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This letter stated with full sincerity Lincoln's basal principle. It was not necessary to add that the purpose was growing within him to save the Union by freeing the slaves in the seceded States. The very growth of that purpose made it necessary for him to freshly bind to himself the conservatives whose only care was for the Union and not for emancipation. Nothing could serve this purpose better than the declaration in this letter to Greeley. In Lincoln, sincerity and shrewdness were thoroughly blended.
At a later day he told the artist Frank Carpenter, when he was to paint “ The Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation": " It had got to be mid-summer, 1862. Things had gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end of our rope on the plan we had been pursuing; that we had about played our last card, and must change our tactics or lose the game. I now determined upon the adoption of the emancipation policy; and without consultation with, or the knowledge of, the Cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the proclamation, and after much anxious thought, called a Cabinet meeting upon the subject.
I said to the Cabinet that I had resolved upon this step, and had not called them together to ask their advice, but to lay the subject matter of a proclamation before them, suggestions as to which would be in order after they had heard it read." This proclamation—the first sketch—set forth that at the next meeting of Congress, four months later, the President designs to again recommend a practical measure for tendering pecuniary aid to any State then recognizing the authority of the United States, which should have adopted, or should thereafter adopt, gradual abolishment of slavery; that the object of this is to promote the restoration of constitutional relations between the general government and all the States; and finally, as commander-in-chief, the President declares that from the first of
January next all slaves in States still rejecting the national authority shall then and forever be free.
The Cabinet were amazed—and divided. Only Stanton and Bates were for immediate promulgation. Chase thought it would be better to leave the matter to district commanders, but would support the proclamation as better than inaction. Blair opposed it as likely to be unpopular and lose the Fall election. All this Lincoln had weighed beforehand. But now came a suggestion from Seward, that the immediate time was inopportune, because just after military reverses (McClellan's Peninsula defeat) it would seem like a desperate cry for help,—“our last shriek on the retreat,” as Lincoln phrased it. His judgment welcomed this as a wise suggestion, and he put the draft of the proclamation aside and waited for victory. Among the elements which entered into his decisions was a subtle instinct as to when and how far he could command the support of the various elements on whom success depended. His rare capacity as a listener, and his keen sagacity, enabled him to divine that the hour was at hand when a decisive move against slavery would attract more support than it would repel. Seward's suggestion gave the final shape to his purpose.
This happened July 22, 1862; and when the President made his calm reply to Greeley's onslaught a month later, the unsigned proclamation lay in his desk, and he was still waiting for a victory before he issued it.
INSTEAD of victory came defeat. Pope, taking the command after McClellan's failure, was beaten and driven back in the second battle of Bull Run, and matters were at the worst. McClellan was recalled; his genius for organization rehabilitated the demoralized army; the soldiers' confidence in their old chief gave them new courage. When Lee, after a year on the defensive, took the offensive and entered Maryland, he was beaten and turned back at Antietam.
Then Lincoln summoned his cabinet again, September 22, 1862. Before he spoke the momentous word, he freshened himself in his own way,-he said that Artemus Ward had sent him his book, and he would read them a chapter which he thought very funny; and read it he did, with great enjoyment; the secretaries also laughing as in duty bound—all except Stanton! Then the President became grave enoughhe told them that he had been thinking a great deal about the proclamation he had read them two months before; that victory seemed to have brought a favorable occasion; that when the rebel army was at Fredericksburg he determined as soon as it was driven out of Maryland to proclaim emancipation. He went on: “I said nothing to any one, but I made the promise to myself, and,"-hesitating a little" to my Maker." So now, he tells them, he fulfills that promise. One last word, some other might do better than he; he would surrender his place to a better man if he saw the way; he believes that he has not so much of the confi
dence of the people as he once had, but on the whole he does not know that any one has more, and at any rate there is no way for him to give place to any other. “I am here; I must do the best I can, and bear the responsibility of taking the course which I feel I ought to take.” It is the counterpart of Luther's “Here stand I ; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!”
Discussion in the Cabinet: general approval; slight modification only. The proclamation runs on the original lines; compensated abolition recommended; colonization favored; freedom to be declared next New Year's day to all slaves in rebellious States: ultimate compensation recommended for all loyal owners. The proclamation is issued, September 23, 1862, and the nation is inexorably committed to emancipation,-compensated if possible; forcible if necessary; partial at first, but moving inevitably, swiftly, toward universal freedom.
The proclamation with its sequence was the best Lincoln found himself able to do. What he wanted to do,-his own ideal which he could not bring his countrymen to accept,-was shown in his message to Congress when it met in December. The main burden of that message was an earnest plea for action on the line of compensated emancipation. The President proposed an amendment to the Constitution, to this effect: every State abolishing slavery before 1900 to receive compensation from the United States, at some fixed rate, in government bonds; meantime, all slaves freed by chances of war to remain free, with compensation to loyal owners; Congress authorized to spend money for colonization of such as wish to go. For the general plan of compensation Lincoln argues as broadly and calmly as if dealing with a purely economic question, and with the restrained fervor of the patriot and statesman. He dwells on the vast growth which the country promises; on the increasing re
sources which will make light the burden of ransoming the slaves; the safety of a process of gradual liberation; the humane, economic, Christian superiority of this settlement instead of prolonged war. This is the close: “We, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the freehonorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just-a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud and God must forever bless.”
But as for practical effect, he might as well have read Dr. Watts's Cradle-hymn to a couple of fighting bulldogs. The proposition of compensated emancipation was thirty years too late. Now the blood of both sections was up, the fighting animal in man let loose,-and they would go on indefinitely killing and being killed, to free the slaves or to hold them, but they would not lay down their arms and peacefully share the light burden of emancipation.
So came in New Year's day, 1863, and the final word was spoken, declaring freedom to all the slaves in Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and the greater portion of Virginia and Louisiana; enjoining good order on the freedmen; and opening the army and navy to their enlistment. “And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God."
How far, it may be asked, was the military necessity on which the proclamation was based actually met by its results ? Immediate gain, in a military sense, did not accrue. Not a slave was freed except as the ground was conquered foot by foot. But by opening the door to the enlistment of