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safety of the people of the United States is the supreme law; that their will is the supreme rule of law, and that we are authorized to pronounce their will on this subject; take the responsibility to say that we will revise the judgments of our ancestors; that we have experience written in blood which they had not; that we find now, what they darkly doubted, that slavery is really, radically inconsistent with the permanence of republican governments, and that being charged by the supreme law of the land on our conscience and judgment to guarantee, that is, to continue, maintain, and enforce, if it exists, to institute and restore when overthrown, republican governments throughout the broad limits of the Republic, we will weed out every element of their policy which we think incompatible with its permanence and endurance.
The bill was extensively debated. It was not opposed to any extent by the Republicans of the House; the Democrats were left to make a purely partisan opposition to it. The President declined to exercise any influence on the debate, and the bill was passed by a vote of seventy-four to sixty-six. It was called up in the Senate by Mr. Wade of Ohio, who, in supporting it, followed very much the same line of argument as that adopted by Mr. Davis in the House. Mr. B. Gratz Brown of Missouri, believing that as the session was drawing near its close there was no time to discuss a measure of such transcendent importance, offered an amendment simply forbidding the States in insurrection to cast any vote for electors of President or VicePresident of the United States, or to elect members of Congress until the insurrection in such State was suppressed or abandoned, and its inhabitants had returned to their obedience to the Government of the United States; such returning to obedience being declared by proclamation of the President, issued by virtue of an act of Congress hereafter to be passed authorizing the same. The amendment of Mr. Brown was adopted by a bare majority, seventeen voting in favor of it and sixteen against it. Mr. Sumner tried to have the Proclamation of Emancipation adopted and enacted as a statute of the United States, but this proposition was lost by a considerable majority. The House declined to concur in the amendment of the Senate and asked for a committee of conference, in which the Senate receded from its amendment and the bill went to the President for his approval in the closing moments of the session. Congress was to adjourn at noon on the Fourth of July; the President was in his room at the Capitol signing bills, which were laid before him as they were brought from the two Houses. When this important bill was placed before him he laid it aside and went on with the other work of the moment. Several prominent members entered in a state of intense anxiety over the fate of the bill. Mr. Sumner and Mr. Bout
well, while their nervousness was evident, refrained from any comment. Mr. Chandler, who was unabashed in any mortal presence, roundly asked the President if he intended to sign the bill.1 The President replied: "This bill has been placed before me a few moments before Congress adjourns. It is a matter of too much importance to be swallowed in that way." “If it is vetoed," cried Mr. Chandler, "it will damage us fearfully in the North-west. The important point is that one prohibiting slavery in the reconstructed States." Mr. Lincoln said: "That is the point on which I doubt the authority of Congress to act." "It is no more than you have done yourself," said the senator. The President answered: "I conceive that I may in an emergency do things on military grounds which cannot be done constitutionally by Congress." Mr. Chandler, expressing his deep chagrin, went out, and the President, addressing the members of the Cabinet who were seated with him, said: "I do not see how any of us now can deny and contradict what we have always said, that Congress has no constitutional power over slavery in the States." Mr. Fessenden expressed his entire agreement with this view.
I have even had my doubts [he said] as to the constitutional efficacy of your own decree of emancipation, in such cases where it has not been carried into effect by the actual advance of the army. The President said:
This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, of their own motion dissolve their connection with I am convinced. If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House. I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war-a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.
Although every member of the Cabinet agreed with the President, when, a few minutes later, he entered his carriage to go home, he foresaw the importance of the step he had resolved to take and its possibly disastrous consequences to himself. When some one said to him that the threats made by the extreme radicals had no foundation, and that people 1 J. H., Diary.
would not bolt their ticket on a question of metaphysics, he answered: "If they choose to make a point upon this, I do not doubt that they can do harm. They have never been friendly to me. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right. I must keep some standard or principle fixed within myself."
After the fullest deliberation the President remained by his first impression that the bill was too rigid and too restrictive in its provisions to accomplish the work desired. He had all his life hated formulas in government, and he believed that the will of an intelligent people, acting freely under democratic institutions, could best give shape to the special machinery under which it was to be governed; and, in the wide variety of circumstances and conditions prevailing throughout the South, he held it unwise for either Congress or himself to prescribe any fixed and formal method by which the several States should resume their practical legal relations with the Union. Thinking in this way, and feeling himself unable to accept the bill of Congress as the last word of reconstruction, and yet unwilling to reject whatever of practical good might be accomplished by it, he resolved, a few days after Congress had adjourned, to remit the matter to the people themselves and to allow them their choice of all the methods proposed of returning to their allegiance. He issued, on the 8th of July, a proclamation giving a copy of the bill of Congress, reciting the circumstances under which it was passed, and going on to say:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do proclaim, declare, and make known that while I am as I was in December last, when by proclamation I propounded a plan of restoration-unprepared by a formal approval of this bill to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration, and while I am also unprepared to declare that the free State constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for naught, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same as to further effort, or to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in the States, but am at the same time sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery throughout the nation may be adopted, nevertheless, I am fully satisfied with the system for restoration contained in the bill as one very proper for the loyal people of any State choosing to adopt it; and that I am, and at all times shall be, prepared to give the executive aid and assistance to any such people, so soon as military resistance to the United States shall have been suppressed in any such State, and the people thereof shall have sufficiently returned to their obedience to the Constitution and the laws of the United States, in which cases military governors will be appointed, with directions to proceed according to the bill.
The refusal of the President to sign the reconstruction bill caused a great effervescence at the adjournment of Congress. Mr. Chase, who had resigned from the Cabinet, made this entry in his diary :
The President pocketed the great bill providing for the reorganization of the rebel States as loyal States. He did not venture to veto, and so put it in his pocket. It was a condemnation of his amnesty proclamation and of his general policy of reconstruction, rejecting the idea of possible reconstruction with slavery, which neither the President nor his chief advisers have, in my opinion, abandoned.
This entry, made by Mr. Chase in the bitterness of his anger, places the basest construction upon the President's action; but this sentiment was shared by not a few of those who claimed the title of extreme radicals in Congress. Mr. Sumner reported a feeling of intense indignation against the President. Two days later the ex-Secretary gleefully reported, on the authority of Senator Pomeroy, that there was great dissatisfaction with Mr. Lincoln, which had been much exasperated by the pocketing of the reconstruction bill.
When Mr. Lincoln, disregarding precedents, and acting on his lifelong rule of taking the people into his confidence, issued his proclamation of the 8th of July, it was received by each division of the loyal people of the country as might have been expected. The great mass of Republican voters, who cared little for the metaphysics of the case, accepted his proclamation, as they had accepted that issued six months before, as the wisest and most practicable method of handling the question; but among those already hostile to the President, and those whose devotion to the cause of freedom was so ardent as to make them look upon him as lukewarm, the exasperation which was already excited increased. The indignation of Mr. Davis and Mr. Wade at seeing their work of the last session thus brought to nothing could not be restrained. Mr. Davis prepared, and both of them signed and published on the 5th of August, a manifesto, the most vigorous in attack that was ever directed against the President from his own party during his term. The grim beginning of this document, which is addressed "To the Supporters of the Government," is in these terms:
We have read without surprise, but not without indignation, the proclamation of the President of the 8th of July, 1804. The supporters of the Administration are responsible to the country for its conduct; and it is their right and duty to check the encroachments of the Executive on the authority of Congress, and to require it to confine itself to its proper sphere.
The paper went on to narrate the history of the reconstruction bill, and to claim that its treatment indicated a persistent though un
avowed purpose of the President to defeat the will of the people by the Executive perversion of the Constitution. They insinuated that only the lowest personal motives could have dictated this action :
The President [they said], by preventing this bill from becoming a law, holds the electoral votes of the rebel States at the dictation of his personal ambition. . . . If electors for President be allowed to be chosen in either of those States, a sinister light will be cast on the motives which induced the President to "hold for naught" the will of Congress rather than his governments in Louisiana and
When we consider that only a few months elapsed before this beneficent amendment was adopted, we can form some idea of the comparative political sagacity of Mr. Lincoln and his critics. The fact that the President gave the bill of Congress his approval as a very proper plan for the loyal people of any States choosing to adopt it seemed to infuriate the authors of the bill: they say, "A more studied outrage on the legislative authority of the people has never been perpetrated." At the close of a long review of the President's proclamation, in which every sentence came in for its share of censure or of ridicule, this manifesto concluded:
Such are the fruits of this rash and fatal act of the President-a blow at the friends of his Administration, at the rights of humanity, and at the principles of republican government. The President has greatly presumed on the forbearance which the supporters of his Administration have so long practiced, in view of the arduous conflict in which we are engaged, and the reckless ferocity of our political opponents. But he must understand that our support is of a cause and not of a man; that the authority of Congress is paramount and must be respected; that the whole body of the Union men of Congress will not submit to be impeached by him of rash and unconstitutional legislation; and if he wishes our support he must confine himself to his executive duties-to obey and to execute, not make the laws to suppress by arms armed rebellion, and leave political reorganization to Congress. If the supporters of the Government fail to insist on this they become responsible for the usurpations which they fail to rebuke, and are justly liable to the indignation of the people whose rights and
security, committed to their keeping, they sacrifice. Let them consider the remedy of these usurpations, and, having found it, fearlessly execute it.
HORACE GREELEY'S PEACE MISSION.
Not least among the troubles and the vexations of the summer of 1864 was the constant criticism of sincere Republicans who were impatient at what they considered the slow progress of the war, and irritated at the deliberation with which Mr. Lincoln weighed every important act before decision. Besides this, a feeling of discouragement had taken possession of some of the more excitable spirits, which induced them to give ready hospitality to any suggestions of peace. Foremost among these was Horace Greeley, who in personal interviews, in private letters, and in the columns of the "Tribune" repeatedly placed before the President, with that vigor of expression in which he was unrivaled, the complaints and the discontents of a considerable body of devoted, if not altogether reasonable, Union men. The attitude of benevolent criticism which he was known to sustain towards the Administration naturally drew around him a certain number of adventurers and busybodies, who fluttered between the two great parties, and were glad to occupy the attention of prominent men on either side with schemes whose only real object was some slight gain or questionable notoriety for themselves. A person who called himself" William Cornell Jewett of Colorado" had gained some sort of intimacy with Mr. Greeley by alleging relations with eminent Northern and Southern statesmen. He was one of those newspaper laughing-stocks who come gradually to be known and talked about. He wrote interminable letters of advice to Mr. Lincoln and to Jefferson Davis, which were never read nor answered, but which, printed with humorous comment in the "New York Herald," were taken seriously by the undiscriminating, and even quoted and discussed in the London papers. He wrote to Mr. Greeley in the early part of July from Niagara Falls, and appears to have convinced the latter that he was an authorized intermediary from the Confederate authorities to make propositions for peace. He wrote that he had just left George N. Sanders of Kentucky on the Canada side.
I am authorized to state to you [he continued], for our use only, not the public, that two ambassadors of Davis & Co. are now in Canada with full and complete powers for a peace, and Mr. Sanders requests that you come on immediately to me at Cataract House to have a private interview; or, if you will send the President's protection for him and two friends, they will come and meet you. He says the
whole matter can be consummated by me, you, hibit their credentials and submit their ultithem, and President Lincoln.
This letter was followed the next day by a telegram saying:
Will you come here? Parties have full power.
Mr. Greeley was greatly impressed by this communication. The inherent improbabilities of it did not seem to strike him, though the antecedents of Sanders were scarcely more reputable than those of Jewett. He sent the letter and the telegram to the President, inclosed in a letter of his own, the perfervid vehemence of which shows the state of excitement he was laboring under. He refers to his correspondour irrepressible friend Colorado Jewett." He admits some doubt as to the "full powers," but insists upon the Confederate desire for peace.
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And therefore [he says] I venture to remind you that our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country also longs for peace; shudders at the prospect of fresh conscriptions, of further wholesale devastations, and of new rivers of human blood. And a widespread conviction that the Government and its prominent supporters are not anxious for peace, and do not improve proffered opportunities to achieve it, is doing great harm now, and is morally certain, unless removed, to do far greater in the approaching elections.
He then rebukes Mr. Lincoln for not having received the Stephens embassy, disapproves the warlike tone of the Baltimore platform, urges the President to make overtures for peace in time to affect the North Carolina elections, and suggests the following plan of adjustment: 1. The Union is restored and declared perpetual. 2. Slavery is utterly and forever abolished throughout the same. 3. A complete amnesty for all political offenses. 4. Payment of $400,000,000 to the slave States pro rata for their slaves. 5. The slave States to be represented in proportion to their total population. 6. A National convention to be called at once.
The letter closes with this impassioned appeal :
Mr. President, I fear you do not realize how intently the people desire any peace consistent with the national integrity and honor, and how joyously they would hail its achievement and bless its authors. With United States stocks worth but forty cents in gold per dollar, and drafting about to commence on the third million of Union soldiers, can this be wondered at? I do not say that a just peace is now attainable, though I believe it to be so. But I do say that a frank offer by you to the insurgents of terms which the impartial will say ought to be accepted will, at the worst, prove an immense and sorely needed advantage to the national cause; it may save us from a Northern insurrection.
In a postscript Mr. Greeley again urges the President to invite "those at Niagara to ex
Mr. Lincoln determined at once to take action upon this letter. He had no faith in Jewett's story. He doubted whether the embassy had any existence except in the imagination of Sanders and Jewett. But he felt the unreasonableness and injustice of Mr. Greeley's letter, while he did not doubt his good faith; and he resolved to convince him at least, and perhaps others of his way of thinking, that there was no foundation for the reproaches they were casting upon the Government for refusing to treat with the rebels. That there might be no opportunity for dispute in relation to the facts of the case, he arranged that the witness of his willingness to listen to any overtures which might come from the South should be Mr. Greeley himself. He answered his letter at once, on the 9th of July, saying:
If you can find any person, anywhere, professing to have any proposition from Jefferson Davis, in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union, and abandonment of slavery, whatever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you, and that if he really brings such proposition he shall at the least have safe conduct with the paper (and without publicity, if he chooses) to the point where you shall have met with him. The same if there be two or more persons.
Mr. Greeley answered this letter the next day in evident embarrassment. The President had surprised him by his frank and prompt acquiescence in his suggestions. He had accepted the first two points of Mr. Greeley's plan of adjustment - the restoration of the Union, and the abandonment of slavery — as the only preliminary conditions of negotiations upon which he would insist, and requested this vehement advocate of peace to bring forward his ambassadors. Mr. Greeley's reply of the 10th seems somewhat lacking both in temper and in candor. He thought the negotiators would not "open their budget " to him; repeated his reproaches at the "rude repulse of Stephens; referred again to the importance of doing something in time for the North Carolina elections; and said at least he would try to get a look into the hand of the men at Niagara, though he had "little heart for it." But on the 13th he wrote in a much more positive manner. He said:
I have now information, on which I can rely, that two persons, duly commissioned and empowered to negotiate for peace, are at this moment not far from Niagara Falls in Canada, and are desirous of conferring with yourself, or with such persons as you may appoint and empower to treat with them. Their names (only given in confidence) are Hon. Clement C. Clay of Alabama, and Hon. Jacob Thompson of Mississippi.
He added that he knew nothing and had proposed nothing as to terms; that it seemed to him high time an effort should be made to terminate the wholesale slaughter. He hoped to hear that the President had concluded to act in the premises, and to act so promptly as to do some good in the North Carolina elections. On the receipt of this letter, which was written four days after Mr. Greeley had been fully authorized to bring to Washington any one he could find empowered to treat for peace, and which yet was based on the assumption of the President's unwillingness to do the very thing he had already done, Mr. Lincoln resolved to put an end to a correspondence which promised to be indefinitely prolonged, by sending an aide-de-camp to New York to arrange in a personal interview what it seemed impossible to conclude by mail. On the 15th he sent Mr. Greeley a brief telegram expressing his disappointment, saying, "I was not expecting you to send me a letter, but to bring me a man or men," and announced the departure of a messenger with a letter. The letter was of the briefest. It merely said:
Yours of the 13th is just received, and I am disappointed that you have not already reached here with those commissioners, if they would consent to come, on being shown my letter to you of the 9th inst. Show that and this to them, and if they will come on the terms stated in former, bring them. I not only intend a sincere effort for peace, but I intend that you shall be a personal witness that it is made.
This curt and peremptory missive was delivered to Mr. Greeley by Major John Hay early on the morning of the 16th. He was still somewhat reluctant to go; he thought some one not so well known would be less embarrassed by public curiosity; but said finally that he would start at once if he could be given a safe conduct for four persons, to be named by him. Major Hay communicated this to the President and received the required order in reply. "If there is or is not anything in the affair," he said, "I wish to know it without unnecessary delay."
The safe conduct was immediately written and given to Mr. Greeley, who started at once for Niagara. It provided that Clement C. Clay, Jacob Thompson, James P. Holcombe, and George N. Sanders should have safe conduct to Washington in company with Horace Greeley, and should be exempt from arrest or annoyance of any kind from any officer of the United States during their journey. Nothing was said by Mr. Greeley or by Major Hay to the effect that this safe conduct modified in any respect the conditions imposed by the President's letter of the 9th. It merely carried into effect the proposition made in that letter. On arriving at Niagara, Mr. Greeley placed
himself at once in the hands of Jewett, who was waiting to receive him, and sent by him a letter addressed to Clay, Thompson, and Holcombe, in which he said:
I am informed that you are duly accredited from Richmond as the bearers of propositions looking to the establishment of peace; that you desire to visit Washington in the fulfillment of your mission; and that you further desire that Mr. George N. Sanders shall accompany you. If my information be thus far substantially correct, I am authorized by the President of the United States to tender you his safe conduct on the journey proposed, and to accompany you at the earliest time that will be agreeable to you.
No clearer proof can be given than is afforded in this letter that Mr. Greeley was absolutely ignorant of all the essential facts appertaining to the negotiation in which he was engaged. As it turned out, he had been misinformed even as to the personnel of the embassy, Jacob Thompson not being, and not having been, in company with the others; none of them had any authority to act in the capacity attributed to them; and, worse than all this, Mr. Greeley kept out of view, in his missive thus shot at a venture, the very conditions which Mr. Lincoln had imposed in his letter of the 9th and repeated in that of the 15th. Yet, with all the advantages thus afforded them, Clay and Holcombe felt themselves too bare and naked of credentials to accept Mr. Greeley's offer, and were therefore compelled to answer that they had not been accredited from Richmond, as assumed in his note. They made haste to say, however, that they were acquainted with the views of their Government, and could easily get credentials, or other agents could be accredited in their place, if they could be sent to Richmond armed with "the circumstances disclosed in this correspondence." It is incomprehensible that a man of Mr. Greeley's experience should not have recognized at once the purport of this proposal. It simply meant that Mr. Lincoln should take the initiative in suing the Richmond authorities for peace, on terms to be proposed by them. The essential impossibility of these terms was not apparent to Mr. Greeley; he merely saw that the situation was somewhat different from what he had expected, and therefore acknowledged the receipt of the letter, promised to report to Washington and solicit fresh instructions, and then telegraphed to Mr. Lincoln the substance of what Clay and Holcombe had written. The President, with unwearied patience, drew up a final paper, which he sent by Major Hay to Niagara, informing Mr. Greeley by telegraph that it was on the way. This information Mr. Greeley at once sent over the border, with many apologies for the delay.
Major Hay arrived at Niagara on the 20th