The Great Conspiracy

It certainly was a warning, taking it in connection with the balance of
the Message, but a very wise and timely one.

These loyal Border-State men, however, could not see its wisdom, and at
a full meeting held upon the subject decided to oppose it, as they
afterward did. Its conciliatory spirit they could not comprehend; the
kindly, temperate warning, they would not heed. The most moderate of
them all,–[Mr. Crittenden of Kentucky.]–in the most moderate of his
utterances, could not bring himself to the belief that this Resolution
was “a measure exactly suited to the times.”

[And such was the fatuity existing among the Slave-holders of the
Border States, that not one of those Slave States had wisdom enough
to take the liberal offer thus made by the General Government, of
compensation. They afterward found their Slaves freed without

So, also, one month later, (April 11, 1862), when the Senate Bill
proposing Emancipation in the District of Columbia, was before the
House, the same spokesman and leader of the loyal Border-State men
opposed it strenuously as not being suited to the times. For, he
persuasively protested: “I do not say that you have not the power; but
would not that power be, at such a time as this, most unwisely and
indiscreetly exercised. That is the point. Of all the times when an
attempt was ever made to carry this measure, is not this the most
inauspicious? Is it not a time when the measure is most likely to
produce danger and mischief to the Country at large? So it seems to

It was not now, nor would it ever be, the time, to pass this, or any
other measure, touching the Institution of Slavery, likely to benefit
that Union to which these men professed such love and loyalty.

Their opposition, however, to the march of events, was of little avail–
even when backed, as was almost invariably the case, by the other
Democratic votes from the Free States. The opposition was obstructive,
but not effectual. For this reason it was perhaps the more irritating
to the Republicans, who were anxious to put Slavery where their great
leader, Mr. Lincoln, had long before said it should be placed–“in
course of ultimate extinction.”

This very irritation, however, only served to press such Anti-Slavery
Measures more rapidly forward. By the 19th of June, 1862, a Bill “to
secure Freedom to all persons within the Territories of the United
States”–after a more strenuous fight against it than ever, on the part
of Loyal and Copperhead Democrats, both from the Border and Free
States,–had passed Congress, and been approved by President Lincoln.
It provided, in just so many words, “That, from and after the passage of
this Act, there shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude in
any of the Territories of the United States now existing, or which may
at any time hereafter be formed or acquired by the United States,
otherwise than in punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been
duly convicted.”

Here, then, at last, was the great end and aim, with which Mr. Lincoln
and the Republican Party started out, accomplished. To repeat his
phrase, Slavery was certainly now in course of ultimate extinction.

But since that doctrine had been first enunciated by Mr. Lincoln, events
had changed the aspect of things. War had broken out, and the Slaves of
those engaged in armed Rebellion against the authority of the United
States Government, had been actually employed, as we have seen, on Rebel
works and fortifications whose guns were trailed upon the Armies of the

And now, the question of Slavery had ceased to be simply whether it
should be put in course of ultimate extinction, but whether, as a War
Measure–as a means of weakening the Enemy and strengthening the Union–
the time had not already come to extinguish it, so far, at least, as the
Slaves of those participating in the Rebellion, were concerned.

Congress, as has been heretofore noted, had already long and heatedly
debated various propositions referring to Slavery and African
Colonization, and had enacted such of them as, in its wisdom, were
considered necessary; and was now entering a further stormy period of
contention upon various other projects touching the Abolition of the
Fugitive Slave Laws, the Confiscation of Rebel Property, and the
Emancipation of Slaves–all of which, of course, had been, and would be,
vehemently assailed by the loyal Border-States men and their Free-State
Democratic allies.

This contention proceeded largely upon the lines of construction of that
clause in the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments,
which provides that no person shall be deprived of Life, Liberty, or
Property, without due process of Law, etc. The one side holding that,
since the beginning of our Government, Slaves had been, under this
clause, Unconstitutionally deprived of their Liberty; the other side
holding that Slaves being “property,” it would be Unconstitutional under
the same clause, to deprive the Slave-owner of his Slave property.

Mr. Crittenden, the leader of the loyal Border-States men in Congress,
was at this time especially eloquent on this latter view of the
Constitution. In his speech of April 23, 1862, in the House of
Representatives, he even undertook to defend American Slavery under the
shield of English Liberty!

Said he: “It is necessary for the prosperity of any Government, for
peace and harmony, that every man who acquires property shall feel that
he shall be protected in the enjoyment of it, and in his right to hold
it. It elevates the man; it gives him a feeling of dignity. It is the
great old English doctrine of Liberty. Said Lord Mansfield, the rain
may beat against the cabin of an Englishman, the snow may penetrate it,
but the King dare not enter it without the consent of its owner. That
is the true English spirit. It is the source of England’s power.”

And again: “The idea of property is deeply seated in our minds. By the
English Law and by the American Law you have the right to take the life
of any man who attempts, by violence, to take your property from you.
So far does the Spirit of these Laws go. Let us not break down this
idea of property. It is the animating spirit of the Country. Indeed it
is the Spirit of Liberty and Freedom.”

There was at this time, a growing belief in the minds of these loyal
Border-States men, that this question of Slavery-abolition was reaching
a crisis. They saw “the handwriting on the wall,” but left no stone
unturned to prevent, or at least to avert for a time, the coming
catastrophe. They egged Congress, in the language of the distinguished
Kentuckian, to “Let these unnecessary measures alone, for the present;”
and, as to the President, they now, not only volunteered in his defense,
against the attacks of others, but strove also to capture him by their
arch flatteries.

“Sir,”–said Mr. Crittenden, in one of his most eloquent bursts, in the
House of Representatives,–“it is not my duty, perhaps, to defend the
President of the United States. * * * I voted against Mr. Lincoln, and
opposed him honestly and sincerely; but Mr. Lincoln has won me to his
side. There is a niche in the Temple of Fame, a niche near to
Washington, which should be occupied by the statue of him who shall,
save this Country. Mr. Lincoln has a mighty destiny. It is for him, if
he will, to step into that niche. It is for him to be but President of
the People of the United States, and there will his statue be. But, if
he choose to be, in these times, a mere sectarian and a party man, that
niche will be reserved for some future and better Patriot. It is in his
power to occupy a place next Washington,–the Founder, and the
Preserver, side by side. Sir, Mr. Lincoln is no coward. His not doing
what the Constitution forbade him to do, is no proof of his cowardice.”

On the other hand, Owen Lovejoy, the fiery Abolitionist, the very next
day after the above remarks of Mr. Crittenden were delivered in the
House, made a great speech in reply, taking the position that “either
Slavery, or the Republic, must perish; and the question for us to decide
is, which shall it be?”

He declared to the House: “You cannot put down the rebellion and restore
the Union, without destroying Slavery.” He quoted the sublime language
of Curran touching the Spirit of the British Law, which consecrates the
soil of Britain to the genius of Universal Emancipation,

[In these words:

“I speak in the Spirit of the British law, which makes Liberty
commensurate with, and inseparable from, the British soil; which
proclaims even to the stranger and the sojourner the moment he sets
his foot upon British earth, that the ground on which he treads is
holy, and consecrated by the genius Of UNIVERSAL EMANCIPATION.

“No matter in what language his doom may have been pronounced; no
matter what complexion incompatible with Freedom, an Indian or an
African sun may have burnt upon him; no matter in what disastrous
battle his Liberty may have been cloven down; no matter with what
solemnities he may have been devoted upon the altar of Slavery; the
first moment he touches the sacred soil of Britain, the altar and
the god sink together in the dust; his Soul walks abroad in her own
majesty; his Body swells beyond the measure of his chains, that
burst from around him, and he stands redeemed, regenerated, and
disenthralled by the irresistible genius of UNIVERSAL

And Cowper’s verse, wherein the poet says:

“Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are Free,”

–and, after expressing his solicitude to have this true of America, as
it already was true of the District of Columbia, he proceeded to say:

“The gentleman from Kentucky says he has a niche for Abraham Lincoln.
Where is it? He pointed upward! But, Sir, should the President follow
the counsels of that gentleman, and become the defender and perpetuator
of human Slavery, he should point downward to some dungeon in the Temple
of Moloch, who feeds on human blood and is surrounded with fires, where
are forged manacles and chains for human limbs–in the crypts and
recesses of whose Temple, woman is scourged, and man tortured, and
outside whose walls are lying dogs, gorged with human flesh, as Byron
describes them stretched around Stamboul. That is a suitable place for
the statue of one who would defend and perpetuate human Slavery.”

And then–after saying that “the friends of American Slavery need not
beslime the President with their praise. He is an Anti-Slavery man. He
hates human Bondage “–the orator added these glowing words:

“I, too, have a niche for Abraham Lincoln; but it is in Freedom’s Holy
Fane, and not in the blood-besmeared Temple of human Bondage; not
surrounded by Slaves, fetters and chains, but with the symbols of
Freedom; not dark with Bondage, but radiant with the light of Liberty.
In that niche he shall stand proudly, nobly, gloriously, with shattered
fetters and broken chains and slave-whips beneath his feet. If Abraham
Lincoln pursues the path, evidently pointed out for him in the
providence of God, as I believe he will, then he will occupy the proud
position I have indicated. That is a fame worth living for; ay, more,
that is a fame worth dying for, though that death led through the blood
of Gethsemane and the agony of the Accursed Tree. That is a fame which
has glory and honor and immortality and Eternal Life. Let Abraham
Lincoln make himself, as I trust he will, the Emancipator, the
Liberator, as he has the opportunity of doing, and his name shall not
only be enrolled in this Earthly Temple, but it will be traced on the
living stones of that Temple which rears itself amid the Thrones and
Hierarchies of Heaven, whose top-stone is to be brought in with shouting
of ‘Grace, grace unto it!'”

We have seen how the loyal Border-State men, through their chosen
Representative–finding that their steady and unfaltering opposition to
all Mr. Lincoln’s propositions, while quite ineffectual, did not serve
by any means to increase his respect for their peculiar kind of loyalty
–offered him posthumous honors and worship if he would but do as they
desired. Had they possessed the power, no doubt they would have taken
him up into an exceeding high mountain and have offered to him all the
Kingdoms of the Earth to do their bidding. But their temptations were
of no avail.

President Lincoln’s duty, and inclination alike–no less than the
earnest importunities of the Abolitionists–carried him in the opposite
direction; but carried him no farther than he thought it safe, and wise,
to go. For, in whatever he might do on this burning question of
Emancipation, he was determined to secure that adequate support from the
People without which even Presidential Proclamations are waste paper.

But now, May 9, 1862, was suddenly issued by General Hunter, commanding
the “Department of the South,” comprising Georgia, Florida and South
Carolina, his celebrated Order announcing Martial Law, in those States,
as a Military Necessity, and–as “Slavery and Martial Law in a Free
Country are altogether incompatible”–declaring all Slaves therein,
“forever Free.”

This second edition, as it were, of Fremont’s performance, at once threw
the loyal Border-State men into a terrible ferment. Again, they, and
their Copperhead and other Democratic friends of the North, meanly
professed belief that this was but a part of Mr. Lincoln’s programme,
and that his apparent backwardness was the cloak to hide his Anti-
Slavery aggressiveness and insincerity.

How hurtful the insinuations, and even direct charges, of the day, made
by these men against President Lincoln, must have been to his honest,
sincere, and sensitive nature, can scarcely be conceived by those who
did not know him; while, on the other hand, the reckless impatience of
some of his friends for “immediate and universal Emancipation,” and
their complaints at his slow progress toward that goal of their hopes,
must have been equally trying.

True to himself, however, and to the wise conservative course which he
had marked out, and, thus far, followed, President Lincoln hastened to
disavow Hunter’s action in the premises, by a Proclamation, heretofore
given, declaring that no person had been authorized by the United States
Government to declare the Slaves of any State, Free; that Hunter’s
action in this respect was void; that, as Commander-in-chief he reserved
solely to himself, the questions, first, as to whether he had the power
to declare the Slaves of any State or States, Free, and, second, whether
the time and necessity for the exercise of such supposed power had
arrived. And then, as we may remember, he proceeded to cite the
adoption, by overwhelming majorities in Congress, of the Joint
Resolution offering pecuniary aid from the National Government to “any
State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of Slavery;” and to make a
most earnest appeal, for support, to the Border-States and to their
people, as being “the most interested in the subject matter.”

In his Special Message to Congress,–[Of March 6, 1862.]–recommending
the passage of that Joint Resolution, he had plainly and emphatically
declared himself against sudden Emancipation of Slaves. He had therein
distinctly said: “In my judgment, gradual, and not immediate,
Emancipation, is better for all.” And now, in this second appeal of his
to the Border-States men, to patriotically close with the proposal
embraced in that. Resolution, he said: “The changes 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!”

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