The President's Message


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, December 13, 1862

Welcome to our collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers. This site allows access to all the Harper's Weekly that were printed during the Civil War. These newspapers show incredible details of the war you wont find anywhere else.

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Generals in the Army of the Potomac

Army of the Potomac Generals

The president's Message

The President's Message

Contrcator Cartoon

Contractor Cartoon

Banks Expedition

Banks's Expedition

Union Generals

Biographies of Union Generals

Drury's Bluff

Drury's Bluff

Drury's Bluff

Drury's Bluff

Morgan Dix

Morgan Dix

Long Island

Long Island, New York


Petersburg, Virginia


The Road to Fredericksburg

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan





[DECEMBER 13, 1862.



I THINK of you all, dear Mother,

Ned, and Emma, and Moll,
Dark-eyed Harry, and little Lou,

Jim, and Bessie, and all!
How often we've met together

For many a bright year past,

Till it seemed to me as if every one

Was merrier than the last.

I greet you all, though so far away
That your faces I can not see;

I remember each with a sacred joy—

Do you also remember me?

Looking up to the dear old flag

With loyal hearts and true,

Do you smile to think for freedom's sake

I am absent to-day from you?

Yes, I know who name me every day

When they kneel to God in prayer—

I know who search every paper through

To see if my name be there.

And now in this good Thanksgiving time,

When the old house rings with glee,

There will be one toast to "Our absent ones,"

And then you will think of me!

You always called me "wild," you know,

Wondered what would be my fate

"So giddy and mischievous, what will he do

When he reaches man's estate?"

Well, here I am, twenty-one last month,

And my holiday life is through:

I face death calmly day by day—

How strange it must seem to you!


As I sit in my tent by this moonlight

I hear your voices fall,

Like distant music, upon my ear,

And your names I softly call.

How long before we shall meet again

In the homestead far away?

No matter, we yet live—and God is good,

And this is Thanksgiving day!





THERE are just four points of interest in the Message: the allusion to the war, the reference to emancipation, the sketch of a financial policy, and the review of our foreign relations. Outside of these, all is mere routine.

1. The War.—Persons who take up the Message in the hope of finding in it some retrospect of the past operations of the war, and some intimation of what is to happen hereafter, will meet with disappointment. Were it not for one short paragraph at the commencement of the Message, that document would contain no reference whatever to the one thing vital in the times in which we live. And that one paragraph is characteristic. The President says: "While it has not pleased the Almighty to bless us with the return of peace, we can but press on, guided by the best light He gives us, trusting that, in His own good time and wise way, all will be well." One can not help recalling the old Middle-Age story of the mailed crusader who, in a fit of the spleen, fell to beating his "people" with a stout quarter-staff. His wife, touched by the groans of the sufferers and the astonishing length of the punishment, called from her window to ask her lord how long he intended to trounce those poor creatures? "Ma mie!" replied the devout Baron, "tant qu'il plaira a Dieu!" (As long as God pleases, my dear.)

2. Emancipation.—This subject is very fully discussed in the Message. The President adheres to the principle previously enunciated by him, viz.: that slavery was the cause of the war, and that the extirpation of slavery will end it. But he departs from the policy which he recommended to Congress last session, inasmuch as he now proposes an amendment to the Constitution, tendering compensation to all States which shall abolish slavery before the year 1900. The resolution which he laid before Congress nearly a year ago, and which passed both Houses by large majorities, tendered aid to States abolishing slavery without specifying the time at which abolition should take place. It was the hope and expectation of the President and of his friends in Congress that four States, Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri, would accept this offer and proceed to the abolition of slavery at once. That hope has not been realized. It is doubtful whether the people of any of these four States are any nearer voluntary abolition than they were twelve months ago, though their property in slaves has been so vastly diminished by the war. The President, however, is not discouraged. He now proposes to embody the offer of compensation in the Constitution, in order to render it more solemn and binding, and to make it a standing offer for the next thirty-seven years. Whether this compromise measure, wise as it may prove eventually, will at present satisfy either the partisans of slavery at the South or its opponents at the North remains to be seen.

The President distinctly states that this

scheme of compensated emancipation is not intended to supersede the proclamation of September 22d freeing the slaves in rebel States. By that proclamation, every slave dwelling in a locality which has not elected members of Congress by a majority of legally constituted voters shall be free on 1st January next, and shall be entitled to claim that the United States shall protect him in the enjoyment of his freedom. If this proclamation stands unrecalled, the slaves now held in nine-tenths of Virginia, North Carolina, and Louisiana, nearly all of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas, and three-fourths of Tennessee, will be freemen in law if not in fact, in the course of a month from this time. So far as they are concerned no amendment to the Constitution will be required to improve their political status and the operation of the proposed amendment will consequently be confined to the slaves in Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, Kentucky, and such parts of Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and the other rebel States as are now held by the armed forces of the United States.

The President renews his favorite recommendation to Congress that provision be made for the expatriation of emancipated slaves. With that candor which is his most amiable characteristic, however, he admits that slight difficulties have been discovered in the way of the accomplishment of this project. In the first place, no State in America will receive our emancipated slaves as citizens. Hayti, in San Domingo, and Liberia, in Africa, alone tender to them the right hand of fellowship. And the misfortune about these places is that the negroes won't go there. Indeed, the President admits that, as a rule, the free negroes object to be exiled at all. He has endeavored, by argument and persuasion, to convince them that it is to their best interest to go away; and he has hopes that they may come to see the matter in this light by-and-by. Thus far, however, these persons with black skins are so unreasonable as to entertain a fondness for their native country, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a sentiment commonly entertained by persons with white skins, and called by poets "patriotism."

3. The Finances.—On this very important subject the President gives us little information. He is anxious to see our finances restored to a specie basis. He doubts whether it be wise to issue as many legal tender notes as the country can absorb. He alludes incidentally to loans, as though they would necessarily be negotiated by-and-by. And he concludes that, on the whole, the best method of raising money for the war is by the establishment of banks of issue, whose issue shall be uniform in appearance and based upon the deposit with the Treasury Department of United States Bonds. He supplies us with no information as to the number of banks that will probably be established, or the amount of bonds which they will take, or the sum of money which they will yield to the Treasury. We must wait for Mr. Chase's report to obtain light on these important points.

4. Our Foreign Relations.—The President diplomatically observes that our relations with the foreign world, though less gratifying than usual, are more satisfactory than might have been expected by a nation distracted as we are. Foreign nations have taken advantage of our embarrassments to seek causes of quarrel with us, and our blockade has naturally given rise to manyreclamations and disputes. Claims against us have been made by Great Britain, France, Russia, and Spain: these the President has proposed to refer to a mixed Convention. The offer has not yet been accepted, but the President seems to expect that it will be. This condition of things is obviously incidental to a state of war, and it would be unwise if it were just to complain of it.

The tone of the Message is manly and truthful. Perhaps it might have been more hopeful; but the people of the North need no encouragement in the task they have undertaken. They know the magnitude of the business; and, without wasting time in words, are prepared to go through with it to the bitter end.



MY DEAR JOHN,—You write that you are by nature and habit "Conservative," but that the old faith has latterly acquired among us a suspicious face, and that somehow "Conservatism" suddenly betrays a remarkable family likeness to Rebellion. Since you ask my opinion you shall have it frankly; and I will begin with the recent facts.

While our army lately hesitated (your old radical friend Hotspur says, backed and filled!) before Fredericksburg, upon the rebel request to remove the women and children, Jefferson Davis's letter was published, ordering the hanging of ten Union officers who should be captured in battle, as a reprisal for the lawful military punishment of ten rebels at the West. This is another illustration of the superior barbarism and deeper earnestness of the rebels. They have hung spies and deserters, and will now hang officers in reprisal. The latter step is infamous, and the Government will not retaliate, of course, until retaliation is necessary to save loyal lives. But the whole management of the war upon the rebel side has forced and thrust

upon us a lesson which we have refused to learn; that, as a civil war is the most deadly of all, it must be waged with the most resolute firmness or its consequences will be incalculably more terrible.

Our leniency has been our loss. Rebel women have crossed and recrossed our lines at will. In Washington they have openly insulted and defied the Government. While the army was upon the peninsula the wife of the rebel Lee was honorably kept within our camp and then honorably guarded out of it back to her husband, and Stuart immediately rode around our army, and revealed the necessity of moving from the Pamunky to the James. The same shiftless half-heartedness was equally disastrous in the West. I received a letter in the early autumn from an officer of mark who was soon after killed at the battle of Iuka. It was written from Buell's camp, and stated bitterly and despondingly that the rebels in that region were sure of better treatment at head-quarters than Union men. It was inevitable that such conduct should hear fruit, and it appeared in such speeches as John Van Buren's, which are printed with applause every where in the South; while the elections are considered by foreign Governments, as appears in the correspondence upon mediation, to indicate the growth of peace sentiment in the country.

No nation can seem to be in earnest which is not so. And no nation can conquer a rebellion which is not in deadly earnest. The relation of slavery to the war is a test question of this earnestness, and has always been so. Every hearty, thoughtful man at the North perceived this. Every rebel knew it. Every foreigner said it. If we really meant to save the country and the Union in the most rapid and effective manner, it was clear that slavery would no more be allowed to interfere with that purpose than a bridge over a river. If it was allowed to interfere, it was either because we did not appreciate the immense work we had undertaken, or because we did not wish to do it. For even granting that slavery had a constitutional existence, which it has not, being a mere municipal condition, how could men claim rights under a constitution against which they were fighting? Or, upon the other hand, what right had we to concede to rebels in arms against the Constitution the enjoyment of privileges under it (assuming that they were so) which trebly strengthened their hands to overthrow it?

The case from the beginning has been as simple as possible, although we have most sedulously sophisticated our minds. To say that it was not evident that emancipation would save us was to beg the question; for it was not evident that an army and navy would save us. What was evident was that every means must be tried, and tried with overwhelming unanimity. Had that been our course our Thanksgiving this year would have been for peace restored and a country regenerated.

It has been equally clear from the beginning that if the nation chose to save itself nothing was easier. It had every resource, and needed only the resolution. To a philosophic observer the question, after the fall of Sumter, was merely, Is this nation so demoralized that it will yield to the insurrection of the despotic interest which has so long governed it, or will it vindicate its Constitution and its principles? There is no other question now. If the reaction which is called Conservatism—and which is only the Northern face of the rebellion—can prevail, we shall have lost more than a hundred thousand lives, and spent hard upon a thousand million of dollars, for worse than nothing. The popular system of government will be brought to burning shame, and the hope of humanity every where be betrayed. Why not? A "Conservative" Member of Congress elect entertains his friends, and chief among the "Conservative" orators of congratulation is one who frankly expressed his satisfaction when Sumter was taken and the United States flag dishonored by the rebels. How do Vallandigham and John Van Buren seriously differ from Jeff Davis? The latter openly says that we had better go through a form or two, and then let the wayward sisters go. Is that your "Conservatism?" And yet where else can you stand if you do not heartily support every war measure of the Government in subduing the enemy?

Do not think me despondent of the good old cause, as Algernon Sidney called "Liberty." I am far from that. Because it is clear that the peace which would follow the triumph of the reaction would be but a brief and delusive truce, after which the great battle which is now engaged between the two radical principles of this contest would burst forth anew, and rage until either the stars and stripes or the stars and bars were the single flag of this continent. And which it would be I have no doubt.

Dear John, faithfully yours,



THERE are many conventions meeting from time to time in different parts of the country, which energetically resolve that they are for the Constitution; and immediately some orator bounds upon the platform and pours out the most humiliating and inhuman ribaldry about colored men. But why this incessant slander and vituperation of that part of our population which, as a class, is the most inoffensive in the land? Is there any relation between the maintenance of the Constitution and maintaining this ferocity against those whose sole offense is that we have injured them? The Constitution declares that all who were citizens under the old Confederation shall be citizens of the Union. And as Judge Curtis showed, by simple reference to the facts of history which Judge Taney entirely disregarded, colored men were citizens in five of the thirteen original States, one of which was North Carolina. In that State they continued to be citizens until a few years since the law disfranchised them.

Now an orator may think that colored men, or Irishmen, or Frenchmen, or Americans, are better off as slaves; he may think that Christianity requires that some people shall be used and sold like

cattle, but that is a question which has nothing to do with the Constitution. The Constitution as it is and as it was may be maintained in every letter and every dot and stop, and yet every colored man in the country be a citizen. Let us stick to the text. When the point is the maintenance of the Constitution, all the furious twaddle about inferior races and men who are fit for slaves is out of order. Besides, the audience may have their own opinion, as they listen to such stuff, as to who is or is not fit for slavery; and the opinion might not coincide with that of the orator, nor be in the least complimentary to him. One thing, in any case, is very clear. If some of the speeches made against these blameless colored persons had been made by them, there might be those who were not at all sorry, that the orators had to taste a little wholesome discipline.

But if the conventions and orators consent to stick to the text, namely, the maintenance of the Constitution as it is, will they be kind enough to specify who is against it except the rebels? Do they think that the party which elected the present Administration is an unconstitutional party? Do they believe that any unconstitutional action upon its part produced this rebellion? Was the election unconstitutional? Was the supplying a United States garrison in a United States fort unconstitutional? Was the summoning of troops to retake national property, forcibly wrested and detained from the Government, unconstitutional? Was the attempt to put down by force of arms a rebellion aimed at the existence of the nation unconstitutional? Not even Fernando Wood would dare to say so, because he dares to say nothing which he does not suppose some powerful faction supports, and there is no party which has been hardy enough to take this ground, except the rebels, and they have not hitherto been handy enough for his purpose.

If the conventions mean in good faith the maintenance of the Constitution, why do they not resolve to support, with all their force, the authorities charged by the Constitution itself with its defense? Why do they not spend their indignation upon those who defy it and make bloody war upon it? Why do they stupidly vituperate an unfortunate class of persons who have never shown or whispered the least disloyalty to the Constitution?

Simply because they do not mean in good faith what they say. They do not mean the unconditional maintenance of the Constitution. They mean only the maintenance of a party. Like the contractor Hook, whom Patrick Henry has crucified with manly scorn forever, who went bawling through the American camp in the darkest hour of the revolution, "Beef! beef! beef!" so they, in the present great peril of the country, vociferate with fury, "Party! party! party!" They judge men not by their devotion to the country, but to a party. Their own talk is not of the safety of the Union but of the resuscitation of a party.

Now every faithful citizen who means the national salvation must act either with these men or the unconditional Union men. There is no middle ground to stand upon. The Union will be saved by insisting upon the absolute surrender of the rebels, and using every known means of warfare to secure that result, or it will be destroyed. The nation is the final tribunal of its own existence. Let every citizen stick to the text, and act accordingly.


WHEN we appeared before Fredericksburg ought we not to have insisted upon an immediate surrender? Time was infinitely precious to the rebels. If they could secure a little delay they could do at Fredericksburg exactly what they did at Gordonsville—bring up all their men and defend Richmond upon the Rappahannock. The cities are separated only by a three hours' trip upon the railroad. If they could cajole us or hold us in any way, every moment was golden to them and disastrous to us.

Of course it is very easy for ignorant people to sit quietly at home and blame military movements. But that kind of argument is irrelevant. It does not follow because a man is not a soldier that therefore he has not common sense. And if there be common sense in military as in all other affairs, he is capable of perceiving it. Nor does a man at a distance know all the facts in detail. But he does know them in substance. When, for instance, we summoned the city, we either had not men enough to reduce it—in which case we did a very foolish thing—or we really held it at our mercy—in which case we should have required an instant surrender.

But the women and children. Yes, but it was not we who exposed them, "Mr. Mayor." The General should have said, "I am here with my army, and I wish this city. Within two hours you must give it to me or take the consequences." If the mayor and the citizens wished to save the lives of their helpless population, it was perfectly in their power without the least dishonor to do so. They had only to say that they yielded to superior force, and not a shell would have struck the town. They might have been as rhetorical as their hate and fancy allowed, about the blood-thirsty barbarians who would not give them time to build forts and get reinforcements; but their military rhetoric is more furious than formidable, while their military action is unquestionably skillful.

Besides, there are other women and children to be considered besides those of the rebels. By giving them time to prepare for defense while they sent away their women, we exposed to their murderous shot the hearts of other women whose sons and husbands and lovers would be slain. The rebels knew perfectly well for forty-eight hours previously that our army was moving upon Fredericksburg. They knew that it would have the city even at the cost of a fight. They had plenty of line to remove. the defenseless population. But they chose to stay, because they believed they could outwit us by an appeal to humanity, and meanwhile gain most valuable and essential time. Whether it was more humane to grant the time than to insist upon the surrender, the event will show.




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