President Lincoln Concerned with Louisiana and Mississippi River

July 26, 1862

Senator Orville H. Browning, one of the most important sources of the record of the lincoln White House, prepares to return to Illinois.  He writes: “Went in the morning to the President and closed my business with him and took leave of him.  I read him a letter I had received from Bullitt of New Orleans complaining of Genl Phelps Administration of affairs and saying that all the union sentiment there was crushed out

He told me he had one from Reverdy Johnson to the same effect, and read me his reply to it.  He said the people there were making false pretences — that there was but little union sentiment — that they wanted the government to protect them, their property, and institutions whilst they sympathized with and aided treason and rebellion — that it should not be done.  If they were tired of Genl Phelps administration they knew how to get rid of it by returning to their allegiance and submitting to the authority of the government, and if they did not do so, and he could send any heavier scourge upon them than Genl Phelps they had better be looking out for it.  I had with me a letter from Wm M. Thayer author of the Bobbin boy asking me for anecdotes of the President that he might prepare a similar biography of him.  I read him a portion of the letter and he asked me leave it with him which I did.

President Lincoln meet with General George F. Shepley, military governor of Louisiana.   Afterwards, he replies to a letter from Maryland politician Reverdy Johnson, that Shepley had delivered: “My Dear Sir.  Yours of the 16th. by the hand of Governor Shepley is received.  It seems the Union feeling, in Louisiana is being crushed out by the course of General Phelps.  Please pardon me for believing that is a false pretense.  The people of Louisiana – all intelligent people every where – know full well, that I never had a wish to touch the foundations of their society, or any right of theirs.  With perfect knowledge of this, they forced a necessity upon me to send armies among them, and it is their own fault, not mine, that they are annoyed by the presence of General Phelps.  They also know the remedy – know how to be cured of General Phelps.  Remove the necessity of his presence.  And might it not be well for them to consider whether they have not already had time enough to do this?  If they can conceive of anything worse than General Phelps, within my power, would they not better be looking out for it?  They very well know the way to avert this is simply to take their place in the Union upon the old terms.  If they will not do this, should they not receive harder blows rather than lighter ones?

You are ready to say I apply to friends what is due only to enemies.  I distrust the wisdom if the sincerity of friends, who would hold my hands while my enemies stab me.  This appeal of professed friends has paralyzed me more in this struggle than any other one thing.  You remember telling me the day after Baltimore mob in April 1861, that it would crush all Union feeling in Maryland for me to attempt bringing troops over Maryland soil to Washington.  I brought the troops notwithstanding, and yet there was Union feeling enough left to elect a Legislature the next autumn which in turn elected a very excellent Union U.S. Senator!

I am a patient man – always willing to forgive on the Christian terms of repentance; and also to give ample time for repentance.  Still I must save this government if possible.  What I cannot do, of course, I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed.

President Lincoln also wrote New Orleans attorney Cuthbert Bullitt, who would later be appointed by Lincoln as collector of customs at new Orleans in response to a letter that Bullitt had delivered to Lincoln: “The copy of a letter addressed to yourself by Mr. Thomas J. Durant, has been shown to me.  The writer appears to be an able, a dispassionate, and an entirely sincerely man.  The first part of the letter is devoted to an effort to show that the Secession Ordinance in Louisiana was adopted against the will of a majority of the people.  This is probably true; and in that fact may be found some instruction.  Why did they allow the Ordinance to go into effect?  Why did they not assert themselves?  Why stand passive and allow themselves to be trodden down by a minority?  Why did they not hold popular meetings, and have a convention of their own, to express and enforce the true sentiment of the state?  If preorganization was against them then, why not do this now, that the United States Army is present to protect them?  The paralysis–the dea palsy–of the government in this whole struggle is, that this class of men will do nothing for themselves, except demanding that the government shall not strike its open enemies, lest they be struck by accident!

Mr Durant complains that in various ways the relation of master and slave is disturbed by the present of our Army; and he considers it particularly vexatious that this, in part, is done under cover of an act of Congress, while constitutional guaranties are suspended on the plea of military necessity.  The truth is, that what is done, and omitted, about slaves, is done and omitted on the same military necessity.  It is a military necessity to have men and money; and we can get neither, in sufficient numbers, or amounts, if we keep from, or drive from, our lines, slaves coming to them.  Mr. Durant cannot be ignorant of the pressure in this direction; nor of my efforts to hold it within bounds till he, and such as he shall have time to help themselves.

I am not posted to speak understandingly on all the police regulations of which Mr. Durant complains.  If experience shows any one of them to be wrong, let them to be set right.  I think I can perceive, in the freedom of trade, which Mr. Durant urges, that he would relieve both friends and enemies from the pressure of the blockade.  By this he would serve the enemy more effectively than the enemy is able to serve himself.  I do not say or believe that to serve the enemy is the purpose of Mr. Durant; or that he is conscious of any purpose of Mr. Durant; or that he is conscious of any purpose, other than national and patriotic ones.  Still, if there were a class of men who, having no choice of sides in the contest, were anxious only to have quiet and comfort for themselves while it rages, and to fall in with the victorious side at the end of it, without loss to themselves, their advice as to the mode of conducting the contest would be precisely such as his is.  He speaks of no duty–apparently thinks of none–resting upon Union men.  He even thinks it injurious to the Union cause that they should be restrained in trade and passage without taking sides.  They are to touch neither a sail nor a pump, but to be merely passengers, –dead-heads at that–to be carried snug and dry, throughout the storm, and safely landed right side up.  Nay, more; even a mutineer is to go untouched les these sacred passengers receive an accidental wound.

Of course the rebellion will never be suppressed in Louisiana, if the professed Union men there will neither help to do it, nor permit the government to do it without their help.

Now, I think the true remedy is very different from what is suggested by Mr. Durant.  It does not lie in rounding the rough angles of the war, but in removing the necessity for the war.  The people of Louisiana who wish protection to person and property, have but to reach forth their hands and take it.  Let them, in good faith, reinaugurate the national authority, and set up a State Government conforming thereto under the constitution.  They know how to do it, and can have the protection of the Army while doing it.  The Army will be withdrawn so soon as such State government can dispense with its presence, and the people of the State can then upon the old Constitutional terms, govern themselves to their own liking.  This is very simple and easy.

If they will not do this, if they prefer to hazard all for the sake of destroying the government, it is for them to consider whether it is probable I will surrender the government save them from losing all.  If they decline what I suggest, you scarcely need to ask what I will do.  What would you do in my position?  Would you drop the war where it is?  Or, would you prosecute it in future, with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water?  Would you deal lighter blows rather than heavier ones?  Would you give up the contest, leaving any available means unapplied.

I am in boastful mood.  I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination.  I shall do nothing in malice.  What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.

George B. McClellan continues to press the possibility of taking Richmond if he can only receive reinforcements.  He writes General  Henry W. Halleck: Can you not possibly draw 15,000 or 20,000 men from the West to reinforce me temporarily?  They can return the moment we gain Richmond.  Please give weight to this suggestion — I am sure it merits it.”

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Published in: on July 26, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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