Lincoln’s Compensated Emancipation Plan

February 5, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln proposed legislation paying slaveholders to return to the Union and abolish slavery.

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

President Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Two days after the Hampton Roads Conference, Lincoln met with his cabinet and unveiled a plan proposing that Congress authorize him to allocate “four hundred millions of dollars” to the Confederate states if they stopped rebelling against the U.S. and abolished slavery. Half the subsidy would be paid if the states stopped rebelling by April 1, and the other half would be paid if they ratified the Thirteenth Amendment by July 1.[1]

Lincoln had suggested compensated emancipation in exchange for peace to the Confederate envoys during the Hampton Roads conference, and now he sought his cabinet’s advice. To his surprise, the cabinet members unanimously opposed this proposal.[2]

Interior Secretary John Usher feared the congressional Radicals “would make it the occasion of a violent assault on the president” for being so lenient toward the South. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton argued that the offer was wasteful and unnecessary because the slaves had already been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Treasury Secretary William P. Fessenden asserted “that the only way to effectually end the war was by force of arms, and that until the war was thus ended no proposition to pay money would come from us.”[3]

Lincoln countered that the monetary figure equated to continuing the war for another 200 days, “to say nothing of the lives lost and property destroyed.” But this did not move the cabinet members. Disappointed, Lincoln said, “You are all against me,” and set the plan aside.[4]

In reality, congressional Radicals would have never approved the program, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis deemed the plan unacceptable when he learned that Lincoln had proposed it. On the back of his written proposal, Lincoln wrote under the date of 5 Feb 1865, “Today these papers, which explain themselves, were drawn up and submitted to the Cabinet and unanimously disapproved by them.” Lincoln signed his name and filed it away.[5]

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  • [1] White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57153-57156; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 634-35; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 695-96
  • [2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 16241-16270; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57153-57156
  • [3] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 695-96
  • [4] Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 695-96; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57153-57156
  • [5] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 634-35; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 695-96; White, Howard Ray (2012-12-18). Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition), Kindle Locations 57153-57156
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