“The incidents of the war cannot be avoided. If the war continues long, as it must if the object be not sooner attained, the institution in your States will be extinguished by mere friction and abrasion,—by the mere incidents of the war. It will be gone, and you will have nothing valuable in lieu of it. Much of its value is gone already. How much better for you and your people to take the step which at once shortens the war, and secures substantial compensation for that which is sure to be wholly lost in any other event. How much better to thus save the money which else we sink forever in the war. How much better to do it while we can, lest the war erelong render us pecuniarily unable to do it. How much better for you, as seller, and the nation, as buyer, to sell out and buy out that without which the war never could have been, than to sink both the thing to be sold and the price of it in cutting one another’s throats. I do not speak of emancipation at once, but of a decision at once to emancipate gradually.”
He closed with an ardent appeal to his hearers, as “patriots and statesmen,” to consider his proposition, invoking them thereto as they “would perpetuate popular government for the best people in the world.”
Thirty gentlemen listened to this paper and took two days to consider it. Then twenty of them signed a response which was, in substance, their repudiation of the President’s scheme. They told him that hitherto they had been loyal “under the most discouraging circumstances and in face of measures most distasteful to them and injurious to the interests they represented, and in the hearing of doctrines, avowed by those who claimed to be his friends, most abhorrent to themselves and their constituents.” They objected that the measure involved “interference with what exclusively belonged to the States;” that perhaps it was unconstitutional; that it would involve an “immense outlay,” beyond what the finances could bear; that it was “the annunciation of a sentiment” rather than a “tangible proposition;” they added that the sole purpose of the war must be “restoring the Constitution to its legitimate authority.” Seven others of the President’s auditors said politely, but very vaguely, that they would “ask the people of the Border States calmly, deliberately, and fairly to consider his recommendations.” Maynard, of the House, and Henderson, of the Senate, alone expressed their personal approval.