In the comments section Helga Ross makes reference to a debate over the authenticity of a letter purportedly written by Abraham Lincoln to James S. Wadsworth in early 1864. The letter’s text does not bear a date, but it must have been written between the beginning of 1864 and the Battle of the Wilderness, where Wadsworth was killed.
You desire to know, in the event of our complete success in the field, the same being followed by a loyal and cheerful submission on the part of the South, if universal amnesty should not be accompanied with universal suffrage.
Now, since you know my private inclinations as to what terms should be granted to the South in the contingency mentioned, I will here add, that if our success should thus be realized, followed by such desired results, I cannot see, if universal amnesty is granted, how, under the circumstances, I can avoid exacting in return universal suffrage, or, at least, suffrage on the basis of intelligence and military service.
How to better the condition of the colored race has long been a study which has attracted my serious and careful attention; hence I think I am clear and decided as to what course I shall pursue in the premises, regarding it a religious duty, as the nation’s guardian of these people, who have so heroically vindicated their manhood on the battle-field, where, in assisting to save the life of the Republic, they have demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot, which is but the humane protection of the flag they have so fearlessly defended.
The restoration of the Rebel States to the Union must rest upon the principle of civil and political equality of the both races; and it must be sealed by general amnesty .
New York Tribune, September 26, 1865; Scribner’s Magazine, January, 1893. This extract was widely reprinted in newspapers from the source indicated in the Tribune as follows:
“The Southern Advocate of the 18th inst. says:
“The following extract, which has just been published, is from the late President Lincoln’s letter to Gen. Wadsworth, who fell in the battle of the Wilderness. The letter, which is of a private character, is to be sent to Gen. Wadsworth’s family.
‘”It shows that Mr. Lincoln, who desired the bestowal of the elective franchise upon the blacks, was also, at an early day, in favor of granting universal amnesty, which, for some strange and unaccountable reason, is still withheld from the South, notwithstanding it is known that it was his intention to grant, without any exception, a general pardon.
“‘His wishes, in this particular, the American people cannot afford to disregard. Congress will, no doubt, exact the right of suffrage for the blacks. Why universal amnesty should be withheld until that time, we are unable to see. This, certainly, was not Mr. Lincoln’s plan, whose intentions all parties should sacredly observe.
“‘The following is the extract referred to, in which Mr. Lincoln says: [extract as given above].'”
The Southern Advocate has not been located, and no other reference has been found to the original letter to Wadsworth. The contents of the excerpt is, however, closely in keeping with views expressed by Lincoln elsewhere (see Fragment, August 26, 1863, supra), and seems to be genuine. The date assigned is based upon the fact that General Wadsworthreturned from his tour of inspection of freedmen in the Mississippi Valley on December 3, 1863, and on the supposition that Lincoln’s letter would probably have been written some time thereafter, but in any case prior to May, 1864, since Wadsworthwas killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864.
 This paragraph does not appear in the newspaper accounts, but is included in the article by Marquis de Chambrun in Scribner’s Magazine.
So runs the text and the annotation in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, volume 7, pages 101-2.
Your assignment is a simple one: is the letter authentic?