Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

THE KENTUCKY LETTER. 533

approached,' said Mr. Lincoln, c with the most opposite opinions and advice, and that by religious men, who are equally certain that they represent the Divine will. I am sure,' he added, with humorous irony, 'that either one or the other class is mistaken in the belief, and perhaps in some respect both.' The elements in the problem given him to solve were of the most complex and difficult character. He might well be pardoned, if, doing his best, he had failed. But he has not failed. Sagacious beyond most men in his estimate of popular opinion, he has the intuition of a genuine statesman as to the manner and moment of its use. He has not fallen into the common error of politicians, of mistaking a gust of enthusiasm or of passion for the steady wind of conviction, or of fancying a thundersquall of violence to be a black storm of gathered discontent. He has not sought to control events, but he has known how to turn events, among the most important of which are to be reckoned the moods of a great people in time of trial, to the benefit of the cause of the nation and of mankind.

"In regard to the question of slavery and emancipation, he has, fortunately for the country and for history, given a statement of the principles and motives of his policy in a brief letter, which must take rank as one of the most important documents in the remarkable series of state-papers which he has published since his accession to the Presidency. It is a production of the highest interest, not only as containing the authentic record of his opinions and his action on this great topic, but as exhibiting the frankness, candor, integrity, and sagacity which are the distinguishing traits of his personal character. We cite this letter in full, because, in the crowd of matters of public concern, it has not received the attention it deserves as an exposition of the President's policy, and because it is well fitted to inspire confidence in the wisdom of its author.

* "Executive Mansion, Washington, April 4, 1864.

"A. G. Hodges, Esq., Frankfort, Kentucky.

"my De\r Sir:—You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I verbally stated the other day, in your presence, to Governor Bramlette and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:

"*I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel; and yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an un-restricted right to act officially upon

this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, vl could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it in my view that I might take the oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times and in many ways; and I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand, however, that my oath to preserve the Constitution to the best of my ability imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government, that nation, of which that Constitution was the organic law. "Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the Constitution? By general law, life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life, but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that to the best of my ability I had even tried to preserve the Constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution altogether. When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When, a little later, General Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, General Hunter attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March and May and July, 1862, I made earnest and successive appeals to the Border States to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss; but of this I was not entirely confident. More than a year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force,—no loss by it anyhow or anywhere. On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no caviling. We have men, and we could not have had them without the measure.

"* And new let any Union man who complains of the measure test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking three [one ?] hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he cannot face his case so stated, it is only because he cannot face the truth.

THE KENTUCKY LETTER. 535

"* I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling this tale, I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years' struggle, the nation's condition is not what either party or any man desired or expected. God alone can claim it Whither it is tending seems, plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North, as well aa you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new causes to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.

"' Yours, truly,

"* A. Lincoln."

"This excellent letter, in giving the grounds and explaining the motives of Mr. Lincoln's action, affords a complete vindication from the complaints that have been frequently brought against him by the thoughtless and impatient, by the men of ardent temperament and of limited views, for not advancing more rapidly, for not giving more speedy effect to a supposed popular sentiment, for not adopting what is called a more decisive policy, for being content not to lead the people, but to wait for their progress. These men have desired him to anticipate public opinion, and in doing so they have failed to consider how slow, even in times like these, is the maturing of popular conviction, and how liable to be checked by over-hasty action. The vicissitudes of war produce a frame of mind in which the feelings of the masses of men are likely to oversway their reason, and in which, consequently, there is a constant danger of the rise of reactionary opinions and measures. Political action based on the feeling of a moment is liable to speedy reversal. A policy that is to be lasting must rest on solid and well-formed convictions. The art and the duty of a true statesman in a republic, is not to act on what the people ought to wish and to think, but to adopt the best course practicable in accordance with what they actually do wish and think. It is not to attempt to exercise a despotic leadership, but to divine and to give force to the right will of the nation.

"Above all, in such circumstances as those in which the American nation has been placed by the rebellion, it is of infinite importance that it should learn to conduct its own affairs, trusting to no one man to deliver it from peril, and yielding to no temptation to give up its own power into the hands of any, even the wisest dictator. A Cromwell, if a Cromwell had been possible, would have been an unspeakable calamity to the nation during the past four years. A free and intelligent people have no place for, and no need of, a Cromwell. It must be its own ruler and its own leader. This war has been a war of the people for the people; and in order to reach a successful conclusion—the only conclusion worthy of a self-sustained and self-governed nation, a conclusion which should be a final settlement of the quarrel—it must be fought out by themselves. They are to save themselves, not to look to any man for their salvation. The nation is already lost when it seeks relief from its own duties by shifting them on the shoulders of a leader. And in this view Abraham Lincoln has well fulfilled the duty imposed on him, not seeking to control opinion any more than to control events, but seeking to make use of both in accordance with the laws by which they are governed, so as to secure the working out of the great problem of national salvation. * I have understood well,' said he, l that the duty of self-preservation rests solely with the American people.'"

OHAPTEE XXXII.

ILLINOIS ON THE POTOMAC.

Campaigns Op East And WestVirginia The Battle-groundIts Natural DiviSionsCampaigns Op Western VirginiaGeneral ScottBull RunGeneral McclellanWaiting—" On To Richmond "—YorktownBattles Op The ChickAhominyPopeMcclellanBurnsideFredericksburg—"No. 8 "—HookerChancellorsvilleLee's Strategy—His Advance On Pennsylvania—New CallLee's Ultimate AdvanceMeadeAdvance Op His ArmyGettysburgBatTlesLost OpportunityMore WaitingLee's Army Escapes, And Gen. Meade Escapes The Highest HonorGettysburg And VicksburgShenandoah ValleyThe CoastLieut.-general GrantInto The WildernessIts BattlesBe-** Pore Petersburg.

UNTIL since the battles of Franklin and Nashville, few Illinois troops have been with the armies of Virginia. Consequently in such a work as this, the Eastern campaigns must receive much less attention than Western, where Illinois battle-flags were in almost every brigade, and Illinois blood made sacred every battle-field. Not meaning to make this a history of the war, it was yet impossible to give a shadow of Illinois patriotism without marching with the campaigns of the West. In every Western conflict, our men were there—there in the dim smoke of battle, in the wild charge—there for the desperate charge or the stern resistance. In the campaigns of the East you may count upon your fingers all the Illinois regiments or squadrons engaged, and that before you have counted both hands.

Virginia has been the great Eastern battle-field. It is true the sea-board generally has been contested and won. In North Carolina there were early and important movements, but in Virginia have been massed the grand armies of the contestants, and on its "sacred soil" has blood been poured out as water.

« AnteriorContinuar »