The Life, Public Services and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln

By Henry J. Raymond

Letters on Sundry Occasions

To Mr. Lodges, of Kentucky


A. G. HODGES, Esq., Frankfort, Kentucky:

MY DEAR SIR:--You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I  verbally said the other day, in your presence, to Governor Bramlette and  Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:--

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is  wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel, and yet  I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was  in the oath I took that I would to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take  the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might  take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I  understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the  moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and  in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act  in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I  did understand, however, that my oath to preserve the Constitution to  the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every  indispensable means, that government, that nation, of which that Constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation and  yet preserve the Constitution? By general law, life and limb must be  protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life  is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise  unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the  preservation of the Constitution, through the preservation of the nation.  Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not  feel that to the best of my ability I had even tried to preserve the Constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the  wreck of government, country, and Constitution, altogether. When,  early in the war, General Fremont attempted military emancipation, I  forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity.  When, a little later, General Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested  the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an  indispensable necessity. When, still later, General Hunter attempted  military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March, and May, and July,  1862, I made earnest and successive appeals to the Border States to  favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation and arming the blacks would come, unless  averted by that measure. They declined the proposition, and I was, in  my best judgment, driven to the alternative or either surrendering the  Union, and with it the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the  colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater  gain than loss, but of this I was not entirely confident. More than a  year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in  our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force, no loss  by it any how, or anywhere. On 'the contrary, it shows a gain of  quite one hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers.  These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no cavil  ling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the  measure.

And now let any Union man who complains of the measure, test himself by writing down in one line, that he is for subduing the rebellion  by force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking one hundred  and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where  they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he cannot face his  case so stated, it is only because he cannot face the truth.

I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling  this tale, I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to  have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled  me. Now, at the end of three years' struggle, the nation's condition is  not what either party, or any man, devised or expected. God alone can  claim it. Whither it is tending, seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North, as well as  you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in what wrong, impartial history will find therein new causes to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God. Yours truly,

(Signed) A. LINCOLN.


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