Lincoln on compensated border state emancipation, coupled with colonization

Posted on February 27, 2011 by


Considering relatively recent discussion in the blogosphere (and mentions elsewhere, on the Web) regarding compensated emancipation and colonization of freed blacks, I thought I’d offer some thoughts of my own, but based on something that I found over a year ago. While I haven’t conducted that much research on the topic, I believe an article in a Hagerstown newspaper, from July 1862 (see => here for the post that I first drafted after finding the piece) gave me much to think about. In 1862, Lincoln made an appeal to the border states; on the subject of gradual emancipation tied to a colonization effort after the fact. The quotes that follow are the words of Lincoln. My commentary is interjected between the block quotes.

I intend no reproach or complaint when I assure you that, in my opinion, if you all had voted for the resolution in the gradual emancipation message of last march the war would now be substantially ended.

Was Lincoln really that confident that gradual emancipation would have brought the war to and end? It seems so.

And the plan therein proposed is yet one of the most potent and swift means of ending it. – Let the States that are in rebellion see definitely and certainly that in no event will the States you represent ever join their proposed Confederacy, and they cannot much longer maintain the contest. – But you cannot divest them of their hope to ultimately have you with them so long as you show a determination to perpetuate the institution [slavery] within your own States… You and I know what the lever of their power is. Break that lever before their face, and they can shake you no more forever.

It also seems that Lincoln believed that, by emancipating their slaves, in the border states, the states already in rebellion (the Confederacy) would have realized there was no hope for these border states to join their cause, and perhaps, lose faith in the success of their cause. Lincoln believed (and rightfully so), that breaking the institution (slavery), was critical to bringing the war to an end.

You prefer that the constitutional relation of the States to the nation shall be practically restored without disturbances of the institution; and, if this were done, my whole duty, in this respect, under the Constitution and my oath of office, would be performed.

Lincoln acknowledged that the border states believed that the Union could be restored, without interfering with slavery as it existed, and that if this was possible, Lincoln could still fulfill what he saw as his responsibilities as president.

But it is not done, and we are trying to accomplish it by war. The incidents of the war cannot be avoided. If the war continues long, as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion – by the mere incidents of the war.

Reality was, however, that the war was already in motion, and at the heart of it, was slavery. Bring slavery to an end earlier, and you bring the conflict to an end, earlier than if the institution were to remain intact. In this quote, I also believe that Lincoln’s personal intent regarding slavery is made clearer. While he wanted to see it come to an end on more peaceful terms, an extended war meant that it could only happen under friction and abrasion.

It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. How much better for you and for your people to take the step which at once shortens the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event? How much better to thus save the money which else we sink forever in the war! How much better to do it while we can, lest the war are long render us peculiarily unable to do it! How much better for you, as seller, and the nation, as buyer, to sell out and buy out that without which the war could never have been, than to sink both the thing to be sold and the price of it in cutting one another’s throats.

Enter Lincoln’s actual appeal to the border states. Lincoln points out that while those states cling to the institution, if they continue to do so, there will, by war’s end, be no value in it. In fact, the value in slavery was already being compromised. Lincoln appeals to the representatives to emancipate with compensation. He also points out that he would rather see the money go to compensated emancipation, rather than the war effort… not to mention the cost of lives.

I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually. Room in South America for colonization can be obtained cheaply, and in abundance, and when numbers shall be large enough to be company and encouragement for one another, the freed people will not be so reluctant to go.

Yes, Lincoln proposed not only emancipation, but, eventually, a removal (via colonization) of those freed. He’s also of the opinion, I believe, that once more and more are emancipated, the former slaves will see colonization as an opportunity, and be less reluctant to leave. Personally, I think Lincoln wasn’t entirely realistic in this.

I am pressed with a difficulty not yet mentioned – one which threatens division among those who united, are none too strong. An instance of it is known to you. General Hunter is an honest man. He was, and I hope still is, my friend. I valued him none the less for his agreeing with me in the general wish that all men everywhere could be freed. He proclaimed [=> see General Order No. 11] all men free within certain states, and in repudiating it, I gave dissatisfaction, if not offence, to many whose support the country cannot afford to lose. And this is not the end of it. The pressure in this direction is still upon me, and is increasing. By conceding what I now ask you can relieve me, and, much more, can relive the country in this important point.

This is interesting, as Lincoln is addressing General David Hunter‘s decision to emancipate without proper authority. Additionally, by countering Hunter’s decision, Lincoln was concerned that he may have impacted support, I believe, from the abolitionists in the nation. He’s trying to appeal to as many as possible, and not lose favor in his ultimate objective.

Upon these considerations I have again begged your attention to the message of march last. Before leaving the Capitol, consider and discuss it among yourselves. You are patriots and statesmen, and as such I pray you consider this proposition; and at the least commend it to the consideration of your States and people. As you would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world, I beseech you do in no wise omit this. Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views and boldest action to bring a speedy relief. Once relived, its form of government is saved to the world; its beloved history and cherished memories are vindicated and its happy future fully assured and rendered inconceivably grand. To you more than to any others, the privilege given to assure that happiness and swell that grandeur, and to link our own names therewith forever.

March of 1861 or 1862? Help me out here, if you can, and have the actual proposal. What did he say back then? The follow-up to this piece, also in the July 30, 1862 edition of the Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light, I think, gives us the answer. The block quotes that follow are the words of the border state reps. Again, I interject commentary between the block quotes.

Reply of the Majority.

The following paper was on Thursday sent to the President, signed by the majority of the Representatives of from the Border Slaveholding States.

Washington, July 14, 1862.

To the President:

The undersigned, Representatives of Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri and Maryland, in the two Houses of Congress, have listened to your address with the profound sensibility naturally inspired by the high source from which it emanates, the earnestness which marked it delivery, and the overwhelming importance of the subject of which it treats. We have given it a most respectful consideration, and now lay before you our response. – We regret that want of time has not permitted us to make it more perfect.

We have not been wanting, Mr. President, in respect to you, and in devotion to the Constitution and the Union. We have not been indifferent to the great difficulties surrounding you, compared with which all former national troubles have been but as the summer cloud; and we have freely given you our sympathy and support.

As can be seen in this quote and that which follows, the border states were quite conscious of the National crisis, and Lincoln’s appeal of the previous March, regarding gradual emancipation coupled with a colonization effort.

Repudiating the dangerous heresies of the Secessionists, we believe, with you, that the war on their part is aggressive and wicked, and the objects for which it was to be prosecuted on ours, defined by your message at the opening of the present Congress, to be such as all good men should approve, we have not hesitated to vote all supplies necessary to carry it on vigorously. We have voted all the men and money you have asked for, and even more; we have imposed onerous taxes on our people, and they are paying them with cheerfulness and alacrity; we have encouraged enlistments and sent to the field many of our best men; and some of our number have offered their persons to the enemy as pledges of their sincerity and devotion to country. We have done all this under the most discouraging circumstances and in the face of measures most distasteful to us and injurious to the interests we represent, and in the hearing of doctrines avowed by those who claim to be your friends most abhorrent to us and our constituents. But, for all this, we have never faltered, nor shall we so long as we have a Constitution to defend and a Government which protects us. And we are ready for renewed efforts, and even greater sacrifices, yes, any sacrifice, when we are satisfied it is required to preserve our admirable form of government and the priceless blessings of constitutional liberty.

I like this quote, because it’s contrary to the views of many a secessionist (not to mention, contemporary Confederate celebrationist) shows that the border staters saw the secessionist as the aggressors. Also, am I reading this right? Essentially, the border states are saying that they have done all that Lincoln has asked, and more, in support of defending the Union. Yet, it appears that, by asking for emancipation, Lincoln may be asking too much. The border states appear to remain under the idea that slavery will yet survive.

A few of our number voted for the resolution recommended by your message of the 6th of March last; the greater portion of us did not, and we will briefly state the prominent reasons which influenced our actions.

In the first place, it proposed a radical change of our social system, and was hurried through both Houses with undue haste, without reasonable time for consideration and debate, and with not time at all for consultation with our constituents, whose interest it deeply involved. It seemed like an interference by this Government with a question which peculiarly and exclusively belonged to our respective States, on which they had not sought advice or solicited aid.

Indeed, a radical change in the social system AND, front and center in this, the right to own slaves. While they supported the Union, they still held to “states’ rights” over the matter of the institution of slavery. If the border states were reluctant to budge on this, certainly, any thought of gradual emancipation and/or colonization of slaves from the deeper South is an absurd suggestion. It does not appear to have been an option that the slaveholders were ready or willing to entertain.

Many of us donated the constitutional power of this Government to make appropriations of money for the object designated; and all of is thought our finances were in no condition to bear the immense outlay which its adoption and faithful execution would impose upon the national treasury. If we pause but a moment to think of the debt its acceptance would have entailed, we are appalled by its magnitude.

Yes, while the war was a costly endeavor, in finances and lives, the border states were also conscious of the fact that gradual compensated emancipation would make the government buckle under the financial cost. Lincoln may have suggested it, but was he financially realistic in doing so?

The proposition was addressed to all the States, and embraced the whole number of slaves. According to the census of 1860 there were then very nearly four million slaves in the country; from natural increase they exceed that number now. At even the low average of three hundred dollars, the price fixed by the emancipation act for the slaves of this District, and greatly below their real worth, their value runs up to the enormous sum of twelve hundred millions of dollars; and if to that we add the cost of deportation and colonization, at one hundred dollars each, which is but a fraction more than is actually paid by the Maryland Colonization Society, we have four hundred millions more! We were not willing to impose a tax on our people sufficient to pay the interest on that sum, in addition to the vast and daily increasing debt already fixed upon them. By the exigencies of the war; and if we had been willing, the country could not bear it. Stated is this form, the proposition is nothing less than the deportation from the country of sixteen hundred million dollars worth of producing labor, and the substitution in its place of an interest-bearing debt of the same amount!

But, if we are told that it was expected that only the States we represent would accept the proposition, we respectfully submit that even then it involves a sum too great for the financial ability of this Government at this time. According to the census of 1860:

Kentucky had……….225,490 slaves

Making it a whole……….1,196,112 [*]

At the same rate of valuation these would amount to ……….$358,833,600
Add for deportation and colonization $100 each……….119,244,588
And we have the enormous sum of $478,078,178

Despite Brag Bowling’s (see the last sentence in his write-up) “Why compensated emancipation was never seriously promoted is a question which lingers today” comment, this seems to be where the rubber begins to meet the road; cost. Was the genuine concern of the border states for the cost of compensated emancipation and colonization, or was the cost used to prevent something they didn’t want to see in the first place? Forget colonization, I’m willing to bet that the slaveholders in the deep South, and even most in Virginia, weren’t so willing to embrace compensated emancipation.

We did not feel that we should be justified in voting for a measure which, if carried,out, would add this vast amount to our public debt at a moment when the treasury was reeling under the enormous expenditure of the war.

O.k., maybe they were concerned about the cost of the compensation/relocation package, coupled with the cost of the war, to date.

Again, it seemed to us that this resolution was but the annunciation of a sentiment which could not or was not likely to be reduced to an actual, tangible proposition. No movement was then made to provide and appropriate the funds required to carry it into effect; and we were not encouraged to believe that funds would be provided. And our belief has been fully justified by subsequent events. Not to mention other circumstances, it is quite sufficient for our purpose to bring to your notice the fact that, while this resolution was under consideration in the senate, our colleague, the Senator from Kentucky, moved all amendment appropriating $500,000 to the object therein designated, and it was voted down with great unanimity. What confidence, then, would we reasonably feel that if we committed ourselves to the policy it proposed, our constituents would reap the fruits of the promise held but; and on what ground could we, as fair men, approach them and challenge their support?

Was it that the border states saw Lincoln offering this as a solution, but that the government would not back it with the required finding?

The right to hold slaves is a right appertaining to all the States of this Union. They have the right to cherish or abolish the institution, as their tastes or their interests may prompt, and no one is authorized to question the right, or limit its enjoyment. And no one has more clearly affirmed that right than you have.

O.k., here we go again. “The right to hold slaves”, and they are sure to toss this back at Lincoln, as a right protected.

Your inaugural address did you great honor in this respect, and inspired the country with confidence in your fairness and respect for the law. Our States are in the enjoyment of that right. We do not feel called on to defend the institution, or to affirm it as one that ought to be cherished; perhaps, if we were to make the attempt, we might find that we differ even among ourselves. It is enough for our purpose to know that it is a right; and so knowing, we did not see why we should now be expected to yield it.

The border states liked what Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, as applied to the right to own slaves. Do we expect that the statesmen of the deeper South thought any less of this right?

We had contributed our full share to relieve the country at this terrible crisis; we had done as much as had been required of others in like circumstances; and we did not see why sacrifices could be expected of us from which others, no more loyal, were exempt. Nor could we see what good the nation would derive from it. Such a sacrifice submitted to by us would not have strengthened the arm of this Government or weakened that of the enemy. It was not necessary, as a pledge of our loyalty, for that had been manifested beyond a reasonable doubt, in every form, and at every place possible. There was not the remotest probability that the States we represent would join in the rebellion, nor is there now, of their electing to go with the Southern section in the event of a recognition of the independence of any part of the disaffected region. Our States are fixed unalterably in their resolution to adhere to and support the Union; they see no safety for themselves and no hope for constitutional liberty but by its preservation. They will under no circumstances constn to its dissolution, and we do them no more than justice when we assure you that while the war is conducted to prevent that deplorable catastrophe, they will sustain it as long as they can muster a man or command a dollar. Nor will they ever consent, in any event, to unite with the Southern Confederacy. The bitter fruits of the peculiar doctrines of that region will forever prevent them from placing their security and happiness in the custody of an association which has incorporated in its organic law the seeds of its own destruction.

I’m hearing this… “look Mr. President, we’ll do anything and everything within our power to preserve the Union, but don’t touch the slave issue. We’re not going to leave the Union over this matter; it’s not even on the table; but we’re looking to you to continue to respect the rights of the individuals and the states, regarding slavery.”

We cannot admit, Mr. President, that if we had voted for the resolution in the emancipation message of March last the war would now be substantially ended. We are unable to see how our action in this particular has given or could give, encouragement to the rebellion. The resolution has passed; and if there be virtue in it, it will be quite as efficacious as if we had noted for it. We have no power to bind our States in this respect by our votes here; and whether we had voted the one way or the other, they are in the same conviction of freedom to accept or reject its provisions. No, sir, the war has not been prolonged or hindered by our action on this or any other measure. – We must look for other causes for that lamented fact. We think there is not much difficulty, not much uncertainty, in pointing out others far more probable and potent in their agencies to that end.

My version of what the border states were thinking here, “Abe, baby, look, don’t pin this on us, dude. We haven’t prolonged the war because of not buying into the compensated emancipation/colonization deal. Not only that, but even if we had bought into it, we’re not convinced that it would have had any impact on bringing the war closer to an end.” I think they’re right; I seriously doubt it would have helped bring the war to a quicker end.

The rebellion derives its strength from the union of all classes in the insurgent States; and while that union lasts the war will never end until they are utterly exhausted. We know that at the inception of these troubles Southern society was divided, and that a large portion, perhaps a majority, were opposed to Secession. Now the great mass of Southern people are united. To discover why they are so we must glance at Southern society, and notice the classes into which it has been divided, and which still distinguish it. They are in arms, but not for the same objects; they are moved to a common end, but by different and even inconsistent reasons. The leaders, which comprehend what was previously known as the State Rights party, and is much the lesser class, seek to break down national independence and set up State domination. With them it is a war against nationality. The other class is fighting, as it supposes, to maintain and preserve the rights of property and domestic safety, which it has been made to believe are assailed by this Government. This latter class are not disunionists per se; they are so only because they have been made to believe that this Administration is inimical to their rights, and is making war on their domestic institutions. As long as these two classes act together they will never assent to peace. The policy, then, to be pursued is obvious. The former class will never be reconciled, but the latter may be. remove their apprehensions, satisfy them that no harm is intended to them and their institutions; that this Government is not making war on their rights of property, but is simply defending its legitimate authority, and they will gladly return to their allegiance as soon as the pressure of military domination imposed by the Confederate authority is removed from them.

Oh, man, sing it to the world, brothers! The border staters were spot-on when it comes to describing the force behind the Confederate war effort…”strength from the union of all classes”, “They are in arms, but not for the same objects; they are moved to a common end, but by different and even inconsistent reasons.” I could have a field day with this block quote, but not denying its truth. Much to the contrary, and I think this is often overlooked in efforts to understand why Southerners went to war for the Confederacy. I can’t possibly place enough emphasis here, but this isn’t the focus of this post.

So, really, while some contemporary folks suggest that gradual emancipation would have occurred and been a reasonable alternative to war, I think they’re missing the big picture. If border staters wouldn’t buy into it, why would we believe that Southern slaveholders would? As long as the institution continues to keep these folks in wealth, they weren’t about to sell-out, and the buy-out would never measure up to the long-term profits in slavery.

But, let’s say that they did buy into it. Even the after-effect of that wasn’t easy. If freed, slaves posed a threat to the social system… that included everything from jobs to concerns about social integration (most definitely, that includes intermarriage). I believe colonization was offered as a solution to this. Was Lincoln flexing his racism, or was he simply looking to ease the concerns of the masses (non-slaveholding Southerners) over the slaveholders? It seems to me that the non-slaveholding Southerners had more to gain from the colonization (I hope to talk about a Virginian’s pitch for colonization in a post later this week), than the slaveholders had to gain from compensated emancipation.

About these ads