Lincoln appeals (again) to the border states

Posted on December 19, 2009 by


Following-up from my post yesterday about Maryland’s independent efforts in emancipating slaves in Maryland… this is the piece that I promised would follow. The following is from the July 30, 1862 edition of the Hagerstown Herald of Freedom and Torch Light:

The President’s Appeal to the Border States

The Representatives and Senators of the Border Slaveholding States having, by special invitation of the President, been convened at the Executive Mansion on Saturday morning last Mr. Lincoln addressing them as follows from a written paper in his hands:

[Begin President Lincoln’s address]

Gentlemen – After adjournment of Congress, now near, I shall have no opportunity of seeing you for several months. Believing that you of the Border States hold more power for good than any other equal number of numbers, I feel it a duty which I cannot justifiably waive to make this approach to you.

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. 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. Beat them at elections,m as you have overwhelmingly done, and nothing ____ [illegible] they still claim you as their own. 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.

Most of you have treated me with kindness and consideration, and I trust you will not now think I improperly touch what is exclusively your own, when, for the sake of the whole country, I ask, ‘can you, for your States, do better than to take the course I urge? Discarding punctilia and maxims adapted to more manageable times, and looking only to the unprecedentedly stern facts of our case, can you do better in any possible event? – 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. 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. 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.

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.

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.

Upon these considerations I have again begged your attention to the message of march last. Before leaving the Capitol, consider ans 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.

[End President Lincoln’s address]

At the conclusion of these remarks some conversation was had between the President and several members of the delegation from the Border States, in which it was represented that these States could not be expected to move in so great a matter as that brought to their notice in the foregoing address while as yet the Congress had taken no step beyond the passage of a resolution expressive rather of sentiment than presenting a substantial and reliable basis of action.

The President acknowledge the force of this view, and admitted that the Border States wwere entitled to expect a substantial pledge of pecuniary aid as the condition of taking into consideration a proposition so important in its relations to their social system.

It was further represented in the conference that the people of the Border States were interested in knowing the great importance which the President attached to the policy in question, while it was equally due to the country, to the President, and to themselves that the Representatives of the Border Slaveholding States should publicly announce the motives under which they were called to act, and the considerations of public policy urged upon them and their constituents by the President.

With a view to such a statement of their position, the members thus addressed met in council to deliberate on the reply they should make to the President, and, as the result of a comparison of opinions among themselves, they determined upon the adoption of a majority and minority answer.

Those replies follow in another post.