Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Abraham Lincoln; Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

66

Interview With Alexander W. Randall
And Joseph T. Mills:
CW, 7:506–507

In discussions with Joseph T. Mills, a Wisconsin judge, and the former Wisconsin governor Alexander W. Randall, Lincoln recorded his impatience with the views of the Green Bay, Wisconsin, editor Charles D. Robinson. As a War Democrat, Robinson had supported the national administration, even after it issued the Emancipation Proclamation. War Democrats like Robinson understood Lincoln's approach to the war as outlined in the president's famous open letter to Horace Greeley: all actions aimed at restoration of the Union and only at restoration of the Union. As the Lincoln administration now insisted on the abolition of slavery as a prerequisite for reunion, Randall believed that War Democrats had to support General George B. McClellan in the fall elections. “This puts the question on a new basis, and takes us War Democrats clear off our feet, leaving us no ground to stand upon.” Lincoln, with his reelection hopes fading, feared the response of men like Randall to the course of the war. His draft response and the comments Judge Mills recorded, however, clearly show that African Americans had pushed their way into the center of the president's policies, where they would remain. McClellan and the Democrats claimed to want to restore the Union “as it was,” on the one hand, and, on the other, to conduct the war without black soldiers. But the North could not fight without its black troops—“we would be compelled to abandon the war in 3 weeks”—and the South would not return to the Union if it could retain the institution of slavery. “You cannot concilliate the South,” he maintained, “when the mastery & control of millions of blacks makes them sure of ultimate success.” Lincoln would not even consider a peace proposal if it meant reenslaving those black men who had fought bravely in the Union army. “I should

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