September 3, 1863: Lincoln Letter to Springfield Rally

Multiple Lincolns


Lincoln during the Civil War probably often wished he could make multiple copies of himself, so great were the demands on his time, and so massive the amount of the work he accomplished.  On September 3, 1863 a huge pro-Union rally was held in Springfield, Illinois.  Lincoln’s home state was very important for the Union.  It contributed over a quarter of a million soldiers and was a major source of food, as well as being a rising manufacturing center.  If Lincoln was to be re-elected in 1864, Illinois was also going to be a battle ground state.  Lincoln understood how strong the Democrat party was in Illinois, and he probably wished that he could appear at the rally.  He did the next best thing and sent a letter to be read at the rally.  In the letter defends the Emancipation and celebrates recent Union victories:

Executive Mansion, Washington, August 26, 1863.

Hon. James C. Conkling My Dear Sir.

Your letter inviting me to attend a mass-meeting of unconditional  Union-men, to be held at the Capitol of Illinois, on the 3d day of  September, has been received.

It would be very agreeable to me, to thus meet my old friends, at my  own home; but I can not, just now, be absent from here, so long as  a visit there, would require.

The meeting is to be of all those who maintain unconditional devotion  to the Union; and I am sure my old political friends will thank me  for tendering, as I do, the nation’s gratitude to those other noble  men, whom no partizan malice, or partizan hope, can make false to  the nation’s life.

There are those who are dissatisfied with me. To such I would say:  You desire peace; and you blame me that we do not have it. But how  can we attain it? There are but three conceivable ways. First, to  suppress the rebellion by force of arms. This I am trying to do.  Are you for it? If you are, so far we are agreed. If you are not  for it, a second way is to give up the Union. I am against this. Are  you for it? If you are, you should say so plainly. If you are not  for force, nor yet for dissolution, there only remains  some imaginable compromise. I do not believe any compromise,  embracing the maintenance of the Union, is now possible. All I learn,  leads to a directly opposite belief.  The strength of the rebellion,  is its military–its army. That army dominates all the country, and  all the people, within its range. Any offer of terms made by any  man or men within that range, in opposition to that army, is simply  nothing for the present; because such man or men, have no power  whatever to enforce their side of a compromise, if one were made  with them. To illustrate. Suppose refugees from the South, and peace  men of the North, get together in convention, and frame and proclaim  a compromise embracing a restoration of the Union; in what way can  that compromise be used to keep Lee’s army out of Pennsylvania?  Meade’s army can keep Lee’s army out of Pennsylvania; and I think,  can ultimately drive it out of existence. But no paper compromise,  to which the controllers of Lee’s army are not agreed, can at all  affect that army. In an effort at such compromise we should waste  time, which the enemy would improve to our disadvantage; and that  would be all. A compromise, to be effective, must be made either  with those who control the rebel army, or with the people first  liberated from the domination of that army, by the success of our  own army. Now allow me to assure you, that no word or intimation,  from that rebel army, or from any of the men controlling it, in  relation to any peace compromise, has ever come to my knowledge  or belief. All charges and insinuations to the contrary, are  deceptive and groundless. And I promise you, that if any such  proposition shall hereafter come, it shall not be rejected, and  kept a secret from you. I freely acknowledge myself the servant  of the people, according to the bond of service–the United States  Constitution; and that, as such, I am responsible to them.

But to be plain, you are dissatisfied with me about the negro.  Quite likely there is a difference of opinion between you and  myself upon that subject. I certainly wish that all men could be  free, while I suppose you do not. Yet I have neither adopted,  nor proposed any measure, which is not consistent with even your  view, provided you are for the Union. I suggested compensated  emancipation; to which you replied you wished not to be taxed to  buy negroes. But I had not asked you to be taxed to buy negroes,  except in such way, as to save you from greater taxation to save  the Union exclusively by other means.

You dislike the emancipation proclamation; and, perhaps, would have  it retracted. You say it is unconstitutional–I think differently.  I think the constitution invests its Commander-in-chief, with the  law of war, in time of war. The most that can be said, if so much,  is, that slaves are property. Is there–has there ever been–any  question that by the law of war, property, both of enemies and  friends, may be taken when needed? And is it not needed whenever  taking it, helps us, or hurts the enemy? Armies, the world over,  destroy enemie’s property when they can not use it; and even destroy  their own to keep it from the enemy. Civilized belligerents do all  in their power to help themselves, or hurt the enemy, except a few  things regarded as barbarous or cruel. Among the exceptions are  the massacre of vanquished foes, and non-combatants, male and  female.

But the proclamation, as law, either is valid, or is not valid. If  it is not valid, it needs no retraction. If it is valid, it can not  be retracted, any more than the dead can be brought to life. Some  of you profess to think its retraction would operate favorably for  the Union. Why better after the retraction, than before the issue? There was more than a year and a half of trial to  suppress the rebellion before the proclamation issued, the last one  hundred days of which passed under an explicit notice that it was  coming, unless averted by those in revolt, returning to their  allegiance. The war has certainly progressed as favorably for us,  since the issue of proclamation as before. I know, as fully as one  can know the opinions of others, that some of the commanders of our  armies in the field who have given us our most important successes  believe the emancipation policy and the use of the colored troops  constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the Rebellion, and that  at least one of these important successes could not have been  achieved when it was but for the aid of black soldiers. Among the  commanders holding these views are some who have never had any  affinity with what is called abolitionism or with the Republican  party policies but who held them purely as military opinions. I  submit these opinions as being entitled to some weight against the  objections often urged that emancipation and arming the blacks are  unwise as military measures and were not adopted as such in good  faith.

You say you will not fight to free negroes. Some of them seem  willing to fight for you; but, no matter. Fight you, then exclusively  to save the Union. I issued the proclamation on purpose to aid you  in saving the Union. Whenever you shall have conquered all  resistence to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting,  it will be an apt time, then, for you to declare you will not fight  to free negroes.

I thought that in your struggle for the Union, to whatever extent  the negroes should cease helping the enemy, to that extent it  weakened the enemy in his resistence to you. Do you think differently?  I thought that whatever negroes can be got to do as soldiers, leaves  just so much less for white soldiers to do, in saving the Union.  Does it appear otherwise to you? But negroes, like other people, act  upon motives. Why should they do any thing 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.

The signs look better. The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to  the sea. Thanks to the great Northwest for it. Nor yet wholly to  them. Three hundred miles up, they met New England, Empire, Key-stone,  and Jersey, hewing their way right and left. The Sunny South too,  in more colors than one, also lent a hand. On the spot, their part  of the history was jotted down in black and white. The job was a  great national one; and let none be banned who bore an honorable  part in it. And while those who have cleared the great river may  well be proud, even that is not all. It is hard to say that anything  has been more bravely, and well done, than at Antietam,  Murfreesboro, Gettysburg, and on many fields of lesser note. Nor  must Uncle Sam’s web-feet be forgotten. At all the watery margins  they have been present. Not only on the deep sea, the broad bay, and  the rapid river, but also up the narrow muddy bayou, and wherever  the ground was a little damp, they have been, and made their tracks.  Thanks to all. For the great republic–for the principle it lives  by, and keeps alive–for man’s vast future–thanks to all.

Peace does not appear so distant as it did. I hope it will come  soon, and come to stay; and so come as to be worth the keeping in  all future time. It will then have been proved that, among free  men, there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the  bullet; and that they who take such appeal are sure to lose their  case, and pay the cost. And then, there will be some black men who  can remember that, with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and  steady eye, and well-poised bayonnet, they have helped mankind on  to this great consummation; while, I fear, there will be some white  ones, unable to forget that, with malignant heart, and deceitful  speech, they strove to hinder it.

Still, let us not be over-sanguine of a speedy final triumph. Let  us be quite sober. Let us diligently apply the means, never doubting  that a just God, in his own good time, will give us the rightful  result.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln

Published in: on September 3, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 3, 1863: Lincoln Letter to Springfield Rally  
Tags: ,
%d bloggers like this: