Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Henry Louis Gates Jr.; Donald Yacovone et al. | Go to book overview

61

Fragment:
CW, 6:410–411

While the dating of this unpublished fragment remains uncertain, it accurately reflects Lincoln's views about the war and slavery after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Critics often asked the president what he would do if the South stopped fighting and desired to return to the Union. Let them try me, he once retorted. In this piece, Lincoln hinted that he could not continue the war if the other side wanted peace. The question meant little in practical terms, and Lincoln used it as a rhetorical opportunity to affirm his administration's unwavering commitment to the Union. He also made clear here and elsewhere that if peace came, he would not return anyone to slavery, especially those who had been enrolled into the army. However, he also admitted that if a court properly ordered such an action, he would be obligated to obey it. Given the right circumstances, as in a border state like Kentucky, Lincoln confessed that he might not be able to live up to his pledge that he would never return to slavery someone freed by acts of Congress or the Emancipation Proclamation.

[August 26, 1863?]

Suppose those now in rebellion should say: “We cease
fighting: re-establish the national authority amongst
us—customs, courts, mails, land-offices,—all as before
the rebellion—we claiming to send members to both
branches of Congress, as of yore, and to hold our slaves
according to our State laws, notwithstanding anything
or all things which has occurred during the rebellion.” I
probably should answer: “It will be difficult to justify in
reason, or to maintain in fact, a war on one side, which
shall have ceased on the other. You began the war, and

-290-

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