This series has nine easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: President’s Message to Congress.
Lincoln’s Emancipation of the slaves was one of the most important events in US history. This account is written by Lincoln’s the two persons on his closest staff. They were eyewitnesses to the events and participants in the preparation of the President’s official documents. As Lincoln’s confidants, they were also privy to his thoughts. We end the series with The Proclamation.
The selections are from:
- Abraham Lincoln, A History by John Hay and by John G. Nicolay published in 1890.
- Presidential Proclamations by Abraham Lincoln published in 1862 and 1863.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s 7 installments by John Hay and John G. Nicolay and 2 installments by Abraham Lincoln.
Hay and Nicolay were Lincoln’s Presidential Assistents. They were eye-witnesses and participants to the events described below.
Time: December 1, 1862
Place: Capitol Hill
In his preliminary proclamation of September 22, President Lincoln had announced his intention to urge once more upon Congress the policy of compensated abolishment. Accordingly, his annual message of December 1, 1862, was in great part devoted to a discussion of this question. “Without slavery,” he premised, ” the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.” His argument presented anew, with broad prophetic forecast, the folly of disunion, the brilliant destiny of the republic as a single nation, the safety of building with wise statesmanship upon its coming population and wealth. He stated that by the law of increase shown in the census tables, the country might expect to number over two hundred millions of people in less than a century. ” And we will reach this, too,” he continued, ” if we do not ourselves relinquish the chance, by the folly and evils of disunion, or by long and exhausting war springing from the only great element of national discord among us. While it cannot be foreseen exactly how much one huge example of secession, breeding lesser ones indefinitely, would retard population, civilization, and prosperity, no one can doubt that the extent of it would be very great and injurious. The proposed emancipation would shorten the war, perpetuate peace, insure this increase of population and, proportionately, the wealth of the country. With these we should pay all the emancipation would cost, together with our other debt, easier than we should pay our other debt without it.”
He therefore recommended that Congress should propose to the Legislatures of the several States a constitutional amendment, consisting of three articles, namely: one providing compensation in bonds for every State which should abolish slavery before the year 1900; another securing freedom to all slaves who during the rebellion had enjoyed actual freedom by the chances of war — also pro viding compensation to loyal owners; the third authorizing Congress to provide for colonization. The message continued:
The plan consisting of these articles is recommended, not but that a restoration of the national authority would be accepted without its adoption. Nor will the war, nor proceedings under the proclamation of September 22, 1862, be stayed because of the recommendation of this plan. Its timely adoption, I doubt not, would bring restoration, and thereby stay both. And, notwithstanding this plan, the recommendation that Congress provide by law for compensating any State which may adopt emancipation before this plan shall have been acted upon is hereby earnestly renewed. Such would be only an advance part of the plan, and the same arguments apply to both. This plan is recommended as a means, not in exclusion of, but additional to, all others for restoring and preserving the national authority throughout the Union. . . The plan is proposed as permanent constitutional law. It cannot become such without the concurrence of, first, two-thirds of Congress, and, afterwards, three-fourths of the States. The requisite three-fourths of the States will necessarily include seven of the slave States. Their concurrence, if obtained, will give assurance of their severally adopting emancipation at no very distant day upon the new constitutional terms. This assurance would end the struggle now and save the Union forever. . . We can succeed only by concert. It is not, ” Can any of us imagine better? ” but, ” Can we all do better?” Object whatsoever is possible, still the question recurs, ” Can we do better T ” The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We, of this Congress, and this Administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or in significance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth. Other means may succeed, this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.
No immediate action followed this patriotic appeal. No indications of reviving unionism were manifested in the distinctively rebel States. No popular expression of a willingness to abandon slavery and accept compensation came from the loyal border slave States, except, perhaps, in a qualified way from Missouri, where the emancipation sentiment was steadily increasing though with somewhat convulsive action, owing to the quarrel which divided the Unionists of that State. Thus the month of December wore away, and the day approached when it became necessary for the President to execute the announcement of emancipation made in his preliminary proclamation of September 22. That he was ready at the appointed time is shown by an entry in the diary of Secretary Welles:
At the meeting to-day [December 30, 1862], the President read the draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, invited criticism, and finally directed that copies should be furnished to each. It is a good and well prepared paper, but I suggested that a part of the sentence marked in pencil be omitted. Chase advised that fractional parts of States ought not to be exempted. In this I think he is right, and so stated. Practically there would be difficulty in freeing parts of States and not freeing others — a clashing between central and local authorities.”
Abraham Lincoln begins here.
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