Tag Archives: U.S. Congress

The Thirteenth Amendment: Ratification Begins

February 23, 1865 – Minnesota became the 15th state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permanently abolishing slavery.

Celebrating the end of slavery | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On February 1, the day after Congress passed this new amendment, President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution submitting the proposed measure to the state legislatures for ratification. Since the amendment had already been approved by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress, Lincoln’s signature was merely a symbolic gesture.

On the same day, Lincoln’s home state of Illinois became the first state to ratify the amendment. Illinois had also recently repealed its laws forbidding blacks from entering the state which, according to Harper’s Weekly

“… were as much a part of the code of slavery as any slave law of Arkansas or Mississippi… all colored persons (in Illinois) were presumed to be slaves unless they could prove themselves to be free… they were held to be guilty until they proved their innocence: thus directly reversing the first humane maxim of the common law. By another act, if any negro or mulatto came into the State and staid ten days, he was to be fined fifty dollars, and sold indefinitely to pay the fine.”

That evening, Lincoln addressed a crowd celebrating passage of the amendment at the White House. He said, “The occasion was one of congratulation to the country and to the whole world. But there is a task yet before us–to go forward and consummate by the votes of the states that which Congress so nobly began.”

Lincoln praised members of Congress for approving the measure, which he called “the fitting if not indispensable adjunct to the consummation of the great game we are playing.” He said that courts could have ruled his Emancipation Proclamation unconstitutional, “But this amendment is a King’s cure for all the evils. It winds the whole thing up.”

Throughout February, state legislatures debated and voted on whether to approve the amendment. By month’s end, in addition to Illinois the following states approved: Rhode Island, Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Maine, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Minnesota. Also approving were the Unionist legislatures of Missouri, Maryland, and Louisiana.

The “Restored Government of Virginia,” led by Francis H. Pierpont and having authority only in regions of Virginia under Federal military occupation, voted to ratify the amendment. The state of Virginia still had a popularly elected government loyal to the Confederacy, but U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward deemed Pierpont’s regime legitimate enough to count its ratification towards the three-fourths majority needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. Of the non-Confederate states, only Delaware and Kentucky rejected the amendment.

This measure could not become law without support from at least a minority of southern states. The Lincoln administration expected to restore these states to the Union, and a condition of their restoration would be to approve the amendment, giving it an excellent chance of becoming law. When the Thirteenth Amendment was finally ratified in December, slavery in America was abolished forever.

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References

Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15664-74; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-43; SonOfTheSouth.net: Black Laws in Illinois

The Thirteenth Amendment: The Vote

January 31, 1865 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery in America.

The Lincoln administration, led by Secretary of State William H. Seward, lobbied various Democrats thought to be willing to support the abolition amendment. These congressmen were promised prized government jobs and favors in exchange for their votes. The effort seemed to be paying off, but then rumors of peace talks threatened to kill the amendment.

Lincoln had dispatched Seward to Fort Monroe a few hours before the vote was scheduled to begin, confident that House Republicans had enough votes to get the necessary two-thirds majority. But Democrats who had voiced support for the measure hesitated now that peace talks might end the war. They feared that a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery could offend the Confederate envoys and break up the talks, and the war would go on indefinitely.

Congressman James M. Ashley, the amendment’s sponsor, wrote a frantic note to Lincoln as voting time neared: “The report is in circulation in the House that peace Commissioners are on their way or are in the city, and is being used against us. If it is true, I fear we shall lose the bill. Please authorize me to contradict it, if not true.” Lincoln responded, “So far as I know, there are no peace commissioners in the city, or likely to be in it.” Lincoln was correct in that no commissioners were in Washington, but he conveniently failed to acknowledge that they were within Federal lines.

In the end, the two-thirds majority needed to start the ratification process was secured, as the vote was 119 in favor and 56 opposed. Of the 80 House Democrats, 16 voted in favor (14 of whom would not be in the new Congress later that year and thus did not risk their reelection chances), and eight abstained, thus allowing the bill to pass. A swing of just five votes could have killed the amendment.

The speaker announced, “The constitutional majority of two-thirds having voted in the affirmative, the joint resolution is passed.” The Congressional Globe reported that upon this announcement, “The members of the Republican side of the House instantly sprang to their feet, and, regardless of parliamentary rules, applauded with cheers and clapping of hands. The example was followed by male spectators in the galleries, who waved their hats and cheered long and loud, while the ladies… rose in their seats and waved their handkerchiefs…”

The House of Representatives upon passage of the Thirteenth Amendment | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 425, 18 Feb 1865

Another person reported that there was “an uncontrollable outburst of enthusiasm.” A Republican congressman wrote, “Members joined in the shouting and kept it up for some minutes. Some embraced one another, others wept like children. I have felt, ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country.” Those celebrating in the House gallery included several black men and women who had not been allowed in the House chamber until last year. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered a 100-gun salute fired to commemorate the amendment’s passage, and the House adjourned for the rest of the day “in honor of this immortal and sublime event.”

This was the second version of the “Thirteenth” Amendment to the Constitution. The first version had passed in March 1861 and prohibited the Federal government from interfering with slavery where it already existed. This failed ratification because the southern states had already seceded. Ironically, the southern secession prompted northern politicians to place even greater restrictions on slavery until finally abolishing it altogether. This became the first constitutional amendment to place restrictions on individuals rather than the government.

This new amendment satisfied Lincoln, who feared that his Emancipation Proclamation would be overturned by the courts after the war because it was admittedly just a wartime measure with no real legal basis. State legislatures soon began debating and voting on the amendment’s ratification, which would make Lincoln’s proclamation permanent.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211-13; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 512-13; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15635-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07, 620-23, 630; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; 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. 839

The Thirteenth Amendment: Debate Begins

January 9, 1865 – The U.S. House of Representatives opened debate on a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery that had been defeated last year.

The abolition amendment had passed the Senate in 1864 but failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass the House. In his December message to Congress, President Abraham Lincoln declared that since the newly elected Congress made passage of the amendment “only a question of time,” the current lame-duck Congress should revisit it. This would demonstrate northern solidarity against the Confederacy and show that the border states would no longer side with the South on the slavery issue.

Rep. J.M. Ashley of Ohio | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Republican Congressman James M. Ashley of Ohio reintroduced the amendment on the House floor in early January, announcing, “Mr. Speaker, if slavery is wrong and criminal, as the great body of enlightened Christian men admit, it is certainly our duty to abolish it, if we have the power.” Republicans generally supported the amendment, especially the Radicals who sought more punitive measures against the South. Most Democrats opposed the measure, and a contentious debate took place throughout the month.

Democrats warned their fellow party members there would be political fallout if they supported the amendment. However, a significant change occurred when Moses F. Odell of New York announced he would change his previous “no” vote to “yes,” declaring, “The South by rebellion has absolved the Democratic Party at the north from all obligation to stand up longer for the defense of its ‘cornerstone.’”

The New York Times reported that Odell gave “a convincing argument in favor of this measure, and an able appeal to the Democratic party to throw aside all partisan feeling and sustain it, thereby setting at rest forever the subject which has caused so much agitation and excitement in our national counsels.” Lincoln rewarded Odell with the lucrative political job of New York navy agent.

Other Democrats remained opposed. Robert Mallory of Kentucky said that “the Constitution does not authorize an amendment to be made by which any State or citizen shall be divested of acquired rights of property or of established political franchises.” Unionist John A. Kasson of Iowa countered, “you will never, never, have reliable peace in this country that that institution exists, the perpetual occasion of moral, intellectual, and physical warfare.”

Democrat Samuel S. Cox of Ohio declared, “Whatever it may be termed, I am opposed to compounding powers in the Federal Government.” This amendment “sought to consolidate the powers of the States, and tended toward monarchy and despotism… it would tend to disturb the balance of power between the States, and destroy our peculiar representative system.”

Charles Eldridge of Wisconsin warned that “the adoption of the amendment would afford the rebel leaders another topic to arouse the lukewarm, raise additional armies and prolong the war.” This measure would best be “made in time of calmness, in a fraternal spirit and with kindness, with a view to the establishment of the peace of the Union in all its parts.”

Another Democrat agreed:

“When the sky shall again be clear over our heads, a peaceful sun illuminating the land, and our great household of states all at home in harmony once more, then will be the time to consider what changes, if any, this generation desire to make in the work of Washington, Madison, and the revered sages of our antiquity.”

Fernando Wood of New York opposed the amendment on racial grounds:

“The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no revolution, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction. You may make the black man free, but when you have done that what have you done?”

Unionist Austin King, a Missouri slaveholder, declared support for the amendment:

“Slavery had been the cause of disturbance for the last thirty years, and if it must perish, slaveholders could not, complain, as they had been the architects of their own ruin. Slavery has been the means by which the Southern leaders have wheeled into the line of insurrection, and for this reason, it has lost the support and sympathy it once possessed. Slavery had been a constant source of irritation, and in order to secure the blessings of peace, the great question of its further continuance should be submitted to the people for their decision.”

Another Missouri congressman and former slaveholder, James Rollins, declared:

“I am no longer the owner of a slave, and I thank God for it. If the giving up of my slaves without complaint shall be a contribution upon my part, to promote the public good, to uphold the Constitution of the United States, to restore peace and preserve this Union, if I had owned a thousand slaves, they would most cheerfully have been given up. I say with all my heart, let them go; but let them not go without a sense of feeling and a proper regard on my part for the future of themselves and their offspring… the peculiar friends of slavery have controlled the government for much the greater part of the time since its establishment, and but for their own wickedness and folly might have saved the institution, and had their full share in its management for many years to come… we can never have an entire peace as long as the institution of slavery remains as one of the recognized institutions in this country.”

John McBride of Oregon said, “Slavery, too long pursuing its criminal practices, demanded sentence and execution, without benefit of clergy.” Republican (and future President) James A. Garfield announced, “Mr. Speaker, we shall never know why slavery dies so hard in this Republic and in this Hall, till we know why sin outlives disaster, and Satan is immortal…” Radical leader Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania argued that slavery was “the worst institution upon earth, one which is a disgrace to man and would be an annoyance to the infernal spirits.” He added:

“We have suffered for slavery more than all the plagues of Egypt. More than the first born of every household has been taken. We still harden our hearts, and refuse to let the people go. The scourge still continues, nor do I expect it to cease until we obey the behests of the Father of men. We are about to ascertain the national will by an amendment to the Constitution. If the gentlemen opposite will yield to the voice of God and humanity and vote for it, I verily believe the sword of the destroying angel will be stayed, and this people be reunited. If we still harden our hearts, and blood must still flow, may the ghosts of the slaughtered victims sit heavily upon the souls of those who cause it.”

Debate continued throughout the month, leading to the final vote on the last day of January.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211-13; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 512-13; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15635-45; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07, 620-23, 630; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-90; McGinty, Brian, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 752-53; 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. 839

Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 Message to Congress

December 6, 1864 – The Thirty-eighth U.S. Congress received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message. With the Confederacy on the verge of defeat, the message focused mainly on winning the war and restoring the southern states to the Union.

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

This was the most optimistic message of Lincoln’s presidency. After summarizing foreign relations, Lincoln reported that captured southern ports such as Norfolk, Fernandina, and Pensacola had been opened for Federal commerce. He hoped that foreign merchants would use these ports to trade with the U.S. and stop blockade-running. Lincoln also indirectly referred to the recent Confederate plots against the U.S. originating from Canada, warning that if such attacks continued, the U.S. would have to consider building up naval force on the Great Lakes.

Referring to recent laws encouraging immigration, Lincoln wrote, “I regard our immigrants as one of the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.” He stressed that the government “neither needs nor designs to impose involuntary military service upon those who come from other lands to cast their lot in our country.”

Lincoln announced that the national debt stood at $1.74 billion as of July 1, and higher taxes were needed to pay for this. The president happily stated that the new national banking system was taking hold, “and it is hoped that very soon there will be… no banks… not authorized by Congress and no bank-note circulation not secured by the Government.”

The Navy Department report showed that there were 671 vessels with 4,610 guns either operating or under construction, with 51,000 officers and men in the U.S. navy. These men had captured 324 vessels in 1864, or 1,379 since the war began. Lincoln asked Congress to consider appropriating funds to establish a new navy yard to better accommodate the immense construction and repair of all the naval craft.

The message included summaries of each executive department, as well as Lincoln’s satisfaction with construction on the transcontinental railroad and telegraph lines. He noted Nevada’s recent statehood, “and thus our excellent system is firmly established in the mountains, which once seemed a barren and uninhabitable waste between the Atlantic States and those which have grown up on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.”

Recent discoveries of gold and silver in the west had sparked a wave of settlers heading that way to strike it rich. Such precious metals went a long way in helping fund the war effort. Since such westward expansion would necessarily encroach upon Native American land, Lincoln asked Congress to review the system governing U.S.-Native relations.

Lincoln reported on the administration of pensions to “invalid soldiers and sailors of the Republic and to the widows, orphans, and dependent mothers of those who have fallen in battle or died of disease contracted or of wounds received in the service.”

The president then turned to the war. He wrote, “Since the last annual message all the important lines and positions then occupied by our forces have been maintained and our arms have steadily advanced, thus liberating the regions left in rear, so that Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of other States have again produced reasonably fair crops.”

Lincoln stated, “The most remarkable feature in the military operations of the year is General Sherman’s attempted march of 300 miles directly through the insurgent region. It tends to show a great increase of our relative strength that our General in Chief should feel able to confront and hold in check every active force of the enemy, and yet to detach a well-appointed large army to move on such an expedition.”

The message included a satisfactory assessment of the new, Unionist state governments in Arkansas and Louisiana. Lincoln noted that Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee would soon have Unionist governments as well, but “Maryland presents the example of complete success” for having recently adopted a new state constitution abolishing slavery.

Lincoln requested that Congress reconsider passing the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery; earlier in the year the amendment passed in the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives. He acknowledged that he was asking the same members of Congress to vote on the same issue again, but last month’s elections showed “almost certainly that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not.” If slavery was to be abolished, “may we not agree that the sooner the better?” Such a bipartisan move might further demoralize the Confederacy.

Lincoln stated, “The most reliable indication of public purpose in this country is derived through our popular elections.” He claimed that his reelection and the election of predominantly Unionist candidates throughout the North showed that “the purpose of the people within the loyal States to maintain the integrity of the Union was never more firm nor more nearly unanimous than now… In affording the people the fair opportunity of showing one to another and to the world this firmness and unanimity of purpose, the election has been of vast value to the national cause.”

That being said, the message indicated that the North was now stronger than ever, not only in unity against the Confederacy, but also in men and material:

“The important fact remains demonstrated that we have more men now than we had when the war began; that we are not exhausted nor in process of exhaustion; that we are gaining strength and may if need be maintain the contest indefinitely. This as to men. Material resources are now more complete and abundant than ever.”

Referring to peace efforts earlier this year that fell through, Lincoln concluded “that no attempt at negotiation with the insurgent leader could result in any good. He would accept nothing short of severance of the Union, precisely what we will not and can not give… He does not attempt to deceive us… He can not voluntarily reaccept the Union; we can not voluntarily yield it.”

Lincoln stated that some southerners had accepted his policy of amnesty in the year since he had unveiled it, but he warned that “the time may come, probably will come, when public duty shall demand that it be closed and that in lieu more rigorous measures than heretofore shall be adopted.” Regardless of whether this happened, “I retract nothing heretofore said as to slavery,” and Lincoln reiterated his pledge to do nothing to amend his Emancipation Proclamation or return to slavery “any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation or by any of the acts of Congress.”

The message concluded, “In stating a single condition of peace I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the Government whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.” Thus, Lincoln reiterated his demand for the Confederacy’s unconditional surrender, or else the war would continue.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 208; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 529; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 686-87; Lincoln 1864 Annual Message (http://stateoftheunion.onetwothree.net/texts/18641206.html); Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-07; 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. 816, 838, 843; 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), Q464

The Wade-Davis Bill: Executive Response

July 4, 1864 – President Abraham Lincoln was presented with a bill outlining the congressional plan for reconstructing the Union, and his reaction outraged many.

After the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill passed both chambers of Congress, Radical Congressmen Thaddeus Stevens, Elihu Washburne, and John L. Dawson visited Lincoln at the White House to urge him to sign it into law. They returned to the Capitol and informed their fellow Radicals there was a good chance that Lincoln would not. An old friend from Illinois, Radical Congressman Jesse O. Norton, felt the same way after speaking with Lincoln, but there was “no use trying to prevent it.”

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

On the last day of the congressional session, Lincoln went to his Capitol office to sign the last-minute bills into law. He signed several, including a repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act and a repeal of the Enrollment Act provision allowing draftees to pay $300 to avoid conscription. But he set the Wade-Davis bill aside. Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan asked him if he would sign it. Lincoln replied, “Mr. Chandler, this bill was placed before me a few minutes before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way.”

Chandler warned, “If it is vetoed, it will damage us fearfully in the Northwest. The important point is the one prohibiting slavery in the reconstructed states.” Lincoln said, “That is the point on which I doubt the authority of Congress to act.” Chandler countered, “It is no more than you have done yourself.” Lincoln replied, “I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress.” Chandler angrily left. Lincoln then explained to the remaining congressmen in the room his chief objection to the measure:

“This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced.

“If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House.

“I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war–a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.”

Leaving the Capitol, Lincoln was warned that failing to endorse the bill might cost him reelection in November. He responded, “If they choose to make a point upon this I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me and I don’t know that this will make any special difference as to that. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right; I must keep some standard of principle fixed within myself.” The congressional session ended without Lincoln’s signature on the Wade-Davis bill, thus killing the measure via a pocket veto.

On the 8th, Lincoln issued a public statement explaining why he refused to sign the bill into law. He wrote that he would not “be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration,” nor would he accept “that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort.”

Lincoln also refused to acknowledge “a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States,” instead “sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted.”

To appease the Radicals, Lincoln wrote that he was “fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the Bill, as one very proper plan for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it,” and he offered to provide “Executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as the military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State.”

This was meaningless because no state would voluntarily choose to adopt the punitive Wade-Davis bill on its own. Radicals already outraged by Lincoln’s veto became even more incensed by Lincoln’s empty pledge to enforce the bill in states that voluntarily adopted it. Thaddeus Stevens fumed, “What an infamous proclamation! The idea of pocketing a bill and then issuing a proclamation as to how far he will conform to it!”

The congressional recess would not stop the Radicals from plotting revenge against the president.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 432; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10855-98; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 794-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9674-715; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 464, 466; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 639; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 532-33, 535; 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. 712-13; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30

Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Message to Congress

December 8, 1863 – The first session of the Thirty-Eighth U.S. Congress assembled in Washington and received President Abraham Lincoln’s annual message.

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

In this new Congress, Republicans held majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats had made substantial gains due to their victories in the mid-term elections of November 1862. Also, the Republicans were becoming increasingly split between the Radicals (those who sought harsh subjugation of the South) and the conservatives (those who sought a more conciliatory conquest of the South).

The first order of business in the House was to elect a new speaker, as the previous speaker, Republican Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania, had been voted out of office. The Radicals supported Schuyler Colfax, but the conservatives resisted; Lincoln led the conservatives in deeming Colfax “a little intriguer–plausible but not trustworthy.”

Lincoln and the conservatives looked for someone who could unify not only the Republican Party, but also ally with pro-war Democrats to form a “National Union” party dedicated to winning the war. As such, Lincoln supported Francis P. Blair, Jr., scion of the famous Blair political family (brother Montgomery Blair was Lincoln’s postmaster general). However, Blair had left politics to become a general in the Army of the Tennessee.

The conservatives next looked to Elihu Washburne of Illinois, but Washburne could not garner enough support in the House to make an effective run. Lincoln then sought a compromise by meeting with Colfax and having him pledge to stay neutral in the upcoming debates between the Radicals and conservatives. With Lincoln’s backing, Colfax became the House speaker.

Members quickly submitted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment permanently abolishing slavery, and debate opened later this month. Congress approved a resolution thanking Major General Ulysses S. Grant for his recent military victories and creating a gold medal in his honor. Washburne introduced a bill reinstating the army rank of lieutenant general, which had previously been held only by George Washington and Winfield Scott (Scott’s was a brevet rank). Washburne, one of Grant’s biggest supporters, clearly had Grant in mind for this new rank.

President Lincoln’s annual message to Congress was read in both chambers on the 8th. The opening included summaries of the reports submitted by the cabinet officers. Lincoln stated that foreign relations were peaceful: “The efforts of disloyal citizens of the United States to involve us in foreign wars, to aid an inexcusable insurrection, have been unavailing.”

He heralded a recent treaty signed with Great Britain ending the African slave trade between the two nations: “That inhuman and odious traffic has been brought to an end.” After noting affairs in other countries, he turned to the territories. Although “Indian disturbances in New Mexico have not been entirely suppressed,” Native American relations seemed stable following last year’s Sioux uprising. Lincoln expressed support for negotiating treaties–

“… extinguishing the possessory rights of the Indians to large and valuable tracts of land. It is hoped that the effect of these treaties will result in the establishment of permanent friendly relations with such of these tribes as have been brought into frequent and bloody collision with our outlying settlements and emigrants.”

Turning to the northern home front, Lincoln stated that those “dark and doubtful days” of a year ago had given way to a more hopeful time. He explained:

“The rebel borders are pressed still farther back, and by the complete opening of the Mississippi the country dominated by the rebellion is divided into distinct parts, with no practical communication between them. Tennessee and Arkansas have been substantially cleared of insurgent control, and influential citizens in each, owners of slaves and advocates of slavery at the beginning of the rebellion, now declare openly for emancipation in their respective States. Of those States not included in the emancipation proclamation, Maryland, and Missouri, neither of which three years ago would tolerate any restraint upon the extension of slavery into new territories, only dispute now as to the best mode of removing it within their own limits.”

The president reported:

“Of those who were slaves at the beginning of the rebellion, full 100,000 are now in the United States military service, about one-half of which number actually bear arms in the ranks; thus giving the double advantage of taking so much labor from the insurgent cause, and supplying the places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men.”

Lincoln lauded the fact that, contrary to southern fears, “no servile insurrection, or tendency to violence or cruelty, has marked the measures of emancipation and arming the blacks.” Unlike the previous year’s message, Lincoln did not reiterate any support or plans for colonizing blacks outside the U.S. This indicated the administration’s shift from deportation to emancipation.

Lincoln asserted that the recent state elections were “highly encouraging” in terms of war policy. As such, “we have the new reckoning. The crisis which threatened to divide the friends of the Union (i.e., Radicals, conservatives, and War Democrats) is past.”

He also announced that he would issue a proclamation related to bringing the Confederate states back into the Union, which he attached to his annual message. He provided a summary of this proclamation, which would be released to the public the next day. Lincoln concluded:

“Hence our chiefest care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; and it may be esteemed fortunate that in giving the greatest efficiency to these indispensable arms we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom more than to others the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom disenthralled, regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

The president omitted several items that other politicians thought worth noting. He did not touch upon his establishment of the first national Thanksgiving holiday, he did not note the significance of completing construction on the U.S. Capitol dome, and he did not mention the important role blacks were playing in turning the tide of the war.

Opposition newspapers naturally criticized Lincoln’s message. However, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune declared that no message since George Washington’s had “given such general satisfaction.” The press would be even more vocal both for and against Lincoln when he issued his proclamation on restoring the Union the next day.

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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. 429; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 211; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 351; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9939-50, 9994-10037, 10048-72; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 590; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 443-45; 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. 688; 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

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