The Great Conspiracy

[President Lincoln’s Address, when the National Cemetery at
Gettysburg, Pa., was dedicated Nov. 19, 1863, was in these
memorable words:

“Fourscore and seven years ago, our Fathers brought forth upon this
continent a new Nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether that
Nation, or any Nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long
endure.

“We are met on a great battlefield of that War. We have come here
to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for
those who here gave their lives that that Nation might live.

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate,
we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead,
who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add
or detract.

“The World will little note, nor long remember, what we say here;
but it can never forget what they did here.

“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the
unfinished work which they who fought here have, thus far, so nobly
advanced.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task
remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased
devotion to that Cause for which they gave the last full measure of
devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not
have died in vain; that this Nation, under God, shall have a new
birth of Freedom; and that Government of the People, by the People,
and for the People, shall not perish front the Earth.”]

That season of victory for the Union arms, coming, as it did, upon a
season of depression and doubtfulness, was doubly grateful to the loyal
heart of the Nation. Daylight seemed to be breaking at last.
Gettysburg had hurled back the Southern invader from our soil; and
Vicksburg, with the immediately resulting surrender of Port Hudson, had
opened the Mississippi river from Cairo to the Gulf, and split the
Confederacy in twain.

But it happened just about this time that, the enrollment of the whole
Militia of the United States (under the Act of March, 1863), having been
completed, and a Draft for 300,000 men ordered to be made and executed,
if by a subsequent time the quotas of the various States should not be
filled by volunteering, certain malcontents and Copperheads, inspired by
agents and other friends of the Southern Conspirators, started and
fomented, in the city of New York, a spirit of unreasoning opposition
both to voluntary enlistment, and conscription under the Draft, that
finally culminated, July 13th, in a terrible Riot, lasting several days,
during which that great metropolis was in the hands, and completely at
the mercy, of a brutal mob of Secession sympathizers, who made day and
night hideous with their drunken bellowings, terrorized everybody even
suspected of love for the Union, plundered and burned dwellings,
including a Colored Orphan Asylum, and added to the crime of arson, that
of murdering the mob-chased, terror-stricken Negroes, by hanging them to
the lamp-posts.

These Riots constituted a part of that “Fire in the Rear” with which the
Rebels and their Northern Democratic sympathizers had so frequently
menaced the Armies of the Union.

Alluding to them, the N. Y. Tribune on July 15th, while its office was
invested and threatened with attack and demolition, bravely said: “They
are, in purpose and in essence, a Diversion in favor of Jefferson Davis
and Lee. Listen to the yells of the mob and the harangues of its
favorite orators, and you will find them surcharged with ‘Nigger,’
‘Abolition,’ ‘Black Republican,’ denunciation of prominent Republicans,
The Tribune, etc. etc.–all very wide of the Draft and the exemption.
Had the Abolitionists, instead of the Slaveholders, revolted, and
undertaken to upset the Government and dissolve the Union, nine-tenths
of these rioters would have eagerly voluntered to put them down. It is
the fear, stimulated by the recent and glorious triumphs of the Union
Arms, that Slavery and the Rebellion must suffer, which is at the bottom
of all this arson, devastation, robbery, and murder.”

The Democratic Governor, Seymour, by promising to “have this Draft
suspended and stopped,” did something toward quieting the Riots, but it
was not until the Army of the Potomac, now following Lee’s retreat, was
weakened by the sending of several regiments to New York that the Draft-
rioting spirit, in that city, and to a less extent in other cities, was
thoroughly cowed.

[In reply to Gov. Seymour’s appeal for delay in the execution of
the Draft Law, in order to test its Constitutionality, Mr. Lincoln,
on the 7th of August, said he could not consent to lose the time
that would be involved in obtaining a decision from the U. S.
Supreme Court on that point, and proceeded: “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 system 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.

It produces an Army with a rapidity not to be matched on our side,
if we first waste time to re-experiment with the Volunteer system,
already deemed by Congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted
as to be inadequate; and then more time to obtain a Court decision
as to whether a law is Constitutional which requires a part of
those not now in the Service to go to those who are already in it,
and still more time to determine with absolute certainty that we
get those who are to go, in the precisely legal proportion to those
who are not to go.

“My purpose is to be in my action Just and Constitutional, and yet
Practical, in performing the important duty with which I am
charged, of maintaining the Unity and the Free principles of our
common Country.”]

Worried and weakened by this Democratic opposition to the Draft, and the
threatened consequent delays and dangers to the success of the Union
Cause, and depressed moreover by the defeat of the National forces under
Rosecrans at Chickamauga; yet, the favorable determination of the Fall
elections on the side of Union and Freedom, and the immense majorities
upholding those issues, together with Grant’s great victory (November,
1863) of Chattanooga–where the three days of fighting in the
Chattanooga Valley and up among the clouds of Lookout Mountain and
Mission Ridge, not only effaced the memory of Rosecrans’s previous
disaster, but brought fresh and imperishable laurels to the Union Arms–
stiffened the President’s backbone, and that of Union men everywhere.

Not that Mr. Lincoln had shown any signs of weakness or wavering, or any
loss of hope in the ultimate result of this War for the preservation of
the Union–which now also involved Freedom to all beneath its banner.
On the contrary, a letter of his written late in August shows
conclusively enough that he even then began to see clearly the coming
final triumph–not perhaps as “speedy,” as he would like, in its coming,
but none the less sure to come in God’s “own good time,” and furthermore
not appearing “to be so distant as it did” before Gettysburg, and
especially Vicksburg, was won; for, said he: “The signs look better.
The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the Sea”.

[This admirable letter, reviewing “the situation” and his policy,
was in these words

EXECUTIVE MANSION,
WASHINGTON, August 26. 1863.

HON. JAMES C. CONKLING

MY DEAR SIR; Your letter inviting me to attend a Mass Meeting of
unconditional Union men to be held at the Capital of Illinois, on
the 3rd day of September, has been received. It would be very
agreeable for me thus to meet my old friends at my own home; but I
cannot just now be absent from here so long a time as a visit there
would require.

The meeting is to be of all those who maintain unconditional
devotion to the Union; and I am sure that my old political friends
will thank me for tendering, as I do, the Nation’s gratitude to
those other noble men whom no partisan malice or partisan hope can
make false to the Nation’s life.

There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say:
you desire Peace, and you blame me that we do not have it. But how
can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways: First, to
suppress the Rebellion by force of Arms. This I am trying to do.
Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not
for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this.
Are you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly. If you are
not for Force, nor yet for Dissolution, there only remains some
imaginable Compromise.

I do not believe that any Compromise embracing the maintenance of
the Union is now possible. All that I learn leads to a directly
opposite belief. The strength of the Rebellion is its Military,
its Army. That Army dominates all the Country, and all the people,
within its range. Any offer of terms made by any man or men within
that range, in opposition to that Army, is simply nothing for the
present: because such man or men have no power whatever to enforce
their side of a Compromise, if one were made with them.

To illustrate: Suppose refugees from the South, and Peace men of
the North, get together in Convention, and frame and proclaim a
Compromise embracing a restoration of the Union. In what way can
that Compromise be used to keep Lee’s Army out of Pennsylvania?
Meade’s Army can keep Lee’s Army out of Pennsylvania, and, I think,
can ultimately drive it out of existence. But no paper Compromise
to which the controllers of Lee’s Army are not agreed, can at all
affect that Army. In an effort at such Compromise we would waste
time, which the Enemy would improve to our disadvantage; and that
would be all.

A Compromise, to be effective, must be made either with those who
control the Rebel Army, or with the people, first liberated from
the domination of that Army, by the success of our own Army. Now,
allow me to assure you that no word or intimation from that Rebel
Army, or from any of the men controlling it, in relation to any
Peace Compromise, has ever come to my knowledge or belief. All
charges and insinuations to the contrary are deceptive and
groundless. And I promise you that if any such proposition shall
hereafter come, it shall not be rejected and kept a secret from
you. I freely acknowledge myself to be the servant of the People,
according to the bond of service, the United States Constitution;
and that, as such, I am responsible to them.

But, to be plain. You are dissatisfied with me about the Negro.
Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and
myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be
Free, while you, I suppose, do not. Yet I have neither adopted nor
proposed any measure which is not consistent with even your view,
provided that you are for the Union. I suggested compensated
Emancipation; to which you replied you wished not to be taxed to
buy Negroes. But I had not asked you to be taxed to buy Negroes,
except in such a way as to save you from greater taxation to save
the Union, exclusively by other means.

You dislike the Emancipation Proclamation, and perhaps would have
it retracted. You say it is Unconstitutional. I think
differently. I think the Constitution invests the Commander-in-
Chief with the Law of War in Time of War. The most that can be
said, if so much, is, that Slaves are property. Is there, has
there ever been, any question that, by the Law of War, property,
both of enemies and friends, may be taken when needed? And is it
not needed whenever it helps us and hurts the Enemy? Armies, the
World over, destroy enemies’ property when they cannot use it; and
even destroy their own to keep it from the Enemy. Civilized
belligerents do all in their power to help themselves or hurt the
Enemy, except a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among
the exceptions are the massacre of vanquished foes and non-
combatants, male and female.

But the Proclamation, as law, either is valid or is not valid. If
it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid it cannot
be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life. Some
of you profess to think its retraction would operate favorably for
the Union. Why better after the retraction than before the issue?
There was more than a year and a half of trial to suppress the
Rebellion before the Proclamation was issued, the last one hundred
days of which passed under an explicit notice that it was coming,
unless averted by those in revolt returning to their allegiance.
The War has certainly progressed as favorably for us since the
issue of the Proclamation as before.

I know as fully as one can know the opinions of others that some of
the Commanders of our Armies in the field, who have given us our
most important victories, believe the Emancipation policy and the
use of Colored troops constitute the heaviest blows yet dealt to
the Rebellion, and that at least one of those important successes
could not have been achieved when it was, but for the aid of Black
soldiers.

Among the Commanders who hold these views are some who have never
had an affinity with what is called “Abolitionism,” or with
“Republican party politics,” but who hold them purely as Military
opinions. I submit their opinions as entitled to some weight
against the objections often urged that Emancipation and arming the
Blacks are unwise as Military measures, and were not adopted as
such, in good faith.

You say that you will not fight to Free Negroes. Some of them seem
willing to fight for you; but no matter. Fight you, then,
exclusively to save the Union. I issued the Proclamation on
purpose to aid you in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have
conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to
continue fighting, it will be an apt time then for you to declare
you will not fight to Free Negroes. I thought that in your
struggle for the Union, to whatever extent the Negroes should cease
helping the Enemy, to that extent it weakened the Enemy in his
resistance to you. Do you think differently? I thought whatever
Negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves just so much less for
White soldiers to do in saving the Union. Does it appear otherwise
to you? But Negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why
should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If
they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the
strongest motives, even the promise of Freedom. And the promise,
being made, must be kept.

The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to
the Sea. Thanks to the great Northwest for it; nor yet wholly to
them. Three hundred miles up, they met New England, Empire,
Keystone, and Jersey, hewing their way right and left. The Sunny
South, too, in more colors than one, also lent a helping hand. On
the spot, their part of the history was jotted down in Black and
White. The job was a great National one, and let none be slighted
who bore an honorable part in it. And while those who have cleared
the Great River may well be proud, even that is not all. It is
hard to say that anything has been more bravely and well done than
at Antietam, Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and on many fields of less
note. Nor must Uncle Sam’s web-feet be forgotten. At all the
watery margins they have been present, not only on the deep Sea,
the broad Bay, and the rapid River, but also up the narrow, muddy
Bayou, and wherever the ground was a little damp they had been, and
made their tracks. Thanks to all. For the Great Republic–for the
principle it lives by, and keeps alive–for Man’s vast future–
thanks to all.

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