Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 4.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
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To William H. Seward [1]

Hon: W. H. Seward: Executive Mansion April 1, 1861

My dear Sir: Since parting with you I have been considering your paper dated this day, and entitled ``Some thoughts for the President's consideration.'' The first proposition in it is, ``1st. We are at the end of a month's administration, and yet without a policy, either domestic or foreign.''

At the beginning of that month, in the inaugeral, I said ``The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the government, and to collect the duties, and imposts.'' This had your distinct approval at the time; and, taken in connection with the order I immediately gave General Scott, directing him to employ every means in his power to strengthen and hold the forts, comprises the exact domestic policy you now urge, with the single exception, that it does not propose to abandon Fort Sumpter.

Again, I do not perceive how the re-inforcement of Fort Sumpter would be done on a slavery, or party issue, while that of Fort Pickens would be on a more national, and patriotic one.

The news received yesterday in regard to St. Domingo, certainly brings a new item within the range of our foreign policy; [2] but up to that time we have been preparing circulars, and instructions to ministers, and the like, all in perfect harmony, without even a suggestion that we had no foreign policy.

Upon your closing propositions, that ``whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prossecution of it''

``For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly''

``Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it, or''

Page  317``Devolve it on some member of his cabinet''

``Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide'' I remark that if this must be done, I must do it. When a general line of policy is adopted, I apprehend there is no danger of its being changed without good reason, or continuing to be a subject of unnecessary debate; still, upon points arising in its progress, I wish, and suppose I am entitled to have the advice of all the cabinet. Your Obt. Servt. A. LINCOLN

Annotation

[1]   ALS, DLC-RTL. The envelope with the letter is addressed by Lincoln ``Hon. W. H. Seward/Present.'' There is no reply in the Lincoln Papers. Lincoln may have handed the letter to Seward personally or sent it by messenger. If so, he must have requested its return. The fact that no biography of Seward mentions such a letter among the Seward Papers indicates that the document in the Lincoln Papers is probably the original which was never sent. The editors have doubts that the letter was presented to Seward at all. Having written it, Lincoln may have thought better of rebuking his secretary in writing and handled the matter orally. The memorandum to which Lincoln replied is in the handwriting of Frederick W. Seward, as follows:

``Some thoughts for the President's consideration

April 1. 1861.

``1st. We are at the end of a month's administration and yet without a policy either domestic or foreign.

``2d This, however, is not culpable, and it has been unavoidable. The presence of the Senate, with the need to meet applications for patronage have prevented attention to other and more grave matters.

``3d. But further delay to adopt and prosecute our policies for both domestic and foreign affairs would not only bring scandal on the Administration, but danger upon the country.

``4th. To do this we must dismiss the applicants for office. But how? I suggest that we make the local appointments forthwith, leaving foreign or general ones for ulterior and occasional action.

``5th. The policy---at home. I am aware that my views are singular, and perhaps not sufficiently explained. My system is built upon this idea as a ruling one, namely that we must

``Change the question before the Public from one upon Slavery, or about Slavery

``for a question upon Union or Disunion.

``In other words, from what would be regarded as a Party question to one of Patriotism or Union

``The occupation or evacuation of Fort Sumter, although not in fact a slavery, or a party question is so regarded. Witness, the temper manifested by the Republicans in the Free States, and even by Union men in the South.

``I would therefore terminate it as a safe means for changing the issue. I deem it fortunate that the last Administration created the necessity.

``For the rest. I would simultaneously defend and reinforce all the Forts in the Gulf, and have the Navy recalled from foreign stations to be prepared for a blockade. Put the Island of Key West under Martial Law

``This will raise distinctly the question of Union or Disunion. I would maintain every fort and possession in the South.

For Foreign Nations.

``I would demand explanations from Spain and France, categorically, at once.

``I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and send agentsPage  318 into Canada, Mexico and Central America, to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this continent against European intervention.

``And if satisfactory explanations are not received from Spain and France,

``Would convene Congress and declare war against them

``But whatever policy we adopt, there must be an energetic prosecution of it.

``For this purpose it must be somebody's business to pursue and direct it incessantly.

``Either the President must do it himself, and be all the while active in it; or

``Devolve it on some member of his Cabinet. Once adopted, debates on it must end, and all agree and abide.

``It is not in my especial province.

``But I neither seek to evade nor assume responsibility'' (DLC-RTL).

[2]   The Spanish colonists in San Domingo had hoisted the Spanish flag on March 16, and the Spanish ship Blanca had been sent from Havana with troops to assist in annexation of the country.

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