Letter to Nathaniel Banks (August 5, 1863)

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#145 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“While I very well know what I would be glad for Louisiana to do, it is quite a different thing for me to assume direction of the matter. I would be glad for her to make a new Constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation, and adopting emancipation in those parts of the state to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, August 5, 1863

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How Historians Interpret

“The President hoped for better things from Nathaniel P. Banks, who replaced Butler at the end of 1862, but he gave the general a larger task.  Since his Emancipation Proclamation had applied only to the areas still in rebel hands, it had left slavery intact in the most prosperous and populous region of the state around New Orleans.  Now, convinced that the war was soon coming to an end, Lincoln was troubled that Louisiana might apply for readmission as a slave state.  To prevent that course, he desired Banks to sponsor the creation of a free-state government that would end slavery throughout Louisiana.  To sugarcoat the pill, he declared that he was willing to accept ‘some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new.’  But Lincoln did not think he had authority to require the elimination of slavery throughout the state.  ’While I very well know what I would be glad for Louisiana to do,’ he wrote to Banks, ‘it is quite a different thing for me to assume the direction of the matter.’  During the first half of 1863 little progress was made in setting up a loyal government in Louisiana, because Banks was preoccupied first with his campaign against Port Hudson on the Mississippi River and then with a planned expedition against Confederate Texas.  In August, Lincoln gave him a strong nudge, urging him to confer with ‘intelligent and trusty citizens of the State’ like Hahn and Flanders and endorsing a plan for Louisiana Attorney General Thomas J. Durant to register eligible voters in preparation for a state constitutional convention.”

–David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 485-486

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Executive Mansion, 
Washington,
August 5, 1863.
 
My dear General Banks 
Being a poor correspondent is the only apology I offer for not having sooner tendered my thanks for your very successful, and very valuable military operations this year. The final stroke in opening the Mississippi never should, and I think never will, be forgotten.
Recent events in Mexico, I think, render early action in Texas more important than ever. I expect, however, the General-in-Chief, will address you more fully upon this subject.  
Governor Boutwell read me to-day that part of your letter to him, which relates to Louisiana affairs. While I very well know what I would be glad for Louisiana to do, it is quite a different thing for me to assume direction of the matter. I would be glad for her to make a new Constitution recognizing the emancipation proclamation, and adopting emancipation in those parts of the state to which the proclamation does not apply. And while she is at it, I think it would not be objectionable for her to adopt some practical system by which the two races could gradually live themselves out of their old relation to each other, and both come out better prepared for the new. Education for young blacks should be included in the plan. After all, the power, or element, of “contract” may be sufficient for this probationary period; and, by it’s simplicity, and flexibility, may be the better.
As an anti-slavery man I have a motive to desire emancipation, which pro-slavery men do not have; but even they have strong enough reason to thus place themselves again under the shield of the Union; and to thus perpetually hedge against the recurrence of the scenes through which we are now passing.
Gov. Shepley has informed me that Mr. Durant is now taking a registry, with a view to the election of a Constitutional convention in Louisiana. This, to me, appears proper. If such convention were to ask my views, I could present little else than what I now say to you. I think the thing should be pushed forward, so that if possible, it’s mature work may reach here by the meeting of Congress.
For my own part I think I shall not, in any event, retract the emancipation proclamation; nor, as executive, ever return to slavery any person who is free by the terms of that proclamation, or by any of the acts of Congress.
If Louisiana shall send members to Congress, their admission to seats will depend, as you know, upon the respective Houses, and not upon the President.
If these views can be of any advantage in giving shape, and impetus, to action there, I shall be glad for you to use them prudently for that object. Of course you will confer with intelligent and trusty citizens of the State, among whom I would suggest Messrs. Flanders, Hahn, and Durant; and to each of whom I now think I may send copies of this letter. Still it is perhaps better to not make the letter generally public.
Yours very truly
A. LINCOLN
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