The Writings of Abraham Lincoln Vol. 1-7

“It is not needed, nor fitting here, that a General argument should
be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point,
with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask
a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal
footing, if not above labor, in the structure of government. It is
assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that
nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the
use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered
whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce
them to work by their own consent or buy them, and drive them to it
without their consent. Having proceeded so it is naturally concluded
that all laborers are either hired laborers, or what we call slaves.
And, further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer, is
fixed in that condition for life. Now there is no such relation
between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as
a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer.
Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the
fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first
existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the
higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of
protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and
probably always will be, a relation between capital and labor,
producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole
labor of a community exists within that relation. A few men own
capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and, with their
capital, hire or buy another few to labor for them. A large majority
belong to neither class–neither work for others, nor have others
working for them. In most of the Southern States, a majority of the
whole people, of all colors, are neither slaves nor masters; while in
the Northern, a large majority are neither hirers nor hired. Men
with their families, wives, sons, and daughters–work for themselves,
on their farms, in their houses, and in their shops, taking the whole
product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one
hand, nor of hired laborers or slaves on the other. It is not
forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own
labor with capital; that is, they labor with their own hands, and
also buy or hire others to labor for them, but this is only a mixed
and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the
existence of this mixed class.

Again, as has already been said, there is not, of necessity, any such
thing as the free hired laborer being fixed to that condition for
life. Many independent men everywhere in these States, a few years
back in their lives, were hired laborers. The prudent penniless
beginner in the world labors for wages a while, saves a surplus with
which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own
account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to
help him. This is the just and generous and prosperous system which
opens the way to all–gives hope to all, and consequent energy and
progress, and improvement of condition to all. No men living are
more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty–none
less inclined to touch or take aught which they have not honestly
earned. Let them beware of surrendering a political power they
already possess, and which, if surrendered, will surely be used to
close the door of advancement against such as they, and to fix new
disabilities and burdens upon them, till all of liberty shall be

The views then expressed remain unchanged, nor have I much to add.
None are so deeply interested to resist the present rebellion as the
working people. Let them beware of prejudices, working division and
hostility among themselves. The most notable feature of a
disturbance in your city last summer was the hanging of some working
people by other working people. It should never be so. The
strongest bond of human sympathy, outside of the family relation,
should be one uniting all working people, of all nations, and
tongues, and kindreds. Nor should this lead to a war upon property,
or the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor; property
is desirable; is a positive good in the world. That some should be
rich shows that others may become rich, and, hence, is just
encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is
houseless pull down the house of another, but let him labor
diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that
his own shall be safe from violence when built.


WASHINGTON, March 22, 1864.


Hon. W. R. Morrison says he has requested you by letter to effect a
special exchange of Lieut. Col. A. F. Rogers, of Eightieth Illinois
Volunteers, now in Libby Prison, and I shall be glad if you can
effect it.


( Private.)

WASHINGTON, March 13, 1864.


MY DEAR SIR:–Yours of February 29 reached me only four days ago; but
the delay was of little consequence, because I found, on feeling
around, I could not invite you here without a difficulty which at
least would be unpleasant, and perhaps would be detrimental to the
public service. Allow me to suggest that if you wish to remain in
the military service, it is very dangerous for you to get temporarily
out of it; because, with a major-general once out, it is next to
impossible for even the President to get him in again. With my
appreciation of your ability and correct principle, of course I would
be very glad to have your service for the country in the approaching
political canvass; but I fear we cannot properly have it without
separating you from the military.

Yours truly,


MARCH 26, 1864.


A Proclamation.

Whereas, it has become necessary to define the cases in which
insurgent enemies are entitled to the benefits of the Proclamation of
the President of the United States, which was made on the 8th day of
December, 1863, and the manner in which they shall proceed to avail
themselves of these benefits; and whereas the objects of that
Proclamation were to suppress the insurrection and to restore the
authority of the United States; and whereas the amnesty therein
proposed by the President was offered with reference to these objects

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States,
do hereby proclaim and declare that the said Proclamation does not
apply to the cases of persons who, at the time when they seek to
obtain the benefits thereof by taking the oath thereby prescribed,
are in military, naval, or civil confinement or custody, or under
bonds, or on parole of the civil, military, or naval authorities, or
agents of the United States, as prisoners of war, or persons detained
for offences of any kind, either before or after conviction; and that
on the contrary it does apply only to those persons who, being yet at
large, and free from any arrest, confinement, or duress, shall
voluntarily come forward and take the said oath, with the purpose of
restoring peace, and establishing the national authority.

Persons excluded from the amnesty offered in the said Proclamation
may apply to the President for clemency, like all other offenders,
and their application will receive due consideration.

I do further declare and proclaim that the oath presented in the
aforesaid proclamation of the 8th of December, 1863, may be taken and
subscribed before any commissioned officer, civil, military, or
naval, in the service of the United States, or any civil or military
officer of a State or Territory not in insurrection, who, by the laws
thereof, may be qualified for administering oaths.

All officers who receive such oaths are hereby authorized to give
certificates thereof to the persons respectively by whom they are
made, and such officers are hereby required to transmit the original
records of such oaths, at as early a day as may be convenient, to the
Department of State, where they will be deposited, and remain in the
archives of the Government.

The Secretary of State will keep a registry thereof, and will, on
application, in proper cases, issue certificates of such records in
the customary form of official certificates.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal
of the United States to be affixed…………


By the President:
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.


WASHINGTON, March 28, 1864.


MY DEAR SIR:–The Governor of Kentucky is here, and desires to have
the following points definitely fixed:

First. That the quotas of troops furnished, and to be furnished, by
Kentucky may be adjusted upon the basis as actually reduced by able-
bodied men of hers having gone into the rebel service; and that she
be required to furnish no more than her just quotas upon fair
adjustment upon such basis.

Second. To whatever extent the enlistment and drafting, one or both,
of colored troops may be found necessary within the State, it may be
conducted within the law of Congress; and, so far as practicable,
free from collateral embarrassments, disorders, and provocations.

I think these requests of the Governor are reasonable; and I shall be
obliged if you will give him a full hearing, and do the best you can
to effect these objects.

Yours very truly,



WASHINGTON, March 29, 1864.


MY DEAR SIR:–Your letter to Colonel Townsend, inclosing a slip from
the “Herald,” and asking a court of inquiry, has been laid before me
by the Secretary of War, with the request that I would consider it.
It is quite natural that you should feel some sensibility on the
subject; yet I am not impressed, nor do I think the country is
impressed, with the belief that your honor demands, or the public
interest demands, such an inquiry. The country knows that at all
events you have done good service; and I believe it agrees with me
that it is much better for you to be engaged in trying to do more,
than to be diverted, as you necessarily would be, by a court of

Yours truly,



Captain Kinney, of whom I spoke to you as desiring to go on your
staff, is now in your camp, in company with Mrs. Senator Dixon. Mrs.
Grant and I, and some others, agreed last night that I should, by
this despatch, kindly call your attention to Captain Kinney.



WASHINGTON, April 4, 1864.

A. G. HODGES, ESQ., Frankfort, Kentucky:

MY DEAR SIR:–You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I
verbally said the other day, in your presence, to Governor Bramlette
and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:

“I am naturally anti-slavery. 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, altogether. 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. In
choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss, but of this I was
not entirely confident. More than a year of trial now shows no loss
by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment,
none in our white military force, no loss by it any how, or anywhere.
On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite one hundred and thirty
thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers. These are palpable facts,
about which, as facts, there can be no caviling. We have the men;
and we could not have had them without the measure.

“And now let any Union man who complains of the measure test himself
by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by
force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking these hundred
and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where
they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he cannot face his
case so stated, it is only because he cannot face the truth.”

I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling
this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to
have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have
controlled me. Now, at the end of three years’ struggle, the
nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man, devised or
expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems
plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also
that we of the North, as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly
for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein
new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.

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