From: Los Angeles
150 Years Ago Today:
James C. Conkling, a long-time acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln's, was nonetheless unhappy with the Emancipation Proclamation. Conkling also happened to be prominent in Illinois politics, so when he heard of a rumor to replace Lincoln as the Republican candidate for President in 1864, he invited Lincoln to an assembly in their home state to defend his positions in continuing the war and freeing the slaves. Lincoln couldn't make it, but wrote an eloquent letter for Conkling to read aloud:
Washington, August 26, 1863.
Hon. James C. Conkling
My Dear Sir,
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?
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 resistance 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 resistance 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 . . . 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...
... 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
(The full text is available at http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/conkling.htm )
To the anger and disappointment of both men, some of the text was leaked by the Chicago Tribune before the assembly was held. Perhaps it was for the best, however, for the letter received great publicity. Even today, the phrase "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea" is used in histories of the Vicksburg Campaign.
Civil war? What does that mean? Is there any foreign war? Isn't every war fought between men, between brothers?