Reply to Workingmen of Manchester (January 19, 1863)

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#114 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents

Annotated Transcript

“I have understood well that the duty of self-preservation rests solely with the American people. But I have at the same time been aware that favor or disfavor of foreign nations might have a material influence in enlarging and prolonging the struggle with disloyal men in which the country is engaged. A fair examination of history has seemed to authorize a belief that the past action and influences of the United States were generally regarded as having been beneficient towards mankind.”

On This Date

HD Daily Report, January 19, 1863

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How Historians Interpret

“Lincoln was keenly conscious of the tides of opinion throughout the world.  He was in full sympathy with liberal thought and he was eager to have the real nature of the cause for which his country was fighting understood by people everywhere.  In England a remarkable division of attitude had occurred.  The aristocracy, as has already been indicated, was in almost complete sympathy with the South, but the British working people were in hearty accord with the aims of the North.  Even the operators in the Lancashire mills, who were being starved as a result of the cotton shortage caused by the blockade, steadfastly supported the Union cause.  The working-men of Manchester addressed a letter to the President at the beginning of the new year 1863, enclosing a resolution of sympathy with the aims of the Northern Government.  On January 19, Lincoln answered them, saying that the example set by the Lancashire mill operators was ‘an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country.’  The people of the Northern states, moved by the plight of the English factory hands, subscribed large sums of money for relief and sent shiploads of wheat to Liverpool.”

Philip Van Doren Stern, editor, The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Random House, 1940)

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Executive Mansion, Washington,
January 19, 1863.
 
To the workingmen of Manchester: 
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the address and resolutions which you sent to me on the eve of the new year.
When I came, on the fourth day of March, 1861, through a free and constitutional election, to preside in the government of the United States, the country was found at the verge of civil war. Whatever might have been the cause, or whosoever the fault, one duty paramount to all others was before me, namely, to maintain and preserve at once the Constitution and the integrity of the federal republic. A conscientious purpose to perform this duty is a key to all the measures of administration which have been, and to all which will hereafter be pursued. Under our form of government, and my official oath, I could not depart from this purpose if I would. It is not always in the power of governments to enlarge or restrict the scope of moral results which follow the policies that they may deem it necessary for the public safety, from time to time, to adopt.
I have understood well that the duty of self-preservation rests solely with the American people. But I have at the same time been aware that favor or disfavor of foreign nations might have a material influence in enlarging and prolonging the struggle with disloyal men in which the country is engaged. A fair examination of history has seemed to authorize a belief that the past action and influences of the United States were generally regarded as having been beneficient towards mankind. I have therefore reckoned upon the forbearance of nations. Circumstances, to some of which you kindly allude, induced me especially to expect that if justice and good faith should be practiced by the United States, they would encounter no hostile influence on the part of Great Britain. It is now a pleasant duty to acknowledge the demonstration you have given of your desire that a spirit of peace and amity towards this country may prevail in the councils of your Queen, who is respected and esteemed in your own country only more than she is by the kindred nation which has its home on this side of the Atlantic.
I know and deeply deplore the sufferings which the workingmen at Manchester and in all Europe are called to endure in this crisis. It has been often and studiously represented that the attempt to overthrow this government, which was built upon the foundation of human rights, and to substitute for it one which should rest exclusively on the basis of human slavery, was likely to obtain the favor of Europe. Through the actions of our disloyal citizens the workingmen of Europe have been subjected to a severe trial, for the purpose of forcing their sanction to that attempt. Under these circumstances, I cannot but regard your decisive utterance upon the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is, indeed, an energetic and reinspiring assurance of the inherent power of truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity, and freedom. I do not doubt that the sentiments you have expressed will be sustained by your great nation, and, on the other hand, I have no hesitation in assuring you that they will excite admiration, esteem, and the most reciprocal feelings of friendship among the American people. I hail this interchange of sentiment, therefore, as an augury that, whatever else may happen, whatever misfortune may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exist between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual.    
ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
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