~ Where the Sun Will Never Set on Our liberty ~
President Abraham Lincoln
(February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865)
A House Divided
(June 16, 1858)
Mr. President, Gentlemen of the Convention:
If we could just know where we are and whither we appear to be tending, we could all better judge of what to do, and how to do it. We are now well into our fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident purpose of putting an end to slavery agitation.
However, under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest this further spread and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is on a course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates shall press it forward, until it shall become alike lawful in all of the States, old as well as new, North as well as South.
Have we no tendency to this latter condition?
Let any one who doubts this contemplate that now almost complete legal combination -- piece of machinery, so to speak -- compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work that machinery is adapted to, but how well adapted. Also, also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidences of design, of concert of action, among its chief bosses, from the very beginning.
The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half of the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by Congressional prohibition. Four days later commenced the struggle which ended in repealing that Congressional prohibition. This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained. But, so far, Congress only had acted; and an endorsement by the people, real or apparent, was indispensable, to save the point already gained, and to give chance for more.
This necessity had not been overlooked; it had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of "squatter sovereignty," and "sacred right of self-government," which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this particular application of it as to amount to just this: If any one man desires to enslave another, no third man has the right to object. Well that argument was incorporated into the Nebraska bill itself, in the language which follows: "It being the true intent and meaning of this act not to legislate slavery into any Territory or State, or to exclude it therefrom; but to leave the people thereof perfectly free to form and regulate their domestic institutions in their own way, subject only to the Constitution of the United States." That opened a roar of loose declamation in favor of "Squatter Sovereignty," and "sacred right of self-government." "But," said opposition members, "let us be more specific, let us amend the bill so as to expressly declare that the people of the Territory may exclude slavery." "Not we," said the friends of the measure; and down they voted the amendment.
Now, while the Nebraska bill was passing through Congress, a law case involving the question of a negro's freedom, by reason of his owner having voluntarily taken him into first a free State and then a Territory covered by that Congressional prohibition, and held him as a slave for a long time in each, was passing through the U. S. Circuit Court in the District of Missouri. Both the Nebraska bill and the law suit were brought to a decision in the same month of May, 1854. The negro's name was "Dred Scott," which name now designates the decision finally given in that case. Well, before the then next Presidential election, the law case came to, and was argued in, the Supreme Court of the United States; but the decision of it was deferred until after the election. Still, before the election, Senator Trumbull, on the floor of the Senate, requests the leading advocate of the Nebraska bill to state his opinion whether the people of a Territory can constitutionally exclude slavery from their limits; and the latter answers: "That is a question for the Supreme Court."
The election came. Mr. Buchanan was elected, and the endorsement, such as it was, was secured. That was the second point gained. The endorsement, however, fell short of a clear popular majority by some four hundred thousand votes, and, I think, was not overwhelmingly reliable or satisfactory. The outgoing President, in his last annual message, as impressively as possible echoed back upon the people the weight and authority of this endorsement. The Supreme Court met again; did not announce their decision, but ordered a re-argument. The Presidential inauguration came -- still no decision of the court; but the incoming President in his inaugural address, fervently exhorted the people to abide by the forthcoming decision, whatever it may be. Then, in a few days, came the decision.
The reputed author of the Nebraska bill finds an early occasion to make a speech at this capital building endorsing the Dred Scott decision, vehemently denouncing all opposition to it. The new President, too, seizes the early occasion of the Silliman letter to endorse and strongly construe that decision, and to express his astonishment that any should ever had any different view than that.
At length a squabble springs up between the President and the author of the Nebraska bill, on the mere question of fact, whether the Lecompton Constitution was in fact, in any just sense, made by the people of Kansas; and in the squabble the latter declares all he wants is a fair vote for the people; he don't care whether it gets voted down or voted up -- slavery, that is.
I do not understand his declaration that he cares not whether slavery is voted down or voted up, to be intended as anything other than an apt definition of the policy that he wants -- wants to impress upon the public mind -- the principle for which he declared he has suffered much and intends to suffer until the end. Well -- Well may he cling to that principle. If he has any parental feeling at all, well may he cling to it for under the Dred Scott decision "squatter sovereignty" has squatted right out of existence, tumbled down like temporary scaffolding -- like -- like the mould at a foundry served cast off into the sand -- never to be used again. It helped to carry the election and then was kicked into the winds. His late joint struggle with the Republicans, against the Lecompton Constitution -- it involved nothing of the original Nebraska doctrine. The struggle was made on a point -- the right of the people to form their own constitution -- of which we and he have never even differed.
Well the several points of the Dred Scott decision, in connection, with Senator Douglas's "don't care" policy, constitute a major piece of machinery, in its present state of advancement. And this was the third point gained. Now the working points of that machinery are:
First, no negro slave, imported as such from Africa, and no descendant of any such slave, can ever be a citizen of any State, in the sense that that term is used in the Constitution of the United States. Now this point is made in order to deprive the negro, in every possible event, of the benefit of this provision of the United States Constitution, which declares "The citizens of each State, shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of the citizens of the several States."
Secondly, that "subject to the Constitution of the United States," neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature can exclude slavery from any United States territory. This point was made in order that individuals may fill up the Territory with slaves, without danger of ever losing their property in the slaves -- thus to enhance the chance of the permanency to that institution through all future.
Thirdly, that whether the holding of a negro in actual slavery in a free State, makes him free, as against the holder, the United States courts will not decide, but they'll leave it to be decided by the courts of any slave State where the master of that slave decides to take him.
This point was made, not to be pressed immediately; but, if acquiesced in for awhile, endorsed by the people apparently at an election, then to sustain the logical conclusion that what Dred Scott's master may lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with every other one, or one thousand of like slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State.
And then auxiliary to all this, and working in hand with it, we have the Nebraska doctrine, or what's left of it, to educate, to mold public sentiment, to not care whether slavery is voted down or up. This shows exactly where we are, partially, also, whither we are tending.
Now it will throw additional light on the -- the latter, to go back, to run the mind over this string of historical facts already stated. Several things will now appear less dark and mysterious than they did then when they were transpiring. The people were to be left "perfectly free," "subject only to the Constitution" of the United States. What the Constitution had to do with it, outsiders could not then tell. Plainly enough now, it was an exactly fitted niche, for the Dred Scott decision afterwards to come in, and declare that perfect freedom to be just no freedom at all.
Why was the amendment, expressly declaring the right of the people to exclude slavery, voted down? Plainly enough now: the adoption of it would have spoiled that niche for the Dred Scott decision. Why was the court decision held up? Why even a Senator's individual opinion withheld, till after the Presidential election? Plainly enough now: speaking out then would have damaged the perfectly free argument upon which the election was to be carried. Why the outgoing President's felicitation of the endorsement? Why the delay of the reargument? Why the incoming President's advance exhortation in favor of that decision, whatever it might be? These things look like the cautious patting and petting of a much-spirited horse, when it's a-feared that, upon mounting, he'll be thrown. Why the hasty after-endorsements of the decision by the President and others?
We cannot absolutely know that these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, which we know different portions of which have been gotten out at different times and in different places by different workmen -- Stephen, Franklin, Roger, James, for instance -- and when we see these timbers joined together, and see that they exactly frame a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices fitting exactly together, all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or a piece too few -- not omitting even scaffolding -- or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame where it is fitted and prepared yet to be put in. In such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning; all worked on a common plan or draft drawn before the first lick was struck.
Now, it shouldn't be overlooked that, by the Nebraska bill, the people of a State as well as Territory, were to be left "perfectly free," "subject only to the Constitution." Why mention a State? They were legislating for Territories, not for or about States. Certainly the people of a State are and ought to be subject to the Constitution of the United States; but why is the mention of this lugged into a merely Territorial law? Why are the people of a Territory and the people of a State therein lumped together, and their relation to the Constitution treated as being precisely the same? While the opinion of the court, by Chief Justice Taney, in the Dred Scott's case, and the separate opinions of all the concurring Judges, expressly declare that the Constitution of the United States neither permits Congress nor a Territorial Legislature to exclude slavery from any United States Territory, they all omit to declare whether or not that same Constitution permits a State, or the people of a State, to exclude it.
Possibly, this was a mere omission; but who can be quite sure, if McLean or Curtis had sought to get into the opinion a declaration of unlimited power in the people of a State to exclude slavery from their limits, just as Chase and Mace sought to get such declaration, in behalf of the people of a Territory, in the Nebraska bill; -- I ask, who can be quite sure that it would not have been voted down in the one case as it had been on the other? The nearest approach to the point of declaring the power of a State over slavery was made by Judge Nelson. He approaches it more than once, using the precise [idea], almost the language, too, of the Nebraska act. On one occasion, his exact language is, "except in cases where the power is restrained by the Constitution of the United States, the law of the State is supreme over the subject of slavery within its jurisdictions."
In what cases the power of the States is so restrained by the United States Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the Territories, was left an open in the Nebraska Act. Well when you put that and that together, we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled by another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a State to exclude slavery from its limits. And this may especially be expected if this doctrine of "care not whether slavery is voted down or voted up" shall gain in the public mind sufficiently to give promise that that decision will be maintained when it's made.
Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all of the States. Welcome or [un]welcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the political dynasty at present shall be met and overthrown. We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are about to make their State a free one, and we shall wake up to discover that the Supreme Court has just made Illinois a slave State. To meet and to overthrow the power of that dynasty is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation. That is what we have to do. But how can we best do it?
There are those who denounce us openly to their own friends, and yet whisper to us that Senator Douglas is the aptest instrument for this work...with which to effect this object. They do not tell us, nor has he told us that he wishes any such object to be affected. They wish us to infer it, you see, from all the facts that he now has a little quarrel with the present head of this dynasty; and that he has regularly voted with us on a single point, upon which we and he had never differed. They remind us that he is a very great man, and the largest of us are little ones. Well, let this be granted. But "a living dog is better than a dead lion." And Judge Douglas, if not a dead lion, for this work, is at least a caged and toothless one. How can he oppose the advances of slavery? He don't care whether it gets voted down or voted up. His avowed mission is to impress the "public heart" to care nothing whether its voted down or voted up.
A leading Douglas democratic newspaper thinks Douglas's superior talent will be needed to resist the revival of the African slave trade. Does Douglas believe an effort to revive the African slave trade is approaching? He's not said so. Does he really think so? If it is, how can he resist it? For years he's labored to prove it a sacred right for men to take negro slaves into the new Territories. Can he possibly show that its less a sacred right to buy them where they can be bought cheaper? Unquestionably they can be bought cheaper in Africa than in Virginia. He's done all in his power to reduce the whole question of slavery to one of a right of property; and as such, how can he oppose the foreign slave trade -- how can he refuse that trade in that "property" shall be "perfectly free"? -- unless he does it as a protection to those who are home producers. Well, then, as the home producers will probably not ask for that the protection, he shall be wholly without any ground of opposition.
Senator Douglas know that a man can rightfully be wiser today than he was yesterday -- that he can rightfully change when he finds himself to be wrong. But can we, for that reason, run ahead, and infer that he will make any particular change, of which he, himself, has never given any intimation? Can we safely base our action upon some vague inference? Now, as ever, I wish not to misrepresent Judge Douglas's position or question his motives, or do aught that would be personally offensive to him. But whenever, if ever, he and we can come together on principle so that our great cause may have the assistance of his great ability, I hope to have imposed no adventitious obstacle upon him. But clearly, he is not now with us -- he does not pretend to be -- he does not promise ever to be.
Our cause, then, must be entrusted to, and conducted by, its own undoubted friends -- those whose hands are free and whose hearts are in the work -- who do care for the result. Two years ago the Republicans of this nation mustered some thirteen hundred thousand strong. We did this under a single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us. Of strange, discordant, even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds; we fought the battle through under the constant hot fire of a pampered, proud, disciplined army. Did we brave all then only to falter now? -- now, when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered, and belligerent? The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail -- if we stand firm, we shall not fail. Wise counsels may accelerate, or mistakes delay, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.
Final Emancipation Proclamation
(January 1, 1863)
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twentysecond day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"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 State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."
Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:
Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. Johns, St. Charles, St. James, Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New-Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South-Carolina, North-Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth-City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk & Portsmouth); and which excepted parts are, for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.
And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.
And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.
And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.
By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.
(November 19, 1863)
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on 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 battle-field of that war. We have come 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 poor 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, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Second Inaugural Address
(Saturday, March 4, 1865)
AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Last Public Address
(April 11, 1865)
Two days after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's army, a jubilant crowd gathered outside the White House, calling for President Lincoln. Reporter Noah Brooks wrote, "Outside was a vast sea of faces, illuminated by the lights that burned in the festal array of the White House, and stretching far out into the misty darkness. It was a silent, intent, and perhaps surprised, multitude."
"Within stood the tall, gaunt figure of the President, deeply thoughtful, intent upon the elucidation of the generous policy which should be pursued toward the South. That this was not the sort of speech which the multitude had expected is tolerably certain."
Lincoln stood at the window over the building's main door, a place where presidents customarily gave speeches. Brooks held a light so Lincoln could read his speech, while young Tad Lincoln grasped the pages as they fluttered to his feet. The speech tackled the complex topic of reconstruction, especially as it related to the state of Louisiana. For the first time in a public setting, Lincoln expressed his support for black suffrage. This statement incensed John Wilkes Booth, a member of the audience, who vowed, "That is the last speech he will make." A white supremacist and Confederate activist, Booth made good on his threat three days later.
We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond, and the surrender of the principal insurgent army, give hope of a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained. In the midst of this, however, He from whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated. Nor must those whose harder part gives us the cause of rejoicing, be overlooked. Their honors must not be parcelled out with others. I myself was near the front, and had the high pleasure of transmitting much of the good news to you; but no part of the honor, for plan or execution, is mine. To Gen. Grant, his skilful officers, and brave men, all belongs. The gallant Navy stood ready, but was not in reach to take active part.
By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority -- reconstruction -- which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mould from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.
As a general rule, I abstain from reading the reports of attacks upon myself, wishing not to be provoked by that to which I can not properly offer an answer. In spite of this precaution, however, it comes to my knowledge that I am much censured for some supposed agency in setting up, and seeking to sustain, the new State government of Louisiana. In this I have done just so much as, and no more than, the public knows. In the Annual Message of Dec. 1863 and accompanying Proclamation, I presented a plan of re-construction (as the phrase goes) which, I promised, if adopted by any State, should be acceptable to, and sustained by, the Executive government of the nation. I distinctly stated that this was not the only plan which might possibly be acceptable; and I also distinctly protested that the Executive claimed no right to say when, or whether members should be admitted to seats in Congress from such States. This plan was, in advance, submitted to the then Cabinet, and distinctly approved by every member of it. One of them suggested that I should then, and in that connection, apply the Emancipation Proclamation to the theretofore excepted parts of Virginia and Louisiana; that I should drop the suggestion about apprenticeship for freed-people, and that I should omit the protest against my own power, in regard to the admission of members to Congress; but even he approved every part and parcel of the plan which has since been employed or touched by the action of Louisiana. The new constitution of Louisiana, declaring emancipation for the whole State, practically applies the Proclamation to the part previously excepted. It does not adopt apprenticeship for freed-people; and it is silent, as it could not well be otherwise, about the admission of members to Congress. So that, as it applies to Louisiana, every member of the Cabinet fully approved the plan. The message went to Congress, and I received many commendations of the plan, written and verbal; and not a single objection to it, from any professed emancipationist, came to my knowledge, until after the news reached Washington that the people of Louisiana had begun to move in accordance with it. From about July 1862, I had corresponded with different persons, supposed to be interested, seeking a reconstruction of a State government for Louisiana. When the message of 1863, with the plan before mentioned, reached New-Orleans, Gen. Banks wrote me that he was confident the people, with his military co-operation, would reconstruct, substantially on that plan. I wrote him, and some of them to try it; they tried it, and the result is known. Such only has been my agency in getting up the Louisiana government. As to sustaining it, my promise is out, as before stated. But, as bad promises are better broken than kept, I shall treat this as a bad promise, and break it, whenever I shall be convinced that keeping it is adverse to the public interest. But I have not yet been so convinced.
I have been shown a letter on this subject, supposed to be an able one, in which the writer expresses regret that my mind has not seemed to be definitely fixed on the question whether the seceding States, so called, are in the Union or out of it. It would perhaps, add astonishment to his regret, were he to learn that since I have found professed Union men endeavoring to make that question, I have purposely forborne any public expression upon it. As appears to me that question has not been, nor yet is, a practically material one, and that any discussion of it, while it thus remains practically immaterial, could have no effect other than the mischievous one of dividing our friends. As yet, whatever it may hereafter become, that question is bad, as the basis of a controversy, and good for nothing at all--a merely pernicious abstraction.
We all agree that the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper relation with the Union; and that the sole object of the government, civil and military, in regard to those States is to again get them into that proper practical relation. I believe it is not only possible, but in fact, easier to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these States have ever been out of the Union, than with it. Finding themselves safely at home, it would be utterly immaterial whether they had ever been abroad. Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these States and the Union; and each forever after, innocently indulge his own opinion whether, in doing the acts, he brought the States from without, into the Union, or only gave them proper assistance, they never having been out of it.
The amount of constituency, so to speak, on which the new Louisiana government rests, would be more satisfactory to all, if it contained fifty, thirty, or even twenty thousand, instead of only about twelve thousand, as it does. It is also unsatisfactory to some that the elective franchise is not given to the colored man. I would myself prefer that it were now conferred on the very intelligent, and on those who serve our cause as soldiers. Still the question is not whether the Louisiana government, as it stands, is quite all that is desirable. The question is, "Will it be wiser to take it as it is, and help to improve it; or to reject, and disperse it?" "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining, or by discarding her new State government?"
Some twelve thousand voters in the heretofore slave-state of Louisiana have sworn allegiance to the Union, assumed to be the rightful political power of the State, held elections, organized a State government, adopted a free-state constitution, giving the benefit of public schools equally to black and white, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man. Their Legislature has already voted to ratify the constitutional amendment recently passed by Congress, abolishing slavery throughout the nation. These twelve thousand persons are thus fully committed to the Union, and to perpetual freedom in the state--committed to the very things, and nearly all the things the nation wants--and they ask the nations recognition and it's assistance to make good their committal. Now, if we reject, and spurn them, we do our utmost to disorganize and disperse them. We in effect say to the white men "You are worthless, or worse--we will neither help you, nor be helped by you." To the blacks we say "This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how." If this course, discouraging and paralyzing both white and black, has any tendency to bring Louisiana into proper practical relations with the Union, I have, so far, been unable to perceive it. If, on the contrary, we recognize, and sustain the new government of Louisiana the converse of all this is made true. We encourage the hearts, and nerve the arms of the twelve thousand to adhere to their work, and argue for it, and proselyte for it, and fight for it, and feed it, and grow it, and ripen it to a complete success. The colored man too, in seeing all united for him, is inspired with vigilance, and energy, and daring, to the same end. Grant that he desires the elective franchise, will he not attain it sooner by saving the already advanced steps toward it, than by running backward over them? Concede that the new government of Louisiana is only to what it should be as the egg is to the fowl, we shall sooner have the fowl by hatching the egg than by smashing it? Again, if we reject Louisiana, we also reject one vote in favor of the proposed amendment to the national Constitution. To meet this proposition, it has been argued that no more than three fourths of those States which have not attempted secession are necessary to validly ratify the amendment. I do not commit myself against this, further than to say that such a ratification would be questionable, and sure to be persistently questioned; while a ratification by three-fourths of all the States would be unquestioned and unquestionable.
I repeat the question, "Can Louisiana be brought into proper practical relation with the Union sooner by sustaining or by discarding her new State Government?
What has been said of Louisiana will apply generally to other States. And yet so great peculiarities pertain to each state, and such important and sudden changes occur in the same state; and withal, so new and unprecedented is the whole case, that no exclusive, and inflexible plan can be safely prescribed as to details and colatterals [sic]. Such exclusive, and inflexible plan, would surely become a new entanglement. Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.
In the present "situation" as the phrase goes, it may be my duty to make some new announcement to the people of the South. I am considering, and shall not fail to act, when satisfied that action will be proper.