President Lincoln Reviews Court-martial Cases

August 17, 1864

President Lincoln writes General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant: “I have seen your despatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog gripe, and chew & choke, as much as possible. “

As he struggles with efforts to reposition himself in the presidential contest many Republicans think he is losing, President Lincoln writes but does not send a letter to a Wisconsin editor, Charles D. Robinson. “The chief executive is looking for the right vehicle to set forth his policy on the Union and emancipation: “To me it seems plain that saying re-union and abandonment of slavery would be considered, if offered, is not saying that nothing else or less would be considered, if offered. But I will not stand upon the mere construction of language. It is true, as you remind me, that in the Greeley letter of 1862, I said: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the salves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some, and leaving others alone I would also do that.” I continued in the same letter as follows: “What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause; and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.” All this I said in the utmost sincerety; and I am as true to the whole of it now, as when I first said it. When I afterwards proclaimed emancipation, and employed colored soldiers, I only followed the declaration just quoted from the Greeley letter that “I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause” The way these measures were to help the cause, was not to be by magic, or miracles, but by inducing the colored people to come bodily over from the rebel side to ours. On this point, nearly a year ago, in a letter to Mr. Conkling, made public at once, I wrote as follows: “But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive–even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.” I am sure you will not, on due reflection, say that the promise being made, must be broken at the first opportunity. I am sure you would not desire me to say, or to leave an inference, that I am ready,  whenever convenient, to join in re-enslaving those who shall have served us in consideration of our promise. As matter of morals, could such treachery by an possibility, escape the curses of Heaven, or of any good man? As matter of policy, to announce such a purpose, would ruin the Union cause itself. All recruiting of colored men would instantly cease, and all colored men now in our service, would instantly desert us. And rightfully too. Why should they give their lives for us, with full notice of our purpose to betray them. Drive back to the support of the rebellion the physical force which the colored people now give, and promise us, and neither the present, nor any coming administration, can save the Union. Take from us, and give to the enemy, the hundred and thirty, forty, or fifty thousand colored persons now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers, and we can not longer maintain the contest. The party who could elect a President on a War & Slavery Restoration platform, would, of necessity, lose the colored force; and that force being lost, would be as powerless to save the Union as to do any other impossible thing. It is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force, which may be measured, and estimated as horsepower, and steam power, are measured and estimated. An by measurement, it is more than we can lose, and live. Nor can we, by discarding it, get a white force in place of it. There is a witness in every white mans bosom that he would rather go to the war having the negro to help him, than to help the enemy against him. It is not the giving of one class for another. It is simply giving a large force to the enemy, for nothing in return.

In addition to what I have said, allow me to remind you that no one, having control of the rebel armies, or, in fact, having any influence whatever in the rebellion, has offered, or intimated a willingness to, a restoration of the Union, in any event, or on any condition whatever. Let it be constantly borne in mind that no such offer has been made or intimated. Shall we be weak enough to allow the enemy to distract us with an abstract question which he himself refuses to present as a practical one? In the Conkling letter before mentioned, I said: “Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge  you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time then to declare that you will not fight to free negroes.” I repeat this now. If Jefferson Davis wishes, for himself, or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would do if he were

Robinson had written Lincoln a letter that had been delivered to the president by First Asst. Postmaster Gen. Alexander W. Randall the previous day: “I am a War Democrat, and the editor of a Democratic paper. I have sustained your Administration . . . because it is the legally constituted government. I have sustained its war policy, not because I endorsed it entire, but because it presented the only available method of putting down the rebellion. . . . It was alleged that because I and my friends sustained the Emancipation measure, we had become abolitionized. We replied that we regarded the freeing of the negroes as sound war policy, in that the depriving the South of its laborers weakened the . . . Rebellion. That was a good argument. . . . It was solid ground on which we could stand, and still maintain our position as Democrats. We were greatly comforted and strengthened also by your assurance that if your could save the Union without freeing any slave, you would do it; if you could save it by freeing the slaves, you would do it; and if you could do it by freeing some, and leaving others alone, you would also do that.”

General Ulysses S. Grant writes President Lincoln in response to a telegram three days earlier: “I have thought over your dispatch relative to an agreement between [Confederate General Robert E.] Lee and myself for the suppression of incendiarism by the respective armies.

Experience has taught us that agreements made with rebels are binding upon us but are not observed by them longer than suits their convenience. On the whole I think the best that can be done is to publish a prohibitory order against burning private property except where it is a military necessity or in retaliation for like acts by the Enemy. Where burning is done in retaliation it must be done by order of a Dept or Army Commander and the order for such burning to set forth the particular act it is in retaliation for.

Such an order would be published & would come to the knowledge of the rebel army. I think this course would be much better than any agreement with Lee. I could publish the order or it could be published by you. This is respectfully submitted for your consideration & I will then act as you deem best.

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Published in: on August 17, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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