Lincoln’s Blind Memorandum of August 23, 1864

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On August 23, 1864, Abraham Lincoln met with his cabinet. He circulated amongst his ministers a folded piece of paper, and asked them to sign it without looking at its contents. They did (as the LOC website is down until tomorrow, the image will appear here then).

Inside, one would have found the following words:

Executive Mansion
Washington, Aug. 23, 1864.
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he can not possibly save it afterwards.
A. LINCOLN

Coming just days after Lincoln had set aside suggestions that he abandon emancipation in the Confederacy as a war aim, this memorandum suggests that the president did not think his chances for reelection were very good.

Here one can read what Matthew Pinsker says about the document, or you can watch him here.

Allen Guelzo offers his take here:

Another Online Resource

If you like sketches like these …

… then you might like to look at this:

CHARLES WELLINGTON REED PAPERS

The papers of Civil War soldier and artist Charles Wellington Reed, who served with the Ninth Independent Battery, Massachusetts Light Artillery, includes approximately seven hundred sketches and correspondence relating primarily to the Civil War. The letters are often prefaced by drawings which further illustrate not only the rigors of military life, but also the amusing and mundane aspects. The contents of the letters and corresponding sketches well document the ways in which soldiers adapted to seasonal changes in the weather, how they amused themselves, and the routines of camp life in the Army of the Potomac.

Online presentation: http://www.loc.gov/collection/charles-reed/about-this-collection/

Finding aid in html: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/eadmss.ms001005

Finding aid in pdf: http://rs5.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/2001/ms001005.pdf

Reed won the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg in rescuing battery commander Captain John Bigelow on July 2, 1863, when the 9th Massachusetts Battery came under attack that afternoon.

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August 19, 1864: Lincoln Stays the Course on Emancipation

Having pondered the issue of emancipation and war aims for several days, Abraham Lincoln was ready to explain what he had decided and why. He shared his thinking with Wisconsin Alexander Randall and Judge Joseph T. Mills. Mills left the following entry in his diary describing what the president told them:

August 19, 1864
The President was free & animated in conversation. I was astonished at his elasticity of spirits. Says Gov Randall, why cant you Mr P. seek some place of retirement for a few weeks. You would be reinvigorated. Aye said the President, 3 weeks would do me no good—my thoughts my solicitude for this great country follow me where ever I go. I don’t think it is personal vanity, or ambition—but I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in the approaching canvas. My own experience has proven to me, that there is no program intended by the democratic party but that will result in the dismemberment of the Union. But Genl McClellan is in favor of crushing out the rebellion, & he will probably be the Chicago candidate. The slightest acquaintance with arithmetic will prove to any man that the rebel armies cannot be destroyed with democratic strategy. It would sacrifice all the white men of the north to do it. There are now between 1 & 200 thousand black men now in the service of the Union. These men will be disbanded, returned to slavery & we will have to fight two nations instead of one. I have tried it. You cannot concilliate the South, when the mastery & control of millions of blacks makes them sure of ultimate success. You cannot concilliate the South, when you place yourself in such a position, that they see they can achieve their independence. The war democrat depends upon conciliation. He must confine himself to that policy entirely. If he fights at all in such a war as this he must economise life & use all the means which God & nature puts in his power. Abandon all the posts now possessed by black men surrender all these advantages to the enemy, & we would be compelled to abandon the war in 3 weeks. We have to hold territory. Where are the war democrats to do it. The field was open to them to have enlisted & put down this rebellion by force of arms, by concilliation, long before the present policy was inaugurated. There have been men who have proposed to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson & Olustee to their masters to conciliate the South. I should be damned in time & in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith to friends & enemies, come what will. My enemies say I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition. It is & will be carried on so long as I am President for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without using the Emancipation lever as I have done. Freedom has given us the control of 200 000 able bodied men, born & raised on southern soil. It will give us more yet. Just so much it has sub[t]racted from the strength of our enemies, & instead of alienating the south from us, there are evidences of a fraternal feeling growing up between our own & rebel soldiers. My enemies condemn my emancipation policy. Let them prove by the history of this war, that we can restore the Union without it. The President appeared to be not the pleasant joker I had expected to see, but a man of deep convictions & an unutterable yearning for the success of the Union cause. His voice was pleasant—his manner earnest & cordial. As I heard a vindication of his policy from his own lips, I could not but feel that his mind grew in stature like his body, & that I stood in the presence of the great guiding intellect of the age, & that those huge Atlantian shoulders were fit to bear the weight of mightiest monarchies. His transparent honesty, his republican simplicity, his gushing sympathy for those who offered their lives for their country, his utter forgetfulness of self in his concern for his country, could not but inspire me with confidence, that he was Heavens instrument to conduct his people thro this red sea of blood to a Canaan of peace & freedom. Comr. Dole then came in. We were about to retire, but he insisted on our remaining longer. Dismissing the present state of the country, he entertained us with reminiscences of the past—of the discussions between himself & Douglass. He said he was accused of of [sic] joking. In his later speeches, the seriousness of the theme prevented him from using anecdotes. Mr. Harris a democratic orator of Ill, once appealed to his audience in this way. If these republicans get into power, the darkies will be allowed to come to the polls & vote. Here comes forward a white man, & you ask him who will you vote for. I will vote for S A Douglass. Next comes up a sleek pampered negro. Well Sambo, who do you vote for. I vote for Massa Lincoln. Now asked the orator, what do you think of that. Some old farmer cried out, I think the darkey showd a damd sight of more sense than the white man. It is such social tete a tetes among his friends that enables Mr Lincoln to endure mental toils & application that would crush any other man. The President now in full flow of spirits, scattered his repartee in all directions. He took his seat on the sofa by my side. Said I Mr President I was in your reception room to day. It was dark. I suppose that clouds & darkness necessarily surround the secrets of state. There in a corner I saw a man quietly reading who possessed a remarkable physiognomy. I was rivetted to the spot. I stood & stared at him He raised his flashing eyes & caught me in the act. I was compelled to speak. Said I, Are you the President. No replied the stranger, I am Frederick Douglass. Now Mr P. are you in favor of miscegenation. That’s a democratic mode of producing good Union men, & I dont propose to infringe on the patent. We parted from his Excellency, with firmer purpose to sustain the government, at whose head there stands a man who combines in his person all that is valuable in progress in conservatism—all that is hopeful in progress.

Whether Lincoln ever wavered on the issue of emancipation remains an issue of debate for some people. There is nothing to suggest that he did anything other than try out the advice given him by several leading Republicans in one of the drafts of his letter to Democratic newspaper editor Charles Robinson. But it was now clear that he would stay the course, come what may.

August 19, 1864: Frederick Douglass Meets Abraham Lincoln

On August 18, 1864, Abraham Lincoln learned that Frederick Douglass would be visiting the White House the following day. The president had something of great import to discuss with the abolitionist. The two men had worked together before on enlisting African Americans in the Union army, but this time it was something different.

In 1883, Douglass recalled the August 19th meeting:

The main subject on which he wished to confer with me was as to the means most desirable to be employed outside the army to induce the slaves in the rebel States to come within the Federal lines. The increasing opposition to the war, in the North, and the mad cry against it, because it was being made an abolition war, alarmed Mr. Lincoln, and made him apprehensive that a peace might be forced upon him which would leave still in slavery all who had not come within our lines. What he wanted was to make his proclamation as effective as possible in the event of such a peace. He said, in a regretful tone, “The slaves are not coming so rapidly and so numerously to us as I had hoped.” I replied that the slaveholders knew how to keep such things from their slaves, and probably very few knew of his proclamation. “Well,” he said, “I want you to set about devising some means of making them acquainted with it, and for bringing them into our lines.” He spoke with great earnestness and much solicitude, and seemed troubled by the attitude of Mr. Greeley and by the growing impatience at the war that was being manifested throughout the North. He said he was being accused of protracting the war beyond its legitimate object and of failing to make peace when he might have done so to advantage. He was afraid of what might come of all these complaints, but was persuaded that no solid and lasting peace could come short of absolute submission on the part of the rebels, and he was not for giving them rest by futile conferences with unauthorized persons, at Niagara Falls, or elsewhere. He saw the danger of premature peace, and, like a thoughtful and sagacious man as he was, wished to provide means of rendering such consummation as harmless as possible. I was the more impressed by this benevolent consideration because he before said, in answer to the peace clamor, that his object was to save the Union, and to do so with or without slavery. What he said on this day showed a deeper moral conviction against slavery than I had ever seen before in anything spoken or written by him. I listened with the deepest interest and profoundest satisfaction, and, at his suggestion, agreed to undertake the organizing a hand of scouts, composed of colored men, whose business should be somewhat after the original plan of John Brown, to go into the rebel States, beyond the lines of our armies, and carry the news of emancipation, and urge the slaves to come within our boundaries.

Douglass left Washington thinking about how to implement Lincoln’s idea. On August 29, Douglass wrote Lincoln as follows:

Rochester: N. Y. August 29th 1864

Sir: Since the interview with wh. Your Excellency was pleased to honor me a few days ago, I have freely conversed with several trustworthy and Patriotic Colored men concerning your suggestion that something should be speedily done to inform the slaves in the Rebel states of the true state of affairs in relation to them sho and to warn them as to what will be their probable condition should peace be concluded while they remain within the Rebel lines: and more especially to urge upon them the necessity of making their escape. All with whom I have thus far spoken on the subject, concur in the wisdom and benevolence of the Idea, and some of them think it practicable. That every slave who escapes from the Rebel states is a loss to the Rebellion and a gain to the Loyal Cause, I need not stop to argue the proposition is self evident. The negro is the stomach of the rebellion. I will therefore briefly submit at once to your Excellency — the ways and means by which many such persons may be wrested from the enemy and brought within our lines:

1st Let a general agt. be appointed by your Excellency charged with the duty of giving effect to your idea as indicated above: Let him have the means and power to employ twenty or twenty five good men, having the cause at heart, to act as his agents: 2d Let these Agents which shall be selected by him, have permission to visit such points at the front as are most accessible to large bodies of slaves in the Rebel States: Let each of the said agts have power — to appoint one subagent or more in the locality where he may be required to operate: the said sub agent shall be thoroughly acquainted with the country — and well instructed as to the representations he is to make to the slaves: — but his cheif duty will be to conduct such squads of slaves as he may be able to collect, safely within the Loyal lines: Let the sub agents for this service be paid a sum not exceeding two dolls– per day while upon active duty.

3dly In order that these agents shall not be arrested or impeded in their work –let them be properly ordered to report to the General Commanding the several Departments they may visit, and recieve from them permission to pursue thier vocation unmolested. 4th Let provision be made that the slaves or Freed men thus brought within our lines shall receive subsistence until such of them as are fit shall enter the service of the Country or be otherwise employed and provided for: 5thly Let each agent appointed by the General agent be required to keep a strict acct of all his transactions, — of all monies recieved and paid out, of the numbers and the names of slaves brought into our lines under his auspices, of the plantations visited, and of everything properly connected with the prosecution of his work, and let him be required to make full reports of his proceedings — at least, once a fortnight to the General Agent.

6th Also, Let the General Agt be required to keep a strict acct of all his transactions with his agts and report to your Excellency or to an officer designated by you to recieve such reports. 7th Let the General Agt be paid a salary sufficient to enable him to employ a competant Clerk, and let him be stationed at Washington — or at some other Point where he can most readily receive communications from and send communications to his Agents: The General Agt should also have a kind of roving Commission within our lines, so that he may have a more direct and effective oversight of the whole work and thus ensure activity and faithfulness on the part of his agents–

This is but an imperfect outline of the plan — but I think it enough to give your Excellency an Idea of how the desirable work shall be executed.

Your Obedient Servant

Fredk Douglass

Abandoning Emancipation? The Robinson Letter of August 17, 1864

In August 1864 Abraham Lincoln was facing what seemed to be an uphill struggle for reelection. The major military offensives of the spring had bogged down and become summer stalemates. Members of his own party denounced him, some for not being radical enough on the issue of black equality, others for his pocket veto of the Wade-Davis Bill in July. Indeed, some Republicans were scheming to replace him at the head of the Republican ticket, with a splinter effort headed by John C. Fremont already in the field. Meanwhile, Democrats assailed him for waging a war to free back people at the cost of the blood of white soldiers, including those who were imprisoned in Confederate prison camps.

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The Confederate Soldier, Slavery, and Emancipation

Ben Jones, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, reminds us that James I. Robertson once wrote:

“Just as most Northerners did not fight to end slavery, most Southerners did not fight to preserve it.”

Let’s add what followed for some clarification: “By and large, owning slaves was the privilege of the well-to-do. The rank and file of the Southern armies was composed of farmers and laborers who volunteered to protect home and everything dear from Northern invaders, to keep their traditions and be left alone.”

Ben’s kindly conceded that one should use “Confederates” rather than southerners, and for good reason.

However, this quote, from Tenting Tonight, one of the volumes in the Time-Life series on the American Civil War, raises far more questions than it answers.

What traditions? Who was not leaving them alone? What were they failing to leave alone? What needed to be left alone?

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Tiresome Challenges, Curious Assertions

You see it all the time: Confederate heritage advocates recycling the same old assertions and charges, many of which are carefully worded so as to lead to the answer they want (regardless of the relation of that answer to historical understanding). Here’s one from a George Purvis, who heads something called SHAPE, which is not Eisenhower’s command in World War II, but “Southern Heritage Advancement Preservation and Education,” although it does nothing of the sort. Anyway, here’s George’s declaration, found in the comments section of yet another Confederate heritage blog:

In my honest opinion other students can and should protest the US flag being flown — if it is. After all, under the United States flag, slavery did start in this country.

Anyone want to challenge that statement here in an open debate? Brooks, Baker, Mackey, Hall????? Any of you willing to step to the plate????

Well, as it’s now MLB’s All Star Week, here I come.

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Ulysses S. Grant, Father

Ulysses S. Grant did not always have the smoothest relationship with his father. Indeed, old Jesse Grant could in turn berate his son, brag about him, embarrass him, and even try to take advantage of him.

Fathers are often shaped by their experiences as sons, for better and for worse. Sometimes, as sons know, the act of becoming a father sheds new light on what their own fathers did. In Grant’s case, he seems to have resolved to be a different sort of father than his own father was.

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