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

To Ulysses S. Grant [1]

Office U.S. Military Telegraph,
Lieut. Genl. Grant War Department,
City-Point, Va. Washington, D.C., March 9. 1865

I see your despatch to the Sec. of War, objecting to rebel prisoners being allowed to take the oath and go free. Supposing that I am responsible for what is done in this way, I think fit to say that there is no general rule, or action, allowing prisoners to be discharged merely on taking the oath. What has been done is that Members of Congress come to me from time to time with lists of names alleging that from personal knowledge, and evidence of reliable persons they are satisfied that it is safe to discharge the particular persons named on the lists, and I have ordered their discharge. These Members are chiefly from the border states; and those they get discharged are their neighbors and neighbors sons. They tell me that they do not bring to me one tenth of the names which are brought to them, bringing only such as their knowledge or the proof satisfies them about. I have, on the same principle, discharged some on the representations of others than Members of Congress, as, for instance, Gov. Johnson of Tennessee. The number I have discharged has been rather larger than I liked

Page  348---reaching I should think an average of fifty a day, since the recent general exchange commenced. On the same grounds, last year, I discharged quite a number at different times, aggregating perhaps a thousand, Missourians and Kentuckians; and their Members returning here since the prisoner's return to their homes, report to me only two cases of proving false. Doubtless some more have proved false; but, on the whole I believe what I have done in this way has done good rather than harm. A. LINCOLN

Annotation

[1]   ALS, DNA WR RG 107, Presidential Telegrams, I, 367-68. On March 8, Grant had telegraphed Stanton: ``I understand that rebel prisoners in the North are allowed to take the oath of allegiance and go free. I think this is wrong. No one should be liberated on taking the oath . . . who has been captured while bearing arms against us, except where persons of known loyalty vouch for them. Men who desire to take the oath are the best men to exchange. They can afterward come into our lines if they do not wish to fight.'' (OR, I, XLVI, II, 887).

At 5 P.M. on March 9, he replied to Lincoln's telegram: ``Your dispatch of this morning shows that prisoners of war are being discharged only in accordance with the rule I proposed. I questioned the officers from Camp Morton & Rock Island who arrived here yesterday in charge of prisoners for exchange and they told me that great numbers were being discharged on taking the oath of allegiance. They thought all who desired to do so are permitted to obtain their liberty in this way. I supposed this was in pursuance of a general policy which you knew nothing about and I wanted it changed so that none would be allowed to take the oath . . . except by special permission'' (DLC-RTL).