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Soon after the chalk sketch of my conception had been placed upon the canvas, I attended one of the receptions given by the Secretary of the Navy and Mrs. Welles. While standing as I thought unobserved, near a corner of the room, Mr. Seward approached me, and in a manner of more than usual warmth, said, “I told the President the other day that you were painting your picture upon a false presumption.” Looking at him in some surprise, I inquired his meaning. “Oh,” he rejoined, “you appear to think in common with many other foolish people, that the great business of this Administration is the destruction of slavery. Now allow me to say you are much mistaken. Slavery was killed years ago. Its death knell was tolled when Abraham Lincoln was elected President. The work of this Administration is the suppression of the Rebellion and the preservation of the Union. Abolitionists, like the different religious sects, have been chasing one idea, until they have come to believe that their horizon absolutely bounds the world. Slavery has been in fact but an incident in the history of the nation, inevitably bound to perish in [73] the progress of intelligence. Future generations will scarcely credit the record that such an institution ever existed here; or existing, that it ever lived a day under such a government. But suppose, for one moment, the Republic destroyed. With it is bound up not alone the destiny of a race, but the best hopes of all mankind. With its overthrow the sun of liberty, like the Hebrew dial, would be set back indefinitely. The magnitude of such a calamity is beyond our calculation. The salvation of the nation is, then, of vastly more consequence than the destruction of slavery. Had you consulted me for a subject to paint, I should not have given you the Cabinet Council on Emancipation, but the meeting which took place when the news came of the attack upon Sumter, when the first measures were organized for the restoration of the national authority. That was the crisis in the history of this Administration — not the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation. If I am to be remembered by posterity,” he concluded, with much excitement of manner, “let it not be as having loved predominantly white men or black men, but as one who loved his country.”

Assenting to much that he had said, I replied, that with all deference, I could not accept his conclusions regarding slavery. Although more than a year had passed since the issue of the proclamation, the Confederacy, founded upon it, was yet powerful enough to threaten the destruction of [74] the nation, though, for my own part, I did not question the result of the conflict. I looked upon the Declaration of Independence as the assertion that all men were created free. Mr. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was the demonstration of this great truth. Without slavery the Republic would have been in no danger. That was the canker-worm gnawing away the nation's life. Not until the Administration was ready to strike at, the root and cause of the Rebellion, was there any reason to hope for the success of the national cause. Without this step, however grand or high the conception in the minds of men of the Republic, in all probability it would have perished. Therefore, in my judgment, no single act of the Administration could for one moment be compared with that of emancipation. Granting the potential view, the proclamation was necessary, as the sign and seal of the consummation.

“Well,” replied Mr. Seward, “you think so, and this generation may agree with you; but posterity will hold a different opinion.”

Of course this conversation could not but attract the attention of all in the immediate vicinity. A few moments later, Senator Morgan, referring to the Secretary's assertion that slavery was dead when the Rebellion broke out, told me this characteristic incident of the President, showing that he, at least, did not hold that view. Soon after the issue of the proclamation, having official business, as Governor [75] of New York, which called him to Washington, Mr. Lincoln remarked to him, speaking of his action upon this subject, “We are a good deal like whalers who have been long on a chase. At last we have got our harpoon fairly into the monster; but we must now look how we steer, or with one flop of his tail, he will yet send us all into eternity!”

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