Lincoln on Race and Slavery

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

64

AL to Albert G. Hodges:
CW, 7:281–282

Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort, Kentucky, Commonwealth, asked Lincoln to write out the substance of his remarks at an earlier meeting with Hodges, Kentucky governor Thomas E. Bramlette, a War Democrat, and Archibald Dixon, a former Whig Kentucky U.S. senator. The three men had visited the president because of intense opposition in their state over the recruitment of slaves into the Union army. As a border state, Kentucky retained its more than 225,000 slaves, and whites used every means possible, including murder, to halt the recruitment of their “property.” When he first learned that the army intended to recruit Kentucky slaves, the governor predicted that the state would never see another day of peace. Despite intense white opposition, astonishingly, about 60 percent of the state's black men of military age served in the Union army. In words that countless biographers have cited, Lincoln had proclaimed his abhorrence of slavery: “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” The president, however, assured the Kentuckians that his personal feelings about the immorality of slavery had nothing to do with his oath as president to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No other issue, not even that of emancipation, would jeopardize his absolute commitment to the integrity of the nation. For Lincoln, as he had stated openly in his letter to Horace Greeley, the preservation of the Union and its principles remained the paramount duty of his presidency. To ease the Kentuckians' concerns, Lincoln reminded them that he had rejected emancipation by military force under General John C. Frémont early in the war in Missouri. He even opposed secretary of war Simon Cameron's desire to recruit black troops: “I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity.” Instead, he preferred to request that border state governments voluntarily liberate their slaves through a system of

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