Governors Meet with President Lincoln

September 26, 1862

Twelve Northern governors who attended the Altoona conference in Pennsylvania visit the White House.   As usual, President Lincoln defuses the situation.  Historian James G. Randall writes: “By that time [of the Altoona conference] he had clipped the gubernatorial wings by publicly associating himself with their effort, giving it his own emphasis, and the governors found themselves with nothing to do but to endorse the President’s policy, which they did in a laudatory public statement.  Lincoln smilingly thanked the visiting magistrates for their support and indicated that no fact had so thoroughly confirmed to him the justice of the emancipation proclamation as the approval of the executives of the loyal states.  On some aspects he would not answer them specifically at the time, he said, but he would give these mattes his most favorable consideration, carrying them out ‘so far as possible.’”  The Washington Star reported:

The President’s reply was brief, and consisted of thanks to the Governors for all they had done and for all they had promised to do to help the General Government in this great crisis. As to the proclamation, he said no fact had assured him so thoroughly of the justice of the conclusion at which he had arrived as that the Executives of the loyal States gave it their hearty approbation. As to the suggestions which they had made in the address just read, he was grateful for them all, but at that moment he would not answer them specifically, although he could say that he would give them his most favorable consideration, and believed he should carry most if not all of them out, so far as possible.

Philadelphia editor John W. Forney writes President Lincoln: “Your Emancipation proclamation followed by that suspending the writ of habeus corpus against the sympathizers with secession has created profound satisfaction among your true friends; but it has also multiplied your duties. We shall now be assailed front, flank and rear by our enemies and if we would save the next national House of Representatives the power of the Administration must be strongly felt in every Congressional district in the free states. It is in order to invoke you, in the midst of your many troubles, to look at this subject that I will do myself the honor of paying you a visit on Monday next about 12 O’clock.”  One person who does not approve is General George B. McClellan, who writes New York merchant William H. Aspinwall: “I am very anxious to know how you and men like you regard the recent Proclamations of the Presdt inaugurating servile war, emancipating the slaves, & at one stroke of the pen changing our free institutions into a despotism — for such I regard as the natural effect of the last Proclamation suspending the habeas Corpus throughout the land.”

White House Cabinet meeting addresses issues surrounding future colonization of freed black slaves outside the continental United States.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes in his diary: “At several meetings of late the subject of deporting the colored race has been discussed.  Indeed for months, almost from the commencement of this administration, it has been at time s considered.  More than a year ago it was thrust on me by Thompson and other sin connections with the Chiriqui Grant, a claim to title form the Government of Central America of a large part of Costa Rica.  Speculators used it as a means of disposing of that grant to our Government.  It was a rotten remnant of a an intrigue of the last administration.  The President, encouraged by Blair and Smith, was disposed to favor it.  Blair is honest and disinterested; perhaps Smith is so, yet I have not been favorably impressed with his zeal in behalf of the Chiriqui Association.  As early as May, 1861, a great pressure was made upon me to enter into a coal contract with this contract with this company.  The President was earnest in this matter; wished to send the negroes out of the country.  Smith, with the Thompsons, urged and stimulated him, and they were as importunate with me as the President.  I spent two or three hours on different days looking over the papers,–titles, maps, reports, and evidence,–and came to the conclusions that there was fraud and cheat in the affair.  It appeared to be a swindling speculation.  Told the President I have no confident it, and asked to be released from its further consideration. ….At this stage of the case Senator Pomeroy appeared and took upon himself a negro emigrating colonization scheme.  Would himself go out and take with a cargo of negroes, and hunt up a place for them–all, professedly, in the cause of humanity.”

On Tuesday last the President brought forward the subject and desired the members of the Cabinet to each take it into serious consideration.  He thought a treaty could be made to advantage, and territory secured to which the negroes could be sent.  Thought it essential to provide an asylum for a race which we had emancipated, but which could never be recognized or admitted to be our equals.  Several governments had signified their willingness to receive them.  Mr. Seward said some were willing to take them without expense to us.

Mr. Blair made a long argumentative statement in favor of deportation.  It would be necessary to rid the country of its black population, and some place must be found for them.  He is strongly for deportation, has given the subject much thought, but yet seems to have no matured system which he can recommend.  Mr. Bates was for compulsory deportation.  The President objected unequivocally to compulsion.  Their emigration must be voluntary and without expense to themselves.  Great Britain, Denmark, and perhaps other powers would take them.  I remarked there was no necessity for a treaty, which had been suggested.  Any person who desired to leave the country could do so now, whether white or black, and it was best to leave it so,–a voluntary system; the emigrant who chose to leave our shores could and would go where there were the best inducements.

These remarks seemed to strike Seward, who, I perceive, has been in consultation with the president and some of the foreign ministers, and on his motion the subject was then postponed, with an understanding it would be taken up to-day.  Mr. Bats had a very well prepared paper which he read, expressing his views.  Little was said by any one else except Seward, who followed up my suggestions.  But the President is not satisfied; says he wants a treaty.  Smith says the Senate would never ratify a treaty conferring any power, and advised that Seward should make a contract.

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

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