President Discusses Reconstruction

December 10, 1863

Presidential aide John Hay writes of a talk with Illinois Congressman Isaac N. Arnold, President Lincoln and himself regarding amnesty and reconstruction: “Joe Forrest came in while we were talking and gave some of the comments upon the Message.  Dickey says it is a ‘damned cunning trick – a trap.’  Florence says it is ‘very ingenious: admirably calculated to deceive.’  The plainness and simplicity of the thing puzzles and confounds them.  They are trying very hard to make a mystery of it and roll up a devil in its folds.

Sumner speaks of the Message with great gratification.  It satisfies his idea of proper reconstruction without insisting on the adoption of his peculiar theories.  The President repeated what he has often said before that there is no essential contest between loyal men on this subject if they consider it reasonably.  The only question is who constitute the State?  When that is decided the solution of subsequent questions is easy.

He says that he wrote in the Message originally that he considered the discussion as to whether a state has been at any time out of the Union in the Union.  It does not greatly matter whether in the meantime they shall be considered to have be[en] in or out.  But he afterwards considered that the 4th Section 4th Article of the constitution empowers him to grant protection to states in the Union and it will not do ever to admit that these states have at any time be[en] out.  So he erased that sentence as possibly suggestive of evil.  He preferred he said to stand firmly based on the constitution rather [than] to work in the air.

Hay writes of the President Lincoln’s handling of warring factions in Missouri: “Talking about the Missouri matter he said, “I know these Radical men have in them the stuff which must save the State and on which we must mainly rely.  They are absolutely uncorrosive by the virus of secession.  It cannot touch or taint them.  While the Conservatives, in casting about for votes to carry through their plans, are tempted to affiliate with those whose record is not clear.  If one side must be crushed out & the other cherished there could be no doubt which side we would choose as fuller of hope for the future.  We would have to side with the Radicals.”

“But just there is where their wrong begins.  They insist that I shall hold and treat Governor Gamble and his supporters — men appointed by loyal people of Mo. as rep’s

of Mo. loyalty, and who have done their whole duty in the war faithfully & promptly — who when they have disagreed with me have been silent and kept about the good work — that I shall treat these men as Copperheads and enemies to the Govt.  This is simply monstrous.

“I talked to these people in this way when they came to me this fall.  I saw that their attack on Gamble was malicious.  They moved against him by flank attacks from different sides of the same question.  They accused him of enlisting rebel soldiers among the enrolled militia, and of exempting all the rebels and forcing Union men to do the duty:  all this in the blindness of passion.  I told them they were endangering the election of Senator; that I thought their duty was to elect Henderson and Gratz Brown: and nothing has happened in our politics which has pleased me more than that incident.”

He spoke of the newborn fury of some of these men – of Drake stumping against Rollins in ‘56 on the ground that R. Was an abolitionist – of ci-devant rebels coming here in the radical convention.  Not that he objected to penitent rebels being radical: he was glad of it; but fair play: let not the pot makes injurious references to the black base of the kettle: he was in favor of short statues of limitations.

In a reply to a remark of Arnold’s about the improved condition of things in Kentucky & the necessity of still greater improvement and the good disposition of the Kentucky Congressmen, the President said he had for a long time been aware that the Kentuckians were not regarding in good faith the Proclamation of Emancipation and the laws of Congress were treating as slaves the escaped freedmen from Alabama & Mississippi; that this must be ended as soon as his hands grew a little less full.

President Lincoln telegraphs Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson: “I still desire very much to see you can you not come.”

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Published in: on December 10, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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