Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 8.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Annotation

[1]   AD-P, ISLA. On April 11, Salmon P. Chase had written Lincoln at length about reconstruction:

``I am very anxious about the future: and most about the principles which are to govern reconstruction for as these principles are sound or unsound so will be the work & its results. . . .

``And first as to Virginia.

``By the action of every branch of the Government we are committed to the recognition & maintenance of the State organization of which Governor Pierpont is the head. You know all the facts. . . . There will be a pressure for the recognition of the rebel organization on condition of profession of loyalty. It will be far easier and wiser, in my judgment, to stand by the loyal organization already recognized.

``And next as to the other rebel States:

``The easiest & safest way seems to me to be the enrollment of the loyal citizens without regard to complexion and encouragement & support to them in the reorganization of State Governments under constitutions securing suffrage to all citizens. . . . This you know has long been my opinion. . . .

``This way is recommended by its simplicity, facility & above all, justice. It will be, hereafter, counted equally a crime & a folly if the colored loyalists of the rebel states shall be left to the control of restored rebels, not likely, in that case, to be either wise or just, until taught both wisdom and justice by new calamities.

``The application of this principle to Louisiana is made somewhat difficult by the organization which has already taken place: but happily the Constitution enables the Legislature to extend the right of suffrage. . . .

``The same result can be assured in Arkansas by an amendment of the state constitution; or what would be better, I think, by a new Convention . . . without distinction of color. To all the other states the general principle may be easily applied. . . .'' (DLC-RTL).

On the morning after Lincoln's speech, Chase wrote again:

``The American of this morning contains your speech of last evening. Seeing that you say something on the subject of my letter to you yesterday---reconstruction---, & refer, though without naming me, to the suggestions I made in relation to the Amnesty Proclamation, when you brought it before the Heads of Departments, I will ask your permission to add some observations to what I have already written.

``I recollect the suggestions you mention; my impression is that they were in writing. There was another which you do not mention and which, I think, was not in writing. It is distinct in my memory; though doubtless forgotten by you. It was an objection to the restriction of participation in reorganization to persons having the qualifications of voters under the laws of their several states just before rebellion.

``Ever since questions of reconstruction have been talked about, it has been my opinion that the colored loyalists ought to be allowed to participate in it and it was because of this opinion that I was anxious to have this question left open. I did not however say much about the restriction. I was the only one who expressed a wish for its omission; & I did not desire to seem pertinacious.

``You will remember, doubtless, that the first order ever issued for enrollment with a view to reconstruction went to General Shepley & directed the enrollment of all loyal citizens; and I suppose that, since the opinion of Attorney General Bates, no one, connected with your administration, has questioned the citizenship of free colored men more than that of free white men. The restriction in the amnesty proclamation operated as a revocation of the order to General Shepley:---but, as I understood you not to be wedded to any particular plan of reconstruction, I hoped & believed that reflection & observation would probably satisfy you that the restriction should not be adhered to.

``I fully sympathized with your desire for the restoration of the Union by the change of rebel slave States into Union free States; and was willing, if I could not get exactly the plan I thought best, to take the plan you thought best, & to trust the future for modifications. I welcomed, therefore, with joy the prospects of good results from the cooperation of General Banks with the free state men of Louisiana. I think General Banks' error, & I have said so to him, was in not acting through instead of over the Free State Committee. This Committee had already shown itself disposed to a degree of liberality towards the colored people quite remarkable at that time. They had admitted delegates from the creole colored population into their free State Convention, & had evinced a readiness to admit intelligent colored citizens of that class to the rights of suffrage. I have no doubt that great & satisfactory progress would have been made in the same direction had not the work been taken out of their hands. This created the impression that the advocates of general suffrage were to be treated with disfavor by the representatives of the Government. Discouragement & disinterest were the natural consequences.

``For one I was glad of all the good that was done; and, naturally, wanted more. So when I came to Washington last winter I saw Gen Banks: and, being now more deeply than ever persuaded of the necessity of universal suffrage, I begged him to write himself & to induce the Senators & Representatives elect from Louisiana to write to members of the Legislature and urge them to exercise their power under the constitution by passing an act extending suffrage to colored citizens. I knew that many of our best men in and out of Congress had become thoroughly convinced of the impolicy and injustice of allowing representation in Congress to States which had been in rebellion and were not yet prepared to concede equal political rights to all loyal citizens. They felt that if such representation should be allowed & such states reinstated in all their former rights as loyal members of the Union, the colored population would be practically abandoned to the disposition of the white population, with every probability against them; and this, they believed would be equally unjust & dangerous.

``I shared their sentiment & was therefore extremely desirous that General Banks should take the action I urged upon him. I thought indeed that he concurred, mainly, in my views, & would to some extent at least act upon them. I must have been mistaken, for I never heard that he did anything in that direction.

``I know you attach much importance to the admission of Louisiana, or rather to the recognition of her right to representation in Congress as a loyal State in the Union. If I am not misinformed there is nothing in the way except the indisposition of her Legislature to give satisfactory proof of loyalty by a sufficient guaranty of safety & justice to colored citizens through the extension to loyal colored men of the right of suffrage. Why not, then, as almost every loyal man concurs with you as to the desirableness of that recognition, take the shortest road to it by causing every proper representation to be made to the Louisiana Legislature of the importance of such extension.

``I most earnestly wish you could have read the New Orleans papers for the last few months. Your duties have not allowed it. I have read them a good deal---quite enough to be satisfied that, if you had read what I have, your feelings of humanity & justice would not let you rest till all loyalists are made equal in the right of self protection by suffrage.

``Once I should have been, if not satisfied, reasonably contented by suffrage for the more intelligent & for those who have been soldiers; now I am convinced that universal suffrage is demanded by sound policy and impartial justice alike.

``I have written too much already & will not trouble you with my reasons for this conclusion. I shall return to Washington in a day or two & perhaps it will not be disagreeable to you to have the whole subject talked over. . . .'' (DLC-RTL).