Tag Archives: Charles Sumner

The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction

December 9, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln outlined a plan to bring the Confederate states back into the Union. This was part of his effort to exacerbate political dissension in the Confederacy while uniting the factions within his own Republican Party.

As the Confederacy seemed about to collapse, Federal politicians began considering how the post-war South should be administered. By this time, three clear plans had taken shape in Congress:

  • Democrats supported canceling the Emancipation Proclamation and offering general amnesty to all Confederates if they agreed to return to the Union; once returned, they could send representation to Congress and all would continue as it did before the war.
  • Conservative Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and offering conditional amnesty, with the Confederate states sending representation to Congress only after certain conditions were met, including accepting black freedom.
  • Radical Republicans supported upholding the Emancipation Proclamation and revoking the civil rights of those who supported the Confederacy; the states would be treated as conquered territories and brought back into the Union after several conditions were met, including accepting both black freedom and equality.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: histmag.org

As the leader of the conservative faction, Lincoln proclaimed, “Whereas it is now desired by some persons heretofore engaged in said rebellion to resume their allegiance to the United States, and to reinaugrate loyal State governments,” he offered a “full pardon” to those who “directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion” if they swore loyalty to the Union and promised to obey Federal laws.

Those excluded from the pardons included high-ranking Confederates, officers who relinquished U.S. military commissions to join the Confederacy, and those who treated Federal soldiers “otherwise than lawfully as prisoners of war.” Those receiving a pardon would have all their property rights restored, “except as to slaves.” The decree also included Lincoln’s proposed policy on converting slavery into free labor in the South:

“Any provision which may be adopted… in relation to the freed people (by the new state governments), which shall recognize and declare their permanent freedom, provide for their education, and which may yet be consistent, as a temporary arrangement, with their present condition as a laboring, landless, and homeless class, will not be objected to by the national Executive.”

Lincoln’s proclamation also included what became known as the “Ten Percent Plan,” which proposed that if 10 percent of a state’s registered voters (according to the 1860 census) swore loyalty to the Union and recognized the “permanent freedom of slaves,” then those voters could form a new government and send Federal representation to Washington. It would then be for Congress to decide whether to seat those new representatives in the House and Senate.

This marked a significant political shift for Lincoln. When the war began, he argued that the rebellion consisted of a small minority who did not represent the majority of southern sentiment. But by proposing the “Ten Percent Plan,” he acknowledged that 90 percent of every Confederate state constituency most likely wanted no part of reunion. As such, harsher measures would be needed to bring their states back into the Union and ensure that their leaders would be loyal.

Democrats were the plan’s loudest critics. They argued that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee that each state have a republican form of government since 10 percent of a state’s voters would be dictating how the remaining 90 percent should be governed. They also noted that since no Confederate state would likely have a 10 percent loyalty rate, that percentage would be made up of former slaves and northerners migrating to the states. Moreover, forcing people to swear allegiance to the government violated the principle stated in the Declaration of Independence that government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The pro-Democrat New York World pointed out that “By setting up… State governments, representing one-tenth of the voters, in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina,” the Lincoln administration “could control as many electoral votes as may be needed to turn the scale” in next year’s presidential election. Democratic New York Governor Horatio Seymour argued that this plan would give 70,000 voters in the southern states just as many votes in the Electoral College as 16 million voters in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

But this proclamation was not intended to satisfy the minority Democrats; it was intended to appease both Radicals and conservatives within the Republican Party. Radicals supported the demands that Confederates swear loyalty to the Union and acknowledge the end of slavery. Conservatives supported the “Ten Percent Plan” because it undermined Radical ideas to reorganize southern states as conquered territories.

Radicals favored disqualifying anybody with Confederate sympathies from voting, along with any southern professional who lacked Union sympathies. Radicals also insisted that all slaves should be immediately freed without compensation to slaveholders, and that newly freed slaves should be allowed to vote in some cases. They also argued that Congress, not the president, had the constitutional authority to restore the Union.

Conservatives argued that most southerners owned no slaves and had not voted to secede, and thus should not be penalized for merely fighting to defend their homes. Lincoln saw revoking emancipation as a “cruel and an astounding breach of faith,” but he also saw no reason to further punish the South since both sides had been so terribly punished by the war itself.

Behind the conflict between Radicals and conservatives was a growing conflict between Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. While Lincoln was largely viewed as the conservative leader of the Republican Party, Chase aspired to replace him as president in 1864, and thus he was supported by most Radicals.

However, some Radicals voiced support for Lincoln’s plan, including influential Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner said that Lincoln’s proclamation gave him “great satisfaction” because it touched upon “his idea of proper reconstruction without insisting on the adoption of his peculiar theories.” And Joseph Medill, editor of the pro-Radical Chicago Tribune, wrote that the “political future begins to look clear,” and stated that this decree proved there was only one politician “in whom the nation more and more confides–Abraham Lincoln.”

Newspapers critical of Lincoln’s proclamation included the New York Journal of Commerce, which called it a “ukase from the chambers of an autocrat,” and the Chicago Times, which contended that Lincoln was either “insane with fanaticism, or a traitor who glories in his country’s shame.”

However, the pro-Democrat New York World praised the decree because it canceled out the “abolition plan of Senator (Charles) Sumner” (i.e., the Radical plan to immediately free all slaves and punish all Confederates). The influential Blair family, representing the conservative Republicans, also commended it because it canceled “Sumner’s and Chase’s territorial project.”

Despite the rift between the two Republican factions, Lincoln’s proclamation temporarily united the party by offering concessions to both sides. Lincoln also assured members of Congress that he would be willing to change the plan to suit future events if necessary. Furthermore, it threatened to disrupt Confederate politics by enticing some southerners to push for restoring the Union under this plan. This marked the first significant Federal step toward restoring the Union.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 16790, 16807-33; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9950-71, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 563-64, 588-89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 444-45; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 698, 709; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 618; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q463

The Battle of Chancellorsville: Federal Withdrawal

May 5, 1863 – The Federal Army of the Potomac retreated across the Rappahannock River to regroup in their original camps at Falmouth, Virginia.

Maj Gen Joseph Hooker | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Both Major General Joseph Hooker’s main Federal army and Major General John Sedgwick’s separated VI Corps withdrew on the 5th. Sedgwick led his men across Banks’s Ford, partially concealed by thick fog. Hooker, who had been so boastful of victory, led the retreat of the rest of his army at United States Ford. The corps commanders were left behind to work out the logistics of such a complex withdrawal. That afternoon, rain began falling, which escalated into a violent thunderstorm that raised the river levels six feet by midnight.

The retreat grew disorderly in the rain and dark, during which time rumors spread that Hooker was incapacitated. Major General Darius N. Couch, the ranking officer behind Hooker, found his II Corps unable to cross the rising river and announced, “We will stay where we are and fight it out.” Hooker learned of this around 2 a.m. on the 6th and quickly ordered Couch to find a way to cross. The Federals struggled to cross on a hastily erected bridge.

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, prepared to renew his attacks in hopes of destroying Hooker’s army, but he soon learned that the enemy was falling back across the river. Lee chose not to pursue, reporting that the Federals “had sought safety beyond the Rappahannock.”

The exhausted Federals concluded their river crossing on the 6th and began returning to their camps at Falmouth. The Confederates returned to their old camps near Fredericksburg. This ended the Battles of Chancellorsville, Second Fredericksburg, and Salem Church. In the fighting from the 1st through the 4th, the Federals sustained 17,287 casualties (1,606 killed, 9,762 wounded, and 5,919 missing or captured). Federal wounded were taken to Aquia Creek, where they were loaded on steamers and sent to Washington.

Hooker issued a proclamation to his troops declaring that the troops did all they could under the circumstances, even though over 40,000 men did not see any combat. Hooker added, “Whenever we have fought, we have inflicted heavier blows than we have received.” When Hooker returned to Falmouth, he learned that Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry raid had not only failed, but it kept the troopers from providing intelligence Hooker could have used to turn the tide of the battle.

At Washington, President Abraham Lincoln was still trying to piece together all that was happening, mostly from newspaper accounts on both sides. In a cabinet meeting on the 5th, Lincoln shared Hooker’s message that the Confederates had most likely taken back the Fredericksburg heights. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles recalled in his diary:

“This reply communicates nothing of operations, but the tone and whole thing–even its brevity–inspire right feelings. It is strange, however, that no reliable intelligence reaches us from the army of what it is doing, or not doing. This fact itself forebodes no good.”

A wire from Major General Daniel Butterfield, Hooker’s chief of staff, reached Washington at 12:30 p.m. on the 5th stating, “The cavalry failed in executing their orders. General Sedgwick failed in executing his orders, and cross the river at Banks Ford last night.” Regarding the rest of the army, “circumstances, which in time will be fully explained, make it expedient, in the general’s judgment, that he should retire from this position to the north bank of the Rappahannock for his defensible position.”

Secretary of State William H. Seward responded to Senator Edwin Morgan of New York, who speculated that Hooker may need reinforcements:

“General Hooker has had, has now, and will have, everything he asks for by telegraph, which is always in full connection with the War Department. He reports confidentially that only three corps of his army, all told, have been engaged. You need not be told that this is less than half of the army in his command and actually with him. Further accumulation of troops, not called for by him, would exhaust his supplies and endanger his plans.”

Lincoln was still hopeful for good news after reading some Richmond newspapers not yet aware of the full Confederate victory. That hope evaporated with Butterfield’s wire at 3 p.m. reporting that the army had re-crossed the Rappahannock and would soon return to Falmouth.

News of another Federal defeat horrified Lincoln. He brought the telegram from the War Department to the White House. He gave it to Springfield friend Dr. Anson G. Henry and Sacramento Union reporter Noah Brooks and said, “Read it–news from the Army.” As the men read the message, Brooks later recalled:

“The appearance of the President as I read aloud these fateful words, was piteous. Never, as long as I knew him, did he seem to be so broken up, so dispirited, and so ghostlike. Clasping his hands behind his back, he walked up and down the room, saying ‘My God, my God, what will the country say! What will the country say!’”

Horace Greeley, influential editor of the New York Tribune, wrote, “My God, it is horrible. Horrible. And to think of it–130,000 magnificent soldiers so cut to pieces by less than 60,000 half-starved ragamuffins!” Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts spoke for the Radical Republicans when he cried, “Lost, lost, all is lost!” upon hearing the news. Lincoln quickly arranged for a steamer to take him to Hooker’s headquarters.

The Confederates captured 13 guns, 19,500 stands of arms, a huge stockpile of ammunition, and 17 battle flags in this remarkable victory, during which Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s corps was not even available (Longstreet abandoned the siege of Suffolk on the 3rd). But they also lost 12,764 men (1,665 killed, 9,081 wounded, and 2,018 missing or captured), or over 20 percent of their total. This included 11 brigade commanders, two division commanders (A.P. Hill and Henry Heth), and one corps commander (Thomas J. Jackson). Many Confederate wounded were taken aboard springless ambulances on the rutted roads to Fredericksburg, and then to Richmond.

Part of Longstreet’s command arrived at Richmond on the 6th, where Longstreet arranged to hurry the divisions under Major Generals John Bell Hood and George Pickett to Lee. However, Lee notified Longstreet:

“The emergency that made your presence so desirable has passed for the present, so far as I can see, and I desire that you will not distress your troops by a forced movement to join me, or sacrifice for that purpose any public interest that your sudden departure might make it necessary to abandon.”

The heavy losses, along with confidence that he could defeat the Federal army, prompted Lee to make another daring gamble, one that threatened to finally exceed his capabilities.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 306; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17847-57, 17890; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281-82; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9243-54, 9275; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 261, 313-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 293; Goolrick, William K., Rebels Resurgent: Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 138-39, 159-61; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 62-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 349-50; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 644-45; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 203-10; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126-27

Final Legislation of the 37th U.S. Congress

March 3, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln reviewed several bills and signed many into law as the lame-duck session of the Thirty-seventh U.S. Congress ended.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

A measure was approved authorizing the president to appoint four major generals and nine brigadiers for the Regular Army, as well as 40 major generals and 200 brigadiers for the volunteer army. Thirty-three ranking Federal officers were dismissed from the military for various offenses. Other military measures included:

  • Authorizing the Medal of Honor for army soldiers; previously the Medal was only awarded to navy personnel
  • Appointing financier Jay Cooke to lead the effort to sell war bonds

Lincoln vetoed a bill authorizing letters of marque against ships transporting goods to or from the Confederacy. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, opposed this measure because allowing Federal privateers (i.e., “rovers of the sea”) to confront neutral ships suspected of working with the Confederacy would “involve us with the great neutral powers of the world.” Sumner also resented that Secretary of State William H. Seward, who supported this bill, bypassed Sumner to push it through Congress. Lincoln sided with Sumner in vetoing the measure.

Lincoln approved the following finance-related measures:

  • Establishing the means to prevent and punish revenue fraud
  • Authorizing the Treasury Department to collect all cotton, tobacco, rice, and sugar captured by Federal forces in Confederate states
  • Loaning the Federal government $300 million this year and $600 million next year
  • Replacing postage stamp currency with $50 million in greenbacks

General legislation approved by Lincoln included:

  • Increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 10
  • Establishing the Idaho Territory (present-day Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming, taken from parts of the Washington and Dakota territories)
  • Establishing the National Academy of Sciences

Under the Habeas Corpus Act, Congress sanctioned Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in September by authorizing, “That during the present rebellion, the President of the United States, whenever in his judgment the public safety may require it, is authorized to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in any case throughout the United States, or any part thereof.”

This retroactive congressional approval shifted the power over suspending the writ from Congress to the president. It also overrode the ruling by U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in Ex Parte Merryman (1861), which declared that the Constitution only empowered Congress, not the president, to suspend habeas corpus.

The act also canceled state court rulings by exempting Federal military officers from being sued for violating civil liberties: “It shall then be the duty of the State court to accept the surety (of the Federal court ruling on the matter) and proceed no further in the cause or prosecution, and the bail that shall have been originally taken shall be discharged.” To balance this provision, Federal officers were required to report all arrests made to the Federal judges presiding over the jurisdiction. Nevertheless, this led to a large increase in military arrests in the northern states.

This law drew intense opposition from the minority Democrats. Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware delivered a scathing (and possibly drunken) speech on the Senate floor in which he called Lincoln “an imbecile” who was “the weakest man ever placed in a high office.” Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, presiding over the Senate, called upon the sergeant-at-arms to subdue Saulsbury when he refused to yield; Saulsbury threatened the officer to “shoot you dead.”

Most Democrats in Congress, especially the Peace Democrats or “Copperheads,” vigorously opposed all these measures enacted by the Republican majority. War Democrats argued that the war-related measures went beyond merely defeating the Confederacy by violating civil liberties, inflating the size of the Supreme Court (thus assuring a Republican majority on the bench), and nationalizing institutions such as banking.

Some Democrats hid in cloakrooms to prevent a quorum when voting on key measures, others added outrageous amendments to bills, and some senators filibustered as long as they could to prevent voting. However, every Republican-driven piece of legislation ultimately passed by the time Congress adjourned on the 4th.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17608-17, 19712-29; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 331; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 267; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 503-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 325; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 61; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163

Foreign Affairs: Seward Rejects Mediation

February 6, 1863 – Secretary of State William H. Seward unilaterally declined an offer by French Emperor Napoleon III to mediate the conflict between the U.S. and the Confederacy.

Horace Greeley, the influential editor of the New York Tribune, had been publishing editorials in his newspaper calling for an armistice to negotiate a peace that would restore “the Union as it was.” William C. “Colorado” Jewett, a mining speculator with a questionable reputation, informed Greeley after returning from France that Napoleon had offered to mediate a peace between the warring factions.

Greeley responded by going to Washington to try getting the French minister to the U.S., Henri Mercier, to mediate on Napoleon’s behalf. Mercier offered his services on February 3, proposing that officials of the U.S. and the Confederacy come together in a neutral country to discuss a possible peace, and that Mercier would “chair” the meeting.

President Abraham Lincoln neither accepted nor declined the offer. Senator Charles Sumner, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wanted to continue the war until the Federals achieved total victory. Seward considered arresting Greeley for violating the Logan Act, which barred American citizens from negotiating with a foreign nation on behalf of the U.S. government.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Three days later, Seward officially turned down Mercier’s request, explaining that the Lincoln administration would not under any circumstances abandon the effort to preserve the Union, and would also not relinquish any authority to France as the proposal seemed to have implied. Lincoln endorsed Seward’s rejection. Seward took offense to “interference by a foreign power in a family dispute.” Many Republicans in Congress also expressed anger toward the French trying to involve themselves in what they considered to be a domestic insurrection.

Great Britain would not go so far as to offer mediation services. In an address to the British Parliament, Queen Victoria declared that Britain had not tried to “induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States, because it has not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures could be attended with a probability of success.”

James Mason, the Confederate envoy in Britain, continued working to gain Confederate recognition. This included delivering a prominent speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in London calling for the British to recognize Confederate independence. However, Commander James H. North of the Confederate navy wrote to Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory from Glasgow, Scotland:

“I can see no prospect of recognition from this country… If they will let us get our ships out when they are ready, we shall feel ourselves most fortunate. It is now almost impossible to make the slightest move or do the smallest thing, that the Lincoln spies do not know of it.”

Part of the reason the British government was so reluctant to recognize Confederate independence was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which proved very popular among the British people. Mass meetings took place on the 19th at Liverpool and Carlisle in support of Lincoln’s decree. Therefore, recognizing the Confederacy would defy the will of many British subjects.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 253; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259, 261-62; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8767-78; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 157; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 261-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-20, 322

Lincoln Addresses Republican Dissension

December 19, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln met with the secret Senate Republican caucus committee and shrewdly arranged for the committee members and his cabinet to explain their differences face to face.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When Lincoln learned about the secret caucus on the 16th, he was “more distressed” about this supposed conspiracy against him “than by any event of my life.” He asked Senator Orville Browning of Illinois, “What do these men want? They wish to get rid of me, and I am sometimes half disposed to gratify them. We are on the brink of destruction. It appears to me the Almighty is against us, and I can hardly see a ray of hope.”

More bad news came that night, when Lincoln received the resignations of both Secretary of State William H. Seward and his son, Assistant Secretary of State Frederick Seward. Lincoln went to meet with the elder Seward, who was already packing to return to New York. The president refused to accept his resignation and, although Lincoln kept the letter, he told nobody about it as he awaited the caucus results.

The senators resolved to demand that Lincoln reorganize his cabinet, and they deputized nine colleagues to issue this demand at the White House on the 18th. The meeting began at 7 p.m., when Jacob Collamer of Vermont read a statement calling for Lincoln to replace conservative cabinet members with those who agree with Lincoln “in political principles and general policy.” Furthermore, all major military commanders must also be “a cordial believer and supporter of the same principles.”

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Various senators delivered speeches “attributing to Mr. Seward a lukewarmness in the conduct of the war.” Benjamin Wade of Ohio accused Lincoln of taking war advice from “men who had no sympathy with it or the cause,” and he alleged that the Republican defeats in last month’s midterm elections were due to “the fact that the President had placed the direction of our military affairs in the hands of bitter and malignant Democrats.”

William P. Fessenden of Maine was more respectful, applauding Lincoln’s patriotism and dedication while admonishing him because “the Cabinet were not consulted as” a group before making crucial decisions about the war. Fessenden then accused Seward of undermining the war effort and claimed that army commanders were “largely pro-slavery men and sympathized strongly with the Southern feeling.” Fessenden singled out Major General George B. McClellan as the prime example.

Lincoln responded by reading copies of letters he had written to McClellan proving that Lincoln had consistently urged him to destroy the enemy as soon as possible. The senators then turned back to Seward, with Charles Sumner of Massachusetts accusing him of writing questionable diplomatic letters “which the President could not have seen or assented to.”

After three hours of discussion, Lincoln pledged to consider the committee’s recommendations and asked the senators to return tomorrow night to resume talks. The men agreed. At next morning’s cabinet meeting, Lincoln informed the members about the committee’s concerns. He said that the senators considered Seward, who did not attend, “the real cause of our failures.” He reported, “While they believed in the President’s honesty, they seemed to think that when he had in him any good purposes Mr. S. contrived to suck them out of him unperceived.”

Lincoln persuaded the members to attend that evening’s meeting with the committee so he could shrewdly put up a unified front against the senators. Before the meeting began, the senators were surprised to see the cabinet members (except Seward) waiting in the anteroom. Lincoln brought them all into the office and announced that his cabinet would be attending to listen to the complaints and testify that the administration was united in purpose.

The meeting began with Lincoln reading a long rebuttal to the committee’s resolutions, which included “some mild severity” against them. Acknowledging that he did not consistently consult with his entire cabinet before making important policy decisions, Lincoln asserted “that most questions of importance had received a reasonable consideration” and he “was not aware of any divisions or want of unity.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln then asked his cabinet to say “whether there had been any want of unity or of sufficient consultation.” This put Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in an embarrassing predicament. As a Radical ally, Chase had secretly told the senators that there was dissension and a lack of communication in the cabinet, but now he had to say so in front of the president. To say so would make him disloyal to Lincoln; to not say so would mean he had deceived the senators.

Chase angrily said that he should not have been placed in this awkward situation. He then “fully and entirely” supported Lincoln’s statement and grudgingly admitted that “there had been no want of unity in the cabinet.” The discussion then turned back to Seward, but Chase’s admission seriously damaged the senators’ case against him.

After five hours, Lincoln asked the senators if they still demanded Seward’s resignation. Four said yes, but the other five were no longer sure. The meeting finally adjourned around 1 a.m. with everyone present fairly confident that Seward would not be removed.

Lincoln noted Chase’s disapproval of how the meeting was handled and, as expected, Chase visited him the next day and explained how he had been embarrassed. He told Lincoln that he had written a letter of resignation. Lincoln quickly asked, “Where is it?” Chase pulled it from his pocket and said, “I brought it with me. I wrote it this morning.” Lincoln replied, “Let me have it.”

Chase reluctantly handed the paper to Lincoln, who read it and said, “This… cuts the Gordian knot. I can dispose of this subject now.” Both Postmaster General Montgomery Blair and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also offered to resign, but Lincoln refused. He did not, however, refuse Chase’s because it played right into Lincoln’s hands. If the senators insisted on removing Seward, then their greatest ally in the cabinet, Chase, would have to go as well. As Lincoln said to Senator Ira Harris of New York, “I can ride on now. I’ve got a pumpkin in each end of my bag!”

The Radicals ultimately withdrew their demands, Lincoln refused the resignations of both Seward and Chase, and all cabinet members resumed their duties. Lincoln’s shrewdness in handling this affair diffused the political crisis for now.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 244-46; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8563-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 111, 113-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 240-41; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 486-87; Jackson, Donald Dale, Twenty Million Yankees: The Northern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 297-99; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 574-75; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q462

Slave Emancipation or Slave Colonization

August 14, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln hosted a conference of black men at the White House, where he reiterated his desire that they voluntarily leave America.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

This month, the demand for emancipating the slaves continued increasing among congressional Republicans, especially the Radicals. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley wrote to Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, the leading Radical abolitionist in the Senate, complaining about Lincoln’s inactivity regarding emancipation: “Do you remember that old theological book containing this: ‘Chapter One–Hell; Chapter Two–Hell Continued.’ Well, that gives a hint of the way Old Abe ought to be talked to in this crisis.”

Unbeknownst to most politicians, Lincoln was preparing the public for an emancipation edict, but he wanted to wait for military success before announcing it. In the meantime, Lincoln continued to publicly champion his longtime commitment to black colonization (i.e., deportation) out of America.

On August 14, Lincoln became the first U.S. president to invite and receive a delegation of black people at the White House. A group of free blacks and former slaves came to hear Lincoln discuss his proposals. Lincoln hoped to garner support for his idea so the delegates could explain and promote the benefits to fellow blacks.

Announcing to the delegates that he favored deportation, Lincoln asked rhetorically, “Why should people of your race leave the country?” then answered, “You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races… This physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffers very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side.”

While Lincoln acknowledged that “slavery was the greatest wrong inflicted on any people,” he asserted that whites would not tolerate emancipation. He said, “But even when you cease to be (enslaved), you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race… On this broad continent, not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours.” A delegate tried to object, but Lincoln stopped him:

“I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it, if I would… I need not recount to you the effects upon white men growing out of the institution of slavery… see our present condition–the country engaged in war–our white men cutting one another’s throats, none knowing how far it will extend… But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated… There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you to remain with us.”

Lincoln announced that Congress had appropriated the funds to set up a colony in Central America, and he needed educated black men to encourage other blacks to join the program. Lincoln noted a similarity to Africa in climate, and he suggested that the deportees work in the lucrative coal fields until “they got ready to settle permanently in their homes.” If the pilot colonies succeeded, they could pave the way for thousands of former slaves to start new lives outside America.

Although the political climate was volatile in Central America, Lincoln said the people “are more generous than we are here… To your race, they have no objections. Besides, I would endeavor to have you made equals… I ask you then, to consider seriously not pertaining to yourselves merely, nor for your race, and ours, for the present time, but as one of the things, if successfully managed, for the good of mankind—not confined to the present time, but… ‘Into eternity.’”

The delegates agreed to pass Lincoln’s plan on to their constituents, but they could not make any promises that it would be accepted. Almost immediately, most black civil rights leaders vehemently rejected the plan and denounced Lincoln for devising it. Frederick Douglass declared that Lincoln had “contempt for Negroes” and “canting hypocrisy.” He asserted that Lincoln’s plan would encourage “ignorant and base” whites to commit “all kinds of violence and outrage upon the colored people.”

Douglass stated that blacks were just as much American citizens as whites and should not be manipulated into leaving their homeland. The Pacific Appeal, influential among blacks, opined that Lincoln’s proposal made it “evident that he, his cabinet, and most of the people, care but little for justice to the negro. If necessary he is to be crushed between the upper and nether millstone–the pride and prejudice of the North and South.” Even Lincoln’s own treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, wrote, “How much better would be a manly protest against prejudice against color!—and a wise effort to give free(d) men homes in America!”

However, some activists agreed to promote the plan in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. Reverend Henry Highland Garnet led the minority in supporting Lincoln’s effort to save “our emancipated brethren from being returned to their former condition of slavery,” calling colonization “the most humane, and merciful movement which this or any other administration has proposed for the benefit of the enslaved.” And a prominent abolitionist conceded that deportation “is a damn humbug, but it will take with the people.”

While Lincoln had long supported black deportation, he had already begun leaning toward favoring emancipation when this conference took place. As such, this was a clever political tactic on Lincoln’s part to prepare the nation for slave liberation. It could also help Republicans’ chances in the upcoming midterm elections. Lincoln’s suggestion of deporting blacks made emancipation more appealing to the slaveholding border states, and it helped calm northern fears that massive waves of freed slaves would flood into their states.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 321; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7758-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 192; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 469-70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 247, 251, 254-55; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 505, 508; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362

Moving Toward Emancipation

July 22, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln surprised his cabinet by reading a draft of an executive order freeing all slaves in Confederate states.

Abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Northern abolitionists and the Radical Republicans in Congress continued pressuring Lincoln to do something about slavery. On Independence Day, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, a prominent Radical abolitionist, visited the White House twice “to urge the reconsecration of the day by a decree of emancipation.”

Sumner hoped that such a proclamation would encourage slaves to rise up against their masters, thus helping the Federals destroy the Confederacy from within. Others, including influential New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, also voiced support for slave emancipation to weaken the Confederate war effort. Freed slaves could also join the Federal armies and overwhelm the Confederates with superior numbers.

But Lincoln called it “too big a lick” because it could negatively affect Republican chances in the upcoming midterm elections. He worried that if he freed the slaves, which had no basis in the Constitution, “half the officers would fling down their arms and three more states (Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri) would rise (i.e., secede).” Sumner left the White House confident that Lincoln was “not disinclined” to free slaves in eastern Virginia, but Lincoln later rejected that limited move as well.

16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Bing public domain

The day after his conference with the congressmen from the loyal slaveholding states, Lincoln attended the funeral of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s newborn child with other members of the cabinet. Riding with Secretary of State William H. Seward and Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, Lincoln said he had resolved that slavery must be abolished.

Using his political guile, Lincoln shared this decision with two of his most conservative advisors to get their reaction first. According to Welles, Lincoln said the slavery issue had “occupied his mind and thoughts day and night” for weeks. Lincoln concluded that emancipation was “a military necessity, absolutely essential to the preservation of the Union. We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued. The slaves were undeniably an element of strength to those who had their service, and we must decide whether that element should be with us or against us.”

Both men expressed surprise because Lincoln had consistently maintained that he had no constitutional authority to interfere with slavery where it already existed. But Lincoln no longer felt restrained by constitutional arguments, arguing that in wartime, the commander-in-chief could seize enemy slaves as a military necessity. He said, “The rebels… could not at the same time throw off the Constitution and invoke its aid. Having made war on the Government, they were subject to the incidents and calamities of war.”

Regarding the border states, Lincoln predicted they “would do nothing” about the matter. In fact, it would be unfair to ask them to give up their slaves while the states in rebellion kept theirs. As such, the “the blow must fall first and foremost on (the rebels)… Decisive and extensive measures must be adopted… We wanted the army to strike more vigorous blows. The Administration must set an example, and strike at the heart of the rebellion.”

The secretaries requested time to consider the matter. Lincoln asked them to give it serious thought because, according to Welles, Lincoln was “earnest in the conviction that something must be done” about slavery to bring about a “new departure” in the war. From this point forward, Lincoln began siding more with the Radicals in the Republican Party than the conservatives on the slavery issue.

Lincoln held a cabinet meeting at 10 a.m. on Monday the 21st to discuss several orders and ideas, including those involving slavery. The cabinet unanimously approved Lincoln’s proposals to allow army commanders to feed their troops with confiscated southern crops and to use freed slaves as army laborers. Lincoln’s proposal to account for confiscated property and slaves so owners could be compensated was accepted by everyone except Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, whose department would be responsible for the accounting.

Stanton brought up a request from Major General David Hunter, commanding the Department of the South, to recruit anyone willing to join his army, regardless of race. Hunter argued that he operated in hostile territory (mainly South Carolina), he needed more men after sending reinforcements to Virginia, and local slaves were willing to join his ranks. Stanton, Seward, and Chase supported the idea, while the other members leaned toward neutrality.

The meeting ended before Lincoln could bring up his idea of emancipation, so the participants agreed to meet again the next day. When the discussions resumed, the attendees tabled proposals related to slave colonization because they could not come to a consensus. Stanton raised the question of whether to arm slaves, but Lincoln continued resisting the notion.

Lincoln then announced that he had drafted a proclamation to free all slaves in the Confederate states not currently under Federal occupation. Lincoln said, “I have got you together to hear what I have written down. I do not wish your advice about the main matter, for that I have determined for myself… I must do the best I can and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.”

The decree contained two paragraphs. The first warned Confederates that if they did not return to the U.S. immediately, they would face a stricter Confiscation Act and no possibility of being compensated for losing their slaves. The second read:

“And, as a fit and necessary military measure for effecting this object, I, as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, do order and declare 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 states, wherein the constitutional authority of the United States shall not then be practically recognized, submitted to, and maintained, shall then, thenceforward, and forever, be free.”

This proclamation would only apply to the three and a half million slaves in the Confederate states. Any of those slaves in an area occupied by Federal troops and owned by men who defied the Federal government would be permanently freed. The 425,000 slaves in the loyal slaveholding states would continue to be enslaved, as Lincoln’s wartime powers did not extend to states not rebelling against the U.S. Even so, this was a shocking presidential order that overturned all American legislation on slavery and property rights since the nation’s founding.

Stanton and Attorney General Edward Bates urged “immediate promulgation,” but Chase resisted the idea because “it goes beyond anything that I have recommended,” and it could hurt the North financially. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair opposed it “on the ground that it would cost the Administration the fall elections.” Interior Secretary Caleb B. Smith was strongly opposed.

Seward warned that “foreign nations will intervene to prevent the abolition of slavery for sake of cotton.” The proclamation could “break up our relations with foreign nations and the production of cotton for 60 years.” Seward then questioned the proclamation’s timing:

“It may be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help; the government stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching forth her hands to the government.”

Fearing that it would seem “our last shriek, on the retreat,” Seward suggested that Lincoln “postpone its issue, until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest disasters of the war (i.e., the failed Peninsula campaign).”

Lincoln agreed. He would not issue the emancipation proclamation until the Federal armies gained a victory. He would have to wait much longer than hoped.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 81, 82-83, 85-86; Bailey, Ronald H., The Bloodiest Day: The Battle of Antietam (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7657, 7680-91; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7713-35; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 539-40; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 181, 183-84; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 463-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 242-43; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 503-05; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 166; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q362