The Life, Public Services and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln

By Henry J. Raymond

Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln


ON the afternoon of Friday, February 5, 1864, I rang the bell of  Mr. Lovejoy's boarding-house, on Fifteenth street, Washington. He  was then very ill, though his friends did not apprehend that he was so  near the close of his noble and faithful career. It is a sad satisfaction  to me now to remember that one of the last acts of this good man's  life was the writing, while sitting up in his bed, of the note introducing me to Mr. Lincoln. My first interview with the President took  place the next day, at the customary Saturday afternoon public reception. Never shall I forget the thrill which went through my whole  being as I first caught sight of that tall, gaunt form through a distant  door, bowed down, it seemed to me, even then, with the weight of the  nation he carried upon his heart, as a mother carries her suffering  child, and thought of the place he held in the affections of the people, and the prayers ascending constantly, day after day, in his behalf!  The crowd was passing through the rooms, and presently it was my turn and name to be announced. Greeting me very pleasantly, he  soon afterward made an appointment to see me in his official chamber, directly after the close of the "reception." The hour named  found me at the well-remembered door of the apartment--that door  watched daily, with so many conflicting emotions of hope and fear, by  the miscellaneous throng gathered there. The President was alone,  and already deep in official business, which was always pressing. He  received me with the frank kindness and simplicity so characteristic  of his nature; and, after reading Mr. Lovejoy's note, said: "Well,  Mr. Carpenter, we will turn you in loose here, and try to give you a  good chance to work out your idea." Then giving me a place close  beside his own arm-chair, he entered upon the account which I shall  now attempt to write out, as nearly as possible in his own words, of  the circumstances attending the adoption of the Emancipation policy.  First, however, let me glance very briefly at the condition of the country at this juncture.

The summer of 1862 was the gloomiest period of the war. After  the most stupendous preparations known in modern warfare, McClellan, with an army of one hundred and sixty thousand men, had retreated from the Peninsula, after the "seven days'" severe fighting  before Richmond, and great depression followed the disappointment  of the brilliant hopes of the beginning of the campaign. The "On  to Richmond" had been succeeded by "Back to Washington;" and  the Rebellion, flushed with success, was more defiant than ever!

Thus far, the war had been prosecuted by the Administration without touching slavery in any manner. The reasons for this are admirably set forth in Mr. Lincoln's letter to Colonel Hodges.

Going over substantially the same ground on an occasion I well  remember, Mr. Lincoln said:--"The paramount idea of the Constitution is the preservation of the Union. It may not be specified in  so many words, but of this there can be no question; for without the  Union the Constitution would be worthless. The Union made the  Constitution, not the Constitution the Union! It seems clear that,  if the emergency should arise that slavery, or any other institution,  stood in the way of the maintenance of the Union, and the alternative was presented to the Executive, of the destruction of one or the  other, he could not hesitate between the two. I can now," he  continued, "most solemnly assert that I did all in my judgment that  could be done to restore the Union without interfering with the institution of slavery. We failed, and the blow at slavery was struck!"

I now take up the history of the Proclamation itself, as Mr. Lincoln gave it to me, on the occasion of our first interview, and written  down by myself soon afterward:--

"It had got to be," said he, "midsummer, 1862. Things had  gone on from bad to worse, until I felt that we had reached the end  of our rope on the plan of operations we had been pursuing; that we  had about played our last card, and must change our tactics or lose  the game! I now determined upon the adoption of the Emancipation  policy; and, without consultation with, or the knowledge of the  Cabinet, I prepared the original draft of the Proclamation; and, after  much anxious thought, called a Cabinet meeting upon the subject.  This was the last of July, or the first part of the month of August,  1862." (The exact date he did not remember.) "This Cabinet meeting took place, I think, upon a Saturday. All were present, excepting Mr, Blair, the Postmaster-General, who was absent at the opening of the discussion, but came in subsequently. I said to the Cabinet  that I had resolved upon this step, and had not called them together  to ask their advice, but to lay the subject-matter of a proclamation  before them; suggestions as to which would be in order, after they  had heard it read. Mr. Lovejoy," said he, "was in error when he  informed you that it excited no comment, excepting on the part of  Secretary Seward. Various suggestions were offered. Secretary  Chase wished the language stronger in reference to the arming of the  blacks. Mr. Blair, after he came in, deprecated the policy, on the  ground that it would cost the Administration the fall elections.  Nothing, however, was offered that I had not already fully anticipated  and settled in my own mind, until Secretary Seward spoke. Said he:-'Mr. President, I approve of the Proclamation, but I question the expediency of its issue at this juncture. The depression of the public mind,  consequent upon our repeated reverses, is so great, that I fear the  effect of so important a step, It may be viewed as the last measure  of an exhausted Government--a cry for help; the Government  stretching forth its hands to Ethiopia, instead of Ethiopia stretching  forth her hands to the Government.' His idea," said the President,  "was, that it would be considered our last shriek on the retreat."  (This was his precise expression.) "'Now,' continued Mr. Seward,  'while I approve the measure, I suggest, sir, that you postpone its  issue until you can give it to the country supported by military success, instead of issuing it, as would be the case now, upon the greatest  disasters of the war!'" Said Mr. Lincoln:--"The wisdom of the view  of the Secretary of State struck me with very great force. It was an  aspect of the case that, in all my thought upon the subject, I had entirely overlooked. The result was, that I put the draft of the Proclamation aside, as you do your sketch for a picture, waiting for a victory. From time to time I added or changed a line, touching it up  here and there, waiting the progress of events. Well, the next news  we had was of Pope's disaster, at Bull Run. Things looked darker  than ever. Finally, came the week of the battle of Antietam. I determined to wait no longer. The news came, I think, on Wednesday,  that the advantage was on our side. I was then staying at the 'Soldiers' Home'" (three miles out of Washington). "Here I finished  writing the second draft of the preliminary Proclamation; came up on  Saturday, called the Cabinet together to hear it, and it was published  the following Monday.

"It was a somewhat remarkable fact," he continued, "that there  were just one hundred days between the dates of the two proclamations, issued upon the 22d of September and the 1st of January. I  had not made the calculation at the time."

At the final meeting on Saturday, another interesting incident occurred in connection with Secretary Seward. The President had written the important part of the Proclamation in these words:--

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one  thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves  within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof  shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then,  thenceforward, and forever, FREE; and the Executive Government of  the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof,  will recognize the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts  to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make  for their actual freedom."--"When I finished reading this paragraph,"  resumed Mr. Lincoln, "Mr. Seward stopped me, and said: 'I think,  Mr. President, that you should insert after the word "recognize," in  that sentence, the words "and maintain."' I replied that I had already  fully considered the import of that expression in this connection, but  I had not introduced it, because it was not my way to promise what  I was not entirely sure that I could perform, and I was not prepared  to say that I thought we were exactly able to 'maintain' this."

"But," said he, "Mr. Seward insisted that we ought to take this  ground; and the words finally went in."

Mr. Lincoln then proceeded to show me the various positions occupied by himself and the different members of the cabinet on the  occasion of the first meeting. "As nearly as I remember," said he, "the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of War were here,  at my right hand--the others were grouped at the left."

From the first, the President seemed much interested in my work,  but as it progressed, his interest increased. He was in the habit of  bringing many friends in to see what advance I was making from day  to day, and I have known him to come by himself as many as three or  four times in a single day. It seemed a pleasant diversion to him  to watch the gradual progress of the work, and his suggestions, though  sometimes quaint and homely, were almost invariably excellent. Seldom was he heard to allude to any thing that might be construed into  a personality in connection with any member of his Cabinet. On  one occasion, however, I remember, with a sly twinkle of the eye, he  turned to a senatorial friend whom he had brought in to see the picture, and said: "Mrs. Lincoln calls Mr. Carpenter's group "The  Happy Family."

At the end of about six months' incessant labor, the picture drew  near completion. The curiosity of the public to see it was so great  that, by special permission of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, it was placed in  the "East Room," and, for two days, thrown open for free exhibition.  At the close of the second day, just previous to the canvas being taken  down and rolled up, the President came in to take, as he said, a "farewell look at the picture." He sat in front of it for some time, and I  asked him if he had aught of criticism to make. He said he could  suggest nothing whatever as to the portraiture--"the likenesses seemed  to him absolutely perfect." I then called his attention to the accessories of the picture, stating that these had been selected from the objects in the Cabinet chamber with reference solely to their bearing upon  the subject. "Yes," said he, "I see the war-maps, the portfolios, the  slave-map, and all; but the book in the corner, leaning against the  chair-leg, you have changed the title of that, I see.""Yes," I replied,  "at the last moment I learned that you frequently consulted, during  the period you were preparing the Proclamation, Solicitor Whiting's  work on the 'War Powers of the President,' so I simply changed the  title of the book, leaving the old sheepskin binding as it was."  "Now," said he, " Whiting's book is not a regular law-book. It is all  very well that it should be there; but I would suggest that you change  the character of the binding. It now looks like an old volume of  United States Statutes." I thanked him for this criticism, and then  said, "Is there any thing else that you would like changed?""I see  nothing," said he; "all else is perfectly satisfactory to me. In my  judgment, it is as good a piece of work as the subject will admit of."

And then, in his simple-hearted, earnest way, he said to me, "And I  am right glad you have done it!"

In February last, a few days after the passage of the "Constitutional  Amendment," I was in Washington, and was received by Mr. Lincoln  with the kindness and familiarity which had characterized our previous intercourse. I said to him one day that I was very proud to have  been the artist to have first conceived of the design of painting a picture commemorative of the Act of Emancipation; that subsequent  occurrences had only confirmed my own first judgment of that act as  the most sublime moral event in our history. "Yes," said--he and  never do I remember to have noticed in him more earnestness of expression or manner--"as affairs have turned, it is the central act of my  Adluinistration, and the great event of the nineteenth century."

I remember to have asked him, on one occasion, if there was not  some opposition manifested on the part of several members of the  Cabinet to the Emancipation policy. He said, in reply:" Nothing  more than I have stated to you. Mr. Blair thought we should lose the  fall elections, and opposed it on that ground only." Said I, "I have  understood that Secretary Smith was not in favor of your action. Mr.  Blair told me that, when the meeting closed, he and the Secretary of  the Interior went away together, and that the latter t d him, if the  President carried out that policy, he might count on losing Indiana,  sure!""He never said any thing of the kind to me," returned the  President. "And how," said I, "does Mr. Blair feel about it now?'  "Oh," was the prompt reply, "be proved right in regard to the fall  elections, but he is satisfied that we have since gained more than we  lost.""I have been told," said I, "that Judge Bates doubted the  constitutionality of the Proclamation.""He never expressed such an  opinion in my hearing, replied Mr. Lincoln. No member of the  Cabinet ever dissented from the policy, in any conversation with me."

There was one marked element of Mr. Lincoln's character admirably  expressed by the Hon. Schuyler Colfax, in his oration at Chicago upon  his death: "When his judgment, which acted slowly, but which was  almost as immovable as the eternal hills when settled, was grasping  some subject of importance, the arguments against his own desires  seemed uppermost in his mind, and, in conversing upon it, he would  present those arguments, to see if they could be rebutted."

In illustration of this, I need only here recall the fact that the interview between himself and the Chicago delegation of clergymen,  appointed to urge upon him the issue of a Proclamation of Emancipation, took place September 13, 1862, just about a month after the President had declared his established purpose to take this step at the  Cabinet meeting which I have described. He said to this committee: "I do not want to issue a document that the whole world will  see must necessarily be inoperative, like the Pope's bull against the  comet? After drawing out their views upon the subject, he concluded the interview with these memorable words:--

"Do not misunderstand me, because I have mentioned these objections. They indicate the difficulties which have thus far prevented  my action in some such way as you desire. I have not decided against  a proclamation of liberty to the slaves, but hold the matter under advisement. And I can assure you that the subject is on my mind, by  day and night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be  God's will, I will do! I trust that, in the freedom with which I have  canvassed your views, I have not in any respect injured your feelings."

In further illustration of this peculiarity of his mind, I will say  here, to silence forever the cavils of those who have asserted that he  was forced by the pressure of public opinion to nominate Mr. Chase  as Judge Taney's successor, that, notwithstanding his apparent hesitation upon this subject, and all that was reported at the time in the  newspapers as to the chances of the various candidates, it is a fact well  known to several of his most intimate friends that "there had never  been a time during his Presidency, that, in the event of the death of  Judge Taney, he had not fully intended and expected to nominate  Salmon P. Chase for Chief Justice." These were his very words, uttered in this connection.

Mr. Chase told me that at the Cabinet meeting, immediately after  the battle of Antietam, and just prior to the issue of the September  Proclamation, the President entered upon the business before them, by  saying that "the time for the annunciation of the Emancipation policy  could no longer be delayed. Public sentiment," he thought, "would  sustain it, many of his warmest friends and supporters demanded it-and he had promised his God that he would do it!" The last part of  this was uttered in a low tone, and appeared to be heard by no one  but Secretary Chase, who was sitting near him. He asked the President if he correctly understood him. Mr. Lincoln replied: "I made  a solemn vow before God that, if General Lee were driven back from  Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom  to the slaves!"

In concluding this article, it will perhaps be expected that I should  take some notice of an assertion, made originally in an editorial article  in The Independent, upon the withdrawal of Mr. Chase from the political canvass of 1864, and widely copied, in which it was stated that  the concluding paragraph of the Proclamation was from the pen of  Secretary Chase. One of Mr. Lincoln's intimate friends (this incident  was related to me by the gentleman himself), who felt that there was  an impropriety in this publication, at that time, for which Mr. Chase  was in some degree responsible, went to see the President about it.  "Oh," said Mr. Lincoln, with his characteristic simplicity and freedom  from all suspicion, "Mr. Chase had nothing to do with it; I think I  mentioned the circumstance to Mr. Triton myself."

The facts in the case are these: while the measure was pending,  Mr. Chase submitted to the President a draft of a proclamation, embodying his views upon the subject, which closed with the appropriate  and solemn words referred to: "And upon this act, sincerely believed  to be an act of justice warranted by the Constitution, I invoke the  considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty  God!"

Mr. Lincoln adopted this sentence intact, excepting that he inserted  after the word "Constitution" the words "upon military necessity."

Thus is ended what I have long felt to be a duty I owed to the  world--the record of circumstances attending the preparation and  issue of the third great state paper which has marked the progress of  our Anglo-Saxon civilization.

First, is the "MAGNA CHARTA," wrested by the barons of England  from King John; second, the "DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE;" and  third, worthy to be placed upon the tablets of history, side by side  with the two first, is "ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S PROCLAMATION OF EMANCIPATION."



Book Navigation Title Page Preface Illustrations Memorandum Table of Contents   ► Chapter I.   ► Chapter II.   ► Chapter III.   ► Chapter IV.   ► Chapter V.   ► Chapter VI.   ► Chapter VII.   ► Chapter VIII.   ► Chapter IX.   ► Chapter X.   ► Chapter XI.   ► Chapter XII.   ► Chapter XIII.   ► Chapter XIV.   ► Chapter XV.   ► Chapter XVI.   ► Chapter XVII.   ► Chapter XVIII.   ► Chapter XIX.   ► Chapter XX.   ► Chapter XXI. Anecdotes and Reminiscences of President Lincoln.   ► Mr. Lincoln's Sadness   ► His Favorite Poem   ► His Religious Experience   ► His Sympathy   ► His Humor, Shrewdness, and Sentiment   ► The Emancipation Proclamation Appendix. Letters on Sundry Occasions.   ► To Mr. Lodges, of Kentucky   ► To General Hooker   ► To John B. Fry   ► To Governor Magoffin   ► To Count Gasparin   ► The President and General McClellan   ► Warnings Against Assassination Reports, Dispatches, and Proclamations Relating to the Assassination.   ► Secretary Stanton to General Dix   ► The Death-Bed   ► The Assassins   ► Reward Offered by Secretary Stanton   ► Flight of the Assassins   ► The Conspiracy Organized in Canada   ► Booth Killed. Harold Captured   ► Reward Offered by President Johnson   ► The Funeral Official Announcements   ► Acting Secretary Hunger to Minister Adams   ► Acting Secretary Hunter to his Subordinates   ► Orders from Secretary Stanton and General Grant   ► Orders from Secretary "Welles   ► Order from Secretary McCulloch   ► Order from Postmaster-General Dennison   ► Proclamation by President Johnson of a Day of Humiliation and Mourning.   ► Secretary Stanton to Minister Adams   ► Important Letter from J. Wilkes Booth   ► Indictment of the Conspirators   ► The Finding of the Court