Cabinet Meeting at White House Discusses Emancipation

July 22, 1862

A Cabinet meeting at the White House discussed a proposed emancipation proclamation drafted by President Lincoln.  Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase writes: “This morning, I called on the President with a letter received some times since  from Col. Key, in which he stated that he had reason to believe that if Genl. McClellan found he could not otherwise sustain himself in Virginia, he would declare the liberation of the slaves; and that the President would not dare to interfere with the Order.  I urged upon the President the importance of an immediate change in the command of the Army of the Potomac, representing the necessity of having a General in that command who would cordially and efficiently cooperate with the movement of Pope and others; and urging a change before the arrival of Genl. Halleck, in view of the extreme delicacy of his position is this respect.  Genl. McClellan being his senior Major-General.  I said that I did not regard Genl. McClellan as loyal to the Administration, although I did not question his general loyalty to the country.

I also urged Genl. McClellan’s removal upon financial grounds. I told him that, if such a change in the command was made as would insure action to the army and give it power in the ratio of its strength, and if such measures were adopted in respect slavery as would inspire the country with confidence that no measure would be left untried which promised a speedy and successful result, I would insure that, within ten days, the Bonds of the U.S. – except the 5-20s – would be so far above par that conversions into the latter stock would take place rapidly and furnish the necessary means for carrying on the Government.  If this was not done, it seemed to me impossible to meet necessary expenses.  Already there were $10,000,000 of unpaid Requisitions, and this amount must constantly increase.

The President came to no conclusion, but said he would confer with Gen. Halleck on all these matters.  I left him, promising to return to Cabinet, when the subject of the Orders discussed yesterday would be resumed.

Went to Cabinet at the appointed hour.  It was unanimously agreed that the Order in respect to Colonization should be dropped; and the others were adopted unanimously, except that I wished North Carolina included among the States named in the first order.

The question of arming slaves was then brought up and I advocated it warmly.  The President was unwilling to adopt this measure, but proposed to issue a Proclamation, on the basis of the Confiscation Bill, calling upon the States to return to their allegiance – warning the rebels the provisions of the Act would have full force at the expiration of sixty days – adding, on his own part, a declaration of his intention to renew, at the next session of Congress, his recommendation of compensation to States adopting the gradual abolishment of slaver y– and proclaiming the emancipation of all slaves within States remaining in insurrection on the first of January, 1863.

I said that I should give to such a measure my cordial support, but I should prefer that no new expression on the subject of compensation should be made, and I thought that the measure of Emancipation could be much better and more quietly accomplished by allowing Generals to organize and arm the salves (thus avoiding depredation and massacre on the one hand, and support to the insurrection on the other) and by directing the Commanders of Departments to proclaim emancipation within their Districts as soon as practicable; but I regarded this as so much better than inaction on the subject, that I should give it my entire support.

The President determined to publish the first three Orders forthwith, and to leave the other for some further consideration.  The impression left upon my mind by the whole discussion was, that while the President thought that the organization, equipment and arming of negroes, like other soldiers, would be productive of more evil than good, he was not unwilling that Commanders should, at their discretion, arm, for purely defensive purposes, slaves coming within their lines.

Mr. Stanton brought forward a proposition to draft 50,000 men.  Mr. Seward proposed that the number should be 100,000.  The President directed that, whatever number were drafted, should be a part of the 300,000 already called for.  No decision was reached, however.

The issue of the proclamation split the cabinet.  Historian John Niven wrote that Secretary of War Edwin M. “Stanton, who urged the immediate promulgation of this order, was startled at its scope. ‘The measure goes beyond anything I have recommended,’ he jotted down hastily on a piece of note paper.  Attorney General Bates, whose inveterate conservatism sometimes took unusual turns, was the only Cabinet member who supported Stanton.  Welles remained silent.  Chase favored arming the Negroes, but he thought emancipation could be accomplished more efficiently, more quietly, and more safely by delegating it to the various theater commanders.  Seward surprised everyone by vehemently opposing the issuance of any proclamation at that time.

President Lincoln writes Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton: “I think it will be better to do nothing now which can be construed into a demand for troops in addition to the three hundred thousand for which we have recently called.  We do not need more, nor, indeed, so many, if we could have the smaller number very soon.  It is a very important consideration, too, that one recruit into an old regiment is nearly or quite equal in value to two in a  new one.  We can scarcely afford to forego any plan within our power, which may facilitate the filling of the old regiments with recruits.  If, on consideration you are of opinion that this object can be advanced, by causing the Militia of the several states to be enrolled, and by drafts therefrom, you are at liberty to take the proper steps, and do so, provided that any number of recruits so obtained from any state within the next three months, shall, if practicable, be an abatement, of the quota of volunteers from such state under the recent call.

While emancipation was discussed in Washington, new military fronts began to form in northern Virginia.  General George B. McClellan writes his wife: “I see that the [John] Pope bubble is likely to be suddenly collapsed — Stonewall Jackson is after him, & the paltry young man who wanted to teach me the art of war will in less than a week either be in full retreat or badly whipped.  He will begin to learn the value of ‘entrenchments, lines of communication & of retreat, bases of supply etc’ — they will learn bye & bye.”

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