Purchase As Many Negroes As You Need – A. Lincoln?

Tuesday, November 27, 1860

While Abraham Lincoln was accused in much of the south of being an abolitionist who wanted to free all the slaves immediately, at least one Mississippi plantation owner didn’t get that impression.

This unnamed gentleman reported to the Chattanooga Gazette (which ran the story on this date) a different story.

The planter wanted to buy some more “negroes” for his plantation, but with all the excitement going on in the south and the general depreciation in the value of slaves, he was a bit concerned that his investment in human flesh might not be such a good idea, financially.

He supposedly brought up his concerns with Lincoln and in turn, the President-Elect told him “that he was opposed to any interference with slavery in the States, or with the inter-State slave trade; that he was opposed to abolishing or interfering with slavery in the District of Columbia; and that he was only opposed to its extension in the Territories, but added, ‘that was only an opinion of his.'”1

Wishing to know more, the planter asked what Lincoln planned to do if South Carolina left the Union. He claimed that Lincoln would “let her go, if Congress did not pass a ‘Force Bill.'” He continued to say that South Carolina’s expense for delivering mail would go to the people of that state.

“He concluded by advising the Mississippian to purchase as many negroes as he needed, and expressed the opinion that in twelve months slave property would be worth more than it ever had been. Upon these assurances, the gentleman was, on Saturday, making his way to Virginia to purchase more negroes.”2

There is, of course, zero corroboration for this letter. Likely, it is a complete fabrication. Lincoln did very little letter writing, especially to random Mississippians, in the months leading up to his inauguration. Additionally, as we saw a few days ago, he complemented Vice-President-Elect Hamlin on his anti-slavery speeches.

  1. This quote is from the newspaper, not Lincoln’s own words, save for the bit at the end in single quotes. []
  2. From the Chattanooga Gazette, copied in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, November 28, 1860. []
  1. I always liked that quote about saving the union. It shows Lincoln’s real goals. I don’t know what he really thought, deep down, but something about that seems so honest. You wonder what would have happened if the states had not seceded, and some had remained slave states.

    • Lincoln’s real feelings on this really seemed to change on this around 1864. Prior to that, he was all for saving the Union. He did oppose the expansion of slavery, but didn’t really give much of a thought to ending it until later. As we’ll see. In a few years, of course.

  2. Lincoln shared many of the prejudices of his culture, but he grew beyond those, willing to accept that those beliefs and opinions were wrong. This was perhaps the true greatness of the man.
    However, I believe Lincoln had by the late 1850’s become a firm believer in the necessity of abolition, while recognizing that the law and the Constitution were on the side of the slave-owners. He also realized that the American people were not committed to forcible abolition even if Lincoln had favored such an approach. It was the war that allowed him to put forth the idea as a war measure, and the success of Federal armies that allowed him to transform a means of striking at the rebels in his quest to preserve the Union into a end goal of the struggle.

    If you’re interested, James McPherson published an excellent collection of essays on the question- \Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution\.