President Lincoln Outlines Plans for Emancipation

July 13, 1862

On a carriage ride to the funeral of the infant son of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, President Lincoln discusses his plans for an emancipation proclamation.   Navy Secretary Gideon Welles wrote that on this day: “President Lincoln invited me to accompany him in his carriage to the funeral of an infant child of Mr. Stanton.  Secretary Seward and Mrs. Frederick Seward were also in the carriage.  Mr. Stanton occupied at that time for a summer residence the house of a naval officer, I think Hazard, some two or three miles west, or northwest, of Georgetown.  It was on this occasion and on this ride that he first mentioned to Mr. Seward and myself the subject of emancipating the slaves by proclamation in case the Rebels did not cease to persist in their war on the Government and the Union, of which he saw no evidence.  He dwelt earnestly on the gravity, importance, and delicacy of the movement, said he had given it much thought and had about come to the conclusion that it was a military necessity absolutely essential for the salvation of the Union, that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued, etc., etc.

This was, he said, the first occasion when he had mentioned the subject to any one, and wished us to frankly state how the proposition struck us.  Mr. Seward said the subject involved consequences so vast and momentous that he should wish to bestow on it mature reflection before giving a decisive answer, but his present opinion inclined to the measure as justifiable, and perhaps he might say expedient and necessary.  These were also my views.  Two or three  times on that ride the subject, which was of course an absorbing one for each and all, was adverted to, and before separating the President desired us to give the question special and deliberate attention, for he was earnest in the conviction that something must be done.  It was a new departure for the President, for until this time, in all our previous interviews, whenever the question of emancipation or the mitigation of slavery had been in any way alluded to, he had been prompt and emphatic in denouncing any interference by the General Government with the subject.  This was, I think, the sentiment of every member of the Cabinet, all of whom including the President, considered it a local, domestic question appertaining to the States respectively, who had never parted with their authority over it.  But the reverses before Richmond, and the formidable power and dimensions of the insurrection, which extended through all the Slave States, and had combined most of them in a confederacy to destroy the Union, impelled the Administration to adopt extraordinary measures to preserve the national existence.  The slaves, if not armed and disciplined, were in the service of those who were, not only as field laborers and producers, but thousands of them were in attendance upon the armies in the field, employed as waiters and teamsters, and the fortifications and intrenchments were constructed by them.

Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning writes: “After tea went to Mr Sewards – Found Thurlow Wed there.  After he left had a talk with Mr Seward about the Confiscation bill.  His general views coincide with my own.  Said he would see the president in the morning and have a conversation with him upon the propriety of vetoing it. I promised to furnish him a copy of the bill in the morning.”  President Lincoln considered vetoing the Confiscation legislation whose constitutionality Lincoln doubted.   Historian Frank A. Flower wrote: “Lincoln proposed to veto and actually wrote a message vetoing the Confiscation Act asked for by Stanton, holding it to be unconstitutional.  He said, as he had often said before that Congress had no right to legislate respecting slavery in the States, and that no the property of rebels in fee but simply the offender’s life estate therein could be forfeited to the United States.”

President Lincoln writes General George B. McClellan: “I am told that over 160-000 men have gone into your Army on the Peninsula.  When I was with you the other day we made out 86,500 remaining, leaving 73,500 to be accounted for.  I believe 23,500, will cover all the killed, wounded and missing in all your battles and skirmishes, leaving 50-000 who have left otherwise.  Not more than 5000 of these have died, leaving 45,000 of your Army still alive, and not with it.  I believe half, or two thirds of them are fit for duty to-day.  Have you any more perfect knowledge of this than I have?  If I am right, and you had these men with you,  you could go into Richmond in the next three days.  How can they be got to you?  and how can they be prevented from getting away in such numbers for the future?

General McClellan writes his wife: “I still hope to get to Richmond this summer — unless the Govt commits some extraordinarily idiotic act — but I have no faith in the administration & shall cut loose from public life the very moment my country can dispense with my services.  Don’t be alarmed about the climate — it is not at all bad yet & we are resting splendidly — the men look better every day.  So you want to know how I feel about Stanton, & what I think of him now?  I will tell you with the most perfect frankness.  I think that he is the most unmitigated scoundrel I ever knew, heard or read; I think that (& I do not wish to be irreverent) had he lived in the time of the Saviour, Judas Iscariot would have remained a respected member of the fraternity of Apostles, & that the magnificent treachery & rascality of E.M. Stanton would have caused Judas to have raised his arms in holy horror & unaffected wonder — he would certainly have claimed & exercised the right to have been the Betrayer of his Lord & Master, by virtue of the same merit that raised Satan to his ‘bad eminence.’  I may do the man injustice — God grant that I may be wrong — for I hate to think that humanity can sink so low — but my opinion is just as I have told you.  He has deceived me once — he never will again.  Are you satisfied now — lady mine?  I ever will, hereafter, trust your judgment about men — your woman’s tact & your pure heart make you a better judge than my dull apprehension.  I remember what you thought were wrong – I now know you were right.  Enough of the creature — it makes me sick to think of him!  Faugh!!”

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Published in: on July 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

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