The Great Conspiracy

From the very beginning of his Administration, he did all that was
possible to mollify their resentment and calm their real or pretended
fears. Nor was this from any dread or doubt as to what the outcome of
an armed Conflict would be; for, in his speech at Cincinnati, in the
Autumn of 1859, he had said, while addressing himself to Kentuckians and
other Southern men: “Why, gentlemen, I think you are as gallant and as
brave men as live; that you can fight as bravely in a good cause, man
for man, as any other people living; that you have shown yourselves
capable of this upon various occasions; but man for man, you are not
better than we are, and there are not so many of you as there are of us.
You will never make much of a hand at whipping us. If we were fewer in
numbers than you, I think that you could whip us; if we were equal it
would likely be a drawn battle; but being inferior in numbers, you will
make nothing by attempting to master us.”

And early in 1860, in his famous New York Cooper Institute speech he had
said “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let
us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.” He plainly
believed to the end, that “right makes might;” and he believed in the
power of numbers–as also did Napoleon, if we may judge from his famous
declaration that “The God of battles is always on the side of the
heaviest battalions.” Yet, so believing, President Lincoln exerted
himself in all possible ways to mollify the South. His assurances,
however, were far from satisfying the Conspirators. They never had been
satisfied with anything in the shape of concession. They never would
be. They had been dissatisfied with and had broken all the compacts and
compromises, and had spit upon all the concessions, of the past; and
nothing would now satisfy them, short of the impossible.

They were not satisfied now with Lincoln’s promise that the Government
would not assail them–organized as, by this time, they were into a so-
called Southern “Confederacy” of States–and they proceeded accordingly
to assail that Government which would not assail them. They opened fire
on Fort Sumter.

This was done, as has duly appeared, in the hope that the shedding of
blood would not only draw the States of the Southern Confederacy more
closely together in their common cause, and prevent the return of any of
them to their old allegiance, but also to so influence the wavering
allegiance to the Union, of the Border States, as to strengthen that
Confederacy and equivalently weaken that Union, by their Secession.

Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas, of the Border States
that were wavering, were thus gathered into the Confederate fold, by
this policy of blood-spilling–carried bodily thither, by a desperate
and frenzied minority, against the wishes of a patriotic majority.

Virginia, especially, was a great accession to the Rebel cause. She
brought to it the prestige of her great name. To secure the active
cooperation of “staid old Virginia,” “the Mother of Statesmen,” in the
struggle, was, in the estimation of the Rebels, an assurance of victory
to their cause. And the Secession of Virginia for a time had a
depressing influence upon the friends of the Union everywhere.

The refusal of West Virginia to go with the rest of the State into
Rebellion, was, to be sure, some consolation; and the checkmating of the
Conspirators’ designs to secure to the Confederacy the States of
Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri, helped the confidence of Union men. In
fact, as long as the National Capital was secure, it was felt that the
Union was still safe.

But while the Confederacy, by the firing upon Fort Sumter, and thus
assailing that Government which Lincoln had promised would not assail
the Rebels, had gained much in securing the aid of the States mentioned,
yet the Union Cause, by that very act, had gained more. For the echoes
of the Rebel guns of Fort Moultrie were the signal for such an uprising
of the Patriots of the North and West and Middle States, as, for the
moment, struck awe to the hearts of Traitors and inspired with courage
and hopefulness the hearts of Union men throughout the Land.

Moreover it put the Rebels in their proper attitude, in the eyes of the
World–as the first aggressors–and thus deprived them, to a certain
extent, of that moral support from the outside which flows from

Those echoes were the signal, not only of that call to arms which led to
such an uprising, but for the simultaneous calling together of the
Thirty-seventh Congress of the United States in Extra Session–the
Congress whose measures ultimately enabled President Lincoln and the
Union Armies to subdue the Rebellion and save the Union–the Congress
whose wise and patriotic deliberations resulted in the raising of those
gigantic Armies and Navies, and in supplying the unlimited means,
through the Tariff and National Bank Systems and otherwise, by which
those tremendous Forces could be both created and effectively operated–
the Congress which cooperated with President Lincoln and those Forces in
preparing the way for the destruction of the very corner-stone of the
Confederacy, Slavery itself.


The Rebels themselves, as has already been noted, by the employment of
their Slaves in the construction of earthworks and other fortifications,
and even in battle, at Bull Run and elsewhere, against the Union Forces,
brought the Thirty-seventh Congress, as well as the Military Commanders,
and the President, to an early consideration of the Slavery question.
But it was none the less a question to be treated with the utmost

The Union men, as well as the Secession-sympathizers, of Kentucky and
Tennessee and Missouri and Maryland, largely believed in Slavery, or at
least were averse to any interference with it. These, would not see
that the right to destroy that unholy Institution could pertain to any
authority, or be justified by any exigency; much less that, as held by
some authorities, its existence ceased at the moment when its hands, or
those of the State in which it had existed, were used to assail the
General Government.

They looked with especial suspicion and distrust upon the guarded
utterances of the President upon all questions touching the future of
the Colored Race.

[At Faneuil Hall, Edward Everett is reported to have said, in
October of 1864:

“It is very doubtful whether any act of the Government of the
United States was necessary to liberate the Slaves in a State which
is in Rebellion. There is much reason for the opinion that, by the
simple act of levying War against the United States, the relation
of Slavery was terminated; certainly, so far as concerns the duty
of the United States to recognize it, or to refrain from
interfering with it.

“Not being founded on the Law of Nature, and resting solely on
positive Local Law–and that, not of the United States–as soon as
it becomes either the motive or pretext of an unjust War against
the Union–an efficient instrument in the hands of the Rebels for
carrying on the War–source of Military strength to the Rebellion,
and of danger to the Government at home and abroad, with the
additional certainty that, in any event but its abandonment, it
will continue, in all future time to work these mischiefs, who can
suppose it is the duty of the United States to continue to
recognize it.

“To maintain this would be a contradiction in terms. It would be
two recognize a right in a Rebel master to employ his Slave in acts
of Rebellion and Treason, and the duty of the Slave to aid and abet
his master in the commission of the greatest crime known to the
Law. No such absurdity can be admitted; and any citizen of the
United States, from thee President down, who should, by any overt
act, recognize the duty of a Slave to obey a Rebel master in a
hostile operation, would himself be giving aid and comfort to the

They believed that when Fremont issued the General Order-heretofore
given in full–in which that General declared that “The property, real
and personal, of all persons, in the State of Missouri, who shall take
up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to
have taken an active part with their enemies in the field, is declared
to be confiscated to the public use, and their Slaves, if any they have,
are hereby declared Free men,” it must have been with the concurrence,
if not at the suggestion, of the President; and, when the President
subsequently, September 11,1861, made an open Order directing that this
clause of Fremont’s General Order, or proclamation, should be “so
modified, held, and construed, as to conform to, and not to transcend,
the provisions on the same subject contained in the Act of Congress
entitled ‘An Act to Confiscate Property used for Insurrectionary
Purposes,’ approved August 6, 1861,” they still were not satisfied.

[The sections of the above Act, bearing upon the matter, are the
first and fourth, which are in these words:

“That if, during the present or any future insurrection against the
Government of the United States, after the President of the United
States shall have declared, by proclamation, that the laws of the
United States are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, by
combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course
of judicial proceedings, or by the power vested in the marshals by
law, any person or persons, his, her, or their agent, attorney, or
employee, shall purchase or acquire, sell or give, any property of
whatsoever kind or description, with intent to use or employ the
same, or suffer the same to be used or employed, in aiding,
abetting, or promoting such insurrection or resistance to the laws,
or any persons engaged therein; or if any person or persons, being
the owner or owners of any such property, shall knowingly use or
employ, or consent to the use or employment of the same as
aforesaid, all such property is hereby declared to be lawful
subject of prize and capture wherever found; and it shall be the
duty of the President of the United States to cause the same to be
seized, confiscated and condemned.”

* * * * * * * *

“SEC. 4. That whenever hereafter, during the present insurrection
against the Government of the United States, any person claimed to
be held to Labor or Service under the law of any State shall be
required or permitted by the person to whom such Labor or Service
is claimed to be due, or by the lawful agent of such person, to
take up arms against the United States; or shall be required or
permitted by the person to whom such Labor or Service is claimed to
be due, or his lawful agent, to work or to be employed in or upon
any fort, navy-yard, dock, armory, ship, entrenchment, or in any
Military or Naval service whatsoever, against the Government and
lawful authority of the United States, then, and in every such
case, the person to whom such Labor or Service is claimed to be
due, shall forfeit his claim to such Labor, any law of the State or
of the United States to the contrary notwithstanding. And whenever
thereafter the person claiming such Labor or Service shall seek to
enforce his claim, it shall be a full and sufficient answer to such
claim that the person whose Service or Labor is claimed had been
employed in hostile service against the Government of the United
States, contrary to the provisions of this act.”

It seemed as impossible to satisfy these Border-State men as it had been
to satisfy the Rebels themselves.

The Act of Congress, to which President Lincoln referred
in his Order modifying Fremont’s proclamation, had itself been opposed
by them, under the lead of their most influential Representative and
spokesman, Mr. Crittenden, of Kentucky, in its passage through that
Body. It did not satisfy them.

Neither had they been satisfied, when, within one year and four days
after “Slavery opened its batteries of Treason, upon Fort Sumter,” that
National curse and shame was banished from the Nation’s Capital by
Congressional enactment.

They were not satisfied even with Mr. Lincoln’s conservative suggestions
embodied in the Supplemental Act.

Nor were they satisfied with the General Instructions, of October 14,
1861, from the War Department to its Generals, touching the employment
of Fugitive Slaves within the Union Lines, and the assurance of just
compensation to loyal masters, therein contained, although all avoidable
interference with the Institution was therein reprobated.

Nothing satisfied them. It was indeed one of the most curious of the
many phenomena of the War of the Rebellion, that when–as at the end of
1861–it had become evident, as Secretary Cameron held, that it “would
be National suicide” to leave the Rebels in “peaceful and secure
possession of Slave Property, more valuable and efficient to them for
War, than forage, cotton, and Military stores,” and that the Slaves
coming within our lines could not “be held by the Government as Slaves,”
and should not be held as prisoners of War–still the loyal people of
these Border-States, could not bring themselves to save that Union,
which they professed to love, by legislation on this tender subject.

On the contrary, they opposed all legislation looking to any
interference with such Slave property. Nothing that was proposed by Mr.
Lincoln, or any other, on this subject, could satisfy them.

Congress enacted a law, approved March 13, 1862, embracing an additional
Article of War, which prohibited all officers “from employing any of the
forces under their respective Commands for the purpose of returning
Fugitives from Service or Labor who may have escaped from
any persons to whom such Service or Labor is claimed to be due,” and
prescribed that “Any officer who shall be found guilty by Court-Martial
of violating this Article shall be dismissed from the Service.” In both
Houses, the loyal Border-State Representatives spoke and voted against
its passage.

One week previously (March 6, 1862), President Lincoln, in an admirable
Message, hitherto herein given at length, found himself driven to broach
to Congress the subject of Emancipation. He had, in his First Annual
Message (December, 1861), declared that “the Union must be preserved;
and hence all indispensable means must be employed;” but now, as a part
of the War Policy, he proposed to Congress the adoption of a Joint
Resolution declaring “That the United States ought to cooperate 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.”

It was high time, he thought, that the idea of a gradual, compensated
Emancipation, should begin to occupy the minds of those interested, “so
that,” to use his own words, “they may begin to consider whether to
accept or reject it,” should Congress approve the suggestion.

Congress did approve, and adopt, the Joint-Resolution, as we know–
despite the opposition from the loyal element of the Border States–an
opposition made in the teeth of their concession that Mr. Lincoln, in
recommending its adoption, was “solely moved by a high patriotism and
sincere devotion to the glory of his Country.”

But, consistently with their usual course, they went to the House of
Representatives, fresh from the Presidential presence, and, with their
ears still ringing with the common-sense utterances of the President,
half of them voted against the Resolution, while the other half
refrained from voting at all. And their opposition to this wise and
moderate proposition was mainly based upon the idea that it carried with
it a threat–a covert threat.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.