President Proposes Compensated Emancipation

March 6, 1862

Early in the morning, President Lincoln met with Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, a persistent advocate of emancipation.  In a special message to Congress advocating financial assistance to border states that would pursue compensated and gradual emancipation, Lincoln wrote:

I recommend the adoption of a Joint Resolution by your honorable bodies which shall be substantially as follows:
‘Resolved that the United States ought to co-operate with any state which may adopt gradual abolishment of  slavery, giving to such state pecuniary aid, to be used by such state in its’ discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences public and private, produced by such change of system’
If the proposition contained in the resolution does not meet the approval of Congress and the country, there is the end; but if it does command such approval, I deem it of important that the states and people immediately interested, should be at once distinctly notified of the fact, so that they may begin to consider whether to accept or reject it.  The federal government would fin it’s highest interest in such a measure, as one of the most efficient means of self-=preservation.  The leaders of the existing insurrection entertain the hope that this government will ultimately be forced to acknowledge the independence of some part of the disaffected region, and that all the slave states North of such part will then say ‘the Union, for which we have struggled, being already gone, we now choose to go with the Southern section.’  To deprive them of this hope, substantially ends the rebellion; and the initiation of emancipation completely deprives them of it, as to all the states initiating it.  The point is not that all the states tolerating slavery would very soon, if at all, initiate emancipation;  but that, while the offer is equally made to all, the more Northern shall, by such initiation, make it certain to the more Southern, that in no event, will the former ever join the latter, in their proposed confederacy.  I say ‘initiation’ because, in my judgment, mere financial, or pecuniary view, any member of Congress, with the census-tables and Treasury-reports before him, can readily see for himself how very soon the current expenditures of this State.  Such a proposition, on the part of the general government, sets up no claim of a right, by federal authority, to interfere with slavery within state limits, referring, as it does, the absolute control of the subject, in each case, to the state and it’s people, immediately interested.  It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them.
In the annual message last December, I thought fit to say ‘The Union must be preserved; and hence all indispensable means must be employed.’  I said this, not hastily, but deliberately.  War has been made, and continues to be, an indispensable means to this end.  A practical re-acknowledgement of the national authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease.  If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue; and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents, which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it.  Such as may seem indispensable, or may obviously promise great efficiency towards ending the struggle, must and will come.
The proposition now made, though an offer only, I hope it may be esteemed no offence to ask whether the pecuniary consideration tendered would not be of more value to the States and private persons concerned, than are the institution, and property in it, in the present aspect of affairs.
While it is true that the adoption of the proposed resolution would be merely initiatory, and not within itself a practical measure, it is recommended in the hope that it would soon lead to important practical results. In full view of great responsibility to my God, and to my country, I earnestly beg the attention of Congress and the people to the subject.

Most members of the Republican Party – except for Radicals like Thaddeus Stevens – supported Lincoln’s proposal.  The New York Times published an editorial against the proposal, but that editorial was quickly rescinded by Editor Henry Raymond, who wrote President Lincoln:
“I regard the Message as a master-piece of practical wisdom and sound policy.  It is marked by that plain, self-vindicating common sense which, with the people, overbears, as it ought, all the abstract speculations of mere theorists and confounds all the schemes of selfish intriguers, — and which, you will permit me to say, has preeminently characterized every act of your Administration.  It furnishes a solid, practical, constitutional basis for the treatment of this great question, and suggest the only feasible mode I have yet seen of dealing with a problem infinitely more difficult than the suppression of the rebellion.  It shall have my most cordial and hearty support.”

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Published in: on March 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

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