President Lincoln Responds to Sons of Temperance

September 29, 1863

The Lincoln Administration cabinet meets but with low attendance according to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase:  “Neither Mr. Seward nor Mr. Stanton were present.  They seemed, reasonably enough, to have given up attendance on these meetings of the Heads of Departments as useless; and, for ought I [Chase] see I may as well follow their example.”

Later, President Lincoln addresses delegation of Sons of Temperance in East Room of Executive Mansion.

As a matter of course, it will not be possible for me to make a response coextensive with the address which you have presented to me. If I were better known than I am, you would not need to be told that in the advocacy of the cause of temperance you have a friend and sympathizer in me.

When I was a young man, long ago, before the Sons of Temperance as an organization, had an existence, I in an humble way, made temperance speeches, [applause] and I think I may say that to this day I have never, by my example, belied what I then said. [Loud applause.]

In regard to the suggestions which you make for the purpose of the advancement of the cause of temperance in the army, I cannot make particular responses to them at this time. To prevent intemperance in the army is even a part of the articles of war. It is part of the law of the land—and was so, I presume, long ago—to dismiss officers for drunkenness. I am not sure that consistently with the public service, more can be done than has been done. All, therefore, that I can promise you is, (if you will be pleased to furnish me with a copy of your address) to have it submitted to the proper Department [2] and have it considered, whether it contains any suggestions which will improve the cause of temperance and repress the cause of drunkenness in the army any better than it is already done. I can promise no more than that.

I think that the reasonable men of the world have long since agreed that intemperance is one of the greatest, if not the very greatest of all evils amongst mankind. That is not a matter of dispute, I believe. That the disease exists, and that it is a very great one is agreed upon by all.

The mode of cure is one about which there may be differences of opinion. You have suggested that in an army—our army—drunkenness is a great evil, and one which, while it exists to a very great extent, we cannot expect to overcome so entirely as to leave [have?] such successes in our arms as we might have without it. This undoubtedly is true, and while it is, perhaps, rather a bad source to derive comfort from, nevertheless, in a hard struggle, I do not know but what it is some consolation to be aware that there is some intemperance on the other side, too, and that they have no right to beat us in physical combat on that ground. [Laughter and applause.]

But I have already said more than I expected to be able to say when I began, and if you please to hand me a copy of your address it shall be considered. I thank you very heartily, gentlemen, for this call, and for bringing with you these very many pretty ladies.

The Radical delegation from Missouri requests an interview to push for removal of General John Schofield as the Union commander in Missouri.  Schofield had threatened with arrest   Presidential aide John Hay wrote in his diary: “I Had a little talk with the Presdt. today about the Missourians.  He says that they come he supposes to demand principally the removal of Schofield – and if they can show that Schofield has done anything wrong & has interfered to their disadvantage with State politics – or has so acted as to damage the cause of the Union and good order their case is made.  But on the contrary he (A.L.) thinks that it will be found that Schofield is a firm competent energetic and eminently fair man, and that he has incurred their ill will by refusing to take sides with them in their local politics; that he (A.L.) does not think it in the province of a military commander to interfere with the local politics or to influence elections actively in one way or another.”

I told him the impression derived from talking with people from there was that there were two great parties in Missouri, the Secession sympathizing Democrats & the Radicals – that the Union Conservatives were too small to reckon – that the Radicals would carry the State and it would be well not to alienate them if it could be avoided, especially as their principles were in fact ours and their objects substantially the same as ours.  He seemed fully to recognize this and other things in the same strain.

He suddenly said, These people will come here claiming to be my best friends, but let me show you a letter from Joe Hay.  He showed me one from Uncle Joe, saying that Drake had recently in a speech a[t] LaGrange denounced him for a tyrannical interference with the convention through his agent Schofield, referring of course to the letter he wrote Schofield in June in reply to S’s telegram earnestly soliciting from him some statement of his views, in favor of gradual emancipation and promising that the power of the general government would not be used against the slaveowners for the time being provided they adopted an ordinance of Emancipation – stating at the same time that he hoped the time of consummation would be short and a provision be made against sales into permanent slavery in the meantime.  He said after rereading his own letter, ‘I believe that to be right & I will stand by it.”

Published in: on September 29, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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