The Great Conspiracy

“On the face of this wide Earth, Mr. President, there is not one
disinterested, determined, intelligent champion of the Union Cause who
does not feel that all attempts to put down the Rebellion, and at the
same time uphold its inciting cause, are preposterous and futile–that
the Rebellion, if crushed out to-morrow, would be renewed within a year
if Slavery were left in full vigor–that Army officers, who remain to
this day devoted to Slavery, can at best be but half-way loyal to the
Union–and that every hour of deference to Slavery is an hour of added
and deepened peril to the Union.

“I appeal to the testimony of your embassadors in Europe. It is freely
at your service, not mine. Ask them to tell you candidly whether the
seeming subserviency of your policy to the Slaveholding, Slavery-
upholding interest, is not the perplexity, the despair, of Statesmen of
all parties; and be admonished by the general answer.

“I close, as I began, with the statement that what an immense majority
of the loyal millions of your countrymen require of you, is a frank,
declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the Laws of the Land,
more especially of the Confiscation Act. That Act gives Freedom to the
Slaves of Rebels coming within our lines, or whom those lines may at any
time inclose. We ask you to render it due obedience by publicly
requiring all your subordinates to recognize and obey it.

“The Rebels are everywhere using the late Anti-Negro riots in the North
–as they have long used your officers’ treatment of Negroes in the
South–to convince the Slaves that they have nothing to hope from a
Union success–that we mean in that case to sell them into a bitter
Bondage to defray the cost of the War.

“Let them impress this as a truth on the great mass of their ignorant
and credulous Bondmen, and the Union will never be restored–never. We
can not conquer ten millions of people united in solid phalanx against
us, powerfully aided by Northern sympathizers and European allies.

“We must have scouts, guides, spies, cooks, teamsters, diggers, and
choppers, from the Blacks of the South–whether we allow them to fight
for us or not–or we shall be baffled and repelled.

“As one of the Millions who would gladly have avoided this struggle, at
any sacrifice but that of principle and honor, but who now feel that the
triumph of the Union is indispensable not only to the existence of our
Country, but to the well-being of mankind, I entreat you to render a
hearty and unequivocal obedience to the Law of the Land.
To this letter, President Lincoln at once made the following memorable

“WASHINGTON, Friday, August 22, 1862.


“DEAR SIR:–I have just read yours of the 19th inst. 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 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 in
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 is to save the Union and not either to save or
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

“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 shall do more whenever I believe doing more will help the

“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.
On the 13th of September, 1862, a deputation from all the religious
denominations of Chicago presented to President Lincoln a memorial for
the immediate issue of a Proclamation of Emancipation, to which, and the
Chairman’s remarks, he thus replied:

“The subject presented in the Memorial is one upon which I have thought
much for weeks past, and I may even say, for months. 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; for, unless I am more deceived in myself
than I often am, it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence
in this matter. And if I can learn what it is, I will do it!

“These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be
granted that I am not to expect a direct Revelation; I must study the
plain physical aspects of the case, ascertain what is possible, and
learn what appears to be wise and right!

“The subject is difficult, and good men do not agree. For instance, the
other day, four gentlemen, of standing and intelligence, from New York,
called, as a delegation, on business connected with the War; but, before
leaving, two of them earnestly besought me to proclaim general
Emancipation, upon which the other two at once attacked them.

“You know also that the last Session of Congress had a decided majority
of Anti-Slavery men, yet they could not unite on this policy. And the
same is true of the religious people; why the Rebel soldiers are praying
with a great deal more earnestness, I fear, than our own troops, and
expecting God to favor their side; for one of our soldiers, who had been
taken prisoner, told Senator Wilson, a few days since, that he met
nothing so discouraging as the evident sincerity of those he was among,
in their prayers. But we will talk over the merits of the case.

“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! Would my word free the Slaves, when I cannot
even enforce the Constitution in the Rebel States? Is there a single
Court or Magistrate, or individual that would be influenced by it there?
And what reason is there to think it would have any greater effect upon
the Slaves than the late law of Congress, which I approved and which
offers protection and Freedom to the Slaves of Rebel masters who came
within our lines? Yet I cannot learn that that law has caused a single
Slave to come over to us.

“And suppose they could be induced by a Proclamation of Freedom from me
to throw themselves upon us, what should we do with them? How can we
feed and care for such a multitude? General Butler wrote me a few days
since that he was issuing more rations to the Slaves who have rushed to
him, than to all the White troops under his command. They eat, and that
is all; though it is true General Butler is feeding the Whites also, by
the thousand; for it nearly amounts to a famine there.

“If, now, the pressure of the War should call off our forces from New
Orleans to defend some other point, what is to prevent the masters from
reducing the Blacks to Slavery again; for I am told that whenever the
Rebels take any Black prisoners, Free or Slave, they immediately auction
them off! They did so with those they took from a boat that was aground
in the Tennessee river a few days ago.

“And then I am very ungenerously attacked for it! For instance, when,
after the late battles at and near Bull Run, an expedition went out from
Washington, under a flag of truce, to bury the dead and bring in the
wounded, and the Rebels seized the Blacks who went along to help, and
sent them into Slavery, Horace Greeley said in his paper that the
Government would probably do nothing about it. What could I do?

“Now, then, tell me, if you please, what possible result of good would
follow the issuing of such a Proclamation as you desire? 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.

* * * * * * * * *

“I admit that Slavery is at the root of the Rebellion, or, at least, its
sine qua non. The ambition of politicians may have instigated them to
act, but they would have been impotent without Slavery as their
instrument. I will also concede that Emancipation would help us in
Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than
ambition. I grant, further, that it would help somewhat at the North,
though not so much, I fear, as you and those you represent imagine.

“Still, some additional strength would be added in that way to the War,
and then, unquestionably, it would weaken the Rebels by drawing off
their laborers, which is of great importance; but I am not so sure we
could do much with the Blacks. If we were to arm them, I fear that in
a few weeks the arms would be in the hands of the Rebels; and, indeed,
thus far, we have not had arms enough to equip our White troops.

“I will mention another thing, though it meet only your scorn and
contempt. There are 50,000 bayonets in the Union Army from the Border
Slave States. It would be a serious matter if, in consequence of a
Proclamation such as you desire, they should go over to the Rebels. I
do not think they all would–not so many, indeed, as a year ago, or as
six months ago–not so many to-day, as yesterday. Every day increases
their Union feeling. They are also getting their pride enlisted, and
want to beat the Rebels.

“Let me say one thing more: I think you should admit that we already
have an important principle to rally and unite the People, in the fact
that Constitutional Government is at stake. This is a fundamental idea
going down about as deep as anything!

* * * * * * * * *

“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.

“I trust that in the freedom with which I have canvassed your views I
have not in any respect injured your feelings.”
On the 22d day of September, 1862, not only the Nation, but the whole
World, was electrified by the publication–close upon the heels of the
Union victory of Antietam–of the Proclamation of Emancipation–weighted
with consequences so wide and far-reaching that even at this late day
they cannot all be discerned. It was in these words:

“I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States of America, and
Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy thereof, do hereby proclaim and
declare that hereafter, as heretofore, the War will be prosecuted for
the object of practically restoring the Constitutional relation between
the United States and each of the States and the people thereof, in
which States that relation is or may be suspended or disturbed.

“That it is my purpose, upon the next meeting of Congress, to again
recommend the adoption of a practical measure tendering pecuniary aid to
the free acceptance or rejection of all Slave States, so called, the
people whereof may not then be in Rebellion against the United States,
and which States may then have voluntarily adopted, or thereafter may
voluntarily adopt, immediate or gradual abolishment of Slavery within
their respective limits; and that the effort to colonize Persons of
African descent with their consent upon this continent or elsewhere,
with the previously obtained consent of the Governments existing there,
will be continued.

“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 States shall have participated, shall, in the
absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive
evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not in Rebellion
against the United States.

“That attention is hereby called to an Act of Congress entitled ‘An Act
to make an additional Article of War,’ approved March 31, 1862, and
which Act is in the words and figures following:

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