to the Rebellion, the horrible nightmare of a possible slave insurrection had brooded over the entire South. This feeling naturally had a sympathetic reflection in the North, and at first produced an instinctive shrinking from any thought of placing arms in the hands of the blacks whom the chances of war had given practical or legal freedom. During the year 1862, a few sporadic efforts were made by zealous individuals, under apparently favoring conditions, to begin the formation of colored regiments. The eccentric Senator Lane tried it in Kansas, or, rather, along the Missouri border without success. General Hunter made an experiment in South Carolina, but found the freedmen too unwilling to enlist, and the white officers too prejudiced to instruct them. General Butler, at New Orleans, infused his wonted energy into a similar attempt, with somewhat better results. He found that before the capture of the city, Governor Moore of Louisiana had begun the organization of a regiment of free colored men for local defense. Butler resuscitated this organization for which he thus had the advantage of Confederate example and precedent, and against which the accusation of arming slaves could not be urged. Early in September, Butler reported, with his usual biting sarcasm:
"I shall also have within ten days a regiment, one thousand strong, of native guards (colored), the darkest of whom will be about the complexion of the late Mr. Webster."
All these efforts were made under implied, rather than expressed provisions of law, and encountered more or less embarrassment in obtaining pay and supplies, because they were not distinctly recognized in the army regulations. This could not well be done so long as the President considered the policy premature. His spirit of caution in this regard was set forth by the Secretary of War in a letter of instruction dated July 3, 1862:
"He is of opinion," wrote Mr. Stanton, "that under the laws of Congress, they [the former slaves] cannot be sent back to their masters; that in common humanity they must not be permitted to suffer for want of food, shelter, or other necessaries of life; that to this end they should be provided for by the quartermaster's and commissary's departments, and that those who are capable of labor should be set to work and paid reasonable wages. In directing this to be done, the President does not mean, at present, to settle any general rule in respect to slaves or slavery, but simply to provide for the particular case under the circumstances in which it is now presented."
All this was changed by the final proclamation of emancipation, which authoritatively announced that persons of suitable condition, whom it declared free, would be received into the armed service of the United States. During the next few months, the President wrote several personal letters to General Dix, commanding at Fortress Monroe; to Andrew Johnson, military governor of Tennessee; to General Banks, commanding at New Orleans; and to General Hunter, in the Department of the South, urging their attention to promoting the new policy; and, what was yet more to the purpose, a bureau was created in the War Department having special charge of the duty, and the adjutant-general of the army was personally sent to the Union camps on the Mississippi River to superintend the recruitment and enlistment of the negroes, where, with the hearty cooeperation of General Grant and other Union commanders, he met most encouraging and gratifying success.
The Confederate authorities made a great outcry over the new departure. They could not fail to see the immense effect it was destined to have in the severe military struggle, and their prejudice of generations greatly intensified the gloomy apprehensions they no doubt honestly felt. Yet even allowing for this, the exaggerated language in which they described it became absolutely ludicrous. The Confederate War Department early declared Generals Hunter and Phelps to be outlaws, because they were drilling and organizing slaves; and the sensational proclamation issued by Jefferson Davis on December 23, 1862, ordered that Butler and his commissioned officers, "robbers and criminals deserving death, ... be, whenever captured, reserved for execution."
Mr. Lincoln's final emancipation proclamation excited them to a still higher frenzy. The Confederate Senate talked of raising the black flag; Jefferson Davis's message stigmatized it as "the most execrable measure recorded in the history of guilty man"; and a joint resolution of the Confederate Congress prescribed that white officers of negro Union soldiers "shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court." The general orders of some subordinate Confederate commanders repeated or rivaled such denunciations and threats.
Fortunately, the records of the war are not stained with either excesses by the colored troops or even a single instance of such proclaimed barbarity upon white Union officers; and the visitation of vengeance upon negro soldiers is confined, so far as known, to the single instance of the massacre at Fort Pillow. In that deplorable affair, the Confederate commander reported, by telegraph, that in thirty minutes he stormed a fort manned by seven hundred, and captured the entire garrison killing five hundred and taking one hundred prisoners while he sustained a loss of only twenty killed and sixty wounded. It is unnecessary to explain that the bulk of the slain were colored soldiers. Making due allowance for the heat of battle, history can considerately veil closer scrutiny into the realities wrapped in the exaggerated boast of such a victory.
The Fort Pillow incident, which occurred in the spring of 1864, brought upon President Lincoln the very serious question of enforcing an order of retaliation which had been issued on July 30, 1863, as an answer to the Confederate joint resolution of May 1. Mr. Lincoln's freedom from every trace of passion was as conspicuous in this as in all his official acts. In a little address at Baltimore, while referring to the rumor of the massacre which had just been received, Mr. Lincoln said:
"We do not to-day know that a colored soldier, or white officer commanding colored soldiers, has been massacred by the rebels when made a prisoner. We fear it, believe it, I may say, but we do not know it. To take the life of one of their prisoners on the assumption that they murder ours, when it is short of certainty that they do murder ours, might be too serious, too cruel, a mistake."
When more authentic information arrived, the matter was very earnestly debated by the assembled cabinet; but the discussion only served to bring out in stronger light the inherent dangers of either course. In this nice balancing of weighty reasons, two influences decided the course of the government against retaliation. One was that General Grant was about to begin his memorable campaign against Richmond, and that it would be most impolitic to preface a great battle by the tragic spectacle of a military punishment, however justifiable. The second was the tender-hearted humanity of the ever merciful President. Frederick Douglass has related the answer Mr. Lincoln made to him in a conversation nearly a year earlier:
"I shall never forget the benignant expression of his face, the tearful look of his eye, and the quiver in his voice when he deprecated a resort to retaliatory measures. 'Once begun,' said he, 'I do not know where such a measure would stop.' He said he could not take men out and kill them in cold blood for what was done by others. If he could get hold of the persons who were guilty of killing the colored prisoners in cold blood, the case would be different, but he could not kill the innocent for the guilty."
Amid the sanguinary reports and crowding events that held public attention for a year, from the Wilderness to Appomattox, the Fort Pillow affair was forgotten, not only by the cabinet, but by the country.
The related subjects of emancipation and negro soldiers would doubtless have been discussed with much more passion and friction, had not public thought been largely occupied during the year 1863 by the enactment of the conscription law and the enforcement of the draft. In the hard stress of politics and war during the years 1861 and 1862, the popular enthusiasm with which the free States responded to the President's call to put down the rebellion by force of arms had become measurably exhausted. The heavy military reverses which attended the failure of McClellan's campaign against Richmond, Pope's defeat at the second Bull Run, McClellan's neglect to follow up the drawn battle of Antietam with energetic operations, the gradual change of early Western victories to a cessation of all effort to open the Mississippi, and the scattering of the Western forces to the spiritless routine of repairing and guarding long railroad lines, all operated together practically to stop volunteering and enlistment by the end of 1862.
Thus far, the patriotic record was a glorious one. Almost one hundred thousand three months' militia had shouldered muskets to redress the fall of Fort Sumter; over half a million three years' volunteers promptly enlisted to form the first national army under the laws of Congress passed in August, 1861; nearly half a million more volunteers came forward under the tender of the governors of free States and the President's call of July, 1862, to repair the failure of McClellan's Peninsula campaign. Several minor calls for shorter terms of enlistment, aggregating more than forty thousand, are here omitted for brevity's sake. Had the Western victories continued, had the Mississippi been opened, had the Army of the Potomac been more fortunate, volunteering would doubtless have continued at quite or nearly the same rate. But with success delayed, with campaigns thwarted, with public sentiment despondent, armies ceased to fill. An emergency call for three hundred thousand nine months' men, issued on August 4, 1862, produced a total of only eighty-six thousand eight hundred and sixty; and an attempt to supply these in some of the States by a draft under State laws demonstrated that mere local statutes and machinery for that form of military recruitment were defective and totally inadequate.
With the beginning of the third year of the war, more energetic measures to fill the armies were seen to be necessary; and after very hot and acrimonious debate for about a month, Congress, on March 3, 1863, passed a national conscription law, under which all male citizens between the ages of twenty and forty-five were enrolled to constitute the national forces, and the President was authorized to call them into service by draft as occasion might require. The law authorized the appointment of a provost-marshal-general, and under him a provost-marshal, a commissioner, and a surgeon, to constitute a board of enrollment in each congressional district; who, with necessary deputies, were required to carry out the law by national authority, under the supervision of the provost-marshal-general.
For more than a year past, the Democratic leaders in the Northern States had assumed an attitude of violent partizanship against the administration, their hostility taking mainly the form of stubborn opposition to the antislavery enactments of Congress and the emancipation measures of the President. They charged with loud denunciation that he was converting the maintenance of the Union into a war for abolition, and with this and other clamors had gained considerable successes in the autumn congressional elections of 1862, though not enough to break the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. General McClellan was a Democrat, and, since his removal from command, they proclaimed him a martyr to this policy, and were grooming him to be their coming presidential candidate.
The passage of the conscription law afforded them a new pretext to assail the administration; and Democratic members of both Houses of Congress denounced it with extravagant partizan bitterness as a violation of the Constitution, and subversive of popular liberty. In the mouths of vindictive cross-roads demagogues, and in the columns of irresponsible newspapers that supply the political reading among the more reckless elements of city populations, the extravagant language of Democratic leaders degenerated in many instances into unrestrained abuse and accusation. Yet, considering that this was the first conscription law ever enacted in the United States, considering the multitude of questions and difficulties attending its application, considering that the necessity of its enforcement was, in the nature of things, unwelcome to the friends of the government, and, as naturally, excited all the enmity and cunning of its foes to impede, thwart, and evade it, the law was carried out with a remarkably small proportion of delay, obstruction, or resulting violence.
Among a considerable number of individual violations of the act, in which prompt punishment prevented a repetition, only two prominent incidents arose which had what may be called a national significance. In the State of New York the partial political reaction of 1862 had caused the election of Horatio Seymour, a Democrat, as governor. A man of high character and great ability, he, nevertheless, permitted his partizan feeling to warp and color his executive functions to a dangerous extent. The spirit of his antagonism is shown in a phrase of his fourth-of-July oration:
"The Democratic organization look upon this administration as hostile to their rights and liberties; they look upon their opponents as men who would do them wrong in regard to their most sacred franchises."
Believing—perhaps honestly—the conscription law to be unconstitutional, he endeavored, by protest, argument and administrative non-compliance, to impede its execution on the plea of first demanding a Supreme Court decision as to its legality. To this President Lincoln replied:
"I cannot consent to suspend the draft in New York, as you request, because, among other reasons, time is too important.... I do not object to abide a decision of the United States Supreme Court, or of the judges thereof, on the constitutionality of the draft law. In fact, I should be willing to facilitate the obtaining of it; but I cannot consent to lose the time while it is being obtained. We are contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into a slaughter-pen. No time is wasted, no argument is used. This produces an army which will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they shall not be sustained by recruits as they should be."
Notwithstanding Governor Seymour's neglect to give the enrolling officers any cooeperation, preparations for the draft went on in New York city without prospect of serious disturbance, except the incendiary language of low newspapers and handbills. But scarcely had the wheel begun to turn, and the drawing commenced on July 13, when a sudden riot broke out. First demolishing the enrolling-office, the crowd next attacked an adjoining block of stores, which they plundered and set on fire, refusing to let the firemen put out the flames. From this point the excitement and disorder spread over the city, which for three days was at many points subjected to the uncontrolled fury of the mob. Loud threats to destroy the New York "Tribune" office, which the inmates as vigorously prepared to defend, were made. The most savage brutality was wreaked upon colored people. The fine building of the colored Orphan Asylum, where several hundred children barely found means of escape, was plundered and set on fire. It was notable that foreigners of recent importation were the principal leaders and actors in this lawlessness in which two million dollars worth of property was destroyed, and several hundred persons lost their lives.
The disturbance came to an end on the night of the fourth day, when a small detachment of soldiers met a body of rioters, and firing into them, killed thirteen, and wounded eighteen more. Governor Seymour gave but little help in the disorder, and left a stain on the record of his courage by addressing a portion of the mob as "my friends." The opportune arrival of national troops restored, and thereafter maintained, quiet and safety.
Some temporary disturbance occurred in Boston, but was promptly put down, and loud appeals came from Philadelphia and Chicago to stop the draft. The final effect of the conscription law was not so much to obtain recruits for the service, as to stimulate local effort throughout the country to promote volunteering, whereby the number drafted was either greatly lessened or, in many localities, entirely avoided by filling the State quotas.
The military arrest of Clement L. Vallandigham, a Democratic member of Congress from Ohio, for incendiary language denouncing the draft, also grew to an important incident. Arrested and tried under the orders of General Burnside, a military commission found him guilty of having violated General Order No. 38, by "declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the government in its efforts to suppress an unlawful rebellion"; and sentenced him to military confinement during the war. Judge Leavitt of the United States Circuit Court denied a writ of habeas corpus in the case. President Lincoln regretted the arrest, but felt it imprudent to annul the action of the general and the military tribunal. Conforming to a clause of Burnside's order, he modified the sentence by sending Vallandigham south beyond the Union military lines. The affair created a great sensation, and, in a spirit of party protest, the Ohio Democrats unanimously nominated Vallandigham for governor. Vallandigham went to Richmond, held a conference with the Confederate authorities, and, by way of Bermuda, went to Canada, from whence he issued a political address. The Democrats of both Ohio and New York took up the political and legal discussion with great heat, and sent imposing committees to present long addresses to the President on the affair.
Mr. Lincoln made long written replies to both addresses of which only so much needs quoting here as concisely states his interpretation of his authority to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus:
"You ask, in substance, whether I really claim that I may override all the guaranteed rights of individuals, on the plea of conserving the public safety—when I may choose to say the public safety requires it. This question, divested of the phraseology calculated to represent me as struggling for an arbitrary personal prerogative, is either simply a question who shall decide or an affirmation that nobody shall decide, what the public safety does require in cases of rebellion or invasion. The Constitution contemplates the question as likely to occur for decision, but it does not expressly declare who is to decide it. By necessary implication, when rebellion or invasion comes, the decision is to be made from time to time; and I think the man whom, for the time, the people have, under the Constitution, made the commander-in-chief of their army and navy, is the man who holds the power and bears the responsibility of making it. If he uses the power justly, the same people will probably justify him; if he abuses it, he is in their hands, to be dealt with by all the modes they have reserved to themselves in the Constitution."
Forcible and convincing as was this legal analysis, a single sympathetic phrase of the President's reply had a much greater popular effect:
"Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?"
The term so accurately described the character of Vallandigham, and the pointed query so touched the hearts of the Union people throughout the land whose favorite "soldier boys" had volunteered to fill the Union armies, that it rendered powerless the crafty criticism of party diatribes. The response of the people of Ohio was emphatic. At the October election Vallandigham was defeated by more than one hundred thousand majority.
In sustaining the arrest of Vallandigham, President Lincoln had acted not only within his constitutional, but also strictly within his legal, authority. In the preceding March, Congress had passed an act legalizing all orders of this character made by the President at any time during the rebellion, and accorded him full indemnity for all searches, seizures, and arrests or imprisonments made under his orders. The act also provided:
"That, during the present rebellion, the President of the United States, whenever in his judgment the public safety may require it, is authorized to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in any case, throughout the United States or any part thereof."
About the middle of September, Mr. Lincoln's proclamation formally put the law in force, to obviate any hindering or delaying the prompt execution of the draft law.
Though Vallandigham and the Democrats of his type were unable to prevent or even delay the draft, they yet managed to enlist the sympathies and secure the adhesion of many uneducated and unthinking men by means of secret societies, known as "Knights of the Golden Circle," "The Order of American Knights," "Order of the Star," "Sons of Liberty," and by other equally high-sounding names, which they adopted and discarded in turn, as one after the other was discovered and brought into undesired prominence. The titles and grips and passwords of these secret military organizations, the turgid eloquence of their meetings, and the clandestine drill of their oath-bound members, doubtless exercised quite as much fascination on such followers as their unlawful object of aiding and abetting the Southern cause. The number of men thus enlisted in the work of inducing desertion among Union soldiers, fomenting resistance to the draft, furnishing the Confederates with arms, and conspiring to establish a Northwestern Confederacy in full accord with the South, which formed the ultimate dream of their leaders, is hard to determine. Vallandigham, the real head of the movement, claimed five hundred thousand, and Judge Holt, in an official report, adopted that as being somewhere near the truth, though others counted them at a full million.
The government, cognizant of their existence, and able to produce abundant evidence against the ring-leaders whenever it chose to do so, wisely paid little heed to these dark-lantern proceedings, though, as was perhaps natural, military officers commanding the departments in which they were most numerous were inclined to look upon them more seriously; and Governor Morton of Indiana was much disquieted by their work in his State.
Mr. Lincoln's attitude toward them was one of good-humored contempt. "Nothing can make me believe that one hundred thousand Indiana Democrats are disloyal," he said; and maintained that there was more folly than crime in their acts. Indeed, though prolific enough of oaths and treasonable utterances, these organizations were singularly lacking in energy and initiative. Most of the attempts made against the public peace in the free States and along the northern border came, not from resident conspirators, but from Southern emissaries and their Canadian sympathizers; and even these rarely rose above the level of ordinary arson and highway robbery.
Jacob Thompson, who had been Secretary of the Interior under President Buchanan, was the principal agent of the Confederate government in Canada, where he carried on operations as remarkable for their impracticability as for their malignity. One plan during the summer of 1864 contemplated nothing less than seizing and holding the three great States of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, with the aid of disloyal Democrats, whereupon it was supposed Missouri and Kentucky would quickly join them and make an end of the war.
Becoming convinced, when this project fell through, that nothing could be expected from Northern Democrats he placed his reliance on Canadian sympathizers, and turned his attention to liberating the Confederate prisoners confined on Johnson's Island in Sandusky Bay and at Camp Douglas near Chicago. But both these elaborate schemes, which embraced such magnificent details as capturing the war steamer Michigan on Lake Erie, came to naught. Nor did the plans to burn St. Louis and New York, and to destroy steamboats on the Mississippi River, to which he also gave his sanction, succeed much better. A very few men were tried and punished for these and similar crimes, despite the voluble protest of the Confederate government but the injuries he and his agents were able to inflict, like the acts of the Knights of the Golden Circle on the American side of the border, amounted merely to a petty annoyance, and never reached the dignity of real menace to the government.
Burnside—Fredericksburg—A Tangle of Cross-Purposes—Hooker Succeeds Burnside—Lincoln to Hooker—Chancellorsville—Lee's Second Invasion—Lincoln's Criticisms of Hooker's Plans—Hooker Relieved—Meade—Gettysburg—Lee's Retreat—Lincoln's Letter to Meade—Lincoln's Gettysburg Address—Autumn Strategy—The Armies go into Winter Quarters
It was not without well-meditated reasons that Mr. Lincoln had so long kept McClellan in command of the Army of the Potomac. He perfectly understood that general's defects, his want of initiative, his hesitations, his delays, his never-ending complaints. But he had long foreseen the difficulty which would and did immediately arise when, on November 5, 1862, he removed him from command. Whom should he appoint as McClellan's successor? What officer would be willing and competent to play a better part? That important question had also long been considered; several promising generals had been consulted, who, as gracefully as they could, shrank from the responsibility even before it was formally offered them.
The President finally appointed General Ambrose E. Burnside to the command. He was a West Point graduate, thirty-eight years old, of handsome presence, brave and generous to a fault, and McClellan's intimate friend. He had won a favorable reputation in leading the expedition against Roanoke Island and the North Carolina coast; and, called to reinforce McClellan after the Peninsula disaster, commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac at Antietam. He was not covetous of the honor now given him. He had already twice declined it, and only now accepted the command as a duty under the urgent advice of members of his staff. His instincts were better than the judgment of his friends. A few brief weeks sufficed to demonstrate what he had told them—that he "was not competent to command such a large army."
The very beginning of his work proved the truth of his self-criticism. Rejecting all the plans of campaign which were suggested to him, he found himself incapable of forming any very plausible or consistent one of his own. As a first move he concentrated his army opposite the town of Fredericksburg on the lower Rappahannock, but with such delays that General Lee had time to seize and strongly fortify the town and the important adjacent heights on the south bank; and when Burnside's army crossed on December 11, and made its main and direct attack on the formidable and practically impregnable Confederate intrenchments on the thirteenth, a crushing repulse and defeat of the Union forces, with a loss of over ten thousand killed and wounded, was the quick and direful result.
It was in a spirit of stubborn determination rather than clear, calculating courage that he renewed his orders for an attack on the fourteenth; but, dissuaded by his division and corps commanders from the rash experiment, succeeded without further damage in withdrawing his forces on the night of the fifteenth to their old camps north of the river. In manly words his report of the unfortunate battle gave generous praise to his officers and men, and assumed for himself all the responsibility for the attack and its failure. But its secondary consequences soon became irremediable. By that gloomy disaster Burnside almost completely lost the confidence of his officers and men, and rumors soon came to the President that a spirit akin to mutiny pervaded the army. When information came that, on the day after Christmas, Burnside was preparing for a new campaign, the President telegraphed him:
"I have good reason for saying you must not make a general movement of the army without letting me know."
This, naturally, brought Burnside to the President for explanation, and, after a frank and full discussion between them, Mr. Lincoln, on New Year's day, wrote the following letter to General Halleck: