Owen Lovejoy, ally of President Lincoln
Owen Lovejoy, ally of President Lincoln Page  [End Page 14]

Some thirty years ago, Edward Magdol, in his excellent biography of Owen Lovejoy, stated that the relations between Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy certainly called into question the old idea of the great antagonism between the radical Republicans and the Great Emancipator. "The two men influenced each other and developed mutual trust and respect over almost ten years of political collaboration," he wrote. "This friendship between the radical abolitionist and the former Whig seriously calls into question estimates of Lincoln's relations with the radical Republicans. Insult, vituperation, disrespect, and a host of other sins have been attributed to the radical Republicans in their dealing with the President, and the cliché of 'Lincoln versus the radicals' has persisted until recent years. Rather early in my research for this book ... I found reason to dispute the cliché." [1]

Ever since the appearance of Magdol's book, the question he raised in connection with Lovejoy and Lincoln—an issue that had already been debated some years before—has become one of the most disputed problems facing Lincoln scholars. For many years, T. Harry Williams' Lincoln and the Radicals, which sought to show an unbridgeable gap between the Great Emancipator and the ultras, whom he called Jacobins, was the standard interpretation, and other authors followed his paradigm.[2] But in 1956, David Donald, in his Lincoln Reconsidered, questioned this approach, and since that time, any number of studies have done the same. [3] In 1964, Grady McWhiney edited a discussion of the problem in Grant, Lee, Lincoln and the Radicals; in 1967, Harold M. Hyman published The Radical Page  [End Page 15] Republicans and Reconstruction, 1861-1870; in 1969, Herman Belz published Reconstructing the Union, and I published The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice; and in 1981, LaWanda Cox wrote the excellent Lincoln and Black Freedom. In addition, the appearance of any number of biographies of Civil War figures took the same approach, and although William Harris, in his book, With Charity for All: Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction, has attempted partially to revive the old tale of antagonism, historical research during the intervening decades has more or less borne Magdol out. [4]

The argument was further complicated by controversies concerning Lincoln's attitude toward slavery and blacks. While there have always been those who credit the wartime president with the emancipation of some four million slaves, ever since the l960s a number of authors have questioned the Emancipator's sincerity. In an article in the 1968 edition of Ebony magazine, Lerone Bennett not only accused Lincoln of racism but charged that he was merely opposed to slavery expansion, not to slavery itself.[5] Obviously, if that was the case, there was indeed a great rift between Lincoln and the radicals. But the study of the relations between the Civil War president and the great Princeton abolitionist certainly shows the falsity of this point of view and corroborates Mr. Magdol's contention.

The interaction between Lincoln and Lovejoy can easily be cited to prove that the relationship between President Lincoln and the radicals was not innately hostile. Many radicals, it is true, tended to criticize the President, some furiously so, but the Princeton fighter against human bondage never followed suit. Appreciating his fellow Illinoisan as he did, he always referred to him in respectful terms, defended him against attacks, and supported him in Congress. As Moses Odell, the New York War Democrat, said in his eulogy of the Princetonian, "I am authorized to say that the Executive had in our departed associate at all times a warm supporter Page  [End Page 16] of every measure which had for its aim the restoration of the Government."[6] No wonder the editor of The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois, was able to write, "On the breaking out of the rebellion, Mr. Lovejoy became one of President Lincoln's strongest supporters, and the aid rendered the martyred president was gratefully acknowledged by him."[7] And Frank Carpenter, the painter of the famous illustration of the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, claimed that after Lovejoy's death Lincoln said, "Lovejoy was the best friend I had in Congress." [8]

Nevertheless it is beyond question that the radicals, including Lovejoy, tended to be in advance of Lincoln in furthering emancipation. Ceaselessly agitating for antislavery measures, incessantly questioning the dedication to their war aims of conservative or Democratic generals, they often took issue with the White House, which was constrained by considerations of political necessity. After all, Lincoln was elected by only 39 percent of the electorate; the Democrats bitterly opposed any interference with the "peculiar institution," and the border states, naturally committed to the maintenance of their social system, had to be kept loyal. As Lincoln was supposed to have remarked, he hoped he had God on his side, but he must have Kentucky. Thus he held back any measures to interfere with slavery until he felt the time was ripe, at times going so far as to revoke his generals' emancipation orders, much to the radicals' displeasure.[9]

The secret of Lincoln's actions was that he had an excellent sense of timing. Using the radicals to spur him on and yielding to the conservatives when necessary, he moved ahead gradually, but ahead nonetheless. And to do so, he needed the radicals' exhortations. That he welcomed these was not always clear at the time, but there is very little doubt that he was always, and had always been, a convinced opponent of the institution of slavery. If the radicals' main aim during the Civil War was the extirpation of the "peculiar institution," Lincoln, too, believed, as he wrote to Albert Page  [End Page 17] G. Hodges in 1864, that "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."[10] Thus the difference between him and the radicals was not as large as it appeared at first sight.

Owen Lovejoy, of course, had impeccable antislavery credentials. Ever since the murder of his brother Elijah by an anti-abolitionist mob in Alton, when he had knelt beside Elijah's body and sworn never to forsake the cause that had been sprinkled with his brother's blood, he had been devoted to the cause of eradicating human bondage in America. Energetically working with the American Anti-Slavery Society, he was a most dedicated member of the Underground Railroad, even putting an advertisement for a "Canada Line of Stages" for "ladies and gentlemen of color of the South" into the Lowell and Chicago Western Citizen. He was equally active in the Liberty party, the Illinois legislature, and in congressional debates, and had long made use of every opportunity to fight against the institution that he believed disgraced the country. Thus he was one of the original organizers of the Republican party in Illinois, and if he was unable in the beginning to secure Lincoln's support for the new organization, it did not take too long until the two men found themselves working for the same political party. [11]

In fact Lovejoy represents a peculiar link between the radicals and Lincoln, anxious to bridge the apparent gap between them by always maintaining his principles, but never attacking the President and showing remarkable understanding for the executive's problems.

It is of course true that Lincoln was more moderate than Lovejoy, but his devotion to antislavery was unquestioned. "Not even you are more anxious to prevent the extension of slavery than I ...", he wrote to the Princeton minister in l855.[12] And though he felt constrained by the Constitution not to attempt to interfere with slavery in the states, he made no secret of his dislike for the "peculiar institution." As early as 1837, he was one of the only two members of the legislature of Illinois to protest against pro-slavery resolutions. Page  [End Page 18] In 1849, he developed a plan for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and as he said in his famous Peoria address in l854, "This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself." He rarely failed to condemn human bondage in his speeches later on, and he of course expressed his conviction concerning the slave and free states that a house divided against itself could not stand and he was certain that it would cease to be divided. And he never changed his opinion about the institution. [13]

Why, then, was Lincoln accused of insincerity? His detractors have mainly focused on statements he made in 1858 in his debates with Stephen A. Douglas, when, at Charleston and elsewhere, he stated that he was not in favor of racial equality. Constantly attacked by Douglas on racist grounds, he had little choice if he wanted to win the election, but, as LaWanda Cox has emphasized, he never stooped to the crude racial slanders of his opponent.[14] But as even some of his critics have admitted, Lincoln had the ability to grow. And whatever racist notions he had in the 1850s tended to be greatly ameliorated in the next decade. Not only did he strike up a friendship with the famous black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but by 1865 he advocated limited black suffrage, a most advanced position at the time.[15]

In 1860, most radicals had every reason to be satisfied with both with the Republican nominee and the President-elect. Staunchly refusing to enter into any compromise that included the extension of slavery, he remained steadfast, believing as he did that the very idea of democracy was violated if after a fairly won election threats of rebellion compelled a retreat from the winning position. Lovejoy and John Logan went to see him at Willard's Hotel on the morning of his arrival in Washington to urge him to stand firm and to pursue a vigorous policy. Lincoln listened carefully, and then said, "as the country has placed me at the helm of the ship, I'll try to steer her through." Lovejoy was not to be disappointed. The President's inaugural contained no hint of yielding. [16] Page  [End Page 19]

The peculiar position of Lovejoy as a link between his colleagues and the President immediately became apparent. He himself had long overcome Lincoln's earlier opposition to his congressional candidacy in 1856, and having presumably tried to convince the arch-radical Pennsylvania representative Thaddeus Stevens of Lincoln's reliability, he arrived at the White House when, shortly after the inauguration, Stevens was meeting with Lincoln to plead for presidential leadership. The Princetonian joined the conversation, and at the end of the interview, according to Robert H. Browne, Stevens said to his Illinois colleague, "It is about as you predicted. I have surrendered to the President, your great Western leader, in far less than the 'few days closer acquaintance' you allowed as necessary. I feel free to say to you there is no humiliation about it. I feel that I have met a kindred spirit in the same cause, struggling harder and serving in it with more of patience, wisdom, and prudence than I have been able to bring. He is better fitted to lead in the crisis than any other among so many true men, whom to follow and sustain will be an honor to us and our people." Lovejoy replied that he was sure Stevens would agree; he, Lovejoy, had always trusted Mr. Lincoln so freely, without ever being disappointed, that in questions of policy and the conduct of government, he would in perfect confidence surrender all this to him, "as our leader, in God's providence, whom it becomes our highest duty to follow." Then he asked Stevens to unite in recognizing Lincoln as "our chief leader." Although he was in advance of the President on the issue of slavery, he said he could wait, for Lincoln would deal with it before the conflict was over; all Republicans ought to follow his leadership. At the end of the conversation, Lincoln expressed his appreciation of the two radicals' approval of his efforts and made it clear that he wanted them to remain in the House. He did not want to appoint them to the cabinet because he could find any number of good men for that post but there was not another Thaddeus Stevens, "commoner and man of the people, able to stand in the forum, able to defend them, and able to cut his way through any and all sorts of shams and sophistries to the truth." As for Lovejoy, he felt that "in a different but efficient service, the same may be said of the fearless Illinois 'Abolitionist'...." He needed such people and hoped to have many more such interviews. Then he asked the two men for lunch. And although notwithstanding his alleged words—Stevens soon became most critical of Lincoln—the interview clearly illustrates Lovejoy's peculiar agency in build- Page  [End Page 20] ing a bridge between the radicals and the administration, as well as Lincoln's ability to work with the radicals.[17]

While in his inaugural address Lincoln re-emphasized his previous statements that he had no purpose to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed and that he had no lawful right to do so, by the time Congress met on July 4, 1861, he said that after the suppression of the rebellion, it would still be his purpose to be guided by the Constitution and that he would probably have no different understanding of the powers of the federal government relative to the rights of the states than that expressed in the inaugural address.[18] The word "probably" was significant.

He would soon have an opportunity to act on it. In May 1861, General Benjamin F. Butler, confronted by the demand for the return of three fugitive slaves who had been used by the Confederates to build fortifications, declared that they were "contraband of war" and refused to give them back. The War Department upheld him, and in August, Congress passed the first Confiscation Act, providing for the emancipation of all slaves used by the Confederates for military purposes. [19] In the meantime, the radicals had constantly agitated for emancipation, and in Congress Lovejoy had strenuously opposed the return of fugitive slaves. On July 8, he introduced a resolution that it was no part of the duty of the army to recapture fugitive slaves and that the Judiciary Committee was to consider a bill to repeal the fugitive slave law. And while the first of these was tabled, it was passed on the following day. Lincoln, steadied by these and other radical efforts, was now in a position to sign the Confiscation Act, which he did on August 6. [20]

During the next few months, the relations between most of the radicals and Lincoln soured. In August, General John C. Frémont published an order freeing the slaves of insurgents in the Department of Missouri, an order Lincoln, apprehensive about its effect on the border states, countermanded, in spite of the protests of Jessie Page  [End Page 21] Benton Frémont, the general's spirited wife.[21] This revocation of an emancipation order outraged many radicals. Senator Benjamin F. Wade, criticizing the President's ethics, wrote that they "could only come from one born of poor white trash and educated in a slave state."[22] The radicals were even more offended when in November Lincoln dismissed the general altogether. "Where were you that you let the hounds run down your friend Fremont," Thaddeus Stevens wrote to his namesake Simon, expressing opinions that were typical among his colleagues. [23] Lovejoy, however, no matter how devoted to emancipation, said nothing. He was in Missouri, serving in Frémont's forces, and even after his return to Princeton was very careful in his comments. His respect for Lincoln did not falter.[24]

This attitude, however, did not mean that the great Princeton fighter for freedom would let up on his campaign for emancipation. Upon his return to Congress in December 1861 he moved to revoke Halleck's General Order No. 3 prohibiting the reception of fugitive slaves by the armed forces, sought to instruct the Judiciary Committee to report a confiscation bill, including the liberation of all slaves belonging to rebels, and saw to it that an attempt to renew the Crittenden Resolutions, declaring that the war was being fought only for the maintenance of the Union and that as soon as resistance ceased it ought to stop, was tabled. And in a debate about the conduct of the war, particularly the Union defeat at Balls Bluff, on January 6, 1862, Lovejoy clearly stated that what was wrong with the way the war was being waged was that the army seemed to be fearful of hurting the rebels. Obviously, God was punishing the country because it was not just and did not proclaim liberty throughout the land. But he carefully stated that he was telling all this to the administration with no unkind feelings—it was true in spirit but was premised upon mistaken theories.[25] Lincoln, not unmindful of these efforts by Lovejoy and other radicals, had already called in the lone delegate from Delaware and suggested to him that his state inaugurate a program of compensated emancipation. He now Page  [End Page 22] recommended in his annual message the recognition of Liberia and Haiti, and on March 6 made public his suggestion concerning the border states, when he proposed the same course of action publicly to all of them.[26] Lovejoy, telling its pro-slavery opponents that the West Indian islands were better off since emancipation than before, immediately argued strongly in support of a bill to cooperate and pay money to any state adhering to this scheme. When in April, Congress passed a bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, he opposed amendments intended to water it down. Lincoln, aware of radical pressure, promptly signed it.[27]

Lovejoy did not confine himself to agitating for his principles to make it possible for the President to move forward. He also defended him against attacks in Congress. When John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, in opposition to the pending confiscation bill, warned that Lincoln, if he saved the Union in a conservative way, had a niche reserved for him in the hall of fame that otherwise would go to another, Lovejoy gave a fitting reply. "Sir," he said to Crittenden,

The friends of American slavery need not beslime the President with this praise. He is an anti-slavery man. He hates human bondage. The gentleman says he did not vote for him.... I did vote for the occupant of the executive chair, and labored for his election as I never labored for that of any other man. If the gentleman wants to sustain the President in his Administration in his stormy and perilous voyage, why did he not vote for his wise and patriotic message [the call for compensated emancipation in the border states], hailed and approved, so far as I know, by the whole country, except slaveholders? ... I, too, have a niche for Abraham Lincoln; but it is in freedom's holy fane, but not in the bloodbesmeared temple of human bondage. In that niche he shall stand proudly, nobly, gloriously, with shattered fetters and broken chains and slave whips beneath his feet. If Abraham Lincoln pursues the path evidently pointed out to him in the providence of God, as I believe he will, then he will occupy the proud position I have indicated.... Let Abraham Lincoln make himself, as I trust he will, the emancipator, the liberator, as he has the opportunity of doing, and his name shall not only be enrolled in the earthly temple, but Page  [End Page 23] it will be traced upon the stones of that temple which rears itself amid the thrones and hierarchies of heaven, whose top stone is to be brought in with shouting of 'Grace, grace unto it.' [28]
Few other radicals spoke so glowingly of the executive, whom many thought too slow.

The radicals in general, and Lovejoy in particular, did not rest on successes already achieved. In June 1862, at a great meeting in New York's Cooper Union, the Princeton freedom fighter delivered a significant speech before the Emancipation League. After an introduction by William Cullen Bryant, Lovejoy carefully gave Lincoln credit for his accomplishments to date, continuing with:

The adoption by both Houses of Congress, by a large vote, of the resolution which the President sent to Congress in March last [again, the compensated emancipation offer to the border states], forms another distinct landmark in our progress freedom-ward, which is the road to national salvation. Some think that the butter is spread rather thin in this resolution. But the Executive rail-splitter understands his business. He knows that the thin end of the wedge must first enter the wood. Did you ever witness the process of rail making? The operator first takes the iron wedge, sharpened at one end to a thin point, and strikes it into the wood, just so it will sustain itself, and then with a mall drives it to its head. So the Executive has taken the Abolitionist wedge, and struck it into the log of Slavery, and now the heavy mall of Slavery must let the blow fall till it is driven to the head, and the log riven in twain (Great applause). But mark, in very ugly or cross-grained, or frozen wood, the blows have to be a little easy at first, or the wedge files out (Roars of laughter). It is not worth while to strike so hard as to have a rebound, for that would retard the work in the long run. The President is like a man driving a horse in the thills of a buggy, and leading another behind by a halter strap.
Then he introduced a very perspective analysis.
If the President does not move as rapidly as you desire, if he is overscrupulous of forms, it is some compensation to know that the Commander in Chief of more than half a million of soldiers, and who is frequently under the necessity of acting without authority of law, will take no undue advantage of the Page  [End Page 24] power, for the time almost unlimited, that is placed in his hands. It is something, yes much, to know that the liberties of the people and the supremacy of the law, though from the temporary urgency to some slight extent infringed upon, will be restored, unimpaired. Let us then give the President a cordial, loyal, and sympathizing support (Applause). Never has a President, not even Washington, been beset with so many trials and difficulties as environ him. The wonder is not that he should make mistakes, but that he should make so few. I no more doubt his Anti-Slavery integrity, his ultimate Anti-Slavery action, than I doubt my own.[29]
Unlike many of his colleagues, Lovejoy appreciated the President's problems and never lost faith in him. At the same time, the Princeton abolitionist labored to push through Congress the bill to end slavery in the territories, an effort in which he was successful.[30]

Lincoln did not disappoint him. At first, in May, it is true, he countermanded General David Hunter's edict freeing the slaves in the Department of the South, a measure Lovejoy had vigorously defended in Congress by citing a revolutionary wartime Rhode Island law calling upon blacks to serve as soldiers and Andrew Jackson's appeal to African American troops. Many radicals severely criticized the President for countermanding General Hunter, but as usual, Lovejoy, in spite of his earlier praise of Hunter, did not.[31] Then on July 12 the President made another appeal to the border states to initiate the process of emancipation. Shortly afterward, he said to Lovejoy and Illinois Representative Isaac N. Arnold, "Oh, how I wish the border States would accept my proposition. Then you, Lovejoy, and you, Arnold, all of us, would not have lived in vain! The labor of your life, Lovejoy, would be crowned with success, You would live to see the end of slavery."[32] And while the second Confiscation Act authorizing the raising of black troops was pending, a number of radicals, emphasizing the necessity of such augmentation of the army, issued an Address to the Loyal People of the United States. At the same time, in keeping with Lovejoy's ideas, they again announced their support for the President. "The President," they wrote, "faithful to the high trust committed to him by your unpurchased and unpurchasable suffrages, in obedience Page  [End Page 25] to his official oath 'to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,'" called upon them to furnish 300,000 additional troops. They expressed the conviction that the great majority of the people "would give their confidence and support, in the future as in the past, to their Government and their faithful Chief Magistrate." [33] Possibly spurred on by this appeal, Lincoln signed the second Confiscation Act, which not only provided for the confiscation of the property of insurgents, but also freed their slaves and authorized the admission of freedmen into the army. Because he insisted on certain changes in the bill and published the veto he would have sent had they not been made, many radicals again severely criticized him, but Lovejoy remained silent. [34] Then, unknown to many, on July 22, Lincoln revealed the Emancipation Proclamation he had written to this cabinet, although on William H. Seward's advice he held it back until the Union army had achieved some victory. [35]

In the period between July 22, when Lincoln first proposed the proclamation and September 22, when he announced it, the interaction between the President and the radicals continued. The radicals, especially Lovejoy, did not remain idle. In a speech in Milwaukee at the end of the month, Lovejoy again made a strong plea for emancipation, but once more emphasized his support for the administration. Asserting that all were passengers on the good old ship of state, he avowed that if the commanding officers did not quite conform to the passengers' notions of seamanship, there was no reason why they should refuse to ply the pumps, but on the contrary, they should work even harder. After all, the government was now pursuing the right course of hitting the enemy with all its might. A few days later, in Chicago on August l, he made similar remarks. "It is not for any one of us to say that during the trying emergency in which we are at present placed, that he could manage the ship of state more satisfactorily than the one who is now at the helm," he remarked, adding "I have great confidence in the honesty and patriotism of Abraham Lincoln; I have confidence in the honesty of his anti-slavery principles; he is merely unfortunate in some of his surroundings" (a reference to widespread criticism of some of the more conservative members of the cabinet). Lovejoy's Page  [End Page 26] quest for emancipation did not cease, but he knew how to keep on good terms with the administration. [36]

Lincoln responded in his typical timely fashion. Prodded by the radicals to advance and badgered by the conservatives to stand still, as usual, he permitted the former to spur him on while allowing the latter to rein him in until he thought the time was right to go forward. Emissaries from radical groups came to bid him free the slaves; delegations from border states asked him to do the exact opposite, and Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, published his "Prayer of the Twenty Millions." Lincoln's answer to this newspaper appeal, demanding immediate emancipation, has often been cited to prove that his attitude toward the blacks was a conservative one, thus emphasizing the alleged difference between him and the radicals. But a full reading of his reply proves the opposite and demonstrates his basic agreement with radical aims. As he said,

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored, the nearer the Union will be 'the Union as it was.' If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time save Slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy Slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union; what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it could help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
If the quotation ended at this point, the President would indeed seem to have been fully in agreement with the conservatives. But Lincoln had not finished; he wrote a concluding sentence, which Page  [End Page 27] clearly shows that the opposite was the case, and that he shared many of the radicals' views. "I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty," he concluded, "and I mean no modification of my oft expressed personal wish, that all men, everywhere could be free." But the time for action had not quite arrived.[37]

Soon afterward, the Battle of Antietam provided Lincoln with the occasion for which he had been waiting. After Lee's repulse from Maryland, the President issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that all slaves in areas still in rebellion by January 1, 1863, would be then, thenceforeward, and forever free. By issuing the proclamation as a war measure by virtue of his authority as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and by eventually exempting the border states and areas already conquered, he managed to satisfy many strict constitutionalists. And while an extreme radical like the irascible Polish count, Adam Gurowski, disliking the incomplete nature of the document, denounced it scathingly, Lovejoy again did not criticize the administration. He knew that his pressure was working, even if only slowly.[38]

During the subsequent mid-term elections of 1862, Lincoln proceeded with great care. Worried about the reaction of conservatives, he could not even help his friend Lovejoy, though the latter, because his district had been changed, experienced a tough fight for reelection. The President did not interfere; and the conservatives made significant gains. At the same time, Lincoln was pressed to forego issuing the Proclamation on January l, and in reply he not only stressed his commitment to the voluntary colonization of the freedmen but even sought to put it into practice. And in his annual message in December, mindful of conservative pressure, he again proposed gradual emancipation with compensation. Yet, strengthened by the knowledge of radical support, he told a visiting delegation that he would rather die than take back the Proclamation.[39]

The radicals, including Lovejoy, did not allow the election losses to deter them. In Congress, on December 8, 1862, Lovejoy vigorously opposed the establishment of a special committee to deal with payment for slaves of loyal owners. But as before, he also defended the administration, in January severely castigating Charles Page  [End Page 28] A. Wickliffe of Kentucky for no longer speaking well of Lincoln. "The antislavery policy of the President has operated on those rebel sympathizers like Ithuriel's spear, which brought Lucifer in full size from the disguise of an ugly toad," he said. "The President touched the pro-slavery Democracy with his diamond pointed proclamation, and out pops the secesh monster full grown."[40] Having already experienced the satisfaction of witnessing Lincoln's issuing of the Proclamation on January 1, he could well be pleased, and while Thaddeus Stevens later faulted it on the grounds that he had never thought it would do any good, Lovejoy always cited it as an example of the progress made by the administration. [41]

It is thus obvious that Lovejoy, while a radical of radicals, was able to maintain much better personal and official relations with Lincoln than his colleagues. This could also be seen in his approach to the ever more important question of Reconstruction. While radicals such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner believed that the seceded states were either conquered provinces or had committed state suicide, Lovejoy did not agree with them. He was much closer to the official view of the legal nullity of secession, and, like Lincoln, held that the states were still in the Union. As he said to Stevens in Congress early in January 1863, he had no wish to annihilate the states, only the rebels in them. The states belonged to the loyal people in them. To make his point clear, he added, "The Administration is not responsible for the idiosyncracies of my very able and accommodating friend from Pennsylvania." But he cooperated with Stevens in agitating for the use of black soldiers, engaging in the aforementioned debate with Wickliffe. He was satisfied with the President's progress.[42]

During the long period between the adjournment of the 37th Congress and the gathering of the 38th, Lovejoy was frequently ill. The President, considering him a friend, visited him, but Lovejoy's political activities had to be curtailed. He did appear in May at the Union League Convention in Cleveland, but said only a few words because his doctor had forbidden him to speak extensively. In a short trip to Washington, he saw Lincoln again and though still not Page  [End Page 29] well, in September sent a letter to a Union meeting in Springfield pleading for support of the President, whom he compared to George Washington.[43] And when the party achieved several victories in the fall, he wrote to Lincoln, "I was drunk with delight inhaled from the news from Pa. O & c." and added that he wanted the Emancipation Proclamation deposited at the Chicago Historical Society. [44] Sick or healthy, Lovejoy did not give up.

How much the President's end aims corresponded to those of the radicals became evident in October 1863, when he was sorely taxed by the problems presented to him by the struggles between moderates and radicals in Missouri. The radicals, who tended to view him as an obstacle to their policies, sent delegations to him to demand changes, yet he remained unperturbed. As he said to John Hay, "I believe, after all, these radicals will carry the state, and I do not object to it. They are nearer to me than the other side, in thought and sentiment, though bitterly hostile personally. They are utterly lawless—the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with—but after all, their faces are set Zionwards." Some six weeks later, he added: "... these radical men have in them the stuff which must save the state and on which we must mainly rely. They are absolutely uncorrosive by the virus of secession.... If one side must be crushed and the other cherished, there could be no doubt which side we would choose as fuller of hope for the future. We would have to side with the radicals."[45] Ultras like Lovejoy made this decision easier for the President.

In December, Lovejoy was ready to resume the debate in Congress, although the new session proved to be his last. He still continued to voice his views on Reconstruction, repeating his assertion that there were no rebel states. As he explained, "I know that there are States rebels have taken possession of and overthrown the legitimate governments for the time being ... and as soon as we get possession of them we will breathe into them the spirit of republican life—a free soul once again.... I want to dispossess the ship of State of her piratical crew and to put in their place loyal men to sail her as our forefathers sailed the old Union." It was the Page  [End Page 30] very point of view of the administration, which considered the war an insurrection and never admitted that any states were out of the Union. Lovejoy had again shown his solidarity with it. And he again defended the administration. When New York Democrat James Brooks, in trying to water down appropriations for commutation fees, attacked the administration, Lovejoy responded heatedly. "Now, Mr. Chairman," he said, "I must enter my protest against this constant and persistent slandering of the Administration. I will not allow any such declarations to pass without a decided denial that this Administration was in the habit of violating the Constitution or laws, and that they are hardly conscious of doing it.... There never was an Administration since the organization of the Government so cautious and so sensitive to the obligations of the Constitution and laws of the United States (laughter on the Democratic side). No, sir, never. These gentlemen would have laughed in a different style if the law and the Constitution had been enforced against them as they ought have been (applause in the galleries)...."[46]

In view of his close relations with Lincoln, it is not surprising that Lovejoy was most distressed about some radicals' plans to nominate Frémont as their candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. He called any attempt to divide the party criminal to the last degree, and when Frank Carpenter reminded him that many of the extreme antislavery men distrusted the President, he indignantly replied, "I tell you ... Mr. Lincoln is at heart as strong an anti-slavery man as any of them, but he is compelled to feel his way. He has a responsibility in this matter which many men do not seem to be able to comprehend. I say to you frankly that I believe his course to be right. His mind acts slowly, but when it moves, it is forward. You will never find him receding from a position once taken." Predicting that Lincoln would be renominated and reelected for a second term, he concluded by asserting that he was not only willing to take the President for another term, "but the same cabinet, right straight through."[47]

But Lovejoy's time was done. After a brief visit to Portland, Maine, to deliver one of his usual speeches, he returned to Congress, only to fall ill again. It was then that Carpenter met him, and he was struck by the similarity between Lincoln and Lovejoy. As he wrote, "One expression I have not forgotten, it was so much like Page  [End Page 31] Mr. Lincoln himself, as I afterward came to know him. 'I am gaining very slowly.—'" said Lovejoy, "'It is hard work drawing the sled up-hill.' And this suggests the similarity there was between these men. Lovejoy had much more of the agitator, the reformer in his nature, but both drew the inspiration of their lives from the same source, and it was founded in sterling honesty. Their modes of thought and illustration were remarkably alike. It is not strange that they should have been bosom friends." Lovejoy's health declined further; he left Washington to seek a cure elsewhere, and died in February in Brooklyn, New York. [48] Eulogized extensively in Congress in March by allies and opponents alike, he received a final tribute from the President, who had to decline an invitation to speak at the dedication of a monument to the deceased. Regretting his inability to attend, Lincoln wrote: "Many of you have known Mr. Lovejoy longer than I have, and are better able than I to do his memory complete justice. My personal acquaintance with him commenced only about ten years ago, since when it has been quite intimate; and every step in it has been one of increasing respect and esteem, ending, with his life, in no less than affection on my part.... Throughout my heavy, and perplexing responsibilities here, to the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend."[49] It was a fitting appreciation of the great radical.

Thus the relationship between Lincoln and Lovejoy, though not typical for the radicals, was not only a close one, but illustrated that the difference between the radicals and the President was not insurmountable. It also showed how radical pressure was utilized by Lincoln to push forward toward complete emancipation. The radicals were indeed the President's vanguard for racial justice. Page  [End Page 32]


  1. Magdol, Owen Lovejoy: Abolitionist in Congress (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1967), viii–ix.return to text
  2. Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, l94l). return to text
  3. Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered, 2d ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1960), 103–27. return to text
  4. McWhiney, ed., Grant, Lee, Lincoln and the Radicals (Evanston, Ill.: Northeastern University Press, 1964); Hyman, The Radical Republicans and Reconstruction, 1861–1870 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1967); Belz, Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Practice During the Civil War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, l969); Trefousse, The Radical Republicans: Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice (New York: Knopf, 1969); Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom: A Study in Presidential Leadership (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981); Harris, With Charity for All: Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997). return to text
  5. Lerone Bennnett, Jr., "Was Abe Lincoln a White Supremacist?" Ebony 23 (Feb. 1968): 35–42. return to text
  6. Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., lst sess., 1329–30.return to text
  7. The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties, Illinois (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1896), 729–30.return to text
  8. F. B. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House With Abraham Lincoln: The Story of a Picture (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1866), l8.return to text
  9. Hans L. Trefousse, Lincoln's Decision for Emancipation (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975), 19 ff.; James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford, 1988), 284.return to text
  10. Roy F. Basler, ed., Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953–1955), 7:281 (hereafter cited as Collected Works).return to text
  11. Magdol, Lovejoy, 24, 36ff., 42ff., 57ff., l09ff.; Lovejoy to Joshua Giddings, Nov. 10, 1854, Giddings Papers, Ohio State Historical Society, Columbus; Earl Parker to "General," Jan. 9, 1909, Lovejoy Papers, William M. Clements Library, University of Michigan; Lincoln to David Davis, July 7, 1856, David Davis Papers, Chicago Historical Society; Bureau County Republican, June 30, 1858, extra; Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress; Samuel S. Cox, Union—Disunion—Reunion, Three Decades of Federal Legislation (Providence, R.I.: J. A. and R. A. Reid, 1885), 75. return to text
  12. Collected Works, 2:316. return to text
  13. Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Harper & Rowe, 1977), 37, 86–87, 114–18, 121ff., 142ff.; Trefousse, Lincoln's Decision for Emancipation, xiii–xiv. return to text
  14. Cox, Lincoln and Black Freedom, 21–22.return to text
  15. Ibid., 23–25. return to text
  16. Collected Works, 4:149–50, 262–71; Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln (New York: N. O. Thompson, 1887), 399. return to text
  17. Robert H. Browne, Abraham Lincoln and the Men of His Time, 2d ed. (Chicago: Blakeley Oswald Printing, 1907), 610–12.return to text
  18. Collected Works, 4:439. return to text
  19. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler's Book (Boston: A. M. Thayer, 1892), 257–58; Hans L. Trefousse, Ben Butler: The South Called Him Beast (New York: Twayne, 1957), 78–79. Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States During the Great Rebellion 1860–1865 (Washington: Philp & Solomons, 1865), l95–96. return to text
  20. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 1st sess., 24, 32; McPherson, Great Rebellion, 195. return to text
  21. David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 314–17. return to text
  22. Wade to Chandler, Sept. 23, 1861, Zachariah Chandler Papers, Library of Congress.return to text
  23. Stevens to Simon Stevens, Nov. 5, 1861, Thaddeus Stevens Papers, Library of Congress. return to text
  24. Magdol, Lovejoy, 296–97. return to text
  25. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d sess., 33–34, 57–59, 158, 1042, 194–96; Bruce Tap, Over Lincoln's Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998), 40–4l.return to text
  26. Collected Works, 5:39, 29–31, 144–46.return to text
  27. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d sess., 1171, 1643, 1646; McPherson, Great Rebellion, 213. return to text
  28. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d sess., 1818.return to text
  29. New York Times, June 13, 1862. return to text
  30. McPherson, Great Rebellion, 254. return to text
  31. Collected Works, 5:222–24; Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 2d sess., 3126. return to text
  32. Collected Works, 5:3l7–19; Browne, Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln, 534. return to text
  33. New York Tribune, July 19, 1862. return to text
  34. Trefousse, Radical Republicans, 219–22; Magdol, Lovejoy, 340–41. No criticism by Lovejoy of the President's action is recorded in the Congressional Globe.return to text
  35. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House, 20–22.return to text
  36. Chicago Tribune, Aug. 2, 1862. return to text
  37. Collected Works, 5:342–44, 356–57, 388–89, 419–25.return to text
  38. Ibid., 433–38; Gurowski, Diary, 3 vols. (New York: Burt Franklin, 1968), 1:277; Magdol, Lovejoy, 368.return to text
  39. Ibid., 361ff., 368ff.; Donald, Lincoln, 381; Collected Works, 5:503, 529–31; Trefousse, Radical Republicans, 233ff. return to text
  40. Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 3d sess., 24, 244.return to text
  41. Ibid., 605; Hans L. Trefousse, Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 140, 268 n. 11. return to text
  42. Ibid., 138; David Donald, Charles Sumner and the Rights of Man (New York: Knopf, 1970), 54; Congressional Globe, 37th Cong., 3d sess., 244, 605. return to text
  43. Magdol, Lovejoy, 384ff., 387–88.return to text
  44. Lovejoy to Lincoln, Oct. 14, 1863, Lincoln Papers.return to text
  45. Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, eds., Inside Lincoln's White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), 101, 125; Donald, "Devils Facing Zionwards," in McWhiney, Grant, Lee, Lincoln and the Radicals, 72–91.return to text
  46. Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., 1st sess., 34, 73.return to text
  47. Carpenter, Six Months at the White House, 47–48.return to text
  48. Ibid., 17–18; Congressional Globe, 38th Cong., 1st sess., 1326.return to text
  49. Ibid., 1326–30, 1333–35; Collected Works, 7:366–67.return to text