Letter to Salmon Chase (September 2, 1863)

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#68 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“Knowing your great anxiety that the emancipation proclamation shall now be applied to certain parts of Virginia and Louisiana which were exempted from it last January, I state briefly what appear to me to be difficulties in the way of such a step.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, September 2, 1863

The Lincoln Log, September 2, 1863

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How Historians Interpret

“Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase argued against such exceptions and kept after the President thereafter to extend the Emancipation Proclamation to all of Virginia and Louisiana. Lincoln replied to him on September 2, 1863… Notice the words ‘Could this pass unnoticed?’ ‘Could it fail to be perceived…?’ It is important for constitutional government what the people of the Country understand their officer to be doing and on what authority. It is also important that the people be trained to expect the basis of governmental authority to be evident, even when extraordinary measures have to be resorted to.”

— George Anastplo, Abraham Lincoln: A Constitutional Biography (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 218.

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Searchable Text

 Executive Mansion,
Washington,
September 2. 1863.
 
Hon. S. P. Chase.
My dear Sir:
Knowing your great anxiety that the emancipation proclamation shall now be applied to certain parts of Virginia and Louisiana which were exempted from it last January, I state briefly what appear to me to be difficulties in the way of such a step. The original proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification, except as a military measure. The exemptions were made because the military necessity did not apply to the exempted localities. Nor does that necessity apply to them now any more than it did then. If I take the step must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, without any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient, and morally right? Would I not thus give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? Could this pass unnoticed, or unresisted? Could it fail to be perceived that without any further stretch, I might do the same in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; and even change any law in any state? Would not many of our own friends shrink away appalled? Would it not lose us the elections, and with them, the very cause we seek to advance?
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