Reply to Emancipation Memorial Presented by Chicago
Christians of All Denominations:
CW, 5:419–421, 423–425
William W. Patton, a Congregational minister, fierce abolitionist, and later president of Howard University, and John Dempster, a Methodist minister and educator, presented Lincoln with antislavery memorials from an interdenominational convention of Chicago Christians and one in German signed by Chicagoans of German descent. In his reply to the memorials, which appeared in the ministers' report published in the Chicago Tribune and in Washington, D.C.'s National Intelligencer, Lincoln joked about all the recommendations he received concerning slavery. Although privately he had decided to issue a decree and would actually issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in a little more than a week, Lincoln gave no hint of his impending move. In these public remarks, he questioned the utility of such a declaration: “Would my word free the slaves, when I cannot even enforce the Constitution in the rebel States?” The administration, unwilling to appear desperate, waited only upon a major military victory to adopt emancipation as policy. Yet, as Lincoln confessed, the federal government was entirely unprepared for the number of slaves that would begin seeking protection in Union lines. Employing them as soldiers, an idea hotly debated over the previous year, remained impossible since Lincoln did not believe blacks capable of such a role: “I fear that in a few weeks the[ir] arms would be in the hands of the rebels.” Nevertheless, Lincoln closed his remarks with a hint that given the right circumstances, the ministers' wish might be realized.