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Abraham Lincoln

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by Annemarie Gray on 4 December 2013

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Transcript of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
Savior of the Union
Sourced from House Divided’s 150 Most Teachable Lincoln Documents (except where noted)
By Annemarie Gray

In the midst of the secession crisis of 1860, Lincoln would not surrender his principles in order to avoid war:

On December 10, 1860, president-elect Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to Lyman Trumbull, a U.S. Senator from Illinois. The nation was in the midst of a grave and unprecedented secession crisis. Lincoln was not set to take office till March and in the interim he feared that Republicans in Washington might make certain concessions to Southerners in an effort to avoid disunion. Namely, he was concerned that they might compromise on the issue of Free Soil in the territories. This was the issue on which Lincoln had been elected as well as the fundamental plank of the Republican Party. Lincoln was determined that no compromise on this issue would be made. Without this firm principle, the GOP, he said would be a “mere sucked egg, all shell and no principle.”











"Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery. The dangerous ground – that which some of our friends have a hankering to run -- is Pop. Sov. Have none of it.”
Letter to Lyman Trumbull, December 10, 1860

“On the territorial question, I am inflexible.”
Letter to John A. Gilmer, December 15, 1860


Lincoln argued that the secession of the southern states, or any states, was illegal:

“I hold, that in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments…Continue to execute all the express provisions of our national Constitution, and the Union will endure forever---it being impossible to destroy it, except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself….
…It follows from these views that no State, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union…Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy.”

1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861











“They (Southern secessionists) invented an ingenious sophism, which, if conceded, was followed by perfectly logical steps, through all incidents, to the complete destruction of the Union. The sophism itself is, that any state of the Union may, consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully, and peacefully, withdraw from the Union, without the consent of the Union or any other state.
Message to the Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861

Lincoln made clear his firm goal to preserve the Union, perhaps at all costs:

“Lincoln’s commitment to maintain the Union was absolute. As a young man, he had looked to reason for guidance, both in his turbulent emotional life and in the disorderly society in which he grew up. When that proved inadequate, he found stability in the law and in the Constitution, but after the Dred Scott decision he could no longer have unqualified faith in the either. The concept of the Union, older than the Constitution, deriving from the Declaration of Independence with its promise of liberty for all, had become the premise on which all his other political beliefs rested.” (Donald, 269)
Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995. Print.

“I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States.”
1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

“…the Executive deems it proper to say, it will be his purpose then, as ever, to be guided by the Constitution, and the laws…He desires to preserve the government, that it may be administered for all, as it was administered by the men who made it…the Executive found the duty of employing the war-power…forced upon him…He could not but perform this duty, or surrender the existence of the government.”
Message to the Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861

“Still I must save this government if possible. What I cannot do, of course I will not do; but it may as well be understood, once for all, that I shall not surrender this game leaving any available card unplayed.”
Letter to Reverdy Johnson, Washington D.C., July 26, 1862

“I would save the Union…My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”
Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862

“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced…that we here highly resolve that…this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863



For Lincoln, democracy was the great bulwark of the American system and was the fundamental ideal for which the nation must be preserved:

“All of “our controversies,” Lincoln explained, arise from disagreements over what the Constitution “does not say”…whenever such disagreements arise, “we divide upon them into majorities and minorities,” and disputes over what the Constitution says are settled by means of democratic elections. Thereafter, the minority must “acquiesce,” or else “the government must cease.” Secession thus amounted to a minority’s refusal to acquiesce in the democratic legitimacy of majority rule.” (Oakes, 77)
Oakes, James. Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2013. Print.

“A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with the deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people.”
1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

“Our popular government has often been called an experiment…It is now for them (the American people) to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly win an election, can also suppress a rebellion---that ballots are the rightful, and peaceful, successors of bullets; and that when ballots have been fairly and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, back to bullets.”
Message to the Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861

“The most reliable indication of public purpose in this country is derived through our popular elections. Judging by the recent canvass and its result, the purpose of the people, within the loyal States, to maintain the integrity of the Union, was never more firm, nor more nearly unanimous, than now. The extraordinary calmness and good order with which the millions of voters met and mingled at the polls, give strong assurance of this.”
Annual Message to Congress, December 6, 1864

“We cannot have free government without elections; and if the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us.”
Response to a Serenade, November 10, 1864

Lincoln’s commitment to saving the Union may have cast doubt on his commitment to end slavery, but in the end he saved a nation and delivered a people from bondage:

In his Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass said it “was by no means an accident slavery was abolished under” Lincoln. (Oakes, 270) And Douglass acknowledged the “sensitivity to public opinion” necessary to sustain the nation throughout the brutal Civil War. (Oakes, 271)
Oakes, James. The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2007. Print.

“Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose…His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Frederick Douglass, Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1876
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/oration-in-memory-of-abraham-lincoln/
See the full transcript