Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lincoln's Appeal to the Border States

On July 12, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln invited the senators and representatives from the border states to hear his offer of compensated emancipation to their states' slaves.

Lincoln explained to those gathered that he wanted to take this opportunity to speak to them since congress was set to adjourn soon. He believed that the border states men held "more power for good than any other equal number of [Congressional] members" and thus felt obligated to make his appeal.

He told them that if they had accepted gradual compensated emancipation back in March that "the war would now be substantially ended." He believed that if the seceded states saw that the border states would give up their slaves and never join their cause, those seceded states would quickly surrender, but he emphasized  "you can not divest them of their hope to ultimately have you with them so long as you show a determination to perpetuate the institution within your own states."

Lincoln asked them, "Can you, for your states, do better than to take the course I urge?"  He understood that they preferred "that the constitutional relation to the states to the nation" should be "practically restored, without disturbance of the institution," and that if it could be done he would be doing his whole duty under the constitution. But it was not being done, and thus they were "trying to accomplish it by war." Lincoln wanted them to know that war changed things and it would surely change slavery ". . .the institution in your states will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion-by the mere incidents of war. It will be gone, and you will have  nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of it's value is gone already."

With this clear he asked how much better would it be to do something to help end the war, end the bloodshed, and at the same time receive some remuneration for it? He did not call for "emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually."  He suggested that there were accommodations in South America for colonization of those freed and that they would be willing to go when sufficient numbers settle there.

The president mentioned his repudiation of General David Hunter's proclamation freeing slaves and that he was feeling pressure from those that disagreed with his decision. Lincoln told the border state men that their acceptance of his offer could relieve that pressure and help the country all pull in the same direction to win the war.

Lincoln closed asking for due consideration. "You are patriots and statesmen; and, and such, I pray you, consider this proposition; and, at the least, commend it to the consideration of your states and people."  He continued that "Our common country is in great peril, demanding the loftiest views, and boldest action to bring it speedy relief. Once relieved, it's form of government is saved to the world; it's beloved history, and cherished memories are vindicated; and it's happy future fully assured, and rendered inconceivably grand."

Twenty of the border state senators and representatives issued a majority reply two days later spurning Lincoln's offer. They claimed that the federal government couldn't afford the compensation to the owners and that freeing slaves would make the Confederacy even more determined, not less.  Too, they believed that emancipation would fire up the secession impulse in their states.

The next day a minority reply was made by eight men in approval of Lincoln's appeal.

I would argue that it was not a matter of money. The president could have offered $1000.00 for each slave and the border states still would have turned him down. I would content that the issue was much more social than economic. Border state whites did not want freed African Americans living in their midst - they knew most freedmen would not willingly colonize and if they were free then there was the possibility of them becoming citizens and thus potentially equals - something they were not willing to consider.

So, over the next couple of years Lincoln's prophecy came true - the war wiped away slavery, albeit faster in some states than others. Maryland gave up slavery in November 1864, and Missouri in January 1865. Kentucky and Delaware held out until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment forced the issue in December 1865.

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