The Abolitionists eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 164 pages of information about The Abolitionists.
them stopped before an ultimatum was reached.  Besides his proclamation, which, as we have seen, applied to only a part of the slaves, he devised a measure that would have been applicable to all of them.  In his special message of December, 1863, he proposed to Congress the submission of a constitutional amendment that would work universal liberation.  There were conditions, however.  One was that the slaves should be paid for by the Government; another that the masters might retain their uncompensated services until January 1, 1900; that is, for a period of thirty-seven years, unless they were sooner emancipated by the grave, as the most of them would be. (See Appendix.)

The President’s somewhat fantastic proposition was not claimed by him to be for the bondman’s benefit.  He urged it as a measure of public economy, holding that, as slavery was the admitted cause of the Rebellion, the quickest and surest way to remove that cause would be by purchase of all the slaves, which, he insisted, “would shorten the war, and thus lessen the expenditure of money and blood.”

The public did not take to the President’s plan at all, especially the Abolitionists did not.  They no more favored the buying of men by the Government than by anybody else.  They held that if the master had no right to the person of his bondman, he had no right to payment for him.  And as for an arrangement that might prolong slaveholding for thirty-seven years, they saw in it not only a measure of injustice to the men, women, and children then in servitude, the most of whom would be doomed to bondage for the rest of their natural lives, but a possible plan for side-tracking a genuine freedom movement.

In the proposition just considered we have not only the core of the President’s policy during much of his official tenure, but an explanation of his mental operations.  He was sentimentally opposed to slavery, but he was afraid of freedom.  He dreaded its effect on both races.  He was opposed to slavery more because it was a public nuisance than because of its injustice to the oppressed black man, whose condition, he did not believe, would be greatly, if at all, benefited by freedom.  Hence he wanted manumission put off as long as possible.  It was “ultimate extinction” he wanted, to be attended with payment to the master for his lost property.  Another thing he favored—­and which he seems to have thought entirely practicable—­as a condition to liberation, was the black man’s removal to a place or places out of contact with our white population.

But in entire fairness to Mr. Lincoln, it should be said that, although his proclamation was inoperative for the immediate release of any slaves, it was by no means wholly ineffectual.  Its moral influence was considerable.  It helped to hasten a movement that had, however, by that time become practically irresistible.  Its political results were far more marked and important.  If it did not fully restore cordiality between the President and the Abolition

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The Abolitionists from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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