The loyalty of the Border States were a pressing concern for both the Confederate and Union governments in 1861, noted David Herbert Donald: "If Maryland had seceded, Washington would have been surrounded by enemy territory cut off from the Union states of the North and the West. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the major rail connection between the East and the West, ran through Maryland and Wet Virginia. Confederate control of Kentucky would have imperilled river transportation along the Ohio, and the secession of Missouri would have endangered Mississippi River traffic and cut off communication with Kansas and the Pacific coast. While Lincoln grieved over the secession of the states that joined the Confederacy, he could take comfort in the fact that, by keeping four slave states in the Union, he was preventing the Southern armies from recruiting from a population that was three-fifths as large as that of the original Confederacy."1
Historian Burton J. Hendrick wrote: "In these states the Constitution still ran, and that document, and the laws made under its provisions, guaranteed the citizens their 'property' in black men. Lincoln, in his inaugural, had solemnly assured these states that the Federal government would not disturb their favorite institution but would protect them in their most cherished rights. Moreover, even after Sumter, the Border states that still remained faithful to the Union continued to be one of Lincoln's constant anxieties. To lose Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri would be, he still believed, to lose the war; and in all these states the secessionists were sleeplessly at work, attempting to force them into the Confederacy. To encroach on their slave property, even in moderation, would play into the hands of the anti-Federal forces, and very probably result in secession."2
On March 6, 1862, President Lincoln proposed a plan of compensated emancipation. Historian Robert Morse wrote that President Lincoln continued to worry about both the progress of the war and post-war America. "In the inevitable hostility and competition he clearly saw that the black man was likely to fare badly. It was by such feelings that he was led straight to the plan of compensation of owners and colonization of freedmen, and to the hope that a system of gradual emancipation, embodying these principles, might be voluntarily undertaken by the Border States under the present stress. If the executive and the legislative departments should combine upon the policy of encouraging and aiding such steps as any Border State could be induced to take in this direction, the President believed that he could much more easily extend loyalty and allegiance among the people of those States, – a matter which he valued far more highly than other persons were inclined to do."3
Ralph R. Fahrney, biographer of Tribune Editor Horace Greeley, wrote: "Although distinctly opposing any further concessions to the border states, the Tribune welcomed the proposition as an evidence that the government had at last headed in the right direction, and it predicted that the sixth of March would yet be celebrated 'as a day which initiated the Nation's deliverance from the most stupendous wrong, curse and shame of the Nineteenth Century.' It interpreted the move as an indication that the President realized rebellion could not be permanently suppressed in the South as long as slavery existed, and thanked God that the country had 'so wise a ruler."4
Historian Fahrney wrote: "Representatives in Congress from the states affected by Lincoln's proposal did not take so kindly to the measure, however. They professed to have gained the notion that the plan virtually threatened compulsory emancipation as the only alternative of its rejection. In order to clear up the misunderstanding and present the proposition in its true light, Lincoln held a conference with several border state men. He discovered that the erroneous impression, whether genuine or feigned, originated in the columns of the Tribune, which had held out but slight hope for acceptance of compensated emancipation by those immediately concerned and yet inferred strongly that the President had determined upon the complete abolition of slavery as a necessary adjunct of permanent peace."5
Mr. Lincoln was determined to alienate neither emancipation's opponents or proponents. Fahrney wrote: "Upon receiving the assurance of the President that no thought of compulsory emancipation was involved, the border state representatives requested that the fact be published, but Lincoln refused on the ground that such procedure would force him into a quarrel with the 'Greeley faction' and the Tribune – a quarrel which he did not care to encounter 'before the proper time' and would avoid altogether if possible. In the end, emancipation with compensation met with little favor either in Congress or among the people of the states concerned, and the matter was dropped."6
Historian Burton J. Hendrick wrote: "Against the President himself the Jacobins waxes similarly ferocious and abusive. They railed at Lincoln's tenderness towards the border states, though this policy had saved for the Union cause Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and nearly one third of Virginia. Even the philosophic Julian had no better word for Lincoln's forbearance than 'this sickly policy of an inoffensive war.' Wade, commenting on this and other aspects of the administration, lost all sense of decency. 'Only a man sprung from poor white trash,' he declared, would have disavowed Fremont's proclamation freeing slaves of Missouri. The rail splitter, he added, 'lacked backbone' and 'not even a galvanic battery could inspire any action in the cabinet.'"7
Throughout the spring and summer, President Lincoln sought to rally the support of Border States for compensated emancipation – even while preparing his own draft Emancipation Proclamation. One of Mr. Lincoln's few consistent supporters in the Border States was Missouri Senator John B. Henderson. On September 3, 1862, Senator Henderson wrote President Lincoln – less than three weeks before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued:
The condition of Missouri is not such as I would wish it to be by any means. In anticipation of another raid into the State by [Thomas] Hindman or [Sterling] Price or some other Confederate Chief, the Secessionists for some weeks have been very busy and active in their operations. Indeed for a short time past, the situation of affairs in this State has been more gloomy than I ever saw them. But I think it is the darkness that precedes the dawn. It will soon be over in our State unless some great advantage be gained in Virginia or in Kentucky. I fear the appearance of things in Kentucky.
Presidential aide John Hay wrote in his diary on September 11, 1863 that President Lincoln "has heard that [Andrew] Johnson has lately declared for emancipation in Tennessee and says God Bless him. Incorporate emancipation in the new state Govt. Constitution and there will be no such word as fail in the case. Arming negroes he thinks will be advantageous in every way."9 But time was running out for compensated emancipation as a realistic policy alternative.
Historian James M. McPherson noted that even after proclamation of emancipation, that President "Lincoln kept up his pressure on the border states to adopt emancipation themselves. With his support, leaders committed to the abolition of slavery gained political power in Maryland and Missouri and pushed through constitutional amendments that abolished slavery in these states before the end of the war."10 Historian McPherson wrote that emancipation had become "a crucial part of Northern military strategy, an important means of winning the war. But if it remained merely a means it would not be apart of national strategy – that is, of the purpose for which the war was being fought. Nor would it meet the criterion that military strategy itself should be consistent with national strategy, for it would be inconsistent to fight a war using the weapon of emancipation to restore a Union that still contained slaves. Lincoln recognized this."
The situation could be confusing for blacks still held as slaves in border states while slaves in rebel states had been freed. A black Maryland woman wrote President Lincoln in August 1864: "It is my Desire to be free. to go to see my people on the eastern shore. my mistress wont let me[.] you will please let me know if we are free. And what I can do."11
Blacks faced ambiguous situations in Border States after the Emancipation Proclamation was published. Legally, slaves in these Border States were still slaves. Lowell H. Harrison wrote in Lincoln of Kentucky: "Clashes were inevitable between Kentucky slaveholders who wanted to retain their slaves and Union officers and soldiers who wanted to see the slaves freed as soon as possible. Perhaps the most public of the encounters was between George Robertson, one of the state's most distinguished judges and political figures, and Col. William L. Utley, commander of the Twenty-second Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, stationed at Nicholasville, Kentucky. Utley said that Judge Robertson came to his camp and demanded the return of a Negro boy who was found with the regiment. Utley disclaimed any knowledge of how the boy came to be there, and he did not forbid Judge Robertson from taking the boy with him. But Utley refused to deliver the youth beyond the regimental lines, and he would not order his soldiers not to interfere with the Judge's effort to recover the boy. The boy asked for protection from the cruel treatment he said he had received as a slave, and the Union soldiers refused to let him be carried away."12
The exchange of correspondence on the case began on September 8, 1862 when Judge Robertson telegraphed the President: "As county Judge, have I power by habeas Corpus to discharge a minor over eighteen years enlisted without consent?"13 Nine weeks later and one draft Emancipation Proclamation later, a flurry of correspondence brought President Lincoln into a controversy involving civil and military power, pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces – just the kind of controversy Mr. Lincoln sought to avoid.
On November 17, Colonel William Utley wrote Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randall a long letter which began: "I am in a devil of a scrape, and appeal to you for assistence. I have to a verry limited extent carried out the laws of Congress and the Proclimation [sic] of the President. All K.y. is in a blaze. I am ahead yet, but they have taken a new dodge on me, they have got me indicted at Lexington under the Laws of Kentucky. the Warrent is in the hands of the Sherriff [sic] of this County (Jessamin Co) he finds the same dificulty [sic] that the rats did in getting the bell on the cat, it would be a good thing to have done, but a bad thing, to do. they find it so in arresting me." The same day, Colonel Utley wrote President Lincoln a longer letter to lay out the facts of the case and the legal jeopardy in which he was being placed by Judge Robertson:
Permit me respectfully to appeal to you, and I do so fully confident of being heard, for your protection and that of Generals sustaining me in an effort to support the Constitution, laws of Congress and the proclamation of the President, against the fierce and malignant opposition of the slave power of Kentucky.
Two days later, Judge Robertson wrote President Lincoln: "The conduct of a few of the officers of the army in forcibly detaining the Slaves of Union Kentuckians may provoke a conflict between Citizens & Soldiers; to prevent such a Catastrophy we desire you to say as we believe you will that military force will not be permitted for the detention any more than for the restoration of such property & especially in resistance & contempt of the legal process of a Civil tribunal."15
On November 20, an irritated President Lincoln wrote an irritated Robertson: "Your despatch of yesterday is just received. I believe you are acquainted with the American Classics, (if there be such) and probably remember a speech of Patrick Henry, in which he represented a certain character in the, revolutionary times, as totally disregarding all questions of country, and 'hoarsely bawling, beef! beef!! beef!!!.' Do you not know that I may as well surrender this contest, directly, as to make any order, the obvious purpose of which would be to return fugitive slaves?"16
Six days later, apparently forgetting the letter he had already sent, President Lincoln wrote a second letter to Robertson – in which he offered his own money to make the case go away: "A few days since I had a despatch from you which I did not answer. If I were to be wounded personally, I think I would not shun it. But it is the life of the nation. I now understand the trouble is with Col. Utley; that he has five slaves in his camp, four of whom belong to rebels, and one belonging to you. If this be true, convey yours to Col. Utley, so that he can make him free, and I will pay you any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars."17
Earlier in 1862, Mr. Lincoln had revealed his attitude about fugitive slaves in a conversation with Kansas Senator James Lane: "Yes, General, I understand you. And the only difference between you and me is that you are willing to surrender fugitives to loyal owners in case they are willing to return; while I do not believe the United States government has any right to give them up in any case. And if it had, the people would not permit us to exercise it."18
If anything, Missouri presented more problems than Kentucky. Speaking of Missouri to John Hay in late September 1863, President Lincoln showed Hay a letter "from Uncle Joe [Hay], saying that Drake had recently in a speech a[t] La Grange denounced him for a tyrannical interference with the convention through his agent Schofield, referring of course to the letter he wrote Schofield in June in reply to S's telegram earnestly soliciting from his some statement of his views, in favor of gradual emancipation and promising that the power of the general government would not be used against the slaveowners for the time being provided they adopted an ordinance of Emancipation – stating at the same time that he hoped the time of consummation would be short and a provision be made against sales into permanent slavery in the meantime. He said after rereading his own letter, 'I believe that to be right & I will stand by it.'"19
President Lincoln complained to Missouri radicals: "My friends in Missouri last winter did me a great unkindness. I had relied upon my Radical friends as my mainstay in the management of affairs in that state, and they disappointed me. I had recommended gradual emancipation, and Congress had endorsed that course. The Radicals in Congress voted for it. The Missouri delegation in Congress went for it – went, as I thought, right. I had the highest hope that at last Missouri was on the right track. But I was disappointed by the immediate emancipation movement. It endangers the success of the whole advance towards freedom. But you say that the gradual emancipation men were insincere, that they intended soon to real their action, that their course and their professions are purely fraudulent. Now, I do not think that a majority of the gradual emancipationsts are insincere. Large bodies of men cannot play the hypocrite. I announced my own opinion freely at the time. I was in favor of gradual emancipation. I still am so. You must not call yourselves my friends if you are only so while I agree with you. According to that, if you differed with me you are not my friends. But the mode of emancipation in Missouri is not my business. That is a matter which belongs exclusively to the citizens of that state. I do not wish to interfere. I desire, if it pleases the people of Missouri, that they should adopt gradual emancipation. I think that your division upon this subject jeopardizes the grand result. I think that a union of all antislavery men upon this point would have made emancipation a fixed fact forever."20
In February 1864, John M. Hay went to Florida as a representative of President Lincoln in order to determine whether conditions were in place to advance the reconstruction of the state. While there, Hay gave a speech in which he discussed the position of the Border States in a way which reflected the position of the nation's Chief Executive:
The Border states have considered and decided [the] question. You can gather their decision in advance of their final action by looking at their representatives recently elected to Congress.
With the encouragement of President Lincoln, Missouri and Maryland began to move toward emancipation in 1864. In early March, President Lincoln wrote Maryland Congressman John A. J. Creswell regarding legislation under consideration for a constitutional convention on emancipation in the state:
I am very anxious for emancipation in to be effected in Maryland in some substantial form. I think it probable that my expressions of a preference for gradual over immediate emancipation, are misunderstood– I had thought the gradual would produce less confusion, and destitution, and therefore would be more satisfactory; but if those who are better acquainted with the subject, and are more deeply interested in it, prefer the immediate, most certainly I have no objection to their judgment prevailing. My wish is that all who are for emancipation in any form , shall co operate, all treating all respectfully, and all adopting and acting upon the major opinion, when fairly ascertained. What I have dreaded is the danger that by jealousies, rivalries, and consequent ill blood – driving one another out of meetings and conventions – perchance from the polls – the friends of emancipation themselves may divide, and lose the measure altogether. I wish this letter to not be made public; but no man representing me as I herein represent myself, will be in any danger of contradiction by me– 22
Contemporary Lincoln biographer Noah Brooks wrote: "In October of this year Maryland, by a popular vote, amended its constitution, and abolished slavery. This was a gratifying event to all friends of freedom, and Lincoln was greatly elated thereby. To a friend he said: 'It is worth many victories in the field. It cleans up a piece of ground.' This homely figure, suggested by his backwoods experiences, is full of meaning to those who know the almost endless difficulties of clearing a piece of wilderness and making it fit for good seed."23
Noah Brooks wrote that by the fall of 1864: "Henry Winter Davis,, notwithstanding his wrong-headed and self-willed course, was a consistent and ardent supporter of all measures that had for their purpose the abolition of slavery and a vigorous prosecution of the war. He supported Lincoln with a very bad grace in 1864, saying that he gave him his vote for the reason that the worst man whom the Union party could put up was far better than the best man the Democrats could nominate. As a stump speaker Henry Winter Davis was brilliant, effective, and widely popular; and his services in the emancipation movement were above all value. The emancipation party carried that State in 1863, electing a majority of the legislature; and in January, 1864, a resolution was adopted by the legislature declaring that the true interests of Maryland demanded that the policy of emancipation should be immediately inaugurated. That legislature called for a convention to amend the constitution of the State and provide for emancipation. Henry Winter Davis, and other friends of the good cause, took the field with such vigor that a popular majority of twelve thousand was thrown in favor of the convention; and of the ninety-six delegates chosen, sixty-one were in favor of emancipation. The new constitution was finally submitted to a vote of the people and adopted in October, 1864, and on the nineteenth day of that month a great crowd of Marylanders went on the Washington to congratulate the President upon the final entrance of Maryland into the column of free States. It was a beautiful, bright day, and with music, banners, and cheers the loyal Marylanders made the welkin ring with their jubilation. The President came out in answer to their calls and made a little speech, in which he congratulated his visitors, their State and the nation, upon the great event. He said that he regretted that emancipation had not come two years sooner, because he thought that, if it had, it would have saved the nation more money than would have met all the private losses incident to emancipation under the present order of things. Later on in the day he said in private conversation: 'I would rather have Maryland upon that issue than have a State twice its size upon the Presidential issue. It cleans up a piece of the ground.' Any one who has ever had anything to do with cleaning up a piece of ground, digging out the roots and stumps, as Lincoln had, can appreciate the homely simile applied to Maryland, where slavery had at last been rooted out."24 In his newspaper column at the time, Brooks wrote:
Last night the colored people of this District held a jubilation in honor of the emancipation of Maryland, manifesting their intelligent appreciation of the advance into freedom of Maryland in their own style. One of the largest of their churches was thrown open, religious exercises were held, and enthusiastic addresses were made by their head men and preachers. Afer an hour spent in this way, they organized themselves into an impromptu torchlight procession, numbering some few hundreds, who bore aloft the borrowed torches and a few of the transparencies of the late Union torchlight procession, among which latter were some not specially adapted to the occasion, California figuring as '20,000 for the Union,' and 'Indiana gives us a gain of five Congressmen,' while Massachusetts was represented by a picture of Bunker Hill monument, with an objurgatory [sic] remark as to Toombs' prediction concerning his roll-call of slaves. With these emblems, and a hoarse band of music, the somewhat irregular procession got up to the White House, where loud and repeated cheers brought out the President, who began by saying: 'I have to guess, my friends, the object of this call, which has taken me quite by surprise this evening.' Whereupon a chief spokesman shouted, 'The emancipation of Maryland, sah;' at which the President proceeded as follows:
It is no secret that I have wished, and still do wish, mankind everywhere to be free. [Great cheering and cries of 'God bless Abraham Lincoln.'] And in the State of Maryland how great an advance has been made in this direction. It is difficult to realize that in that State, where human slavery has existed for ages, ever since a period long before any here were born – by the action of her own citizens – the soil is made forever free. [Loud and long cheering.] I have no feeling of triumph over those who were opposed to this measure and who voted against it, but I do believe that it will result in good to the white race as well as to those who have been made free by this act of emancipation, and I hope that the time will soon come when all will see that the perpetuation of freedom for all in Maryland is best for the interests of all, though some may thereby be made to suffer temporary pecuniary loss. And I hope that you, colored people, who have been emancipated, will use this great boon which has been given you to improve yourselves, both morally and intellectually, and now, good night."25
Missouri was a tougher case than Maryland. Its politicians were even more contentious. Historian Ralph Korngold wrote: "In Missouri the struggle between the 'Immediatists' and the 'Gradualists' – or as they were called in that state, the 'Charcoals' and the 'Claybanks' – was particularly bitter. The former, feeling they were entitled to the President's support since they were preparing the ground for the adoption of a measure which alone could guarantee fulfillment of the promise given in the proclamation, sent a delegation to Washington headed by James Taussig of St. Louis to solicit his aid. To their disappointment and chagrin Taussig reported on May 10, 1863:
The President said that the Union men in Missouri who are in favor of gradual emancipation represented his views better than those who are in favor of immediate emancipation. In explanation of his views on the subject, the President said that in his speeches, he had frequently used as an illustration, the case of a man who had an excrescence on the back of his neck, the removal of which, in one operation, would result in the life....The President announced clearly that, as far as he was at present advised, the Radicals of Missouri had no right to consider themselves the exponents of his views on the subject of emancipation in that State.26
Mr. Lincoln's concern with compensated emancipation never completed dissipated. In August 1864, President Lincoln had a long talk with Pennsylvania political leader Alexander McClure: "At this interview Lincoln seemed to have but one overmastering desire, and that was to attain peace on the basis of a restored Union. He took from a corner of his desk a paper written out in his own handwriting, proposed to pay to the South $400,000,000 as compensation for their salves, on condition that the States should return to their allegiance to the government and accept Emancipation. I shall never forget the emotion exhibited by Lincoln when, after reading this paper to me, he said, 'If I could only get this proposition before the southern people, I believe they would accept it, and I have faith that the northern people, however startled at first, would soon appreciate the wisdom of such a settlement of the war. One hundred days of war would cost us the $400 million I would propose to give for emancipation and a restored republic, not to speak of the priceless sacrifice of life and the additional sacrifice of property; but were I to make this offer now, it would defeat me inevitably and probably defeat emancipation.'"27
The proposal was revived in early February 1865 after President Lincoln with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and other Confederate representatives at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: "A proposal from Lincoln to qualify the abolition of slavery, and, after the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, to pay off the slaveholders whose secession had triggered the war in the first place, seems so bizarre in February of 1865 that the natural reaction might be to question whether Lincoln could ever really have made it. But all the evidence, from [William H.] Seward as well as [Alexander] suggest that this is pretty much what Lincoln did. And it makes sense only if it is understood how eager Lincoln was to bring the war to an end (both to cut costs and to cut off the Radicals), how much residual faith he had in the importance of achieving Whig-style national compromises, and how little expectation he had of making black civil rights into a federal crusade."28
On February 5, 1865, President Lincoln submitted to the Cabinet a draft resolution to be presented to the Congress. Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher reported what happened when President Lincoln came back to the White House from his conference with Confederate leaders at Hampton Roads:
Soon after his return from the James, the cabinet was convened, and he read to it for approval a message which he had prepared to be submitted to Congress, in which he recommended that congress appropriate $300,000,0000 to be apportioned among the several slave States, in proportion to slave population to be distributed to the holders of slaves in those States upon condition that they would consent to the abolition of slavery, the disbanding of the insurgent army, and would acknowledge and submit to the laws of the United States.
The draft resolution on compensated emancipation prepared by President Lincoln read:
I respectfully recommend that a Joint Resolution, substantially as follows, be adopted so soon as practicable, by your honorable bodies.
Historian Guelzo wrote that President Lincoln "could not have been entirely confident of the practicality of this settlement, if only because he uncharacteristically offered it to the cabinet for discussion. And no one in the cabinet, not even Seward, had the slightest enthusiasm for it."31 John Palmer Usher said "When Lincoln brought forward that compensation message (a few days after the Conference) in Cabinet, I remember what [General Robert C.] Schenck had said. I then thought, that if he should send that message to Congress, extreme and radical men of the character of Schenck would make it the occasion of a violent assault on the President and perhaps thus weaken his influence to procure men and money to prosecute the war."32
President Lincoln told the Cabinet: "You are all against me." He complained that the war was not likely to end soon: "We cannot hope that it will end in less than a hundred days. We are now spending three millions a day, and that will equal the full amount I propose to pay, to say nothing of the lives lost and property destroyed. I look upon it as a measure of strict and simple economy."33 After the Cabinet rejected this approach and President Lincoln wrote on the document: "To-day these papers, which explain themselves, were drawn up and submitted to the Cabinet & unanamously disapproved by them."34
Henry Winter Davis (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Horace Greeley (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Horace Greeley (Mr. Lincoln and New York)
Horace Greeley (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
John Hay (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
John Hay (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
John B. Henderson (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
James Lane (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
Charles Sumner (Mr. Lincoln and Friends)
Charles Sumner (Mr. Lincoln's White House)
John Palmer Usher (Mr. Lincoln's White House)