Reply of Senator Henderson, of Missouri.
|Most of the text here is taken from an archive of the New York Times; a few words were apparently poorly scanned from the original, and were originally marked as unknown, thus: [???]. These were corrected by reference to the version published in Frank Moore's Rebellion Record (vol. 1, supplement, pp. 374--377), which is available online. Some of the paragraph structure was different between the two sources as well. I generally followed that in The Rebellion Record.|
Washington City, Monday, July 21, 1862
Mr. President: The pressure of business in the Senate during the last few days of the session prevented my attendence at the meetings of the Border State members, called to consider your proposition in reference to gradual emancipation in our States.
is for this reason only, and not because I fail to appreciate their
importance or properly respect your suggestions, that my name does not
appear to any of the papers submitted in response.
I may also add that it was my intention, when the subject came up practically for consideration in the Senate, to express fully my views in regard to it. This of course would have rendered any other response unnecessary. But the want of time to consider the matter, deprived me of that opportunity, and lest now my silence be misconstrued, I deem it proper to say to you that I am by no means indifferent to the great questions so earnestly, and as I believe, so honestly, urged by you upon our consideration.
The Border States, so far, are the chief sufferers by this war, and the true Union men of those States have made the greatest sacrifices for the preservation of the Government. This fact does not proceed from mismanagement on the part of the Union authorities, or a want of regard for our people, but it is the necessary resuit of the war that is upon us. Our States are the battle-fields. Our people, divided among themselves, maddened by the struggle and blinded by the smoke of battle, invited upon our soil contending armies -- the one to destroy the Government, the other to maintain it. The consequence to us is plain. The shock of the contest upturns society and desolates the land. We have made sacrifices but at last they were only the sacrifices demanded by duty, and unless we are willing to make others, indeed, any that the good of the country, involved in the overthrow of treason, may exact at our hands, our title to patriotism is not complete.
When you submitted your proposition to Congress, in March last, "that the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt a gradual abolishment of Slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such change of system," I gave it a most cheerful support, and I am satisfied it would have received the approbation of a large majority of the Border State delegation in both branches of Congress, if, in the first place, they had believed the war, with its continued evils -- the most prominent of which, in a material point of view, is its injurious effect on the institution of Slavery in our States -- could possibly have been protracted for another twelve months; and if, in the second place, they had felt assured that the party having the majority in Congress would, like yourself, be equally prompt in practical action as in the expression of a sentiment. While scarcely any one doubled your own sincerity in the premises, and your earnest wish speedily to terminate the war, you can readily conceive the grounds for differences of opinion where conclusions could only be based upon conjecture.
Believing, as I did, that the war was not so near its termination as some supposed, and feeling disposed to accord to others the same sincerity of purpose that I should claim for myself under similar circumstances, I voted for the proposition. I will suppose that others were actuated by no sinister motives.
In doing so, Mr. President, I desire to be distinctly understood by you and by my constituents. I did not suppose at the time that I was personally making any sacrifice by supporting the resolution, nor that the people of my State were called upon to make any sacrifice, either in considering or accepting the proposition, as they saw fit. I agreed with you in the remarks contained in the Message accompanying the resolution, that "the Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed." *** War has been and continues to be an indispensable means to this end. A practical reacknowledgement of the National authority would render the war unnecessary, and it would at once cease. If, however, resistance continues, the war must also continue: and it is impossible to foresee all the incidents which may attend and all the ruin which may follow it. It is truly "impossible" to foresee all the evils resulting from a war so stupendous as the present. I shall be much rejoiced if something more dreadful than the sale of freedom to a few slaves in the Border States shall not result from it. If it closes with the Government of our fathers secure, and constitutional liberty in all its purity guaranteed to the white man the result will be better than that I having a place in the fears of many good men at present, and much better than the past history of such revolutions can justify us in expecting.
In this period of the nation's distress, I know of no human institution too sacred for discussion; no materia interest belonging to the citizen that he should not willingly place upon the altar of his country. If demanded by the public good. The man who cannot now sacrifice patty and put aside selfish consideration is more than half disloyal. Such a man does not deserve the blessings of good Government. Pride of opinion, based upon sectional jealousies, should not be permitted to control the decision of any political question. These remarks are general, but apply with peculiar force to the people of the Border States at present.Let us look at our condition. A desolating war is upon us. We cannot escape it if we would. If the Union armies were to-day withdrawn from the Border States, without first crushing the rebellion in the South, no rational man can doubt for a moment that the adherents of the Union cause in those States would soon be driven in exile from their homes by the exultant rebels, who have so long hoped to return and take vengeance upon us.
The people of the Border States understand very well the unfriendly and selfish spirit exercised toward them by the leaders of the Cotton-State Rebellion, beginning some time previous to its outbreak. They will not fail to remember their insolent refusal to counsel with us, and their haughty assumption of responsibility upon themselves for their misguided action. Our people will not soon forget that while declaring against coercion, they closed their doors against the exportation of slaves from the Border States into the South, with the avowed purpose of forcing us into rebellion through fears of losing that species of property. They knew very well the effect to be produced on Slavery by a civil war, especially in those States into which hostile armies might penetrate, and upon the soil of which the great contests for the success of Republican Government were to be decided. They wanted some intermediate ground for the conflict of arms -- teritory where the population would be divided. They knew, also, that by keeping Slavery in the Border unites, the mere "friction and abrasion" to which you so appropriately allade, would keep a constant irritation, resulting necessarily from the frequent losses to which the owners would be subjected. They also calculated largely, and not without reason, upon the repugnance of non-slaveholders in those States to a free negro population. In the meantime they intended persistently in charge the overthrow of Slavery to be the object of the Government, and hostility to this instruction the origin of the war. By this means the unavoidable incidents of the strife might easily be charged as the settled purposes of the Government. Again: it was well understood by these men that exemplary conduct on the part of every officer and soldier employed by the Government could not in the nature of thing be expected, and the hope was entertained, upon the most reasonable grounds, that every commission of wrong and every omission of duty would produce a new cause for excitement and a new incentive to rebellion.
By these means the war was to be kept in the Border States, regardless of our interests, until an exhausted Treasury should render it necessary to send the tax-gatherer among our people, to take the little that might be left them from the devastations of war. They then expected a clamor for peace by us, resulting in the interference of France and England, whose operatives in the meantime would be driven to want, and whose aristocracy have ever been ready to welcome a dissolution of the American Union.
This cunningly-devised plan for securing a Gulf Confederacy, commanding the mouths of the great Western rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Southern Atlantic Ocean, with their own territory unscathed by the horrors of war, and surrounded by the Border States, half of whose population would be left in sympathy with them for many years to come, owing to the irritations to which I have alluded, has so far succeeded too well.
In Missouri they have already caused us to lose a third or more of the slaves owned at the time of the last census. In addition to this, I can make no estimate of the vast amount of property of every character, that has been destroyed by military operations in the State. The loss from general depreciation of value, and the utter prostration of every business interest of our people's is wholly beyond calculation. The experienced of Missourri is but the experience of other sections of the country similarly situated. The question is, therefore forced upon us, "How long is the war to continue; and if continued, as it has been, on our soil, aided by the treason and folly of our own citizens, acting in concert with the Confederates, how long can Slavery, or, if you please, any other property interest, survive in our States?"
As things now are, the people of the Border States yet divided, we cannot expect an immediate termination of the struggle, except upon condition of Southern independence, losing thereby the control of the Lower Mississippi. For this, we in Missouri are not prepared, nor are we prepared to become one of the Confederate States, should the terrible calamity of dissolution occur. This, I presume, the Union men of Missouri would resist to the death. And whether they should do so or not, I will not suppose for an instant that the Government of the United States would, upon any condition, submit to the loss of territory so essential to its future commercial greatness as is the State of Missouri. But should all other reasons fail to prevent such a misfortune to the people of Missouri, there is one that cannot fall. The Confederates never wanted us and would not have us. I assume, therefore, that the war will not cease, but will be continued until the Rebellion shall be overcome. It cannot and will not cease, so far as the people of Missouri are concerned, except upon condition of our remaining in the Union, and the whole West will demand the entire control of the Mississippi River to the Gulf. Our interest is, therefore, bound up with the interests of those States maintaining the Union, and especially with the great States of the West, that must be consulted in regard to the terms of any peace that may be suggested, even by the nations of Europe should they at any time unfortunately depart from their former pacific policy and determine to intervene in our affairs.
The war, then, will have to be continued until the Union shall be practically restored. In this alone consists the future safety of the Border States themselves. A separation of the Union is ruinous to then. The preservation of the Union can only be secured by continuation of war. The consequences of that continuation may be judged of by the experience of the last twelve months. The people of my State are as competent to pass judgment in the premises as I am. I have every confidence in their intelligence, their honesty, and their patriotism.
In your own language, the proposition you make, "sets up no claim of a right by Federal authority to interfere with Slavery within the State limits, referring as it does the absolute control of the subjects in each case to the State and its people immediately interested. It is proposed as a matter of perfectly free choice with them."
In this view of the subject, I can frankly say to you, that personally I never could appreciate the objections so frequently urged against the proposition. If I understood you properly, it was your opinion, not that Slavery should be removed in order to secure our loyalty to the Government, for every personal act of your Administration precludes such an inference, but you believe that the peculiar species of property was in imminent danger from the war in which we were engaged, and that common justice demanded remuneration for the loss of it. You then believed, and again express the opinion, that the peculiar nature of the contest is such that its loss is almost inevitable, and lest any pretext for a charge of injustice against the Government be given to its enemies, you propose to extend to the people of those States standing by the Union, the choice of payment for their slaves or the responsibility of loss, should it occur, without complaint against the Government.
Placing the matter in this light, (a mere remuneration for losses rendered inevitable by the casualties of war,) the objection of a constitutional character may be rendered much less formidable in the minds of Northern Representatives, whose constituents will have to share in the payment of the money, and so far as the Border States are concerned, this objection should be most sparingly urged, for it being a matter entirely of their "own free choice," in case of a desire to accent, no serious argument will likely be urged against the receipt of the money, or a fund for colonization. But, aside from the power derived from the operations of war, there may be found numerous precedents in the legislation of the past, such as grants of land and money to the several States for specified subjects deemed worthy by the Federal Congress. And in addition to this may be cited a deliberate opinion of Mr. WEBSTER upon this very subject, in one of the ablest arguments of his life.
I allude to this question of power merely in vindication of the position assumed by me, in my vote for the resolution of March last. In your last communication to us, you beg of us "to commend this subject to the consideration of our States and people." While I entirely differ with you in the opinion expressed, that had the members from the Border States approved of your resolution of March last, "the war would now be substantially ended," and while I do not regard the suggestion "as one of the most potent and swift means of ending" the war. I am yet free to say that I have the most unbounded confidence in your sincerity of purpose in calling our attention to the dangers surrounding us. I am satisfied that you appreciate the troubles of the Border States, and that your suggestions are intended for our good. I feel the force of your urgent appeal and the logic of surrounding circumstances brings conviction even to an unwilling believer. Having said that in my judgment you attached too much importance to this measure as a means for suppressing the rebellion, it is due to you that I should explain.
Whatever may be the status of the Border States in this respect, the war cannot be ended until the power of the Government is made manifest in the seceded States. They appealed to the sword; give them the sword. They asked for war; let them see its evils on their own soil. They have erected a Government, and they force obedience to its behests. This structure must be destroyed; this image, before which an unwilling people have been compelled to bow, must be broken. The authority of the Federal Government must be felt in the heart of the rebellious district. To do this, let armies be marched upon them at once, and let them feel what they have inflicted on us in the Border. Do not fear our States; we will stand by the Government in this work.
I ought not to disguise from you, or the people of my State, that, personally, I have fixed and unalterable opinions on the subject of your communication. Those opinions I shall communicate to the people in that spirit of frankness that should characterize the intercourse of the representative with his constituents. If I were to-day the owner of the lands and slaves of Missouri, your proposition, so far as that State is concerned, would be immediately accepted. Not a day would be lost. Aside from public considerations, which you suppose to be involved in the proposition, and which no patriot, I agree, should disregard at present, my own personal interest would prompt favorable and immediate action.
But having said this, it is proper that I say something more. The representative is the servant and not the master of the people. He has no authority to bind them to any course of action, or even to indicate what they will or will not do when the subject is exclusively theirs and not his. I shall take occasion, I hope honestly, to give my views of existing troubles and impending dangers, and shall leave the rest to them -- disposed, as I am, rather to trust their judgment upon the case stated than my own, and at the same time most cheerfully to acquiesce in their decision.
For you, personally, Mr. President. I think I can pledge the kindest considerations of the people of Missouri, and I shall not hesitate to express the belief that your recommendation will be considered by them in the same spirit of kindness manifested by you in its presentation to us, and that their decision will be such as is demanded "by their interests, their honor, and their duty to the whole country." I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
To his Excellency, A. LINCOLN, President.