in time of war, I suppose I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South.
I view this matter as a practical war measure, to be decided on according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the Rebellion.
The deputation responded, urging that an Emancipation policy would greatly strengthen us in Europe
, and would justify us in appealing to the God of the oppressed and down-trodden for His blessing on our future efforts to crush the Rebellion
The President rejoined:
I admit that Slavery is at the root of the Rebellion, or at least its sine qua non. The ambition of politicians may have instigated them to act; but they would have been impotent without Slavery as their instrument.
I will also concede that Emancipation would help as in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition.
I grant, further, that it would help somewhat at the North, though not so much, I fear, as you and those you represent imagine.
Still, some additional strength would be added in that way to the war; and then, unquestionably, it would weaken the Rebels by drawing off their laborers, which is of great importance; but I am not so sure we could do much with the Blacks.
If we were to arm them.
I fear that in a few weeks the arms would be in the hands of the Rebels; and, indeed, thus far, we have not had arms enough to equip our White troops.
I will mention another thing, though it meet only your scorn and contempt.
There are 50,000 bayonets in the Union army from the Border Slave States.
It would be a serious matter if, in consequence of a proclamation such as you desire, they should go over to the Rebels.
I do not think they all would — not so many, indeed, as a year ago, or as six months ago — not so many to-day as yesterday.
Every day increases their Union feeling.
They are also getting their pride enlisted, and want to best the Rebels.
Let me say one thing more: I think you should admit that we already have an important principle to rally and unite the people, in the fact that constitutional government is at stake.
This is a fundamental idea, going down about as deep as anything.
The deputation again developed and enforced their views; and the President
closed the conference with these pregnant words:
Do not misunderstand me because I have mentioned these objections.
They indicate the difficulties that have thus far prevented my action in some such way as you desire.
I have not decided against a proclamation of liberty to the slaves, but hold the matter under advisement.
And I can assure you that the subject is on my mind, by day and by night, more than any other.
Whatever shall appear to be God's will, I will do. I trust that, in the freedom with which I have canvassed your views, I have not in any respect injured your feelings.
The deputation had scarcely returned to Chicago
and reported to their constituents, when the great body of the President
's supporters were electrified, while his opponents in general were only still farther alienated, by the unheralded appearance of the following proclamation: