August 14, 1862 (Thursday)
President Lincoln was a man whose opinions were often in flux. It’s not that he waffled on issues or spoke out of both sides of his mouth. Much of what he said and spoke, he honestly believed. That those things he said would differ from time to time meant only that he was growing, learning and changing like any normal human being.
At the start of the war, Lincoln had been more than generous in his offers to allow the South to keep their slaves. Though they had feared (and seceded over) the idea that Lincoln’s original plan was to free the slaves, his words, at their most radical, followed the Republican Party platform which was merely against taking slaves into the new territories of the West. The enslaved people of the South were to remain enslaved as long as they were within the boundaries of their owner’s slave states.
Over the course of the conflict thus far, Lincoln had changed. At the start, he claimed that he would not interfere with slavery as long as the wayward states returned to the Union. Later, growing more radical, he offered compensated emancipation – offering to pay the rebellious states for each of their slaves. Over the summer of 1862, however, Lincoln leaned even more to the left, drafting the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free all slaves in the seceded states. There would be no compensation, no allowances, no compromise.
In a letter written to a New York Democrat at the end of July, Lincoln made this very clear. “Broken eggs cannot be mended,” Lincoln said, infusing old time charm to his forthrightness. The sooner the Southern states return to the Union, “the smaller will be the amount of that which will be past mending.”
Lincoln argued that the Southern states had been planning on destroying the government for ten years. After such action, they could not expect “to come back into the Union unhurt.”1
While Southern slave owners hated Lincoln’s words, fearing that he would destroy their society based upon the buying and selling of human beings, many abolitionists despised Lincoln for not doing enough to root out slavery. The disgust was climbing in activists like Wendell Phillips, who believed that the desire of the government was “to end the war and save slavery.” As well as others, like Anna Dickinson, who saw Lincoln as little more than “an Ass… for the Slave Power to ride.”2
In Frederick Douglass’ monthly paper, he editorialized that Lincoln was trying to “shield and protect slavery from the very blows which its horrible crimes have loudly and persistently invited.” Douglass railed against Lincoln for not arming the slaves, and harshly criticized him for not issuing an emancipation proclamation.3
Of course, Douglass had no way of knowing that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had already been written and lay in a desk drawer waiting for a Union victory so that its publication wouldn’t seem so desperate.
The abolitionists found Lincoln’s many statements supporting the colonization of all members of the African race in some tropical climate to be utterly despicable.
But colonization was exactly what Lincoln had in mind when he invited a committee of five representing the black community to the White House. Congress, said the President, had given him an allotment of money to aid in the building of a colony for all or some of the nation’s black population.
“Your race suffer greatly, many of them, by living among us,” Lincoln said, addressing the need for colonization, “while ours suffer from your presence.” Both sides suffer, argued the President, and that was reason enough for a separation.
Lincoln attempted to smooth this over by telling the five representatives that even the best of their race would never been seen as better than the worst of the white race. But he soon got to the point.
“See our present condition — the country engaged in war — our white men cutting one another’s throats — none knowing how far it will extend — and then consider what we know to be the truth: But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless I repeat, without the institution of slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”
He closed the meeting, asking the five to return to the black community and see how many would take him up on the offer. Lincoln was willing to try this with even twenty-five able-bodied men and their families. The delegation agreed to take the idea back with them, but could make no promises how it would be accepted.4
Lee and McClellan on the Move
On the Virginia Peninsula, movement was afoot. General George B. McClellan, commander of the Union Army of the Potomac, had been ordered by General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to retire off the Peninsula. On this date, after days of protest, he began the withdrawal, sending two entire corps of infantry by boat from Harrison’s Landing.5
McClellan’s adversary, General Robert E. Lee, spent the day making preparations for a move to Gordonsville, where Stonewall Jackson’s army was being joined by troops under General James Longstreet. Lee wanted to be perfectly sure that Richmond was covered just in case McClellan circled back to make an untimely assault. He left two divisions of infantry, as well as a brigade of cavalry, manning the capital’s defenses.
“I deem no instructions necessary beyond the necessity of holding Richmond to the very last extremity,” said Lee to General G.W. Smith, left in command.
He made his egress by rail the next morning before dawn.6
- Letter from Abraham Lincoln to August Belmont, July 31, 1862. As found in Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works, Vol. 1 edited by John Nicolay and John Hay, 1894. [↩]
- Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation by William k. Klingaman, Viking Books, 2001. [↩]
- Douglass Monthly, August 1862. As printed in Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings edited by Philip Sheldon Foner, Chicago Review Press, 1999. [↩]
- “Address On Colonization To A Deputation Of Colored Men” given by Lincoln on August 14, 1862. As printed in The Writings of Abraham Lincoln: 1862-1863 edited by Carl Schurz, Lamb Publishing Company, 1906. [↩]
- George B. McClellan by Stephen W. Sears, Da Capo Press, 1999. [↩]
- Return to Bull Run by John J. Hennessy, University of Oklahoma Press, 1993. [↩]