#127 on the list of 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents
“From the first taking of our national census to the last are seventy years; and we find our population at the end of the period eight times as great as it was at the beginning. The increase of those other things which men deem desirable has been even greater. We thus have at one view, what the popular principle applied to government, through the machinery of the States and the Union, has produced in a given time; and also what, if firmly maintained, it promises for the future. There are already among us those, who, if the Union be preserved, will live to see it contain two hundred and fifty millions. The struggle of today, is not altogether for today—it is for a vast future also.”
On This Date
How Historians Interpret
“Anyone hunting for clues to Lincoln’s thinking would have found scattered through his first annual message to Congress in December still more hints about his personal inclinations on matters of race and slavery. He suggested opening diplomatic relations with Haiti and Liberia, and he actively pressed for the suppression of the illegal Atlantic slave trade. Though these were matters peripheral to emancipation, they tell us something about the President’s state of mind in late 1861.”
— James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 156.
“Lincoln’s annual message dealt with a series of other problems in a rather perfunctory fashion, making it one of the president’s less memorable state papers. Before its publication, a justice of the New York state supreme court, fearing that it would be undignified and marred by ‘low commonplaces,’ suggested that Seward should help write it. In fact, a portion of the message was evidently composed by Seward and inserted at the last moment. Because it was ‘peculiarly a business document,” it was, according to Senator William P. Fessenden, ‘considered here a dry and tame affair.’ He thought it was marred by ‘several ridiculous things,’ but condescendingly remarked, ‘we must make the best of our bargain,’ …While moderate Republicans hailed the message’s substance as “wise, patriotic, and conservative,” and its style as “plain, concise and straightforward,” others complained about its brevity and its failure to mention the Trent crisis or to deal more fully with the slavery issue, both of which loomed large in the public mind… Just before the message was submitted to Congress, Lincoln told his cabinet why he was soft-pedaling the slavery issue: “Gentlemen, you are not a unit on this question, and as it is a very important one, in fact the most important which has come before us since the war commenced, I will float on with the tide till you are more nearly united than at present. Perhaps we shall yet drift into the right position.’”
Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 volumes, originally published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) Unedited Manuscript by Chapter, Lincoln Studies Center, Volume 2, Chapter 24 (PDF), 2662-2667.
NOTE TO READERS
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