President Lincoln Signs Legislation Abolishing Slavery in Territories

June 19, 1862

The pressure to act on emancipation has been building – as President Lincoln struggles to balance emancipationist opinion in the North with status quo opinion in the Border States.  Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that President Lincoln “could not forever hold off [Generals] Hunter and Fremont and Grant from taking the steps they needed to take for victory; either they would act or he would act, and once they did he would have to support them and the ball would be rolling toward a general emancipation whether the border states liked it or not.  He also could not hold off the impatient Radicals of his own party.  Illinois’s congressional odd-fellows, Isaac Arnold, the renegade Democrat, and Owen Lovejoy, the evangelical Radical, put up a bill to abolish slavery in the territories which finally passed the House on June 19th, over more tears and anguish from the border-staters.”   Sometime during this period, President Lincoln has a conversation regarding slavery with Missouri Senator John B. Henderson.  It was later reported by journalist Walter B. Stevens:

“Mr. Lincoln hesitated, not because he hadn’t made up his mind, but because he wanted to protect the loyal slaveholders of the border States as far as he could.  His idea was that a plan to pay for these slaves could be put in operation, and then he would by proclamation strike off the shackles of all whose owners were engaged in rebellion.  While he was trying to get this programme going he sent often for Gen. Henderson to come to the White House to discus the White House to discuss the details, and to urge more rapid action.  It was on the occasion of one of these talks that Mr. Lincoln told the sorry which Gen. Henderson called to mind a few evenings since.
“As I went in,’ said the General, ‘I noticed that the President was looking troubled.  He was sitting in one of his favorite attitudes – in a rocking chair, with one leg thrown over the arm.   I knew that he suffered terribly from headaches, and I said to him:
‘No,’ said he, ‘ it isn’t a headache this time.  Chandler has just been here to talk again about emancipation; and he came on the heels of Wade and Sumner, who were here on the same errand.  I like those three men, but they bother me nearly to death.  They put me in the situation of a boy I remember when I was going to school.’
General Henderson says the President’s face brightened, and he knew a story was coming.  Mr. Lincoln leaned forward and clasped his hands around the knee of the leg resting on the arm of the chair.  Then he proceeded with the story:
“‘The text book was the Old Bible.  There was a rather dull little fellow in the class who didn’t know very much, and we were reading the account of the three Hebrews cast into the fiery furnace.  The little fellow was called on to read, and he stumbled along until he came to the names of the three Hebrews — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  He couldn’t do anything with them.  The teacher pronounced them over slowly and told the boy to try.  The boy tried and missed.  This provoked the teacher, and he slapped the little fellow, who cried vigorously.  Then he attempted again, but he couldn’t get the names.  ‘Well,’ said the teacher impatiently, ‘never mind the names.  Skip them and go on.’  The poor boy drew his shirt sleeve across his eyes two or three times, snuffed his nose and started on to read.  He went on bravely a little way and then he suddenly stopped, dropped the book in front of him, looked in despair at the teacher, and burst out crying.  ‘What the matter now?’ shouted the teacher, and burst out of patience.  ‘He –  he –  here’s them same –  fellers agin,’ sobbed the boy.
“‘That is just my fix to-day, Henderson.  Those same three [damned] fellows have been here again with their everlasting emancipation talk.”
“He stopped a few moments to enjoy the story, and then becoming serious, continued:
“‘But Sumner and Wade are right about it, I know it, and you know it too.  I’ve got to do something, and it can’t be put off much longer.   We can’t get through this terrible war with slavery existing.  You’ve got sense enough to know that.  Why can’t you make the Border States members see it?  Why don’t you turn in and take pay for your slaves from the Government?   Then all your people can give their hearty support to the Union.   We can go ahead with emancipation of slaves in the other States by proclamation and end the trouble.’
“Gen. Henderson says that as early as May, in 1862, Mr. Lincoln told him of his intention to issue the emancipation proclamation.  The action was not taken until six months later, and then the proclamation was made to take effect January, 1863.  The President held out as long as he could in the hope that he might be able to carry out his border States policy.
“The introduction of the bill to pay for the slaves of loyal owners in Missouri was the result of Mr. Lincoln’s earnest support of this plan.  This was the first of the bills.  It was followed by others for Kentucky, Maryland and other border States which had slaveholders.
“‘I do not remember,’ the General says, ‘whether Mr. Lincoln drafted the bill or whether I got it up, but the inspiration came from him.  I did all in my power to press it.  The proposition went through both House and Senate.  But it was passed in somewhat different forms.  The Senate increased the amount, and this difference had to be adjusted in conference.  There was a good majority for the Missouri bill in both branches of Congress, and there was not much trouble about compromising the difference of opinion on the amount to be appropriated,, but the session was almost at and end, and a small minority in the House was able by filibustering and obstructing to prevent the final action there.  If the bill could have been got before the House in its finished form it would have passed as easily as it did in the Senate.’
“President Lincoln watched the progress of th legislation with a great deal of interest and did all he could to further it. He could not understand why the border State members should not be for it.
“‘And I could not either,’ says the General; ‘it was perfectly plain to me that slavery had got to go.  Here was a voluntary offer on the part of the Government to compensate the loyal men in the border States for the loss of their property.  I talked with the members from Missouri and from Kentucky and with the others who were most interested, but I couldn’t make them see it as I did.  They had exaggerated ideas of the results which would ensue from a free negro population.  They took the position that slavery must not be touched, and it was their determined opposition to the end that defeated the bill to give the Missouri slaveholders $20,000,000 for their slaves.  If the Missouri bill had gone through the others would have followed undoubtedly and the loyal slaveholders in all of the border States would have received pay for their slaves.’
“Gen. Henderson was asked if he remember what the compensation would have amounted to in the case of the Missouri slaveholders.
“‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘I recollect quite distinctly the calculation I made at the time.  I found that the amount which the Government would have turned over to Missouri under the terms of the bill finally agreed upon would have paid the loyal owners in my State $300 for each slave – man, woman or child.  That I considered a pretty good price, for, while we were legislating, the emancipation proclamation had gone into effect, and it was very evident to my mind that slavery was doomed, even among those slaveholders who had remained loyal.’”

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Published in: on June 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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