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Abraham Lincoln, Volume I by John T. Morse

It would give to the disunionists disunion


May

3, 1861, by which time military exigencies had become better understood, Mr. Lincoln called "into the service of the United States 42,034 volunteers," and directed that the regular army should be increased by an aggregate of 22,714 officers and enlisted men. More suggestive than the mere increase was the fact that the volunteers were now required "to serve for a period of three years, unless sooner discharged." The opinion of the government as to the magnitude of the task in hand was thus for the first time conveyed to the people. They received it seriously and without faltering.

July 4, 1861, the Thirty-seventh Congress met in extra session, and the soundness of the President's judgment in setting a day which had at first been condemned as too distant was proved. In the interval, nothing had been lost which could have been saved by the sitting of Congress; while, on the other hand, the members had had the great advantage of having time to think soberly concerning the business before them, and to learn the temper and wishes of their constituents.

Mr. Lincoln took great pains with his message, which he felt to be a very important document. It was his purpose to say simply what events had occurred, what questions had been opened, and what necessities had arisen; to display the situation and to state facts fairly and fully, but not apparently to argue the case of the North. Yet it was essential for him so to do

this that no doubt could be left as to where the right lay. This peculiar process of argument by statement had constituted his special strength at the bar, and he now gave an excellent instance of it. He briefly sketched the condition of public affairs at the time when he assumed the government; he told the story of Sumter, and of the peculiar process whereby Virginia had been linked to the Confederacy. With a tinge of irony he remarked that, whether the sudden change of feeling among the members of the Virginian Convention was "wrought by their great approval of the assault upon Sumter, or their great resentment at the government's resistance to that assault, is not definitely known."

He explained the effect of the neutrality theory of the Border States. "This," he said, "would be disunion completed. Figuratively speaking, it would be the building of an impassable wall along the line of separation,--and yet not quite an impassable one, for under the guise of neutrality it would tie the hands of the Union men, and freely pass supplies to the insurrectionists.... At a stroke it would take all the trouble off the hands of secession, except what proceeds from the external blockade." It would give to the disunionists "disunion, without a struggle of their own."

Of the blockade and the calls for troops, he said: "These measures, whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and a public necessity, trusting then, as now, that Congress would ratify them." At the same time he stated the matter of the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which has been already referred to.

Speaking of the doctrine that secession was lawful under the Constitution, and that it was not rebellion, he made plain the genuine significance of the issue thus raised: "It presents ... the question whether a Constitutional Republic or Democracy, a government of the people by the same people, can or cannot maintain its territorial integrity against its own domestic foes. It presents the question whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control the administration according to the organic law in any case, can always, upon the pretenses made in this case, or any other pretenses, or arbitrarily without any pretense, break up their government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: Is there in all Republics this inherent fatal weakness? Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?" The Constitution of the Confederacy was a paraphrase with convenient adaptations of the Constitution of the United States. A significant one of these adaptations was the striking out of the first three words, "We, the people," and the substitution of the words, "We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent States." "Why," said Mr. Lincoln, "why this deliberate pressing out of view the rights of men and the authority of the people? This is essentially a people's contest. On the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men ... to afford to all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.... This is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend. I am most happy to believe that the plain people understand and appreciate this."


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