Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 7.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

To Charles D. Robinson [1]

Hon. Charles D. Robinson Executive Mansion,
My dear Sir: Washington, August 17, 1864.

Your letter of the 7th. was placed in my hand yesterday by Gov. Randall.

To me it seems plain that saying re-union and abandonment of slavery would be considered, if offered, is not saying that nothing else or less would be considered, if offered. But I will not stand upon the mere construction of language. It is true, as you remind me, that in the Greeley letter of 1862, I said: ``If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some, and leaving others alone I would also do that.'' I continued in the same letter as follows: ``What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear I forbear because I do not believe it would 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.'' All this I said in the utmost sincerety; and I am as true to the whole of it now, as when I first said it. When I afterwards proclaimed emancipation, and employed colored soldiers, I only followed the declaration just quotedPage  500 from the Greeley letter that ``I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause'' The way these measures were to help the cause, was not to be by magic, or miracles, but by inducing the colored people to come bodily over from the rebel side to ours. On this point, nearly a year ago, in a letter to Mr. Conkling, made public at once, I wrote as follows: ``But negroes, like other people, act upon motives. Why should they do anything for us if we will do nothing for them? If they stake their lives for us they must be prompted by the strongest motive---even the promise of freedom. And the promise, being made, must be kept.'' I am sure you will not, on due reflection, say that the promise being made, must be broken at the first opportunity. I am sure you would not desire me to say, or to leave an inference, that I am ready, whenever convenient, to join in re-enslaving those who shall have served us in consideration of our promise. As matter of morals, could such treachery by any possibility, escape the curses of Heaven, or of any good man? As matter of policy, to announce such a purpose, would ruin the Union cause itself. All recruiting of colored men would instantly cease, and all colored men now in our service, would instantly desert us. And rightfully too. Why should they give their lives for us, with full notice of our purpose to betray them? Drive back to the support of the rebellion the physical force which the colored people now give, and promise us, and neither the present, nor any coming administration, can save the Union. Take from us, and give to the enemy, the hundred and thirty, forty, or fifty thousand colored persons now serving us as soldiers, seamen, and laborers, and we can not longer maintain the contest. The party who could elect a President on a War & Slavery Restoration platform, would, of necessity, lose the colored force; and that force being lost, would be as powerless to save the Union as to do any other impossible thing. It is not a question of sentiment or taste, but one of physical force, which may be measured, and estimated as horsepower, and steam power, are measured and estimated. And by measurement, it is more than we can lose, and live. Nor can we, by discarding it, get a white force in place of it. There is a witness in every white mans bosom that he would rather go to the war having the negro to help him, than to help the enemy against him. It is not the giving of one class for another. It is simply giving a large force to the enemy, for nothing in return.

In addition to what I have said, allow me to remind you that no one, having control of the rebel armies, or, in fact, having any influence whatever in the rebellion, has offered, or intimated a willingness to, a restoration of the Union, in any event, or on anyPage  501 condition whatever. Let it be constantly borne in mind that no such offer has been made or intimated. Shall we be weak enough to allow the enemy to distract us with an abstract question which he himself refuses to present as a practical one? In the Conkling letter before mentioned, I said: ``Whenever you shall have conquered all resistance to the Union, if I shall urge you to continue fighting, it will be an apt time then to declare that you will not fight to free negroes.'' [2] I repeat this now. If Jefferson Davis wishes, for himself, or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and re-union, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me.

Annotation

[1]   ADf, DLC-RTL. Two drafts are preserved in the Lincoln Papers. The first is in pencil and bears the date as given above. The second is in ink, without date, and is probably the finished copy which Lincoln intended to send, but which he never dated, signed, or sent. The letter from Democratic editor of the Green Bay, Wisconsin, Advocate, Charles D. Robinson, dated August 7, 1864, which First Assistant Postmaster General Alexander W. Randall (formerly governor of Wisconsin) handed to Lincoln on August 16, is as follows:

``I am a War Democrat, and the editor of a Democratic paper. I have sustained your Administration . . . because it is the legally constituted government. I have sustained its war policy, not because I endorsed it entire, but because it presented the only available method of putting down the rebellion. . . . It was alleged that because I and my friends sustained the Emancipation measure, we had become abolitionized. We replied that we regarded the freeing of the negroes as sound war policy, in that the depriving the South of its laborers weakened the . . . Rebellion. That was a good argument. . . . It was solid ground on which we could stand, and still maintain our position as Democrats. We were greatly comforted and strengthened also by your assurance that if your could save the Union without freeing any slave, you would do it; if you could save it by freeing the slaves, you would do it; and if you could do it by freeing some, and leaving others alone, you would also do that.

``The Niagara Falls `Peace' movement was of no importance whatever, except that it resulted in bringing out your declaration, as we understand it, that no steps can be taken towards peace . . . unless accompanied with an abandonment of slavery. This puts the whole war question on a new basis, and takes us War Democrats clear off our feet, leaving us no ground to stand upon. If we sustain the war and war policy, does it not demand the changing of our party politics?

``I venture to write you this letter . . . not for the purpose of finding fault with your policy . . . but in the hope that you may suggest some interpretation of it, as will . . . make it tenable ground on which we War Democrats may stand---preserve our party consistently support the government---and continue to carry also to its support those large numbers of our old political friends who have stood by us up to this time.

``I beg to assure you that this is not written for the purpose of using it, or its possible reply, in a public way. And I . . . send it through my friend Gov. Randall in the belief that he will guarantee for me entire good faith.'' (DLC-RTL).

The interview of Randall, Judge Joseph T. Mills, and William P. Dole, with Lincoln on August 19 (infra) presumably dealt with Lincoln's reply to Robinson, although Judge Mills' report of the interview does not mention the letter. In any event, Randall wrote Lincoln on August 22:

``I have been reflecting upon the clause of your letter to Col. Robinson toPage  502 which Mr Dole objected and think there is force in his objection on the score of its policy. While the idea of that part is a correct one, it is unnecessary to say it, I think, because what you say in the balance of the letter will be entirely sufficient for Robinsons purposes. It is not designed for publication it is true, and Mr. Robinson will not publish it. Some accident might get its contents before the public. I presume respectfully to make these suggestions for your consideration.'' (Ibid.).

It seems probable, there being no further reference to the letter and no reply from Robinson, that Lincoln decided against sending the letter at all.

[2]   The pencil draft ends at this point.